Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

Meaningless lists and happy cities

On Facebook today Daytonians are happily posting the news that Dayton is the “Happiest City to Work In,” according to a report on Dayton’s news media is similarly all abuzz.

Except that all lists like these are just so much bullshit.

Guess what the #2 most unhappy city to work in was in 2012? If you guessed Dayton, you’re right. This time last year had a similar report, but Daytonians weren’t happy about it because our fair city was the second most unhappy city in which to work.

Do Forbes logo and Career Bliss logo believe this stuff, or do they just want to sell advertising? Does anyone really believe that so much has changed between 2012 and 2013? In 2012 Dayton scored only 3.66; in 2013 Dayton scored 4.02. That’s a huge change, isn’t it?

Or not, considering that 1–5 is the range of the rankings. Out of five, 3.66 is 73% or a fairly low C, and 4.02 out of 5 is 80.4%, a B but just barely. The happiest city in 2013 to work in got a B, Dayton’s #1, with a score of 80% or a B and people are deliriously happy about that? Dayton didn’t even get an A.

Also, in 2013 the unhappiest city to work in, Boulder, Colorado, got a score of 3.45. Does a difference of 0.57 out of 5 mean anything? In 2012 the happiest city to work in, Miami, got a score of 4.14, while New Haven, 2012’s unhappiest city to work in, had a score of 3.46—a spread of 0.68. Do you get the feeling that there’s really not all that much difference between the happiest city and the unhappiest city?

Don’t get me wrong—Dayton’s not a bad place. There are plenty of worse places in which to live and work, and, despite our #1 ranking this year, there are plenty of better places. But don’t pretend that lists like this mean anything.

Monday, January 14th, 2013

Why is being gay a matter of privacy?

Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster and sons
Mel Gibson with the formerly very private Jodie Foster and her sons,
on TV at the Golden Globes
Even if you didn’t watch the Golden Globes last night (and I didn’t, so go ahead and revoke my gay card), you’re probably aware that Jodie Foster won a lifetime achievement award and gave a very interesting acceptance speech that everyone today has been discussing.

This evening I read a post by Andrew Sullivan about Foster’s speech, and a sentence from her speech which he highlighted got me to thinking. The sentence is:

Now, apparently, I’m told that every celebrity is expected to honor the details of their private life with a press conference, a fragrance, and a prime-time reality show.

Sullivan has something to say about that, but what I want to point out is that Foster didn’t really mean “every celebrity.” No, what she meant is “every gay or lesbian celebrity.”

Let’s look at some other Golden Globe winners. Just picking some at random, there are Henry Fonda, Meryl Streep, John Huston, Jessica Tandy, Denzel Washington, Helen Hunt, Ang Lee, Helen Mirren, just to name a few. Is there even one straight person on the planet who hides his or her heterosexuality because to reveal it would be a breach of privacy? Can you recall when any of these award-winning actors gave press conferences about their private lives?

No, of course you can’t. And you know why? Because straight people don’t have to make any big announcements — that they’re married and who they’re married to isn’t considered any big secret or breach of privacy. Yes, straight people send out wedding announcements, but those aren’t press conferences, and straight people don’t view a simple query of “Are you married?” as an invasion of their privacy.

For most people who have lives that feel “real and honest and normal”—to quote a part of Foster’s speech—simply acknowledging that one has a spouse is not, despite what Foster might want us to believe, a violation of privacy.

Indeed, to set up queers in 2013 as something special, needing special privacy protections, really does us a disservice. The only way we’re going “to be understood deeply, and to not be so very lonely”—again, quoting Foster—is to stop hiding who we are, behind some banner of privacy that no straight person would ever hide behind, and to just be honest about ourselves.

Thankfully Foster has joined those of us—everyone who’s straight and more and more who are queer—who do just that. I think she’ll survive the loss of privacy.

Friday, January 25th, 2013

MEMO re: Inter-departmental mail

I came across something recently that reminds me that I’m no longer young. Ask a kid today what an inter-departmental envelope is, and I bet you’d get a blank stare. Yet in the days before email, these envelopes were ubiquitous.
An inter-departmental envelope from the 90s
(click to embiggen)

In case you can’t picture a inter-department envelope, you can see one to the right. Amazingly, you can still buy envelopes like these ($26.81 for a box of 100 at, so I guess someone must still be using them.

What went into these envelopes? The same thing that later went into Microsoft Outlook and now goes into Gmail.
A memo I wrote in 1995
(click to embiggen)
Messages headed with lines indicating the date, a subject, the sender and recipients. What was known as a memorandum, or more commonly a memo, of course survives yet today in electronic form as an email.

You may not have been able to imagine what an inter-departmental envelope looked like, but you’ve used email and thus have an idea what a memo looked like, even if you never drafted one, printed multiple copies, optionally physically attached additional material by paperclip or staple, and then stuffed them into hand-addressed individual envelopes to be put in an outbox, picked up by mailroom staff, and delivered to recipients in multiple offices across a company.

If you’re curious, to the left is a copy of just such a memo, one I drafted in late 1995 in the course of my job for my first employer. This was approaching the end of an era, for early the next year I would be drafting a memo on how to send cc:Mail messages to people on the Internet.

Thus it turns out that plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Office workers around the world are still, sometimes, doing productive work, but we’re also communicating endlessly about our work.

Monday, January 28th, 2013

Request for Immediate Action or bullshit junk mail

I got a piece of mail that wanted to look as if it were mighty important. As you can see on the upper right, it had a little picture of a bald eagle and the dire notice “Warning: $2,000 fine, 5 years imprisonment,
Must be official with so dire a warning on it, right?

This mail really is from a governmental body
but has no warnings
or both for any person interfering or obstructing with delivery of this letter U.S. Mail TTT.18 U.S. Code.” Must be pretty important, right?

Except that mail from the government doesn’t really look like that. As you can see on the lower right, a notice I got from the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court, Office of Jury Services, last year had no logo nor any dire warning about interfering with the U.S. Mail. So what gives?

What gives is that the folks who sent the quasi-official looking notice hope that no one will read the fine print on the inside, which says, “Not affiliated with dealer or manufacturer.” They just want people to “act now” and call them, so they can try to sell you an extended warranty.

Sorry, but just like someone else whose bullshit detector was set off by this stupid mailing and who googled 877-692-5070 and then blogged about it, I’m not interested in the sales pitch from Motor Vehicle Services or whoever they are.

They didn’t provide a return address or even put any pricing in their mailing. Who the hell gets one of these offers and calls for more info? Someone must or Motor Vehicle Services wouldn’t do these mailings, but how can what they offer be a good thing if they have to be so shady about it?

I don’t know if Direct Warranty Services LLC of St Peters, MO, is the company behind the mailing I received, but from this Better Business Bureau report, it sounds like a very similar operation, if not the same. The BBB gave Direct Warranty Services LLC an “F” rating, saying:

The BBB brought to the firm’s attention that an advertisement as a whole may be misleading although every sentence separately considered is literally true, and that misrepresentation may result not only from direct statements but by omitting or obscuring a material fact. The BBB continues to receive a pattern of complaints and reports from consumers alleging that the firm’s solicitations are misleading. The company failed to modify the advertisement.

What’s really sad is that vehicle warranty expirations aren’t public information. The only way firms like these get this info is from car dealers or vehicle manufacturers. That Volkswagen of America would sell my info to shady operators like this makes me sad; I really like my VW Eos, but I think less of VW for selling me out.

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