E-mail messages I delete without reading

Life's too short. E-mail messages I tend to delete without reading (other than obvious spam):

  • Messages with a blank subject line
  • Messages with a blank body, with only a mysterious attachment that's supposed to explain everything when I open it
  • Pretty much anything from Network Solutions / Verisign
  • Anything that asks me to forward it to 11 of my friends for good luck
  • Messages that start out by declaring that "this is not spam"
  • Messages with more than three (3) consecutively-placed exclamation points in the subject line or greeting

What about you?

A few new blog interaction features

I've upgraded the WordPress software powering this blog to a more recent version, and added a few more ways to interact with my posts at the same time:

  1. I'm now using Gravatars - "globally recognized avatars" - to display user-uploaded images next to the comments that people post. This creates a little bit better sense that you're interacting with real humans, and even adds a dash of color. If you want to try it out, just visit gravatar.com to upload your avatar today.
  2. You can now choose to be e-mailed about follow-up responses to a particular post that you comment on. While you can always subscribe to a post's RSS feed to track comments, sometimes getting an e-mail is the easiest way to go - and don't worry, you can just as easily unsubscribe too.
  3. Some time ago, I added a post rating system to the blog, allowing you to indicate what you think on a scale of 1 to 5 stars (5 being the best, of course). Posts with high ratings get a little more attention elsewhere on the blog, and each star you add also help an angel get its wings. It's a way to give feedback without typing out a comment - "thank you for helping us serve you better."
  4. Also added some time ago, but now more prominently featured, you can see posts that are related to a new blog entry, listed right below the entry itself. I tend to circle around some similar themes, and so this is at least a helpful way for me to see how things tie together; I hope it's a useful way for you to explore my other writings too.

There ya go. Let me know how this stuff works for you; as always, this space is a work in progress.

Total Information Awareness

Typical Saturday Morning in ChicagoPeople sometimes ask me how much I think "The Government" is really listening in on our phone calls, e-mail messages, web browsing, text messages, and other forms of communication. I still apparently surprise people with my answer: for the purposes of my day-to-day life, I assume that every communication I send or receive using an electronic medium is monitored and recorded by someone else. And I'm not just talking about watching some rough meta-information go by and trying to deduce what we're up to - I'm talking about full access to the content of every single communication, in real time.

Recent media reports, including a March 10th article in the Wall Street Journal, show us how much information spy agencies are allowed to legally collect and monitor:

  • Recipient and sender address, subject line, timestamp of e-mail messages
  • Internet sites visited and searches conducted
  • Incoming and outgoing numbers dialed on cell and regular phones, length of calls, where you physically were when a cell phone call happened
  • Pretty much everything about your financial transactions

Makes you wonder what's actually happening beyond the law's provisions. Again, I'll generally assume the worst.

The one where we almost died in a high speed car chase

Just a few minutes before it happened, I had said, "You'd think people would pay better attention to what's going on around them on the road." We were barreling west on I-70, heading to a wedding in southwest Indiana, and I'd just watched the second police car in a row with its lights and sirens at full blast trying to get by a driver ahead of us who wasn't checking their rearview mirror enough. We didn't know what was up ahead, but I didn't have a good feeling about it. Perhaps in my own nervousness about what was in front of us, I apparently also stopped checking my rearview mirror frequently enough, because the next time I looked at it, there was a third police car right behind us, lights and sirens blaring, trying to get by. Not good.

A few miles up the road, the traffic in the eastbound lanes across the median were going very very slow. And not because of any apparent wreck or other barrier. We were trying to figure that out when I saw more lights up ahead - brake lights, flashing red and blue lights, and glints of sunlight off of surfaces that were moving in directions and patterns that just didn't seem right. A cop cruiser cut dramatically across the median, and then another came back across the other way, also really flooring it. "Uh-oh," I said. The cars ahead of us were coming to a full stop. Then we saw the white van weaving in and out of the traffic ahead, and then it was coming toward us on our side of the road, twisting and turning on and off of the pavement and grass.
Continue reading The one where we almost died in a high speed car chase

Five Geopolitical Scenarios to Consider

Needing more generatorsFrom the "I hope it doesn't happen but wouldn't be surprised if it did" department, I have some predictions and scenarios to throw out there about stuff that could happen sometime in the rest of 2008. I suppose this is mostly just a mental exercise for me, but maybe it'll spark some interesting comments/responses:

  1. The price of a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline in the U.S. will hit $6 a gallon sometime this Summer, and perhaps $10/gallon or more by the end of the year. Measures will be taken by the federal and state governments to temporarily alleviate the financial burden on some people, but nothing sustainable. Some people will not be able to get to work at all, while others will have to carpool more, take the bus, ride their bikes, and walk.
  2. The U.S. will initiate military action against Iran, probably in the form of heavy air-strikes. There will be no clear notion of victory or desired outcome other than to significantly destroy the country's own infrastructure, especially targets related to nuclear facilities. This action might be justified to the American people by...
  3. An apparent attack on one or more U.S. locations, resulting in significant loss of life or infrastructure.
  4. The U.S. airline industry will significantly cut back or even cease flight schedules as we've known them, and air travel will (once again) become a privilege reserved for the rich and famous who can afford private flights. Any frequent flier miles you've accumulated will become worth near nothing.
  5. Most grocery stores will significantly scale back their inventories and restocking schedules, and significantly raise prices on what remains. Obtaining food from non-local sources, even basic staples, will be difficult at best, and most communities will begin to take emergency steps to feed their residents.

Hey, look, I don't like the thought of these things happening any more than the next person, but perhaps there's some value in naming what might be, even if it seems a bit outlandish or gruesome. Maybe if we believe these things are possible, we might feel more prepared to prevent or deal with them if they do happen.

What do you think? Too cynical? Worse? What are some other scenarios?

Links for the Week - May 20, 2008

These "links for the week" posts are a lame substitute for real blog posts, but I hope you enjoy them anyway. I'm working on some other entries about my experience with "power off day," my preferred task list organization system (it's NOT GTD), the difficulties of personal change in a vacuum, and more on media coverage of energy prices - so stay tuned. But for now:

This Saturday: The Internet as a Political Tool

I'll be speaking this Saturday the 17th at a free event held at Morrisson-Reeves Library, on "The Internet as a Political Tool" - how the Internet continues to change the world of politics and what it means for local citizens. The talk starts at 10 AM in the Bard Room. If you're interested in politics and technology, please come and join the conversation! For more information, you can check out the flyer on the Morrisson-Reeves website.