Lotto Losers

As a computer programmer, I have zero patience when it comes to poor web site/web application customer service. If you build it (and have methods for users to contact you on a web site) then you had better support it.  Anything less is lazy.

I recently visited a state lottery web site. I could tell from the information on the public side of the web site that they allowed the purchasing of lottery tickets to local users (within the state).  However, I could not tell if they allowed the purchasing of lottery tickets by a local user (within the state) as a gift to another local user (within the state).  I proceeded to go through the tedious process of setting up a login account in the hopes of finding out the answer to my question. What I learned is this:

  1. The site asked for unnecessary personal information on set up of the online account.
  2. The site did not allow purchasing lottery tickets as gifts (why isn’t this made clear outside of actually setting up an account and going half way through the purchasing cycle?)
  3. After I realized the site did not offer the option I wanted, I wandered around the site for 20 minutes trying to find an option to delete my account since I realized by this point that I have no use for it. I found no option to delete or deactivate the account. So I then contacted their customer service using the contact us email on the site and requested the account be deactivated or deleted. Two weeks later I still have not heard from anyone regarding this request.
  4. I just sent another request again asking that the account be deactivated or deleted.
  5. If the staff is unable to handle incoming electronic requests, then this needs to be stated on the web site and all electronic means of communication need to be removed from this web site.

Pathetic.

Microsoft Office 365 profile photos in the workplace: welcome to creepy factor 4,000.

Office 365 is a delightfully useful bundle of tools. If you are familiar with it then you are also familiar with one seriously disturbing feature of Office 365. The profile photo. When a user uploads a profile photo to his or her profile, this image shows up in all kinds of places including at the top of ANY email the person sends to other employees.

For some reason I have found this feature to be extremely distracting and disturbing. The issue surfaces when I receive an email from an employee I do not know. Regardless of the content of the email (positive, negative or neutral content), if it is from someone I am not familiar with, and I see their face staring back at me, I instantly have a negative perception of the sender. I think they are either conceited (when they are posing for the photo) or unprofessional (when they are using a fictitious character or famous person for their photo).

I am surprised such a simple feature of showing a face on an email has generated such a harsh reaction from me. Here are a few possible theories as to why this feature bothers me:

  • It could have something to do with how I categorize email in my brain. Email is a colorless, ageless and gender-less platform of communication. I like it that way, it forces more of a focus on a task and eliminates the unnecessary weirdness I get from some people when I have to see them in person (elevator eyes, comments regarding my appearance, yada yada yada).
  • I am very familiar with how I am treated in public online platforms (like when playing Chess) once users discover I am female so I avoid revealing such information. I have become accustomed to concealing my identity via online communication for so long that I now see any attempt to knowingly reveal such information as a terrible decision that will cause problems.
  • Maybe I am just freaked out by a stranger staring at me via the weird little circular photo as I try to read the email. You know, like how that cute little guard dog was trying to do his job at the children’s museum but was freaked by all the teddy bears staring at him: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/14154738/ns/world_news-weird_news/t/elvis-teddy-bear-leaves-building-hard-way/#.Xi8FNWhKhaQ.

We humans are so weird, I cannot imagine what aliens from other galaxies must think of us.

Buses, trams, trains and subways – not what they seem

I have always enjoyed the luxury of private transportation.  Tooling around in my own car has satisfied many moments of wanderlust.

I never invested much thought into public transportation. It was always a nice thought in the back of my mind. I thought of public transportation as my safety net should I ever become incapable of operating my own vehicle due to financial or physical circumstance.

As my travel experience expanded into regions (like New York City and Amsterdam) where public transportation was required for my day-to-day exploration, I realized very quickly that public transportation is not designed for patrons with physical limitations.

When people push for public transportation a benefit often listed is the convenience and freedom it offers to those physically unable to get to destinations on their own. Unfortunately, with what I have witnessed in New York City and Amsterdam, this benefit is unfounded (by my standards anyway).

The public transportation I participated in in New York City and Amsterdam were very well run processes. I used a combination of buses, trains, trams and subways. Not only were these vessels immaculate but they were easy to identify from the street, the destinations were easy to understand and each trip was reasonably priced.

My first impression while participating in this transportation was that of efficiency and money well spent. Unfortunately after a few minutes of observing others, I realized that public transportation is is no way designed for members of the public with physical limitations. What I witnessed was something built ONLY for humans who never require assistance at any time for any reason. Time and again I witnessed:

  • elderly people stumble into seats as the public transportation jerked into action without warning
  • young people not feeling well that had to stand due to lack of available seating
  • people of all ages with crutches or a cast on an arm trying to frantically reach a seat or poll to hold onto before the tram lurched forward
  • turnstiles to access transportation platforms were narrow
  • bus and tram stops at street level were often in horrifying and narrow areas where one misstep would land an unfortunate soul in the path of speeding cars or dare-devil cyclists
  • thinly veiled impatience on the face and demeanor of every participant with fully-functional bodies
  • horrified mothers gasp as doors tried to close on strollers while irritated observers grab the stroller and assist getting it into the train
  • seats too close together for easy maneuvering of wheelchairs, luggage, strollers, people of different heights and widths
  • hoards of lunatics rushing onto and off of the public transportation
  • seats designated for the visually impaired remained empty, a clear indication to me that this group found attempts far to horrifying to ever attempt again

If I had my way I would change the priorities of public transportation in the minds of participants and designers. I would like to see the top priority go to those who truly need public transportation due to physical limitations so they may get from point A to point B safely.  Unfortunately this change in priority would require the majority of the population to step back, take a deep breath and exercise compassion and patience.  I am not sure our planet is ready for something like this yet so in the meantime I will try my best to keep compassion and patience at the top of my own list.  I know one day I will need it from others;)

Full Body Vibration (FBV) or Whole Body Vibration (WBV) Platforms for stiff/sore muscles

I love gadgets.  When I saw a video of a Full Body Vibration (FBV) / Whole Body Vibration (WBV) Platform I immediately wanted to know how this gadget helped users with muscle soreness.  I could not locate any scientific studies regarding muscle fatigue relief and FBV/WBV.  However, I did surprisingly find several studies that hinted at other potential benefits to using such a device (i.e. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170315143836.htm).

I recently purchased an FBV to try it out for my post-workout and post-stretching muscle pain and stiffness.  The way the device was described it made me think it could partially mimic the vibrations of a therapeutic soak in a hot tub.

I purchased this device on eBay for a very reasonable price: 30″ Full Body Fitness 3D Vibration Plate Platform Exercise Machine w/ Straps by Murtisol.

From the research I did on these devices, I think users are supposed to actually workout on them instead of just stand on them. I am not working out on this device. I do my normal workout each day and then I stand in a relaxed position on the device for 10 minutes on this setting: manual, speed 3. I am very pleased with the results so far. I have only been using the platform for about a month but I have noticed a significant decrease in leg soreness and stiffness (most notably first thing in the morning). I will continue to use this device each day after my workout and stretch as a massage tool.

If you decide to purchase the exact model I mention above, note the following:

  • it is surprisingly quiet
  • it is heavy, getting the package into the house may be challenging for some (it has wheels and a handle for tipping and wheeling it around for ideal placement once the device is unpacked)
  • it takes up space (it is 30 inches long) so do not think it is something you can pack away easily – you will want it out and accessible every day
  • I have been using this particular brand for about a month so I cannot say at this time how well this device functions long-term but so far it is working as expected
  • this particular model simultaneously rocks in different directions so be aware of this in case you have balance issues
  • consult your physician first before using this device if you have pre-existing conditions
  • this device has an added benefit of making you sound like Darth Vader if you chat on the phone with friends while standing on it

Handling video surveillance data (while NOT being a complete whacka-doodie)

Video surveillance in and around homes and businesses, whether we like it or not, is the norm now.  True IT professionals are trained in handling all kinds of data and the handling of the data involves very specific rules focusing on integrity, confidentiality, local and federal laws and respect for others.

If you are considering the installation of video surveillance in or around your home or business, know that you will now be the keeper of potentially sensitive data.  If you do not make a conscious effort to treat the data with care, then expect to lose the trust and respect of anyone coming in contact with you or the surveillance equipment.

Keep the following in mind when reviewing the data from surveillance equipment you have installed:

  • Where is the data stored? If it is stored in a free “cloud” then consider the data NOT private and some or all the data at some point may be viewed and/or sold to third parties without your knowledge.
  • How is the data protected? If you “log in” to something to view the data then take extra care in forming complex passwords that change frequently.
  • Avoid sharing the data with anyone unless activity captured is illegal activity (if it is illegal, share the data with law enforcement).
  • Avoid commenting on activity captured.
  • Delete stored data on a regular basis, I recommend deleting data once every 4 months.  This gives a wide enough range should law enforcement ask for assistance from the community in any investigations involving areas near the surveillance equipment.
  • If you capture something memorable (and legal) that you would like to share with the public, feel free to share it however you like after first getting the permission from all humans present in the data captured.

Over the weekend I listened to a homeowner mock a person delivering a package to his front porch.  The homeowner played the recorded surveillance footage of the mundane event for everyone at the dinner table and ridiculed the delivery person for several things (none of which were illegal).  I could not help but wonder the horrid things they would say about myself if I were to ever visit his home.  The homeowner initially had installed the equipment for home security, but the setup has now morphed into disrespecting members of his community in public forums.  This event was a reminder to me that our society is flooded with fun gadgets but the security and ethics training necessary to properly handle the data being captured is absent.

Tech message of DOOM

Most devices and apps are built with good intentions, I think this because I am a computer programmer with a more often than not sunny disposition. I am also a realist. I have been around long enough to know what it means to not know your neighbors.

I have a tech message of doom for the world today: it is fun to bury ourselves in technology. Tech is a lovely escape from accountability, confrontation and reality – it also does amazing things for efficiency, heath, transport – the list goes on and on. However, hiding behind technology will only make us rock stars of our own empty electronic world and nothing more. Human interaction can be complex and often times dangerous but until we invest in the lives of others then all tomorrows are a blue screen of death – tomorrows that no one person can save us from, we all need to do our part for this world.

Invest in the world if you can, you will be glad you did – our world needs you:)

Update your smart TV. Fear not, it will never be as smart as you;)

Is your computer connected to a smart TV? If so, the following information will give you a good idea of how to update your smart TV.

What is a smart TV? A smart TV can access WiFi and run applications just like a smartphone (unlike a regular TV or computer monitor).

A smart TV, just like a computer or a smartphone, requires periodic maintenance in the form of “updates” from the manufacturer for security and performance enhancements. This is an example of how to update smart TVs:

  • Using the remote control that came with the smart TV, select a settings button. Most settings buttons look like a small gear to activate the settings menu.
  • Navigate through these settings menus to find the network options (all smart TVs are different so navigating through the menus to become familiar with them is the best approach if you do not have documentation handy). In the network options there will be features allowing you to connect to a network (it doesn’t matter if your computer that is connected to the smart TV is connected to a network or not, the smart TV is a separate entity and will not use the network connection of your computer – the smart TV needs its own network connection to receive updates). The screen will tell you if you are connected to a network or not. If you are not, then attempt to connect to WiFi, if this does not work then plug a network cable into the back of the smart TV and plug the other end of the network cable into a network port in the wall of your home if you have one or a network port on your wireless router.
  • Using the remote that came with the smart TV, select the settings button again if you do not already see options on the screen for updating the smart TV. Most settings buttons look like a small gear. Click on the setting to download updates to the smart TV. Wait for the download to complete (a message will appear on the screen telling you the updates are complete, depending on the frequency of the updates in the past, the updates can take a few minutes or up to an hour to complete).
  • Once the updates are download, turn the smart TV off, wait a few seconds and turn the smart TV back on for the updates to take effect.
  • Disconnect the smart TV from the wireless network (by using the smart TV remote > settings) or the hard-wired network (removing the network cable from the back of the smart TV and from the network port in the wall of your home or from the network port on the back of your wireless router).
  • Many smart TVs will also read updates from a thumb drive that is connected to the back of the smart TV, this is an often problematic approach for updating some smart TVs due to the number of steps involved (users have to visit the manufacturer web site, download the updates to the thumb drive while the thumb drive is connected to the computer then remove the thumb drive from the computer and place the thumb drive into the back of the smart TV and the smart TV may or may not be able to read the files on the thumb drive or may or may not be able to even recognize the thumb drive).

Our “healthy” elderberry syrup contains heavy metals – really – just like most things that are not “healthy”.

Do you think “healthy” or “well” or “organic” labels on your food equate to extra special goodness? Sometimes it does and sometimes it does not.  Science can help you answer questions regarding the safety of food items within your home if you ever suspect a problem.

I was given a bottle of elderberry syrup, it came in a clear glass jar with a metal lid.  It had one label: a large oval label on the front.  The label looked like something someone printed from a home computer and the manufacturer information was not on the label so there was no way to tell who made the product, what the expiration date was or where it came from.  The label gave the user the impression of health.  Wellness words like “prevent cold/flu, well, purified …” were all over the label.  The label instructed users to consume one tablespoon every few hours at the onset of the cold or flu or one tablespoon a day to prevent the cold or flu.

A few weeks ago I sent a sample of this elderberry syrup to a food testing lab.  When the lab results for the elderberry syrup arrived, the findings surprised me.  The elderberry syrup contained small levels of mercury, arsenic, lead and cadmium.

Pollution and natural occurrences of elements are our reality and several of the foods we consume contain heavy metals, but I find it extremely irresponsible to market something as healthy when the product contains heavy metals.  If a manufacturer makes a food product then it is his or her responsibility to get the food tested.  If the food tests positive for heavy metals (even if the levels are within the range deemed acceptable by the FDA) then it is not appropriate to market the food item as something special in terms of promoting health.

Beware of “healthy” foods in your home.  Know that if you have concerns about food items, food testing labs can provide you with details of what is in the sample and then organizations like the FDA can provide you with details on what levels are acceptable.

I need a legion of self-driving remote-controlled electric scooters – by Halloween please.

Strange dream a few nights back. I love it when I remember the strange ones! I only remember this little bit I’m afraid but it is enough to go on:

I controlled a legion of self-driving remote-controlled electric scooters. Each scooter had a big stuffed bunny tethered to the scooter. I was directing the scooters down residential streets at a very slow rate of speed at dusk. General hysteria from the ‘burbs was unfolding as a result.

The only “remote control” scooters I have found are ones you can disable and more unhelpful things via a smartphone – this isn’t what I am looking for. So if you have a huge stack of cash and some time on your hands, make this happen please. We all want to scare the daylights out of kids and give them boatloads of candy on Halloween, get moving!

One more thing, I am so poor I can’t even pay attention so there would be absolutely no benefit to you for doing all of this hard work other than being hailed as the King of SDRCES by me…and maybe my cat.

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