The Data Mine

Here’s an example of a way data gets used in seemingly innocuous ways, but is concerning for privacy nonetheless: Years ago, I had a Mint account, which I’ve long since abandoned. I still get periodic emails from them, and yesteday I recieved a “year in review” style email. In it, it referenced the following:

Streaming services spending:

  • $314M to Netflix
  • $166M to Hulu
  • $47M to Sling TV

It also broke down how much Uber was utliized compared to Lyft, and which food delivery services were used the most (Grubhub, Uber Eats, Doordash), also with their respective totals.

I’m sure they’ll couch this as data being “anonymized”, so it’s “private” in terms of not being able to tie some data specifically to you the individual. All the same, these types of data mining show clearly that using certain services like this afford the companies providing the service to see just about everything you pull into the service.

Sure, a “year in review” is looking at trends and is trying to be cute about it, but this is almost certainly just the tip of the iceberg. Mint is a free service to users, and the service’s business model used to rely solely on affiliate links for services purchased from users within it. That seems to be still the case, on the surface, but it’s not a hard leap to imagine that plenty of large companies would love to know more about how they’re doing among competitors.

it’s exactly this sort of information that should be kept fully private. This sort of information has no business being aggregated when the service, ostensibly, is supposed to help an individual budget and get a clearer picture of their finances. This makes me happy that I pay for YNAB, who has so far sent only information about education they provide, and ways to learn how to more effectively use their system.

Happy 2020. Let’s make this a year in which we acknowledge our collective humanity, push back against turning everything into a data point, and place value on privacy and using the things in our lives thoughtfully.

I continue to love the writing experience in Micro.blog, with my main quibble right now being how it handles drafts. There’s no separate category for drafts in the “posts” section, which means having to navigate through all old posts in order to find a draft saved on a given day.

The more I learn about big data, the less data I want to be generating. Some of it is useful, but not at the expense of privacy and at the end of the day, it seems to add more complexity to life and I’m finding that more and more, I just crave simplicity.

The Power of Words

Watch the news, read social media, see behavior from real adults filmed at rallies, and it’s incredibly clear that there is a casual form of cruelty on constant display. Trying to score points by making fun of someone who stutters, then insisting the insult wasn’t about someone’s manner of speech, and then trying to walk it back by saying the “point” of said insult should have made respectfully. The whole point, in this case, was to bully someone based on how they speak.

I’m perhaps especially sensitive to this as someone who works as a speech pathologist, and sees the challenges people face day in and day out to communicate. It’s alarming to see how combative our everyday communication has become, and I’m not speaking just of political rhetoric here. To address said rhetoric though, I will say this: pay attention to how people hide behind faith and yet dismiss (and indeed, join in on) the cruel behavior of mocking a grieving widow or mocking a teenager, all behavior that is demonstrably uncaring and indecent. We can and should expect, and demand, better from each and every one of us.

There are no doubt many reasons we reached this point. Perhaps it’s the increasing booking of pundits, whose verbal sparring has turned news into an endless debate to garner more attention (to drive up time spent watching, to drive up ad sales). Perhaps it’s the temporal nature of social networks, who thrive on engagement and clicks and noise, so people post more and more in order to be seen and “heard”, and in turn who can be served more and more ads. Whatever the case, we’re spending more and more time staring at screens (TVs, phones, tablets, computers) and less time looking at one another, that it almost feels as if we’re neglecting our own sense of humanity. How else do we arrive at people who consider themselves moral and respectable defending concentration camps, forced separation of children from parents, smiling for a photo while holding a baby whose parents were murdered to save it from a man who shot up a store and targeted people of color based on the very ideas being spread by the person posing for that photo?

The cruelty starts with language, and builds into actions. It’s right there in front of us, and it’s gleefully retweeted and fed back on the news, and then promptly forgotten once the next highly objectionable comment or action comes along. Let us first stop feeding the machine. Stop fueling the fire. Stop shouting into the wind, and instead strive for calm conversation.

Reward love, generosity, and kindness with our attention.

Umair Haque wisely reminds us just how critically we need to be examining this impeachment process. Shady dealings for political points is wrong, to be sure. Human rights abuses need to be addressed, too.

Side note to my last post: That quote may have been Hendrix referencing either Indian spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy or perhaps British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladsone. Or it could have been originally from a 1948 volume of The National Elementary Principal.

Whatever the case, it’s an idea worth remembering, and even more worth sharing widely. Also, it is worth recognizing that its history as an idea may date back to at least the 1800s, which shows us just how slow we as a species are to recognize and effect change, especially on a large scale. We can, and should, do better, for ourselves and for generations to come.

Impeachment feels momentous, and like the first just action in a long string of injustices. We have so far still to go, so many marginalized among us in need of support.

“When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” -Jimi Hendrix

Kickstarter and FOMO

I’ve had mixed results of late with Kickstarter projects, but this Coffeejack looks interesting. Though I certainly don’t need any new coffee gear, I generally have a lot of fun with the gear I do get (I can think of only one exception to that), and this would be a nice solution to potentially improved coffee at a few of my work sites (I can toss it in my bag and take it with me). My current solution has been to use Mount Hagen organic instant coffee, which has also been a surprisingly decent solution and is much tastier than the burnt-plastic taste and excessive landfill waste that is k-cups.

Kickstarter leaves me feeling a bit of FOMO, which I believe is by design, but the good things usually go on for sale down the line. Even if they cost more later, sometimes it’s worth the wait to see. Plus, as any good budgeter will tell you, spending money you haven’t planned on spending in the name of “saving on overall cost” is a more expensive decision in the short term than it would be to plan for and pay the higher retail cost later. Plus, waiting allows for time to evaluate if it’s really something that would bring enjoyment and value to your life.

Either way, I’m glad to see these sorts of ideas gaining traction. Here’s hoping it succeeds, and perhaps down the line if I see one in person and feel so inclined (the best items usually end up at a few of my favorite local coffee shops), I’ll give it a whirl.

Baby's First Mechanical Keyboard

I recently got bitten by the mechanical keybaord bug, and for the last couple of weeks have been enjoying the clickety feeling of typing away with one. It’s designed for Windows, and while it was working well enough out of the box, the placement of the command key was giving me some issues. I finally got up the courage to try to program it, though, since I opted for that ability intentionally so that I could have some flexibility with it. This was a harrowing experience on first pass, as I had to removed its firmware in order to free up space to install my own custom firmware.

I consulted the internet, as always, and found two different methods to try since the instructions from the box required the use of a Flash applet (eek) and I also found (because curiosity of course took over) that the Flash applet in question is now defunct anyway. Of course, I didn’t learn that until after I’d removed that first set of firmware. And while I’d made a backup of the stock firmware as advised by various sources, I couldn’t get it re-installed. It turns out I was able to remove the file just fine from Finder on my Mac, but I couldn’t turn around and place it, or any new firmware, back on the drive. Wonderful.

I next tried using the simple configurator software I’d downloaded while researching this all, but it too was unable to do anything effectively. My last step was following instructions to work from the command line, but this too didn’t work (though mostly because I didn’t have the additional developer tools I needed). I finally tried plugging it in and following the same steps through Windows, which I have to use for some work software. Following the same steps from before just in Finder, I was able to easily flash the new firmware in all of one minute (total). Go figure.

In the end, I’m thrilled to have a functional keyboard that clicks away and has its keys programmed in a familiar layout. The little brains within my fingers are relieved that they can now go back to business as usual. Tactile memory is surprisingly powerful, it seems.

Speaking of student loans, students who received loans for functionally scam “colleges” are still unlikely to get relief from this current administration’s Department of Education. In fact, Betsy DeVos was just fined $100,000 for continuing to collect payments from defrauded students (including garnishing wages or seizing tax refunds). Betsy DeVos has a complex web of holdings, and her actions have made it abundantly clear that she does not have the best interests of student borrowers in mind. What springs to mind for me moving forward: really evaluating why higher education costs have ballooned, and encouraging better financial literacy before attending school. As I’ve noted previously, I “lucked out” and was able to take out fewer loans than many, and yet still I will be paying these for at least a few years still to come. And also, really holding these schools accountable to having to pay back the loans they accepted, rather than the students, seems like a really good place to start. If student borrowers have this complicated a process to get loan forgiveness in bankruptcy, for-profit scam schools shouldn’t have it any easier.

Every so often, I look at the total amount I’ve paid back on my student loans. As of now, I’ve paid back about $2,000 more than the amount I originally borrowed, yet I still owe more than half that original amount as outstanding principal. The word “oof” comes to mind…

For my first Micro Monday, I’d like to recommend Patrick Rhone (@patrickrhone), who has thoughtful perspectives on life and who helped (through no conscious effort of his own) bring me back to blogging; Miraz (@Miraz), who embraces age, isn’t afraid to ask questions, and takes great bird photos; and Bix (@bix), who helps me think differently about life through his powerful writing.

Growing Pains, Business Style

I’ve been working on getting a clearer picture of the finances for each of my businesses. I do a fair amount by hand, in part because it helps prevent automation from making me complacent, and in part because Quickbooks Self-Employed is less than reliable. I’ve used it for years, and while it’s taught me a lot, I’ve definitely outgrown it. But even though I mostly just use it for invoicing, TurboTax, and helping estimate taxes, it’s an exercise in frustration. It deleted transactions I’d sorted for business once I started using a dedicated checking account and stopped using my personal acount (and so stopped having my personal account transactions be pulled in for review). Today, it wouldn’t show any but the latest invoice, and required multiple refreshes before they finally reappeared.

I use the more robust Quickbooks Online for my second business, and it’s been generally better, having none of the issues I just described above.

Currently I’m on trying out Freshbooks and Zipbooks, but of course I got a bit swamped right after signing up, so both have just a few days left and I’m not as familiar with either as I’d like to be.

Basically, here’s the essential lessons learned: if you do any sort of freelance work, keep a separate checking account for it (even if you’re not a formally structured entity). Use it for all business-related needs. When considering options for accounting needs, consider reliability as much as you consider price.

Untabbed

Tabbed browsing is a mixed blessing. It allows me to focus on a variety of things more or less discretely, but on the flip side, it allows me to have my attention perpetually shifting. Here’s a small sample of what I have on just two devices:

Desktop: Work email, YNAB budget, trial web-based accounting System, an article on paying yourself when you’re self-employed, an article on owner’s equity vs retained earnings, a retained earnings formula explainer, another explainer on calculating retained earnings for a new company, an article about memory as part of research for one of my cognitive patients, an article on uninstalling Silverlight, a newsletter on Substack, an iOS-based alternative communication app I want to try out for a patient, an association for Deaf-Blind individuals, a YouTube video by Deaf and Deaf-Blind individuals, a website for a HIPAA-compliant web- and app-based phone service, an interesting eyeglass cleaning tool I found via Seth Godin I’ve thought about trying, Late Nite Harp podcast (highly recommended listening and great for both relaxing and for writing), Micro.Blog, and a GitHub page.

iPad: A website for an interpreter I met at a conference (in July), vicarious trauma resources from that same website, a reference site about SOAP notes I was referencing for something, a recipe for Mongolian beef, a New York Times article about slowing down in the age of TikTok, a site for reference on articulation of sounds and development, an article about the Moai, an article about styling links in CSS, an article about Frank Chimero’s site redesign, Late Nite Harp (again, highly recommended listening), Micro.Blog (I like using it in the browser more than the app, usually), an Amazon page with a USB-C cable.

That’s 18 open tabs on my desktop, and 12 more on my iPad. On my phone, the problem is even greater, as I frequently just open a new tab when I need to use the browser for something.

I’ve realized this before, and had focused on trying to reduce the number of tabs I have open at any given time. For about two months, I was able to manage with probably just three to four open tabs at any given time, on any given device. Obviously, that didn’t stick, but while I was able to manage it before, it was more calming.

The bounty of tabs I currently have open have made me realize that my thinking is more scattered, and as a result less focused, with so much visual input. The medical record system I use to run my practice is fully web-based, which I love, and it dawned on me last week that I should try using it as a stand-alone full-screen window instead of part of the sheer volume of tabs I had open. The impact was more significant than I thought it would be: without the address bar, or the increasingly busy bar below it, I was able to focus on what I needed right in front of me: writing notes, scheduling, billing, etc. Having one thing to do changed how I behaved.

I suspect that part of why I keep so many tabs open is because I want to use that information again at some point. Given that at least two of my tabs have been open on my iPad since July, that “some point” really should have an expiration date. I need to remind myself that if I need something, I should act on it sooner rather than later, and move on. If I need it later, I can either save it in some place for reference later, or just close it and check for it again later should the need arise.

Using tabbed browsing as a de facto memory tool is cluttering up my vision and making it hard for me to do what I need to do in the moment. Time to rethink and re-adjust my use accordingly.

A personal blog can be considered a little piece of digital property. Used thoughtfully, it can be a fantastic way to share ideas, think out loud, and integrate one’s interests in writing, drawing, and photography in a unique way.

Politically Inclined

It’s day 30 of Blogvember. I’m following the prompts from Andrew Canion, which can be found here.

It doesn’t take much right now to recognize that by simply being a person of difference, be it an immigrant, person of color, queer, trans, woman, or otherwise different, one’s humanity can be removed from them for the sake of politics. I know this because I came of age during a time in which my very identity was declared to be a choice. Rights for gay people were contested first for so-called “moral” reasons, then because we had the same rights as everyone else and being able to be treated equally under the law would be a “special” right (as in, queer people had the right to marry someone, so long as they were of the opposite sex).

What happens to one’s sense of self when society places such limits on a fundamental aspect of their humanity? We are forced to live in the closet, hiding in fear that should we let ourselves shine, we may be hurt, or hurt the ones we love. Having grown up in a religious tradition which did not embrace gay people, it compounded what I perceived from the culture at large. I came of age when queer people first could not serve their country, then could only do so if they swore never to tell a soul.

It took years for me to accept myself, then even longer to have the courage and the strength to live my truth. The result? I’ve been able to live with integrity and serve my community. I give back in as many ways as I can, and I strive to use the gains from my own life as a means to help lift up others.

The world I envision is one which embraces everyone, no matter their national origin, their language spoken, their sexuality, gender identity, or their religion. I advocate for a world which supports those who are ill and does not bankrupt them. One which offers food and shelter for all, not only those who can afford to pay for it. I work, and vote, for causes which protect this earth we live on so that we can enjoy it for generations to come, and I reject the notion that its resources should be used for gain.

It can seem an insurmountable goal, but I hope that be keeping these lofty visions, and continuing to talk about them, we can keep that hope alive no matter what.

Dogma For Days

It’s day 29 of Blogvember. I’m following the prompts from Andrew Canion, which can be found here.

If you follow the world of tech, it’s easy to find instances of dogma. Mark Zuckerberg would rather the world collapse into fascism than have his company be regulated. Adam Newman founded WeWork, an office rental company, and insisted it was actually a way of life.

In both instances, these men have elevated their relative businesses into their own forms of religion: they alone know the one true way, and they alone are the only ones to be trusted to lead this.

I suspect, on some level, that this is a result of what economists are finding to be more and more extreme capitalism in this country. The common theme flowing through everything in tech right now is money: from investors hoping for insatiable growth so they can line their pockets with extreme returns on their investments, to cash grabs in the form of initial public offerings for companies, such as Uber and Lyft, which are not actually profitable and used venture capital to undercut their competition and boost use of their services.

This addiction to capitalism is itself cause for the war and strife, in the same way that religion has for centuries done the same. It’s up to us to recognize it, and in this case, literally use the power of our own resources to cultivate change.

Hoping For Hope

It’s day 28 of Blogvember. I’m following the prompts from Andrew Canion, which can be found here.

We’re living in challenging times, and it’s hard to feel hopeful about the world as we see so much of it arguing and fighting over power, control, status, money. I’ve alluded to this before, that something I find incredibly comforting when facing significant personal challenge is to gaze at the sky and marvel at the stars. It is with this in mind that I want to offer this poem:

I hope you look to the stars
And marvel at their splendor
Light traveled millions of years
To show you something beautiful

I hope you look to the ocean
Feel the waves wash your spirit clean
Find solace in the irregular rhythm
And lose yourself in its wisdom

I hope you look to the trees
See the life they so generously sustain
They rise in all their splendor
And speak through the rustling of leaves

I hope you look to the earth

And see not profit to be made

But wonders to embrace and love

To share with others now and forever

I feel secure in pointing out that if you’re willing to mix your influences, you can enjoy a richer and more interesting life.

At a Loss

It’s day 27 of Blogvember. I’m following the prompts from Andrew Canion, which can be found here.

There’s a danger as we get older to tie our identity to what we do, or where we work. I fell into the this trip a few years ago, becoming very tied to a specific position and the associated role and title I held there. This lead me to hold onto this job much longer than I should have, and the toxic environment it spiraled into left me feeling broken. I had up that point not experienced anxiety in an acute way, and had no framework of recognizing that anxiety and depression can result from seemingly “external” factors. Burnout, and hostile work environment, can certainly do that.

My decision to leave was in large part a decision of self-preservation, and it remains to this day one of the wisest decisions I’ve ever made. The aftermath left me reeling, and struggling with a complete sense of loss of my own identity. How would I move forward? How had this thing I had worked so hard for come crashing down so swiftly? How was it that I had built skills, and yet had suddenly lost them?

It turns out, much of what I experienced was directly related to burnout and a hostile work environment. My recovery from this has had an interesting trajectory: once I began to re-establish my own identity to myself, I became more committed to a sense of self and less committed to a sense of place. I am what I do, not where I do it, as it were.

Further, I think often about this pivotal experience of my life, and use it as a bit of a North Star to guide me and keep me grounded. By processing what went wrong, it’s less of a scar now and more of a guide. Contrary to conventional pop wisdom, it didn’t happen for a reason. But I have learned a great deal from it, and for that, it feels like less a loss to me now than it did to me then.

Shoes to Fill

It’s day 26 of Blogvember. I’m following the prompts from Andrew Canion, which can be found here.

Over the course of my life, I’ve been filled with aspirations to be like others I admire. This changes from one day, week, or year to another. When working with patients with swallowing disorders, I wish I could be like the mentors I’ve identified (most often, unbeknownst to them). Perhaps it’s the many women who helped me understand the fundamentals of speech and swallowing anatomy and physiology. Perhaps it’s the man who pioneered much of the research into the role of oral health to swallowing function.

When interpreting, I wish to be like the Deaf mentors and Deaf interpreters who are always teaching me when they don’t realize it. Their vision, and their perception, make me challenge what I see and make me strive to improve.

When training on Ninja obstacles, I watch my peers and coaches and wish I could do what they do. But I don’t have their strength, or their body; I have my own, and my body has been teaching me what it can do right now, and what it can’t yet do. It has taught me to go at my own pace, and that with patience and consistency, I can develop my own skills.

In so many areas of my life, I want to fill the shoes of the people I admire in whatever it is I do. But I am me, and the only ones whose shoes I can fill are my own. Try as I might, I can’t become those I admire, but I can use their wisdom and generosity to inform who I am and what I do. Lately, I have realized just how many people, from all walks of life, influence me. A mortician helps me learn how to think about death, and in turn, life. Graphic designers have helped me think about design in ways beyond nice imagery and graphics. A fabulous hair stylist has taught me the value of taking pride in the work I do, not to mention a surprising amount about business. A tidying expert has changed how I, a sentimentalist at heart, relate to my possessions.

My shoes are one of a kind, because they are made up of influences seemingly at odds with one another, and yet working in harmony because they are all influencing the same person: me. And while I will no doubt catch myself wishing otherwise at some point, I am grateful that these are the shoes I get to wear each day.

Money Talks

It’s day 25 of Blogvember. I’m following the prompts from Andrew Canion, which can be found here.

I am among the many in this country who have student loan debt. I count myself lucky ones in some respects: I went to a state school and only had one year of out-of-state tuition, plus I worked part-time throughout graduate school and lucked into a number of grants along the way. Still, I landed up in more debt than I would have liked, and have spent the last nine years slowly working my way out.

Early on, a wise clinic instructor pointed out that my monthly payments were the cost of working in the field I wanted to. That’s a fair point, but just as fair a point is that I’ve been repaying that price for three times longer than I spent getting my degree.

There’s no question that tuition costs are rising, and were I to seek the same degree now that I did ten years ago, it would cost significantly more.

The loan “counseling” that’s required to take out loans for school is a joke (basically, it emphasizes that there’s a six-month deferment period, and you need to pay on time every month). Very little time is spent explaining how loans incur interest, and how interest must always be paid before principal. What should be explained is how to quickly and easily calculate the percentage of your payment which goes towards principal (hint: it’s much, much higher than the annual interest rate you’re quoted; as in, a minimum payment on my biggest loan, before refinancing, had 68-70% of each payment going toward principal, so I was lucky to pay down just $1,000 in principal per year at that rate).

There’s plenty of places to point to in terms of just how poorly educated we are about money and finances, but it comes down to just that: for a country as preoccupied as it is with capitalism, there’s scant attention paid to this most fundamental aspect of math and economics: the ability to navigate the world of money in a functional way.

We went wandering a couple of stores while out and about yesterday. I stopped in to Best Buy, and the boxes of TVs and crates of stock blocking you at every turn (in preparation for Black Friday) made for a depressing experience. Overwhelming even without many people there…

Woebegone conclusions are the most interesting kind. When dining alone, people assume I am lonely and in need of company. But no, sometimes just the hum of the atmosphere is all the company I need.