Saturday, October 17, 2009

New pandemic: Inanity. Way worse than that hog fever


Being the kind of guy who needs to feel plugged in all the time, I use Google Alerts to send me news stories about Napa. Back when I was on the radio every day, it seemed essential to have a fairly good idea of what the heck was going on around town, and ever since I started trying to know what's going on, people started expecting me to know what's going on, so now I actually need to know what's going on, or else I will let everyone down and I can't have that on my conscience. Expectation created, expectation pending, expectation must be fulfilled, or else I lose face. Tools like Google Alerts make it a lot easier to stay informed than it used to be (and a lot cheaper than using a clip service.) In my job with the City of Napa, then, I continue to try and have a clue most days.

So my Google Alerts generate these emails that have headlines and a few sentences from online news stories. All of these stories have the word "Napa" or the phrase "Napa Valley" in them. The majority are from the good ol' Napa Valley Register, and I have usually read all those stories, but the Google Alert also catches stories in the Bay Area press and online newspaper content from all over. Typically, it's a travel story about visiting Napa Valley. Always enjoyable to read those and see what restaurants are hot, and which hotel is hip (or really discounting like crazy) at the moment. (I also get a certain number of news stories that have to do with NAPA Auto Parts, and stories about a beach resort called Ayia Napa in Cyprus, and now and then a story about a boxer named Ian Napa. Amazing the things one may learn about without any desire to learn them, isn't it? I suppose if I created Google Alerts for a dozen other keywords - teakettle, rutabaga, oxycontin, hair plugs, Jimmy Durante, for example - I could expand my knowledge in many directions with very little effort. Or I could put all those words into one Alert so I would only get stories that contain every word. I wonder how many times I would get a message that someone has written a story involving teakettles, rutabagas, oxycontin, hair plugs and Jimmy Durante? My old junior high science teacher taught us that maxim about "possible" versus "probable" - that if you had a million monkeys with a million typewriters it was possible that one of them would type out the entire Bible. Possible, but not probable. But today with the internet, I think we do sort of have a million monkeys with a million typewriters, more or less, so there is probably someone out there who is writing regularly about Jimmy Durante and how he considered getting hair plugs but gave up the idea during his oxycontin addiction years - a habit he only kicked by drinking rutabaga tea. But I digress.)

So today my Google Alert merrily popped up in my email box, and there was a story that mentioned Castle Rock Cabernet. I don't know much about Castle Rock other than the fact that they make one of the best cheap everyday grocery store pinot noirs, but the name caught my eye so I clicked on it. What I get to then is something like "Tom and Judy's Wine Blog" (and I wouldn't link to them if I could find it because I wouldn't want Tom and Judy - if that's even the right names - to read what I am about to write because it might hurt their feelings) which turns out to be a very sincere, straightforward, well-presented blog that tells us all about the cheap, grocery-store wines they've been drinking, paired with something like tuna noodle casserole. "This big fruity red wine stands up well to the amazingly oversalted Hamuburger Helper and Rice-A-Roni feast that Tom I enjoyed while watching Wheel of Fortune," it very well might have said, but don't quote me. My brief glance told me that Tom and Judy were steadfastly blogging about their $10 bottles paired with TV dinners just about every single day.

Now it's all well and good for any citizen of the world with rudimentary language skills and at least dial up to write and post any damn thing they want. It's a free country, and thank God Al Gore invented the internet for us, I say! However, while this kind of "citizen journalism" may be self-satisfying, and fun, and sort of a hobby and all that, it is also overpoweringly inane.

(Let's pause a momemt and ponder this wonderful word - "inane" meaning silly, pointless, empty, fatuous, vacuous, complacently and unconsciously foolish, asinine. It's a beautiful word to use with someone who is being it. Usually someone who is being inane will not have the vocabulary to know what inane means, so you can call them inane and they will look somewhat puzzled but not offended.)

This deluge of inanity we're living in today is difficult to escape from. If it's not somebody's inane blog, it's the inane post on Facebook like "Off to the dry cleaners!" or some mouth-breather talking endlessly about sports. I don't care how much you know about sports - more than thirty seconds on any sports topic is about twice too much. And then there's politics - a topic everyone seems to think they need to spout off about. Truth be told, if you don't have an original idea - that being something you thought of yourself - chances are the talk show host you're parroting said it better when you heard it in the first place, so I generally don't want to hear your version, bub. Having survived what I think was a bout of the hog fever, I feel strong but I am not sure my immune system can handle the inanity pandemic.

Before your nostrils flare in disgust and you cleverly decide to post a comment saying "Hello Mr. Pot, meet Mr. Kettle! Your blog, sir, is as inane as they come! How dare you! When you point your finger remember there are three other fingers pointing back at you!" Before you post that, just keep in mind that I already know all that. But at least my fingers just got a good workout.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

How I Survived a Chilling Three-Day Ordeal!

Throughout the annals of history (and it is in the annals where all the best history happens) there have been many well-known stories of survival against the odds. The Israelites and their forty days in the wilderness - that soccer team whose plane crashed in the Andes and went cannibal - Dick Cheney toughing it out in his undisclosed-location bunker - all inspiring in their courage, fortitude and sheer will to live on! Nothing, however, can compare with the horrendous crisis from which I have just escaped...


That's right, my friends - three long, anxiety-wracked days and sleepless nights deprived of my social media of choice. A 72-hour soul-searching test of resolve. A gut-wrenching off-line stress-a-lapooza!

How did I do it, you ask? Draw nigh and hear my tale of woe.

It all started with an email. An email that looked fully bogus, in fact, telling me my account was disabled due to my violation of the FB terms of service. I'm sure you, like me, have read, understood and memorized the terms of service, which prohibit harassing people, stealing other people's intellectual property, taking more than nine quizzes in one day, and posting porn, among other offenses. I have never done any of these things. OK, I have harassed a few people, but they have all been close friends - and deserving of harassment for sure. I harass because I love! But in the realm of the online brigands I am as innocent as a babe. Honestly, officer.

So I get this email and just ignore it, in part because I knew I hadn't done anything wrong, and in part because I could still log on. And we all get so many scammy, manipulative emails I was sure this was just another in that vein. Unfortunately, to my dismay, it was all too true. (Dah-dah-daaaahhh!)(That was dramatic music.)

Fast-forward about 18 hours. It's mid-day Monday, and suddenly I can't log on. I CAN'T LOG ON! A message pops up when I try to, and it says my account has been disabled. DISABLED! Imagine the weakness in my knees, the lump rising in my throat, the anguished cry welling up from the deepest crevasse of my being! "Save me!" I wailed, "Don't make me go back to MySpace, there's no one there!"

And so began my journey through the fire, my three days as Job. So began the endless hours during which I had no way to know who had joined Farmville, who was seeking weaponry in Mafia Wars, who had thrown a sheep at me. Endless hours of having no clue who was excelling at Bejewelled Blitz or who had taken the "How much do you know about (random person I hardly remember from high school) quiz?" Endless hours when I lost touch with the extreme political views from both left and right, boiling down complex concepts into single sentences with lots of !!!! Endless hours of just not knowing who was thinking "Time for lunch" and "Off to bed" and other deep thoughts that I wanted to share in. Try to imagine my misery.

So this episode of feeling violated will take its place alongside getting burglarized in the night while we slept upstairs, alongside getting our bank accounts emptied by some identity thief, and alongside two or three occasions of someone stealing my credit card number. (Do I have a big "kick me" sign on my back?)

To make a long story longer, I will simply say the problem was suddenly resolved and my account was restored. I have been exonerated of wrongdoing by the Gods of Facebook (perhaps aided by the intervention of a highly-placed FOAF - thanks Katherine) and yet I have no idea of what prompted the whole kerfuffle in the first place. And so my beloved Facebook is back - and just in the nick of time, because I was right on the verge of actually doing something productive.