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2013 In Blogging Review

Doing a quick check of Google Analytics and other metrics of my blog for 2013, I find that the blog post that got the most traffic last year was one that I wrote back in 2009 about using GraphViz. The second most popular was also a blog post from 2009, which was about Matlab and Excel. Coming in third was a post from 2010 about adding Google Document forms to Tumblr. This was followed by another 2010 blog post about recovering a bricked Nokia N900 and rounding out the top five posts was a 2009 blog post about performing an SQL style “group ny” in Matlab. So, the top five blog posts were old technical how to blog posts.

According to Google Analytics, the next most popular post was about when the Thule Weekender met its end. This was a 2013 blog post. However, when I look at the data from my server, this blog post doesn’t show up as significant.

My server shows the my most popular blog post of 2013 being one of my random collections of topics. It is hard to tell what aspect of the post brought the traffic, but I’m guessing it was talking about Ingress.

The second most popular post was about opening the Supreme Court to the highest bidder and the third returned to technology themes as I talked about both Google Glass and Ingress. This was followed by a blog post mixing technology, politics with a little bit of poetry as I adapted the beginning of Howl to events in 2013. The final of the top five from this list was a blog post about health care discussions online.

Technology and politics continue to be what brings people to this blog. My most popular blog posts are from a few years ago. Should I write more to the technology and politics audience? Should I further my explorations in other topics? How much does one write for oneself and how much does one write for others?

It will be interesting to see what 2014 brings.

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Poor Customer Service from @amitywines

Like many others, I stopped off to pick up a little bubbly to celebrate New Year’s Eve. It was a few hours before closing. The store was busy, but not bad. I wandered around for a little bit to try and find something nice. I picked up two bottles of a sparkling wine that Kim had recommended and went to check out.

The cashier swiped my card through the card reader and it didn’t work. She tried a few more times and asked another person to help her. He didn’t have much better luck so they called a manager over. He tried swiping the card through the reader and didn’t have any luck. He asked if I had a different card. I told him I didn’t I asked if he could manually enter it, and he said he couldn’t.

This struck me as odd. I know that the magnetic strip on my card is starting to wear thin. There have been a handful of stores whose reader can’t read it. Sometimes, they put the card in a plastic shopping bag, which usually does the trick. If it doesn’t, they manually enter the card number. I’ve never had the situation where I couldn’t ultimately use my card, until New Year’s Eve.

I ended up leaving without any sparkling wine. Their intransigence lost them a sale. When I got home and told the story to my wife and some friends, my wife said she knew someone there and she would contact them.

Today, she sent an email and received the following response:

My apologies on your husbands experience.
However, if a credit card or debit card does not swipe it can not be validated that the card was in fact in the store if the charge was ever disputed. That obviously would not be the case here, but it's protection against any fraudulent charges.
If the card number is entered manually there is no protection for that. The swipe can be tracked.
There is no doubt that the funds are the account and that was never in question, it is a protection policy against credit card fraud.

Our cashiers are trained to let a manager know if a credit card doesn't swipe through the system. They know they are not allowed to enter it manually.

This struck as particularly odd. As I mentioned, no other store has ever refused to manually enter the credit card number. So, I contacted some experts in bank fraud. They responded:

Hey, the store owner is wrong. Cards can be manually entered and still not liable for fraud. Swiped transactions give merchants more protection, but they're still protected if they manually enter the info correctly. Sounds like this merchant is over interpreting the reg and being extra cautious.

So, I will be extra cautious from now on as well. I will not shop at Amity Wines and I will discourage others from possibly running into similar experiences.

While I’m at it, I’ll also contact Webster’s bank to get a replacement card with a new magnetic strip. When I’ve had banking issues, their customer service has always been exemplary.

Update 1/3/2014:

A friend sent me Card Acceptance Guidelines for Visa Merchants

Starting on page 19 the document fairly clearly contradicts what the person at Amity Wines claimed.

In traditional sales environments, merchants are required to take all reasonable steps to assure that the card, cardholder, and transaction are legitimate . Proper card acceptance begins and ends with sales staff and is critical to customer satisfaction and profitability.

Later, in the section about what to do when a card doesn't swipe, it goes into detail about making an imprint to show that the card was in the store to protect against possible chargebacks.

Singularity Vigor: Transhumanism, Hybrid Vigor, and Filter Bubbles

“The Singularity is Near” Thus wrote Ray Kurzweil in his 2005 book with that title. For those not acquainted with the idea of the singularity, Wikipedia describes it as

a hypothetical moment in time when artificial intelligence will have progressed to the point of a greater-than-human intelligence, radically changing civilization, and perhaps human nature.

Yet is is about much more than just artificial intelligence, as proponents talk about human biological enhancement, artificial intelligence,, and brain-computer interfaces. It is a topic people have brought up more often to me since I’ve started wearing Google Glass. Glass is not really a human biological enhancement or a brain-computer interface as imagined by many singularity enthusiasts, but it is wearable computing which enhances the interface between technology and humans.

Kurzweil has a utopian view of the singularity, but others are less optimistic. On New Years Eve, my wife and I finished watching the first season of H+ The Digital Series. It raises questions of competing technologies in the singularity and what role the anti-technologists play. It doesn’t get into the digital divide or the role of large governments that much, although there are concerns raised about large corporations.

Will the singularity be iOS based? Android based? Available to a small group of Linux based hackers? What role will the NSA play? Will they just listen? Will they try to reprogram the singularity? Singularity Free America?

What happens when someone tries to bridge the iOS singularity with the Android singularity. Are characters like Edward Snowden the real world Henry Dorsett Case’s?

Perhaps it is necessary for their to be multiple singularities. In H+ a large group of people get wiped out by a virus which shuts down the predominant implant. In biology, we see these viruses and call for hybrid vigor. WIll we seek such vigor in our singularity?

Maybe that is already happening. The singularity is tied to the information that is being accessed, and we’re already seeing a self selection if we are to believe books like ‘The Filter Bubble’, ‘The Information Diet’, and ‘Rewire’. Perhaps, instead of railing against these information ghettos, we should encourage them as part of Singularity Vigor.

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2014

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit. I greet the completion of another journey of the moon around the earth with a childhood ritual to bring good luck. It is also the day that we celebrate the completion of another journey of the earth around the sun with rituals to bring good luck.

The ball has dropped. The crowds have celebrated. Now it is time to consider the hopes and desires for the coming year. It is a blank page for all of us. Already I’m receiving plenty of requests about the coming midterm elections. Others have expressed their hopes and desires for me for the coming year as it relates to them. I won’t respond to those hopes and desires here. They are other people’s hopes which may or may not jive with my own.

I think about my own hopes. Many are the large hopes of all the years; world peace, economic stability in better rationalized markets, improved access to quality health care and better health outcomes for all, regardless of racial or ethnic backgrounds. Others are equally large, perhaps equally attainable, while more personal like writing my magnum opus.

Yet a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step and I look around for those small single next steps, the resolutions to be made and broken each year. I stare at the blank part of the page. I read through my New Year’s posts from years ago. I glance over at the Christmas tree standing to the right of the chair I normally sit in to write. I glance to the left where the large black cat, eyes wide open, sits on the back of the couch. Through a window, I can see our large white dog sniffing at the fire pit from last nights celebration and then poke at one of the logs that was not burnt.

I sit quietly, listening to the sound of my wife sleeping or the rushing sound of warm air when the furnace kicks in.

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Wandering

And so, 2013 comes to a chilly end. As I emerged from sleep, I was dreaming about walking. We were staying at a beach house out on Cape Cod. We had presumably spent the day at the beach and were walking back to the beach house. There were a lot of people walking. There were discussions about how the roads and pathways were being developed and I walked through areas that were designed for cars but not pedestrians.

It was a far cry from Thoreau’s walks on Cape Cod, but it may be that his wanderings were influencing mine. Last night, I read Virginia Woolf’s essay on Emerson. I was tired and it felt like drudgery, a feeling I sometimes get when reading about the Transcendentalists. I can’t imagine convincing people influenced by todays media to sit down and read about the Transcendentalists. It feels a little too much like telling, not showing.

So, I started wandering online. The night before I had watched YouTube videos of poetry slams. These seemed more compelling, but I was looking for something different last night. My thoughts often come back to Lacan and I did some searching about him. I drifted into Kerouac and automatic writing, to Wilhelm Reich and orgone and back around through surrealism.

Perhaps I should work on automatic writing. Perhaps I should add touches of the surreal to my writing. It has always been appealing to me, but a bit daunting. What would people reading this think if they read some tepid attempts at surrealistic automatic writing?

It gets to another issue I face when I write for my blog. I started this blog, originally, as a place to gather together things I was writing for other online sites. Slowly, the blog started getting regular readers and I wondered, and still wonder, how much I should just focus on my writing and how much I should focus on what is being said and how my readers will receive it.

This thought has been amplified as I think more about being digitally deliberate, analyzing the intent and impact of what I post across social media. As you read the ‘experts’ on social media, many seem highly focused on audience, how to build it, how to keep it.

Yes, I would like more people to read what I write, but more importantly, I’d like more people to struggle with thoughts my writing has evoked.

I had not made it back to the beach house before I awoke, so I have more wandering to do, oth in my dreams and in my writing. Perhaps 2014 will be a year of wandering.

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