More talking computers

I had another experience with a speaking computer. I called to cancel a magazine subscription, and was immediately aware that I was speaking with a recording. I figured this meant that I would be able to get through the entire process without the tiresome task of convincing someone that I did indeed wish to cancel.

Alas, it was not to be, although I expect that the process was, overall, less painful than it would have been with a real person.

The computer first offered me two free months if I would reconsider. Then, it offered me a choice of several worthless trinkets if I would repent of my folly. Finally, it said that it would cancel my subscription at the end of the subscription year, rather than immediately, since that was probably what I had in mind.

At last, and grudgingly, it agreed to cancel my magazine immediately, and refund my money.

Now, when subjected to this kind of thing by a person, I always figured that it was their job, and they were just trying to get their bonus. But when a computer program does it, there’s just no excuse, and it was just annoying.

I also wondered what this does for employment. If one can, with one studio recording session, and a simple menu-driven script, replace a few dozen employees, surely this will happen in many call centers. Perhaps things like 411 will be replaced this way, since voice recognition appears to be sufficiently advanced now.

Quote: Scrooge on Christmas

What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in ’em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you?

— Ebenezer Scrooge. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens.

This year, I seem to find myself more in tune with the first chapter of A Christmas Carol than with the last.

Tonight was the Christmas fling in Wilmore, where all the town folks turn out on Main Street, and all the downtown businesses open their doors and have snacks and hot drinks. I just did not feel like staying very long, and I got very cold, so I just came home. I’m trying to work on my book, but I’m having a hard time concentrating.

Tomorrow night is another Christmas party. I’m not even sure I’m going. Perhaps I will make the requisite appearance. I suppose folks will expect me to do a Dickens reading, and I’m just not sure I have the heart for it. I’m more inclined to read about Scrooge walking home through the foggy streets of London and up his broad staircase – wide enough for the coach-and-four! – than I am to read about Fezziwig and how the small things we do for one another mean so much.

Perhaps I should not write things like this in such a public medium, where I am supposed to be all jolly and positive. However, this year has worn me down as no year ever has before, and I’m just not sure I have the energy to do the Christmas thing this year.

No space left on device!

I find myself with a rather unexpected problem. I’m out of storage space for my wine!

This is actually due to two things. First, I’ve bought a number of wines that I’d like to keep for a long time, and I want to store them in such a way that they will actually benefit from aging, and not just get old and crufty. The other problem is that my new schedule give me very few opportunities to really sit down and enjoy a good wine, and so I have been tending to buy wines, but then never actually open them.

A while back, I made a wine storage cabinet out of an old fridge, and that’s where I’m keeping the wines that actually deserve a quality storage facility. It is full full full. I also have a little 12-bottle wooden wine rack, and that is almost full.

I need to go through and figure out what wines really need to be in the cooler, and which ones don’t really deserve that honor. Perhap that will let me stretch my storage out another year or so. However, a number of my friends want me to buy wine by the case, in order to have some sort of wine club going, where I serve as the somellier and storage person, and they … well, basically, they pay for me to have good wine. At least that’s the way that I see it. 😉 I’ll let you know how that plays out.

Technology makes us dumber

I got a new phone. In order to call my parents, I press a button, and then I say “mom and dad”, and it calls them for me. As I observed last week, Google allows dumb people to do things that they would otherwise be incapable of doing. And now my phone relieves me of even the mental exercise of pressing number buttons, and of remembering a phone number.

When I was teaching College Algebra, I became convinced that calculators were leading to dumber students being able to pass math classes. I am now becoming more and more convinced that computers in general are allowing dumber people to survive the evolutionary process, but that they are also making the rest of us dumber. I think I’m a pretty smart person, but I can’t remember my parents’ phone number, because I don’t have to. I have trouble writing (by hand) a page of text, because I have been typing so long that that much writing makes my hand cramp up. It’s really quite pathetic.

Of course, technology allows me to be physically unfit also, but that’s hardly a new thing. The phone just got me thinking. Or, perhaps, it enabled me not to have to think …

Apache training, day 5

Day 5 of the Apache training has normally been pretty rushed, and an opportunity to cover last minute stuff before people dashed off to the airport. Well, I’ve decided to add real content to day 5, so that 1) people really feel that they are missing something if they leave early, and 2) so that the notes that they have to take with them are actually worthwhile for that last day.

So, I’ve added quite a bit about mod_dav, mod_rewrite, and mod_proxy, as well as a complete treatment of migrating to Apache 2.0.

I suppose I really aught to write some “slides” for this content, but I tend to consider that somewhat less important, so I’ll just probably have all the examples up on the screen while I talk about stuff.

Apache Training

Past the half-way mark in the Apache training class. Things are going well. Having an intelligent student makes all the differentce between a frustrating week and an enjoyable week. Having a student with Unix experience makes things even better. This has been an enjoyable week so far.

Weird thing happened this week. Elections coming up in Kenya on the 27th, and there are two people that really have a chance of winning. Uhuru Kenyatta, who is the son of the first president, and hand-picked by the current president to be his succsssor, and Mwai Kibaki. Kibaki used to be the current president’s vice president, but was fired a few years back. Kibaki was involved in a pretty serious car accident yesterday. The official story is that he is not badly hurt, but he was flown to London for treatment, which seems more serious than the fractured arm and sprained ankle that they are reporting. It seems rather suspicious, in a country where politicians have been involved in “accidents” as they rose to power. But today Kibaki assured people that there was nothing underhanded about the accident – that it really was a normal accident.

And today we had the first real snow of the year. There’s quite a bit of accumulation, and the roads were kind of a mess on the way home. People were driving 35 about the whole way, which got annoying real fast, but was probably just as well.

Listen, Port, Bindaddress

Yesterday started training again. I find myself wondering, yet again, why the default configuration file uses ‘Port 80’ rather than ‘Listen 80’, while the documentation says that Port and Bindaddress are deprecated. I’ll have to experiment with setting Listen, and not setting Port, and see if any bad things happen. The only strange thing that comes to mind is that Port has a default value of 80, so if we leave it out entirely, it is still set to 80. I think.

These classes invariably bring up something in the docs that could be done better. Which is pretty cool. It’s like these folks are contributing to Apache just by virtue of letting me talk at them. 😉

Pres. Lincoln

I have been reading my great great grandfather’s diary (Isaac F Nace, Company F, 128th Pennsylvania, Union Army), and today I came across this:

Fri, April 10th, 1863

Weather very fine. Pres. Lincoln had a review of the 11th and 12th army Corps. We were taken out about 9 A.M. and had to wait till about 8 in P.M. when the President together with General Hooker made their apearance to review our corps. After the review was over we proceeded to our camp tired and hungry. Subscribed for a picture giving the names of our company & battles we were in. Have to pay $1.00 for the picture.

Chrisman Cab, Vintner’s reserve

Just a quick note before I forget to mention it. I was at Chrisman Mill tasting room yesterday, and tasted the 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon, which just released. It was wonderful, but very very tannic. Chris says that it will age gracefully 25 or 30 years. Like I have that kind of patience. But I will try very very hard. I bought two bottles, and will try to keep them as long as I possibly can.

I also tasted the Vintner’s reserve, which is all Kentucky Chambourcin. It was fantastic. It is a light-bodied red, with all the fruitiness of a Beaujolais (Not a nouveau. Not that kind of Beaujolais. Think Beaujolais Villages.) It has not released yet. I know that there is an exceedingly limited quantity. I should have gone ahead and bought a bottle for her to hold for me. I hope I don’t miss it.

Anyways, if you want the cab, you better go quick.

Apparently the mead lasted less than a week, and I missed it. Darn. Maybe some of the local wine stores got some. I’ll have to check next week.

The Margin Is Too Narrow