Peeling Off Labels

Chicquita and Dole are the stickers I find most often on bananas.  Bananas are found in the produce section of the grocery store.  I often wonder how they get to Georgia via Panama without turning black in the process, but once they make it home with me, they are going to turn spotted and brown.  Unless you are me, you are quickly going to find the banana inedible.  For us, that banana peel becomes compost, soil, and starts the cycle over again.  When someone says banana, though, what we picture is a curved yellow exterior peel.  Rarely do we picture the white fruit inside, the green peel as it grows on the trees, the browning outside and in as it decays.  They are all banana, but saying banana doesn’t do the banana justice.  We casually and carelessly wear labels we are not conscious of.  And like a grocery store clerk with a price gun, we label everything and everyone around us.

Our brains naturally categorize everything we see and feel and think.  This is food.  That is a coffee mug.  Pens go in this drawer.  We do this with people automatically.  Black, white, Asian, Australian albino.  Liberal, conservative, libertarian, egalitarian, socialist, Marxist, anarchist.

Like the Sorting hat, once our brains have sorted we think, “That’s that!”  Slytherin!  Well obviously you are a terrible person who only thinks of personal gain.  Gryffindor!  Brave and loyal and true.  Hufflepuff!  Awkward and studious, unnoticed, unimportant.  Ravenclaw!  So smart and intellectual.

But take those heroes of Gryffindor and they couldn’t be more different.  Harry chose to be Gryffindor, but might have been better suited to Slytherin.  Hermione might have been better suited to Ravenclaw. Neville might have been Hufflepuff.  They chose to wear the label of Gryffindor.

Once they’re sorted it makes it easier for the brain to relax and not see their differences.

Sometimes we wear these labels proudly. Proud to be an American!  Doctor!  Farmer!  Hunter!  Sometimes we use labels to denigrate.  Libtard!  SJW! Millenial! Our brains instinctively accept labels and classifications.  It makes life easier to see the world in black and white.  Survival is hard-wired into our own sorting system and really what we are doing is protecting ourselves from views, opinions and people we think are bad or keeping at arms length things we think are dangerous to understand.  The truth is that we are more than our labels, and that in order to build better communities we need to try and see deeper than the labels we wear and that we give other people.

How strongly we identify with a label  doesn’t come from any strict code we adhere to, but as the result of a deeply personal experience or loyalty to a community or by following someone we admire.

When someone talks about standing for family values I always wonder what that is code for.  Do you mean family values that just mean marriage between a man and a woman?  Do you mean anti-abortion?  Do you mean women should submit to their husbands?  We use labels that mean different things to different people and assuming our meaning is the only meaning is cause for confusion and conflict.

There are some people who will hear that label of family values and they will automatically feel comforted and believe it applies to their own family values without understanding that different families have different values.  One thing we can say with some degree of certainty about family values, is that people who have family values value their families.  Beyond that, ascribing any certain moral code, behavior or configuration to the term family values cannot help but be divisive.  Oh, I see you care about your family, but it sounds like you don’t care about mine and would like to see mine disappear from the face of the earth.  A label can divide as easily as unite.

The media or the liberal media is another label we use too often.  Does that include CNN?  NBC? 60 Minutes? NYT? WaPO? The Guardian?  The label is used mainly negatively as if the press were a single organism bent on the destruction of the world.  There are thousands of individual reporters, editors, owners and so forth within THE MEDIA (dun, dun, dun!).  It is a safe and uncomplicated way of viewing our news outlets. The problem being that when we allow that negative and generalizing label to take hold we are guided toward a more narrow view seeking the one outlet of “truth” as if there is no bias.  The best we can do with news is to use the internet to view multiple outlets and consider stories from different angles and points of view.  The worst we can do is to seek a single source that continually validates our own biases.

Speaking of truth, let’s talk about fact, opinion, truth and lies.  I hear a lot being reported or argued about “blatant lies” or “he’s a liar” and again this is another comfortable label that can obscure a better understanding.  I believe it is better to identify the questionable information before labeling the person or at least identify the evidence for the label alongside it.

Instead of “he is a liar” you can say “he said X which is incorrect according to Y evidence” and for emphasis with something pathological say “this is in addition to A, B, C” which supports a pattern of lying.  The audience can determine from evidence what label they want to use and at least the label you want to assign someone has a contextual foundation.  The inaccuracies in news reporting come from a desire to get the “scoop.”  There is a rush to report in the daily papers.  There is a sensationalism driven by a need for ratings in the 24-hour news channels.  Anyone who believes this is a relatively new phenomena should spend some time going through news throughout history.  Yellow journalism has been around for quite some time.

The great thing about the “Information Age” is how many different sources we can find for a single subject.  A critical thinker can read about an issue or an event from many different perspectives.  We are more than our labels.  The issues of our times demand a deeper and more complex understanding than our politicians and leaders can express in a sound byte.  As a country, for our communities, for our world, we must be able to look beyond our surface impressions and easy judgments to gain better knowledge and to build a better world.

Credit: iHeart Organizing for the pic



Password Pandemonium

At last count, for work, I have over 30 passwords.  I know I’m not the only person to think that password protocols are out of control.  I have over 30 unique passwords, not because I’m a freak about security, but because each site has it’s own password protocol.

  • Must be 8 characters or longer
  • Must contain a special character
  • Must have one upper case and one lower case
  • Must have at least one number or one letter
  • Must be a sentence describing something cryptic that is a reflection of your inner child in 20 characters or less.
  • Must be in the WingDings font copied and pasted from Word 97 and accessed on the night of a harvest moon.

Then you have sites that require you to frequently change your password, every 30 days, every 90 days, every year.  These are usually the ones that require you to never use the same password twice and that new passwords cannot contain any part of an old password, so you are left with 30 plus unique passwords that you couldn’t possibly remember if you tried.

Number one rule about password security:  don’t write down your passwords.  But it’s okay to use a password protected password app, as long as you can remember that password and sync up all the changing passwords to the program.  So true confessions, I have some passwords written down, but there is a Captain Crunch decoder ring that is required to decipher the abstruse legend of my written password log.  This is about as secure as I can make it.  If the hackers can figure it out, we are all screwed.

Is there a better solution than the draconian practices of password protocol for online security?

Biometrics.  Facial recognition and fingerprints are some of the developing protections for online security.  Facial recognition is only as good as the camera doing the recognizing as I have seen family members with similar facial features gain access to a smartphone.  Fingerprints seem the safest personalized protection we can get, but hackers have already developed methods of skirting this issue.

Pass Phrase.  The newest iteration of password security seems to be the passphrase.  A short sentence can more easily incorporate most of the above requirements and is harder for a decryption program to hack.  “The significant owl hoots in the night!1” is supposed to be a harder phrase to crack than “EyeH8p@s$w0rd5!”  Don’t ask me.  I am not a computer expert or hacker by any stretch of the imagination.

Don’t ask me how many personal passwords I have because none of them are written down, unless I managed to remember to write them on a statement and filed them in a filing cabinet.  The problem is that many sites I may only have a use for looking at once a year or several times a year, and I have to think back to my state of mind at the creation of the password, and I have three or four that I can easily remember, but if anything is different like a capital letter or a special character, I am screwed and locked into the “Forgot Password” loop.

The worst loop I got lost in was with a state revenue entity that was requiring additional security.  They sent me a confirmation code that was time sensitive that didn’t make it’s way out through my email filter until after the time had expired.  The worst is having to spend a half hour of your day on the phone to change a password, or confirm identity when online access is supposed to be more convenient.

That’s the heart of the issue for me, convenience vs. security.  If a client has never had fraud occur or identity theft, they can only see the inconvenience because of your conservative security measures.  Conversely, someone who has dealt with ID theft or fraud will blame the security measures in place for not being strong enough.



The Great Cord Cutting Crusade

We have been cable package free for 5 years now, and with a huge merger of Charter and Time Warner happening this year(1), it seems even more important for consumers to make informed choices and to break free of the huge monopolies that offer our entertainment packages.

TV broadcast started in the US in 1929 as an antenna broadcast in New York City and quickly spread across the country.  TV originally used radio’s model of selling ad space to generate revenue, a business model that continues today.  Now that the internet is nearly ubiquitous across America, it has opened the door for streaming media content and offers a wide variety of customizable entertainment, untold volumes of which are free with an internet connection.

Do you remember Blockbuster?  Companies like Netflix were the death knell of walk-in video stores.  Our local video rental store closed up shop last year, a rare hold out in an almost defunct delivery system.  The ability to watch what you want, when you want it continues to drive consumer choices and cable companies are being forced to adapt their own streaming packages and offerings.

The only challenge remaining in terms of cost and choice is sports.  There are MLB and MLS subscription packages, but college football and NFL remain some of the priciest streaming options.  This should tell us something about what generates revenue for cable companies.

As a new customer or existing customer expanding service, I can get a cable and internet package for $80/month for a year (maybe two if I’m lucky).  This will offer me most of the channels I want, but does not include a Netflix subscription, Hulu, or Amazon Prime, all things I’ve become used to, and Netflix in particular is offering new content that is frankly amazing:  House of Cards, Daredevil, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Orange is the New Black, and much much more.  Amazon’s original content Man in the High Castle was fantastic, and I highly recommend James Corden in the Hulu original The Wrong Mans.

And on these services, I can usually find most of the same content that a cable package offers, albeit sometimes I have to wait up to a year to see the last season.  Right now, I’m watching the CBS show Supergirl on Netflix.  In October it transitions to the CW which used to rebroadcast same season shows on Hulu, but now has a deal with Netflix and its own app.  CBS is one of the few major networks that doesn’t rebroadcast it’s shows on Hulu.  They have their own streaming service at $6/month.

So how do I get sports?  A good old fashioned roof-mounted antenna.  Ironically, when we moved in to my wife’s grandparents old house, there was a pole mounted antenna on the back of the house that I never got around to using, wouldn’t have known how, and let a friend dismantle and take away.  This was one day a few years before I realized that free HD TV was just a relatively small investment away.  We live about 60 miles away from a major metropolitan area and about the same distance from the major network affiliates there that broadcast from an antenna.

We are in what to antennae afficionados is called the deep fringe.  So I did my research on TV FoolAntenna Theory, and some other sites and figured out the different kinds of antennas, and ordered one on Amazon (because I get free 2-day shipping with Prime), and after some DIY installation, I now get about a dozen channels I want and a dozen I don’t in clear HD, including ABC, PBS, NBC, CBS, and the CW.  FOX is unfortunately the only channel I can’t get to come in well.  I put in about $150 in hard cost for antenna, cable, and mounting, some manual labor and time, but have no additional cost for a cable subscription package.

I spend about an additional $30/month for Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, but they offer me so much more choice and content and put me in control of my entertainment.  When I finally left the cable subscription, I was paying over twice what I’m paying now.  It offers me portability and access from multiple devices and locations as well.

My Roku box is as old as my cord cutting and has yet to completely fail me, but that investment as well was relatively small.  The USB version Roku stick can be purchased for around $30, with the high end box being just over $100 and a range of options in-between which offers more free content than can ever be consumed.

Most of my entertainment requires internet which I pay for currently, but with city-wide wifi gaining popularity there may come a day when the internet is truly free.  Until that time, let’s fight and work hard to find ways to stick it to the man by taking control of our entertainment choices.  Entertainment may be a standard of living, but we are not entitled to it and neither are the big cable companies and major networks entitled to our money.


When I Leave My Middle Management Security Blanket of a Job for Unemployment, Entrepreneurship, or to become a Barista at Starbucks!

When I leave my job, the first thing I will do is get rid of all of my ties!  What a drag to have to wear a tie every day!  Women don’t have to wear ties!  I’ll give up any pay differential never to have to wear a tie again.  When you wear ties people look at you differently, like you’re a CEO or something, when really you wait for a 30% off coupon at Kohl’s and buy their off-brand name stuff on sale.  5 pants in all the chino khaki colors for $50, y’all!  2 button-down see thru shirts in white and powder blue for $30.  Oh yeah!

Then I’ll finally be able to explore what it means to be a hipster.  The last time I tried to grow a beard, I went for about 8 weeks before I decided I looked just enough like someone who you’d probably see on some kind of offender registry.  But with my nonexistent paycheck I’ll be able to authentically shop at thrift stores without feeling out of place or wondering if I’m taking great clothes out of the hands of people who really need it.  I will probably need some secondhand glasses, because there went my sweet employer-subsidized vision plan.  I will finally learn to sew because everything I buy won’t fit, and I will painstakingly tailor and curate my wardrobe with skinny blazers and pants that reach just to my ankles, even though at 5’8″ all adult pant inseams are too long for me off the rack.

Two things I will spend money on in unemployment will be Starbucks Coffee and a MacBook Pro, and by money I mean my generous credit card limits built with a steady reliable income.  It is impossible to be an unemployed middle-aged hipster wannabe without a MacBook at Starbucks.  I may blow through the remaining limits of my credit cards but by God what kind of animal can survive without a double espresso mocha latte and easy access to a suite of creative productivity software?  Thankfully there is no debtors prison.

After a few months of being unemployed and pretending to write my Great American SciFi Space Opera but instead posting poorly crafted memes and commenting on various news and political forums, I will be forced to face the stark reality that I need an income.  But I won’t go back to working for the MAN!  Never again!  The festering bureaucracy of a large company that cares enough about it’s employees to offer competitive health benefits, stock options, and amazing retirement benefits for the indentured servitude of middle management, will never snare me again!

I could start my own business!  A new age entrepreneur, a man of ambition and quality finding a need, creating a product.  So what am I good at?  I’m okay at home improvements, maybe I could be a contractor.  Dang, but they have to sweat a lot and work some weird hours.  I could sell clever t-shirts?  A lot of competition there.  Damn, I am one mediocre fuck-a-doodle.  I blame my former employer for not helping me develop more entrepreneurial skills.  Could I sue for company inflicted mediocrity?  Nah, probably not, especially as they offer an array of amazing learning and development opportunities.

Let’s have a go at that bootstrap mentality.  Pull yourself up.  There you go.  Computers!  Everyone is always saying that computers is where the money’s at!  Look online for a computer course.  Well, that’s expensive.  Maybe I can learn as I go.  YouTube it and Google the ever living fuck out of computer learning.  Then I will build a bohemian computer company, with a cadre of equals in a co-op non-profit that provides fee for service tech support for third world start-ups!  Yes, that’s the ticket.  But where to start?  C++, Javascript, HTML, I don’t know how to pronounce that one…Dang, this is going to be a process.  I should have paid more attention when this whole internet thing was getting started.

Shit, maybe I shouldn’t have blown up my credit so quickly.  That might have come in handy for a business loan.  And damn, now I look like I’m homeless, which let’s be honest if I get another late notice they’ll start foreclosure proceedings.  No, no, no, enough of that.

Wait!  What’s that on the door to Starbucks?  Help Wanted!  I practically live there!  How could JoElle, Darrin, and Kathy not tell me?!  Online application submitted.  I cannot wait to misspell your name on a double espresso cappufrappalatte!  Maybe I will finally learn the secret ingredient that makes Starbucks so much better from the store than at home.  So glad I escaped the humdrum of a major corporation.  Oh wait…