Social Graph Search? I Don’t Geddit…

So FaceBook’s announced its “Graph Search” functionality. The tech publishing community, looking to create a story where one likely doesn’t meaningfully exist, wants to grab eyeballs by loudly asking, “should Google be worried” or stating “FaceBook is encroaching on Google’s turf”. I’m not sure I can buy into this attempt to grab page-views.

In order for something to be “social” it has to be more than two dorks, each sitting by themselves, doing the same solitary activity. To be honest, I don’t really care if my friends are watching the same movie on NetFlix or listening to the same tune on Spotify that I am. If we aren’t sitting in the same room, able to MST3K it together, what’s the point.

And, before someone chimes in, “you could be on chat or headphones doing just that”, no, actually, you can’t. None of the media services currently offer a synchronous consumption capability. Ironically, about the only way you have that is if you happen to both be watching one of the legacy “on demand” cable services from the same cable company – not one of the “new media” service providers’ offerings.

If I’m watching something that’s even 1s ahead of the other person, my MST3K’ing is going to be a spoiler (in our house, this is seen with hockey where the feed to my wife’s set-top box is usually 1-3s off of the feed to my set-top box. Instead of being a good thing, it’s actually rather annoying when watching the same sporting event and one of you hears the other “woot” or “groan” in reaction to an even the other has yet to see.

And, while I value the opinion of friends on services, movies, etc., most of my friends are geographically distributed enough that I’m much more likely to get a valuable recommendation for a plumber/restaurant/etc. from a nearby stranger than I am a friend who lives 30 miles away.

Thanks, I’ll take a basic Google search or a Yelp search to a “Graph Search” when I’m looking for more than “what is my friend doing right now“. Even when I want to know the answer to that question, it’s mostly because I am thinking of calling them to see if they’re free to do something that’s actually “social” rather than something that is communally-solitary.

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Soulless in Suburbia

So, I live in Northern Virginia (also known as NoVA). These are the Virginia suburbs of the Washington, DC metro region. All in all, it’s a fairly well to do area. Sadly, it’s a fairly soulless area. If you come from a city like New York, Philadelphia, Boston or Baltimore, you’re used to areas that have “neighborhoods” – distinct communities that have common cultural bonds.

I’ve lived in NoVA for just shy of 20 years, now. In that time, the only things I’ve noticed to dominate the area are homeowners associations. NoVA is the shining example of what’s wrong with HOAs and the types of people that love them. HOAs are part of an overall pattern of enforced blandness and suburban ennui. Worse, in areas like NoVA, the HOA mindset seems to permeate all aspects of life here.

I guess it almost naturally follows that if your stuck living in neighborhoods of cookie-cutter neighborhoods of hundreds of HOA-approved beige single family homes, the unrelenting beigeness will come to fill the empty space left by your shriveled soul. So, I guess it only follows that, if you live in a house that looks almost identical to your neighbors’, you’ll want to dress like them, drive the same vehicles as them, eat like them, etc. In NoVA, you can be an interchangeable clone, just like all your HOA-dominated peers.

You start your day by slipping into your khakis and stumbling down the stairs to take in breakfast. You take your McKids to their school because, god forbid they walk the five blocks to get there (and the local school district won’t bus them if they live closer than 1mi. to the school). I mean, it’s too dangerous for little Brayden to walk a few blocks to school. And if there’s bad weather? Heavens: no one has invented boots or umbrellas yet – they’d catch pneumonia if you didn’t drive them to school!

So, out you go in your silver or grey (or other automotive beige-equivalent) minivan or SUV. Kids bundled in back, watching the mandatorily-installed mini-LCDs. It’d suck to have to actually talk to your kids or have your kids pry their eyes away from a TV set for more than the length of time it takes to transit from the house to the car. Thank god for iPads, though, because even that gap can be filled!

Kids safely deposited at school, you take your drab little soulless car and hop on the beltway.You make the two hour, thirty mile trip to work. You find a space to park your car – not too close to the other cars, lest someone ding your grey pride and joy, though! You lurch into your non-descript office building and trudge your way into cubicle-land. You talk about the latest thing you’ve TiVO’ed while taking half a bagel or donut from the tray in the break room. You spend your day staring at a computer monitor while what’s left of your humanity dies a little more.

The day crawls by in a blur of pointless meetings and pointless smalltalk. You stumble out into the parking lot trying to remember, “where did I park my car” because, god knows you can’t tell your little grey or silver suburbia-mobile from another. Thank god you got that “clever” personalized license plate, those “funny” bumper stickers and the family window stickers to help you tell your little grey or silver suburbia-mobile from the others. Ah! There it is – the one that chirps when you press on your keyless entry system; the one saying “it’s me you’re looking for!” You toss your laptop case in the car and ready yourself for the slog home.

Two hours later, you’ve navigated the thirty miles back to your drab, beige house. The spouse is home, but the kids are still off at the mall. You can’t remember which one, because there’s so many nearby and the all look the same and have all the same stores in them. Time to send out the “come home for dinner” text message.

Eventually, the kids come home (yes, somehow, deepest, darkest suburbia is safe enough for them to be out at the mall, just not enough to walk to school). No one feels like cooking, so you pack the kids into the family truckster and head off to the nearest place to get chain food. You ignore each other over dinner, staring into your respective cellphones or notepad computers – catching up on the latest that FaceBook has to offer. Dinner is acceptable but utterly forgettable – it’s just like the thousands you’ve had before at this or some other chain-food outlet.

You trundle the kids back to the family truckster and drive home so the kids can do their homework and so you can lose yourself in all the things you’ve TiVO’ed this week.

It goes on like this for the rest of your life. It all goes blurring by, featureless. One day, you actually die, but you don’t really notice.

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WTF, BMW?

I’d been hoping to get a small, fun, fuel-efficient car to stand in as a daily driver for my BMW Convertible. Unfortunately, things seem to be conspiring to put the kaibosh on that.

My wife’s Saturn has been showing its age, lately. Things coming loose (e.g., keep having to re-seat and re-tighten the hood’s latch-bolt). The A/C has been a joke against this summer’s heat (so, probably a leak in the coolant system) – and requires driving in a lower gear to keep the car a reasonable temperature. The car shudders under low-throttle conditions (e.g., when in going through an uphill 25MPH zone and trying to maintain a constant speed). In all, it means I’ve had to turn to thoughts of finding a suitable replacement for it.

We’d bought the Saturn when we were still hopeful of having children. At the time, we were hoping to need a vehicle the size of a VUE. Plus, it was one of the few SUVs in its class that had comfort features like heated front seats (this was 2004).

Since the prospect of children are no longer an issue, I’d really wanted to replace it with a smaller vehicle. I was thinking something more in sport wagon form-factor. Basically, a smaller, more fuel-sipping car, but still larger than my convertible. Since we’ve still got pets to haul and pack heavy when going on road trips (e.g., the holidays), this seemed like a good compromise.

One of the vehicles I’d been considering was the X1. Tonight, traffic was such that I had to take bailout routes (actually, bailouts from the bailouts). The GPS routed me past BMW of Alexandria. I figured, “I’m in the neighborhood…”. I’d figured that, since the X1 was positioned similarly to the Audi A3 sport wagon, that it’d have similar efficiency specs. Not so much, though. Long story short, the X1 is pretty much off the table. While it’s the right size, I’m just not gonna pony up $50K for a 3500lb+ (base weight) sport wagon that only gets 17/27.

My goal for any replacement for the SUV is a vehicle whose lowest MPG is 30MPG. In other words, I’m looking at hybrids, diesels and other fuel efficient gas vehicles to replace the Saturn. Given that I have the A3 and (had the) X1 in the list of considerations, I’m not looking for an econo-box, per se, I’m just looking for a nice ride that doesn’t require weekly stops at the gas station.

To be honest, I don’t understand BMW’s direction, at this point. I have a 2002 e46 convertible. I bought it new (custom ordered, actually, when BMW still offered their “BMW Individual” program on the 3-series). I’d always considered it to be a bit heavy for it’s class, but dealt with it. It also got respectable mileage (rated at 18/26 but I usually get closer to 30 on the highway). However, when I look at my e46’s current siblings/cousins, I’m just lost. This years’ 3-series vehicles are bigger than my model year’s 5-series vehicles were. Granted, for their size, they get decent mileage, but that’s about all I can say for them. I look at competing models from Audi and it’s even more apalling (the most feature-fitted A3 still has a efficiency rating of 30/42).

I like small, sporty, efficient cars. BMW used to offer cars that were relatively efficient for being sporty. Now, their cars are all too freaking big, their rides have been softened and their efficiency is abyssmal. It’s like, “WTF”. It’s no wonder Audi has been eating BMW’s lunch, lately.

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Open Letter To Google:

I get that there are and should be standards for public posts on sites like Plus. I don’t have a problem with that, beyond the ones of how uneven and seemingly arbitrary the enforcement of standars is. That said, Google does provide mechanisms for private- or limited-sharing. The presumption of such a system is that, so long as everyone in those closed-circles/groups are in agreement on the “rules” of what’s appropriate to share, Google really shouldn’t insert themselves as the no-no police (obvious exceptions for material that is, in fact, illegal in the jurisdictions that the material is shared to).

That Google appears to want to insert themselves into semi-private communications and make determinations as to what should be allowed in those private communications is, at best, “troubling”. It leaves a tremendously bad taste in ones mouth. For all its failings, FaceBook (and other social media that offer private communications options) doesn’t seem to have inappropriate editorial actions as one of their problems. Frankly, logging in this morning and seeing delete actions against non-public posts where the people shared with/to have all agreed on content rules, was both a touch unsettling and rage-inducing.

I know that Google’s reported active Plus-use numbers are going up. So, perhaps they feel secure in their place with Google Plus. Perhaps that feeling of security it making them feel like they have a freer hand. I dunno, but it’s definitely making me reconsider my place on Plus.

So, if I drop off of Plus, it’s because I have decided that Plus is no longer a suitable home for me. There’s too many other options, out there, where I don’t have to worry about what I say or to whom I say it.

Who knows: maybe it’s less Google in this instance than it is other posters on Plus acting dickishly or simply carelessly (resharing private or even semi-private things publicly is “careless” at best). I really don’t want to consider that one as betrayal of trust makes things decidedly not worth sticking around for.

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To Be Avoided: HFS Benefits

These guys?

Fucking worthless.

Prior to my employer’s acquisition, they used these clown-shoes for administration of our FSA plans. As part of our plans, we were issued FSA credit cards that we could charge eligible expenses with so that we wouldn’t have to dick around with all the reimbursement paperwork that I’ve had to file with some older plans (early 2000s). However, each time I used the FSA cards that these assholes administered, I’d get an email a month or so later saying “you have to provide detailed receipts in order for us to process this charge.”

Really? You sent me this fucking piece of plastic to streamline the process, yet, I still have to submit supplemental paperwork in order for you assholes to approve the charge? What was the fucking point of those cards, then? Did you just want to have an excuse to waste plastic and print up a pretty card with your company logo on it?

Seriously: I didn’t have these issues with the FSA cards at my last job.

Then again, why the fuck is a defense contractor operating a health benefits administration company? Talk about “operating outside your core competency”.

Ass-hats.

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Observation From A Party of Friends

It’s a lot easier to not notice that you’re getting older if you don’t hang out with the same group of people (periodically) over time. The problem with infrequent get-togethers, is that it’s a stark reminder that your friends are all getting old (and, by extension, that you’re getting old).

Used to only notice this when I would go home to visit my parents. Each time I did so, they looked older – particularly my father. It got to the point where the visible aging became hard to bear and made it such that, even though I really loved my parents, I couldn’t bear the psychological toll of seeing how much older they looked each time I saw them. It meant that visits became more and more infrequent. Sadly, with reduced frequency of exposure, the progressive effects of aging would be all that much more apparent because the snapshots had longer intervals between them.

Who knows: maybe the key to not being bothered by it is to see people more frequently That way the changes are less stark and the resultant shocks less jarring.

Dunno, but people need to stop getting older – it makes me feel too old when I see.

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TMI: It’s Not Just a Nuclear Disaster in Pennsyltucky

In news of the TMI (seriously, just go ahead and skip this post, now…)

Yesterday, shortly before bed, I stumbled on one of those dubious “interesting facts” web sites that seem to litter teh Intarwebz. If you saw the sperm/exercise post, last night, that’s where it came from. At any rate, one of the “interesting facts” listed on the site was something to the effect that “if you dream that you’re peeing, you will actually end up peeing in your sleep”. This is probably from the same school of wisdom that says “if you fall from a fatal height in your dream and hit the ground before you wake up, you’ll die in your sleep”.

Apparently, my brain took this as some kind of challenge. I was having some really freaking bizarre dreams (thank you, double-dose of melatonin!), last night. At one point, in one of those dreams, I ended up dreaming that I was taking a piss. This wasn’t just some ordinary, run down the hall for a quick squirt kind of piss, either. No. It was an epic piss. It was the kind of long-lasting, bladder-voiding monster-piss that would have turned me into a desicated corpse had it not been a dream-piss (look, I already told you “TMI” and “skip this”: you were warned).

I did not wake up before or during this epic void. Nope. I continued on with the rest of a night full of freaking bizarre dreams. I woke up in the morning and all was dry. So, either the bed has amazing absorbancy and odor-killing properties, or my brain won the challenge (#MythBusted).

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