Saturday, December 11, 2010

plastic bags

So, if you've ever been grocery shopping with me, you've probably heard me gripe about inefficient baggers. It's a pet peeve of mine. You know what I'm talking about — the checkout person who uses a separate bag for every. single. item. you've got, or who double bags your milk, even though it's already got a handle on it and really doesn't need a bag to begin with. I like to consider myself at least interested in the welfare of the environment, and while I know plastic bags aren't the worst sin in the world, I like using as few of them as possible. Plus, I hate having them lying around my house. Lately, I've finally started remembering to take my reusable cloth shopping bags with me, and I love them dearly. I've got a large one, a medium-sized one, and two small ones, and those four bags are big enough for just about any shopping trip.

Anyway. I just got back from Wal-Mart, where I did my weekly grocery shopping. Since I'm only shopping for myself this week (the boyfriend is home with his parents for break), I just took the one large one, figuring it would be plenty big.

I ended up buying a little more than I expected, because the frozen dinners I take to work for lunch were on sale, but I still didn't think it would be too much for my bag. Apparently the checkout girl did not agree, because she put some things in my bag, and then proceeded to use three more of the plastic bags (into one of which she put only a small bag of chopped walnuts).

When I got to the front door, I stopped and stacked the frozen dinners more neatly in the reusable bag, and lo and behold, there was suddenly plenty of room for everything I'd bought, minus the 1/2 gallon of milk, which I had planned to carry anyway. Then I walked over and dropped the three extra bags in the bag recycling bins.

I feel like this is becoming more and more common. Granted, I don't have any evidence to back this up, but just in my own experience, I don't remember my mother coming home with zillions of plastic bags every time we went to the grocery. In fact, we usually asked for paper bags.* Of course, most stores don't even have those anymore. But anyway, assuming the overuse of plastic bags is indeed becoming more common, I think these recycling bins are the problem.

Now, don't get me wrong, I think it's great that we can recycle these bags instead of just throwing them away (since most curbside services won't accept them), but the problem is that a lot of people don't. They forget to take them back to the store, or they just don't bother. But the people working in the stores think that it doesn't matter how many of them they use, because they can be recycled.

The three R's are "reduce, reuse, & recycle," in that order. The very first step should be to reduce the amount of materials we use in the first place. If there's less of the stuff lying around taking up space, then there's less to worry about recycling, or being leftover and going to a landfill. Next is "reuse," which a lot of people do with plastic bags, at least to some extent — you can use them to line small wastebaskets, and you can carry stuff around in them. But ultimately, they are flimsy and cheap, and you can only use them for so many things before they get holes in them or get really gross and you can't use them anymore. "Recycle" is the final step, the last resort: if you can't use it for anything else, recycle it and turn it into something new (in the case of most plastic bags, that will be composite lumber). Recycling is definitely an important step, but people must make the effort to do it, and it must be complementary to the other steps; it cannot replace them wholesale.

Ideally, I think every store should just be like Aldi's — make you pay (a little bit, but something) for every bag you get. It's not enough to be cost prohibitive if you need a bag, but it's enough to make you think, "Oh, hey, I don't need a separate bag for every single item I've got."

Also, they should implement Aldi's cart system — it's just a quarter, but somehow you never ever see carts sitting around in their parking lots. But that's a rant for another day.

*Paper bags have their own environmental problems, of course, but I like them better because they are bigger, sturdier, and eligible for curbside recycling. Also, if all else fails, at least they are biodegradable.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Put some clothes on!

So, I was clearing out the inbox for my "junk" email account, and I came across a message from Knox urging people to submit their favorite memories of the college's outgoing president, who is retiring at the end of the academic year. Here is a screenshot of the message. Pretty standard, no? I just have one question: is that a woman in a bra behind Roger in the library? I mean, maybe it's some sort of sports top or something. Maybe. But still. That's the library!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Financial Times is stupid

So, if a nonsubscriber (like myself) goes to the Financial Times' website and tries to click through to an article, it takes you to the page for the article, but the page remains blank and a box pops up instead saying, " articles are only available to registered users and subscribers. Register FREE now for increased access" and then there's a link that says "Register Here." If you click to close the box, it just takes you back to the front page.

BUT, if you search with Google and it returns an article from FT, you can just click straight through and read the article, no problem. Do a site-specific search and it's even the exact same results you get from the search on their own website, except you can actually read the articles.

Also, if you try to copy and paste so much as one sentence from one of their articles (say, to pull out a quote and comment on it in a blog post), when you try to paste it, you get the following:
Please use the link to reference this article. Do not copy & paste articles which is a breach of's Ts&Cs ( and is copyright infringement. Send a link for free or email to purchase rights.

The development of a monetary system to succeed “Bretton Woods II”, launched in 1971, will take time.
Take note: the final sentence there is the one I was trying, for the purpose of this exercise, to copy-paste. So not only can anyone easily circumnavigate their subscriber wall, but they piss and moan about not copy-pasting their articles, while still allowing you to do it. There is nothing stopping me from deleting that little please-use-the-link paragraph.

Seriously, FT, a big part of blogging is pulling quotes from news stories to comment on them. The message doesn't happen when I try to copy-paste a single character, or even a couple of words, so clearly you have the ability to specify how much is too much to copy and paste; a single sentence does not an article make, but it does make a nice teaser quote to get an interested party to come read the actual article. And if you're that worried about people copying your articles wholesale, don't allow them to do it at all. You clearly already know how to mess with the copy-paste function, so you can't be entirely computer-illiterate. The way it works now, it only ticks off people who are legitimately trying to discuss your article, and does nothing to actually prevent people from stealing it.

The way it stands, you've managed to tick off legit reader/commenters like myself, while at the same time doing nothing to stop actual thieves. And now, instead of a blog post discussing your article, I have written a blog post about how stupid your website is. Well done.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

How Baloo Ruined Veteran's Day

So, I've seen a couple people quoting John 15:13 in their Facebook statuses for Veteran's Day. It's a fitting quote: "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends."

But all I can think of, every time I see it, is that scene from Disney's Jungle Book. You know what I'm talking about, don't lie.

And then he jumps up and is all okay and everybody's happy and they sing. No solemnity whatsoever. Dammit, Baloo, you're ruining Veteran's Day for me!

Although, I don't really like being solemn anyway, so I guess I don't really mind all that much.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Facebook apps will eat your children

Hi, everyone. Yes, I'm still alive. I've been meaning to get back here and post for a while, but every time I thought of something I wanted to write about, it was like, really? That is what's making you break your (accidental) blog-silence after this long? So finally I figured, screw it, it's got to be something, may as well be this. So here, a post about, yes, Facebook.

So, ragging on Facebook for being a menace to people's privacy seems to have become the thing to do. To me, some of these complaints seem legit; others, not so much. But sometimes, things just aren't that big a deal. And furthermore, there comes a point when the fault is no longer Facebook's, and people need to take responsibility for their own online activity. I've seen a number of stories about this latest issue, but this Huffington Post article seems to give it a pretty good overview.

Readers Digest Condensed Version: popular apps like Farmville have been "leaking" their users' personally identifiable information to ad companies, namely their FB ID numbers.

And apparently, this is a HUGE PROBLEM. HUGE. Do you realize what potentially lethal information they get from this? They get - brace yourself - your name. Scary, right?

According to the EFF guy quoted in the article, "The problem is that ad companies can know who you are at all." But the thing is, well, they really don't. I mean, unless your name is Snotface McJingleheimer Hammerpants, your name probably isn't that memorable to most people. A lot of times, it's not even a uniquely identifying feature. Try it - search for "Andrea Johnston" on Facebook. I'm not by a long shot the only one that comes up. I know three different people named Sarah Williams. Even my mother's name, which is relatively unique, comes up with more than one hit on Facebook. Names are not as unique as people think. If you do have a fairly unique name and you're particularly worried about it, you can even change your Facebook name; I know people that go by first name + last initial, first name + middle name, or even their D&D character names. There's no reason you have to use your complete, real name.

And even if you do, that's still all they are guaranteed to get. If they get anything else, it's your fault.

Now, I realize there have been complaints about how complicated Facebook's privacy controls are, but the current configuration, if you actually look at the page and read through your options, is really not that difficult. I stand by what I said. As things currently stand, if you fuck up your Facebook privacy settings, it is not Facebook's fault. It is yours, because you didn't read the options, and therefore you didn't set up your privacy controls properly. If you can't read, you shouldn't be on the internet. If you can't take the time to understand what you're doing with your personal information, you shouldn't be on Facebook. It's as simple as that.

Everything on your profile, including information you put up, things you "like," and things you post, has the option to be visible to "Everyone," "Friends of Friends," "Friends Only," or some combination of people and/or friend lists that you can choose yourself.

Now, if you have some portion of your profile set so that "Everyone" can see it, then yes, that information will be available to anyone who navigates to your page, which would be possible with your FB ID number. Or by searching for you and clicking on your name. It's not hard.*

So what's a concerned citizen to do? Is there some arcane magic spell one must know to protect their information? Well, no, actually, it's much more simple than that. Just don't set anything to be visible to "Everyone." Then, voila, even if an ad company tries to get info from your page, or if some creeper manages to arrive there, all they can see is your name, gender, and profile pic. For even more caution, you can refuse to list your gender on your profile (I did), and you can make your profile pic be something that's not your identifiable face. (Closeup of your left eye, picture of your cat, snapshot of the Eiffel Tower from your trip to Paris - there are any number of options.) And as I said before, you can go by something that is not your real, complete name. Now, no one who is not friends with you, be it an ad company or an internet creeper, has access to any identifying information whatsoever about you. And all this can be completed in less than five minutes with a few clicks of your mouse.**

As far as applications go, there is also a page in your privacy settings specifically dedicated to them. Some apps require you to let them access certain parts of your profile; they tell you this when you add them, and you can choose to allow them access and use them, or just not use them. I can assure you, no Facebook app is that necessary. Others have optional settings that you can control, also from this page. This is also the page where the one legitimately creepy factor shows up: apps your friends use can see some of your information, whether you have added them or not. BUT, never fear, you also have control over this: in the "Info accessible through your friends" section, just uncheck every box, and then they can no longer see that info. I'll agree that the default setting should not be to share this info automatically, but if you actually read the updates, they do tell you when they add things like this. And as I said, it is very simple to just uncheck every box. Issue solved.

As to the larger issue, I'm not saying that Facebook is always blameless, and I'm not saying that it's not a greedy, money-hungry company looking to make dough off advertising to its users. But that is what the internet (and indeed, a lot of modern media) is all about. They (and their advertisers) aren't out to steal your identity, and it is in their best interest to make sure that people who are don't have access to your info. And if you properly set up your privacy settings, they won't have the required info to do so anyway. As the guy said at the end of the article, "the worst harm is that someone delivers to you a more targeted ad." And if you don't want that to happen, you can just do like I did and install adblock, and you'll never see ads on Facebook anyway.

tl;dr: Stop whining and take responsibility for your own information.

*Unless you've set your profile not to come up in searches, which you can also do without too much difficulty, from the "Privacy Settings" page.

**It will take longer if you go to the trouble of making friend lists and customizing each setting, but if you're in a hurry, it is very easy to just set everything to "Friends Only," and that will have you covered for a start. You can go back and change it later, if you so desire, when you've got more time to tweak things.