Category Archives: Technology

A continuation of the pattern

social madness

Here’s a follow-up to my previous post, “Millions of separate realities, destroying our common world.

I’m reading more and more of this stuff about how the way TOO many people consume the internet, and get consumed by it. Specifically, how they get their minds hopelessly warped by a couple of the standard features of social media and other web sites and services — the way these media keep showing you more stuff like what you seem to like, and — in this piece — the way the reinforcement of others (likes, retweets, shares, etc.) seduces people into insane new “realities.”

Here’s another item: A piece from the NYT headlined, “They Used to Post Selfies. Now They’re Trying to Reverse the Election.” The subhed says, “Right-wing influencers embraced extremist views, and Facebook rewarded them.”

This piece doesn’t make many broad observations about these phenomena; it mostly simply tells the story of how several individuals got sucked in. You’ll note the commonalities. The one place where the item touches upon the consistent themes is here:

He’s not alone. Facebook’s algorithms have coaxed many people into sharing more extreme views on the platform — rewarding them with likes and shares for posts on subjects like election fraud conspiracies, Covid-19 denialism and anti-vaccination rhetoric. We reviewed the public post histories for dozens of active Facebook users in these spaces. Many, like Mr. McGee, transformed seemingly overnight. A decade ago, their online personas looked nothing like their presences today.

A journey through their feeds offers a glimpse of how Facebook rewards exaggerations and lies.

But the rewards are trivial compared with the costs: The influencers amass followers, enhance their reputations, solicit occasional donations and maybe sell a few T-shirts. The rest of us are left with democracy buckling under the weight of citizens living an alternate reality….

Yeah, as I said the other day, I know this stuff isn’t new. We knew how the Web worked. You knew it; I knew it. But as I also said before, something just finally clicked recently when I was listening to “Rabbit Hole,” and for the first time in these last few years, I got Trumpism. I finally really saw how these people had become so warped, and so immune to facts and reason. What we’re seeing couldn’t have happened this way in any other time.

And frankly, I don’t know how we’re going to reverse this problem — a problem affecting people’s perception across the political spectrum (as I say, I know I’m vulnerable to it, too), but manifesting itself most threateningly among Trump followers. They’re the big problem now. (As I type this, I keep getting indications that there are people walking about downtown Columbia with semiautomatic weapons. There have been arrests. I might be writing more about it later, but I hope not. I hope the problem fades away…)

I don’t see how the toothpaste gets back in the tube, and people get sane again.

But I’m going to keep pointing out these glimpses of the problem as I encounter them. As I think I mentioned, I watched part of “The Social Dilemma” the other night. When I finish it, I’ll probably post about that, too. It starts from a perspective different from mine (such as worrying about addiction to social media, particularly among kids), but also gets into the problems I’m talking about…

Millions of separate realities, destroying our common world

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for weeks, but haven’t had the time, because it would be so involved. But I think I’ll throw out a few thoughts about it, and see if y’all take it up, and then add to the conversation as we go.

I’m prompted to go ahead and do so by a piece Jennifer Rubin had in The Washington Post today. It’s headlined, “We must end the post-truth society.” That’s fairly self-explanatory. It deals with a problem we all know exists. And in this case, she’s dealing not only with the grossly destructive tendency of Trump supporters to believe his lies, but other aspects we see in our culture today, such as all the nonsense about the “war on Christmas.”

All fairly obvious, as I said. We now live in a time in which people utterly reject Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s dictum, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” (He wrote it in a column in 1983, although it is apparently based on something James R. Schlesinger had said previously.) When he said it, people across the political spectrum would have nodded, because it’s so obviously true.

But not now. And the word “entitled” is particularly significant here. People out there really, truly think they are entitled to their own facts. After all, they dwell in a universe in which their belief in such “facts” is fully supported and reinforced.A_separate_reality

I’ve commented on this before. Everyone has. And I was conscious of the cause of the problem. But recently, I came to realize it, to understand it, to grok it, more fully. And it was as though I hadn’t thought about these things before.

It happened first when I listened to a podcast series from several months ago, called “Rabbit Hole.” If you haven’t listened to it, I wish you would — assuming The New York Times allows you to do so. (Since I’m a subscriber, I’m never sure what is available to non-subscribers.) It’s in eight parts. The most compelling are the first few, which deal in great detail with what happened to a young man named Caleb.

Caleb is a guy who initially perceived reality in a fairly “normal” way (judged from the perspective of my own reality), even though he was having a bit of trouble finding his way in the world I know. Then he got addicted to YouTube. He started watching it most of his waking hours. After he got a job that allowed him to listen to earbuds while working, he did it (or at least listened to it) ALL of his waking hours.

Meanwhile, YouTube was growing and refining its product. They were making the artificial intelligence that underlies its operation smarter and smarter, and better at constantly showing you more of what interests you. We’re all familiar with this, and I suppose that mostly, we appreciate it. It’s nice when I go to listen, say, to the Turtles play “Happy Together,” and YouTube suggests a video I had never seen of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.” (Which it may or may not do for you in your reality.) I end up wasting time, but it’s enjoyable.

One day in late 2014, YouTube recommended  to Caleb a self-help video by Stefan Molyneux, a self-styled “anarcho-capitalist” who also had a political agenda. He liked what he heard; it seemed to speak particularly relevantly to a confused young man. So YouTube showed him similar things. And more similar things. And it got more and more out there, more and more into the terrain of, as the NYT put it, “conspiracy theories, misogyny and racism.” It essentially said to him, over and over, “Oh, you liked that? Then you’ll love this…”

It became his reality. His only reality, since he had no other sources of information about the world. (He didn’t make time for any other sources.) And he got in deeper and deeper. How this happened is charted quite precisely, because Caleb gave the Times access to his video-watching history. They could trace his descent into his own tailor-made madness clip by clip, hour by hour, day after day. For years.

It’s really something to listen to.

Of course, this was just Caleb’s reality — his, and that of others who were absorbed by the increasingly weird things that he listened to and was shaped by. Each individual, of course, would have a slightly different experience, while at the same time becoming members of new, bogus “communities” of people with similar beliefs in this or that area.

I mentioned this podcast, and recommended it, to friends, who recommended in turn that I go watch “The Great Hack” on Netflix. It examined the same phenomenon from a different angle, the Cambridge Analytica scandal, “in which the personal data of millions of Facebook users were acquired without their consent… predominantly to be used for political advertising.” Data that reflected you through your online habits, using an app called “thisisyourdigitallife.” I recommend that, too. Even if you don’t find it enlightening, at least the graphic effects are cool (such as a person walking down a crowded city street, while bits of data are shown flowing up from every smartphone he passes). Or I thought so.

I’d always been concerned about the thing that was working on Caleb. Back in the 90s, when I was first exploring the Web, I saw that a lot of sites — including newspapers, such as The Wall Street Journal — would invite you to create your own, personalized interface. “,” or whatever. I found this disturbing, especially when newspapers did it. But I confess I didn’t see how bad things would get. My objection was simply that the point of a newspaper is to provide a community, or a state or a nation with a common set of information about what’s going on — something that in a free country will inevitably lead to fierce debates about what to do in light of the facts, but at least everyone was starting from a common set of facts, a common perception of reality, which at least provided some hope of an arrival at a rational course of action. Facts collected and passed on by professionals with a quasi-religious ethic of accuracy and impartiality, let me add, and curated by editors who had over the years demonstrated skill and insight into current events. (Now watch all the self-appointed media critics go ballistic on that one. Hey, it wasn’t perfect, but man was it superior to what we have now.)

To be a fully prepared citizen, capable of contributing constructively to the public conversation, you needed to see ALL the news, not just the bits that tickled your personal fancy. You needed a sense of the fullness of what was going on.

Now, we have separate realities, millions of them, curated by algorithms to tell us what we want to hear (as opposed to editors, who tended to irritate all of us with the unwelcome information they shared). Everyone on the planet is now an editor and publisher, with power the old-school professionals couldn’t dream of: Each person is able to cast out his or her versions of reality to the entire world, instantaneously. No matter how well- or ill-considered their perceptions are. And each person is informed by sources such as these — the particular ones that each person chooses, or has chosen for him or her by the algorithms.

More than 40 years ago, I enjoyed Carlos Castaneda’s series of books about his apprenticeship under the Yaqui Indian shaman called Don Juan, including a volume titled A Separate Reality. It was fascinating to read of his adventures in that separate universe, and enjoyable (rather than threatening) because I lived in the safe, mundane reality with most people. Castaneda’s universe was shaped by not just Don Juan’s tutelage, but a variety of hallucinogenic drugs. Which I avoided, satisfied simply to read about it. It was a nice escape.

But that was amateur hour compared to what surrounds us today. There are millions of separate realities — one shaped separately for each of us. And some of them are truly wild. Worse, they have rendered any sort of consensus-forming through our system of representative democracy practically impossible.

And that’s how you get things like the mob attacking the Capitol last week. A mob of people absolutely convinced that they were “patriots” saving the republic from something that threatened it. Because that’s the way it is in their respective separate realities.

It’s the Trump brand of reality that’s currently wreaking havoc on our country, appealing to each adherent in a different, personalized way. But of course there are billions of others around the globe.

I’m sort of wary of my own, and perhaps I should be even warier. Just the other day, after the failed revolution, I was noticing how everyone seemed to agree with me about what had happened, more or less, on Twitter. (Which, if you’ve spent decades as an editor fielding reader complaints, causes you to get suspicious.) This happens because they are brought together in a reality shaped by the people and institutional sources I have chosen to follow, and those who have chosen to follow me.

But I’m simultaneously aware that, despite the shocking violence last week, which led even Mike Pence and Mitch McConnell to go ahead and certify Joe’s election (something that would have been utterly unremarkable — would in fact not even have been prominently covered — in the world in which these separate realities did not yet exist), these views are not universally shared. It’s not just the abomination of Joe Wilson and the other members who voted against confirming the election. The almost half of the country that voted for Trump seems to be spread along a vast spectrum, from your Mitt Romney types to your Ted Cruzes. And they have all sorts of verdicts on events, shaped by their distinct online interactions.

Each and every one in his own, separate universe, shaped by its own separate facts. To which he is quite certain he is entitled….

Today is Alexa’s Christmas and Easter, all in one…


I just asked Alexa about the weather, and she told me what my glances out the window had caused me to suspect: Those little sunshine icons I saw on my phone yesterday were misleading. Today, it will be damp and cloudy, at least until mid-afternoon.

No big deal.

But then she added, unbidden:

By the way, it’s Cyber Monday. To shop Amazon deals, just ask.

For me, today is the day after the first Sunday of Advent. For Alexa, the universe is shaped differently.

From a first-week-of-Advent perspective, we might ask ourselves, “Why did God make you?” turn to the Baltimore Catechism and be told that “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven.”

But Alexa was created by Amazon, and Jeff Bezos made her to sell stuff.

It gives her a whole different perspective on existence.

All of that said, we might ask what meaning “Cyber Monday” has in the universe of 2020. I mean, isn’t every day kind of Cyber Monday? Or Tuesday, or whatever?

As I recall, the idea — as ecommerce first came into its own — was that after the execrable “Black Friday,” the first day that people were back at “work” and sitting at their computers, they spent a scandalous (from the perspective of their employers) amount of time ordering stuff online.

This seemed to fit with what I saw after I started blogging in 2005: People read blogs and commented during what we generally thought of as office hours. Nights and weekends? Forget it — no point in posting anything then.

But we’ve just spent a whole year in which millions worked from home. And in which people avoided stores and bought more and more stuff online every day.

So… what’s special about Cyber Monday now?

Maybe nothing. I went to Amazon on my browser, expecting to see a huge display showing how exciting Cyber Monday allegedly was… and was greeted by the rather boring display of administrative functions you see below. No mention of a special day of any kind.

I had to click again on the Amazon logo in the upper-left corner to see the deals you see above. And I had to scroll down the page to see those. The top of the page was a promo for some made-for-Prime movie called “Uncle Frank.” (I saw a preview for that, and couldn’t tell what it was about, so I’m kind of doubting I’ll watch it.)

So maybe it’s not such a special day after all. But no one told Alexa. Perhaps they didn’t want to spoil her childlike wonder. She’s young, so she’s like a kid this time of year. You say good morning to her, and she’s all “Santa Claus is coming!”

Which would be adorable, were she actually, you know, a child


Tempted for once by the grocery checkout rack

Now THAT is tempting...

Now THAT is tempting…

I don’t think I’ve ever bought anything from the magazine racks at the grocery checkout.

But a publication devoted to “The West Wing?” Now that’s tempting…

But I still passed.

And you know, part of it is — why do I need a print product full of “West Wing” stuff? Don’t I have Google? Can’t I already access whatever I want about the show, or any of the characters, or analysis or full transcripts of any episode? Content that is available to me wherever I go, via phone or iPad, without carrying around something as awkward as a magazine?

Yep, it’s printed on nice, glossy paper. But here’s the thing… At some point in the latter part of the ’80s, I first saw a color picture on the screen of a Mac. And I was blown away — even though the resolution and color saturation on that screen was probably pretty pathetic, compared to, say, my phone today.

It was just so — bright and alive. Since then, I’ve never seen a hard copy photo that could compare.

Not to mention the fact that if you want to share something in the mag, the person you’re sharing it with has to be standing right next to you. There’s no sharing by text, email or social media.

So… what’s the appeal of the magazine version?

Everything I used to read on paper — the newspapers I subscribe to, magazines, what have you — I now read on my iPad. Which is always with me.

Compelling content. But the wrong medium…

Isn’t this a procedural problem, rather than ‘bias?’


So I listened to The Daily yesterday, which I nearly always enjoy, but it seemed a bit… off to me. But interesting.

It was a detailed telling of the story about the innocent man in the Detroit area who got arrested because facial recognition software misidentified him as having been the guy who had stolen some watches from a store.

I’ve heard about this guy several times over the last few months, and each time the story has been brought up, it has been in the context of demonstrating that the use of facial recognition by the cops is highly problematic — and unfair to minorities, since the algorithms used in this country are way better at recognizing white men.

But is that really the case? After having listened to the story, I’m thinking the problem here is not that it’s bad or unfair technology, but that the cops used it improperly. I mean, they really screwed up here. But that would seem to call for better procedure, not abandoning the tool.

No doubt about it, what happened to Robert Williams was a nightmare. And inexcusable.

Cops came out of nowhere to arrest this guy on the basis of nothing but an erroneous digital identification. The software was SO bad that when they had him in interrogation and showed him the photo that was supposedly him, he held it to his face and “What you think, all black men look alike?” And the cops, to their credit, saw that it wasn’t him, and let him go.

But this was after he had spent the night in jail. It was after he had been disrespected, and cuffed, in front of his children at his home. It was after a cop told his wife that “we assume you’re his baby mama…”

It was gross. It was all kinds of cringe-worthy, and this man will carry around the humiliation of the experience for life. And it all happened because they had zeroed in on this man based on nothing but the facial recognition that was based on

But here’s the thing. The podcast started out by saying “In what may be the first known case of its kind, a faulty facial recognition match led to a Michigan man’s arrest for a crime he did not commit.”

So, it’s only happened once? That we know of, of course…

There’s probably a reason it’s a rare occurrence. As the NYT’s Kashmir Hill explains, the police use the technology because they “feel that face recognition is just too valuable a tool in their tool set to solve crimes. And their defense is that they never arrest somebody based on facial recognition alone, that facial recognition is only what they call an investigative lead. It doesn’t supply probable cause for arrest.”

So… it’s like hearing a name from a snitch or something. Or getting an anonymous tip on the phone. It’s a reason to look at somebody, but not a reason to arrest him.

What happened here, it seems, is that the cops grossly violated the rules, and made a lazy, unjustified arrest of an innocent man. Which you don’t have to have facial recognition to do. You just have to be a bad cop. You don’t need special equipment, you can base a false arrest on all sorts of sloppy police work.

In Williams’ case, the cops didn’t even go see the suspect to see if he looked anything like the picture. They called him on the phone, and when he refused to come in (reasonably assuming it was a crank call), they sent a patrol car to arrest him.

Seems to me having the software as a tool could be very helpful, as long as it’s used as a lead, and not as cause for arrest. The way it was in this one case.

This podcast kept referring to the “bias” involved. But isn’t the problem less one of “bias,” and more one of not following rules? Wouldn’t adhering faithfully to those rules eliminate the problem with using this tool?

I suspect some of my libertarian friends will disagree. But I’d like to hear the reasons…

Like with those cop stories the other day, I urge everyone to listen to the podcast, or at least read the transcript, before commenting…

What on Earth does this have to do with being ‘Christian?’


I’m reacting here to one of the ads Google Adsense placed on my blog. While I saw it, I’m hoping none of you did. But whether you did or not, I can’t help saying something about it.

See the screengrab above.


What on Earth does what you are trying to sell me have to do with being “Christian?”

This must be some special sense of “Christian” that I’ve never encountered in church. Maybe it’s aimed at the sort of “Christian” I keep hearing about  who would vote for Donald Trump after hearing him brag about getting away with grabbing women by the p___y.

Read the copy. You see the part asking whether you’re “over 65?” And did you see the girl in the picture? It’s hard to tell with all that makeup on, but I strongly suspect she’s closer in age to my grandchildren than to my children. Much less to me.

What the what?

Yeah, a man over 65 can be attracted — physically, anyway — to such a girl, but what does that have to do with being “Christian?”

Oh, and aside from the age thing, what is it in Google’s algorithms that caused that ad to appear to me? What is wrong with me that caused that to happen?

I don’t know about you, but I find myself living in a particularly insane world these days…

There’s no solution for email that doesn’t involve huge amounts of wasted time, is there?

just email

Hey, 1997 is calling. It says it has 9,374 emails for you…

I had had it with email about 20 years ago. You?

The worst thing about it is that it keeps coming, and there’s nothing you can do about it other than waste time on it — a certain amount (way more than you want to spend) each day, or gargantuan amounts now and then.

I saw a headline recently in The Washington Post that said: “The three worst things about email, and how to fix them.

I should have known better by now than to click on it, but I looked, and the blasted thing was 2,700 words long. In the amount of time it would take me to read and absorb that, I could delete a thousand emails. Also, I skimmed enough to see there were no real “solutions.” There were apps you could buy, of course, and the phrase “and pay $100 per year for it” persuaded me of the rightness of merely skimming.

Anyway, it begins like this:

Apologies if you’ve been waiting for an email from me. My Gmail has 17,539 unread messages.

Raise your hand if you have even more….

What, I’m going to take email-handling advice from a guy who has 17,539 unread messages?

Of course, I’d have that many in my In box if I didn’t take fitful stabs each day at at least skimming the first page of headlines, to see it there was something I actually needed to look at.

As it was, I had somewhere close to 9,000 in the various compartments of my In box (I refer to the way Gmail presumes to sort that box into “Primary,” “Social” and “Promotions.”) I don’t know exactly, because I didn’t add it all up before I started attacking it.

How much time did I expend on it? Well, I only got in about 8,000 steps Saturday, and basically I got NO walking or working on the elliptical in Sunday — which means I only got in the normal 2,860 from walking around the house.

I probably won’t make my steps goal for this month now (although I’ll try in these last four days — I had been on target before those two wasted days).

I won’t even start listing the things I needed to do and could have done OTHER than stepping if I hadn’t wasted so much time on email.

What did I get for that? Well, I deleted or filed (and in RARE instances read) the 1,300 or so in the “Primary” part of the In box. That’s the hard part. This morning, when I should have been working, I cleared out the “Social” section — none of that really needs to be looked at, although I filed away items naming members of my family or friends, in case someone asks “Did you see what I posted on Facebook?”)

That left the 6,000 or 7,000 in “Promotions.” This is 99 percent garbage, and the rest mildly interesting stuff I might want to glance at if I have nothing else to do, which of course is never the case.

I work through it pretty quickly. I highlight a page of 100 messages, and run my eyes down the whole list to at least give myself a chance of spotting something important that got placed in that category by accident — by which I mean, through the stupidity of the software — before deleting it all. Then I go to the next page. Ten pages for each thousand…

If I spend an hour each evening this week on it, I’ll probably have it cleaned out by the weekend.

I don’t think there is a solution to this, other than getting someone else to do it. Back when I was editorial page editor, I had a secretary. But I never asked her to do it (although I thought about it, many times), for two reasons:

  1. No one else can spot those odd things you sometimes need or want to read — say, a cryptic note from a friend from 30 years ago, or a release from some source you would normally ignore that contains critical info about something you’ve been thinking about addressing in a column — unless he or she can read your mind and know everything and everyone you know.
  2. I couldn’t bring myself to inflict that on another human being.

Anyway, there’s just no solution, is there? You just have to throw away significant portions of your life on it, don’t you?

(Please, please, please tell me I’m wrong…)

About to delete everything on THIS page...

About to delete everything on THIS page…

Oh, drat these computers! They don’t have enough holes!


As technology progresses, our devices have more and more features, something we’ve come to expect. We don’t have flying cars, but our phones do cool things.

But today I’m kind of frustrated that computer makers keeping taking features away.

Sure, mostly the stuff they ditch is stuff we don’t need any more. Like floppy disk drives. But even then, I hate to see them go. The first time I went to buy a computer after that trend started, I paid extra to have a floppy drive added in a vacant drive slot of the desktop.

But I only did it that once. On the next few machines I bought, I didn’t fret about the lack of such a feature. It still bothered me, though, that I had shoeboxes full of floppies containing data I could not access. Finally, a few months ago I bought an external floppy drive from Amazon — it only cost about 10 bucks — and when it came, I spent a couple of hours popping in disks from those shoeboxes, and I found that… I really didn’t need any of that stuff after all.

So I guess the industry knew what it was doing there.

I’m less sanguine about some of the more recent omissions. (Did I use that right? Should I have said “phlegmatic?” I get those confused.)

You know how I told you I bought a new laptop last month? It’s great and all that, but the freaking thing only has two USB ports! When I bought it, I decided that was OK. After all, my last laptop before that one only had three, which had worried me so much when I first got it that I ordered a USB hub that converts one USB orifice into four. And for awhile, I made heavy use of it, plugging in all sorts of peripherals.

But I had noticed that I hadn’t taken the hub out of my laptop bag in maybe a year, so maybe two would be enough. Maybe. Even though, if you’re me, that means you only have one. That’s because the other one is in use all the time for my mouse. I’m physically incapable of using a touchpad. The first thing I do when I sit down at a computer that has one is disable it, because I can’t keep the heels of my hands from touching it as I type, and making all sorts of insane things happen to the document I’m trying to write — including occasionally defining the whole document and deleting it (and I’m not even sure how I’m doing that, but it happens).

So, I have one free USB port.

And that would be fine if certain other features weren’t missing.

First, I got the computer home and had been using it for a couple of hours — installing software and the like — when something dawned on me: It didn’t have a DVD drive!

OK, that’s cool. I hadn’t used one of those in a year or two, either, so… no biggie.

But then, one of the first days I used the new machine at the office, I kept losing the wifi signal. One of my ADCO colleagues suggested that I plug in the Ethernet cable, which we still have in our offices.

Good idea! Except… there was no receptacle for an Ethernet cable! I kept turning the thing over, this way and that, and no — no hole that shape. Although there’s an HDMI port — why, I don’t know. (I mean, I already have a high-def monitor — it’s attached and everything. It even has a touch screen.) And while hunting, I also noticed there was no SD card slot for the card that goes to the old digital Canon I sometimes still use at work.

I was pretty practiced at rationalizing away these problems at this point. I told myself I took better pictures with my iPhone, anyway — and I do. But in part of my brain, I’m going, I paid full price for this machine! Why doesn’t it have basic, relatively cheap, low-tech stuff that every other computer I’ve bought over the past decade had?

This nagged at me, and eventually I went back to Best Buy to see if I could take this machine back and trade it for one that still had some of these homely amenities. But the other models at the store were similarly bereft. I kept picking laptops up and turning them this way and that, and while a few of them did have SD slots, they weren’t overly endowed with USB ports, and none of them had Ethernet cable apertures.

So I kept the one I had bought.

A few days later, I needed to scan something from my home printer. I have this awesome Canon printer that does everything, and even has a multipage feeder on top, which is wonderful because I scan multipage documents pretty frequently. I love it. I’ve had it for four years, and just a couple of weeks ago replaced the toner cartridge for the first time!

But I couldn’t seem to get the drivers for it to load on the new laptop. Since I bought the super-duper Geek Squad coverage, I got them on it. One of those poor geeks spent a couple of hours trying to get me set up, but he finally installed a different scanner driver, telling me it was newer and better.

It isn’t. It’s OK for PDFs, but the scan quality on photos is really poor. And I’m really, really into good photo quality. This app was made for amateurs, for the kind of people who decades ago used Instamatics — and were satisfied — when I was starting to process my own 35mm film.

But wait! In the file cabinet in my home office, I found the original software DVD that goes with my printer!

Now, if only I had a DVD drive on this computer….

Fine. I’ll order an external one from Amazon. And eventually, I’ll probably get an SC reader and an Ethernet adapter for days when the Wi-Fi is acting up. Which, if I also add a thumb drive, will totally fill up my USB hub.

But it doesn’t seem like I should have to do all this. Computers should come with more holes in them. Is that really too much to ask?


I want McAfee to go away. That’s all I want…


So I got a new computer a couple of weeks ago, and things are going along pretty nicely with it.

Dude, I got a Dell.

And I got the Dell at Best Buy, and I went hook, line and sinker for the full Geek Squad coverage, which has already come in handy a couple of times as I worked to get this or that piece of software up and running. I call them, they take over my computer remotely, and they fix it.

And it comes with Webroot. So I don’t need McAfee. But McAfee keeps popping up on my screen trying to get me to subscribe.

So I decide to uninstall it. Turns out there are three separate McAfee applications. And whenever I go to uninstall one, I get a dialogue box that says it’s still scanning stuff and protecting me, and I think, hey, if get a backstop safeguard for free, why delete it? Then I decide to delete anyway, and I get another dialogue box saying I already have an active subscription.

Say what? I’m pretty sure my last three laptops have been protected by Webroot. So… what is McAfee protecting — that 12-year-old desktop that I used to keep plugged in in a spare bedroom but which my wife has put away, turning that table into a sewing machine station?

So… should I pull the trigger and get rid of it? And if I’m paying for it, how do I get that to stop? Or is the “active subscription” just the free coverage they give you at first with a new computer, as the red dialogue box above indicates?

I don’t know. I just want them to leave me alone…


Is originality dead? For that matter, did it ever exist?

all the tees

This morning there was this huge Google Adsense ad spread across the top of my blog, right under the header (this one), for something called “Chummy Tees.”

There was no picture, so, wondering what was being promoted on my blog, I Googled the company (I didn’t dare click on the ad, as Google forbids me to do that). And I saw, among the rather plain, gray tee shirts being promoted, one that said “SURELY NOT EVERYONE WAS KUNG FU FIGHTING.”

And that cracked me up. I might be meaningless to people too young to remember the song, but I loved it. A perfect low-key joke for, say, an editor — someone who has spent most of his adult life keeping reporters from making extravagant statements that can’t be backed up. (Which is another way of saying you might not find it funny, but I do.)

I kind of liked this one, too.

I kind of liked this one, too.

I wasn’t going to shell out $23.95 for the shirt, of course. I’m neither crazy nor made of money. But… maybe I’d like to put it on my Amazon list. So I go to Amazon — I didn’t have to hunt for it because I already had a pop-up window from Amazon begging me to go there for such shirts — and it seems that while everyone may not be kung fu fighting, everyone seems to make a sure with that line (although all these used “everybody” instead of “everyone,” which is truer to the song).

And it got me to thinking, and not for the first time, that in the Internet age, we are no longer allowed to delude ourselves into thinking we have had an original thought. You think of something clever — something that in eras past you would have congratulated yourself for coming up with, convinced that you were quite the wag — and then for whatever reason you Google it, and you find out an army of people got there before you.

And this is frustrating. It fosters fatalism — why even TRY to come up with something good?, you ask yourself.

Yesterday on a podcast I was listening to, there was a discussion of the many ways that the internet casts a pall on our lives, bringing ills previously unimagined, and making us dread the future.

Add this to the list. It takes any small attempt to be original, and slams it to the ground.

And it makes you doubt there was ever anything such as originality. We may have thought we were clever, but that’s because we didn’t have the Web to set us straight. Each time you patted yourself on the back for a happy thought back in, say, 1975, there were a million other people out there having the same thought and thinking they were clever, too.

And we were all happier…


It’s always interesting to watch tech behemoths try to be something they are not

Bing shopping

Anyone out there actually use Bing?

I never have, even though I use a PC most of the time, and am therefore frequently reminded of its existence. I mean, there’s Google, right? So what would I use Bing for — unless I was trying to throw cyber surveillance off my scent? I do enjoy some of the cool photos they use to try to engage my interest, though.

As for Google — remember its pathetic attempt to be a social medium? I tried it out. I even used Google Hangout once for a video conference. But if I wanted video conferencing, I’ve got Facetime on my phone, right? And I have vague memories of something called Skype, although I haven’t used it in years.

Today, on my lockscreen on my PC, against a beautiful photo of a snowy countryside, I saw an invitation to check out something called “Bing shopping.”

Curious, I called it up. And I found something singularly unappealing. Then, intrigued by what sort of e-reader Bing shopping was promoting, I clicked and to my amusement saw that the first three offered were Amazon Kindles.

So… why am I not looking for them through Amazon?

As for Amazon… it might be too early to mock it for its foray into bricks-and-mortar retailing, but perhaps the time will come ere long…


I dropped my newspaper subscription today

"That's the press, baby!"

“That’s the press, baby!”

Of course, the emphasis there is on “paper.” I only dropped the print version of The State. I still get it online.

That lowered the price of my subscription from $46 a month to $9 and something. Maybe $9.99. I wasn’t paying that much attention. I was in the middle of my afternoon walk around the USC campus when they called me on account of my having gotten a new debit card to replace the one that expired this month, and the autopay wasn’t working.

So I said, while I’ve got you, I want to drop the dead-tree version….  I only read it online anyway. That’s the only way I read any newspapers. I subscribe to The State, The Washington Post and The New York Times, and read them all on my iPad. The New Yorker, too. I dropped The Wall Street Journal several years back because it got too expensive.

So nothing lost, and a savings of more than $400 a year. A good deal.

Still, I’m a newspaperman. That’s who I am, no matter whether I’m employed doing it or not.

So there seems something historic about this, from my own perspective, and thought I’d take note of it.

Of course, I was never really wedded to the paper part of the equation. Starting in about 1980 when we went from typewriters to a mainframe front-end system, I started wishing that when I hit SEND for a story to go to the copy desk, it would just go straight to the reader. And it only took what, a couple of decades for that to happen.

So it’s all to the good. But still, there’ll be a bit of nostalgia for the days when I was the guy who said “Stop the presses!” when something big happened (or when we realized we’d made a big goof on one of the pages), and it really meant something. It felt a little like being Bogart in “Deadline U.S.A.”

I guess, in a sense, what I did today was say “Stop the presses!” just one more time….

Bill WHO? Sometimes Google mystifies me

without c

I was reading a Bret Stephens piece from over the weekend, about what he sees as lessons from the Clinton impeachment, which was accompanied by this file photo of Bill in 1998.

I was struck by how young he looked. And I was wondering how young he was, and went to Google it.

And I ran across something odd.

I typed “bill” followed by a space, and above were the results I got. Which mystified me. I wasn’t totally stunned that Bill Cosby came first. Even though he has been more thoroughly shamed and degraded by his actions in the public eye, he is someone who once enjoyed great fame and acclamation.

But I figured Clinton would surely come next. But instead, of the next four “Bills,” only one was someone I had even heard of — Bill Gates. I would have to click to learn who Bill Nunn, Bill Goldberg and Bill Burr are or were. Which I didn’t do.

Instead, I added a “c,” and sure enough there was Bill Clinton — although still second to Cosby. See below. (And no, I have no idea who the two Callahans or Cowher are.)

Usually, I can intuit why Google offers me certain results — they reflect what is in the news, or other things I’ve recently searched for.

But sometimes it stumps me. This is one of those times.

Any idea why those bills — Nunn, Goldberg and Burr — come up before “Clinton?”

with c

If Adsense is going to take over my blog, they need to pay me more

swollen adsense

OK, this is ridiculous. It just started today, and I’ve had enough of it.

The shallow banner ads that Adsense was putting at the top of my blog — about the size and shape of my random header images — have given way to these gigantic things that take up the whole screen on my laptop, and then some.

In fact, I have to shrink the screen several times to get the top of my page and the first headline in the same image so I can show you what’s happening (see above).

Before I shrink it, the ads look like what you see below: There’s the header, and then there’s not even room for the whole ad to show.

Anyway, this is ridiculous. They’re not paying enough to inconvenience my readers and me to this extent…

adsense 2

The Pink Screen of Death! AIIIIEEEEEEE!!!!


As a Windows veteran of nearly three decades, I’ve seen some terrible sights, things that would chill the blood of a lesser man. The terrible Blue Screen of Death is an old friend, for instance. That was pretty much the favorite mode of my last laptop.

But I had never before seen what is pictured above. That’s what greeted me when I opened my laptop this morning.

Apparently, it’s a thing. A bad thing.

I don’t know what caused it, but I strongly suspect a Firefox update. Ever since I recovered from the Pink Screen, I’ve been unable to use Firefox at all. A home screen of sorts comes up — a different one from what I’ve seen in the past, which is what tells me there must have been an update — but not the home screens I had programmed into the settings.

And anyway, I can’t call up ANY websites on the browser. But if I try the very same URL on Chrome, it works fine.

Oh, and turning it off and back on again didn’t fix the Mozilla problem. I guess my next step is uninstalling and reinstalling.

Any thoughts, guidance, advice…?


I finally found a time and a place for podcasts


I’m hip. I’m with it.

Stop laughing.

No, seriously, I’m someone who digs social media (if it’s Twitter) and I can barely remember what it’s like to watch commercial broadcast television, except that it’s kind of like watching non-premium Hulu, on account of the ads.

But there’s one modern way of interacting with content that I just couldn’t figure out. Not technologically — that was simple enough. I just couldn’t find a time and place for it in my life.

I’m talking podcasts.

Even though there are plenty of things on, for instance, NPR that I would like to listen to at my convenience, I’ve had trouble figuring out when that would be.

  • Not in my car, because if I’m on a long-enough drive, I kind of need to be interacting with the people with me, or at least alert to them. I’m a family man; not the guy in “Vanishing Point.” I seldom take trips alone. Also, it’s really not safe to drive with earbuds on, and how many podcasts do I want to hear that are also interesting to my wife and my grandchildren? I did some solo driving during the campaign, but I was always talking on the phone or otherwise too busy to do any extended listening.
  • Not while working or reading. That works (sometimes) with music, but not with people talking. I can’t read words and listen to words and take both in. My wife can do it, but I can’t. It’s sort of a walking and chewing gum thing.
  • Not while working out on the elliptical at home. Sound isn’t enough to fully distract me from the tedium of exercise. So I watch stuff on the Roku.

I’ve particularly been frustrated in finding a good time to listen to The West Wing Weekly, but I’ve been intimidated by the logistics — I mean, don’t I really need to be watching the show while listening? And when do I have time for that?

Then yesterday, it hit me.

I’ve been listening to Pandora during my afternoon walks downtown. Lately, it’s been my Elvis Costello station (which also gives me the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Talking Heads, Tom Petty, Weezer and other good stuff).

It only hit me yesterday that I could just as easily be listening to a podcast. I had been wanting to listen to The Argument, which features David Leonhardt, Ross Douthat and Michelle Goldberg talking about some issue of the day. So I did. And it was great, although since my route takes me through the USC campus some of the kids may have wondered what’s wrong with the old guy whenever I scowled at someone saying Joe Biden shouldn’t run.

I even had time left in my walk to listen to some Pandora when it was over.

Yeah, I know: Obvious. But I like when some problem that had been bugging me suddenly works its way out. Even when it’s as insignificant as this one.

Of course, I still haven’t figured out the West Wing Weekly problem…

128 gigabytes? 128 GIGABYTES?!?!?!?!

My new iPad came yesterday, and I’m as excited as Doc Brown finding out that his flux capacitor actually works!

Perhaps the best part is that, after years of having to constantly dump stuff to keep my old 32 GB model from getting too full, I now have 128 GB to work with! Last night, the new one automatically went to the cloud and downloaded every app that was on the old one (which I didn’t necessarily need it to do, because I can do without some of them), and when it was done it took up only 14 gigs!

I’ve got 114 gigs of completely clean, virgin, unexplored space lying before me! I’m like one of the English settlers at Jamestown with the whole continent to my west! (Yeah, not a particularly pleasant analogy if you’re a Native American, but it was the first one that came to mind. Race memory stored in the collective unconscious, or something.)

But when I left the house this morning, I suddenly chickened out and brought my old beat-up iPad with me instead. Because if I left the house with the new one it could get wrecked, stolen, scratched, breathed on wrong!

I think I’ll just go home to it tonight and rub it with a diaper.

OK, I’ll stop with the silly movie references now. But I’m kind of giddy about this thing. I’m a heavy tablet user, and having one that’s new and fast and doesn’t freeze up and has more space than I (currently) need is actually going to make my day-to-day life easier…

This reminds me -- I really need to get a haircut...

This reminds me — I really need to get a haircut…


Apple, I’m doing the best I can to keep you going…


Yesterday, Apple sent markets into paroxysms by issuing a poor earnings report and blaming it on the Chinese economy.

And I’m sure slowing Chinese growth, complicated by Trump’s trade war, isn’t helping.

But there may be something else going on as well.

On a previous post, Doug dismissed my concerns about America no longer being a country that did big things by saying the private sector does big things, which of course pleases him because of his strained relationship with the concept of government.

But is that right? When’s the last big thing the private sector did? Smartphones, right?

Well, that was 12 years ago. Or at least, that was when the smartphone came into its own. I had a Blackberry, and before that a Palm Treo, and before that the primitive Palm Pilot (no wifi or cell connectivity, but you could dock it to sync with a PC). But the iPhone and its imitators are what made the magic happen.

In a piece in the NYT today headlined “Is This the End of the Age of Apple?,” technology writer Kara Swisher worries that the magic is gone, and the next thing is failing to pop up on the horizon:

The last big innovation explosion — the proliferation of the smartphone — is clearly ending. There is no question that Apple was the center of that, with its app-centric, photo-forward and feature-laden phone that gave everyone the first platform for what was to create so many products and so much wealth….

Now all of tech is seeking the next major platform and area of growth. Will it be virtual and augmented reality, or perhaps self-driving cars? Artificial intelligence, robotics, cryptocurrency or digital health? We are stumbling in the dark….

Her piece ends plaintively:

Where is that next spark that will light us all up?

I dunno. But as far as Apple is concerned, I’m doing my bit to at least keep them afloat. I got a new iPhone during the campaign. Not only was the battery, despite my plugging it in every time I was near an electrical outlet all day long, giving out, but my 5s just couldn’t keep up with the social media pace — not to mention that I kept running out of space for photos and video, which was completely unacceptable since I was churning out posts such as this and this all day, every day.

So on Oct. 3 I got an iPhone 8, which got me through that last month. In fact, it did a lot to make up for the inadequacies of my laptop and my old iPad, both of which were also on their last legs.

And now, I’m about to replace my 6-year-old iPad 4 with the new 6th generation that came out in 2018. I’m pretty excited about it. For a year or two now, it’s been freezing up on me — probably between five and 10 times a day during the campaign, which was more frustrating than I think you can imagine (which is why I turned more and more to my phone in those last weeks).

When I say “freeze up,” I mean the screen just… freezes. It won’t respond to touch. I can’t scroll, or go to the Home screen or anything. The Home button doesn’t do anything. It doesn’t respond to any sort of input short of a sledgehammer, which I haven’t tried in spite of the temptation. This lasts for anywhere between a minute and five minutes. Then, it either resumes working, or reboots and then resumes working — until the next freeze.

I don’t mean to badmouth my iPad. I love it, and it has served me well for a long time now — about twice as long as the useful life of a PC. But it’s time.

Hence my placing an order for a new one. So as I say, I’m trying to help Apple. But here’s the thing about that…

I’m not ordering anything new, in the sense of being a life-changing departure. I just want an iPad that functions the way my old one did when it was new. Well, that, and more storage — going from 32g to 128.

And basically, it was the same with my iPhone. I didn’t even want the size to change. In fact, I delayed getting a new phone until it became clear that Apple was not going to put out an updated version of the SE. But I stopped at the 8. I had zero interest in the supposedly (but not really) revolutionary X.

And I have no interest in an iPad Pro, or an iPad Air. You know why? Because they don’t really offer anything impressive that is also useful. Which is great for me, because the cost of a basic iPad with 128 gigs has dropped considerably as Apple has pushed those higher-priced models.

To me, the basic iPad is the pinnacle of its type of tech. It’s something I had been waiting for ever since 1994, when a guy who worked for the same company I did, Roger Fidler. Don’t believe me? Watch the video. I was on fire to have one from the moment I heard of the concept — just as I had been anxious to deliver the news electronically ever since my paper had gone from typewriters to a mainframe in 1980. I couldn’t wait until I had a tablet of my own, to replace newspapers, magazines and books. I knew that when I did, I’d carry it everywhere.

And now that I have one, that’s exactly what I do. The iPad is as much a part of me as most people’s wallets are. I had to wait more than 20 years, but I finally got me one.

But… that was the acme. All you can do for me now is make my tablet a little faster or expand the storage. I don’t need more functionality, beyond a new app now and then. The model I’ve ordered will work with an Apple Pencil, and my reaction to that is “meh.”

I don’t need any startling new developments. And Apple hasn’t offered any.

So… Ms. Swisher seems to have a point. The Age in which Apple drives revolutionary change may well be at an end…

Blue IS my favorite color, but others are nice as well…

blue iconsOccasionally, when I’m in a hurry to open my Twitter app, I mistakenly click on my email. Or my WordPress app. Or LinkedIn. Or the remote app for the Apple TV.

Why? Because they’re all blue!

This morning, my iPad was showing me a bunch of apps that needed updating (don’t ask me why it was showing me this rather than just updating them automatically as usual; I suppose I’ll have to go in and reset something), and every single icon showing on the page was blue.

And note that some of the most obvious blue icons that come to mind — Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox — weren’t even represented in this list.

Why is that? Is there research showing that that’s the most desirable color for an app? Is that evidence so powerful that it prevents developers from even having the thought, “Maybe I should make my icon stand out from the others?”

And does anyone besides me think this is odd?

OK, now… as I frequently do, I wrote the above without taking the trouble to Google, “why are so many app icons blue?” Before clicking “publish,” I decided I would. Like most questions that occur to me, this one had apparently been asked a gazillion times. (You know, I was a far more original thinker before Google came along.)

None of the answers were totally satisfactory to me. Yeah, OK, so blue is the most common favorite color on the planet, across cultures, genders, etc. It’s a safe choice for someone trying to appeal to a wide audience, not as edgy as, say, the execrable orange.

Got it. In fact, I sort of knew that stuff without asking. But still, it seems more developers would look at that sea of blue on their smartphone screens and think, “I want to stand out.”

But they don’t. Because they’re not such original thinkers either, apparently…