Tag Archives: internet

Worth A Thousand Words?

About a month or two ago, I was watching a movie at the cinema and Schick featured a new ad (and I HATE HATE HATE that companies are putting commercials in movie theaters) that communicated its message through emojis. Now, I doubt I have to explain what an emoji is to the millennials, but for those of us that actually prefer to use the written word to communicate, an emoji is a little picture that can be cute or ugly or just plain stupid that is supposed to represent a feeling, much the same way that web speak developed the emoticon back in the 90s. Consider emojis kind of like emoticon 2.0.

The emoticon was created because in a text-only communication channel, the subtle nuances of non-verbal communication are lost. A sideways glance, a mischievous grin, a shrug that would otherwise provide context and mitigate the meaning of a sentence need some way to convey sarcasm or humor in shorthand without having to type out “I’m not serious about that, it is just a joke” or “I’m really bummed about something and I don’t feel like typing it all out.” Millennials really embraced the emoji and have use it liberally on facebook and instagram to comment on friends posts for years now. The emoji, coupled with texting shorthand, have destroyed much of the English language as it spreads across the globe.

These millennials have now infiltrated marketing companies and are trying to spread their illiterate shorthand into the mainstream by creating commercials with animated emojis, actors playing emojis or people being forced to communicate with only emojis. Schick has people dressed like emojis dancing around telling people how much better their life would be if they shaved with Schick products. Pepsi recreated their famous Cindy Crawford commercial done entirely with 3D emojis and Chevrolet asks a focus group to rate their car using only emojis. Why? That’s the million dollar question.

Emojis, like their predecessor the emoticon, represent feelings, not actual concrete ideas, so marketers can use a singularly Pathos appeal to drive their message, without providing anything substantial like facts or data or logic to entice the market to adopt their product. The millennial generation is all about feelings. We see this all over the place, from TV and films to the internet, as millennials bemoan how offended they are by the reality of the world. Even the Olympics is getting to be all about feelings as people complain about a white, male, multi-gold medal winning champion bearing the American flag in the processional because it hurts Muslims feelings. What emoji might that earn?

Emojis say nothing of substance. They convey feelings, but only those of the sender. It is not a medium for real communication and it is not a serious way to entice me to buy a product or service. In fact, I am actually so put out with emojis that using them in messaging is a sure fire way to drive my business to the competition. Down with Emojis.

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For the Love of Narcissus

There was once a great hunter who happened to be a very handsome man. So handsome was he, that he distained those who loved him. This hunter was named Narcissus, and his enemy was Nemisis, a bad guy who lured Narcissus to a still pool where he gazed upon his reflection for the first time and immediately fell in love with himself to the point of refusing to leave his own reflection. He died there.

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This is where we get the term Narcissism, meaning an unhealthy love of one’s self. Narcissus died from his self love, so it must be a bad thing. Unfortunately, pop psychology has diluted the term Narcissism to mean conceit or even selfishness; traits every human being possesses. In today’s parlance, the word is bandied around in virtually every breakup as one or both parties will level it at the other like a ballistic missile that destroyed their relationship. The word obviates responsibility by placing the blame for the break up squarely on the accused narcissist’s shoulder. It is meant to stick like a warning label to ward off any others who might fall victim to the accused narcissist’s trap. It also allows the accuser to avoid accepting any blame his or herself.

As we as a society move into the realm of PC language and the removal of any semblance of personal responsibility, a person who is self actualized and self confident is being looked down upon as being judgmental and selfish. It was once considered to be a virtue to know what one wanted and know one’s self well enough to be confident in one’s abilities. Granted, braggadocio has always been a vice, but a gentleman knew where the line was drawn between self confidence and self aggrandizement.

A simple Google search of “Narcissistic Abuse” generates thousands of links to articles by bloggers assuring people that their partner is a narcissist and urging them to leave the relationship. They throw around terms that make their screed sound scientific when it is rarely more that a wordy Dear Abby column. When examined closely, the writer is often describing someone who takes command in a situation; someone who might act without consultation with their partner; someone who acts decisively without debating a given course of action. These traits are those of a self-assured person, not a narcissist. Granted, such a person may not be the most considerate person in the world and maybe said person should consult with their partner about major life choices, but, again, this is not narcissism.2016-08-05 14.21.46

Narcissus died because he loved himself too much. He became obsessed with his own image. A self assured person may love himself or herself, but the only way it rises to the level of narcissism is if that person does harm to themselves. If they knowingly hurt others, they may be psychopathic or sociopathic, but not necessarily narcissistic. Every human being has their own wants and needs and many times these are not met by a partner. While this may be tragic, it does not mean that someone is ready to be diagnosed with a psychological disorder by a blogger on the internet.

Every breakup has at least two perspectives—more if it involves a third party—and the fault for the break up must be shared. If one cheated, the other may have failed to meet certain needs. If one feels unloved, maybe they should show more love in return. If one feels an apology is due but not forthcoming, maybe that person should explain why such an apology is expected. When a partner asks “what’s wrong,” friggin’ tell them!

“You should know,” or “I shouldn’t have to tell you,” or “nothing” are not valid responses to the question. In fact, it may mean that you are too self absorbed to understand that your partner can’t magically divine your moods in advance.

In any case, Narcissus died because of his own weakness; that being vanity. How do I know I’m no Narcissus? When I look in the mirror, I know whom I’m looking at and that person needs to lose weight.

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We Will Return After These Messages

Tech bloggers have been calling for and planning the end of cable TV for years. The first nefarious plot to kill cable was trying to break the bundles and force cable companies to offer ala carte programming. The second effort involved forcing companies to accept consumer devices with separable security in lieu of a company provided cable box. The problem with that plan was that the consumer electronics industry doesn’t want to make consumer set top boxes. Now the plotters are counting on the internet to break cable’s hold on the TV experience by allowing networks to offer content online. HBO recently decided to offer their premium content to internet customers without the need of a cable subscription. If other content providers follow suit, the anti-cable crowd believe this will kill cable TV as we know it. What they fail to acknowledge is that if content providers offer their content this way, it will kill the TV viewing experience all together.

Linear TV has been the model of watching entertainment for decades. Networks have spent fortunes and countless hours planning the lineup to give viewers the shows they want to watch. By necessity, this meant that the shows fell into a schedule to which viewers had to adapt. People planned their week around the TV and when their favorite shows aired. Now we have internet-based on-demand viewing and people can watch whenever and wherever they want. The problem is that this convenience comes with a hefty price tag. Content is not free and it is paid for by airing commercials. Networks quickly realized that the more commercials they could air, the more revenue they could generate. The networks program TV shows for the sole purpose of bringing more viewers to see the commercials. Linear shows have to fit into an hour-long programming block along with commercials.

Typically, the average “hour-long” show is actually only 42 minutes of content with 18 minutes of advertising broken up into 5 or 6 commercial breaks. That means, on average, a commercial break should be no more than 3-4 minutes long. This barrier is being pushed on linear TV. For example, on TNT, the network averages more than 6 minutes of commercials per break on TV and more than that during online streaming. In order to cram more commercials into the TV lineup, the network makes certain edits to the programming for length. Instead of getting 42 minutes of a show, you might get only 39 or 40, and forget about watching a themed intro to your favorite show. They chop those right off or run commercials over them. Once that content is taken online, TNT forces online streaming viewers to watch almost twice as many commercials per break than traditional linear television because there are no time constraints limiting how minutes are devoted to ad content.

Linear television has been surrendering to the onslaught of commercials since the first broadcast, but now there are whole schools dedicated to nothing more than planning and designing ways to get more advertising in front of as many eyeballs as can be. The push away from linear tv such as is provided by cable is not to give viewers more choices, but rather to remove an impediment to running more commercials.

Digital Video Recorders (DVRs) have given viewers control to skip those intrusive commercials. With the click of a button, the viewer can fast forward over anything on the recording, effectively bypassing that ad for Viagra, or the rerun of the Hershey’s kiss bell Christmas tree. With online streaming, you can also fast forward through the show, but not through the commercials. For those breaks you have to watch EVERY single commercial. In fact, some content providers are considering disabling the DVR ability to fast forward through commercials on certain channels.

One industry journal reports that most cable operators are suffering net losses on video customers year to year. Not huge numbers, mind you—there are plenty of people still enjoying linear television—but any gains in customers come from new internet subscriptions. If the internet kills linear TV, count on paying for the ability to watch commercials as becoming the norm. In the movie “Demolition Man,” Sylvester Stallone wakes up after 2 centuries in cryogenic sleep and finds that people are listening to old commercial jingles as the sole source of entertainment.

The thought terrifies me because it’s not too far off.

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One Land, Separate Ideals

America has never been so polarized, so divided or so fractured—or so says the media. Many pundits and analysts have offered observations and predictions based on this perceived dichotomy that is American society. Red states and blue states, liberals and conservatives, Democrats and republicans and other designations are the rally points for differing ideologies across the nation. Issues from immigration to gay marriage, from education to health care, and from foreign policy to domestic issues are driving the debates that separate the nation. Many people wonder why America has come to these crossroads especially given the advent of the Internet and the social media that was expected to unite everyone in the utopia that is instant connectivity of shared ideas. This is not just a fallacy; it is exactly the opposite of what is happening. The Internet is actually the tool that is dividing us.

idealpqThe mainstream media, ostensibly a long-time proponent of free interchange of ideas, touted web 2.0 tools such as Twitter and Facebook for their role in the 2010 Arab spring uprisings in the Middle East, which was expected to foster democratic movements in those countries. The ability to reach out and contact so many people at once is supposed to have been the cause for so many people coming together in such short order to force the revolutions and ouster of the supposed dictators of those countries.

While that may be true (and we have yet to see those Arab Spring revolutions foster democracy in any of those countries) the ability to communicate with so many instantaneously is also fraught with peril. The Internet is worldwide, to be sure. But in this wonderful wide world, there has long been a collection of disparate, different and dissonant societies, many of which who cannot tolerate those that are different. They have existed on the same ball of dirt simply because of the distance that separates them. Now that the Internet has removed that distance, those conflicting ideas ignite into hostility.

This is observable in America as well. The map of the United States shows how the divisions play out. People tend to cluster around like-minded people. This is how communities began. This is how the colonies got their starts in the 1700s. People gathered around those with whom they could identify; typically people of the same nationalities and ethnicities held the same beliefs systems. Thus the community prospered with minimal ideological conflict and churches fostered and nurtured the community.

With the advent of technology, people began travelling to other communities and clustering in cities and in those groupings, nationality and ideology were pushed aside for economic development and prosperity. But the stressors of ethnicity began a slow boil that eventually erupted into the civil rights movement. People of different ethnicities and nationalities began to bicker and fight. Legislation may have quelled the worst of it, but even today different ideologies thrust together into common geographic space breed hostility.

At the foundation of our nation, literacy was not commonplace. Only a few learned individuals possessed the tools and skills to communicate to the masses effectively. In those days, “the masses” was defined by those who gathered around the public square. Again, in those days, the public square was in a community of like-minded people with shared nationality and ethnicity and ideology. Today, anyone can say anything to anybody at anytime. Instant public speech is possible with a world-wide audience.

In England, the people were forbidden to speak out against the government. One of the founding principles of American government was the freedom to speak out against the government without fear of reprisals. It is inscribed in the first Amendment along with a line about how the government cannot dictate how individuals practice their religious beliefs. This freedom has been bastardized by those who think that it allows anyone to say absolutely anything they desire. This is not true. It just means one cannot be arrested for it. Many people have found out through lost jobs and lost relationships that speaking one’s mind on the internet can have consequences.

A teacher posted a picture in which she enjoys an adult beverage while on vacation. Her school terminated her for the posting. A healthcare worker posted a comment in which she advocated mass murder for criminals rioting in Ferguson Missouri. She was terminated by the hospital that employed her. A college professor was fired after joking on a Facebook post about hiring a hit man. Many celebrities have been called to task when they make comments that are picked up in the media and broadcast. Public outcry resulted in the forced sale of the L.A. Clippers after the owner made private comments that were made public by someone else.

In many of these cases, advocates claim these people should be protected by the first amendment for free speech. Again, none of these people have been arrested for their statements. None are facing federal charges. The first amendment is working in these cases. It is other people who are squelching the principle of free speech.

This is because people are communicating—albeit inadvertently—with a global audience and not a local community of like-minded people. A statement decrying abortion would gather great support in a small community where everyone shared nationality, ethnicity and ideology. Make the same statement on the Internet and it is likely to be met with hatred, vitriol and threats of violence.

Human beings are not the same. We still have unique nationalities, ethnicities and ideologies and many of these are incompatible with others. The crisis is the middle east is a glowing example. Ideologues from Palestine cannot abide the existence of an Israeli state and no amount of negotiation can change that. Radical Muslims will never accept any other religion and will always refer to any non-Muslim as “Infidel” and declare a Jihad to kill them.

Democrats and Republicans have different beliefs of the role of government. These differences are fundamental. The only way both can exist in governing is to be willing to surrender some of the ideals in order to achieve a greater good. This idea sounds great in theory, but those who are steadfast in their beliefs cannot abide surrender and they have the support of like-minded community members who rally around them shouting and holding signs. These people look crazy to the members of the opposing community who also rally together and try to shout down the opposition. This is where the dichotomy breeds and it is nowhere more apparent than on the internet.

We are products of our communities; we develop ideals based on interactions with those around us. The “Global Community” is a dream that cannot be realized because of the vast differences that exist between nations, ethnicities and ideologies. Perhaps in a century, if all national borders are eradicated and all ethnicities have blended into a homogenous amalgam of humanity, we might be close to a universal ideology. But don’t count on it. I, for one, would not want to live in such a world. And many in my community agree with me.




Filed under Media, Politics, Society, Technology

The Rumble In The Cloud

Clouds come and clouds go.  Some drop rain, some brings thunder and lightning and some just vanish in a trail of wisps.  Some clouds bring destruction in the form of storms, hurricanes, tsunamis and tornadoes that destroy homes and lives.  Some clouds are pretty and fluffy and look like kittens.  Clouds can be useful and clouds can be devastating.
The current talk in personal computing is “The Cloud.”  People use computers for any number of reasons, but in almost every use, something is saved.  Some file is created.  The most common used today are picture files, music files and video files.  People take pictures of friends and family with digital cameras and cell phones, buy digital music online, or rip CDs bought at retail and stream movies and TV shows.  These files all need to be stored somewhere so the data is readily accessible.  When people create files, the files are stored on the computer’s hard drive.  If someone want to access that file on a different computer in another location, it necessitated copying the file to some form of removable media like a floppy disk, CD ROM, or Flash Drive.  This came with a few problems and was not a perfect solution to data transportation, but it did create a back up of the data in case something happened to the hard disk in the original computer.
With mobile computing, people want quicker easier access to their data and with mobile broadband becoming more prevalent, streaming is the way to go.  But with streaming, comes the cloud, looming on the horizon growing darker and more ominous as it builds.
Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and Google have marketing departments working overtime to convince people to use the cloud for their data storage needs.  This allows instant access to data across any number of platforms.  The upsides are impressive.  Order a song on iTunes on your iPhone, it appears in your iTunes library on your PC and iPad at the same time. Amazon offers the exact same service.  Its convenience in it purest form.  No need to burn a CD or DVD.  No need for removable media.  It is simply there.
Cloud services go beyond entertainment, however.  They would love for you to upload your files to the cloud so you can access all your data whenever and wherever you want.  Need that spreadsheet?  Just log onto the cloud.  Need that PowerPoint presentation?  It’s in the cloud.  Want to update your resume?  Go to the cloud.
Of course, this allows those companies to see and analyse your data.  This allows those companies to know your music and entertainment tastes and market more directly to you.  This allows those companies access to your files.  It also puts your data security squarely in their hands.  If something happens to your data, only they can recover it.  You have no recourse beyond their tech support.  If their servers get hacked, your data is open for whoever performed the hack, perhaps to be sold to some internet marketing firm (if your lucky) or used by identity thieves (if your not).
One commercial for Google Plus illustrates the ideal use case for the cloud.  A new father has taken hundreds of photos of his baby girl to post to Facebook and share with friends.  His then looses his phone and all those pictures.  He is heartbroken.  Inconsolable.  Every early memory of his new baby girl is gone.  But then it isn’t.  He gets a new phone, logs into Google Plus and every picture is there.  Relief, you are the cloud.
But what if there is some kind of cloud break and Google Plus goes away?  Suppose that Google undergoes some kind of corporate restructuring, and Plus is no longer supported.  All that data could be lost forever.  Suppose Apple goes under (It could happen).  All your music could vanish.  Suppose You Tube disappears.  All your videos are gone.  The most common problem with cloud computing is that it requires an active internet connection.  If you want to stream High Def videos or music, you need broadband.  Without internet, you have zero access to your files.
The only way to avoid this would be to have back ups of all the files on your computer.  Perhaps burn the files to a DVD or Blue Ray for archiving.  It is the only way to ensure you have these files in the case of a cloud burst.  Also, be selective as to which files you upload to the cloud.  No financial or personal files should be uploaded to the cloud.  Security may be touted, but those files exist on someone else’s computer and that computer could be hacked.
The cloud is a convenience, but it is not the end all be all to data security.  Always have a local backup, just in case and always keep private data as far from the cloud as possible.

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Does Technology Die?

I read a tech column that was posted on Yahoo about 15 devices that children born today will never know and it has followed a running trend in the field of technology writing that assumes wireless is the answer to all that ails the world.  This is a fallacy and a common mistake made by many who do not truly understand the limitations of the technology.  The article also makes some pie in the sky assumptions about where today’s tech—TV, computers, remote controls and optical discs—will go.
Wireless communication is a fabulous thing.  Being able to talk to people untethered, not chained to a wall or even to a building is a marvel of the modern age.  It wasn’t that long ago that if you had a long cord on your receiver that allowed you to walk around the room, you were living large.  Now you can talk to someone while walking throughout your house, outside to the drive way, getting into your car and even driving down the street (don’t talk and drive people).
Wireless internet on handsets is also fabulous.  Being able to lookup directions, settle arguments about trivia, find sports scores and now even watch streaming videos in the palm of your hand is quickly becoming commonplace.
These applications are the basis for techno neophytes to assume that everything needs to be wireless.  If watching a video on an iPhone is cool, then who could ever need or even want wires.  Surely those who make tech products understand that wires are dead.  But the truth is that wires are not dead and will never be dead.
While 4G LTE networks are making broadband speeds available to the wireless handsets, the speeds are nowhere near the speeds of which cable modems are capable.  Comcast offers 105 Mbps downstream and the fastest LTE network barely offers 10 Mbps (actual consumer speeds, not theoretical throughput).  That isn’t the only problem with wireless either.  In the wireless world there is a little discussed phenomenon known as frequency contention.  If you have too many wireless devices using the same frequency, they tend to get lost in the chatter.  It is kind of trying to have a conversation in a stadium where everyone is talking at the same time.  This slows down data transfer dramatically and high bandwidth uses get severely curtailed by packet loss.  Also, the more devices trying to connect to the same receiver also slows down data transfer.  Kind of like all lanes of a 5 lane freeway merging into a single toll booth.  Certainly, there are ways network designers can mitigate these problems, but the point is that wired connections are more stable and wired networks are far more secure and wired networks are always faster.
The writer of that article also maintained that remote controls will soon go the way of the dodo as capacitive touchscreens get big enough to become televisions.  I seriously doubt this will happen.  Two things will prevent the television from becoming a touch-controlled device: eye strain and fingerprints.  To interact with the television by touch, one must be so close that it becomes difficult to take in the whole picture, especially when the size of the TV is larger than 36 inches.  And who wants to constantly be windexing the fingerprints off the front of the set?  Kinect style motion capture and voice control may replace the push button remote, but not capacitive touch.  I have used my Kinect; I still prefer the remote control.
3-D TV will never become mainstream.  I realize that I am in the minority with this assertion, but trust me, no one wants to watch TV wearing glasses all the time.  If manufactures can develop a successful 3-D image that can be viewed without glasses, then maybe—and only if content producers are willing to invest in that technology to produce shows in that format, which they probably won’t.  We still have a lot of TV shows produced in SD and up-converted for HD sets, but they are not true HD.
The death of the PC will never happen, though the PC will not look like it does now.  Apple and HP have shown us where the PC will be going.  The desktop/tower/workstation will evolve into a slimline footprint integrated into the viewscreen.  Keyboards and mice will continue to exist for the same reasons that TVs will not go touchscreen.  People do not want to get too close to the monitor when the monitor is larger than 30 inches or so.
Optical Discs are falling out of favor for mainstream consumers in favor of streaming.  This is more convenient, to be sure, but streaming does not come close to the image quality of Blu Ray.  Streaming offers at best progressive scan DVD quality, which is not bad at all, but it doesn’t offer the immersive experience of watching a blue ray on a 52-inch or larger display.  Add the fact that owning a library of DVDs which one will always have access to is preferable to accessing content on the internet which may rotate the titles every few months (as Netflix and Xfinity do).  Having the movie archived to an optical disc in how true film buffs will continue to operate as long as discs are produced.  Hollywood is, sadly, the only entity that controls how long Blu Ray will last.
Technology is ever evolving, and new products are being developed every day and others are being improved.  And while many products have died (video tapes, laser disc, 8-tracks, etc) not everything that exists today will disappear.  Even the vinyl LP record, which people predicted would die when cassettes came out then again when CDs came out is still hanging in there in niche markets.  Yes, that means the record companies are still pressing new vinyl records.  So, while young people can dream of a day where there are no wires and everything fits in the palm of your hand and is controlled with a swipe of your finger, some things just won’t die.

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The Brain Extension

The human machine was designed brilliantly. It has the ability to adapt, to grow, to heal, and to learn. That is the greatest thing we have going for us: the ability to learn. The brain is a fantastic thing. It is a repository for the accumulated knowledge garnered over the years; it is where decisions are made; it can make calculations and reason. We all need a brain—though sometimes it may seem that some of us don’t have one. I have a brain. I keep it in a pouch on my belt.

Once was a time when I could call a person by actually dialing their phone number. I would put a finger into the little hole in the dial and turn it around to the metal hook and let it go. I did this seven times in proper order to complete the call, and the most impressive part was not that I actually had the patience to wait for the dial to spin back to the start position before entering the next digit, but that I actually knew the number from memory. Oh, there was a two-inch thick phone book stored right by the phone for the purpose of finding the number, and there was always “information” at 1-411. Those aids were for the more forgetful—those of us who can’t remember numbers.

Now, no one remembers phone numbers anymore. Speed dial reduced seven digits to one. Calling home is now a matter of pressing a single button on a keypad. Integrated phone books in phones did even more damage. Now people simple lookup the person they want to call in their personal phone book and press “call.” Technology hasn’t stopped there, either. Along with phone numbers, these phones also can keep track of birthdays, anniversaries, family member names and relationships and so much more. My phone even reminds me when I need to send a birthday card, or get a gift.

If I don’t have an appointment in my calendar on my phone, chances are I won’t make that appointment. If a birthday is not in there, I might not get a present to give. To my defense, there are just too many ways to contact people now. People have three, sometimes four phone numbers. Home numbers, work numbers, cell numbers, pager numbers, not to mention text messaging IDs and email addresses. How can anyone remember all that?

Well, I take all that and put it in my phone and keep it with me. Oh, it may take a little longer for me to get a phone call dialed, but not by much. With everyone getting multiple numbers, people in most metropolitan areas now have to dial 10 digits to complete a call. I can complete most calls with two to four key presses from my address book.

It doesn’t stop with phone numbers, though. Since I am a movie buff, I often notice an actor in a film I am watching and someone will ask “wasn’t he in…” some other movie. When I was younger, I could probably tell you what movie he was talking about (my younger sister still can), but these days, I rely on the IMDB—the Internet Movie Database. I have this netbook with me almost everywhere I go, so I can look up any actor’s filmography. My cell phone is internet connected as well, so on those rare times I don’t have the netbook, I can still research anything I need.

So now, I don’t even have to remember movies anymore. I can look up the cast, the production company, who wrote the score and what the box office take was when it opened. I can even look up my favorite quotes and the lyrics to the theme song.

I can find recipes online, so who needs to remember one? I can find out how to build a cabinet, so I don’t need to remember the plans. I can look up the family tree, so I don’t have to remember who married who or who begat who. In fact, I don’t have to remember anything. Everything I need to know, I can look up. All I need is my brain…which is in a pouch on my belt. I just have to remember to charge the battery.

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Got any Wooden Nickels?

Hey pal! Bills got you down and you need some extra cash? Your wife spent your paycheck on cosmetics and forgot to pay the rent and you’re about to be evicted? The dog ran off with one of your slippers and hasn’t come back? Is that what’s troubling you bunky? Well have I got a deal for you! Just send me your social security number and the account numbers of all your bank accounts and I will make sure you have no more money problems.

Does this sound ridiculous? It should. But chances are someone was about to do it until they read this paragraph. The common axiom is that “It takes all kinds” to make up the world. Other common axioms include “There’s a sucker born every minute” and “a fool and his money are soon parted.”

Once was a time when the flim-flam man was a traveling gypsy with potions galore in small vials in a worn leather case that offered the cures for whatever ails you from baldness to gout to bursitis. These con men would score some victims, then skedaddle when people got wise to their hustle. Today, they don’t appear in the town square, they pop up in your email, or on your Facebook wall.

Some are quite nefarious and have bankrupted the gullible souls who fell for the scam. These usually come in the form of an official looking letter from Nigeria claiming they need help disposing of funds from an account by routing the funds through the victims’ account offering to let the victim keep a good portion of the money. The victim gives the scammer their routing and account numbers and is shocked to find in short order that their life savings have vanished.

The more innocuous are the ones saying that if you forward an email to everyone in your address book, Microsoft or Nokia or google or some such firm will give you a free computer or money. These are all hoaxes, and many people even realize they are fake and follow the instructions anyway. The more annoying are the hokey sob stories that claim good fortune will befall you if you forward the sob story to at least 5 friends. If you fail to do so, bad luck will come instead.

There are all kinds of hoaxes on Facebook. The latest claims that if you join a fan page, that a “dislike” button will appear on your wall. This won’t happen. If there was a dislike button, it would already be on your wall. No user has to join a group or type a code or any such thing to get Facebook functions to appear. Other scams are the ones that say “click this link, you won’t believe it!” You won’t believe that you fell for it either, when they hijack your profile and start sending your friends the same link.

There is no shortage of people looking to take advantage of the good natured and gullible. A sad fact is that many don’t even do it for profit. They do it just to do it. They seem to enjoy putting one over on the next guy. Just because they can. In this day of Identity Theft, these scams can cause serious damage to people and families, but sometimes they just want to be mean.

The axiom to keep in mind for all these scams and hoaxes is “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” “Err on the side of caution” and “Don’t take any wooden nickels” are good examples too.

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Clearing the Backup on the Information Superhighway

If you’re reading this, you have internet access. Chances are that you are paying an ISP for access to the internet (that or you are abusing your employer’s connection with personal business and shame on you for that). Internet usage has increased exponentially over the past decade as more and more people get online, many from multiple computers in the same home. Network usage has grown and is causing some congestion that forces companies to look hard at how to manage network traffic on their systems.

ATT reports that iPhone users download 20-30 percent more than other smart phone users. Sprint has put a maximum download limit of 5 Gigabytes in place and Comcast instigated a 250 Gigabyte cap. This brings up questions about bandwidth consumption with regard to ISP charges per usage. Providers are looking at trying to figure out how to generate revenue for access to the backbone pipes on a per user basis. What does this mean for you and me? It means that some people who download huge amounts of data—videos, disk images, programs, music etc.—will either dictate the price that everyone pays, or force the ISPs to alter their billing practice to a per-byte fee.

Now, this data load is not only individual users. ATT, Verizon and Comcast (and many others) are all sending huge amounts of data over their backbones with their digital video services. The demand for high definition content is growing faster than content providers can produce it. In fact, many shows that we watch on “HD” channels are not true high definition. It is merely the same SD feed up-converted to 720p resolution and sent out on an HD channel. In doing that, it takes more than three times the bandwidth to transmit as the SD feed. The network has to be upgraded to support these digital streams and the cost for that improvement has to be born somewhere.

For the video services, it is built into the fees you pay your provider. For the internet, however, they calculate it differently. In order to provide that 6-20 megabit-per-second connection speed, the network has to be managed. Those in support of net neutrality would assert that there should be no oversight of network traffic, that any and everyone should have the same access to the download pipe as anyone else. After all, they pay the same price. While this is a logical point, it is important to realize that some people use more than 1000 times the bandwidth of others. A sparse few people are causing some serious network congestion and forcing the providers to upgrade the equipment and infrastructure to ensure that the service levels across the board remain high. This costs money, which could cause increases in monthly subscription fees.

What we are left with are two options: increase monthly charges across the board, or implement a per byte charge system where your usage determines your bill. This harkens back to the old access structure where providers monitored your online time and charged a per-minute fee. I remember one time paying 80 bucks for 24k dialup to my provider. I was overjoyed when they went to 24/7 unlimited access. To be honest, I prefer unlimited access. I do not want my data usage monitored for billing purposes. I like knowing it is there if I need it, even if I don’t use it. It also makes budgeting easier.

Per-usage billing means the more you use it, the more you pay and makes sense from a business perspective. Those few who use 1000 times more than average will have a significantly higher bill than the rest—and that seems fair. It seems fair on the surface that those iPhone users who download more should have to pay more. It seems fair…but is it?

Cell phone companies used to charge per minute fees for all calls, but consumers forced them to unlimited plans. People want the ability to use their phone as often as they need to without worrying about a huge bill. The same is true for the internet. Access is what you pay for; the pipeline is just the way content is delivered.

Imagine if all roads in this country were toll roads. You would have to pay to go to work to earn the money to pay to go to work. Charging per byte fees to use the internet is like paying a toll to drive. You already pay taxes for your license and registration; shouldn’t that enable you to drive as much as you want? Shouldn’t your ISP fees enable you to surf as much as you want too?

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Filed under Media, Society

When You Wish Upon A Book

There once was a time when the mailman was every kids’ best friend, especially around the holidays. That was when the “Wish Book” came in the mail and every kid could tear through the pages and check out the latest toys coming out and find the GI Joe with the Kung Fu grip, or the Big Wheel, or the Star Wars Lego sets or what have you. For those who couldn’t wait for the mail, you could always pick up a copy of the wish book at the local Sears store. This was at a time when Sears sold everything, unlike today when they have limited their inventory. Did you know there was once a time when you could buy a house from a Sears Catalogue?

The Sears catalogue was not just the Christmas wish book, though that was the “biggie” that kids loved because it included all the toys. Sears once put out several catalogues during the year-each for a different department. I remember many days as a child simply laying on the floor of the den, flipping through the glossy, full-color pages looking at all the toys and pestering my mom for the one’s that caught my eye (and a good many of them caught my eye back then) and having her tell me that I might get them for Christmas…if I was good. But my mom would spend more time throughout the year looking at the linen catalogue or the fashions catalogue or the home furnishings catalogue.

Of course, we also got catalogues from JC Penny and Montgomery Ward (RIP) and others. As I think of it, I don’t know if we actually ordered anything from those catalogues. We mostly shopped and then went to the mall to buy. Looking into the wish book was more of an exercise in virtual window shopping. It was like surfing the Sears website before there was such a thing as the internet or even a personal computer.

This Christmas I was in Sears and my wife noticed what looked like a weekly circular in a display by the mall entrance. When we picked it up, I got choked up. It was the Sears Wish book, 2009 edition. Where it used to be 9 by 11 inches, it is now maybe 10 b 6 inches. And where it used to be more than 500 pages chock full of full-color pictures of products, it is now about 50 pages of some products, but not even the full complement of stock available in the store. And there were no toys.

I cannot even see how kids would even care about a wish book in this time of online retailers and Amazon and Wal-Mart. But even if they were interested, there is no real Wish book for them to wish about anymore. Of course in this day of instant gratification, kids don’t really have to wish anymore. Most kids get what they want when they want anyway so there’s nothing to get them for Christmas.

But for me, I will honor the memory of perusing the wish book by perusing the websites for my favorite toys. I know that Microcenter.com has a cool NAS with 4 terabytes and RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10. And I know that Fry’s.com has the cool new ATI video card with crossfire technology. And even Sears.con has a sliding compound miter saw and the Jaw Horse work bench for my woodshop. These websites are only a click away, so I can view all these new wish books online. Call them Wish pages and they sell everything you can think of. Did you know you can buy a house online? And if you’re good, you can get your wishes for Christmas.


Filed under Personal, Society