(sometimes withershins, widershins or widderschynnes) means to take a course opposite that of the sun, going counterclock-wise, lefthandwise, or to circle an object, by always keeping it on the left. It also means "in a direction opposite to the usual," which is how I choose to take it in using it as the title of this blog. We're all in the same world finding our own way.

Friday, November 13, 2015

A Millenial's Guide to Technology

If you're reading this post, congratulations!

You've managed to turn on a computer, connect it to the internet through either a ethernet cable or wifi, open a browser and through either clicking on a Facebook link or clicking a link on a Google search.

If you're saying to yourself, "Yeah, Admiral Obvious, get to the point." Then this post probably isn't for you.

If you're wondering what a browser is, then please, read on.

This post is by no means comprehensive, it probably won't tell you what to do to fix your specific problem, but if you read on you might learn the methods you can use to

Chances are you're the parent or grandparent of a Millennial or Gen Z (iGen, post-Millennial, whatever). They're the 10-30 year old offspring you turn to when you have a computer problem, and they get frustrated. They roll their eyes and act like you've asked them the stupidest question in the world when you tell them your internet won't work and can they please come fix it even though they live three hours away (love you mom).

Still wondering what a browser is? It's a program on your computer that connects you to the internet. You might know it better as Firefox or Chrome or Safari or Edge or (please get help switching to ANYTHING ELSE) Internet Explorer. You might only know it as the colorful icon (small image you click on to "open the internet") that each of these programs uses.
The five most common internet browser icons.
See, it's not that we millennials think you're stupid. We think you're technologically incompetent even though you managed to print off and bring home chain emails and jokes from work years before most of us were glued to the screen. Which is okay. Technology, especially the internet variety has been changing at a very fast pace. You've probably read about it in a newspaper or heard about it on the local news (meanwhile your kids are reading blog posts on social media that make fun of the fact that you still read a physical newspaper and watch the local news even though corporate media is controlled by the 1% and frames most of what it shows in highly biased ways despite the lofty journalistic goals of objectivity).

So how do you keep up?

First and foremost you have to be willing to experiment. If your kid is fixing your computer for you, unless you've done something devastatingly wrong like wipe the entire contents of your hardrive (which how you could do that on accident is beyond me), they're probably just clicking around randomly until they find something that looks like it might be working. 

It just looks like computer magic because their reflexes are a lot faster than yours. Most of us can tell if clicking on something helped within two seconds. That's why when your wonder child is at work windows (the screens on your monitor, a.k.a. the part of the computer you look at) seem to pop up and disappear before you get a chance to look at them.

Second (if you're connected to the internet), Google is your friend. Or at least your merciful Search Overlord. 

You've used Google. You've probably even used Bing and Yahoo or even Ask back in the day. They're search engines that look at everything on the internet for pages relevant to whatever search terms you've entered. Technically when someone tells you to "Google something" they mean "Use the Google webpage to search something" or sometimes just "look something up on the internet" (though Google doesn't like the latter so much).

But sometimes Google doesn't give you what you want. 

Pop quiz!

You hear a song you like on the radio and the DJ doesn't mention the name or the artist so when you get home you decide to Google it. What do you put into the search bar?

If you answered something along the lines of "What is the name of the ______ song?" or "Who sings the ________ song?" You're not searching like a millennial.

You see, most search engines are what's called keyword-based searches. You put in the most important/relevant information and it searches the internet for those keywords and ranks them by whatever system that site uses. Asking questions like the above are what's called natural language searches because they sound like natural language. You're asking the same way you would ask your friend Susan.

A millennial would take the a few words from the chorus of the song and add the word lyrics to the end of the search. 

Compare the search results you get from "If your love was a broken stereo lyrics" to "Who sings the broken stereo song?" Completely different. And if you're looking for the Sean Fournier song, one will get you better results.

This means of course that in order to troubleshoot your computer problems you'll have more success if you search like a millennial. How do you get the results you want?

You have to know what your problem is and if you don't know, make an educated guess. Is it a hardware or software problem (is it a thing you use to work the computer not working like your mouse or keyboard or a program you've installed on your computer)? Are you on a touchscreen device or a computer/laptop? Is there an error message?

Error messages, even though they're telling you something is wrong are a huge help toward fixing your problem. If you can, never close (x out of) an error message until you've written down what the error message says. They usually tell you what's wrong or have something like "Error x300n9" that you can Google. Because if you have an error, guaranteed someone else on the internet has had that same error and has either posted how they fixed it or gotten help from whatever company makes the program/computer causing the error.

Information like brand, model, version of whatever program you're having trouble with can all help you find what you're looking for. The more specific you can be about what's wrong, the more likely you are to have success. 

"Mouse won't click" is better than "mouse won't work."

Sometimes you can't look things up with Google. Maybe your internet isn't working for one of a variety of potential reasons and that's the problem you're trying to fix. 

Left to fend for yourself you have to resort back to that click until something works method. If it helps, pretend you're an archaeologist studying a dead culture's technology. Use the scientific method

If the internet is the problem, is it really the problem? You might have noticed back when I was talking about browsers that they connect you to the internet, but they aren't your connection to the internet. That's either the wireless router (wifi) or ethernet cable connecting your device to the modem (the thing plugged into the wall that you probably got from your internet provider). If you're on wireless, first ask if it's just your device having issues or all of them. That will change whether or not you try to fix your router or you computer. 

General rule of thumb, make sure everything is turned on properly. If on wireless, make sure your device is connecting to your router. You can find that either in settings or by clicking the thing on your computer that looks like some variation of this:

It's an old joke, but sometimes turning your computer off and back on again can reset whatever is causing your problem. Know where the power button is.

Lastly, and this is the most important one on here, know when something is beyond your ability to fix. I know this post is all about teaching you to be self-sufficient out in the world wide web. This is particularly true of hardware problems, unless you feel comfortable and confident in your ability to take apart your computer and replace parts without breaking anything. 

If you're on the phone with tech support (whether that be your offspring or a customer service rep) be nice, answer their questions, stay calm, if you get to a point where you think you know what you're doing, tell them if you click on or enter anything because they're probably going down a giant checklist and if you skip steps it will confuse them.

tl;dr here's a handy xkdc flowchart that you can refer to.

Much props to this post for inspiring me to write this. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

National Coming Out Day 2015: Questions, Comments, Concerns

I owe a huge debt to the women, trans folk, and people of color in my life for making me aware of these kinds of issues. Any thought relating to social justice is intersectional and relates to issues of queerness and it would be irresponsible of me not to acknowledge that up front. I think about it constantly because I'm surrounded by it and I couldn't name the dozens of sources that implicitly or explicitly influenced this post through Facebook posts, tumblr links, articles (academic or otherwise). But I wouldn't/couldn't say this without you.

I've been "out" my entire adult life.

What that means has changed and evolved over the years from the somewhat scared and questioning teenager devouring every scrap of (sometimes dubiously age-appropriate) information available at the local library to the internally raging queer questioning everything sitting at their computer writing for you today. So yesterday when I posted on Facebook for National Coming Out Day, I wasn't surprised that the majority of responses were loving and supportive. I've long since backed away from the kind of people who wouldn't love me and people like me.

But this isn't an "It Gets Better" moment.

While coming out is a continuous action, I'll save you the Gender Trouble spiel on discursive repetition and performativity. No matter how "out" you are, there will always be people and institutions too ignorant or oblivious to know without it being spelled out. That's called heteronormativity and is part of the larger cultural problem of assuming everyone we meet is straight until proven otherwise. I'm guilty of it (not as much as 10 years ago and I'm better at internally questioning that assumption, but such is the pain of the culture I was raised into).

So why come out?

First, I want to specify my use of queer as opposed to gay. I know there's still a lot of intra-community debate over the use of the term queer. Historically it has been used as a slur and a lot of people are uncomfortable with the associations that can be drawn from the archaic definition where it means weird. Those are valid reasons not to label yourself queer. As a college-educated person, I take the more postmodern route where queer is an anti-label. I'm okay with you calling me gay, but identifying myself as queer I'm saying you can never be fully sure what I mean. I could mean I'm bisexual, pansexual, aromantic homosexual or one of myriad sexual orientations that make up our beautiful alphabet soup. Complicate that with the fact that queer has also been used as an umbrella term to encapsulate the entire LGBTQAA2I+ and this too has been contested. In short:

Not gay as in happy, but queer as in fuck you.

Question sexuality. Question your sexuality. Question ideas of romance and attraction. Even if you're sure you're straight, there's always room for questioning. What does that mean to you? Where do you draw that line? What is gender or sex and why do you base your sexuality on the gender of your partner instead of other characteristics that make them such an awesome person? Do you differentiate between romantic vs sexual feelings and how does that affect your perception of self?

Second, I come out because I'm in a safe and secure place to come out. I'm supported. I'm in a loving relationship. I don't experience a constant threat of violence because of my sexuality.

There's a lot of radical queer reaction to National Coming Out Day as a compulsory outing where it's found problematic that there's this perception that if you're lesbian or gay or queer and don't come out you're a shame to the community. And I agree. That kind of thinking is wrong. Because even if you stay in the closet, you're just as queer as anyone else. Come out when and to who you want to. If that means only the one confidant you trust, the whole world, or anonymous strangers on the internet, that's your choice and that's valid. And if anyone outs you without your consent, please give them hell (and take this as a warning not to do so).

We have a huge infrastructure problem for queer folk in most of the world. Addiction centers and homeless shelters and most schools aren't equipped to handle the unique pressures and challenges faced by LGBT people. There are places where you can get fired for no reason. And other places where you can't look/act gay without threat of physical violence. Throw in racial diversity or disability or refusal to comply with gender norms and I'm sure you can see how much of a struggle it can be just to exist. It's a dangerous world out there if you're too far from socially designated "normal." For a lot of people there are more pressing concerns than being out. Being out and being a role model is good and all, but collectively we've got a lot of work ahead of us.

National Coming Out Day is like the Hallmark version of Valentine's Day but put on by Big Gay Inc. It's mostly for show, gives extra treats to those who can afford it and leaves some people out in the dust. But there is good that can come of it and that's what I want to focus on here.

Third (they always have to come in threes), I can come out because I have the privilege of support to make it safe to do so, and by making myself more visible, I'm inviting anyone reading this to contact me. Ask questions. Use me as a sounding board for your own exploration. I might not have all your answers and I can't tell you what/who you are, but during undergrad I worked in offices called the Queer Resource Center (formerly the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Alliance), Sexual Awareness Center and the Women's Center, I've probably heard or read something similar before. I have access to resources, I know people, and at the very least I might be able to rephrase your question to help you get the kind of answers you're looking for. If you worry your question is offensive, I'll tell you why but I'll do my best to answer anyway. No judgments and confidential.

That's what I meant when I said "like the truth, we're out there."

Unless you've deliberately cut them out of your life and are vitriolically anti-LGBT (in which case congrats on finding this post and reading this far hopefully something I've said has pushed you to reconsider), you know queer people. Statistically it's true, but also you don't know the sexuality of the people around you (remember that heteronormativity I mentioned?). Just because a man and a woman are in a relationship doesn't mean either or both of them are straight. Bi- and pansexuality aren't nullified by relationship status.

They might be in the closet. They might be out to everyone except you. They might not be out to you because it hasn't come up yet. They might be flaming rainbow colors and because you've never been exposed to queer communities you have no references to identify clear and intentional signifiers that this person is anything but straight (yes, this happens, and full disclosure, when queer people hang out we do discuss the artful obliviousness of the straight people we're made to interact with because of school or work because the logical leaps a person will make to ignore the fact that a queer person is frothing rainbows and anti-assimilationist theory right in front of them are the stuff that queers stand-up is made of).

I'm not coming out for me. Some people do and find empowerment in owning their sexuality. Good for them. I'm coming out for the questioning kid sitting quietly in the front row to fly under the radar, for my straight friends whose minds are currently in process of being blown. I'm coming out because there's way more in this world than most of us care to explore.