Things I Have Learned from Other People’s Use of My Email Address

Kevin Fitzpatrick’s monthly AT&T Wireless bill is creeping higher month by month, and unless he’s got family members on his account, he should probably seek a better plan.

Kevin also apparently had some serious damage to his 2013 Dodge, but his insurance company seems to be all over it.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick got a great deal on some lovely clothes at Nordstrom Rack in Eatontown, wherever that is, but she’s not going to be getting a copy of her receipt.

Kathy Fitzpatrick’s mum, Mary, is super sweet, and I hope their upcoming trip goes wonderfully.

K. Fitzpatrick found a better deal on a Samsung Galaxy Tablet than what JohnLewis.com was offering, but JohnLewis.com did the right thing and matched it. Or would have, had she gotten the message instead of me.

Another K. Fitzpatrick and her husband have a really nice financial advisor, who reached out to them for a review to start the new year. I am glad her husband got the message but wish he’d noticed that his wife’s email address was wrong before replying-all.

And yet another K. Fitzpatrick’s nursing license renewal application has been received by the Tennessee Department of Health. Registered nurses are the best, and the Tennessee Department of Health is awesome too, as they’re the ONLY organization that has ever worked to track the correct email address of the correct K. Fitzpatrick down. Rock on, TN Health.

* * *

I will admit to being somewhat facetious in detailing the above, and I’ll also acknowledge that some of the misdirected email messages I get are the result of sender typos (see Kathy Fitzpatrick’s mum). That’s going to happen. But other instances of this problem are much more concerning. After several months of trying to notify someone about the problem, I am still receiving Kevin Fitzpatrick’s AT&T bill, as well as notices of when he’s paid, and because of that I know his account number and the last four digits of his credit card. And then there’s the teen several years back who signed up for a series of MySpace-like social networks using my email address, which proceeded to bombard me with notifications about her activity within the sites, in way more detail than I would have wanted.

The bottom line is that this is not safe. That a mistake can result in a stranger receiving all kinds of personal information about you points to a major flaw in many of the systems with which we interact today. And what’s worse is that in many cases this information leak is avoidable: if AT&T or any of the other sites and networks that have started sending me someone else’s information were to require email verification before employing user-provided addresses, they’d take an enormous step toward securing their users’ privacy.

I have undoubtedly mistyped my email address on several web-based forms. Kevin Fitzpatrick may well know more about me than I would like. All the more reason to find it astonishing that such a basic flaw in internet-based communication seems to be getting worse rather than better.

Dear Hosting Provider

Weirdly, when our team said “let’s upgrade our server” got a message saying “we’re going to upgrade your server,” we didn’t expect you to redirect our DNS entry to a machine so new that it has no files on it. Not just no files, but no configuration whatsoever. And no users, so no way to, I don’t know, configure the machine such that one can put files on it.

I know. Silly us.

No worries, though. It’s not like we were running a large-scale scholarly community that depends on the goodwill of its volunteer participants, whose goodwill varies directly with the perceived stability of the platform.

Thanks, however, for giving the team a bit of clarity on the whole “hey, do we want to stay with this hosting provider or look for another one that might be better suited to our needs” business!

Love,
@kfitz

“Neoliberal”

I have come to despise the term “neoliberal,” to the extent that I’d really like to see it stricken from academic vocabularies everywhere. It’s less that I have a problem with the actual critique that the term is meant to levy than with the utterly sloppy and nearly always casually derisive way in which the term is of late being thrown about. 1 “Neoliberal” is hardly ever used these days to point to instances of the elevation of market values above all others — it’s used to tar anything that has anything to do with any market realities whatsoever. Which, hello, United States, 2012. Welcome.

So to say, for instance, that the university-in-general is a neoliberal institution is to say precisely nothing. Name me one contemporary institution — seriously, an actual institution — that isn’t. Including every last one of us. None of us got to live in the places we live or study in the places we study or read on the freaking internet without market realities giving us the wherewithal to do so. 2

To say, on the other hand, that some universities are more beholden to market values than others — that some have made a value of the market, to the extent that they bear only the market in mind, and precious little else — and have therefore acquiesced all too willingly to the pressures of neoliberalism, actually might mean something. As it might to say that, for instance, having marketability as our only indicator of the value of scholarship or a scholar’s work represents a neoliberal corruption of the critical project in which we as scholars are ostensibly engaged. But that’s no longer how “neoliberal” is being used, at least in my hearing. It’s instead become a blanket term of dismissal, often aimed at institutions that do not have means of fixing the inequities by which we’re beset, inequities that are way larger than any university, even the university-in-general, can take on without serious support coming from somewhere.

So no more. “Neoliberal” is henceforth dead to me. I will take seriously no more casual statements that toss it around like popcorn, no further arguments that rely on it without any sense of specificity or grounding.

(And as for the tendency to associate anything that involves a computer automatically and of necessity with neoliberalism? Don’t even get me started. 3)

Spoilerz!

Dear major television scholar who appeared at the very top of my Facebook feed this morning, where I could not avoid you (and I think you know who you are): sticking the word “spoiler” immediately before a most appalling revelation about that episode I didn’t have the chance to watch last night does not absolve you of that revelation’s appallingness.

I’m not generally one to get all up in arms about spoilers, but this one was particularly egregious. Is it reasonable to ask that in the interest of general politesse, you tuck your spoilers below the fold for at least the first 24 hours, especially when they’re being pushed my way, rather than me seeking them out?

In practical terms, for FB, that would mean warning me in the main post and then sticking the spoiler in a comment. This would give me a second to make the choice of whether to continue or not. It’s just not that hard.

Open Peer Review: New Rule

New rule! From this moment forward, in anything claiming to be a “discussion” of open peer review, no one is allowed to refer to the Nature experiment as evidence that open review can’t work, at least not unless you simultaneously demonstrate (a) that you’re aware of at least one experiment in which it worked quite well (hey, wait; the results were even reproducible!) and (b) that you’ve read at least one text that asks a question or two about the Nature experiment’s presuppositions, and thus its scientific merit. We can call this the Fitzpatrick variant of Godwin’s Law; once Nature gets trotted out, it’s evident that you’re not interested in a real discussion.

That is all.

This Is What’s Wrong with American Workmanship Today

I got my watch as a gift in the fall of 2001. The battery that was in it when I received it lasted a really long time — five years, perhaps. And then it died, as they do, and I had it replaced. And the next one lasted a little less long — perhaps a little over three years. And then it died, just as I moved to New York for my sabbatical last August. So one of the first things I did when I arrived here was to find a place to have the battery replaced. It was a teeny little storefront that did shoe repair and a few other random things, and when I asked the ancient Asian guy behind the counter about my watch battery, he pulled out a battered shoe box and flipped through several dozen half-empty and decidedly Carter-era-looking cards of watch batteries, holding them up against mine before coming up with one that he finally put in my watch.

This scene left me not terrifically surprised when my watch stopped again this July — the very day I started work at the MLA, in fact. There’s no telling how long that battery had been sitting in that shoebox. So this time, I took the watch around the corner to an actual jeweler, where I had to leave it overnight. But I figured it was worth it, right? You get what you pay for, and all that.

My watch stopped again yesterday, after 2.5 months.

One of two things is happening here: either something has gone wrong with my watch such that it is now chewing through batteries at an ever-increasing rate, or the quality of batteries is plummeting. And I’m just not sure how much I want to spend in order to figure out which it is…

Rebuild, Rewrite, Redirect

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have heard me growling a bit over the last week or so about @#$%! SEO blackhats and their @#$%! pharmahack.

Suffice it to say, I’d been gotten, and gotten so well that while I could find evidence they’d been there, I couldn’t find the script that was actually doing the damage.

Happily I had a solid backup that predated the hack, and happily, I guess, I hadn’t exactly been active around here since. So how did I handle the problem?

1. Wipe everything. Files, databases, everything.
2. Begin with a fresh installation of WordPress, a brand new database, and a new MySQL user.
3. Gradually rebuild the site.
4. Import tables one by one into the new database.
5. Tinker.

Unfortunately, I’m stuck in that last step. Here’s the problem: I’ve been running multiple sites via multiple WP installs, and a weakness in any of them threatens the others. (Not to mention the work of keeping all those installations up to date.) So I’ve decided to merge as much as I can into a single multi-site instance. And I figured I’d go ahead and use a subdirectory setup, rather than treating each site as a subdomain, as everything ultimately belongs under the umbrella of plannedobsolescence.net.

But! Because it can’t be that easy! WordPress 3.x, when set up as a subdirectory-based multisite installation, adds the slug “/blog/” to all of the permalinks of the main site. Which would of course be this site. Which means that all of my internal links are now broken, and any inbound links are broken as well.

I’m fighting with mod_rewrite right now, and while I’m hoping to find a better long-term solution than this, for the moment, if you’re looking for something in particular, you may want to scroll to the bottom of the page and search for it.

And if you’re smarter about mod_rewrite than I am (which really, really wouldn’t take much), let me know.

<rant>

Things are getting a bit under my skin right now. Maybe it’s exhaustion; yesterday’s travel went as smoothly as it possibly could, with some real cushiness along the way, but it was still a long day, and the time zone change is kicking my butt. I’m prone to being a bit crankier than usual, it’s clear.

That said, there are a few common threads in the ways that academics talk to one another about the profession that often drive me up a tree (weird idiom, that), and they’re getting to me worse than usual right now.

One of these is the “academic administration = dark side” motif. There are a whole range of valid critiques to be launched at the administrative bloat that most institutions have undergone in the last couple of decades, and it’s certainly true that many of those administrations have often fostered, if not wholly created, adversarial relationships with the faculty. But the suggestion that a faculty member who agrees to serve as chair or who moves into a deanly position has automatically “gone over to the dark side” just irritates the hell out of me. There are jobs at the interface of the faculty and the administration that simply have to be done, and if good people either don’t want to do those jobs or, having elected to do those jobs get alienated from the faculty by being told that they’ve become part of the evil empire — well, then we deserve the bad administration that we get.

Another of these threads, and the precipitating reason for this rant, is the annual round of “MLA as circle of hell” griping. There are absolutely some horrific aspects of the MLA experience, to be sure. The job market experience is a miserable one, even at the best of times, and these are clearly not that. And the combination of the job seekers’ anxiety and the superstars’ aura produces a kind of miasma of despair that hangs over the hotel lobbies, clogs the elevators, and drives everyone into the bars.

I get that. I really do. But I’ve also had some of the most amazing conference experiences of my life at the MLA, and automatically equating the conference with its most painful aspects can only result in a most counterproductive form of self-fulfilling prophecy. Believe that the MLA is a miserable experience thoroughly enough and you’re bound to have a miserable experience.

Even more, thoughtlessly engaging in the kinds of organizational trash-talking that in fact inherit a great deal from the “administration = dark side” motif — the MLA as an organization is somehow malign, and its staff working against our interests as scholars and teachers — is both unfair and ignorant. I’ve served for the last year and a half on an extremely labor-intensive MLA committee, and I’ve also done a bit of informal consulting with the organization and its staff over the last few months. And I’ve been consistently impressed by several things: the degree to which the staff attempts to put the expressed needs of the membership first; the incredible poise and generosity of the staff under direct confrontation by some genuinely assholish members of the organization; the real flexibility of the organization when presented with concretely articulated desire for change.

All of this goes to say that both the conference and the organization are precisely what we make of it. Some folks have argued that the conference would be much improved by separating it from the job market; the MLA is not only not opposed to such an idea, but is actively listening to suggestions, and thinking in an active way about what the conference will become when interviews go the inevitable video-conference way of things. Some of us griped a lot about the lack of internet connectivity at last year’s conference; those concerns got passed through committee channels, and the MLA has committed to providing wireless access on a test basis for the next two years. Some people have complained about the incredible tedium of paper-reading sessions, and the MLA has responded by actively promoting innovative modes of presentation.

That last, however, is evidence of our own responsibility for making the conference what it is: the organization has had a real uphill battle in getting scholars to take on those innovative modes. We claim to hate the way things are, and then we cling, kicking and scratching, to the status quo.

So: if you haven’t come to the MLA for years because you believe it to be a nightmarish experience, you might rethink that; the conference isn’t at all what it used to be.

And: if you have been to the last few MLAs and aren’t seeing the changes you’d like to see in the conference, you might figure out how you can make those changes happen, instead of simply complaining.

But in any case, I would really like the MLA-bashing to cease. The conference is imperfect, but it’s what we make of it. And given all the bitching that we do about it, it’s little wonder that the mainstream media finds the conference ridiculous enough to write about every year: we give them all the ammunition they could possibly need.

Things Go Awry

Yesterday’s Day of Digital Humanities experience didn’t exactly turn out as I’d hoped, as I found myself utterly without connectivity all day. Not only does the SCMS conference venue not even have exorbitantly priced wi-fi available (which I was planning on forking over for and then complaining bitterly about), but the free wireless that drew me to the hotel I’m staying in was on the blink all day as well.

So no blogging, and a very little tweeting courtesy of super-spotty AT&T 3G access.

I’m also contending with a little bit of exhaustion, on both the professional and the physical levels. While it’s to some extent convenient that SCMS fell during spring break, I really, really needed that break, and I just haven’t gotten it. Instead, I got jumped by a mystery stomach ailment last Friday night, one that’s still got me in its grips. And so I’ve neither rested nor gotten done the piles of work that I’d hoped to put neatly away this week.

And things get hectic from here: next Thursday, I’m off to New Orleans to keynote the NITLE Summit; in April, I’m speaking at the CUNY Digital University conference; in May, I’ll be back in New York for an MLA Program Committee meeting, then back in California, and then back east for a digital humanities symposium at Dartmouth. Then DC for a couple of meetings, then Salt Lake City for the AAUP, then back in Claremont for the ADE, then London for DH2010, then Virginia for SCI. Then I check myself into a spa or something for two weeks. Really.

It’s all completely awesome, don’t get me wrong, and I wouldn’t give up any of it. I just need my stomach to behave, the internet to work, and everybody to understand if I’m running a little behind on things.

Ick

The semester started here just shy of a week ago, but because my classes fall on Monday and Wednesday, today’s my first real day of teaching. Labor Day. Usually (where “usually” = about 4 out of 10 years) classes here start the day after Labor Day; when they start the week before, we still start on Tuesday, and then teach on Labor Day. Which continues to make no sense to me at all.

I wouldn’t even mind that so much — I’m really fired up about my classes, which include a seminar on Marxism and Cultural Studies that I haven’t gotten to teach in several years, and a new class on television authorship; I’ve got piles of work ahead of me, but it ought to be great fun — except for the fact that I managed to get about two hours of sleep last night due to the stupid cough I’ve developed from the lousy air quality out here in the wake of the fires to our west.

The annoying part is that I’m actually getting better, just as I’m feeling worse. Last Wednesday afternoon, just after classes ended, I suddenly felt as though I’d chain-smoked a pack of cigarettes, and my lungs griped and complained for several days after. Now, my lungs feel more or less fine, but that incessant tickle deep in the back of my throat has set in, probably a sign of healing tissue or something, but it’s driving me batty. It will not let you not cough, though coughing of course aggravates it. It will wake you up out of a dead sleep to make sure you know you need to cough. And no combination of cough drops and throat sprays will calm it down.

This is not what I want to be thinking about right now, but the combination of non-stop coughing and lack of sleep have me unable to contemplate much else.