Veracity and Articulation

Why is it that society thrives on lies? What is it about our interactions with one another that predisposes us to choose deception over honesty? Has being an honorable and honest person fallen so far from grace that it is now looked down upon as inferior qualities? I just cannot understand how we got on such a path.

The amount of dishonesty from the media all the way down to interactions with immediate family is really very unnerving. What is it about truth that makes us feel uneasy and afraid? The consequences of lies are far worse than those of the truth. While there may be repercussions for telling someone the truth, the breach of trust that comes as a result of lying is, in my opinion, far worse. Trust is a very precious commodity in very short supply. Why squander it over something as ridiculous as a lie?

Perhaps my views are strange and unorthodox. I feel that the breach of trust between people caused by lying is one of the worst offenses one can give a friendship. A friend, in my view, is someone that you trust and have a strong connection with. How can one have those things with untruths lingering between them? This is not to say that full disclosure of every little thing is necessary for friendship…there will always be things that are private. Rather, of the things that are spoken, there should be honesty. If the conversation goes somewhere unwanted, it really is not hard to just say that one does not wish to talk about that any longer.

Unfortunately, far too often this is not what happens. Instead, one or the other continues on and starts fabricating falsehoods to avoid just moving the subject elsewhere. If there was real trust and companionship, would it really be so hard to simply say that there is no desire to speak of certain things? I have a number of friends that we occasionally dip into areas like that and we do not have a problem saying “I don’t really want to talk about that” and then just move on to something else. Part of the bond between friends should include the respect to honor that desire without harboring any ill feelings. If that seems strange and unnatural, the perhaps those friendships need to be looked at again.

True Friends

This is not a true “rant”…as you will see by the style in which I wrote it. However it is something that needs saying and so…

What makes a true friend? I suppose that depends on who you ask. It also depends on what the term “true friend” means to the one you are asking. From my point of view there are friends and then there are true friends. This is not based so much on how they treat me but rather in how I have come to trust them. While those two aren’t mutually exclusive, they are not totally intertwined either.

I have a fairly small group of friends…say about 30 people. These are the ones that I sometimes hang out with or go to the movies or play some games. I do have trust in them or they wouldn’t be my friends at all. But I am also not completely open with them about anything and everything. I do not feel I could call them at 3am if I am in need of help or just a sympathetic ear to hear my sorrows or worries or frustrations. I have limits on how far I will go to help them.

Beyond that group is a very select few that I call true friends. I do not have secrets from them. I do not have a feeling that I need to hold anything back from them. I know I can call on them at any time for any thing and they will be there for me. I will also move mountains to do anything for them. These are the people I love. These are the few that I know I can count on. Such true friends are hard to come by in today’s world. These are the few that accept everything about me, faults and all.

Why do I bring this up? I had a recent long conversation with one of these true friends about our friendship. I don’t think it was clear before to this person exactly what our friendship really meant. I hope I have conveyed it better than I have in the past. But it also got me to thinking, how many people go through life never really knowing what a true friend can be? How many have never had someone they could confide in completely…someone they could call upon at any time and share any thought with? I think there are far too many that fit in that category.

Life is not an easy thing to live and every now and then everybody needs someone to lean on. Many will just “make do” with whatever person happens to be handy at the moment. Unfortunately such an interaction will probably not be comforting or fulfilling. Oh I am sure many will convince themselves that it doesn’t matter who you talk to when you need to talk. I disagree. The choice of whom you talk to is almost as important as what you say…sometimes more so. The true friend is the one who will really listen and make an effort to understand what you are saying and how you are feeling. It won’t be mindless head-nodding that one normally uses in random conversation that holds no real interest. It will be a focusing of understanding and compassion.

When hurt or insecure or in need of a shoulder, nothing less than a true friend will do. The act of listening and understanding is rarely an easy thing and is absolutely essential at these moments. A “warm body” will, at best, provide superficial comfort but will do little to help the true nature of whatever really brought on these feelings. In some cases, that can actually make the problem worse.

I believe I’ve brought this up before but if you look at couples that have been together for a very long time and ask them who their best, most true friend in the world is…you’ll mostly likely hear them say it is their partner. Now this certainly isn’t going to always be the answer and of course not all true friendships end up in closer relationships. But it is worth mentioning because it further demonstrates how important these types of bonds are. People need other people that can understand…that can be trusted with intimate secrets and desires and worries…that can ease and calm us. We all need someone we can count on.

An e-Cigarette Story

I have a 13 year old daughter. She has been on my case for years for me to quit smoking. Now understand that I started smoking Marlboro Reds when I was 15. I’m 35 now and over the years my list of brands includes Marlboro Reds and Lights, Camel Filters, Wides, Lights, and No. 9’s, Vantage Ultra-Lights, Newport, and a host of others. I also like the occasional cigar and until I lost my pipe when I moved into my current house, I enjoyed the occasional puff on some cherry tobacco. I like my nicotine. I like blowing the smoke. I like the feeling of it as I inhale. Heck, I even own a hookah and will spend the 20 minutes setting it up just to have some of my blueberry shisha (no dummy…that’s tobacco designed for use in a hookah).

So to say I’m a bit reluctant to give up my smoking might be an understatement. Oh I’ve tried over the years. I’ve been able to put them down for a little while but when the stress gets up, I really really really want to have that little cylinder of death between my fingers and smoke billowing from me as I exhale. So I always end up going back to them. I know it makes me smell like an old ashtray and I know it does terrible things to my body. I don’t care because I have an addiction. It’s probably more to the act of smoking than to the actual nicotine but it’s no less powerful in my case.

You may be wondering where this is going. Simple. My mother recently had a heart-attack and she’s been a smoker all her life. She’s unapologetic about it. After the attack, her doctor told her that she cannot smoke if she intends to remain among us. I don’t know that she’ll ever forgive him for that statement. While we’re all thrilled that she’s given up the deadly habit, she’s resentful because she never wanted to stop. And then she found the world of e-cigarettes. She ordered one up and has been much more pleasant now that she can satisfy the habit without endangering her life like she did with regular cigarettes.

Having seen this and how effective it was for her I decided in my own little obsessive way to go research this little miracle product. Apparently this device was invented a few years ago over in China and is fairly booming as a market in other parts of the world. It showed up on our shores not that long ago and it’s been off to a good start so far. What is it exactly? Some call it a Personal Vaporizer (PV) which is a more accurate name than e-cigarette even if it still isn’t exactly right. What you have is typically a 2 or 3 piece unit consisting of a battery, a cartridge with the flavored liquid, and an atomizer. In the 2 piece model the latter two will be a single unit sometimes called a cartomizer. Basically the battery heats up a coil in the atomizer that evaporates the flavored liquid that you then inhale as if smoking a regular cigarette (or “analog” as they are referred to). The result is something that looks like smoke and feels much like smoking but contains none of the carcinogens found in an analog.

So I ordered one. Specifically the Gemini from Revolver. It’s a little more expensive than some but less than others and I really like the looks of it. I’ve had it nearly a month and I had my last analog about 3 days after it came in. I haven’t even wanted a real one. I play poker with a bunch of my friends each week and all of them smoke. I found to my surprise that I can sit at that table for hours around them and just puff on my Gemini with no craving for those smelly things. It’s been rather amazing. Add to that the ability to get liquids with different flavors much like I can with my shisha and I’ve now got a way to get my craves under control without going through a silly amount of work. I love this thing. And the people online that I have found over at e-cigarette-forum.com are truly kind and supportive of everyone that is interested in testing out the world of “vaping”.

My truck no longer stinks and neither do my hands or clothes. My daughter is actually willing to give me a hug…well not in front of friends because that isn’t “cool” 🙂 It’s a whole new world out there and I’ve already saved a good bit of money by not keeping up my pack a day habit. Of course, my daughter has decided it’s probably for the best if I spend that extra money on her so I can’t go back to regular smoking.

Women Are Frustrating

No, I don’t have a witty title for this post. I know that’s out of the ordinary. Yes, I am making a new post. I know that’s also out of the ordinary. But with the start of a new year and me having some time on my hands to contemplate life, the universe, and everything…I decided I needed to get a few things off my chest. Women in general have caused me more frustration than anything else in the past few years.

Let’s go back a few years. I met someone, started dating her, and she moved in with me. This all happened fairly quickly. It didn’t take long for her to alienate my friends and my friends are really important to me. She also spent a great deal of time unemployed so I was left to support the entire household on my less than stellar salary while still paying child support. Enter the wonderful world of ridiculous credit card debt. Eventually the relationship fell apart and she moved out, leaving me with an unholy amount of debt I could not pay.

After a while of being alone and working to get the debt into a situation that I could get out from under one day, I began dating someone I had a crush on back in junior high. She’s got a daughter and lived out of town and worked different hours than I did. With me having a daughter as well and with all of the other factors, finding time to be together was tricky. But we did it. It wasn’t as often as either of us would have liked, but the relationship was just starting and I was still feeling the sting of the last one. Everything was fine until she decided I must not love her because I obviously wasn’t trying hard enough to spend time with her. Never mind that I’m the one that was asking almost constantly when we could see each other next. Never mind that I was also the one that rearranged his schedule of things any time there was a glimmer of a chance we could spend some time together. These are actions of someone that doesn’t really love the person he’s with…or so I am to assume from the text message I received informing me the relationship was over.

Then for the last nine months or so I’ve been asking someone else out. I’ve known her for a while and she swears she really wants to date me. But in the last nine months we’ve managed to go out only…wait, we haven’t gone out at all. That’s right, she tells me she wants to really badly. I asked her out repeatedly and offered to do whatever was needed to make it happen. In nine months she has found exactly zero time to give me. Call me crazy but I think she did not quite tell the truth. Now I understand she’s got two children and being a single mom is a lot of work…but nine months…somewhere in the appriximately 6480 hours I’ve been asking her out, I think she could have found 2 or three consecutive hours to say ‘sure, let’s go get a burger or something’. But no, and now that I’ve brought it up to her, she won’t respond to me at all.

Over-arcing all of this is another that I would have wanted to date. We get along great together, like a lot of the same things, and enjoy being in each other’s company. We share a similar sense of humor and taste in movies and food. In short, someone on the outside looking in would (and has) assumed we were a couple because of how we are when we’re together. I’ve been her friend through several relationships (both mine and hers). How many times has she gone out with me? None. Not once. And she won’t. Now these days we do still hang out some and the desire to date her has long since been killed by the frustration. Yet somehow she still thinks everything I do is an angle to get her to date me. She can’t accept that I like to hang out with her because we have fun together. I think part of that is because I know her so well that I can pretty much tell her what she’s thinking just by looking at her. She thinks (if I’m not mistaken) that I’m merely telling her what she wants to hear so I can keep some grand master plan moving in the background that culminates in her finally agreeing to go out with me. I’m not nearly that devious. I’m flattered that someone would believe I’m capable of such subtle and complex plans when it comes to women, but no. I’m not nearly that good.

We won’t go into the awesome woman I dated a few times thanks to an online dating site that’s now married to a friend of mine. No, it isn’t as bad as it sounds because we were just friends and hanging out together when she and I met the guy she eventually married. But it’s just another tick in the list of weird experiences in dating that leave me single. I’ve grown frustrated with the whole thing and I’m almost to the point of believing that while there is someone for everyone, you can miss your chance…because I believe I missed mine at some point. I couldn’t tell you when I missed it or who it was I missed it with, but time is marching on and I’m still single. No this isn’t a big whining rant. It’s a vent of frustration from my dealings with the opposite sex. Is it really so hard to find someone with some similar interests willing to spend a few hours with you? I’m tired of being the best friend. I’m tired of being told I’m a really nice guy and I’m just the type of guy that women look for because if that was the case, I wouldn’t be writing this. Somebody is lying and it isn’t me. It only adds to the frustration and irritation. And if it isn’t lying, then stop avoiding me. It’s that simple.

I Cannot Call Myself A Frugalista

So if you have been following the saga of the “Frugalista” trademark silliness, then what I say here probably won’t surprise you. That is especially true if you are a frequent reader of my blog. This has irritated me and I feel I need to explain why.

Let’s start with the fact that the term frugalista (oh no…I didn’t use quotes!) is a common term for its market with a general meaning. This alone should be enough to warrant scrutiny over the trademark application. We aren’t even talking about people who claim to be the Frugalista (looky there…it’s capitalized and not in quotes…oh dear me) of a certain geographical area. This is actually a pretty common practice, not just in blogging but in journalism. You stake claim to a geographical location and name yourself the authority over some particular subject matter that you focus on. Well guess what, bucko…you aren’t peddling that name around here. Doing so will get you a nice fresh C&D from the lawyer of the git that thinks she can just rip a word journalists on pain of lawsuit.

That seems awful anti-Frugalista-ish (oh ho…now we’re getting fancy with changing up the word) to spend that kind of money on frivolous unenforceable crap. Perhaps Ms. Self Important should read some of the blogs and forums and general online media on the subject of frugality and being a Frugalista. (Have I earned my very own C&D yet? I’m certainly trying my hardest. After all…every letter costs money and the tool that thinks she can trademark such a broad and general term deserves any bill she gets.) Now I’m sure some of you are wondering how I could possibly get a C&D for simply writing about this fight in the Frugalista community. It’s simple, really. My previous post has the excerpt from the C&D sent to the Jackson Frugalista blogger that holds the key to my crusade. Apparently the law office declares in said letters that they expect you to cease any and all use of the term in any derivation on any type of online media. Shucks…I think I failed to comply with that.

And to add to this idiocracy would be the article in U.S. News where the lawyer directly contradicts the statement of the letter. Now tell me, Madame I-Trademark-Common-Terms, do you actually pay for this contradictory tripe? If not, then I applaud you not only for your ninja skills at being frugal (for these guys MUST be cheap), but also for the sheer amount of ignorance you managed to locate in such a tiny little place. If you don’t yet understand what I mean, allow me to show you.

This is from the C&D sent to the Jackson Frugalista blog owner:

Further, please let us have your prompt written assurance that you and any affiliated companies or individuals will promptly discontinue and refrain from the use of the term “FRUGALISTA” in any form or derivation in any online blogs or journals.

This is statement from the lawyer as reported by U.S. News:

McDowell emphasizes that other writers can still use the word “frugalista” in their stories—which may seem obvious, given the fact that it is a commonly used word—but that they cannot identify themselves as a “frugalista.”

Call me craz…erm…Frugalista, but I don’t think this will hold up in court. Oh heck, I went and did it again. You know, If I keep this up someone might get the impression that I am trying to make a point with all the subtlety of a frag grenade to the face. It’s gotten me in trouble before and probably will again. I cannot, however, sit back and keep my mouth shut when I see something as blatantly stupid as this happening right before everyone’s eyes. This would be like Best Buy trying to trade mark the term “Geek” and saying that nobody could use said term in any online publication to refer to themselves because it “unfairly capitalizes on the goodwill and reputation embodied in our client’s use of the Mark”…not that anyone every accused the Geek Squad of being the recipient of goodwill or anything resembling a (good) reputation. Please, read the story at US News, read the letter and the response at Jackson Frugalista…and by all means boycott the stupid trademark lady’s blog until she apologizes to the internet for being a tool.

And before I forget…

I Am Not A Hypocritical Frugalista That Hates Freedom Of Speech.

How to Reboot a Franchise

There have been many attempts over the years by Hollywood to reinvent a franchise. By and large, they have failed miserably. The problem is studios try to fill every frame with as many of the currently popular cliches as possible while casting pretty boys and hot girls. There’s little wonder why fanboys and fangirls are pretty bitter about the whole thing. The atrocity that dared to be called Dragonball: Evolution is a recent example of how to do everything wrong and guarantee that you’ll piss off every fan of the original work. Such acts used to culminate in torch and pitchfork bearing mobs righting such disgusting wrongs.

And yet, I have the joy of saying somebody got it right. I just left the theater from watching Star Trek. I’ve been reading all week the various twitter posts from geeks and celebrities (and celebrity geeks like Wil Wheaton) about how completely and totally awesome this reboot of the flailing franchise is. I’ve pondered over the tales of how this one act of media beauty can finally give the fans a shred of hope that Hollywood won’t mercilessly rape everything we geeks hold sacred and dear. And I worried. I’ve heard this tripe before and it always ended in bitterness and disappointment.

Tonight was different. Tonight was fun. It was…GOOD. Somebody in the movie industry finally grew a brain cell and learned how to select an appropriate cast. Pine as Kirk was perfect. While it wasn’t quite the same attitude of ST:TOS Kirk, you have to understand he’s just getting his feet under him. I think the difference was completely appropriate for the time frame of the movie. He still has to put a few notches on his bedpost on the Enterprise before he can be the swaggering self-confident James Tiberius Kirk we watched when we were younger (No, I’m not that old. I saw re-runs as a kid).

Quinto as Spock was wonderful. Although I have to admit that it’s a little weird to see Sylar with pointed ears. You won’t understand if you don’t watch Heroes. His face is very reminiscient of a younger Leonard Nimoy and he can pull off the mostly emotionless Vulcan with style. I don’t know that there could have been a better choice for someone to fill those very large shoes. Besides, Quinto’s experience on Heroes as Sylar has given the experience of playing a range of emotional states and the ability to be very convincingly cold. That’s two for two.

Urban as McCoy was a joy. See what I did there? Though a little stockier than his namesake from TOS, his bearing and his screen presence is like seeing DeForest Kelley reincarnated in the role that geeks will forever hold in a special place. My only regret from this casting is that Kelley did not live long enough to see this wonderous sight and masterful portrayal of a role that defined and will forever be remembered for.

Uhura and Sulu were well done. The former is more bold than her TOS counterpart but fit well if you include her character in the movies. It’s understandable considering the studios were already pushing boundries simply by having her in the cast back in the late 60’s. The latter did a respectable job. He was slightly humorous in the right places and effective at action when it was called for. Let’s face it, Sulu was a man that filled gaps but almost never took center stage. In this he succeeded admirably.

Weakest in the line-up was Chekov. They tried really hard to overplay the accent. He was nearly unintelligible because it was so thick. While it lended a gag or two, he is quickly tuned out. You have to go a little out of your way to notice he did a bang-up job running the transporter systems when others could not do it. If only they had made it more like Koenig’s portrayal where you have the accent but it isn’t the all powerful force driving the character as it seemed to do here.

Finally there is Scotty. Pegg stole every scene he was in. The accent was spot-on. The emotion was just right. Everything about his performance made everything else better. I’m not kidding when I say he literally owned every scene he was in. It didn’t matter if he was in the background with the rest of the starring cast and he only had one line. It was his scene and he did it all with style.

I could continue to gush about how ridiculously amazing the cast is but I have to have a word or two about the plot. While the story isn’t masterful, it is functional. They accomplish a total reboot of the Star Trek universe without invalidating everything we hold dear. Don’t get your hopes up about an epic story like LOTR. After all, this is Trek and few stories they tell are that epic. It was a fun ride, though. The token bad guy is just that…token. He’s pretty uninspiring and not worthy of cleaning Khan’s shoes. But I don’t hold that against Abrams. Every epic has to start somewhere and I’d rather he get the shaky footing out of the way now. Especially since this movie was pulled off with such an amazing cast that you can easily overlook the less than stellar plot and easily forgettable bad guy.

Bravo to everyone involved in breathing a fresh breath of life back into one of the most titanic and game-changing sci-fi creations of all time. May this reboot live long and prosper. (And burn slowly, Rick Berman, for the horror you visited upon a beloved mythos)

Tech Support – We’re People Too

Nobody likes calling tech support. There are droves of sites that recount horror stories of dealing with various companies and their failure to provide the help that is wanted and needed. This will probably never change. I, too, really try to avoid calling any tech support line as long as possible. I will beat Google’s search algorithm to a bloody pulp and turn my cable modem into a pile of molten goo in an attempt to fix a problem before I will pick up the phone a press a few numbers. Heck, I have a series of posts on this very blog recounting my experiences with Comcast support and they are not flattering to tech support (though the social media outreach team is a different story).

On the flip side of that coin, I am in tech support at the company I work for. I take the calls and do what I can to help. Having been on both sides of the fence, I think I can safely say that there are a few things you can do to give you much better chances to leave a support call satisfied. Now this may not work every time as every company and every support technician (or engineer or whatever the PC term is this week) are not equal. But the point here is by trying to adhere to a few common courtesies and being a little flexible can greatly increase the chances that you will have a pleasant experience when you pick up the phone to ask for help.

First and foremost, do not assume that you will be stonewalled or that your experience will be a bad one. This will put you in a negative frame of mind and that will come out during your conversation with the support rep. Job or not…that is a person on the other end and they don’t like being verbally abused or mistreated any more than you do. Try to remember that. It’s not an easy thing to accomplish since you are probably frustrated already with whatever problem has driven you to call in the first place but trust me, you don’t want to come off as belligerent.

Next, understand that your problem might be rare or unique in some way so it may take a little while to dig to the bottom of the cause. A good support rep is not going to just give you a quick answer and all but shove you off the call. I can tell you from personal experience that about 30% of the cases I deal with in any given day are unique in some form or fashion. This leads me to asking quite often for very basic information so I can be sure that I am thorough. After all, if you call back because the problem wasn’t as fixed as we thought it was because I missed something, you will, understandably, be less inclined to be patient or nice. Of course there is the exception of the other 70% of the cases I deal with. These are the things I see almost daily and can say with near absolute confidence what the solution is in fairly short order. Don’t confuse that answer with brushing you off. If you have doubts about which it is, then ask if it’s a common problem. I can’t speak for most companies but I can say that the one I work for values honesty with the customer.

Try to understand the support rep’s point of view because he or she is trying to understand yours. Our goal is to get your problem fixed. Our goal is to do it as quickly and as thoroughly as reasonably possible. We want you to get full use of your product/service and we know how frustrating it is when something you need isn’t doing what it is supposed to do. We honestly do understand. We don’t get calls because things are working great, which is fine because that’s the job. Again, I can’t speak for other places but at my job we do it because we like solving problems.

I don’t know how many people notice, but if you are on a support call and your rep engages you in idle conversation while fixing the problem, you will probably leave the call with a positive feeling towards the experience. The chatting about random things gives you a personal connection with the person on the other end of the phone. It doesn’t seem as mechanical and that has a profound effect on the overall experience. I bring this up because if you are feeling overly frustrated by your problem, try initiating some idle chat if the rep has not. This can diffuse the potential for a bad experience rather quickly. It does not mean we won’t take your problem seriously, but it does make the solution finding process more pleasant which makes time seem to pass more quickly. This is a good thing since nobody wants to be on the phone for a long time with support. Well, it usually doesn’t make the top 10 list of things to do at work at any rate.

What brought on this particular post? Oddly, it was not having a bad support call. I had a great one. A call came in mere minutes before quitting time and ran about an hour or so after quitting time. The caller had every right to be really upset about the situation but never once let it show. We had a nice chat while we worked through everything that was going on and tried some different methods to fixing the problem. When we finally exhausted everything I knew to try we finally had to admit defeat and get the replacement process started. Even then the caller was understanding and only stated a desire to get back up and running quickly. I went on and stayed a while after hanging up to make sure the replacement process was fully in motion (at least as far as I can take it) before finally shutting down my computer and heading home. I do this job because I like to solve problems and I like helping people. Being in support lets me do both. Calls like this make the job a real joy. And amazingly, most of the calls we get are nearly this good.

Just remember that you are dealing with a person on the other end of the phone. This person is here to do what they can to help. Try to be nice to them even if you are mad at the situation. At the very least, take a breath if you start venting and apologize. Everyone’s emotions get a little out of sorts from time to time. I called Comcast for the eleventy-hundredth time and ended up griping at the poor lady that answered my call for nearly three minutes. The moment I realized what I was doing, I stopped and took a deep breath. Then I apologized for taking it out on her and explained I was just very frustrated by the problem and she did not deserve that because she personally had been trying to help fix the problem. Even after all of that I would dare say we both left the call on a happy note.

A little courtesy can work wonders.