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Throwing the Book at Facebook

I am distraught by the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

In case I have any readers who don’t pay specific attention to social media news, let me catch you up. Facebook was recently embroiled in a national scandal after it was revealed that it indirectly supplied personal data about 87 million of its users to a political firm called Cambridge Analytica, who then used it to construct psychological profiles during the 2016 Election to try and influence voter opinion. Which is sketchy enough, but the issue is further complicated by the the fact that the data was supplied without the knowledge or consent of any one of those 87 million users. You can read more details about the scandal here.

Promotional poster for The Social Network, the David Fincher film about the creation of Facebook. To think this story would seem mild now.
Promotional poster for The Social Network, the David Fincher film about the creation of Facebook. To think this story would seem mild now.

In the wake of it all, Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress, debates have been ongoing about whether Facebook should have been more forthcoming about the leak or should perhaps be better regulated, and for perhaps the first time in its digital lifetime, the #DeleteFacebook movement seems to be gaining serious traction. But the real question is: Are we prepared to actually bail on the social media giant? The real answer is: Probably not.

I’ve always had a little bit of a love/hate relationship with Facebook myself. I don’t love its sketchy origin story, I don’t particularly like its design, I don’t love that despite years of complaint we still cannot display posts in our feeds in chronological order, and now, I really don’t like that they play it extraordinarily fast and loose with our personal details. But there are a lot of things that I love and couldn’t give up about Facebook. The biggest of them all being that everyone is on Facebook. It’s hard to convert to solely using the Twitter or Google+ or Instagram’s of the world if only a fraction of the people you want to stay in touch with are using them. I mean, I probably even use Facebook’s proprietary Messenger app more than I use the one built into my phone for text messaging. It’s convenient, it’s what people know, and it isn’t likely to change without a good reason for people to change. MySpace eventually collapsed to Facebook because it was better to look at, it felt more exclusive (it was originally just for college students, after all!), it was user-friendly, and nobody had to worry about encountering unexpected Creed or Nickelback songs when they were searching for their friends. Facebook is king for a reason, folks.

But it also scares me. Shortly after the scandal became public knowledge, Facebook informed me that I was one of those 87 million users who had used the “This Is Your Digital Life” app that harvested all the data for Cambridge Analytica. Though I always try to remain open-minded and think for myself, what if I think a certain way because of how events were painted on social media? What if that’s the case for what you believe? What if an organization far more sinister than Cambridge Analytica were given our data? It’s a bit of a chilling thought! I took the opportunity to download all of my Facebook data myself a few weeks ago, and what I found was pretty eye-opening. All of my posts, photos, comments, likes, etc. were present and accounted for, of course. But so was an alarming amount of details that shouldn’t have been, such as the contact information from my phone… which includes contact information for people who don’t even have Facebook accounts! Also, fitting in with the whole purpose of Cambridge Analytica’s leak, I was also surprised to find that I was categorized as “Liberal,” despite the fact that I don’t consider myself loyal to and have never pledged allegiance to any political party on my profile.

The only solution that I’ve been able to come to without outright deleting my Facebook profile is to de-personalize it a bit. It’s still an excellent tool for sharing stuff, publicizing things that I’m into, and most importantly, staying in touch. I don’t think I could give up Messenger or sharing stupid videos at this point if I wanted to. But I’ll probably be scrubbing a lot of personal information off of it soon. I’ll be posting a lot less personal stories on there. I’ve closed the Facebook page for Tigger and Rufus (sorry fans, I know they’re sooo cute!). And I’ll instead be trying to strengthen my digital presence on this blog and on my other social spaces like Twitter and the like. If you aren’t following me, check out the top of the sidebar to your right! I’m on basically all the things!

Maybe it’ll turn out to actually be a good thing for this blog. Instead of blabbing all my stories on Facebook, I’ll actually be able to reserve some of them for this space instead. And I can still use Facebook to promote that I’ve posted. Win-win? Sounds like it to me!

Tell me all your thoughts on Facebook and Cambridge Analytica below!

Universe

I don’t want to brag, but something pretty cool happened to me this evening. And I want to share for some very important reasons that have to do with magic and the universe.

My dad and I were contemplating what to buy for dinner tonight. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to spend a lot of money. I wasn’t even sure if I could spend a lot of money. At least not until payday this coming Friday. My financial concerns eventually segued to talking about paying for school. Admittedly, I’m not great at money management. In fact, I sorta have a little bit of a reputation for being something of an impulse Amazon shopper. But I know when to buckle down and focus on saving my pennies when funds start getting a little tight. That being said, three semesters into community college (which is already as cheap as it can be), I’ve had to take two student loans just to make ends meet. I knew without question that I couldn’t justify requesting another one for semesters #4 and #5. I was going to have to figure something out. Sadly, that meant very likely having to withdraw from school for a while.

I’ve always thought it was peculiar that the popular sentiment is that you should stay in school. That you should learn as much as possible and be a lifelong student! But they sure do make funding that dream close to impossible for the folks who don’t come from families made of money. I would love to do nothing but absorb knowledge for the rest of my life, to be honest, but those two loans and my meager paychecks can’t fund it forever. It’s frustrating, stressful, and disheartening. And quite frankly, I was dreading having to start taking on the label of “college dropout.”

"Life has a funny way of working out just when you start to believe it never will."
“Life has a funny way of working out just when you start to believe it never will.” Image Credit.

Putting the dread behind me for a minute, I decided to log into my student portal to check a grade on a recent database design project. I was pleasantly surprised to find instead that I had been awarded a Federal Pell Grant for both fall and spring semesters of 2018 and 2019! Yeah, you read that right! A grant! As in literally free money you don’t have to pay back! I nearly fell out of my chair when I told dad and immediately felt the weight of burden lift off of my shoulders. The grant isn’t enough to completely cover the tuition of the next two semesters, but it’ll cover a pretty good chunk of it. A good enough chunk that I don’t foresee an issue with paying out of pocket for the rest. Most importantly, it’s a good enough chunk that I can breathe easy again.

The main reason that I wanted to share this story isn’t to celebrate or self-congratulate. I wanted to share because the first thing I thought after reflecting the entire evening back to myself was this: Sometimes, this universe is beautiful. Sometimes things just work out! Sometimes, whatever power has control over all of us is just plain looking out for you. I have a little trouble sometimes convincing myself that someone or anything is in charge somewhere. Sometimes I think “fate” is just a load of garbage. But moments like this reinforce for me the belief that maybe some kind of good karma or mojo or something is swirling about out there. Maybe Alanis was right when she sang about the funny ways of life?

Maybe life will work out for us after all, friends. We just gotta stick with it, even when we think it can’t get much worse. <3

Birthday Blogging

Once again, I’ve done a little bit of a disappearing act from these pages. If you’re one of my small handful of readers, I greatly apologize! While I always hesitate to describe my life as “hectic” (because there’s always someone way busier than I am), it hasn’t exactly been a slow couple of months. Recently, thanks to a link that I followed from Ma.tt that turned into a link that turned into another link, I’ve opted to create a /now page that might one day be of assistance. It’ll let you all know exactly what I’m busy and focused on when I’ve been more than just a little bit absent from these pages.

In the meantime, before I get that page up and running, there are a few things that I wanted to share my thoughts on. Since I’m limited for time even now as I type this post, I hope you’ll excuse the bulleted list format to keep me on track and out of here as swiftly as possible!

  • This gorgeous painting of my little Rufus kitty is now hanging in my bedroom/office. It was gifted to me by a dear friend this past Valentine's Day!
    This gorgeous painting of my little Rufus kitty is now hanging in my bedroom/office. It was gifted to me by a dear friend this past Valentine’s Day!

    Today was my birthday! Hooray for being born!!! It was fairly uneventful, which is honestly how I like it as I get older. Everyone’s thoughts and well wishes throughout the day were immensely appreciated! In lieu of gifts this year, I’ve instead asked my Facebook friends to participate in a fundraiser for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. Pancreatic cancer is the type my own mother passed away from, so it’s an important cause to everyone in my family and to thousands and maybe even millions of others. Already I’ve managed to raise $295 of a proposed $1,000 goal, and the fundraiser will be open for anyone who wants to donate until the end of March. Anything you can spare, even if it’s just sharing the fundraiser to your own Facebook or other social media page, is immensely helpful!

  • A week or two after the beginning of the spring semester, I dropped a class for the first time in my college career. Though I’m disappointed in myself for not being able to keep up with it like I thought I could, I know that it was ultimately the right decision. I’m eventually going to have to make a better attempt at the class again later, but for now, I’m focusing my energies on some other topics that I’m enjoying learning about much more. For example, I was able to get into a Music Appreciation class for one of my Humanities electives, and it has been a real joy to learn and experience music through the ages in a different way. As part of a semester-long report project that I need to complete for that class, I’ll be attending “The Music of U2” concert being performed by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra on March 16th. Seems like the perfect way to kick of St. Patrick’s Day weekend to me!
  • We can buy alcohol on Sundays now in Indiana! Yes, we were in fact the last state in the union to finally ditch the archaic, Prohibition-era law that restricted alcohol sales on Sunday, but no more!!! I exercised my new civic right, as I think most Hoosiers did, by purchasing a bottle of liquor at my neighborhood Kroger the first Sunday that I was legally able!
  • Speaking of cool things happening around Indy, I feel obligated to mention how neat the new Indianapolis Ballet is! I went to their debut performance of The Firebird at Newfields a couple of weeks ago with some good friends and followed it up by attending their New Works Showcase at IndyFringe’s Basile Theatre this past weekend. This is a hugely talented group being added to the city and worth checking out if dance and performing arts are your thing!
  • I don’t like to write much about my job or the company that employs me here too much because you never know who’s reading. But I’m excited enough to mention, at the very least, that I’m in the process of transitioning to a new role in the coming weeks! The new position is much more administrative and less results-focused, but mostly, the nerd in me is just excited to learn new things and have new sets of tools at my disposal! It’s still a work in progress at the moment, as I obviously need to fully train my replacement before moving on, but I’m hopeful and really looking forward to the eventual move!
  • If This Is Us hasn’t been nearly moving you to tears on a weekly basis, you have no heart.
  • I finally broke out my 642 Things to Write About book of writing prompts, so my goal is to start writing in here again pretty regularly. I’m signed up for practically all the prompts as it is, but you all know how life goes… The best laid plans and all that.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go finish my dinner and hit the hay. Have a great rest of the week, folks, and I hope to be back before the end of March. 😉

By the way, I’m on Snapchat now! Feel free to get your add on and send me all ya silly selfies!

The Netflix Book Club

Data is beautiful.

Example of data being beautiful from the mentioned subreddit. Click to view the original.
Example of data being beautiful from the mentioned subreddit. Click to view the original.

Not only do I subscribe to a subreddit with that title in which users literally share graphs and beautiful images of data that they have collected in really neat ways, but I’ve also been learning more about the concept of data gathering, mining, warehousing, and so much more in my Database Management & Design course that I’m taking at school this semester. It’s been really fascinating for me to go into Microsoft Access or SQL Server Management Studio, two pieces of software I had previously been completely unfamiliar with, and actually be able to create a database in them and ask them for particular sets of information or to generate reports. SQL is fun! Type in a command, and behold! An entire table of your requested information is laid out before your very eyes! Crazy!

Something else I’ve been super into is discussing TV shows with my coworkers! It turns out that a few of us are crazy into some of the same shows and love discussing them once we’ve all caught up. I like to say it’s something of a “modern day book club” (or Netflix book club, if you will) that we’ve accidentally started amongst one another. Because, really, who reads anymore? (Actually, all of us do, but that’s a different story for another time.) It’s something we all enjoy and something that we have in common. So why not bond over what we thought of last night’s Criminal Minds or This Is Us?

With these two topics swirling around in my mind along with the idea of putting together a Netflix recommendation post, I decided to pursue an interesting little project this weekend. I’ve captured the data of everything that I watched on Netflix in 2017 and, along with recommendations from my Facebook friends a few weeks ago, came up with a rather interesting look at just what we consume via the streaming giant.

If you’re looking for something new to watch, take a look below!

The Data

Pie chart of the movies and shows that I watched on Netflix in 2017.
Pie chart of the movies and shows that I watched on Netflix in 2017.

Before I get into my thoughts on the data, let me explain how I put this together. Thankfully, Netflix actually did a bulk of the data collection process for me by tracking everything I watched anyway. You can actually check out your own viewing history if you go to this page after logging into your account. As far as measuring by genre, I plugged all of my data with viewing dates from January 1st until December 31st of 2017 into a spreadsheet and assigned a different genre per title. I didn’t want things to get too crazy, so I didn’t break genres apart too much by giving Gilmore Girls a category like “romantic comedy” or “dramedy” or something that, in reality, probably fits that show much better.

There were a few that I honestly didn’t think would fit in any other generic category. Moana and Sing were the only two contributions to the “Family” genre that I created because, honestly, animated films in my mind shouldn’t have been placed into broad categories like drama or comedy. Same goes for science fiction. I watch so much science fiction that it really felt like it deserved its own space. And as for the sliver of orange on the pie that was so slim it didn’t even get a label on the chart, that genre was actually “Talk Shows,” with Chelsea being the one and only title in it.

Penelope and Spencer are just two of the reasons why I love me some Criminal Minds!
Penelope and Spencer are just two of the reasons why I love me some Criminal Minds!

Truthfully, I’m not surprised that drama wound up with the biggest chunk of the pie here. It’s probably the broadest genre that I stick to. I think the biggest surprise for me though was that comedy is the second-largest. Knowing myself the way that I do, I thought science fiction would’ve claimed the silver here. During the course of 2017 though, I discovered and jumped on the very late Criminal Minds bandwagon though, and with 12 seasons to its name on Netflix, it took up a large chunk of my year in streaming. In fact, making my way from the pilot episode all the way through to the final episode of season 12 took me from March 11th through August 3rd. Talk about a time killer!

Here are some other series that I completely consumed from beginning until the very end (so far!) within 2017:

Breaking it Down Further

TV shows weren’t the only things on Netflix that I watched. I probably took on more documentaries than ever in 2017. In the past, I haven’t typically sought out any particular documentary to watch, but Netflix seems to make them easier and much more compelling to find and take an interest in. They have documentaries about almost any subject matter! Here’s are the documentaries that I watched in 2017:

And of course, there are some feature-length films in the mix too. Here’s what we grabbed our popcorn for in 2017 on Netflix:

Recommendations

Wisdom of the Crowd was one spectacular friendly recommendation!
Wisdom of the Crowd was one spectacular friendly recommendation!

Several weeks ago, when I was in the initial planning stages of putting together a Netflix recommendation post, I took to Facebook and asked my friends list what their favorite series that they had watched in the last year was. Here were some of the responses:

I LOVE The Good Place.
– Sally Codarmaz

Peaky Blinders. [And] American Vandal. It was perfect. Me and my sister obsessed over it and watched it in like 2 days.
– Christina Plahitko

[The] Newsroom. The greatest show ever
– Steve Black

Black Mirror! And Dark!
– Denise Fernandez

I have been totally enjoyed reruns of Boston Legal. Very entertaining!!
– Jean Whitfield

Wisdom of the Crowd
– Michelle Berkemeier

Wentworth!!!!
– Angie Werking

Nurse Jackie! I binged the entire 7 seasons in 5 days!
– Alana Bell-Wayt

Madam Secretary, Sherlock Holmes, The Toys That Made Us, Cable Girls
– Brandy Yeager

Outlander
– Melinda Welch

As for my own recommendations? Well, I could easily say that the shows on the list above that I consumed entirely in 2017 would be on it. Along with Orange is the New BlackUnbreakable Kimmy SchmidtStranger ThingsGrace and FrankieLove, and a few others that I watched new seasons of this past year as well.

There’s also several outside of the Netflix world that I would like to mention as well, which include The Marvelous Mrs. MaiselThe NewsroomThe Handmaid’s TaleMarvel’s RunawaysStar Trek: Discovery, and This Is Us, all of which have absolutely also helped entertain me for days!

What shows did you love this year?

Give us a shout in the comment section below or head over to the Talk page and hash it all out in the threads!

What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been

Back when I played World of Warcraft, I loved the in-game holidays. In order to provide a little flexibility, and also, presumably, not to offend anyone, the game developers created completely original holiday celebrations and festivals as stand-ins for real-world events. There was the Feast of Winter Veil to encompass the winter holidays, Hallow’s End for Halloween, Love is the Air for Valentine’s Day, etc. Participating in the game’s holiday events often times rewarded players with in-game items they could not obtain during any other part of the year. Eventually, if you celebrated every holiday and participated in every activity throughout the year, you would be awarded with one hell of an achievement titled “What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been.” Said achievement would also reward the player with one hella cool dragon you could fly around Azeroth! Check it out:

Violet Proto-Drake excitement! #NerdAlert!
Violet Proto-Drake excitement! #NerdAlert!

Unfortunately, I never earned my purple dragon. Not only because some holidays were more exciting than others (I mean, what sounds more exciting to you: all-you-can-drink beer during Brewfest or dragging an obnoxious orphan through a battleground during something called Children’s Week???), but also because I just never found the time. I don’t think I’ve logged into my Warcraft account since I started going back to school over a year ago, though not from lack of my guild (aka: my family) trying to get me to. Adulting really sucks sometimes, you know?!

Strangely, I’m not the biggest fan of real world holidays. While I always appreciate a day or two off work, I spend most of my time trying to figure out how most other people seem to have their shit together. Needless to say, I don’t have the energy to spend decorating my house or office, dressing up in costumes, cooking up huge feasts, or purchasing gifts and candy for people. It’s just not my “thing,” especially since my mom passed away when I was younger. She was the one among us who was fully haunted by the spirit of the holidays. Without her exuberance, it has just never been the same. Since the passing of even more family members in the years since her death, that feeling has drifted further and further away. Example: This past Christmas, I spent the holiday with my dad and my cats, eating faux-turkey and Bob Evans mashed potatoes, and watched Star Trek movies. Basically, it was a normal evening that didn’t feel special or “magical” at all. It might seem sad and lonely sometimes, but most of the time, it’s how I prefer it. There’s some kind of peace in the quiet.

Captain Janeway is just as exasperated with me, don’t worry.

A couple of years ago though, a dear friend of mine who used to sit in the cubicle next to mine at work, began to decorate her own space for Christmas. She seemed surprised that I wasn’t that into it, but by the time she was finished, she gave me the leftover decorations. “Just in case” I decided to get into the spirit of things. It was a single battery-powered light in the form of a flickering candle and a small string of tinsel. “I can do that. I’m not a Scrooge!” I remember thinking to myself, especially after feeling guilty for admonishing her for listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving. When subsequent holidays began rolling around throughout the year, my neighbor continued giving me “leftovers” (though, between you and me, there were some occasions she purposely brought extra just for my desk), and I would proudly add them to my candlelit shrine.

Glittery hearts for Valentine’s Day, four-leaf clovers cut out of cardboard for St. Patrick’s Day, a stuffed bunny and plastic grass for Easter, American flags and red-white-and-blue streamers for Independence Day. Ghosts, jack-o-lanterns, and a rubber bat we named “Boris” for Halloween, fake brown leaves and pumpkins for Thanksgiving. Even New Year’s Eve jewelry and a cardboard Happy Birthday hat. Even after I realized that I had just about the entire year accounted for all at once, my own real-life What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been shrine remained on display at my cubicle. Even after my friend left the company to pursue a new opportunity, the shrine continued on with others occasionally pitching in to add funny items here and there. So many different clashing holidays and themes combined together sometimes startled new employees or visitors who weren’t expecting something so gaudy and in-your-face. Those that understood were amused and maybe even amazed at how much it grew over time to take over nearly my entire allotted space. “I never have to decorate again!” I would proudly exclaim to onlookers. “I’ve just about got it all covered!”

Aren’t we all just a little bit Groot?

Today, the shrine sadly came down. Decorations were unpinned, cleared from the shelf, and packed away in a box. Even the bobblehead Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy that my nephew gave me for my desk long before I even started working there was packed away to come home soon. Not because I’m moving on to a new job or because there are memories or bad juju associated with any of the decorations now. Simply, I’ve decided it’s time for some changes. You see, another friend of mine once planted this idea into my head that, when you need to control your life, the first thing you do is chop off your hair or make some drastic executive decision about your style. Because that’s the easiest thing to control in your world, right? Maybe. And maybe a hairstyle change will still come, but for now, it was time to change my environment. The first step was to stop letting my shrine just sit and collect dust and scare away newbies. I have a new neighbor now, by the way. I don’t know her very well yet, but she seems nice. We have new owners, too. And it’s a new year. So maybe it’s time to start projecting something else on my part. Maybe it’s time to try being a little less weird.

Of course, I’ll always be weird in my own time and in my own space. No corporate entity or feeling of needing to “grow up” will ever strip that away from me. That’s just part of who I am. But it isn’t the only change I’ll be making. You might have noticed the little animation on the home page and the Almost Epic Facebook page indicating that I’ve been a little absent around these parts. I’m sure a new structure or design for this website is coming soon. It’ll probably be a little more stripped down, too. As fun as they can be, I think maybe I’m a little too old for all the bells and whistles now. Maybe you could call all of this a “New Year’s Resolution,” but let’s not pretend that any of us actually stick to those. It’ll be whatever it’ll be.

I’ll be seeing you soon.

Battle for the Net

The Internet has revolutionized our society and the world. That’s why it’s imperative to make sure it remain free and open. Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and other Internet Service Providers (ISPs) want to end net neutrality so they can control what we see and do online. They want to gut FCC rules, and then pass bad legislation that allows extra fees, throttling and censorship. But Congress can put a stop to all of this.

Please make your voice heard and let Congress know that the FCC can’t kill the Internet!

Visit BattlefortheNet.com to write, call, tweet, and break the Internet in protest. Make our voices heard to help save the web!

Jagged Little Pill

Mental distress is a hell of a thing, isn’t it?

I have lived with major anxiety issues my entire life. I was a very fearful child. If I heard about any scenario that was dangerous or terrifying, I was 100% convinced it would happen to me. I’m not sure where that kind of anxiety begins, because outside of growing up in the late ’80s and ’90s when we could run free without the fear of being snatched off the street by a stranger, I wasn’t really exposed to a lot of dangerous scenarios. All things considered, my parents did a pretty good job of keeping me out of harm’s way. However, I still somehow managed to grow accustomed to feeling as though the worst possible outcome was always headed my way. And today, I realized that ugly feeling was still there. Lurking just under the surface and waiting for the most inopportune moment to say hello.

You see, the weekend immediately following Thanksgiving, I had a feeling that I can only technically describe as “wonky.” I had long moments of lightheadedness, I was getting frequent headaches, I tossed and turned because I couldn’t get comfortable when I slept. I couldn’t concentrate on different projects that I wanted to work on in my free time. I wound up spending a majority of my Thanksgiving break from both work and school in front of a television watching episodes of This Is Us instead of turning the extra garage room into my home office like I had wanted to. Quite simply because I just didn’t have the energy to do much else. I’ve suffered from headaches often but the lightheadedness and inability to sleep or concentrate seemed like recent developments that are listed as possible issues related to the anxiety medication that I’ve been taking for about a year now. And while I do feel like the medication helped me remain calm and collected in work and social situations that would otherwise make me a bundle of nerves, I wasn’t convinced that I was getting a lot of benefit from it otherwise.

So over this last weekend, I made the very stupid decision to completely stop taking it. I wanted to see if my headaches and sleeplessness would go away. And sure enough, they did! I was blessed with an incredibly long and comfortable REM cycle on Tuesday night that I didn’t even want to wake up from in order to go to work. But today at work, I felt that mental distress all over again in a very real way. It took just one, off-handed comment that wasn’t even meant the way I took it to set everything in motion in my brain. It practically woke me up with feelings of dread, discomfort, worthlessness, and general sadness. A short while after lunch this afternoon, I even had to excuse myself to go to the restroom in order to lock myself in a bathroom stall and cry. I don’t recall having cried in a public place since I was a child! What was happening to me???

This is why I had been engaging in the passive act of popping a pill every night before bed. This is the demon I’ve been silently battling. The demon that sits in my brain and tricks and deceives me into believing lies. He makes me believe that I’ll fail, that I’m worthless, and that everything is in vain. He makes me think I’m weak and ugly and annoying. That I’m too “extra” or that people perceive me in a light that I don’t want to be seen. He makes all of us that he attacks think that everyone’s talking badly about us or that everything would be better if we were gone. We doubt ourselves and we doubt our relationships to others. It divides and conquers us. We wonder if we should run away and start a new and different life. For those this evil impacts the most, they even contemplate ending life.

I’ve started my medication again and won’t be stopping it without consulting my doctor first. I’ve learned my lesson and I’m back on the road to recovery this weekend. With a memorial that I’ll be attending tomorrow, it’ll be a rough one to get through. Thankfully, I was grounded enough to at least realize what was happening to me and how I needed to fix it. There are so many others who never make it out of this. For whom these feelings are 24/7. If you know someone that might apply to, please be kind to them and help them. Understand that they aren’t looking for attention or trying to make things about them.

Your support just might mean the world to them.

The End of “AIM” Era

In less than a month, AOL Instant Messenger will be shut down for good. For a lot of ’90s children, it’s the end of an era. Many of us grew up chatting away on AIM to our school friends and, in some cases, making friends elsewhere. I made a lot of friends elsewhere, as a matter of fact, because the world was different then. We weren’t afraid of “strangers from the internet” just yet (even though we now summon them to drive us places and bring us food), so hopping into a chat room with 25 other people spread out all over the globe was no big deal. And for a kid who was awkward like myself, my interactions on AIM helped me learn about human behavior and how to socialize better.

AIM's tweet announcing their shutdown.
AIM’s tweet announcing their shutdown.

AIM was the first real mainstream way that we could “text message” our friends and family members, before the technology really took off on mobile phones. It was quicker than an email and seemed more personal. We could have real conversations but also still allow the time to think about our responses. There was nothing better, and the author of that article linked up above is right when he says that the service ignited a cultural shift. But the tech world has changed dramatically in the years since AIM’s prominence and a lot of our communication now takes place on social media and in chat apps. But for the small percentage out there who might still be using AIM regularly either socially or for their business, the announcement that it’ll be going away soon has incited panic.

Where do we go from AIM?

Here’s four alternatives to sink your teeth into. And while our emo away messages and the iconic buddy list sounds of doors opening and closing may never again be the same, some of these services might actually just wind up being major improvements!

Messenger

Social media giant Facebook launched what is probably the easiest messaging app to get into for one simple reason: everyone you know is already using it! I’m pretty sure the number of people with Facebook accounts in this world far outnumbers those who don’t have one by now, and with Messenger, you can send an instant message to almost any of them via Facebook’s standalone web client (which can be found at Messenger.com; brilliantly simple, huh?) and mobile apps for both Android and iOS. Support for emoji, stickers, gifs, Snapchat-like photo filters, and tons of other features have some users feeling like it’s a tad bit bloated, but if you’re into those kinds of things, it just enhances the service that much more. And if you aren’t? Good news: There’s a “lite” version of Messenger available now, too!

Personally, I use Messenger daily to communicate with friends, family, and coworkers in group chats and one-on-one. Though I’m fully aware there are a lot of other apps that have been developed considerably better, Facebook still rules supreme until people learn to get a little braver with the brands they’re used to and start downloading other apps. Until that day, Messenger works just fine.

Google Hangouts

Tech-giant Google has surprisingly had a checkered past when it comes to launching a successful messaging service. Google Talk was replaced by Google Hangouts, which has undergone a few changes and renovations itself before its current iteration. Now there are two new Google messaging apps: Allo and Duo, one of which is for messaging and the other for video messaging, both of which Hangouts seems to accomplish just fine on its own. Regardless of Google’s confusion, Hangouts is a little less feature-rich than Facebook’s Messenger, but it can be considered significantly more stable for most platforms and users that consider the Facebook equivalent to be slow, buggy, and bloated. Also in comparison to Facebook’s vehicle, Hangouts ties in with the rest of the Google ecosystem, so if you have a Gmail, YouTube, or Google+ account already, you might also have a Hangouts account and don’t even realize it!

What makes Facebook’s Messenger so popular too is how accessible people are since the social media service is so popular. Hangouts doesn’t suffer too much in this department either since you can access Hangouts directly within the Gmail window, and Gmail itself is a popular service for personal email accounts. Unless the person you’re trying to contact is still hanging out on Yahoo or Hotmail, getting in touch with them via Hangouts is a pretty sure bet. Plus, Hangouts basically pioneered the ability to video chat with a group! You can basically host entire video conferences with each member on opposite sides of the globe with this bad boy!

Hangouts also has its own web client and apps available on almost every platform.

WhatsApp

When social giants Facebook and Google both have their own forms of instant communication, why seek out another? Well, as it turns out, there’s actually a lot of reasons! WhatsApp was one of the first mainstream mobile messaging apps out there that was also fully-featured. What that means is that WhatsApp wasn’t just instant messaging — their service also includes completely free voice and video calling, which practically would have been seen as revolutionary a decade ago. I mean, there are still people paying for long-distance and international calling when you and the other person can just hop on WhatsApp and communicate for free!!!

WhatsApp also has a whole host of other fantastic features, but more than anything I want to point out that it’s also built with end-to-end encryption enabled by default. If you aren’t familiar with end-to-end encryption, that means that the information and data being transmitted between the sender and the receiver(s) are completely secured between just the sender and the receiver(s). The risk of any sensitive info falling into the wrong hands via hacking with WhatsApp is pretty slim to none!

Just like the previous two options, WhatsApp is also available on both Android and iOS and has a sweet web client.

DISCORD

Screenshot of a typical Discord server community.
A screenshot of a typical Discord server community.

Quick disclaimer: Discord was built for gamers. But you don’t have to be one to use it. In fact, it’s my opinion that everyone should use Discord! Over the past few years, the developers of this completely free-to-use program have added all the best aspects of Slack, TeamSpeak, and Skype and rolled it all into one really fun and customizable package! Whether you’re joining a public or private chat server, or creating one of your very own, Discord has virtually everything you need: Voice chat, text chat, powerful management and customization tools, private one-on-one messaging and buddy lists, and they’re even currently developing video chatting and screen-sharing! And since the service was built for gamers, it’s a major bonus if you happen to play anything on PC because Discord has some really innovative ways to implement voice chat into your games to create a seamless experience when grouping up with your friends to play!

Discord is personally how I both keep in touch and play online with my sister and nephew out in Kansas and we have nothing but praise for the service. If you aren’t on Discord, you should be!

You can get Discord for your mobile apps as well as on the web.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

If none of the above sound appealing to you, here are some other messaging alternatives that might also prove popular with current and former AIM users:

  • TelegramThis one seems very much like WhatsApp in that it’s very fully-featured and secure!
  • Signal: A private alternative to text messaging.
  • Slack: Imagine Discord but for work and business.
  • Rocket.Chat: Host your own web chat server like Slack!
  • LINE: A Japanese group and community messaging app.
  • ICQ: One of the world’s oldest and most reliable instant messengers.
  • Yahoo! Messenger: Another one of the old players in the instant messenger game, developed and recently re-designed by Yahoo!

 

Out of all of these selections, it’s unfortunate that there isn’t an official legacy service for current AIM users to make the move to. It’ll be interesting to see how many websites, APIs, and other multi-messenger clients that have folded AIM into its features for so long will adjust once AIM is taken offline for good.

Prayer of St. Francis

Lord make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O divine master grant that I may
not so much seek to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to eternal life
Amen
— Sarah McLachlan’s “Prayer of St. Francis”

Timeless

This page is part of a series on #WeekendCoffeeShare.

This post is part of the ongoing #WeekendCoffeeShare series! Please share your responses, thoughts, comments, and more in the comment section at the bottom of this page or in the new Talk section!

If we were having coffee this weekend, I would tell you in great detail about the recurring thoughts that have been haunting me lately. They have to do with the concept of time, which in turn leads me down a path of our own human mortality. I’m not sure why I started thinking about it all, but it’s been on my mind since I started going back to school or maybe even before then. Let me tell you about it more.

It's never too late to be what you might have been. By Inspower.co.
Example of one of these quotes from Inspower.co.

You see, I’m 32-years-old now and only just started going back to school. “It’s never too late,” people have always told me. “You can always better yourself.” Keep learning and doing the things you love. Ever since we’re children, we have been taught that we can do and be anything that we want. Which is fantastic! It’s an honor and a privilege and, quite frankly, really exciting to live in an era where we, as a society, can pursue whatever passion fuels us. For me, that passion has always been for writing or creating. I’m going after a degree in software development because it not only involves writing code, but also it’ll unlock my ability to work in practically any sector or industry. Learning a skill that could allow me to assist virtually anywhere in the world is very freeing.

The concept of time scares me now. Though I learned a lot and had a great time growing up and gaining work experience through my twenties, I feel like I’ve wasted much of that time that I could have been learning something else. Since going back to school and seeing all the different educational paths to success that I could take, I’ve become somewhat aware of just how much of life I will never experience.

I know now that I’m never going to be a doctor, a lawyer, a police officer, a construction worker, a chemist, an astronaut, a firefighter, a race car driver, an actor or a rock star. Now that I’ve chosen a profession that I’m most interested in, it feels a lot like the rest of the world’s doors are closing to me. There’s a number of successes and failures alike that I will never come close to experiencing. And while that may not be much of a loss to most people, it is to me. A big part of me wants to do it all. I want to be one of those people that has a billion degrees and certificates and even doctorates lining my walls. I wish I had the time, energy, and even natural talent and intelligence to do and just be everything.

The concept of time scares me even further when we get into the details of mortality. A lot of friends and family have been lost over the years and who knows when my time will come? One of the biggest things people on their death beds ask for is more time. How do I know if I’m making the most of mine? How do we know if we should really even bother with things like school and jobs if, in the end, we might just wind up passing on before we get to fully put those things to good use?

I wish that I had a time machine or a fountain of youth so that I could see and do and experience everything as fully as I want. I don’t know if I want to truly be immortal, because Paula Cole makes it sound pretty awful over the titles of Dawson’s Creek. But I wish that I could have just a little bit of God’s infinite power to determine exactly when and where I’m ready to depart.

But then again, He’s supposed to have a very wise and effective plan for all of us, right? Maybe I should just trust that whatever happens is part of the plan and is happening for a reason. But it’s hard to do that when I want so much to be a part of everything…

Until next time, friends!