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A blog experiment by Brad Mills.

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Flood warnings

About eleven months ago, West Virginia experienced one of the worst floods in its known history. I drove around on the morning the rivers crested and took lots of pictures. I debated putting them up here but changed my mind — mainly because there was already lots of coverage of the event, and I didn't feel like adding to what seemed like "Oh, the humanity" horror reporting. People didn't need to see even more of it.

Ok, so quite awhile later, after the worst has ended, here's a picture from the WV Flood of 2016.

WV Flood of 2016

I've been watching the rain come down for the last few days and have once again heard the occasional "braap!... braap!... braap!" emergency alert sound coming from my phone. I remember in the days and hours before the flood, my phone was going off constantly, almost to the point where it was easier to ignore. A flood of information, we could say. But I guess it's safe to say there was plenty of warning.

Meanwhile, there are lots of reports about Antarctica in the news this year. Like this article from the renowned Yale University about ice caps melting rapidly on Greenland and Antarctica and a potential six-foot rise in the world's sea levels as a result. Or this one from ABC News, about how Antarctica is melting faster than expected. Or how about the New York Times article about the giant crack on the Larsen C ice shelf, which — if it becomes a complete break — would release an iceberg larger than Delaware into the sea. If that's not scary enough, moss is growing on Antarctica three times faster than normal.

I know, this is all "fake news" and hysterics. But is it? If one looks back in history, across numerous human cultures, one finds there is a pretty common tale of a great deluge. I guess the Noah story is most well-known, but there are others, and they each hint very strongly that the floodwaters came in a matter of days. Not centuries... not years... days. There are even Native American flood stories — pretty far-removed from the ones in the Old Testament.

Could there be another flood? And not just the one we had in West Virginia last summer — a huge one? Could it happen in a matter of days instead of years? Could we be seeing the warning signs of it now, in the collapsing ice shelves, or in the records and stories of our ancestors?

The forecast for tomorrow: rain.

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No comment

I've turned commenting off here. It's been that way for about six months. I got a couple of emails about that, but I'm leaving them off for the foreseeable future. There's been a declining number of comments over time, and while there were plenty of additions to the conversation, there was also a nontrivial amount of spam to deal with, plus — let's face it — eight years later, there are now other bigger sites where the "conversations" are happening.

Jason Kottke addresses this much better than I.

I could easily tie this site into one of the "big dogs" to get a stream of commentary going again... like Facebook or Disqus or whatever. I'm not going to do that. First, this is an independent site (fiercely!) and I'm not interested in orbiting those stars. Second, what would be the point. If you're running a site with other peoples' widgets and such all over it sending tracking data and who knows what else hither and yon, at some point you have to admit that it's no longer your site, and you're really just a shill for the big guys. And third, with the levels of vitriol on the Internet these days, I really don't want to be the thought police, especially on a site I'm paying money to run.

Last... it's kind of a pain in the ass, right? I mean, you have to put in your name, and an email address, and then type out a bunch of stuff, and pass a captcha, and then wait and see if the comment gets approved, and on and on and on. Who needs it? Besides, I think all people really want to do is give a thumbs up or thumbs down.

Hence, in lieu of a proper commenting system, I give you anonymous voting. Two buttons, up and down, and not tied to any platform anywhere. They don't get shared to all your friends, they don't track your movements across the web, they don't do anything except let you give my words a yay or nay without telling me who you are or anything else about you. That's it.

And I promise one day I'll write about something worth your upvote.

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In which we barely organize Taco Friday for Administrative Professionals Week

Over the years, Secretaries' Day has changed into Administrative Professionals' Day and — apparently quite recently — Administrative Professionals' Week. I am not either of those and neither are many of the people I work with. July 28 (the last Friday in July), however, is Sysadmin Day... and September 13 is Programmers' Day. I'm not sure which of those I am, dipping often enough into both those pools to swim in either. Or both. Especially if there's cake or lunch involved on those days.

After some flailing about with cards and gift certificates or some shit, somebody at my work decided since there was a whole week dedicated to our administrative staff, then maybe we should aim for something a little... well, meatier, I guess. Granted, we still did the card and gift certificate route, but it felt like we were just phoning it in — and that's just not cool. So, Taco Friday came into existence.

If you think this happened in any kind of organized fashion, you'd be wrong.

I heard a couple of coworkers whispering about this late on Thursday afternoon, but the only conversation I heard seemed to be along the lines of "this is a secret, we can't tell any of the secretaries." So naturally I was intrigued. Tensions are high right now and there's talk of cuts, cuts, cuts, because Reasons™, and it sounded like the axe was about to start swinging. After joining in, I finally learned about Taco Friday. Bear in mind... this was Thursday afternoon, and there was nothing as official as an email or anything beyond rumors and whisperings in cubicles.

Finally, an email got to me about half an hour before I was leaving for the day. (The use of passive voice here is intentional. If the email could have quietly slumped into the room with a sigh, it probably would have.) The gist was this: We're doing Taco Friday, it's going to be a surprise, here's a link to a shared spreadsheet where you can sign up to bring something. Well, let's see how this has panned out, I thought, and clicked the link. Only two items had absolutely zero takers:

  • Taco meat
  • Chicken

Dammit.

The few of us who got this final email gathered together to compare notes, and as we looked at the email together, we found that it was originally sent out on Monday, first forwarded to someone in our group on Wednesday, and finally began circulating properly earlier in the day on Thursday. Again, I'm going to stress: this was on Thursday, the day immediately before Taco Friday, and about five or six of us didn't get it until thirty minutes before quitting time. And, it looked like at least some of us would be forced into shopping and cooking for this event at the last minute. After some discussion, one of our little clique finally said, "I guess I can cook. Everybody give me some money for the meat and I'll look for my Crock Pot when I get home." Just for the record, she's in the middle of moving — though really, we're all slammed.

Despite the poor planning, everything went smoothly, and the surprise was kept intact. We think. And now for the twist and lesson. I left for a meeting on Friday, and when I got back to my desk, there were two birthday cards there with neatly printed lists of checked-off names paperclipped to them along with these brief instructions: "Sign and check yourself off. Pass along to someone who isn't checked. Return to _____ when everyone has signed." The names of the birthday folks were redacted, one from each card, as they obviously didn't need to sign their own cards. For each one, the birthdate was listed... both are in mid-May, a couple of weeks out. And the name in the blank, the person collecting the cards after they were finished? One of the administrative staff we were celebrating.

This level of organization and efficiency is why. Had one of them been involved in the planning, no doubt we would have had a full mariachi band.

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Occam's razor

I've been running this site for almost eight years. There's a lengthy gap from the middle of 2013 through late 2014, and there have been fewer posts recently versus in its heyday. But, within the last few weeks, I got an SSL certificate, I added some much-needed navigation to the mobile version, and I renewed the domain for another year... so I guess it's still around, in a sense.

About that navigation. There's a (slowly) growing amount of content here, and I needed a way to present it without taking up a lot of room on a small mobile screen. At the same time, I wanted it to be pretty comprehensive and able to grow. After looking around at various hamburger menus / JavaScript monstrosities, I decided on a couple of standard html <select> blocks with <optgroup> sections for years in the month by month archives. It renders consistently, it doesn't take up a lot of real estate, and it can grow as long as needed. Surrounding this new section is a splash of medium green to match the sidebar I have in the desktop version of the site.

It's not the sexiest thing in the world, and it's very 1997, but it works extremely well, and it gets the job done.

Sometimes the simplest solution is the best.

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Black Mirror as a cautionary tale

There's a series I've discovered on Netflix called Black Mirror. It is fantastic. It's best summed up as a Twilight Zone for the modern era, and it explores the technological and existential horrors of today's world, touching on topics like social ranking impacting real world interactions and vice versa, reaching the afterlife through technological means, constant surveillance and how it can be abused, and other topics in similar veins. It's right up my alley, in other words, and eminently believable.

I think we're moving too fast sometimes. We have incredible technology literally in our pockets and it can be both used and abused. There are companies out there pushing these devices because they're products, and the more products they get out there, the more money they make. And there are other companies out there pushing platforms and software, because those things are used for mining our personal data, and the more personal data they can collect, the more tailored and customized will be the advertising we are subjected to. This is also very much a profit-driven venture. And as long as the money is flowing, it won't stop.

We, the consumers, aren't stopping either. Everyone gets the new iThing even if the improvements over the old iThing are marginal. We gladly provide our personal data because our "friends" do too, and it's a way to "make connections". And we get notified when someone sends a message or comments on something we said, and we respond in kind, and on and on. Is there any deliberate thought behind any of it, or are we just pushing buttons and feeding data into an algorithm? Are we really connecting, or are we just linking records together in a database?

Maybe it's just me, but I feel people are not supposed to relate to one another with button clicks and linking their database records together.

Anyway... Black Mirror. I like it. It's got me thinking about the path we're all on, and how we seem to keep marching blindly along it. Just a few more episodes and I'm caught up on the entire series until the new season starts later this year. Given that people are most likely going to keep futzing around on Facebook, the chances of these cautionary tales having a positive impact are probably pretty low. Rather ironic, I think... but also part of the appeal, as it's circling very closely to the truth.

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Under surveillance

A few nights ago I dreamed someone had compromised my phone. All my texts were accessible from afar, and the attacker was texting quoted copies of them back to me from an unrecognized number and asking questions about them. Through the nature of the questions, I knew exactly who the attacker was and handled them appropriately by ignoring them.

It was a pretty easy dream to brush off. I mean, my phone is secure, right? No one can access it like that.

The next night, I pulled up the AT&T app — which I've not used in months — just to see how many texts I've been sending lately. Curiosity, nothing more. I've been rather sociable, it seems... it was a large number. I'm very cool with this.

After that, I decided to check Twitter, about the only place I "hang out" online anymore. If you could even call it that... as I have the little lock next to my name now that basically means "do not disturb," or perhaps more correctly, "go hump a cactus." It's a walled castle. Or so I thought. Because upon opening the Twitter app, my timeline immediately filled with AT&T advertising.

The walls themselves have ears, it seems.

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