5 Primo Coding Secrets for English Majors

Last week, as I was trudging through the quicksand of changing my website theme, constantly sinking into the swamp of contradictory code and grasping at branches of CSS held out by travelers before me, I wondered if something positive could be pulled out of the mess. Aha! I could share what I learned with the blogosphere. Thus, in the spirit of passing on some recently, painfully-earned wisdom, I will share the most dominant lessons.

CSS code response = success
Source: Dreamstime.com

Have you ever forgotten to save your writing after a long stretch of creativity, only to have your computer crash and lose hours of your genius? In the old pre-computer days, this was known as “the teacher lost my paper.” Two weeks of my best creativity disappeared because I was too cheap to make a copy of my seminal work on the religious imagery in e.e. cummings’ poetry. It still bothers me, decades later! Back up your work. Here’s what that means when you are creating or making changes to a blog site.

1. Write down the changes you make–preferably as you go

Most writers know how and why to keep track of changes as they go, either by using a Track Changes feature or the primitive “print it out and make edits by hand” method. Version control becomes an issue when you don’t keep track. Also, what if you change something and you decide you don’t like it? You might want that original brilliant phrase back which only sounded mundane after a night reading Seamus Haney. The same logic applies to changes to technology. Continue reading “5 Primo Coding Secrets for English Majors”

I’ve Got You Under My Skin

I don’t know when we decided to give ourselves to the Nano-overlords, but I suspect it was a gradual process. There was no light switch I flipped saying, “Sure, I want to be digitally monitored all the time.” As I child, I adhered to the idea of “Don’t put foreign objects in your body” which now seems to have become “Honk! if you got chipped!” The Right to Privacy now has morphed into “Alexa, can you buy me some hemorrhoid cream?”

20171115 igotchipped

How We Got Ourselves Here

A NY Times article this week described a digital pill that will alert doctors whether their patients have swallowed the medication (based on its interaction with stomach fluid). The FDA has approved it, even though the drug companies’ clinical trials hadn’t yet shown that the monitoring improved compliance. In theory, the monitoring would only be done with the patient’s consent, but since this particular pill is aimed at patients with mental health issues, how would consent be obtained? Suppose a schizophrenic pleads not guilty by reason of insanity to a crime and their plea bargain requires them to take their meds — requires them to agree to swallow this pill that alerts security when they don’t take it? Society might be better off, but at the price of civil liberty. Continue reading “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”

With 500 of My Closest Friends

Naira Gasparyan really wants to connect with me on LinkedIn. My email inbox has a second reminder about Naira’s urgent plea of last week, reminding me that Naira, from the Central Bank of Armenia, could help me grow my network. Meanwhile, three Facebook posts this week start with “I am tired of seeing all these posts that…” Also, my bank has started a blog with tips to help people save for retirement, but they have somehow inadvertently mapped my blog’s personal bio into their author set, so that when you google my name, it shows up under the bank. They no longer accept customer support emails, though, so I had to add them to Facebook and then Messenger their support team to get this fixed. Coincidence? Hardly.

Welcome to our messy new society of app-based relationships. We have waded into the sea of people available through these icon buttons, and now the surf of voices is tumbling us merrily about. All the foibles and follies humanity has to offer are right at our fingertips, and, like everything else at our fingertips, it’s making us more divided and confused instead of tightly connected.

Who are all these People? Oh wait—that’s funny–

Take Facebook, for example. Continue reading “With 500 of My Closest Friends”

I Didn’t See That Coming

Why don’t we anticipate large scale events better? Giant hurricanes (again, the 3rd in ten years)…500 year floods (again, the 3rd in Houston in three years by at least one account)… the crash of the economy… the election of crazy people… the list is getting pretty darned long.  People’s inability to see the coming tsunami wave is analyzed quite well in a book I recently read: The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

The human mind suffers from three ailments as it comes into contact with history, what I call the triplet of opacity. They are:
a. The illusion of understanding…
b. The retrospective distortion…
c. The overvaluation of factual information and the handicape of authoritative and learned people
The Black Swan

Taleb’s book is only ten years old but already a classic. I read it on the mini-bus driving around the quiet hills of Ireland, and I can’t imagine a better way to absorb such an indictment of our human myopia. It’s very readable; there are some numbers in it, but mostly in the footnotes or the appendix. Most of it is anecdotes and stories, which is kind of ironic, since one of Taleb’s main points is that we rely on anecdotes to understand things because we can’t cope with the math. As it turns out, that’s probably okay, because we aren’t using the math properly anyway.

The Illusion of Understanding–Don’t Be the Turkey
One way Taleb says we fail to predict properly is in our inability to understand the world in front of us. The world is complicated and large; it’s hard to take it all in. As a result, we either (a) conclude that we can’t predict anything because it’s too complicated or (b) we rely on simply models and create quasi-statistical understandings entirely based on the present. These models fall apart if what our scope is limited. The best example of this is Taleb’s Turkey analogy.

The turkey, born on January 1st, for example, learns to look forward to the chef. The chef feeds him every day, lovingly popping the tastiest grains and morsels into his little mouth. For 330 days, he sees that chef come over and knows, from experience, that something good’s gonna happen.

Until it doesn’t. Continue reading “I Didn’t See That Coming”

Not to See the Eclipse

Road Trip II: Up to Portland

Summer jobs when you’re in college are a grind  — hot, low-paying, mostly boring. Chasing shopping carts around in a parking lot. Xeroxing rolodex cards. Interpreting cheeseburger orders in sophomore-level Spanish through the drive-thru window. Our daughter Lee has been pulling 5:30 am shifts most of the summer, unloading the trucks at Homegoods, schlepping rugs and mirrors around for hours. If she’s lucky and they give her a full shift, then she spends the second half smiling at customers who give long elaborate stories about why they have no receipt but want to return this ceramic dog with a chip in it.

It seemed to me she deserved a road trip before heading back to school, so we were determined to take one. A close friend lives just up in Portland. That’s only two days drive. Synchronize your watches! Pack up the car! We’re heading north!

Continue reading “Not to See the Eclipse”