Tag Archives: technology

Overdrive

“How was it?” Marcus asked, as Mara slipped out of the pilot’s seat.

“Awesome!” she replied. Her grin was dazzling. “But this overdrive is insane! I actually had to keep my foot on the brake just to keep from losing control.”

He laughed. “I know, right?”

Mara’s grin vanished, and her tone became somber. “Seriously, Marcus, where did you get this thing? I’ve never seen a floater with this kind of get-up-and-go.” She arched an eyebrow and tilted her head, giving him that half-sideways mock-glare she liked so much. “Did you steal it?”

Marcus flashed a grin of his own. “I didn’t steal it, I swear.”

“Hamsters, then,” Mara replied. “It’s powered by a team of highly motivated hamsters. On wheels.” Her smile was back, but her levity was forced.

She’s actually rattled, he realized. He hadn’t expected that, not from her.

“It is, among other things, a totally new power source, Mara,” he explained, “One of my own design.” Her eyes widened. “What do you think I’ve been doing in that lab day? Screwing around?”

[Originally posted on Ficly]

Parenting Advice and Child Safety

Something I’ve learned over the last six months is that people will say some pretty strange things to new parents — even people who have no children of their own — and they really don’t mind getting up in your business to say them. Typically, these nuggets of “wisdom” appear either under the guise of offering unnecessary (and, more often than not, unasked-for) advice or by comparing some current child-rearing experience of the moment to the way they themselves grew up. You learn pretty quickly, of course, how to filter everything through a weave of self-education and rational thought, and how to apply copious quantities of salt  to everything.

Something I’ve heard often lately occurs after I’ve spent a few minutes expounding on the virtues of the latest development in child safety technology. Usually, it’s something that I think is really cool and that I’m excited about because it makes my job as an admittedly over-protective parent a little bit easier. It could be the newest innovation in car seat technology, or those color-changing, rubber-coated spoons that let you know when the baby food is too hot, or the five-point harnesses that keep your active and energetic infant from flinging herself out of her seat. Whatever the innovation, it’s typically not long before I hear, “We never had that when I was growing up, and I turned out alright.”

And that’s where my brain trips a circuit somewhere.

It’s not the statement itself that brings me up short. It’s true. A lot of the child safety technologies we have today either didn’t exist when I was my daughter’s age or have been vastly improved upon since then, making them much safer than they were 30 years. And it’s also true that, for the most part, my generation did turn out alright, otherwise we wouldn’t be here to talk about this.

No, what puzzles me a bit is the psychology behind statements like this. The implication is that, because technology worked more or less well enough to keep my generation safe, there’s no need to innovate and make it even better — or to invent new technologies that help provide protection where none existed 30 years ago. I mean, why the heck wouldn’t you want to do everything possible to keep your child safe and protect them as much as you can? Why wouldn’t you want new tools and better technology designed with your child’s well-being in mind? It is possible that the driving philosophy here is some sort of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality, that being concerned and cautious about your child’s safety is tantamount to paranoia, but it could also just be that some people simply haven’t thought much about the need for this kind of innovation.

Of course, I could just be over-thinking this. It’s what I do. And ultimately, statements like this don’t really bother me that much, other than to serve as passing curiosities and blog fodder. It’s just that the social psychologist in me often wonders about the way people think and why they think the way they do. Being a relatively new parent, I find myself analyzing the social behavior of people around me as it relates to my child. That’s normal, right?

Age Gates

Everyone’s seen them. You load the page for the latest viral video or the most recent update to your favorite web series, and the video player loads a screen similar to the one above. You have to provide the information requested to view the video, and you do so at once because the video is just that friggin’ awesome.

But you have to wonder — what’s the point of the age gate? I mean, I get the point. In theory, it’s supposed to weed out viewers who aren’t considered “mature” enough to view the media in question. At least, I think that’s the point. The thing I keep tripping over in my logical analysis, though, is the fact that age gates are pretty easy to subvert. Heck, it’s like they don’t even try to do anything more than put up token resistance, y’know? It’s almost like age gates throw up their hands and back away slowly, saying, “Hey, we know you’re not an adult and you’re just going to enter a false birthdate into the form so you can watch this video. And really, we’re not going to try to stop you. We just have to play a little CYA, y’know? We were never designed to be a serious security measure.”

Then again, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe age gates exist just so publishers can collect a little demographic data on their viewers. That, at least, would make the silly things at least a little worthwhile.

Use the BCC for Your Bulk Mailings

It’s gotta be said because I see people constantly falling prone to this simple bit of Internet etiquette: whenever you send a bulk email out a lot of people, it’s generally considered good practice to send your email to yourself as the ‘To:’ recipient and put everyone else in the ‘BCC:’ field. This helps protect the security and privacy of your recipients’ private and professional email addresses from those pesky people who like to send forward to absolutely everyone in their address book, from spammers who raid email header information looking for juicy new targets, and computer viruses that take advantage of security holes in email desktop clients (like Microsoft Outlook) to send malicious information to unsuspecting victims. It’s a simple thing to do, and those of us who are security-conscious thank you in advance for helping us keep our inboxes safer.

Adobe CS3

Well, I manage to score a copy of Adobe’s Creative Suite 3 Design Premium software, which includes a lot of really powerful software including Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, Dreamweaver, InDesign, and more. Normally, this package runs about $1800 brand new, but thanks to the perks of being on staff at Purdue I was able to grab this bundle for under $300. It’s very exciting for both my wife and I because it opens up a whole host of creative options that we’ve wanted to have available for quite some time now. I’m thrilled to have a version of Photoshop that’s recent and provides more options for creating my webcomics. I also now have some software, like Flash, that I’ve always wanted to learn how to use and now will have the ability to do so. Good stuff, good times, and my inner nerd is positively drooling.

Knowledge Base Documentation Woes

I have something against Knowledge Base modules. My complaint is this – they’re all crap!

Knowledge Base modules are supposed to be this repository for a given service, and this repository is supposed to provide all kinds of helpful Q&A-type articles to make using the service easier and more efficient. They’re typically intended to be a first-line support item, to be used by the end-user _before_ calling customer support and bugging an operator or a technician with your problem or question. It’s a pretty nice idea – in theory.

The trouble comes in when you actually try to use one of these so-called Knowledge Base modules. I have, as yet, to find a single one that actually provides me with any useful knowledge. The way I figure it, at least half of my queries into a Knowledge Base turn up zero results. The rest of the queries usually only produce a list of ‘related’ articles that have nothing to do whatsoever with what I actually want to know. They reason _these_ articles show up at all is because the search term(s) I entered happened to be mentioned once or twice in the course of explaining how to do something else. Usually after a couple of tries, I just throw my hands up in exasperation and dial the customer support number – only to have them refer me _back_ to the Knowledge Base. ((Just for the record, I’ll have none of that. I make them give me my answer and explain that the Knowledge Base didn’t have the answer I needed.))

This all goes along with the problem that documentation for most things also leaves something to be desired. I know, I hate writing documentation, too. It’s a pain in the neck and can often double the time it takes to release the product to the public. But for the end-user, that documentation is a critical part of using the service or software and can be the deal-breaker if it’s poorly done.