Category Archives: Technology

‘Fake news’ proliferates (even — gasp! — here on this blog!)

Douglas

There’s “fake news,” and then there’s fake news. I’ve seen a number of widely different varieties in recent days.

First, a digression: I’ve always had mixed feelings about the value of competition.

Yeah, I suppose it keeps you on your toes, makes you try harder and reach new heights, etc. But in the news business, I’ve always worried about it, because the pressure to get it first can cause you to go with something too soon, and get it wrong.

I worried about that even back when there were only two news cycles in each day — a.m. and p.m. You had all those hours to work on something and get it right before you had to go to press, or, in case of broadcast, go on the air. But knowing that if you didn’t go with it today you had to wait another 24 hours created its own kind of pressure to go with what you had.

The best way to avoid letting that pressure get you into trouble was the old nostrum, “When in doubt, leave it out.” Better to leave a hole in a story, an unanswered question, than give an answer you weren’t completely sure about.

Now, with the Web and social media, there is no “cycle.” Deadline is always right now, and if you delay a minute, you take the risk of getting beat by 59 seconds.

And that produces screw-ups like CBS reporting that Tom Petty was dead early on Monday afternoon, when he didn’t actually die until 8:30 that evening — and it wasn’t officially released until midnight.

(This was particularly problematic for old media that still follow cycles. The State had a piece in Tuesday morning’s paper all about how CBS had messed up by reporting that Petty was dead when he wasn’t — and not a word about the fact that Petty actually was dead. That’s because his death was announced after press time, but hours before readers would have the chance to read the story. Very confusing.)

As “fake news” goes, that was of the honest-mistake variety. We saw an example of the more malevolent kind within that same 24-hour period. It’s the sort that arises from the modern phenomenon of everybody being a publisher — meaning that there are no rules, and no fussy editors saying “When in doubt, leave it out.” And everyone believes what they want to believe, however unlikely, according to their political prejudices.

I’m talking about the way right-wing trolls eagerly identified an innocent man as the Las Vegas shooter, simply because he was someone who fit a narrative that was appealing to them, and he had apparently been married to a woman with the same name as the actual shooter’s girlfriend:

Geary Danley was not the gunman in Las Vegas who killed at least 50 people late Sunday. But for hours on the far-right Internet, would-be sleuths scoured Danley’s Facebook likes, family photographs and marital history to try to “prove” that he was.

Danley, according to an archived version of a Facebook page bearing that name, might have been married to a Marilou Danley. Police were looking for a woman by that name in the hours after the shooting, but later saidthey did not think she was involved. To name someone as a mass murderer based on that evidence would be irresponsible and dangerous. But that’s exactly what a portion of the far-right Internet did overnight.

The briefest look at the viral threads and tweets falsely naming Geary Danley as the attacker makes it easy to guess why a bunch of right-wing trolls latched on to him: His Facebook profile indicated that he might be a liberal….

But even that, as filled with bad faith and malevolence as it was, seems less deliberate than another kind of shameless spreading of “fake news” that is all around us these days, feeding systematically on reader gullibility.

A couple of weeks back, I was watching TV and my wife was in the room looking at her iPad when she told me that The Rock, Dwayne Johnson, was killed doing a stunt on a movie set. (I’m thinking she saw this on a Facebook ad.) I said something like “Wow, I wonder why they let him do something so dangerous.” Then I made an observation about Vic Morrow and the way he died, and forgot about it.

Then, at some point the next day, it occurred to me that I’d seen nothing about the star’s death in any of the papers I had read on my iPad that morning. So I went looking, and saw that it was a hoax.

Then, this week, the same hoax started showing up in the Google Ads right here on my own blog. Click here for the screenshot.

Oh, and have you read about the passing of Michael Douglas? I have, many times. To make the weirdness even richer, when I looked up “Michael Douglas death hoax,” I found a site that fed me… you guessed it… an ad with the misspelled news of “The Rock’s” alleged death (see above).

By the way, you want to be careful Googling Michael Douglas — you might get true stories that tell you way more than you want to know.

Where does this leave us? In a situation in which we could use some old-school, skeptical editors standing between you and the lies. But that’s not going to happen. The technology exists, and it can’t be put back in the tube. Anybody can instantly publish anything for the whole planet to see, without any professional standards being involved whatsoever.

So what we need is more intelligent, skeptical readers. But let’s not hold our breath for that new species to evolve. As last year’s election showed us, and every day since confirms, there are a thousand suckers born every minute…

By the time I read this story in The State telling me reports of Petty's death were false, he was actually dead.

By the time I read this story in The State telling me the report of Petty’s death was erroneous, he was actually dead.

 

Random images I shot and sort of like…

I Tweeted this out with the words, "Warm light of the setting sun falls on the heart of downtown Columbia -- seen from @CapCityClubCola."

I Tweeted this out with the words, “Warm light of the setting sun falls on the heart of downtown Columbia — seen from @CapCityClubCola.”

First, I’m not claiming these images I shot yesterday are great. I did not set out to take great images. I did not set out to shoot any images. It’s just that, when you have an iPhone, you shoot things like these as you go along. I do, anyway.

I took this still life on the bar at the Cap City Club, a moment before the shot above.

I took this still life on the bar at the Cap City Club, a moment before the shot above.

I’d like them better if they were of higher resolution. I wish I could have shot them with a high-end SLR, a digital version of the Nikon 8008s that sits in a drawer in my bedroom, and has for years, because it uses film. But I don’t have one of those.

But that doesn’t bother me much, because you don’t get trivial, serendipitous photos if you wait until you’re lugging a camera around. A virtue of this (relatively) new world of photography is that you’re always ready to shoot, limited only by the length of time it takes to whip out your phone (not long for me, since I’m one of those geeks who keeps it in a holster on his belt).

Anyway, they’re not much, but I thought I’d share…

This was a disappointment. The sight of workers backed by the big, blue sky was way better IRL.

This was a disappointment. The sight of workers backed by the big, blue sky was way more striking IRL.

OK, I’m getting sick and tired of these paywalls

paywall

Of course, of course, of course newspapers should have charged for their content online, starting in the 1990s when the Web was a novelty everybody was playing around with.

But nobody did, so nobody thought we could.

The fact that we didn’t was sort of a boon to journalists, while a looming nightmare to the business side: We could all access each other’s copy for free in real time — no more need to convince my publisher every year to let me keep that budget line for Lexis-Nexis. (That one stuck in his craw, every time. I think on some level he thought I was using the newspaper’s money to buy myself a luxury car.)

And we all got used to that, as did readers. Which made it all that much harder to get away with putting up a pay wall. People had come to expect free news as their right.

But finally, much too late, pretty much everyone has realized they need to charge for news that it costs them dearly to produce. (Reporters don’t get paid much, but they’re not free. Editors even less so.)

And between that and the pop-up ads that repeatedly jump up between you and what you’re trying to read (yet another scrappy effort to regain fiscal viability), reading newspaper content online has increasingly become less of a pleasure, and more of a chore.

Yesterday and today, I was trying to read the Post and Courier‘s story on Alan Wilson and the Quinns, and not succeeding. I’d call up the story, it would appear tantalizingly, for a couple of seconds, and then disappear behind a dialogue box urging me to subscribe. When I declined, the screen immediately reverted to the home page, where I could only see the headline. (Eventually, a link Doug shared with me worked, and I was able to read the story.)

While I was in the midst of that, someone shared with me a link to this story in The Wall Street Journal about effective passwords. Since my subscription expired months ago, my initial effort to read it failed. Then, I went to the old workaround that hasn’t been working for me lately (Google the precise headline of the story, and call it up directly from the search page) and this time it worked! But that might be related to the fact that this was the daily A-hed story. (That’s that one fun, featury read that the Journal puts on the front page every day.) And if I remember correctly, the A-hed has been free to read for years — which is smart, because it gives prospective subscribers the impression that the Journal is a fun paper to read.

And as you all know, The State has been more and more insistent that you pay to play. In fact, a couple of months back I thought they were getting sort of obsessive about it. Three days in a row, I was forced to log in yet again in order to read the paper on my iPad app. I found this sufficiently irritating that I complained about it on Twitter — and it hasn’t happened since. I don’t think there was a cause-and-effect relationship there, but I found the result satisfying nevertheless. Almost like I still had some pull…

Of course, an awful lot of content out there remains free, to an extent. If not for that, we’d see Twitter grind to a halt — or at least, the kinds of Tweets that I value, the ones that provide links to content. And if you’re a light user, you may never, for instance, exceed The New York Times‘ allotment of 10 free stories a month. But if you’re a heavy user like me, you end up having to knuckle under and subscribe. And for how much longer, I wonder, will they allow those 10 freebies, month after month?

But it’s getting to be more work, and/or more expensive, to keep up with the news on the Web. I wish I thought that was going to save newspapers — or better yet, return the to their glory days. If I did, I’d find these barriers less irritating…

WSJ paywall

In The Atlantic: ‘Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?’

dive into phone

Yeah, I know. That sounds like something you’d hear from Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man: “In my day our phones were dumber’n a stump, and we liked it!”

And since I love my iPhone and its big brother my iPad, I was prepared to be dismissive when Ross Douthat recommended the piece on Twitter: I would reject it, and then I would hide it from my wife, who makes a stubborn virtue of only carrying a flip phone.

But it’s actually pretty interesting. And a bit scary.

It’s by a psychologist who has been studying generational differences for 25 years, and who is a bit freaked out by the latest group she’s been investigating: “iGen,” the group born between 1995 and 2012, is more radically different from its elders than anything she’s seen before:

Typically, the characteristics that come to define a generation appear gradually, and along a continuum. Beliefs and behaviors that were already rising simply continue to do so. Millennials, for instance, are a highly individualistic generation, but individualism had been increasing since the Baby Boomers turned on, tuned in, and dropped out. I had grown accustomed to line graphs of trends that looked like modest hills and valleys. Then I began studying Athena’s generation.

Around 2012, I noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states. The gentle slopes of the line graphs became steep mountains and sheer cliffs, and many of the distinctive characteristics of the Millennial generation began to disappear. In all my analyses of generational data—some reaching back to the 1930s—I had never seen anything like it.

At first I presumed these might be blips, but the trends persisted, across several years and a series of national surveys. The changes weren’t just in degree, but in kind. The biggest difference between the Millennials and their predecessors was in how they viewed the world; teens today differ from the Millennials not just in their views but in how they spend their time. The experiences they have every day are radically different from those of the generation that came of age just a few years before them….

So what was it that caused this shift in 2012? Well, that was the year “when the proportion of Americans who owned a smartphone surpassed 50 percent.”

How are these kids different? Well, they don’t date or hang out with friends. They don’t drive, and are happy to be taken places — if they go anywhere — by their parents. They don’t drink. They don’t have sex.

So, in some ways, they’re a helicopter parents’ dream. Until you think hard about what they are doing: Lying around in their bedrooms staring at their phones. “I’ve been on my phone more than I’ve been with actual people,” one kid says. “My bed has, like, an imprint of my body.”

Another excerpt:

Some generational changes are positive, some are negative, and many are both. More comfortable in their bedrooms than in a car or at a party, today’s teens are physically safer than teens have ever been. They’re markedly less likely to get into a car accident and, having less of a taste for alcohol than their predecessors, are less susceptible to drinking’s attendant ills.

Psychologically, however, they are more vulnerable than Millennials were: Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.

Even when a seismic event—a war, a technological leap, a free concert in the mud—plays an outsize role in shaping a group of young people, no single factor ever defines a generation. Parenting styles continue to change, as do school curricula and culture, and these things matter. But the twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy….

Anyway, it’s a long piece, but I recommend you read it.

When I was young, we imagined that future technology — flying cars, starships — would help us dominate the physical universe around us. We didn’t think about it changing our brains, and causing us to turn inward, away from that physical universe.

I see how my own brain has been altered by these devices. I don’t have to remember anything anymore. I don’t have to wonder about anything any more. As quickly as I can say, “I wonder…,” I’m already looking it up. I’ve come to take for granted the fact that I can reach out to anyone and everyone on the planet and express my thoughts, instantaneously. That’s perhaps even more remarkable to me, as someone who did that for a living with older forms, than it is to you. And of course it plays to the kinds of activity that my mind gets off on.

But I’ve known other modes of being. And I shudder a bit to think what it must be like to know no other reality…

Senate panel to hold hearings on abandoned nuke project

You know what I hate? I hate it when somebody sends out a release on a PDF, and it’s the kind of PDF that won’t let you highlight and copy the text. Meaning you have to retype it to quote it, which not only is a hassle, but leads to a greater chance of making errors. So I end up having to show you a picture of it, like so:

rankin

Anyway, here’s the whole PDF if you want to look at it…

No, I don’t! Stop saying that!

This is from the Bugs Bunny “He don’t know me very well, do he?” department…

I keep getting the Google Adsense ad you see below. I just now refreshed like four times, and it wouldn’t go away.

I guess it’s because some of y’all brought up birth control on the previous post. You’ll notice that I didn’t engage. That was mainly because I wasn’t interested in doing so, but now I have an additional reason not to — at some point, I’d like to stop seeing this ad…

planned

 

About that question: Can words kill people?

girl

I generally stay away from “people being beastly on the internet” stories because I’m just too busy with politics, policy and pop culture.

But this past week there were two horror stories that totally boggled what little mind I allowed to get distracted by them. Ironically, we had just had a discussion about cruel and unusual punishment when a prime candidate for such treatment was in the news: The monster who dangled his baby out a 15th-story window in a bid for Facebook “likes.” (Note that my link is to the Daily Mail, which seems the perfect setting for such a story.) You know how FB recently added those alternatives to “like”? For this guy, they need to add an “If I ever meet you in person, I’m breaking both of your arms so you can’t do that again” button.

Then there was the case Kathleen Parker wrote about under the headline, “Can words kill people?” It’s about “Michelle Carter’s conviction last week on involuntary-manslaughter charges in the 2014 suicide of her 18-year-old boyfriend, Conrad Roy III.” Excerpt:

At the time of the suicide, Carter was a 17-year-old whose boyfriend spoke frequently of taking his own life. He finally did by filling his parked truck with carbon monoxide. Mind you, Carter was nowhere near. She had no physical hand in the death, although she did text and call Roy, urging him to go ahead and do it. When he had second thoughts and got out of his vehicle, she instructed him to get back in.

Manslaughter? Evil? Or just dumb?

If Carter’s words were Roy’s death sentence, then his death was hers, if not literally, then, indeed, virtually. For her clearly tangential role, which one could as easily interpret as drama-queen excess, Carter faces up to 20 years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 3.

It is easy to feel outrage at what transpired. Prosecutors introduced hundreds of text messages between Roy and Carter in which she encouraged him to end his life and sometimes taunted him for his lack of courage. In one, she wrote: “You’re ready and prepared. All you have to do is turn the generator on and you will be free and happy. No more pushing it off. No more waiting.”

This alone is enough to make one dislike or even despise Carter. But is it enough to blame Carter for Roy’s death?…

Kathleen concluded that no, it isn’t. I was unsatisfied with that conclusion.

The columnist asks, “Manslaughter? Evil? Or just dumb?” The best of the three would seem to be evil. You read the words she wrote to this boy on the edge, and your blood runs cold. Mine does, anyway.

In terms of how to approach such a thing in the criminal justice system, manslaughter seems inaccurate. And I’m not sure how the law works on aiding and abetting. What should be the charge for being a cheerleader at a boy’s death?

There is evidently something essential missing in this girl, and at the very least it seems she should be confined somewhere until experts can figure out what it is, and whether it’s possible to fill that void.

Because anyone who will do what she did — repeatedly, insistently, matter-of-factly — is dangerous….

Why wasn’t there a Bond girl named ‘Reality Winner?’

Reality Leigh Winner, from her Instagram page.

Reality Leigh Winner, from her Instagram page.

“Who is Reality Winner?” is today’s most popular headline. Here are versions of that story from:

Her own self-description on her Instagram page simply says, “I lift, I eat, I have a cat.” That’s followed by lots of pictures of herself lifting weights, of food, and occasionally of a cat (although at first glance, there seem to be more dog than cat pictures).

Me, I’m just impressed that there’s someone at the center of a spy story with such a perfect Bond girl name, the sort that might cause James himself to say, “I must be dreaming.” First Anna Chapman (“From Russia with Va-va-VOOM!”), now this.

But I thought it was kind of odd that most of the coverage this morning was about her being charged with the NSA leak. I sort of thought the bigger news (and maybe this was played up bigger last night when I wasn’t paying attention) was what she had revealed:

Russian intelligence agents hacked a US voting systems manufacturer in the weeks leading up to last year’s presidential election, according to the Intercept,citing what it said was a highly classified National Security Agency (NSA) report.

The revelation coincided with the arrest of Reality Leigh Winner, 25, a federal contractor from Augusta, Georgia, who was charged with removing classified material from a government facility and mailing it to a news outlet.

The hacking of senior Democrats’ email accounts during the campaign has been well chronicled, but vote-counting was thought to have been unaffected, despite concerted Russian efforts to penetrate it.

Russian military intelligence carried out a cyber-attack on at least one US voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to more than a hundred local election officials days before the poll, the Intercept reported on Monday….

You know how a lot of sticklers (particularly of the pro-Trump sort) have protested that it’s wrong to say the Russians “hacked the election,” when they didn’t actually break into our polling system, but just hacked party emails and leaked them and let the chips fall?

Which was true, which is why “hacked the election” was never the best way to say it.

Until now.

Oh, and by the way, it wasn’t some hacker “artist” operating on his own initiative, the way Putin tried to suggest the other day (channeling Trump with his “400-pound hacker“). This was the GRU

Can anyone tell what Google’s problem with me is?

download

I got this email four days ago, but didn’t see it until today. The headline was, “Google AdSense: Action required to comply with AdSense program policies.”

OK, so I opened it, intending to deal with whatever the problem might be.

Trouble is, based on this, I have no idea what the problem is:

Hello,

This is a warning message to alert you that there is action required to bring your AdSense account into compliance with our AdSense program policies. We’ve provided additional details below, along with the actions to be taken on your part.

Affected website: bradwarthen.com

Example page where violation occurred: http://www.bradwarthen.com/category/sex/

Action required: Please make changes immediately to your site to follow AdSense program policies.

Current account status: Active

Violation explanation

As stated in our program policies, sites displaying Google ads should provide substantial and useful information to the user. Users should be able to easily navigate through the site to find what products, goods, or services are promised. Examples of misguided navigation include, but are not limited to:

  • False claims of downloadable or streaming content
  • Linking to content that does not exist
  • Redirecting users to irrelevant and/or misleading webpages
  • Text on a page unrelated to the topic and/or business model of the website.

For more information, please review Google’s Webmaster quality guidelines and the AdSense program policies.

How to resolve:

  • If you received a notification in regard to page content, we request that you immediately remove Google ads from the violating pages. If you are unable to, or unsure of how to remove the ads from these pages, or would like to continue monetizing the page with Google ads, please modify or remove the violating content to meet our AdSense policies.
  • If you received a notification in regards to the way ads are implemented on your site, please make the necessary changes to your implementation.

You do not need to contact us if you make changes. Please be aware that if additional violations are accrued, ad serving may be disabled to the website listed above. You should immediately take time to review your pages with Google ads to ensure that they comply with our policies.

Additionally, please be aware that the URL above is just an example and that the same violations may exist on other pages of this website or other sites that you own. To reduce the likelihood of future warnings from us, we suggest that you review all your sites for compliance. Here are some useful resources you might be interested in.

For more information regarding our policy warning notifications, visit our Help Center.

We thank you in advance for your cooperation.

Sincerely,

The Google AdSense Team

Of course, of course, of COURSE it’s from a “noreply” address, so I can’t ask questions.

And of course, when you click on the Help Center link, you get more words, and links to other words, none of which start out, “Our problem with your post is…”

They did allow me to vent a bit. When I clicked the “no” button at the bottom asking whether the article was helpful, I got a box to type in, under the invitation, “How can we improve it?” I wrote:

You can give me someone to talk to. The warning I received was completely unintelligible. I cannot begin to intuit what the problem is. If you have a problem with something on my blog, come out and tell me exactly what the problem is. From what you sent, I don’t have a clue….

But maybe I’m being obtuse. Can y’all see what it is, and tell me how to fix it?

The only thing I see on that post that might conceivably be troubling would be a copyright issue. But I’m pretty sure that my use of the photo from “Breaking Bad” and the Jimmy Carter one from Playboy, I’m in Fair Use territory. And I don’t think that’s what they’re talking about.

So what do you think it is?

Adsense ‘comments’ on Clinton endorsement

As y’all have no doubt noticed, aside from the local ads I have in the rail at right — and as you see, I’ve recently added several from candidates running in next week’s election — Google inserts ads here and there on the blog, based on what it has gleaned about the individual reader’s interests.

Some of items Adsense offers can be a bit startling, and the juxtapositions with content odd.

Burl Burlingame sent me this screenshot via text this week:

img_1198

There are just… so many levels on which to perceive that, most of them quite low. Looks to me like they’ve just noticed something is missing.

I asked Burl what kind of searches he had been doing lately. He insisted:

Not steroids! Or bellies!

Anyway, I always appreciate y’all sharing these occasionally odd apparitions…

My DNA is being subjected to a really ‘snazzy test’!

ancestry

Ever since I sent my spit off to Ancestry, I’ve been like a little kid who has sent in his cereal box tops, waiting for my secret decoder ring.

And the time frame involved is reminiscent of the days when I was a little kid — they say it can take 6-8 weeks for delivery!

For their part, Ancestry is making sure I know they haven’t forgotten me, or lost my DNA. I got an email from them today giving me a link to a page letting me track the process. Apparently, they’re working on it now. Surprisingly, this is something that actually takes time. I had figured it would be like when they test my iron level before I give platelets at the Red Cross — zip, and you’re done.

Nope. It’s way more complicated, tracking hundreds of thousands of… what do they call them?… single nucleotide polymorphisms. To put it in technical terms, the lady on this video says my DNA is being subjected to a “pretty complicated and really snazzy test.”

So now I understand.

Anyway, I can hardly wait…

No vertical video! Not now, not ever! It’s WRONG!

Ride of the Valkyrie. Think how disappointing 'Apocalypse Now' would have been if Coppola had shown just one Huey.

Ride of the Valkyrie: Think how disappointing ‘Apocalypse Now’ would have been if Coppola had shown just one Huey.

It’s bad enough that amateurs are providing video content to news organizations shot with their stupid smartphones in a vertical position — thereby causing us to miss most of what is going on, and having to look at those irritating black bars where we should be seeing something that provides us with additional perspective.

Now, we have professionals telling them not only that it’s OK to do that, but it’s the right way!

And their only excuse for doing that seems to be, Everybody’s screwing up this way, so let’s just say that’s the way to do it.

Here’s the latest apologia for shooting video the wrong way, from The Wall Street Journal:

It’s more comfortable to read things when the phone is standing up. Smartphones and their software were designed to fit in our hands. So why do we turn our phones to shoot and watch video? We shouldn’t. Those of us who used to scream, “You’re holding it wrong!”—we were really the ones who were wrong.

No, we were the ones who were right. We still are. We always will be. And everything you say, every example you provide, convinces me more of that.

The WSJ piece goes on:

Mobile video is exploding. Fifty-five percent of the world’s mobile traffic is now video, according to Cisco. And U.S. adults now spend 29 minutes a day watching video on their mobile devices, says eMarketer…

Yep, I’m one of those people. Although when I do watch video on my phone, I turn it sideways to see everything that’s going on. And of course if I’m near my Apple TV at home, I project it onto the TV screen — which is way more horizontal than TVs used to be, because the TV industry finally developed a rudimentary aesthetic sense. Because horizontal is the best way to present practically anything.

Notice how much better TV is now? I don’t think it’s an accident that it got better when it went horizontal. Who wants a closeup of Walter White standing there in his silly underpants? We need to see the RV and the desert spread out around him.

breaking-bad-marithon

Vertical video is the unmistakable mark of the clueless — or of someone who’s hiding something, trying to make you look at this one thing rather than see the context in which that one thing is occurring.

Look, I can see being sympathetic. I could see writing a piece such as this one: “Defending vertical videos: They’re stupid, but it’s not your fault.

But defending them as the right way to do it? No. Never. That would be like saying reality TV is a good thing because lots of people watch it. Absolutely not.

Where am I? What's going on? Where's the rest of the picture?

Where am I? What’s going on? Where’s the rest of the picture?

Barack Obama, Selfie Subject in Chief

Did selfies exist when W. was president? I don’t recall, but they’ve certainly been a huge factor in the current administration.

They’ve both been part of the Obama legend — this was the youthful, supposedly tech-savvy president who complained back in 2009 about having to curtail use of his Blackberry (an archaic device that, amazingly, he continued to use into this year, thanks to the government’s sclerotic pace of adaptation) — and a bit of a curse, as everyone he meets spins away from him in order to snap a shot.

As The Washington Post noted just this week:

Obama has complained — with increasing regularity during his final year in office — about the prevalence of the selfie and its intrusion on his personal space. But the president, who has leveraged his image as a tech-savvy and approachable leader to mobilize young voters, has not been willing or able — despite his ample executive powers — to contain the selfie explosion. No blanket selfie ban has been issued.

The upshot: Obama and the humble smartphone have forever altered one of the most iconic American moments. Never again will citizens interact with their president in quite the same way. #ThanksObama….

Generally he’s been a good sport, as you’ll recall from the famous Buzzfeed video, in which he reached out to young people by letting on that he, too, could be way narcissistic.

heres_looking_at_you_obama.0

Then there was the selfie he and soon-to-be-ex-PM Cameron oh-so-cheerfully posed for with the hot Scandinavian blonde… with the First Lady sitting off to the side scowling — as well she should, since they were in the middle of a funeral for one of the most revered people on the planet (actually, the photographer later said the photo was misleading on that score):

MANDELA-SELFIE_2761644b

It’s a bit weird the way this one minor feature of smartphones — the reverse lens, a goofy little add-on — has transformed the way people across the country and around the planet interact with the most powerful man in the world.

Yesterday, I remarked on the lack of gravitas exhibited by the president and the young leader of Canada in the selfie Tweeted by PM Trudeau. David Carlton chided me a bit, saying he was pleased to see national leaders so loose and informal.

And I suppose it’s all right. At least they’re wearing coats and ties, so my Tory sensibilities aren’t too offended. Harrumph.

I, personally, do not have a selfie with the president, strictly speaking. I have this old-fashioned shot taken by an actual photographer after interviewing then-Sen. Obama in 2008. Sorry. Best I could do:

brad-Obama

A gram is better than a damn, ma’am

Soma ad

Sometimes Google Adsense makes, well, sense — such as the Ancestry.com ad I’m seeing in the rail at right — I’ve really been into building my family tree lately.

Sometimes I am mystified. That’s the case with the “Soma” ad you see above.

Doubly mystified. To me, “Soma” means:

  1. The therapeutic and recreational drug of choice in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, where “A gramme is better than a damn” is axiomatic. It is used to keep people in that creepy utopia from feeling disagreeable emotions. Life is tough? Take a soma holiday!
  2. The muscle relaxer I have used at times over the years — generic name “carisoprodol.”

I don’t associate it with ladies in swimsuits. But apparently, that’s a thing now.

I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s that their products are meant to fit women’s physical forms, since “soma” means “the body as distinct from the soul, mind, or psyche.” You know, as in “psychosomatic.”

But it caught my eye…

Soma

Is Google Maps cool, or what?

screen

Any of y’all using Windows 10? I am, on both of my laptops, and it’s working fairly well for me.

I have one small complaint — the lockscreen offers these wonderful photographs, and I enjoy looking at them and all, but I want to know more. What am I looking at? Where and how was it taken? And so forth…Ballentine - Warthen Ad

Well, this afternoon, I outfoxed it. The lockscreen gave me the image above, and I knew that was London by the glimpse of the Tower Bridge. So I decided to find it on Google Maps, using the Streetview feature.

And it worked! Even though that’s not technically a street, but a pedestrian area.

I thought at first that it was taken from the City side of the river. I remember some building angles like that from when I walked in that area back in December 2010. But then I spotted, on the south side of the Thames, the distinctive building that’s visible just before the Tower Bridge.

That’s City Hall, as it turns out.

Anyway, once I saw that, it only took a couple of seconds to place myself virtually in almost the same spot as the photographer.

Google Maps is just awesome. We may not have flying cars, but Maps provides us with something amazing that I could not even have imagined when I was a kid.

The future has turned out to be fairly impressive after all…

tower bridge

 

Yeah, Apple, that’s some heavy-duty security ya got there…

When the news broke a few days ago that the government thought it had a way to get into the San Bernardino shooter’s phone without Apple’s help, someone on the radio made the point that this development meant both sides were losers:Apple_Logo_Png_06

  1. The government had to admit it was wrong that they could only get into the phone with Apple’s help.
  2. Apple, which based its refusal to provide this service to the country on the claim that it was just so important that its security remain intact, and that even Apple itself coming up with a way in would compromise the truly awesome security of its phones to an unacceptable extent, would be exposed as having lame security if a third party could indeed break in.

Here’s today’s news:

The Justice Department is abandoning its bid to force Apple to help it unlock the iPhone used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino terrorist attack because investigators have found a way in without the tech giant’s assistance, prosecutors wrote in a court filing Monday.

The government said that investigators had now “accessed the data stored on” the shooter’s iPhone and no longer needed Apple’s help. They asked a court to vacate an earlier ruling forcing Apple to provide assistance….

It’s good that law enforcement can now see whether there’s any intel of value on the phone. It’s bad that we didn’t establish the precedent that Apple has to cooperate with law enforcement. But I console myself on that point with the fact that Tim Cook now has egg on his face because his vaunted security has been shown to… I believe the technical term is “suck.”

You know, Apple, not everybody is hip to Zulu time…

That's me, standing astride the prime meridian at Greenwich in 2011.

That’s me, standing astride the prime meridian at Greenwich in 2011.

I had to update my debit card info on my Apple ID account this morning, and later I saw that I’d received an email that began:

The following changes to your Apple ID… were made on March 8, 2016 at 2:25:37 PM (GMT)…

And for a second, I thought, No, that wasn’t this afternoon, it was this morning…

And then I saw the “GMT.”

You know, not everybody is going to get that. Plenty of little old ladies are likely to see something like that and freak out, thinking their account has been hacked.

How much trouble would it be for Apple to simply take note of the time zone in which the change was made — information you know they have — and have the notification reflect that?

I guess they’re just too busy thinking up excuses not to help with a terrorism investigation…

Anyone having technical trouble on the blog?

Last night, I got this from Bryan:

I responded that it was OK at my end, although a bit slow.

Then, this morning, I saw that I got this from the entity that hosts my site:

This email is to inform you that we had to kill one
of your MySql queries because it had been running
for over 1 minute and it was impacting other users.

Kill one of my MySql series? What should I do? I suppose could kill one of theirs back (if I could find out where it lived), but then the cycle of revenge could be never-ending…

In any case, have any of y’all experienced technical difficulties here on the blog in the last 24 hours?

Anyone know how to do this in Windows 10?

This is what I want to see when I right-click on the "Notepad" tile.

This is what I want to see when I right-click on, say, the “Notepad” tile.

I got a new laptop right after Christmas — my old one was running slower and slower — and it’s great, but I’m still figuring out a few things on it.

That’s mainly because the new one runs on Window 10, but also because this is my first Asus machine, and it does some things slightly differently from a Dell or an HP.

Over the weekend, I finally figured out how to turn off the touchpad when a mouse is in use — those things drive me nuts; the heels of my hands are always touching them and causing my cursor to do something bizarre and occasionally causing me to lose everything I’ve typed (don’t ask me how). And sometimes, CTRL+Z doesn’t bring it all back, at which point the Urge to Kill arises…

Anyway, that’s fixed. And fixed better than on my old laptop. On that one, I just had to turn it off. On this one, in an emergency when my mouse stops working, the touchpad should reactivate. A bit redundant since this has a fancy-schmancy touch screen, but nice to know.

Here’s my latest question, and I’m tired of Googling for an answer, so I’ll see if any of y’all know…

I had the foresight to install Windows 10 on my old machine several weeks ago, to see if I could stand it (I’d heard so many horror stories about 8). If I could not stand it, I was going to order a machine with Windows 7 online (you can’t get them in stores anymore, and I was determined to buy at Best Buy this time, so I wouldn’t have to FedEx my laptop to the other side of the world when something goes wrong with it).

And after about three weeks with it, I decided this was a system I could work with. There were still some things that are ridiculously irritating, such as the fact that you can’t decide what will appear in the vertical list that pops up on the left-hand side of the screen when you hit the Windows Start key.

But you can work around that by putting them in the tiles over to the right. And I found that was just as good as having them in the list on the left, because you could right-click on the tile and see all recent files used in that application. Which is nice.

Trouble is, that doesn’t happen when I right-click on the tiles on my new machine. I just get three or four options such as “Unpin from Start.” I don’t know why it works on the old machine; I didn’t do anything to make it do that; it just does it.

I know there’s some really, really simple setting change that will fix this (maybe it’s just that I’ve used too few files for it to activate; I don’t know); I’ve just been unable to find it. And it occurs to me that maybe one of y’all will know the answer.

How about it?

A film almost, but not quite, entirely unlike anything that appeals to me

When I saw the email from Netflix headlined “Brad, we just added a movie you might like,” I braced myself. Netflix chirpily announcing it has something I will like gives me the same creeping feeling that Arthur Dent got when the Syrius Cybernetics Corporation’s Nutrimatic drinks dispenser offered him another cup of liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.

And sure enough, here’s what it was offering me:

netflix

Don’t know about you, but I consider that to be one of the silliest, most ridiculously hyped films of the past decade. It easily qualifies as my least favorite Ron Howard film, and I suppose my least favorite featuring Tom Hanks as well.

It was like a cheesy retelling of Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, and I didn’t like that, either. There are people who just eat up a tale involving a conspiracy stretching over thousands of years, especially when it involves the Knights Templar (as both tales do). I’m not one of them. I’m not a huge fan of the whole paranoia thriller genre to begin with, and when you stretch it to such extremes, you totally lose me.

And don’t even bother feeding me a tale about brilliant algorithms duplicating the human mind and taking over the world. When Netflix gets a clue as to what I like, then I’ll worry…