Gullible

There’s an old children’s joke that goes like this:

“Did you know the word gullible isn’t in the dictionary?”

Then when the other child goes to look it up, you laugh at them for believing you.

On the face of it, it’s a lesson in not believing everything you hear.

But when it comes down to it, the child who goes to look it up isn’t necessarily being gullible; he or she is doing research to confirm their expectations. Yes, gullible should be in there, but let’s make sure. Once you’ve seen a number of dictionaries that all have gullible in them, you can safely ignore the next person who claims that it’s missing, and insist that they put up their evidence.

That’s science.

The child who says, “Really?” and then goes around repeating it? He’s the one who needs a lesson in skepticism.

So the next time someone sends along a bizarre “fact,” especially one intended to spur you to action…dig a little deeper. Sometimes all it takes is two minutes of fact checking to save your credibility. You don’t want to get known as the guy who really did think gullible wasn’t in the dictionary…over and over and over again.

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I Left my Trash in San Francisco

San Francisco Food Court Trash Cans

In the old days, trash was trash and as long as it wasn’t cluttering the place up, you didn’t worry so much about where it was going. These days we’re more aware. In the LA/OC area, you can often get residential recycling (and sometimes green waste for compost) along with your trash pickup, and malls and other areas often have bins for aluminum cans and glass/plastic bottles.

San Francisco goes a step further, with not just trash and cans/bottles, but trash, recycling (all), and compost. More importantly, they’re labeling the “plain” trash as landfill. It makes you think about where the trash is going, and a bit more likely to separate it so that things are a bit less messy and wasteful in the long run.

But for the short term, it really takes a while to figure out which bin to put your trash in.

The post I Left my Trash in San Francisco appeared first on K-Squared Ramblings.

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Going to the ER at Comic-Con: Not the Peanuts I was Expecting

Wristband vs. Heart MonitorI’ve been attending San Diego Comic-Con for more than 20 years, but this was the first time I left the con in an ambulance.

I’m OK now. Though I might not be when I see the bill.

It started at lunchtime. We went to New Break, an independent coffee shop near Ralphs, which we’d been to before. They were offering samples of a blended peanut butter banana coffee drink, and while I really wanted to try their blended mint mocha, it was safer to skip something made on the same equipment.

What I decided on was a Mexican Mocha. Generally, these add cinnamon, maybe nutmeg or chili powder. I’ve had drinks with that and similar names, and Mexican hot chocolate, plenty of times. I didn’t ask what was in it, but I had just told them I was allergic to peanuts when I decided to skip the blended drink.

I considered getting it iced, but there was some confusion as to what was included in the lunch deal, so I got it hot instead. That turned out to be a wise decision, since I probably would have started out chugging a few ounces of a cold drink.

Two sips in, the back of my throat and my lips started tingling — a bad sign. I stopped, flagged over one of the baristas, and asked whether there were any nuts in the drink. She didn’t think so, but said she’d check.

I pulled out my emergency kit, took my Benadryl and Pepcid, and set my Epi-Pen on the table in case it progressed. I probably should have just taken it right then, but who wants to spend the afternoon in the emergency room instead of Comic-Con?

Meanwhile, the coffee shop staff had been unable to find ingredients for the mix, and had to call the owner to confirm that yes, there were peanuts in it.

Great.

Over the next hour, it felt like the reaction was under control, so I figured we could return to the convention center. Unfortunately, anaphylaxis can take several hours to run its course, and medication can wear off before it does.

The Walk

It started out fine. We walked past the outdoor Axe Cop display. I took a photo of the Despicable Me Minion blimp. We crossed the tracks, pushed through the crowds, and made our way inside to the nearest elevator.

But somewhere along the line my stomach started cramping up, and I started feeling light-headed. As we crossed Sails Pavilion, I started really hoping we’d make it across before I passed out so that I could fall on carpet instead of concrete.

Outside Ballroom 20 we stopped and asked one of the staff if there was a place I could lie down because I wasn’t feeling well. A lot of that hallway is set aside for lines, or has sitting/standing banned for fire reasons. She directed me to the stroller parking enclosure. Katie took J off to the day care (conveniently, we’d already scheduled it for the afternoon) while I tried — and failed — to relax.

View from the Floor

Floored

At this point the timeline gets a little fuzzy. I remember staring up at the glass roof, watching the minion blimp float overhead. I remember my hands and feet going numb, and asking Katie to jab me with the Epi-Pen because I wasn’t sure I had the grip strength. I remember my ears going numb at one point, which really scared me, and shortly after the shot, my ribs.

I don’t recall being afraid I’d stop breathing per se. I was afraid I’d pass out, and I was afraid something would get worse while I was unconscious.

The first responder asked me all the diagnostic questions, like “What’s your name,” “Do you know what day it is,” “Do you know where you are?” “Yeah, outside Ballroom 20!”

I remember convention staff, onsite first aid, and paramedics. I remember giving my name and symptoms repeatedly, trying to correct the overall timeline in a couple of cases. I distinctly remember one of the paramedics looking like Terry O’Quinn (Locke from Lost). They gave me oxygen and a tube with asthma medication to breathe through.

Once they’d determined I was stable enough, one of the paramedics asked about an anxiety case that had also been reported, and got the response “Right over there.”

It turned out at least some of the numbness wasn’t from the blood pressure spikes & troughs of anaphylaxis, but from hyperventilating. Now I wonder if, had I managed to control my breathing early on, I might have been able to just spend a few hours at the onsite first aid station instead.

Eventually they helped me into a wheelchair and wheeled me out through the service corridors that only staff and celebrities normally see. Katie remarked that one of the actors she’d seen had talked about the big freight elevator they took us down. Then we were out in the back of the convention center, where they loaded me onto an ambulance and took me to the hospital.

Offsite

The last time I went to the ER for an allergic reaction, they interviewed me and sent me back to the waiting room. But that time, I walked in under my own power after a co-worker drove me there. This time, I was carried in on a stretcher from an ambulance.

I ended up spending the next few hours under observation, hooked up to various monitors, repeating the story to each new category of staff, tech, nurse, and doctor. The ambulance drivers offered Katie a ride back to the convention center so she could pick up J, though after a while we decided that it would be simpler if they stayed at the con and I met them there.

I was allowed to use my phone and tablet, so I did a round of “I’m OK” texting and figured out plans with Katie, then got some reading in. (Mira Grant’s new Newsflesh novella, which is a better choice for hospital reading than, say, Blackout.)

For a while, I hoped I could make it back while the convention floor was still open, especially when the doctor declared at 4:30 that it looked like they’d only need to keep me for another hour. Unfortunately I didn’t walk out until 6:20, and by the time I’d called a cab, waited for it, and taken the ride back to the convention center, it was just after 7:00, the floor was closed, and people were streaming into the Gaslamp District for dinner.

I seriously thought about going to see the Flashpoint Paradox premiere. Not because I desperately wanted to see the movie a week early, but because they were going to have a discussion afterward, and because damn it, I’d missed the entire afternoon of the con (including the pickup time for the DC exclusive for which I’d gotten one of the last wristbands that morning). But 15 minutes usually isn’t early enough to get into line for a Ballroom 20 presentation, I was exhausted from the allergic reaction and medication, I hadn’t seen J since before going to the hospital or Katie since shortly after check-in, and I basically hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast.

We ended up going out for a simple dinner and heading back to the hotel, where I went to bed early and got the best night of sleep of the whole trip.

If you’d like to help prevent situations like this from happening, please consider supporting Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE). We’re participating in this year’s Walk for Food Allergy, and you can donate to the organization through our sponsorship page. Thank you!

The post Going to the ER at Comic-Con: Not the Peanuts I was Expecting appeared first on K-Squared Ramblings.

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Photos: Comet Watch LA

After a failed attempt yesterday, I was even more determined to try to spot comet Pan-STARRS tonight when it would appear near the moon. Naturally, the morning was fogged in, and the fog bank remained on the western horizon all day. I looked on Google Earth for a nearby hill with a western view and public access, and I found Fred Hesse, Jr. Park in Rancho Palos Verdes.

I arrived just minutes before sunset, and found thirty or so people lined up along the western edge of the hill with telescopes, binoculars, and cameras on tripods. It reminded me a lot of the eclipse I watched last May (also in Palos Verdes, though at a different park).

Golden Clouds

Hesse Park has a clear view to the west and southwest, with open space below, then houses, then the tops of the clouds. (I’m not sure what’s usually visible below the cloud layer). Off to the southwest you can see the northwestern section of Catalina Island. To the north you can see Malibu and the Santa Monica Mountains. Way off to the northwest you can see some of the channel islands.

Sunset Above the Clouds

We all watched the sun set above the cloud layer. I’m used to seeing the sun set from beneath clouds, but above? That’s unusual!

Last Light of the Setting Sun

Some of us tried to watch for the green flash. No such luck tonight. Though shortly after sunset, someone noticed this white dot near the horizon. Not being entirely sure how far from the sun (or how bright) the comet should be, and not having the moon for reference yet, we wondered whether it could be the comet until I spotted the faint glimmering of the crescent moon several minutes later. (The best guess was that it was an airplane, far enough off to look stationary, reflecting the sunlight.)

Comet Watchers

As the sky darkened, the comet remained hidden. Some of the people with telescopes started turning them toward a target that we could find: Jupiter. Again like the eclipse party, those with equipment were sharing views with the rest of us, so I got to see Jupiter’s banding and four of its moons at two different magnifications.

Eventually, those of us with binoculars started catching sight of the comet, and were able tell the rest of us where to look. At first I wasn’t sure if I could actually make out the direction of the tail, or if it was just that I knew what direction it should be and my mind was filling in the shape. It became clearer over time — at least when magnified.

Moon and Comet

Soon, those of us with good eyesight could just barely see a faint dot, two to three finger-widths left of the moon. It did get easier to spot over the next ten to fifteen minutes, but never really resolved into any sort of shape. After a point, the darkening sky stopped helping because the comet slipped closer to the horizon.

I managed to get a few decent long-exposure shots, though I ran into a couple of problems: First, it seems that 15 seconds is just enough at 16x zoom for visible star trails…and visible moon trails. Second, I was using a trash can enclosure as the support for my mini-tripod, and it was right next to one of the telescopes trained on Jupiter up near the zenith…which meant people had to lean down to look into the eyepiece, and kept steadying themselves on the same enclosure, jostling the image. I should have moved, but I was more interested in seeing Jupiter through a scope than getting more photos.

Red Crescent Moonset

By the time the moon set, a red crescent just touching the horizon, Comet Pan-STARRS was no longer visible. The crowd hadn’t completely broken up yet when I left, though: The comet watchers were still looking at Jupiter and the stars.

Photos: Comet Watch LA is a post from K-Squared Ramblings.

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Don’t Use Third-Party Links in Email Lesson #12465: Comic-Con Registration

If you’re trying to get a message out, or provide a service, analytics are great. They tell you what’s working and what’s not, so you can focus on what does work. Unfortunately, when it comes to email, a lot of organizations use a third-party click-tracking service, which registers which mailing the user clicked on, then redirects them to the real website.

Why do I say unfortunately?

Because it’s what phishing does: Sets up a link that looks like it goes one place, but sends you somewhere else instead. In the case of a legitimate email with a click tracker, you end up at the real site eventually. In the case of a phishing message, you end up at a fake login page that wants to capture your username & password, or a site with drive-by malware downloads. Using this technique in legit mail trains people to ignore warning signs, making them more vulnerable to the bad guys. And it makes it harder for security software to detect phishing automatically.

Now add another reason: You don’t control that click-tracking service, so it had better be reliable.

That’s what happened with Comic-Con registration today.

Getting tickets to San Diego Comic-Con used to be a breeze, but last year the system broke down repeatedly. It took them three tries, with multiple handlers, to open a registration system that didn’t melt in the first few minutes.

A few days ago, Comic-Con International sent out a message with the date and time registration would open, and a link to where the page would be when it went live. They went to a lot of trouble to make sure their servers could handle the load, as did the company handling registration. They built a “waiting room” to make sure that people trying to buy tickets would get feedback, and get into a queue, when they arrived, but could still be filtered into the registration system slowly enough not to overwhelm it.

The weak link: The click tracker.

That click tracking service was swamped, and thousands of people clicked on that link and got a blank browser window with the “loading” icon.

To make matters worse, Comic-Con had not only insisted that you should use the link from the email, but they had make a big point about how you shouldn’t refresh your browser, or try reloading the page in another browser or tab, or you’d get sent to the back of the line. After last year’s fiasco, and the last few years of “Hoteloween” with the same sort of problems dogging hotel reservations, people were used to pages loading slowly, and CCI had trained them to let that blank page sit there, loading.

After 15-20 minutes, SDCC realized that the tracker was broken and sent out bulletins on Facebook and Twitter suggesting that people copy and paste the URL, or type it in manually. But by then, the damage had been done, and a lot of users who would have gotten in line at 8:00 got in line at 8:15 or 8:20 instead, and ended up so far back in line that the convention sold out before they made it to the front.

This all could have been avoided if the bulletin had linked directly to the target website instead of to that redirector.

So, email campaigners: remember this cautionary tale and do your own click-tracking.

(For the record: I was able to get through and got the days I wanted. But only because I copied and pasted that URL instead of clicking on it, and started at position #3948 about 30 seconds after registration opened. To be honest, I probably benefited from the fact that so many people who would have been in competition with me those first 30 seconds ended up getting in line after me, but it was still a bad move on SDCC’s part.)

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