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YOU’VE GOT QUESTIONS... WE’VE GOT ANSWERS!

SEE OUR COMPUTER GLOSSARY!!

ONE OF THE GREAT things about having your own web site is that you can pretty much say whatever you want.  Sometimes I feel like discussing things that don’t really have all that much to do with computers, so I get to put them in a sort of a rant-type column.  Whether you agree or disagree with my completely personal opinions, feel free to send back your comments!

I CAN’T REPEAT IT ENOUGH, SO I’LL SAY IT AGAIN:

THE MOST IMPORTANT TWO THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN PURCHASING AND USING A COMPUTER SYSTEM ARE:

1.  ADEQUATE POWER PROTECTION - At least an EXCELLENT surge protector, if not a UPS; after all, this IS Florida, and

2.  BACKUP and RESTORE CAPABILITY - Anything from a flash drive to an external drive for individuals, to NAS and a Disaster Recovery Plan for businesses.

STOP worrying about getting the fastest technology and the latest video and monitor features.  None of this is worth much if you lose your data or your machine crashes!

MY TAKE ON THE PRIVACY DEBATE

BELL CURVE VS BATHTUB CURVE

OPEN SOURCE IS COMING OF AGE

ARE COMPUTERS REALLY CHEAPER NOW?

SHOULD I GET AN APPLE OR A PC?

THE “DANGLING PAGE” SYNDROME

HELP LINE HELL

THE MONOPOLY OF CLOSED SYSTEMS

THE COST OF MICROSOFT TECH SUPPORT

WE NEED MORE SITE METERS

COMPUTER YEARS ARE LIKE DOG YEARS

SOME COMPUTER ADVANCES BLOW ME AWAY!

REMEMBER WHEN TV & RADIO WERE FREE?

THERE ARE JUST TOO MANY ACRONYMS!

WHY CAN’T HOTELS KEEP UP THEIR WEB SITES?

INTERNET ACCESS SHOULD BE FREE IN HOTELS

WHAT’S WRONG WITH OUR LAWMAKERS - THE PRO-IP ACT

THE DEATH OF PRIVACY

WE’RE APATHETIC

PREDICTION ABOUT E-BOOK READERS

ROBOCALLERS ARE LIKE ROACHES

YOUR BRAIN, REWIRED BY TECHNOLOGY

THE DEATH OF E-MAIL?

WHEN WILL THE BUBBLE BURST THIS TIME?

WHEN BEING A DIRTBALL PAYS OFF

THE DEATH OF ENGLISH AND CIVILITY

THERE ARE ALMOST TWO SIDES TO EVERY STORY

EVER NOTICE HOW FEW PEOPLE WEAR WRISTWATCHES ANY MORE?

SHOULD WE GET RID OF EVERYTHING & JUST USE SMARTPHONES?

YES, VIRGINIA, WE ARE AT WAR

WHY DOES EVERY PRINTER CARTRIDGE HAVE TO BE DIFFERENT?

CAN’T WE JAM THESE PHONE SIGNALS AND GET SOME QUIET?

ARE DESKTOP COMPUTERS OVER?

ARE YOU BEING WATCHED?

DOES IT SEEM LIKE YOUR MOBILE NETWORK IS SLOWING DOWN?

MAYBE THERE’S A REASON THESE BIG BOX STORES ARE IN TROUBLE!

HOW ARE TABLETS AFFECTING THE FUTURE OF COMPUTERS?

THOUGHTS ON ELECTRONICS EVOLUTION

AT LEAST IN SOME AREAS, GOVERNMENT & BIG BUSINESS IS LOSING CONTROL; THE CREATION OF INTERNET 4.0?

OBSERVATION:  THE GAP BETWEEN INVENTORS AND PROMOTORS

WHY THE INTERNET HAS REALLY GROWN

WE’RE AT ANOTHER TURNING POINT IN HISTORY

PARENTS, TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR CHILDREN!

WHY IS THE INTERNET SO SLOW??

THE INTERNET MAY ACTUALLY BE RESTRICTING OUR RIGHTS

IS COMPUTER REPAIR A DEAD BUSINESS? 

HAVE YOU EVEN WONDERED why, no matter how many pages you print off of a web site, you always get a final page with just one line on it?  Sometimes perhaps only a word or two?  Even just a copyright line? Now, I wouldn’t ordinarily  mention something this petty, but the past few years I’ve noticed that this happens to me virtually every time!  For example, every time I print out a receipt for those bills I pay on-line, or orders that I make on-line, I get that “dangling” last page.  It’s wasted paper, I always throw it away; if I try to reuse it and print on the reverse, it often jams the printer.  I know that, when I design a web site, I try not to leave a page hanging with only a little bit, and I really wish that others were just as considerate about wasting paper!  Maybe the environmentalists will notice this and do something about it.  Meanwhile, I make it a point to print “current page only” instead of “all” to save paper.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work when you’re printing a web page, since your printer may not give you this option.

DOES IT SEEM LIKE you’re spending more and more time on hold with help lines?  Well, you are.  Surveys show that you spend almost twice as much time scrolling through menus and holding for help

than you did only five years ago, according to Forrester Research.  Sometimes, I think that there’s only one guy sitting in a broom closet in India, begrudgingly ready to answer your call at long last if you by chance manage to get through all of the menus without hanging up first.  I understand that, when things get tight, it’s easy to cut the costs for the help desk, but is it ever going to get better?

APPLE VS. PC:  It’s easy to knock Microsoft for all of it’s  flaws, and to point out the relative lack of bugs, viruses and the like in Apple.  Now, we service both systems and have had the opportunity to compare them over many years.  I’m not a huge Microsoft promoter (for example, I think that for what they charge for their operating system and programs, Microsoft should give free support to registered users) but they do have my respect.  Here’s why:  Think about the millions of lines of code that have to be written and debugged to create operating systems that can be used from the proverbial little old lady in tennis shoes getting her grand kids e-mails to the multinational corporation using a virtual private network to keep track of operations in twenty countries and you have some idea of the scale of the mission that Microsoft has undertaken.  To me, when viewed with this perspective, the fact that there may be some code errors isn’t all that surprising.  What matters is that, when pointed out, Microsoft appear to make the reasonable effort to resolve these problems as quickly as possible (hence the scheduling of “patch Tuesdays”).  Combine this with the number of viruses that are specifically directed toward Microsoft software, which occupies a whopping 90% of the O/S market share, and you can see why Microsoft naturally has more to deal with than Apple.  (Why write a virus that only infects 10% of computer users when you can infect 90%?)  Because of this Apple tends not to respond as quickly as Microsoft when viruses do occur, and they stop supporting older operating system versions far sooner than Microsoft, which can provide updates for over a decade (e.g. XP - 14 yrs).  Apple has excellent hardware, outstanding design and certain areas in which it truly excels (graphics, video, publishing).  But, with a limited share of the market and far less software outside of its areas of excellence, it’s unfair to compare it to the wealth and breadth of PC offerings.  For example, we specialize in business applications, where Apple has virtually no software for engineering, accounting and other specific business disciplines, and those that it has are often not up to the standard of the current Windows version of the same software.  And it’s security isn’t up to business standards (that’s why President Obama can’t keep his).  On the other hand, Apple claims that its products are “in use” (whatever that means) by more than 90% of Fortune 500 companies.  And iOS7 has received the federal government’s FIPS 140-2 certification, so they’re making progress.  Also, I’ve found that the cost for Apple hardware repairs is noticeably higher (sometimes due to the constraints of those sleek computer cases) and often involves upgrades to the Mac operating system (which is not always free, as it is with PCs).  For example, I recently repaired blown power supplies on an Apple G5 and a PC in the same office.  Parts cost for the PC was $49; for the Mac $225.  I’m not knocking Apple or promoting Microsoft but, let’s face it - operating systems aside - it’s the programs that get the work done, and Apple is severely limited in this area.  Perhaps, someday, if Apple competes on the same software basis as PCs, the playing field would be even.  [I can’t help saying that then “we’d be comparing apples to apples”...]  That day may be coming soon, however.  With the introduction of Apple’s Boot Camp software (included with Mac OS 10.5 Leopard and later), Macs now have the ability to run Windows software.  But doing this involves actually installing two separate systems on the same computer, and making a choice of only one at startup.  Much more useful is the new generation of “virtualization” software which lets you run Windows programs on a Mac so that they look and behave like Mac OS X programs.  Programs such as Parallels Desktop for Macintosh and VMWare Fusion (about $80 each) both offer three different ways to run Windows on a Mac: Turning the Mac desktop into a Windows desktop, running Windows in a separate pane, and running a Windows program so it looks and behaves like a Mac program (all the while keeping the

Windows share of all operating systems; Apple has 5%, Linux the rest

DATA:  2012 Net Applications

Windows securities policies) and also can run Exchange mail (which the latest update to the Mac O/S, Snow Leopard now does).  Even more interesting,consider that, as Cloud computing evolves, Mac, Windows and Linux machines may simply access their programs and data over the Internet, share them and archive them without much regard to platform differences.  Also, the alternative of virtual machines using VirtualBox and other programs (see FAW #58) and the like is becoming much more common.  Now, with all these advances, corporations may finally find the Apple alternative much more acceptable.  But this begs the issue - if you want Windows and Windows programs, why not just run them on the computers they were written for?

MONOPOLY?  I’m not that old, but I do remember when AT&T (a/k/a “Ma Bell”) controlled the telephone industry, before it was split up by the Feds as a monopoly.  I can’t help but reflect on this today as I view the dichotomy between Apple, which is a “closed” system much like the old AT&T, and Google, which is an “open” system under which all developers can participate.  Apple totally controls, through its iTunes software, all development and content on its products, while Google allows everyone to participate, accounting for the incredible success of its Android operating system.  Apple’s success reminds me of the telephone - it’s simple, it just works.  Much like the iPad and iPhone.  We’ll see if Android can compete with this.

TALKING ABOUT MICROSOFT I really don’t have that much of a problem with their pricing, even if I don’t always understand all the levels.  However, I believe that there should be a law that any company that develops and sells computer software should be required to provide a full year of free product support by native English-speaking tech support personnel.  I actually remember the 1980’s, when Word Perfect (also Word Star) and other software providers gave you an 800 number for free tech support - you provided them your serial number and name, and they answered the phone and your technical question right then and there, in English, and walked you through the solution to your problem until you were satisfied. Now, they charge lots more and send us to India for answers on a pay-per-incident or maintenance contract basis, whether or not you’re satisfied with the result.  C’mon, we paid plenty for these programs, how about a little free help!  Maybe we can go backwards just a little.

I THINK WE NEED A COUPLE OF MORE SITE METERS - - You know those icons that show up next to your site search results, like the one from AVG or McAfee, that tells you whether a site is safe or not?  Well, based on my experience as a professional, I suggest that we need a couple of additional meters or icons for our own surfing protection.  Why, you may ask?  Well, as Will Rogers so aptly observed “common sense ain’t so common.”  And, as of now, “there ain’t no cure for stupid” (so says comedian Ron White, I believe).  Anyway, I’m constantly amazed about two continually recurring Internet phenomena.  First, how gullible people are.  I am absolutely blown away at the number of people who (still) actually fall for the Nigerian “419” (stands for the section of the Nigerian code for fraud) scam (“Hello Kinds Sur - Please send me $2500 to help me get my millions out of Zimbabwe held by my wicked brother the King and you will be handsomely rewarded!”) - $5 billion/yr. - and other equally unbelievable e-mail offers (“Buy the Pocket Rocket Jr. Vibrator and experience immediate results!!!”; “Forward this e-mail and Bill Gates will send you a big check...”).  These (real) hoaxes get literally millions of hits a week!  I am not kidding.  Steven Savage, computer science professor at the U. of California, San Diego has conducted a study which shows that 12% of Americans have bought goods or services advertised by spam.  It’s not hard to imagine how more creative phishing schemes (e.g. real-looking IRS requests) may get past presumably educated and skeptical people.  I propose a B.S. MeterBS Meter (perhaps an icon of steaming poop) to alert those clueless prospective surfers to the danger of sites or e-mail that people should ordinarily be bright enough to spot and disregard for themselves.  Second, and corollary to the above, would be truth meter.  In searching for interesting facts for the data portion of this site, I consistently discover completely contradictory factual information.  For example, although about 97% of web users, when polled, claim to abhor internet pornography, the figures for internet usage still support the fact that internet pornography is consistently the top use for internet surfing, accessed at one time or another by about 95% of internet surfers.  Someone’s not being truthful!  If we could develop a truth meter, which would not allow us to untruthfully answer internet surveys, polls and forms without checking the data on our hard drive first, we might get much more accurate information.  All of this is, of course, tongue-in-cheek, but nevertheless (since it is based on truth) fodder for the imagination...

COMPUTER YEARS ARE MUCH LIKE DOG YEARS, they tend to pass geometrically (i.e. 2,4,8,16,32,64, etc.)  Arithmetically (1,2,3,4,5,6 etc.), I don’t feel particularly old.  But, in computer years, I must be about 164. 

I believe that computer progression is “generational.”  By that I mean that it emerges through each new generation.  Of people, that is.  Each generation of people (i.e. GenX, Y & Z, Millennium & Alpha Gen, etc.) has driven its own generation of software and hardware to meet its own desires and expectations.  This has become so obvious that we even shortcut it to refer to “Gen” and “G”.  (Talkin’ ‘bout my generation? Remember? The Who, 1965!)  And the references to both the Internet (Web 2.0, 3.0), wireless cellphones (3G, 4G) and software (ver. 1,2,3) reflect this reality.

Don’t believe me?  Try this:  Check out the people you know or meet in the 18 - 24 yr. age range. Now, how many of them wear a wristwatch? You’ll probably see that most of them don’t, as they have a smartphone for that. Conversely, what percentage of your boomer friends and acquaintences wear a watch?  Probably a lot more, because they grew up in the habit of wearing one, and there weren’t any cell phone alternatives back then.  Going further back, your grandfather (or a collector who buys old watches) may have referred to his watch as a “timepiece” and a boomer or older may consider a watch (like a diamond-encrusted Piaget) “jewelry”. For more, read below.

SOME ADVANCES IN TECHNOLOGY BLOW ME AWAY! I was never a great note taker (or listener, for that matter) in school.  Actually, I was kind of weird.  My theory was that, if I listened and  understood what I was learning, I got it.  If I didn’t, I’d write a note to myself and either research the point or talk with one of my friends  until I understood it.  Lots of my friends did, however, take copious  notes, but were always afraid of missing some part of the lecture  because they were concentrating so hard on writing.  Recording full  lectures was frowned upon, so we didn’t do that very much.  Now, we have an entirely new generation of technology, literally stored right in your pen:  Livescribe, the “pen that listens”. [There are others, but not as good, although cheaper than $100.] Using the pen and special note paper, when a  student writes in their notebook, the pen automatically records audio of whatever is going on around it and links the audio to the handwritten words.  If the student finds the written notes inadequate, a tap on the  sentence or word plays what was being recorded at that given point.  It’s not infallable, but it is pretty good, and it frees students to  actually listen to the instructor, kind of like what I used to do. Just as amazing are those smartphone apps which translate languages for you (click HERE).  Or recognize music (click HERE) or products on TV and movies and lets you buy them (click HERE).  Or identify star constellations (click HERE).  Even identify pills and capsules (click HERE). You can take a photo or speak into your microphone and get a full translation of a sign, menu or phrase.  Click this LINK to read more.

BUT DOES ANYONE WRITE ANY MORE? I’ve seen a lot of articles lately bemoaning the lack of cursive writing skills on the part of elementary school and other students.  Seems that all this technology has rendered actual physical  handwriting unnecessary and outdated.  Kind of like calculators replaced actual “long hand” math skills years ago.  But there’s still some hope - - For a short time, at least, a volunteer project known as “Snail Mail My Mail” is providing a service where people sent them an e-mail which is, in turn, hand written into a letter, complete with extras like a doodle, petal or lipstick kiss, which is then mailed to the recipient.  Amazing that we have come to this!

I REMEMBER not that long ago, when you could listen to your car or home radio for free and get your TV programs for free.  Never was there a thought that you would have to pay for the privilege of grabbing a radio or TV signal out of the atmosphere.  It was simply there for the taking.  Now, we know that those days are over.  We now must pay for cable or satellite TV and the privilege of satellite radio transmissions.  Now that big business has their foot in the door, and consumers are used to the idea of paying for product that used to be free, get ready for a fast escalation of additional pay-for-access premium or freemium (blending free and paid) offerings over the Internet as well.  Journalism Online and Viewpass (which is backed by the AP) are in the process of building pay-for-content news sites, as are MediaNews Group and Lee Enterprises. I hate to say it but the free ride is over.  And, of course, we surely can look to the Government to add it’s charges to the service fees, just as they have done with telephone service. UPDATE: See the Aero lawsuit.

I STARTED THIS SITE’S GLOSSARY because, after almost thirty years working with computers, I still couldn’t understand more than half of the lingo in the professional computer publications.  Every week I keep track of the new acronyms and technologies.  But it’s getting really ridiculous lately - I think people are coming up with names just for the sake of sounding complex.  This week’s latest technology: “Dual Polarization Quadrature Phase Shift Keying” or “DPQPSK”.  Yep, this is real (there’ll be a quiz later about this...).  It is a technology recently introduced by Nortel that increases the pipe of existing network bandwidths from 10G-bps to 40G-bps, and eventually 100G-bps, if you must know.

ONE OF THE GREAT advantages of website advertising is the ability to quickly and easily update products and services without the delay and expense involved in print advertising such as brochures.  For some reason, I can verify that hotels apparently have not gotten this message.  At least a half dozen times this month alone, and a dozen times this past year, when I have researched hotels and resorts on-line, especially those that claim to have been “completely renovated at a cost of millions of dollars”, I have pulled up a website with old photos of rooms, pools, restaurants and buildings.  Telephone to the hotels’ main offices has resulted in the response that “the website hasn’t yet been updated” or that it is “done by a separate division (or company)”.   Folks, this should be the easiest part of your advertising upgrade.  I know because I do it.  I don’t know whether these hotels realize that they have lost customers like me, but they should care, particularly in an age where more and more people check the internet before calling for hotel and travel reservations.  MOREOVER:  The Internet is great for finding businesses, particularly using the browsers on your smart phone.  You can find, call, make reservations and learn about businesses in your area and elsewhere quickly and easily.  Problem is, just like telephone directories, many times the businesses aren’t there any more.  Someone needs to update the web, particularly those aggregated web sites (listings of all restaurants or paintball companies or whatever) to take them off when they go out of business or merge or whatever.  I know that when a company goes out of business, the last thing they think about is removing their web presence.  Usually they figure that, if they don’t pay their hosting bill, it’ll disappear on its own.  But for sites that are run by browsers or aggregators, they should be reviewed and removed if they’re no longer in business.  I’ve seen listings for businesses that I know disappeared years ago.  This is misleading and aggravating and can cost users time and money, frustrate them and lead to distrust of browsers.

TALKING ABOUT HOTELS, there shouldn’t be any additional charges for internet access.  Some charges are $14.95 a day! Any more than there should be for broadcast TV, or any other necessary hotel service.  And particularly when the same hotel chain (e.g. Mariott) doesn’t charge for internet access at it’s lower and mid-level hotels (e.g. Courtyard) but make you pay at their upscale establishments (e.g. JW Mariott).  Ways out:  Loyalty programs, internet cafes, cell phone wi-fi hotspots.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH OUR LAWMAKERS?  As I review legislation for laws which might be applicable to technology, I often wonder how Congress finds the time to change Daylight Savings Time by one week, or move Memorial Day to May 26th instead of the 30th, and other mundane things.  You’d think that exploring the causes of global warming, repairing the inadequate healthcare system, or our disaster preparedness system (in the wake of Katrina and NJ) or ending the conflict in Iraq would be at the top of their priority list.  Apparently not.  The U.S. House of Representatives has instead chosen to spend countless hours and tons of paper fighting the insidious threat of college kids downloading MP3s.  The legislation, dubbed the PRO-IP Act (“Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act”), creates a White House position for an “intellectual property czar” who will rule over an intellectual property enforcement division.  Just what we need, another federal bureaucracy, particularly while the Fed is in a deficit.  Now I thoroughly understand the economic cost of piracy of intellectual property, but I remember the recent enactment and abuse of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and really don’t think we need a repeat of prosecution of the little folks while letting whole countries like China go unpunished.  Approved on October 13,2008, the PRO-IP Act actually creates a sort of “IP Nazis”, with government authority to seize personal computers and computer hardware, as well as levy substantial fines, as punishment for the act of illegally downloading a music or a movie.  C’mon, don’t we have sufficient laws on our books already to punish the heavy violators of intellectual property infringement?  What can this additional law do, except unreasonably persecute predominantly law-abiding citizens?

1/2010:  My prediction about all of the new digital book readers and tablets starting to hit the market:  Just like convergence has finally arrived, we are on the cusp of a sea change in book, magazine and internet delivery that will change the future.  In the not-to-distant future, we will be carrying around plastic screens the size and weight of a pad of paper.  It will contain books, calendars and scheduling tools, magazines, e-mails and (when accessible to Wi-Fi) web browsing, video and up- and downloading capabilities.  More for consuming than creating.  Just think:  No more heavy backpacks for kids - books will be loaded onto the reader tablets.  No more books, magazines or office files to lug around, they’ll just be transferred to the tablet for portability.  This will, of course, mean that the newspaper, magazine and book publishers won’t fight the issue as the movie and music companies have.  They’ll have to recognize and adapt to the new delivery system and charge appropriately for the content.  That’s what I think, anyway.  We’ll see...  2/2011 Update:  Already, we’ve seen schools (in N.J., for example) downloading textbooks onto iPads.  The entire kindergarten class in Auburn, Maine was provided iPads to aid in instruction.  CourseSmart now offers  a comprehensive collection of texts.  Also, in February, 2011, Rupert Murdoch introduced The Daily, a fee-based newspaper, beamed daily to iPads. Inkling, a 2 yr. old startup by an Apple alumnus, is offering “interactive” coursebooks such as Brooker Biology. And the iPad is being used in unusual ways:  Take “do” restaurant in Atlanta, GA, where Christian and Nacasha Rufin have have replaced menus with interactive iPads, so diners place their orders directly over the iPad, as well as pay their bill and even call the valet for their car. 6/2012 Update:  Companies like used book purveyor Chegg and e-book textbook readers like Kno have entered the market. 6/2016 Update:  Colleges are joining the group, saving students about $1300 a year in textbook costs through the use of open-source free downloadable textbooks.  Achieving the Dream, an education advocacy group in Silver Spring, MD is offering $9.8 million in grants to support the development of open-source degree prorams at 38 colleges in 13 states

THE DEATH OF PRIVACY has finally been acknowledged by just about everyone.  While, contrary to popular belief, there has never been a constitutional right to privacy (see, LAWS; although in 1972 the Supreme Court in Roe vs. Wade inferred its existence under the due process clause of the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment when it extended that right to a woman’s decision to have an abortion),  most earlier generations of Americans believed that it nevertheless existed.  Now, with the invention of computers and smart phones, embedded with Internet access, GPS locators and the like, public video cameras with facial recognition abilities, and financial tracking software which can follow every expense you make, we’ve pretty much resigned ourselves in believing that we’re way past Orwell’s 1984, much more like the Will Smith movie “Enemy of the State” or Sandra Bullock in “The Net”.  We’ve lost the war.  The big companies and the Government need only mention those three little words “for your protection” (presumably from “terrorists”) and our right to privacy has been forfeited without any prior consultation with us, the citizenry.  If we raise the issue we hear that “with all of the MySpace, Facebook, Friendster and other social network posting, you people really don’t care about your privacy” and, besides, “if you’ve got nothing to hide, then you’ve got nothing to worry about”.  I’m not buying it.  I still believe that people should be able to choose when, how much, and with whom they will share personal information.  Just because you choose to share some health information with your circle of friends doesn’t mean that your employer, your family or the entire planet should be privy to your communication.  It doesn’t seem fair that the Government has bought access to all of the charge card transaction records for everyone in the U.S. There should be limits to how much of your communications may be made public and not re-transmitted without your express permission.  But it seems like sometimes we’re going in the opposite direction: While FaceBook’s recent revisions to its privacy settings made some progress toward privacy for individual posts, they nevertheless removed other security provisions, such as the ability not to share your profile data with the Facebook API, and even taking away the option not to show your friend list only to friends.  Now they’re sharing our photos for facial recognition if we don’t remember or know how to opt out.  If we don’t get some control over this problem soon, we’ll have lost one of our most basic expectations.  If you’re interested in more about this subject, there are lots of organizations supporting the individual privacy rights that can be found on the Internet, as well as an ACLU petition, and an FTC investigation.  See also the discussion within Social Networking, and Facial Recognition.

UNFORTUNATELY WHAT HAS DIED IS OUR ENERGY!  Have you noticed that hardly anyone actually physically does anything themselves any more these days?  TV, social networking and other technological advances have made us a society of “watchers” rather than “doers.”  We don’t have to go to a sports event, we just watch it on TV or on the Internet.  We can watch people dance, argue, have sex, live together, get divorced, sell antiques, lose weight, get or lose a job, deal with drug, alcohol and other addictions like hoarding, sing or get tried, all on TV or the Internet.  We make and communicate with our friends on Facebook, Google, Twitter and on blogs.  We keep up with our world through our TV, our computer, our phone, our pad or all of them simultaneously.  We literally never have to leave our recliners.  This has made us lazy and overweight.  This isn’t good.  We all know this.  We should make a resolution to get outside and have real human contact at least once in a while.  Get a pet.  Have lunch with someone.  Join a real physical group.  I know I’m not a kid any more, but I see the news showing the people in the streets demanding change in Egypt and Libya and I remember the ‘70s when we protested the war in Viet Nam and I wonder if Viet Nam or Nazi Germany happened again, would we be too apathetic and lazy to even get out of our recliners?  I’m being harsh, but I hope not.

APPARENTLY, IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO STOP those robo-calling telemarketers.  Despite the federal laws, and a $16,000 per call penalty, they just keep coming.  Personally, we get them every day and, when we demand that they stop calling, they just hang up.  Caller ID doesn’t tell us who they are and they are cagey about it as well.  Maybe they’re from outside of the U.S. and can’t be found or prosecuted.  Still, why do we keep passing laws that appear to protect us but in actuality do nothing?  Congress had to know this wouldn’t work.  I’m sure some phone manufacturer or phone company could invent a telephone that could identify and block these types of calls, but apparently they don’t want to.  Now (10/2012), the FTC has launched a public contest to find a way to stop the robocalls, and is offering $50,000 for the winner.  The contest will solicit proposals between 10/25/12 and 1/17/13 and will score them based on workability (50%), ease os use (25%) and potential for a wide rollout (25%). 

YOUR BRAIN, REWIRED BY TECHNOLOGY. Like it or not, technology (particularly computers and cell phones) are inextricably woven into the fabric of our lives.  For better or worse, as the amount and speed of consumption of media has risen exponentially, we have experienced one of the most significant shifts in the human environment to ever take place.  Until recently it was thought that the human brain was only capable of processing a single stream of information at a time.  Later studies increase this number to a maximum of four tasks, and humans have not done very well at that [University of Oregon study in Psychological Science, 2009].  Moreover, a Stanford study showed that multitaskers actually take longer than non-taskers to switch among tasks, and that they tend to search for new information rather than accepting a reward for putting older, more valuable information to work.  The ability to apply learned information used to be the definition of an “A” student over students who merely learned the principles being taught sufficiently to pass an exam.  The brain is by physiological nature always going to be more interested in new sensory information, whether it be of imminent danger or a new sale.  There are some people who truly can multitask, but that’s less than 3% of the population, according to a University of Utah study.  Also, as people become engrossed in the next new thing, they tend to be oblivious to other stimuli around them and also can actually be less focused when they are disconnected from technology.  The good news is that the human brain can adapt.  It is not, as was previously thought, almost completely developed by the conclusion of adolescence.  The adult brain can indeed adapt to the onslaught of technology.  Whether it is a good thing or not is for the individual to determine.  [Partial credit:  NY Times 6/7/10]  Getting back to the adolescent brain, the “student” brain is more easily habituated to constantly switching tasks than most adult brains, particularly those who have grown up without computers, cell phones and the constant bombardment of stimuli.  Educators are split between acceding to students’ built-in technological ADD and those who fight the tendency to jump back and forth between tasks to the detriment of completing a single task, such as reading an entire book.  It’s the argument of focus vs. immediate gratification.  In a November 21, 2010 NY Times article (“Growing up Digital, Wired for Distraction), teachers at Woodside High in Redwood City, CA explain that, in order to teach their students, they have adapted to their technological habits, creating FaceBook postings, YouTube videos and short digital presentations.  In an effort to diminish the length and complexity of all input, students claim that all this switching helps them “multi-task”.  Personally, I think this is self-serving rationalization, much like they claimed when they were younger that “video games promote essential hand/eye coordination”.  Remember when Fortune and Scientific American published long, complete articles?  Forget it, you can’t get most younger people to read past the executive summary these days.  Is this a problem?  Isn’t it bad not to know at least some subjects in depth?  Should educators give in to “connected” users’ sound bites and summaries?  Remember when you couldn’t even take a calculator to a school exam, because you were expected to know how the calculator came to its answer?  Do we no longer care, so long as the machine knows?  What if the battery dies? Are we letting the kids decide how they will agree to be instructed?  Isn’t it a little like having the inmates guard the prison? Have you noticed that, in the heist and spy movies, when the writers can’t figure out how the actors can think their way out of a situation, they simply develop a technology tool in a black box to get them past the problem?  What happened to actual thought?   In the real world there isn’t always “an app for that.”  Maybe we should be teaching our kids that.

ARE COMPUTERS REALLY CHEAPER NOW? Clients who are considering purchasing computers constantly ask me “Aren’t computers a lot cheaper than they used to be?”  My answer is both “yes” and “no.”  Yes, there are a group of computers that are cheaper than computers have ever been.  No, they’re not the same ones that used to cost more.  Those computers cost about the same, although you may now get more computer for the money.  Consistent with just about every other product in this country, there is now a separate line of relatively inexpensive computers (i.e. less than $500) available.  Just like you can get really cheap refrigerators or door locks or watches or just about anything else.  Mostly made in China or some other country, but definitely not in the U.S.  Why? Americans, as opposed to Europeans, generally treasure quantity over quality.  And, while it might be nice to expect that these lesser and cheaper items will perform just as well and last just as long as the more expensive ones, we all know that it just won’t be the case.  There may be an unusual exception, but it will be just that.  The good thing about computers is that many of the components have not increased in cost.  Sure, some of those with lots of copper have increased along with the cost of raw materials.  But hard drives and RAM have generally dramatically decreased in cost, or at least greatly increased in capacity while remaining at the same cost.  For example, we pretty much consistently install 500GB SATA hard drives in most computers; amazingly, they’re about the same cost as the old 80GB IDE drives we installed five years ago.  Generally, as a result of these market fluctuations, the overall cost of a good computer has remained pretty much unchanged.  Most computer manufacturers have also cut costs over the old computers the following ways:  You no longer get a manual.  If you want one, you can go to the Internet and print it from there at your own expense.  Or go buy a book.  There are no longer free productivity programs like MS Office or Works like there used to be.  The best you can hope for will be a trial version.  There are no longer free utilities, like anti-virus programs.  These, too, are trial versions, which you have to pay for after a short time of free use.  And the list goes on.  You can expect to get a good 5 - 7 years from your desktop computer, and pick one up in the range of $695 - $1495, depending on your requirements.  But the less than $500 computer?  Let me make this clear:  It’s not the same computer as the $695 - $1495 computer.  It costs much less, is worth much less, will probably fail much sooner and will not be repairable at any level.  Consider it disposable.  Now make an informed decision.  I know people who believe that they would rather purchase a cheap, new computer every 2 - 3 years than to purchase a superior one for more and keep it for 7 years.  That’s their choice.  Just know that they’re not one and the same.  For more about purchasing computers, click HERE.

THE DEATH OF E-MAIL PREDICTED - AGAIN! FaceBook founder Mark Zuckerberg has declared the age of e-mail over.  This, as he announced in late 2010 the new format for its social network inbox which will merge instant messages, e-mails and cell phone texts into a single stream of chatter, constantly available, through FaceBook, of course.  While it does seem that the telegraph, snail mail, cursive handwriting, the answering machine and the fax machine are fast becoming dinosaurs, and that e-mail may be following close behind, it’ll still be some time before it may disappear.  Younger “tell all” generations may seek instant gratification, but there are still plenty of businesses and older users that will use e-mail for the foreseeable future.

Bursting BubbleWHEN WILL THE BUBBLE BURST THIS TIME? April 2010:  I’m not that old, but I’ve already been through a few bubbles - most recently the dot.com bubble and the real estate bubble.  During both of them, I clearly recall lots of predictions that “this isn’t a bubble, it’s not like the others, and it’ll never end.”  But they did.  What goes up (particularly too much), as they say, must come down.  If I were a betting man, I’d run a lottery about when the social networking bubble will crash.  Not that everyone doesn’t use it.  That’s not the point, though.  The billions of dollars of market valuation of companies like Facebook and Groupon are based on the quant data about their members, which advertisers use to get buyers to click on ads and coupons.  This market will eventually either mature or be surpassed by the next great thing and, at that point, will lose its value, causing a crash.  That’s what I think, anyway.  So, who wants to spin the wheel and guess when that’ll be?

BEING A DIRTBALL PAYS OFF! Unfortunately, it’s not always the most honorable and best business practices which lead to more sales.  In a November 26, 2010 NY Times article, David Segal writes about a company, DecorMyEyes.com, which has consistently engaged in overcharging, bait-and-switch, refusal to give refunds and the like.  Moreover, when customers have engaged the Brooklyn NY company, its representatives have countersued, threatened bodily harm, screamed at customers, even sent e-mails with photos of customer’s residences and family with the caption “we’re watching you”.  You’d think that, with the dozens of on-line comments complaining about their tactics, the company would be out of business.  Quite the opposite.  Vitaly Borker, the founder and owner of DecorMyeyes.com says that all of the online chatter about the company’s tactics has simply pushed the site higher in Google search results, resulting in even more sales.  He’s positively giddy about this, saying that he’s exploited the opportunity because it works.  No matter where the negative comments are posted, it serves to bring up the company’s name more often and higher in the search results.  Talk about your strange marketing strategies...Click HERE for NYTimes comic.  UPDATE:  So many people complained that Borker finally got arrested this December.

THE DEATH OF ENGLISH & CIVILITY - ALREADY HAPPENED! Without sounding like someone stuck in a time warp, I’m merely observing that the quantum leap in technology has come at the virtually complete destruction of the English language and common courtesy.  This has already occurred.  Witness the number of automobile accidents and vehicular deaths resulting from texting while driving.  It’s such an epidemic that legislators are drafting legislation in almost every state in the country to prohibit texting while driving, much like the older “open container” laws prohibiting drinking while driving.  [Will it work?  People’s ability to rationalize that they’re capable of multi-tasking, particularly with technology, will prevail for a long time.]  Even worse has been the effect of all this texting on the English language.  ETS, the people who administer the SATs, report that student’s ability in the English language portion of their tests have steadily decreased over the past 10 years.  Is it any wonder?  No one writes letters, reads real books or even types e-mails any more.  The finely created English sentences are an archaic language studied in high school while at the same time being abandoned in actual use.  I remember when we had to read the NY Times and attempt to finish the crossword puzzle in order to prepare for the SATs (in those days, no prep courses were allowed to help students beat the exams).  Those days are gone.  You’d be surprised about the number of high school and college age students that we’ve instructed that can’t type, write a coherent sentence or prepare a simple chart or graph on their computer.  But they can put their girlfriend’s/boyfriend’s face on the head of a unicorn or download an MP3 file.  It’s a nice skill, but doesn’t mean that they’ll have the computer skills necessary to land and keep a job in today’s economy.  It does, however, give us a job.  For more, see Bathtub Curve, below.

THERE ARE ALMOST ALWAYS TWO SIDES TO EVERY STORY.  I’ve heard this for years, and it’s proven to be just as true these days.  Among our clients, I see two equally strong points of view about technology.  Like everything else in our society, they’re polarized, very few people in the middle.  And, for your information, it’s not older vs. younger users, as you might think.  Half of the people I meet in my business believe that the explosion in personal technology (computers, laptops, netbooks, iPads, smart phones and the like) is just great.  To them, the idea of instant communication with family, ability to locate where their children or parents may be, turning on the utilities in their home, surveilling their property, surfing the internet to find movies, make restaurant reservations and such is a major time (and gasoline) saving leap in technology.  On the other, equally large, side are people who feel that there is no place left in the world where they can be private.  Traffic and store cams, internet snooping, RFID tags, photo geotags, GPS on all U.S. cellphones, government data mining and the like, without asking our permission, make them very nervous.  Moreover, the deleterious effect on the English language caused by texting shortcuts (“C U L8tr”) irritates them, as well as those obsessed people who can’t stop texting or phoning while driving, eating or viewing movies.  I can’t say which side, if either, is right.  Probably both.  We may require some regulation (say on car texting) since some people abuse their rights to the injury of others. But I can reasonably predict that technology will always march on, so let’s get used to it.

HAVE YOU EVER NOTICED HOW FEW YOUNG PEOPLE WEAR WRISTWATCHES ANY MORE? The New York Times reports that sales of watches in the 18 to 24 age group fell by 29% over the past couple of years, while sales increased 33% in the 35 to 44 age group and a whopping 104% for 65 and older (who probably call them “timepieces”).  Why is this?  First, because that age group of younger people have always had cell phone appendages which automatically display the time and date; also, they aren’t as fashion oriented in the same sense as previous generations, which viewed a Piaget not as just a watch, but as a piece of diamond jewelry, for example.  No longer are watches standard gifts for graduation, confirmation and retirement.  Recently, there has been an attempt by Fossil to develop what it calls a “MetaWatch” which it hopes will appeal to the younger generation.  It will act more as a “hub” which will be a mobile Wi-Fi hot spot and, in addition, could display “alerts” about e-mails, FaceBook updates and Tweets.  It may even have a single button to check in at FourSquare and other location marketing or placecasting apps.  Fossil is still not sure that they’ll even produce the watch for sales (after all, the HP-01 (1977) was a commercial flop) or how it will fare.  2015 Update:  The Apple Watch and FitBit watches may reverse this trend, we’ll see.

SHOULD WE GET RID OF EVERYTHING AND JUST USE OUR SMART PHONES? Increasingly, there are those of us who urge us to rid ourselves of all of our digital devices and just use our smart phones for multi-purposes.  For example, a good smart phone can arguably replace, for example, your camera or camcorder, netbook computer, digital music player, alarm clock, GPS locater, some books, maybe your thumb drive, even your internet connection if you have a wireless hotspot.  Let’s see, that could be as many as 9 separate devices.  Should we just toss all of them out and get a really good cell phone?  If you’re interested in consolidation, it may be tempting.  But just because a single device can serve a purpose doesn’t mean it does it well.  And some of us still want to read books made of real paper, and it’s really not that easy to read on a phone, even a large one.  Conclusion:  Your phone can eliminate some clutter (I never use a separate camera any more) but, depending on your lifestyle, but there’s no need to rush and toss everything.

YES, VIRGINIA, WE ARE AT WAR!  Even though the financial markets haven’t been shut down or the Pentagon communications destroyed, we are still at “cyberwar”.  Maybe “cybergeddon” hasn’t yet occured, but there is a daily battle in the “cybertrenches” every day.  The Rustock malware (the Srizbi botnet) was stopped dead in 2010 (see Security), as was Mega-D (those male enhancers and lottery scams), Aurora (the Chinese hack attack that penetrated Google and others in 2009), Coreflood (the botnet that was stealing millions from global bank accounts since the mid 2000s) as well as Zeus (the program that used personal information to steal hundreds of millions of dollars from financial institutions in 2007).  But in 2010 alone, Sony, Google, Lockheed Martin, two of S. Korea’s largest banks, the Int’l Monetary Fund and Citicorp were all hacked by malicious software.  In 2011, Japan’s top weapons manufacturer, Mitsubishi Heavy confirmed a spear phishing cyberattack on 80 of its servers; also a second contractor, IHI, confirmed similar attacks.  (Both suspect China’s “CyberDragon” of involvement.)  These botnets are an unfriendly type of cloud, a “crime cloud.”  In 2012, there was Stuxnet, Doqo and Flame, which are generally considered the start of international government cyberwarfare (see LAWS Link about the creation of the cyberwarfare manual).  And it’s getting bigger.  Both individuals and corporations must be vigilant and keep their computers and information policies tight against viruses and intrusions, because we know from experience that, once we kill one, it doesn’t just die, but simply morphs into another.  Why hasn’t law enforcement done more? For several reasons:  First, cybercriminals don’t personally present themselves and, even if we can find them, they may be in countries where it isn’t illegal to do what they do.  Unlike bank robbery, for example, the Internet has no physical borders.  Second, these criminals are recruited by organizations that are well aware that there are few employment opportunities for those with such high level computing security skills.  Third, the criminals have bypassed corporations like banks and proceeded to extract money directly from their customers, making it less likely that the banks, for example, will spend money for protection.  We’ve gotta hope that, as long as we learn to fight these criminals, we won’t experience an attack on the power grid (especially the nuclear grid) or our national defense system.  But I still wonder why the evening news reports so much about how vulnerable these systems are.  Doesn’t this encourage hacking?  Isn’t this type of reporting dangerous to all of us?  Does anyone else care? Shouldn’t we consider setting up some sort of international police force to catch these guys?

ABOUT PRINTER CARTRIDGE COMPATABILITY:    I know that printer companies, like flashlight companies, virtually give away their hardware, fully aware that the cartridges, like batteries, will generate an ongoing revenue stream for years to come.  But flashlight batteries have come in about four common sizes for years.  Ink cartridges change almost weekly, it seems.  I can’t tell you the number of printers we’ve sold, then about six months later, the printer broke or died, leaving the owner with useless new cartridges because even the cartridges for the “replacement model” for that printer were incompatible.  C’mon, isn’t this going a little far?  It wouldn’t be a big deal for the major manufacturers (HP, Canon, Epson) to produce just two or three cartridge configurations that could be used with lots of different printer models.  The printer carriages and slots aren’t that different than they were years ago.  Ever look at the shelves of ink cartridges at the supply store?  And the model list for each cartridge?  It’s got to cost lots to make each type of cartridge.  Wouldn’t they make just as much, but charge even less (and keep customers happier), with just a few types of cartridges?  We can only hope someday this comes to pass.

ARE YOU TIRED of going out to dinner, the theater, movies and other public places and listening to your neighbor’s inane cellphone communications?  Well, it’s illegal in most instances, but you can obtain cell phone jammers on-line for permitted uses.  See, for example phonejammer.com.  Interested in my thoughts on Texting, see the definition...

ARE DESKTOP COMPUTERS OVER? In 2011 PCs turned thirty.  Steve Jobs’ and Ray Ozzie’s jab that we are in the “post PC era” wasn’t far off, at least now that “mobility” is the key word.  In the past four years, desktop computer sales have tanked about 30% (See DATA.)  As a computer veteran, I’d be blind not to see the advance from from DOS to Windows, Windows to Linux, from desktops to laptops, netbooks to pads, pads to phablets and cell phones, from printed and faxed documents to the Internet and then to the cloud. Then, in August 18, 2011, HP announced that it was getting out of the PC business.  Remember that HP is the world’s largest PC maker, selling upwards of $40 billion a year.  Seems like HP’s CEO Leo Apotheker spoke too soon, reversing the decision scarcely a month later.  Turns out, it’s he that’s being discontinued.  Fired after scarcely 11 months on the job (with a $25 million golden parachute, of course), the HP Board replaced him with Meg Whitman of eBay fame, while backtracking on the whole getting out of the PC business thing.  Seriously, you’ve got to be making some coin on $40 billion a year!  This follows (by 7 years) IBM’s exit from the PC business through its sale to Lenovo.  And remember Compaq, Gateway, Packard Bell and many others who are no longer with us?  It could be that Dell, Sony and Samsung, each of which also doesn’t have much margin in it’s PC division, could also eventually drop PCs as well.  It seems that, after Intel and Microsoft get their share of the profits on these machines, the amount of money to be made is virtually nil.  That, combined with the migration to tablets and smart phones, may be causing a serious slowdown, but not the predicted demise, of the PC market. Right now, Dell and HP remain the only two U.S.-based brands selling PCs, the rest being in Asia.  Not that it really matters where they are built, as most of the parts come from overseas anyway.  But as processing power and app complexity reach desktop levels, and as more input devices can connect to them, many computers are going to be replaced by tablets and smart phones.  And there will always be desktops for major tasks like design, engineering, accounting and the like.  It may be a “post-PC” era, but certainly not a “no-PC” era.  For more discussion on this subject, click HERE to go to the Tablets page.

DOES IT SEEM LIKE YOUR MOBILE NETWORK IS SLOWING DOWN?   With all the talk about 4G and LTE and the dueling smartphones on the market, each hyping faster and faster transmissions and downloads, why does it seem like you’re getting slower and slower and calls are getting dropped more?  Because it is.  The fact is that, with more than 500,000 mobile applications available across those superfast networks, demand will be doubling annually for at least the next five years (according to Cisco predictions).  The problem is that existing cellular networks simply don’t have the capacity to keep up with all this traffic, even with tiered plans and handoff where Wi-Fi is available.  So service is noticeably suffering.  You’re not imagining this.  And, even though the U.S. invented the Internet, it’s among the slowest and most expensive infrastructures. (see HERE).

MAYBE THERE’S A REASON THESE BIG BOX STORES ARE IN TROUBLE!  Lately, every time I’ve gone to a “big box” store (like Best Buy, Office Depot, Barnes & Noble and the others), I’m finding that there’s no one working there.  Not literally no one, but almost no one.  Where there are eight cash registers, there’s only one cashier.  Where customer service had three people not long ago, there’s only one person.  There is literally nobody on the floor that you can ask about a product and, when you do, they’ve started two days ago and have absolutely no idea where anything is or what’s on order.  Now, I understand that corporate management (which is probably comprised of people who’ve never actually operated or even worked in a store) is charged with cost cutting.  I do.  But they’ve got to understand that cutting personnel and underpaying them while they do the work of three employees will only go so far.  Customers are beginning to notice and it’s affecting the bottom line.  That’s why the big box stores are now suffering (e.g. Best Buy losing $1.67 billion in 4Qtr 2012 alone!).  They made their mark by consolidating products in one huge store so customers didn’t have to shop at several brick-and-mortar stores to compare products and prices.  All those other stores were consequently driven out of business.  Now they’re suffering the same fate:  As they have cut back, customers are flocking to the Internet to purchase rather than suffering at the hands of the no longer so convenient big box stores.  Now, I’m not angry:  I’d rather see my purchase before purchasing it, and have it demonstrated by knowledgeable sales people (if any still exist).  But, if that’s not the case any more, I’m also moving on to the Internet.  I get the same product, usually for less, often the next day.  Maybe if all of us refuse to put up with the flow-down treatment from the home offices, they’ll see their sales and profits slide and realize that enough is enough.  I hope so. 

MY PREDICTIONOver the next few years, tablets will get more and more like laptops.  Right now, the iPad and Surface already have keyboards and stands and are getting more powerful.  They can print and some have USB peripheral capabilities.  They are slowly moving toward apps that will have the same productivity programs as the desktop machines.  So, at a certain tipping point, they’ll replace laptops and most desktop computers, leaving a market for cloud servers (used by big businesses like Amazon, Microsoft and Dell to support the tablets) and tablets for the rest of us.  A few desktop computers may or may not be custom made for gamers, and some desktop legacy systems for large businesses, but that’ll be about it.  Computing hardware will be fundamentally changed into cloud tablets and server farms for more than 80% of us.  Support, repair, software and drivers will all be changed as well due to this “paradigm shift”.  And people will view tablets, printers and the like as “disposable” at the hardware level if they don’t do so already.

MY TAKE ON THE PRIVACY DEBATE:  I’ve been warning about this for years.  Literally years.  Very few people have been listening.  They’re either too busy with their own lives.  Or they think that there is some constitutional right to privacy (there isn’t; See LAWS).  Or they think that if you aren’t doing anything wrong, you shouldn’t be concerned, just let them spy on us.  People don’t realize that once the Government gets its foot in the door, they just pry it open more and more until they have completely taken over.  Case in point, the Patriot Act, which was passed as the direct result of 9/11.  It wasn’t supposed to last forever, nor was it to be continually expanded, nor was it an excuse to permanently delete the Bill of Rights from the U.S. Constitution.  Now, I fully understand that our Government and military must keep some secrets in order to catch the bad guys and preserve our national security.  At least in theory, when stated this way, everyone probably agrees with this.  (How can they not, when it’s phrased THAT way.  The “spin doctors” at the fed have a full time job coming up with this scare tactic stuff!) 

But what seems to irk most people are these differences:  First and foremost, we don’t tolerate being lied to, especially by our elected officials.  When our Government repeatedly and specifically denies that it is not spying on U.S. Citizens, we want to believe them.  Second, while we understand the need for secrecy about specific programs, we still expect to know where exactly the privacy and secrecy lines are being drawn.  And we have a reasonable expectation that, if those lines are crossed, the practices will be halted and the persons responsible for violations will be punished.  That’s why the fuss over the NSA’s PRISM and other programs.  Not that they exist, or that they are indeed for our overall benefit.  Rather, that OUR government LIED about collecting information about every one of us, and that it concerns U.S. citizens, not just foreigners. It’s clear now that the agencies KNEW what they were doing, Congress KNEW about the collection and the ISPs KNEW what they were turning over to the NSA, yet they all LIED repeatedly to the American people. Remember when James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, was  asked at a hearing on March 12, 2013 if the NSA “collects any type of data at all” on millions of Americans, he replied “No sir, not wittingly”?  (If you’re old enough to remember the Senate Watergate hearings, you can hear the ringing phrase “Well, Senator, to the best of my recollection, at that time, I can’t recall...”) We now find out that The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (created by the Intelligence Reform & Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004), was specifically created to make laws and regulations to assure that the espionage undertaken in the name of the Patriot and FISA acts (see LAWS for more) wouldn’t violate the public’s privacy rights.  But it was purposely and continuously “gagged” by the Executive Branch under which is serves, so that it couldn’t even tell the American people anything not specifically approved by the White House, which was virtually nothing.

And that the NSA secretly hacked into our data, even our medical data, without our knowledge.   Including the harvesting of e-mail address books and instant messaging buddy lists from Yahoo, Hotmail, Facebook, G-mail and others to the tune of 250 million a year by the NSA’s Special Source Operations Branch.  Including about 50 million photos shared with your friends and family through Facebook, Snapchat, instant messaging and others, which are then processed through advanced facial recognition algorithms.  It’s a “data dragnet”.  And companies, too. Through the use of NSL Letters under Executive Order 12333 and the like, the Government’s piggy-backing on the work product of ISPs for advertising purposes created a “data war” to collect  more and more information.  And, when the ISPs fought back, the Government simply directly tapped into the fiber optic lines for the server farms and stole the data (of course, it didn’t help that Google and others didn’t encrypt the data flowing between their own  servers).  Same for tapping into citizens’ searches on the Internet:  The Government inserted a “prefID” tag into Google’s searches to copy and steal the searches without permission instead of going directly to Google’s DoubleClick results with permission.   On an individual basis, Snowden disclosed documents, for example, showing that an American law firm was monitored (by Australia through the U.S. Goverment) while representing a foreign government (Indonesia) in trade disputes with the U.S. Same for hacking into Huawei’s servers in China.  On the other hand, we all assumed that this was going on, didn’t we? 

In the wake of Snowden’s revelations, it has come out that both France (in a supercomputer at the DGSE headquarters), England (through its spy agency GCHQ/GTE) and probably many other countries are all eavesdropping on all types of national and international communications. Like the NSA/GCHQ MUSCULAR program through which the U.S. and U.K. shared intercepted international data from fiber optic cables and copied “entire data flows” from Yahoo and Google (see NSA for a list of programs they use to obtain data). And they’re probably all lying about it.  The “Five Eyes” collaboration between Canada (“CSEC”), England (“GCHQ”), Australia (“DSD”), New Zealand (“GCSB”) and the U.S. [later, Germany (“BND”) and France (“DCSE”) have had secret agreements for this since the 1941 Atlantic Charter, as renewed.  The group uses the secret STONEGHOST network, which contains some of the West’s most closely regarded secrets. And it turns out we’ve been spying on our allies, like Germany, too!  Does this fall into the “two wrongs make a right”  or “C’mon, everyone’s doing it” explanation?  Spy vs. SpyOr aren’t Americans, because of their Constitution, supposed to be above this type of spying absent constitutional amendment?  Neither do I understand our government’s actions.  Rather than working with Snowden to limit our liability, the President harps on the alleged wrongfulness of the disclosure rather than addressing the actions that were disclosed.  Classic misdirection.  It would be like the Nazis concentrating on persecuting a journalist who discloses that there are ovens to dispose of millions of people while sidestepping the truth of the actual atrocities. If this continues, my feeling is that the Obama administration’s legacy might well be the revelation that the American government is at least as untruthful to its citizens as we claim the Russians, Germans, Chinese and other governments are to the civil liberties of their own citizens.  We’re no better, we just hid it better for a time. 

Personally, I would have been happier if, when asked about spying on us, the Government merely said something like  “In view of continuing terrorist threats, we can tell you that there is a great deal of ongoing surveillance and that revealing the specifics would materially endanger our chances of success in catching these terrorists before they can strike American citizens”.  (After two years, they seem to be coming around to this...)  But then again, I was raised by my parents that the punishment is far greater for lying about my actions than the punishment for the misdeeds themselves.  (Look at how Richard Nixon hurt himself with Watergate.) See these links within this site for even more: PRIVACY LAWS; ARE YOU BEING WATCHED?; PRIVACY; HOW THE NSA DOES IT.

THOUGHTS ON ELECTRONICS EVOLUTION:  It’s hard for me to believe that there have been that many changes during my relatively brief career in computers and electronics, but as I reflect back I can reflect that sea changes in devices and formats have been coming fast since the 1980s.  Think about it:  In TV recording, we’ve gone from none to VHS/Beta to CDs to DVDs to HD DVDs to Blue-Ray DVDs to DVRs which record on hard drives.  In music we gone from Hi-Fi players, component stereo systems with tubes, then transistors then Walkmans, iPods, Internet and Home Theaters.  Music has gone digital with MP3s, then it became free starting with Napster and its ilk, then the record stores closed, distribution went online with iTunes and finally streaming directly over the Internet.  Computer drives have gone from 8” floppy disks to 5.25” to 3” to Minis to CD, DVD, Zip, Flash, External, network  and then Cloud storage (see media, for example).  Even free TV has gone from broadcast, to cable to satellite and streams like Netflix.  Radio from free AM and FM to paid satellite streaming from the likes of Sirius.  Hard drives themselves have evolved from floppy to mechanical, then IDE, SATA and SSDs.  Network cable from Base 10 to solid to twisted pair CAT 3,4,5,6,7, etc.  Telephone from POTS to PBX to digital to VoIP.  Text to e-mail to texting and Twittering.  Pens that take traditional class or meeting notes then store them in the Cloud.  Computers from room-sized mainframes to desktops to pads and tablets/phablets.  And so on, in virtually every area.  Computer chips and processors have been increasing in power at a staggering pace.  (See Moore’s Law)  Sometimes it’s good to look back and see how fast we’re moving.  Because of this, we’ve been able to make the great strides in the speed and storage of our devices, which make it possible to view streaming multimedia (even on our cell phones) without chattering and buffering and quickly and seamlessly search for information both on our devices and over the Internet. Or is it that the hardware advances are precursors to software development?  (Remember when you couldn’t even view a video on a computer without annoying chattering and buffering?)   At the same time that technology can make our old devices quickly obsolete, it also gives us whole new abilities that we never considered possible.

Bell Curve vs. Bathtub Curve:  Recently, I’ve come to the realization that life has literally turned itself upside down.  For most Bathtub curveof my Bell Curveeducational and work experience, the classic “bell” curve was a given.  That is, while there were exceptional instances at both the higher and lower end of any spectrum, the bulk of grades, economics, votes and virtually any other measure would fall squarely within the middle range, slowly and neatly creating a “bell” when graphed.  For example, as we were taught in grade school, democracy favors the middle class, the largest group of citizenry in the country.  Enter the polarization of just about everything over the past three decades:  Minorities, not majorities, rule U.S. democratic government.  More of the extraordinarily wealthy and at the same time more of the poor account for the populace, as the middle class has virtually disappeared. [Actually, I’ve pondered the idea that it never really existed, but was a concept created by the wealthy to assuage the lower class that it was in better shape than it really was.  Throughout history, we’ve only heard about the aristocracy/proletariat, landowners/workers, business owners/employees dichotomy. (You could argue that the slaves were the lowest class in the U.S. through the Civil War era, but that’s not a valid comparison in my mind).  The middle-class white educated male, once supposedly constituting the bulk of the bell curve, is now an endangered species.  In education, there are now more and more students with less education (perhaps caused by the cost of student loans or maybe the paucity of those jobs that higher education was supposed to produce), but a also small but increasing number of people with several advanced degrees.  And so it goes, on and on, in almost every measure and endeavor.  The cost of everything, from meals at restaurants to gas and oil, to electric, water and other utilities, or to food at the supermarket has either substantially increased (the middle range of cost now morphing into the expensive) or else has held their cost level, but decreased quality or portion (effectively downgrading to a lower, cheaper level.  Notice how you don’t get a full pound coffee can any more?).  And, although the federal government must be aware of this, it issues reports touting that the recession is all over and that there is virtually no increase in inflation, as it adjusts the formulas to remove important items like food and fuel that affect our daily lives.  (They have to, or else the COLA increases to benefits like Social Security and Federal employees’ wages and retirement would be much more costly to the Fed.)  Their excuse that those items are “too volatile” just doesn’t hold water:  With all the computing power available to the Fed (i.e. the NSA can process 50 million of our e-mails daily for intelligence purposes but this is too difficult?), they can easily figure it out, or simply use an average, as they do elsewhere.)  The emperor is wearing no clothes, and no one is telling him again.  In some foreign countries, the people would be taking to the streets, but we Americans are far too apathetic.  All of this accounts for what is now commonly known as the “bathtub” curve, the actual converse of the old “bell” curve.   At least it seems that way to me and, based on my reading of periodicals, books and newspapers, many others much more knowledgeable than myself.  What should we be doing about this?  There’s no silver bullet.  It has to be a multi-layered answer.  Government must initiate the process, however.  Just as President Kennedy pushed American schoolchildren to excel in their studies and get in physical shape after the Russians beat America into space with Sputnik, President Obama or his successor has to make education the number one priority as well.  We have to insist that not only that overall education be made harder and grading tougher, but also that it be made more productive, providing skills that our young people will find useful later on in their daily lives.  Just because they’re used to mini-sound bytes, two minute  YouTube videos, 140 character Tweets and their own contracted language and emoticons doesn’t mean that we have to cave and teach them as if they’re all inflicted with ADHD and that this is the norm.  Rather, they have to learn to examine the world in all of its complexity and detail, however long it may take, and with whatever precision may be required.  They’ve got to read the entire book, not just the Cliff’s Notes.  And also by encouraging them to think outside of the box, promoting the creativity that originally gave our country the competitive edge in research and development back when Bell Labs was around.  Unfortunately, due to the economy and shareholder pressures, American companies have cut back in areas like R & D and quality control.  The federal government must find a way to provide incentives to make first class products here in this country and encourage the development of first class employees who desire to excel, invent and contribute.  If government starts the ball rolling, we have to keep it going as parents and educators. Let’s not kid ourselves, if our kids aren’t learning, inquiring or excelling, it’s just as much our own fault as the government and the educators.  Kids are blank books, depending on us for inspiration, discipline and guidance.  We’re failing in our mission, and we can’t just blame the kids for this.  As parents, we’ve got to provide the correct discipline and environment. You get my point. Let’s hope that we all wake up before it’s too late.  That bathtub’s getting deeper every day.

OPEN SOURCE IS COMING OF AGE:  Most computer predictions eventually take place.  Some take longer than others, but they eventually happen.  Examples: The decline of CRT monitors in favor of flat panel displays. The concept of “convergence” where computers, televisions and telephones are all controlled through a common connection.  The Internet of Things.  Lately, I’ve noticed that, despite the tight control that Apple and Microsoft have exerted over computer software for decades, open source software is becoming much more mainstream.  Maybe it’s the high cost of paid software, the lack of useful support, the fact that users are much more savvy than they used to be or the fact that open source software is becoming easier to use and has lots more internet support and things like printer drivers but it’s becoming a force to be reckoned with.  Or maybe people are tired of the manufacturers’ walled garden approach, like Apple and Microsoft’s Windows 8 & 10 requirements that software only be purchased through the Apple or Microsoft store.  For example, Linux is becoming much easier to install, update and operate than it was when it started.  It has an interface similar to the Windows desktop and, while it’s quite different, the differences aren’t insurmountable, if users spend just a little time to learn it.  And it’s free, of course.  Same for many programs.  Take Gimp, the open source alternative to Photoshop.  It’s a heavy-duty alternative with lots of YouTube videos and written tutorials available.  And its free.  And the productivity programs like Open Office (and Quick Office for smart phones) (see FAQ #17 for links) that emulate the much more expensive Microsoft Office features and compatibility.  Did I mention that they’re free?  Even for cell phones, the new Tizen open source O/S is rapidly gaining  acceptance, with some fifteen manufacturers showing real interest.  While there may be situations where a user must have the “real” Office, Photoshop or Windows programs for corporate compatibility purposes, there are just as many reasons why individuals and some corporations can easily do without them. There are lots of individuals and small businesses that for cost and software bloat reasons simply load a Linux O/S and Open Office and are quite happy.   [On the other hand, I must give kudos to Microsoft for now including many free features and utilities in the newer versions of Windows that used to require additional, paid programs, such as anti-virus and security like Microsoft Security Essentials, firewall software, backup software and disk defragmentation (see TIP #37)].

AT LEAST IN SOME AREAS, GOVERNMENT & BIG BUSINESS IS LOSING CONTROL; THE CREATION OF INTERNET 4.0?:  Here in the U.S., we live in a highly regulated society.  Federal, state and municipal governments and regulatory agencies abound.  There are controls from how our banks can hold on to our money to the material for pajamas our children wear to bed.  We all know this.  But, increasingly, the Internet is changing this norm.  Like they used to say in the 60’s, the power is coming back to the people.  Let’s look at some examples:  Bitcoins and other virtual currencies are circumventing the conventional banking system, as citizens are becoming dismayed by over-regulation and the lack of punishment for usurious  banking practices.  Crowd-sourcing in virtually every area, from raising money to rating restaurants. Transportation Networks, circumventing high cab rates caused by the excessive cost of a cab medallion.  Big box stores are suffering from purchasers who buy products on line, avoiding brick-and-mortar stores, sometimes purchasing from outside the country to avoid paying taxes and large delivery fees.  Amazon becoming the largest provider of books.  E-readers completely bypassing bookstores by purchasing books on-line.  iTunes upending the music distribution business as it had existed for generations.  Every day there are more of these startups.  The commonality for all of these things is that there is no central location that a government or big company can find and regulate.  That is, the Internet and the devices used to connect to it belong to individuals, who are communicating with other individuals, without passing through an independent middleman which can take the opportunity to regulate or tax the transaction.  This, of course, is extremely disruptive to the current heirarchy.  But this change to the status quo (which I might dub Internet 4.0) is quickly becoming commonplace and, I predict, will change everything in the way that the government, big business and ordinary citizens will take place.  Stay tuned...

OBSERVATION:  THE GAP BETWEEN INVENTORS AND PROMOTORS - In the course of writing the definitions for the Glossary, I’ve repeatedly observed the difference between inventing something and promoting its adoption in a useful sense.  For example, neither Steve Jobs or Apple  invented the mouse, they only made it popular.  Click HERE for a brief discussion about my observation of this trend.

WHY THE INTERNET HAS REALLY GROWN - You’re grossly mistaken if you’re patting yourself on the back, congratulating yourself about the contribution that all your iPads, YouTubes, Twitters (Tweets) and the like have resulted in the phenomenal growth of the Internet.  Not so.  In actuality, the growth of the Internet has been caused by money.  All of the mergers that have taken place in the last decade, and the resulting increasing globalization of business as these mergers have narrowed down the number of competitors, has actually been the cause of the growth of the internet.  WalMart wants to know the number of Q-tips sold in the past fifteen minutes anywhere on the planet and for that corporate has to have computer network and internet connectivity with each and every cash register in each and every store in each and every state and each and every country, pronto.  We’re just the incidental beneficiary of this growth, not the cause.

WE’RE AT ANOTHER TURNING POINT IN HISTORY - With age comes wisdom, so the saying goes.  Or at least observation, filtered through experience.  As I watch the TV coverage of Ferguson, I reflect back to the 1960s and I believe that we have reached another critical point in our nation’s history, just like we did back then.  I’m not referring to simply a lot of things happening at once.  America is like that every year.  Rather, I mean a single reference point at which everything converges into a sea change for all Americans.  Here’s how I compare the 60s to 2014:  In the sixties, we had ground wars in Viet Nam and Cambodia and a non-geographic “cold” war against communism; in 2014, we have ground wars in multiple Arab countries, plus non-geographic wars against Hamas, Al Quaeda and ISIS.  In medicine, the birth control pill changed women’s rights in the 60s.  In 2014, we’ve had major advances against cancer and Alzheimer’s and are on the cusp of bioprinting replacement body parts from stem cells.  In the 60s, the internet was born and cell phones were ready to become common.  In 2014, net neutrality is the big issue, same-speed access for all, and the fight is against consolidation and monopolization.  In the 60s, we were just launching satellites into space, and in 2014 we’re using spy satellites to follow our own citizens.  Unfortunately, social unrest and protests are the same in both generations, although the names and places have changed.  Same for the music for each generation, Dillon for the 60s, rap for the 2000s.  My point is that after several decades we sometimes reach a point where everything that is changing converges within a relatively short period at almost precisely the same time.  And things are never the same after that.  In the 1960s we had citizens protesting against their own government against unpopular wars for the very first time in history, the evolution of women’s rights and massive technological changes.  In 2014, we have a major evolution in technologies, more unpopular and massive wars generating citizen unrest with our policies and leaders, and medical advances we never even dreamed of.  All at once.  While the 1960s changed the world through the “protest” generation, the current generation will change the world through “technology”.  In between these two generations, nothing as major as this convergence has occurred, and it may not for another fifty years.

PARENTS, TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR CHILDREN!  On a daily basis, I hear and read how parents are frustrated keeping track of their children’s lives.  Texting, sexting, SnapChat and all the stuff their kids do are just too much to understand, parents say.  Excuses.  It seems to me that all the stuff that my parents protected me from when I was a kid are gone now, but newer, digital delivery has taken its place.  The old Playboy magazines are now on-line at porn sites.  Sexting and texting as replaced notes passed around in class.  Font codes have replaced disappearing ink and written codes.  In other words, kids are doing the same things they‘ve always done, just in a new, digital way.  The old ways are gone now, so there isn’t any more to keep track of than there was when we were kids.  The difference today is that parents expect schools, the government and the internet providers to protect their kids.  They’ve abdicated their own responsibility to monitor their kids, just because they think it’s too much trouble.  It’s not.  When it comes to your kids, parents should be the first line of defense.  Check their phones, tablets and computers.  Talk to them.  Keep in touch with their friends’ parents.  Check their activity with their ISPGoogle parents’ groups for ideas.  Install tracking software.  And talk to your kids, too.  If you don’t do these things, the only thing that’s changed is that the trouble they can get in will be much more serious.  Look at sexting, for example:  Even though they may be minors, they can still be charged with a pornography felony, which will follow them around for the rest of their life.

WHY IS THE INTERNET SO SLOW??  By now, we all kinow that the U.S., which invented the Internet, is way behind other countries in terms of keeping up the internet infrastructure.  See HERE for the figures showing that, while we’re just about the most expensive broadband in the world, we lag behind even countries like Iceland, we’re now around 16th in the world.  And our Congress, true to form, keeps shelving improvements to the infrastructure, relying on private industry, which is revenue-based, to make the move independently.  The second major factor in the slowdown in broadband speeds is the amount of useless data coming through the pipes.  Some of it is from the younger “constantly connected” society, with its Facebook and Twitter feeds.  But a lot of the wasted broadband is from e-mails, texts and other crapps (my portmanteau of crap + apps) that comes from companies, especially those with loyalty programs, that bombard you with texts, tweets, e-mails, SMSs and the like after only one purchase.  Big business has discovered big data and, in turn, new ways of advertising.  In the time of less than a week, without even trying, you can accumulate literally hundreds of these unwanted streams and feeds, not only clogging your cell phone, but also the Internet.  Right now, this is the wild west, a free-for-all with no oversight or control.  As fast as you try to remove this stuff, it perpetuates itself some other way.  If there would be some action to control this often unwanted and surreptitious advertising, there would be more room for legitimate, desired communications.

THE INTERNET MAY ACTUALLY BE RESTRICTING OUR RIGHTS.  In the same way that corporate big data analysis is keeping up with our preferences, it is also slowly infringing our rights.  You will notice that, when you look up a movie or check out shoes for sale, you will then receive helpful (I personally find them annoying) e-mails or texts prompting you to consider buying that movie or shoes before they’re out of stock.  And a sidebar or pop-up ad then appears on your web search pages showing those items for sale on the internet.  Just a reminder, of course, from them that you were previously looking at these things.  But the saw cuts both ways:  You may be researching something for school or a friend, and that information may become part of your profile as well. Maybe it’s about AIDS or another serious disease.  You may subsequently find that you are denied a job or other position or possibly insurance and can think of no reason why.  It could be because your profile has been accessed and an assumption made about whether you have a health condition that would make you less attractive as an employee or insured.  And, just as you can’t ever really correct an error on your credit report, there’s nowhere you can explain something in your surfing profile, which you can never see.  For example, think about those naturally curious hormonal pre-teen kids who accessed naked photos of kids their own age or the 18 yr.  who didn’t realize that their girlfriends who sent them nude selfies were actually only 17 who in many states (see LAWS) will now spend the rest of their lives marked as child predators.  Don’t be fooled by the convenience of the Internet, there is a serious downside as well.

IS COMPUTER REPAIR A DEAD BUSINESS?    Things have changed quite a bit over the past couple of decades, as discussed in many of the items above.  Much of this change has been propelled by increased processing power as well as the cloud.  The move among home users to tablet computer with internet connectivity to the cloud has become commonplace.  And, not only has the idea of repair of this type of hardware become impossible (compared to the relatively simple riser board replacement of the older desktops), but since backups and data can be stored in the cloud, transfer of data to a newer computer and reinstallation of programs doesn’t have to be as big a deal as it used to be.  That’s because the software for many office productivity and other programs are hosted in the cloud, so the reinstallation of software, which used to be a big pain, is far less of an issue.  No searching for disks, upgrading from the original version, remembering where a program was downloaded, none of that.  All in all, upgrading or replacing computers and their contents has completely changed, in many ways for the better.  Unless the cloud is hacked, goes down or your internet fails...but that’s another story.

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MURPHY’S LAWS OF COMPUTING #9:  The number one cause of computer problems is computer solutions.

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