Wait, Facebook is Evil?

From the “Well, Duh…” department comes the shocking news that Facebook is in the business of selling information about their users to anyone and everyone willing to pay for it.  Somehow an awful lot of folks seem not to have realized that with Facebook, they’re not the customers, they’re the product.  Whatever.

I bailed on Facebook back in December of 2013 after enduring nearly two years of shouting wars between theists and atheists and Conservatives and Liberals, pleas for Farmville resources, invitations to Candy Crush tournaments, passive aggressive rants (“I hate it when people act one way to your face and another way behind your back”) and the resulting, pathetic pandering from sychopantic “friends” (“I hope you’re not mad at something *I* did!”), clever daily witticisms obviously borrowed from a quote generator, selfies designed to “prove” how much more wonderful and happy everyone’s life is than yours, brow-beating missives like “if you really love America/freedom/justice/God, you’ll copy this post to your wall, but sadly 90% of recipients won’t”, supposedly cute videos of cats and brats, friend requests from people I either didn’t know or had spent years trying to forget, and desperate pleas from individuals and business to “Like me, like me like me.”  In short, it wasn’t my thing.

This was mercifully well before the last presidential election, so at least I didn’t have to put up with all the “fake news,” but that didn’t stop me from hearing about it from friends and family still on board.  That’s a whole other level of evil, as far as I’m concerned; the insidious weaving of a false sense of “community” wherein all manner of patently false information can be passed off as trustworthy and reliable, because “the media” won’t tell you the truth, but of course your “friends” will.

But with Facebook, who needs real news?  With 1000 virtual “friends”, who needs any real ones?  With an on-line life that’s all smiling selfies, who needs a real life that can be boring, or frustrating, or sad?

I made it a point to vanish quietly off of Facebook, with no fanfare or goodbyes.  The first time anyone noticed was months later, when Laura’s sisters asked, “Where’s David’s page?  I want to send him a birthday greeting.”  Because who sends real cards or letters any more?  No wonder the last Hallmark card I saw cost $8 (!!!).  They probably sell about 10% of what they used to.

By bailing before the election, I also avoided the spectacle of users un-friending each other over their politics.  I know people who were unfriended not only because of who they supported, but in some cases because despite being for the “right” candidate themselves, they’d failed some test of purity by not cutting ties to all their friends on the other side.  Honestly, if I’d wanted to hang out with a lot of cliquish, thin-skinned narcissists, I’d have found a way to stay in high school.

Anyway, now the bloom is off the rose on this online paradise with the “revelation” that Facebook doesn’t give a hoot about  you or your friends except insofar as you can make them a buck.  Experts are divided over what that’ll mean for the company; is Facebook in trouble?  Are its days numbered?  Frankly, I doubt it.  Like cigarettes or liquor or opioids, you can hate what you’re addicted to, but you’re still addicted.  Facebook isn’t going anywhere, and when the furor dies down, folks will still be where they are today: living fake lives to impress fake friends and reading fake news, because it’s easier than facing reality.  After all, we live in a country where even the President would rather spend all hours of the day and night venting his spleen on social media than slogging through the boring, downer details of a job like…I don’t know…Leader of the Free World?

But that’s another app, right?  One I never even tried.  I leave Twitter to the Twits.

This Old Man Rant brought to you by the specter of an impending birthday.  Keep your frisbee off my lawn.

 

Wrath of Khan Particle Animation

Here’s a fun clip I stumbled across on Youtube.  Some enterprising (ha) soul has created an animation of all the battles from “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” still the best film in that mixed bag of a series.  If you know and love the film, it adds greater understanding to the choreography of the ships’ interactions.  Even if you have no or little familiarity with the film, it’s still fun to watch.

As an added bonus (for me, anyway), it brings back memories of the old vector-graphic-based Space Wars arcade game I so loved as a kid of the 70s (and which is still possibly my favorite arcade game, even now).

I never cease to be impressed with the creativity of fans.

A Post About A Post

Recently, as I was walking across campus to my car, I found myself fascinated with a telephone pole I’d passed hundreds of times without giving a second glance.  It stayed in my thoughts on the drive home, so the next day on the walk to the office, I stopped to take a picture.

 

pole

 

What struck me was the thought that there’s a whole generation of students on campus who, if they stop to look at this pole at all, probably have no idea why it’s densely covered with rusty old staples.  Of course, back when I was a student here, in the primordial past of the early 80s, the pole was covered with handbills, broadsheets and assorted missives from about two feet off the ground up to the 7-foot mark, all of them fastened on with those staples.  You can see where some folks finally gave up on trying to drive in staples on top of staples on top of staples, and resorted to hammering their messages up with nails.  Located in a high traffic area between lecture halls, this was a popular pole.

I remember tons of papers plastered on poles at every corner of campus, ever changing and yet always pretty much the same.  “Come to the big party,” they said. “Don’t miss this awesome band.” “Buy my car — cheap!”, “Join our club.” “Vote for me.” “Roommate needed.”  “Have you seen my dog?” “Would you like a puppy?” “Used textbooks for sale.” And on and on.  I remember homemade ads with amateurish doodles and murky black and white photos, duplicated at corner print shops on paper that came in colors like “canary yellow”, then tucked under someone’s arm in a thick stack, with a fully loaded stapler in one hand to engage in the 20th century version of “self-publishing.”

One flyer you could always count on was the one that read, “Let me type your term paper. ”  Back then, typing was a relatively rare skill, one you could use to drum up a few extra bucks.  In my Freshman year, I had to take a typing test before I could sign up for Journalism classes; if I’d failed, I’d have had to pay for a Typing class.  Today, there’s no way anyone could show up at college without typing skills; kids are texting before they’re out of diapers.

At the bottom of the homemade “typing” ad would be a carefully scissored fringe of  “contact info” tags to tear off and take with you until you could get to someplace with a phone.  I mean, it’s not like your phone cord could stretch all the way out to the sidewalk, right?

This set me to thinking about all the things that were once so ubiquitous, but somehow at some point just faded away entirely, things I never paid much attention to until I noticed they were gone. Typewriters, for one.  Pay phones.  Rotary dials.  Fax machines. Fotomats. Is Kinkos still around?  So many things that filled a need no one has any more. Nowadays you can post your announcement to the Web instantly and reach more people than you would have with a thousand broadsheets stapled to a thousand poles.  Every club, band, school, neighborhood, hobby or perversion is represented on Facebook or Twitter or Craigslist.  You can offer up your old couch at 1PM and have it gone by 1:30.  Progress, right?  Why look back?

My problem is I’ve always been fascinated by ephemera, all that printed matter tied to a specific moment in time, briefly accessible or even ubiquitous, then consumed, discarded and forgotten: comic books, pulp magazines, newspapers, event posters, and the like.  These homemade handbills would be the ultimate example of that: briefly relevant (to someone, anyway) but soon just an outdated, fading, rain-sodden eyesore left fastened to a pole.  Now there’s just the staples left, but every one of those staples held a story, once.  Did someone decide to go that concert and end up meeting the love of their life? What happened to the previous roommate, anyway? Did that search for the lost dog end in relief or sorrow?  And what about the people who pounded in those staples; students before and after me?  What twists did their lives take after that moment at the pole? Did they graduate or drop out?  Are they alive or dead?

While I was standing there, pondering the mysteries of these phantoms and taking a picture of a cluttered-up telephone pole with my cell phone, my boss walked up behind me and said something that put it all into perspective.

“Shouldn’t you be at work?”

 

 

The Kids Are Alright

Well, better than alright, really, but this way I get to invoke a catchy song title.

Scott just celebrated his 13th (!) birthday and he kept it a pretty low key affair, hanging around the house with Grandma (visiting from Ohio) and not asking for much in the way of presents.  This despite the fact that before the holidays it looked like he wanted an electric guitar, electric base, amplifier and a keyboard, all at once.  He ended up going for the keyboard for Christmas and has really been enjoying it, but he cooled on the other items, or maybe he’s just eyeing some particularly high-end versions he knows he’ll have to wait for.  Anyway he continues to dazzle us with his piano skills and amassed quite a pile of sheet music to master, from Chopin to Billy Joel to Scott Joplin to Queen.

Grace got to ride a horse recently at a birthday party and had a blast, even if it was only 25 degrees outside at the time.  I had to loan her my gloves because she forgot hers, which was fine until she fed a horse a carrot and got knuckle-deep in slobber.  She also has a decided flair for the dramatic, and a healthy imagination.  I heard her playing with her Barbie dolls when Barbie gave Ken a mighty slap, yelling, “Get out!  Just GET OUT! Nobody proposes to me when I’m already married!!!”  Recently I was driving somewhere or other and heard her making up a song in the back seat.  I don’t remember it all, but these lyrics were a highlight:

“I always knew I’d love you someday,

But not ’til I got to the bottom of my Boy List.

Jason’s impossibly tall now; taller than me, I think.  He’s been making money at his various chess jobs, teaching at local schools and doing some private tutoring on weekends.  It all goes back into chess again to cover tournament entry fees and hotel stays, but he seems to enjoy it.  He’s already making plans for what to do with his time after he completes his Eagle Project, but so far as I know he still hasn’t even picked a project to do.  Details, details.

While storing all the Christmas decorations in the garage, I kept finding a large, collapsed cardboard box in my way, as it has been for what feels like forever.  I finally decided that whatever I was keeping it for, I didn’t need it any longer, so it was time to chuck it.  Halfway through slicing it up with a box cutter, my sense of satisfaction melted to sadness and shame when I spotted a word scrawled in ballpoint pen by a much younger Jason:

 

transmogrifier

 

It’s hard to make out in the image, but that’s “Transmogrifier,” as in the magical device used in “Calvin and Hobbes” to change little boys and their tigers into all sorts of amazing things.

transmogrifier2

Now I feel like a heartless brute, but at least I held onto that one last piece.

It never gets dull with three young kids in the house; new adventures and challenges pop up with such speed and regularity that it’s easy to just concentrate on living in the moment.  Then comes the occasional sobering reminder of just how quickly time is slipping by, and how much things change.  The young Jason who climbed into his Transmogrifier seems as distant and ghostly now as the ancient Egyptians, and that messy inscription seems as precious as any archaeological find.  I’m imagining a third panel to the strip above, with an adult climbing out of the box.  Sometimes it feels that fast.

In the end, though, there’s nothing for it but to rededicate yourself to enjoying each moment while you have it.  The fun’s not over yet.

 

Inglourious Federation Basterds

As a lifelong Star Trek fan, I’ve enjoyed a long tradition and it’s time to revisit it today.  The tradition goes like this:  I look at the current state of Star Trek and say, “Paramount can’t possibly screw this up any worse than they have!”  And Paramount responds, “Wanna BET?”

Now they’ve outdone themselves, tapping Quentin Tarantino (!) to direct the next Trek movie and erase any lingering vestiges of what the property once represented.  But at least we get this awesome fan trailer, which is likely as close as I’ll get to seeing the film: