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About 15 OCT 2012
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Grappling with the Gauntlets of Gmail

According to Wordnet 3.0:

Gauntlet [Noun]

2. a glove of armored leather; protects the hand;

4. a form of punishment in which a person is forced to run between two lines of men facing each other and armed with clubs or whips to beat the victim;

Both apply in this case

When I first used Gmail, it creeped me out when I saw ads that told me that Google was peeking in on my emails. That’s why I never made Gmail my regular email host.

Hotmail (Outlook.com, and intermediate descendents) and Yahoo! were never exciting providers, but email isn’t one of those places I look for excitement. Just like banking, I don’t expect to love them. Just don’t piss me off, and we’ll all go about our daily business.

Changing your go to email address is the same amount of hassle as changing banks. There’s always the chance that something I forgot about bounces back. But, as I said, I never made Gmail my default email.

I use Gmail for the specialty subjects like YouTube. I’ve set up separate accounts according to what group I expect to be notifying me. Senders all want my immediate attention, but that’s their convenience, not mine. If my weekly review of what they sent me comes too late, it’s their loss not mine.

I give my important contacts the Hotmail or Yahoo address and keep up with those daily. That’s my decision. Google’s decision appears to be One Account to Rule Them All.

There are two strategies to getting people to change:
– Make it easy and desirable to change
– Make it difficult not to

Google may feel that they have taken the high road and made first choice. This morning their dealings with me have felt heavy handed. Hence, the gauntlet reference. Somehow, one of my Gmail accounts has been designated as the default. When I attempt login to Gmail, I don’t get a choice: there’s no input field. The two choices they offer are both poor choices for me.

The first choice Gmail offers is to bring my other Gmail accounts into the service of the One Account to Rule Them All. My first objection is that I had my reasons for setting them up separately to begin with. My second objection is that avoiding account entanglement reduces security risks.

The second choice occurs after I’ve worked around their first choice by opening a private window in Firefox. The Gmail login gives me a blank field for the ID. It also has a default selection for ‘Stay signed in’. You’re allowed to uncheck it, but if you do, Gmail’s response is let you log in, but immediately cover your session with a new tab scolding you about the choice you made.

I’m not sure if my work around would work in Chrome. One more reason to stick with Firefox.

Google, don’t be evil. Let me go about my business the ways I prefer.

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First Flight: Fight and Fright

In 1969, my first attempt at programming taught me a lesson I have never allowed myself to forget. I was seated at a teletype style terminal. I had read the ten page booklet/manual, and managed to log on and start the language environment session. I had typed in some code and terminal responded:
ILLEGAL STATEMENT
I tried retyping it.
ILLEGAL STATEMENT
I tried a couple other things
ILLEGAL STATEMENT
I tried to EXIT
ILLEGAL STATEMENT
I tried to QUIT
ILLEGAL STATEMENT

I checked the manual, those commands were supposed to get me out. I was trapped. I couldn’t just walk away because usage was metered. I had to make it STOP.

I don’t member what the program I was attempting to write was supposed to do. I don’t know what brand or make of computer the terminal was connected to. Hadn’t even heard the term “operating system”. But I still remember the panic trap I was in.

When I started my first IT related job in 1978, I made it a point not to forget that feeling. Whatever I coded, I tried to make sure there was a way OUT of whatever I was bringing the user into. “This is going to be a geat experience, and you’re GOING to experience ALL of it” has never been my mantra for constructing the interface.

In the follow up, there was a second lesson I was not aware of at the time. I showed the session listing to a couple guys in my student house and they didn’t see anything wrong. Finally, an upperclassman asked me “Are you using a lower case L for ones?” Of course I was, that’s how people learned how to touch type on a typewriter. Typewriters didn’t have a one key, so that’s what you did, without thinking about it.

Recalling it now, I see that to move forward we must unlearn things that once were useful and necessary.

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Flattery Will Get You . . ?

Even when you had no doubts about something, it’s always nice to have real evidence. Annoying as it is to consider, I always believed that the glowing comments I get on my postings were from automated spam-bots. The only people writing that I’m doing wonderful stuff aren’t really people at all.

I call them honey-spam. I’d probably be more vulnerable to them if I was actively looking for compliments. Akismet, my website plugin, is also not impressed by flowery flattery, and plops them into the spam queue. I normally review the spam queue on the very remote chance it contains a real comment. Last March, April, and May were the exceptions: this site was getting so slammed by spam-bots that I deleted everything in the queue without checking.

I found a more useful response when I noticed that Site5, my service provider provides a service known as the IP Ban Manager. Instead of constantly clearing things out, I could block them from from getting in and depositing their junk. I’ve set up routine for collecting spam source IP addresses and adding them to the ban list. I saw a WordPress forum posting that suggests this isn’t very effective, but it’s better than nothing. It requires a little work, but gets the desired results.

Based on traffic, this website is pretty obscure. But now, thanks to IP Ban Manager, I can say it’s very exclusive: Last month nearly eight thousand parties were denied entrance while under twelve hundred were permitted in.

The ability of spam-bot networks to reach as far as my website does generate some grudging admiration: it’s so extensive, it’s almost NSA-esque. But it’s nice to score a few points against the machine. In addition to maintaining my picket fence against the siege, today I witnessed a breakdown in the process. The automation flailed twice while trying to lay down a honey-spam nugget. Instead of a comment, it posted the complete template. Here’s a partial listing

{
{I have|I’ve} been {surfing|browsing} online more than {three|3|2|4} hours today, yet
I never found any interesting article like yours. {It’s|It is} pretty worth enough for me.
{In my opinion|Personally|In my view}, if all {webmasters|site
owners|website owners|web owners} and bloggers made good content
as you did, the {internet|net|web} will be {much more|a lot more}
useful than ever before.|
I {couldn’t|could not} {resist|refrain from} commenting.

{Very well|Perfectly|Well|Exceptionally well} written!|
{I will|I’ll} {right away|immediately} {take hold of|grab|clutch|grasp|seize|snatch} your {rss|rss feed} as I {can not|can’t} {in finding|find|to
find} your {email|e-mail} subscription {link|hyperlink} or {newsletter|e-newsletter} service.
Do {you have|you’ve} any? {Please|Kindly} {allow|permit|let} me {realize|recognize|understand|recognise|know} {so that|in order that} I {may just|may|could} subscribe.
Thanks.|

To whom/whatever is behind the spam-bots running at IP addresses 192 dot 3 dot 55 dot 208 and 192 dot 249 dot 61 dot 198: you’ll have to use different addresses. It probably won’t stop you, but it may slow you down.

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What am I Doing Here?

“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong . . . but time and chance happeneth to them all”
Ecclesiastes 9:11

People arrive at their careers though many modes.

Some are literally born to do it. From the time he was three years old, my cousin’s son regularly attempted to cook meals. His mother actively tried to discourage him: stoves and ovens aren’t safe for small children to operate. He not only survived these impulses to cook, he grew up to satisfy them.

Others are born into their careers. When I met Martin in the summer of 1968, his future in the family business was all laid out. As a member of an English upper class family, he didn’t have much input into the process, but it didn’t conflict with any deep passions. By training and temperament he was an amiable fellow amused by the vicissitudes of life and willing enjoy what he found, so he would call his future good.

For the rest of us, many get to what we’re doing through planning, preparation, and accident. We get there through determination and dumb luck. When people ask me “How did you get into programming?” my answer is “the Creative Writing class was full.” That’s the truth, but not the whole story.

Kathie’s employer offered a tuition reimbursement, so she decided to take a course at Mt SAC, the local community college. Just for something to do, I thought I’d take a course too. We drove there to register, and I thought the Creative Writing course might be interesting. The evening sessions were full, so I looked for something else. There was space in the Introduction to Data Processing class, so I signed up.

The class was moderately interesting. No early “wow” or “ah-ha” moments. As an introductory survey course, it didn’t seek to provide fresh challenges, just background material. Part of the DP lore it covered was an explanation of the Hollerith code for punch cards. Decoding a card that had been punched without printing the characters on the card was one of the assignments. I didn’t feel the mastery of the Hollerith code was something that would be a useful skill, so I just duplicated it on the keypunch machine.

Another student had a more extreme position on instruction and skills mastery. The woman teaching the course felt that some items were important for us to know and would help with further work or studies, so she made it point to emphasize them. When she did that, this one guy always wanted to know “Is that gonna to be on the test?” In his view, the point to taking a class was to get a passing grade or better. Any benefit beyond that was not in his scope of concern. The repeated clash of values annoyed the instructor. She got so fed up that one time, she cut him short. She followed up the point she was making with “And you can bet that will be on the test, sucker.”

A few weeks later, I sat in class, and during a lull, looked around the class and sized up how everyone was doing. Mr test question was still there, so was most of the class. As I sized things up, it occurred to me, “I could do this. I could be good at this. I could do this for a living.” I finally had the career “ah-ha” moment. I followed up by taking programming and analysis courses to build on the math and science courses I’d already taken.

I was now launched on the course of my career. Actually landing the first job is yet another story.

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