When Humans Make it LESS Creepy

I was born in the forgotten generation – those not quite old enough to be Gen X, but those definitely too young to be a Millenial, an era some have called the Oregon Trail Generation. As such, I share some traits with either generation, and have some unique ones of my own. And sometimes I think I’m the only one who sees the odd mashups of both.
Here’s my example for today: The “Aversion to Talking to People” of the Millenials versus the “Computers are Tracking YOU” paranoia of Gen X.

I admit that I do enjoy not having to make awkward phone calls or initiate conversation with strangers – I share that with many millenials raised on instant Google gratification. I’ll do it if necessary (or get someone else to, just ask friends of mine that had to ask someone to take our picture at Graceland last week when I chickened out), but I’d prefer to avoid dealing with humans for needs, instead dealing with them simply for wants. (In other words, if you want to become friends, I’m up to chat all afternoon – but if I need to call you to ask what time you close tomorrow, I’m not that excited).

Now let’s contrast that with the “Computers are tracking you” paranoia of many Gen X’ers (and older). I’m not a huge fan of things like loyalty cards that track my purchases, but I begrudingly use them to get small discounts at the grocery store. Recently our local grocery store started sending coupons to us in the mail (I say recently, but it could have been several years ago, my wife would know for sure. I stereotypically leave most of the couponing to her). Upon the arrival of the latest batch, my wife said “I think they track what you buy and send you the coupons you might actually use”. I agreed that this would be a smart move on their part, and that it actually sets up kind of a win-win situation. Store has a greater liklihood of me buying something because it’s something I like and I have a coupon, and if I was going to buy it anyway, I get a small discount (I suppose if I were a big impulse shopper, this would be disastrous, but thankfully I don’t tend to be).

This got me thinking – for many older folks, a local grocer (physical person) who knew them by name, knew their likes/dislikes, and offered them discounts would be a valued shopkeep, something lamented when they were replaced by a big-box grocery chain. Yet those same people find it creepy when a computer tracks their purchases and targets them with coupons or ads, essentially providing the same service. Somehow it’s less creepy if it’s a person doing it. Contrast that with the Millenial attitude that dealing a person is more uncomfortable than a computer, and you have a strange cohort effect. Older generations find it creepy if it’s a computer, younger find it uncomfortable if it’s a person, and vice versa.

I, for my part, shall continue to straddle the two generations, embracing my Oregon Trail-ness while teaching (mostly) Millenials. And continue to notice strange inconsistencies like this one, which I shall report to, no doubt, millions of interested readers!


This morning my car started flashing a service engine light as Karey and I began a long drive. We’re at the service center now, and should be back on the road around noon (a bit lighter in the bank account, but with a more reliable vehicle!). As I sit here, I think about the sense of dread I feel when I know I have a pending car repair. How long will it take? How much will it cost? How serious is it?   Will the mechanic be busy? All questions that nag at me while waiting for the repair to be completed.

And it makes me wonder – would I have wanted to know about this issue late last week, when it was likely I would have had to wait until this morning to even get the ball rolling, or is it better to find out on Monday morning? They say ignorance is bliss, and I know for sure that I would have felt uneasy (“a disturbance in the force”) all weekend when I should have been more present, enjoying life. Humans tend to want more information rather than less, and it’s interesting how that abundance of information can make us unhappier than we otherwise would. 


Colleagues of mine have looked at the interesting relationship between anticipating a favorable event (Savoring) and lumbering up to an unforable event while forlorn (Dread). And I can attest to experiencing both of those emotions. Thankfully today it’s the former, not the latter.

The earliest rumors of the Apple Watch date back to 2012, and as a smartwatch geek (My first smartwatch was the Timex Datalink 70 (then a 150) back in 1996), I’ve been waiting ever since for the newest and greatest wrist accessory. Not much happened from about 2000 to 2008, with only the Microsoft Spot Watch being the only real contender for much of that time (Before Microsoft axed it). But as of late, we’ve been lucky with the Pebble (which I have the Kickstarter edition of, as well as the Pebble Steel that’s currently on my wrist), the Android Wear watches, and now the Apple Watch.

Hopefully tomorrow afternoon I’ll place the Pebble in my watchbox and try on my Apple Watch. Until then, I’m in Smartwatch Savor mode.

I realize that I Sometimes Comment Selfishly

Recently I’ve found myself writing comments on other people’s posts and then deciding at the last moment not to post them. Obviously it’s a good idea to always read over what you intend to say before you say it, and it’s usually at that point that I realize that what I’m about to say isn’t as much helpful as it is selfish. How can one be selfish when virtually commenting? It’s really easy – it starts with the “Oh yeah, I do that too!” feeling.
For example, friend A posts that they’re thinking of trying a new restaurant, and you feel a sense of comraderie since you’ve also eaten at that restaurant (or eat at new restaurants too). You rush to post something like “Yeah, I love that place – I stumbled upon it a few years ago and really liked it”. Then it hits you – that’s an absolutely useless comment. All it does is tell the person that you agree with them, and that you did what they propose first. A better response? “Yeah, I love that place. The chicken marsala was good, and the salads were unique – not just a standard salad you could get anywhere”. Now you’ve given some actual information – a mini review – and held off the urge to say “I did this first!”. Your friend finds your comment useful, as do others, and it doesn’t sound like the internet equiviliant of the old message board mantra “Me Too”.
My goal is to try to add more substance to my comments and less selfish boasting. I’m sure I’ll fail multiple times in the process, because talking about oneself is so easy to do, we do it without thinking, but at least I’ll be making the effort!

Oracle, Are You Really Hurting for Cash This Badly?

Saw this just now via MacRumors – a wonderful note that our friends at Oracle have decided to bundle the Ask.com toolbar (an invaluable tool if there ever was one) with the Mac version of Java (as they’ve done with the Windows version for some time)…

For years, Oracle has been bundling an Ask.com search toolbar with Java for Windows, relying on what some call deceptive methods to get users to install the add-on to their browsers. Now, the company has extended its adware strategy to Java for Mac, according to ZDNet.

Thanks Oracle, now this is another thing I get to think about next time I have to install Java on something. The question is – are you really hurting for cash so badly that you need to bundle things like this in? And for that matter, are large companies really getting that much money from this stuff.

Wait… of course they are… otherwise they wouldn’t do it. Oh what a stupid sad maladjusted state of affairs. Friendly PSA folks: Watch your install wizards closely!

Science Fiction in 2015 – Sadly Subtlety Need Not Apply

Karey & I are watching Star Trek Deep Space Nine, and we just finished the three episode arc that starts the second season (The Homecoming, The Circle, The Siege). I haven’t watched those episodes in about 15 years, and you know what impressed me? The extreme lack of something: Explosions. 

You see, back when I was growing up, you could have a story unfold over 135 hours with just a couple of small firefights (4 that I can think of) and some limited effects. The story was the point, it’s what people tuned in for. The eye candy was… well, just eye candy. Today I don’t think any network or producer would let that slide (One could argue this was exactly what made TNG & DS9 special: Lack of a network overseer). Today you’re much more likely to find directors like Peter DeLuise who scream “B-I-G-G-E-R” – if we don’t see things blowing up and people shooting for at least five minutes at a time, it’s not worth it. 

Which is a shame. When I think about the influence Star Trek had on my early life, I realize that I found it far more interesting to take the non-force option into account to get where I wanted. Sure, I was big enough that I could use force – be physically intimidating – but that just led to consequences. Usually short-term gain and long-term pain.  Pull a page from the Picard playbook and you get where you want to be with little collateral damage (usually). I think we’ve lost some of that in recent years – we’ve forgotten that we can use diplomacy, cunning, words and subtle actions. When I think of my leisure activities now – which are principally centered around spending time with others and learning about them, I see the influence of Trek. Thank you Star Trek, for teaching me as a young adult to not only enjoy story-based Sci Fi, but also story-driven life.

Professors Take Note: VLC Is Back on iOS

Why should professors care that VLC is back? Because it’s awesome for playing back video files on an iOS device – making it invaluable if you teach by projecting your device using a cable or by AirPlay to an Apple TV or AirPlay server. The best part? Simply connect your device to your computer, go into iTunes and choose the device, and then navigate to VLC in the apps list. You can then add/remove video files directly, making it a breeze to load up several clips for one lecture, then remove them and load up several more for another lecture. I prefer this over the built-in tools (i.e. Videos, Music, Podcasts app) since I’ve found all of those to have sync issues at times. Plus it’s nice to isloate your teaching content from your personal content.

FiftyThree’s Pencil Stylus


Thinking of picking up one of these this weekend, to add to the stylus collection I have. It’s funny how pencil and paper work so well for what they do, we’re still trying to find a good replacement in the electronic age. It’s very surreal when you consider that we spend upwards of $500 to replicate an experience that costs about $0.50 to create on it’s own. Yet I do, and millions of others are as well. Paper may be versitile, but it is messy, unfriendly to trees, and easy to lose. However, we’ve yet to find something quite as easy as a good old pencil and piece of paper. Just last night I grabbed a scrap piece of paper to make a note rather than enter it into my phone. Then I went home… and entered it into my phone when I had more time!

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