Friday, February 22, 2008

Ominous portent, or minor frustration?

This afternoon I noticed that my tax refund had been deposited into my checking account.

I immediately called Amtrak to start the process of purchasing the rail pass for my long-anticipated month-long trip this spring. The cheerful customer service representative told me I needed to set my itinerary at the time of purchasing the pass. This was not a problem, since I had already spent hours and hours poring over the Amtrak timetables and setting various itineraries; however, my spreadsheet was at home and I was at work. Could I call back later?

"Sure," she said. "We're here 24 hours a day for your convenience."

"That is convenient!" I agreed.

I came home, pulled out my itinerary spreadsheet, tinkered with my dream trip one last time, and called Amtrak back.

The customer service representative told me that the department I needed is only open 8:30-4:30, Monday through Friday.


It's that kind of confusion and misinformation that could really derail (metaphorically, I hope) a train trip like this. On the other hand, if that's the biggest screw-up I encounter, I'll be thanking my lucky stars. Here's hoping.

Two weeks ago

Mr. Thel is taking Chloe to have the staples removed from her surgery incision today. Two weeks down and six to go until we can start walking her outside on a leash again. I'm not looking forward to another six weeks like the last one; Chloe thinks she's better, and wants to be allowed to run around again. She's tired of being forced to lie down and stay all the time, or of being confined to small parts of the house. I'm tired of keeping her contained.

At least her hair is growing back in again, so she doesn't look quite so much like the victim of a deranged groomer's out-of-control clippers.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

You know, I sympathize with parents' fears for their children's safety, both on- and off-line. But my reaction to this article is...not sympathy.

Ernest and his business partner Jason Thurston put their tech-savvy heads together and created, a database parents can use to zero in on suspect screen names children should stay away from.

The site posts reviews on screen names. It's akin to a movie review. Most are posted by other online users who had a bad experience and want to warn others. With each screen name review comes a sample of their online chats.

"It can get really dirty or nasty, if you want it call it that," Ernest said.

Take Fanfest 2004, for example. The name may sound innocuous enough, but a search of the new database reveals a conversation in which Fanfest, a 30 year old, describes what he wants to do sexually with a 7-year-old girl.
Where to begin? I mean, I'm hardly the queen of all geekdom (in fact, I don't think I'd even qualify to be a duchess of geekdom), but I feel like Inigo Montoya--"You keep talking about the internet. I do not think it works the way you think it does."

First of all, let's fix that last sentence: which Fanfest, who claims to be a 30 year old, describes what he wants to do....
See how that works? You don't know anything about "Fanfest 2004" except what he (or she!) tells you. Isn't rule number one of the internet, "Don't believe a word anything says about themselves unless you can independently verify it?" Teaching that principle to your children would do a heck of a lot more to protect them than building a database of "bad screen names." What, you want your kid to think that anyone whose name isn't in your database must therefore be trustworthy? Way to go with the teaching of the critical thinking skills, there.

Second of all, what parallel internet do these "tech-savvy" people play on? They themselves reluctantly admit, "there's nothing stopping the bad-guys [sic] from changing their screen name." Unfortunately, they make no mention of the corollary: dozens or hundreds of different people across the internet can share the same "screen name" in different venues. Nothing prevents someone else from writing a blog under the name of "Thel," having a livejournal account in the name of "Thel," or signing in as "Thel" in chatrooms for people with very specific kinks. Go do a blog search for variants on the name "Arwen" and see how many thousands of different individuals you can find conducting their online activities in the name of Elrond's daughter, for God's sake.

(Third of all, I feel compelled to note that "talking about wanting to do something" is not actually illegal. Plenty of people get their kink on by roleplaying activities that you [and, often, they!] find repellent and rightfully unlawful in real life. Deal.)

I was going to compare this "" database to the no-fly list--databases that can seriously screw with your plans even if you've done nothing wrong. But this is even worse, in some ways. Who's going to stop the trolls, the disgruntled employees, the unbalanced ex-spouses, and the pranksters from posting people's "screen names" along with a filthy little manufactured snippet of their purported deviancy? What recourse would such a wrongly slandered party have?
Are any measures in place to ensure that folks who share a screen name with one of these "bad guys" don't find all of their own online activities slandered?

I'm pretty sure the answers are "nobody, none, and no," not that anyone gives a damn. Poorly executed vigilantism may be a useless exercise, but (oh, baby) it feels so good.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Caucus Chaos

Hey, slap a sticker on my jacket, I caucused yesterday!

This was my second caucus; since we moved across town last year, this was my first time caucusing in our current precinct. There were 21 of us in our precinct: 20 for Obama, 1 for Clinton. The lone Clinton supporter was delightfully good-humored about the fact that the percentages, when applied to our allocated number of precinct delegates (7), gave all the delegates to Obama and none to Clinton.

I enjoyed the hands-on feel to the caucus; I liked chatting with neighbors about politics for a few minutes, hearing voices raised passionately in other precinct caucuses smashed into the same elementary-school library. I was impressed by how many people crammed into the building. And when the caucus organizer asked people to raise their hands if this were their first time caucusing, probably about three-quarters of the people present raised their hands, to whoops and applause from the rest of us. It felt very personal, and intimate, and very much like the core root of democracy.

Still, just as in 2004, I was a little taken aback by how chaotic and disorganized the process was. When I showed up at the elementary school where 7 or 8 local precincts were meeting to caucus, I was told we were all gathering in the cafeteria to begin. In the cafeteria, folks were sitting in their precinct groups, but the signs were taped to tables and thus invisible from a distance. It was all but impossible to squeeze through the crowd of hundreds of people in order to find the right precinct. And I was one of the lucky ones who had already registered to vote and had known my precinct number! If you didn't already know it, you had to go scrutinize a single map taped to one wall, and there were reports that the map was incorrect, anyway. I'm still unsure whether I was supposed to have shown my voter registration card to anyone; nobody asked to see it.

And I must admit that as much fun as a caucus can be, I still don't quite think it gives everyone a voice. I think of that lone Clinton supporter in our precinct, whose choice is not represented on a statewide basis. His fraction of a delegate doesn't get to combine with the other fractions of delegates; they all just get rounded down and shunted out. So I guess a statewide vote would be a bit more fair, after all, even if it doesn't cultivate a sense of community the way a caucus can.

Anyway, I caucused and volunteered to be a delegate to the county caucus in April. That will be a new experience! Then I walked back down the hill to sit and cuddle with my Chloe. She had her knee surgery on Thursday, and it went as well as can be expected. Her entire leg is shaved, hip to ankle, with a long line of staples holding her surgery incision closed. It looks bad, but I know she should be getting back to normal just in time for sunny weather and outside play!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

And that's how I learned it stands for "Anterior Cruciate Ligament"

This little dog of mine was loping cheerfully around with me outside last Saturday when she halted with a yelp, holding her right hind leg up from the ground. Turns out she tore her ACL, which is apparently a very common injury for larger dogs. Alas, it is not quite so common as to make it what anyone could reasonably consider "affordable" to repair. As it happens, the surgery will end up costing just about the same amount as my anticipated tax refund this year--the tax refund I was planning to use for my train trip.

She had the surgery today, though, and will come home tomorrow to begin her three months of recovery. One month of severe motion restriction, followed by two months of slow rehabilitation. And I plan to go ahead and take the damn train trip, anyway. Credit cards are pay-off-able (or so I have heard, at least), but travel memories last forever. I'm hoping to stretch my credit as far as it will go by using Couchsurfing for at least a few of my lodging options along the way. I leave in two months, if we can make it that long without having anyone else tear any ligaments, cut any arteries, or break any bones.