Posted in Technology, United States

2012 – The Sequel to 1984

Every weekday morning I wake up to the radio.  There’s a minute long spot from “America’s Godess, Kim Komando,” (http://www.komando.com) and, though I don’t normally listen carefully to what she says – I’m usually not awake enough for that – a couple of days ago one comment in particular caused me to wake up rather suddenly.  It was a spot about Google.  And, I think I knew this, at least subconsciously, but she spelled it out.  Google is right now in the process of collating every piece of data about you that they can (http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/jan/25/google-merge-user-data-privacy?newsfeed=true).  Every search, every contact, every time you use any of Google’s apps, they’ll be collecting your information.  When all is said and done, they can know more about you than you yourself know.  Have you received a Youtube link recently from a friend?  Did you click on the link?  Was it dumb, funny, tasteless?  Google now has it associated with you.  Did another (computer challenged) friend ask you to do a search for information pertaining to 9/11?  You’re now associated with 9/11.  See how easy that is?  Do you have a blog?  Every word in it is now added to the database.  Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, World of Warcraft, Star Trek Online.  Ever use Google Maps/Earth?  Shop online?  You can’t escape.

I have friends that claim that if you have nothing to hide then why be concerned about it?  First off, there has never been anybody that innocent.  Even Jesus was considered a criminal by the Hebrew authorities.  Everything that you do in the course of the day can be construed as right or wrong in someone else’s eyes.

The newer browsers have “privacy modes,” where, in theory, your digital footprints aren’t recorded.  Have you tried it – do you know for certain that no data is being shared?  It may not be leaving cookies on your PC, but that doesn’t mean that your surfing data isn’t being retained by the servers that you’re accessing.  Essentially, every time you go online you’re leaving a little bit of information behind.

What can Google do with all this information?  Right now they want to use it to target ads to you, but it seems to me that they can be targeted by our own Government, because Google’s information will be consolidated, collated, and coordinated.  Most of the stuff that Google has was voluntarily added by you and me, and is readily available for anyone to see online.  Would our own government even need “due process” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourteenth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution) to request it?  Depends on how foolishly we’ve been at guarding our privacy. The more details about your private life that you share, the less private it becomes.  It seems that this generation has a problem grasping that simple concept.

Today, our society seems to think that it’s NATURAL to share every moment of our lives with friends, family, and, oddly enough, the World At Large.  We Tweet what we had for dinner, or broke up with-what’s-his-name who we wouldn’t remember in a year anyway.  We get drunk and add unwise videos on Youtube, or complain about our jobs on Facebook.  You are your own worst enemy. When you put something – anything on the web, not only will it be there forever and ever, the likelihood that it will be seen by someone that you didn’t wish to share it with, grows daily.  So, that party that you attended where everyone got so drunk, that you wanted to share with those friends that didn’t go?  Yeah – well, Uncle Billy saw it on your Facebook page, and forwarded it to Grandma.

There are enough stories out there about people not being hired because the prospective employer performed a simple Google search to see if anything derogatory popped up.  So, if you are disgruntled about your current job you might want to reconsider airing your grievances on the social site of your choice.  Most employers also won’t hire you if they see a video of you dancing nude to “American Pie,” or showing off the latest tattoo/piercing/shaving of your genitalia, unless they’re in that business, and like what they see.

Whatever happened to Myspace?  Sorry – just a random thought…

Setting aside the employment issues, keep in mind that computers were built for a single purpose:  to store and manipulate data.  What is data?  That’s anything that you enter into a computer, and it doesn’t matter what type of data it is anymore.  And, since the internet is essentially gazillions of personal computers and servers, including yours and mine, all manipulating data, whether playing a game, using Skype, or checking your email.  In a sense, all of those computers are acting as one massive computer – storing and manipulating data.  All the data is collected in one place (which we’ll call “The Internet”), and anybody can gain access to it.  If you think that any data that you put online is “private,” think again.  No matter how password-protected or encrypted something is, somebody who really wants the data can get it.  The only way to keep private information “private” is to keep it off the ‘web.

I’m a bit surprised that Google came out with this announcement, because I’m sure that others have been collecting data on you and me for years.  When you signed up with Amazon you gave certain pieces of information to them: your name, shipping address, credit card details, etc.  When you signed up for Facebook or Classmates, you gave more information: schools you attended, career information, current home, place of birth, all kinds of personal data that Amazon wouldn’t have.  By the time you’re done filling out forms at AOL, Sears, ebay, or any of a million other websites, there’s so much information out there that anybody can find out anything they want about you.  You don’t need to say a word on Facebook.  Here’s a test – “google” your own username.  You may not just find yourself scattered all over the web, you may also find that some of the data that you thought was private is available to anybody else who also decided to “google” your username.

Now, for those of you you haven’t read “1984,” by George Orwell, and all of you really should, or re-read it if the last time was in High School, 1984 was a book about a guy living a miserably drab life, completely controlled by “Big Brother.”  Everybody was under constant surveillance, and everybody was programmed to be like everyone else.  Since Big Brother had control over the media, even wars could change, and BB would rewrite history to reflect the changes, and mankind would remain clueless.  Everything that you did, everything that you saw, everything that you felt, was being recorded as evidence against you.  If you did not pour out your love for Big Brother, then you would probably be tortured and brain-washed, until you did pour out your love for Big Brother…  And, only THEN would you be shot.

So, how does Orwell’s book compare to today?  Well, we don’t yet have two way TV’s that stay on all day, so Homeland Security can keep an eye on us.  We don’t really need to.  Homeland Security has all it needs based on what we VOLUNTARILY submit online.  Plus, almost every street corner and stop light now have cameras mounted, as do almost every store and bank.  We are ALWAYS under surveillance, and the only thing that keeps us safe is the fact that there are 300,000,000 of us, and singling out a chosen few is enough of a task.  We are stalks of hay in a field of haystacks, and as long as we don’t stick out then we should all be safe.  Just like Big Brother wants.

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Posted in Entertainment, Technology

Star Wars in 3D – Back to Lucas’ Cash Cow

George Lucas has announced his retirement – from the mainstream, at any rate (http://articles.nydailynews.com/2012-01-10/news/30609473_1_red-tails-george-lucas-sequels).  It’s looking like the reception of his newest big budget adventure – about the Tuskegee airmen in WWII – is less than enthralling, and GL seems to be blaming it on Hollywood.  Um, Mr. Lucas, I would recommend that you take a look at the REVIEWS of this film – it seems that many outside of Hollywood don’t like it either (http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/red-tails/).

So, now he wants to focus on smaller budget films – stuff that would entertain him.  Funny, that’s what I thought American Graffiti did (http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/american_graffiti/), along with the Star Wars and Indiana Jones sagas.  We can’t help it if, over the years, they got old, while our expectations did not.  We want to go to movies that are feel good, and exciting, and adventuresome. In order for that to happen there has to be a chemistry between the screenplay, the production, and the cast.  Much of his stuff has felt forced or wooden (e.g. the prequels), as if they were done because of a need, instead of a desire. Maybe there’s just no heart left.

Now, George has gone back to his “cash cow,” – Star Wars.  Having not yet exhausted every media outlet that there is to exhaust, he is now releasing “The Phantom Menace” back to the theaters, in 3D.  He has indicated that he’ll release one a year (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Wars).

So, there are now new trailers, new posters, and new hype all surrounding this 3d event.  Of course, you don’t just release a 3d movie to a 2d theater – the theaters have to be converted with new equipment.  I imagine that they also have to be backward-compatible.  That all costs money; puts a demand on new equipment, and renovations, and new buildings.  Lucas, and filmmakers like him, can actually stimulate the economy with this effort – assuming that 3d isn’t another flash in the pan.  If 3d hangs around, which it hasn’t previously (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3D_film), then we’d be looking at a revolution in film making. Actually, “film” is no longer accurate, since just about everything is recorded directly to a digital form.

3d is nothing new. Film makers have been trying to bring a 3d effect to movies and theaters almost as long as the motion picture’s been around.  Every few years someone produces a new wrinkle or technology that makes it tempting to “test the waters.”  I think this time the release of Avatar in 3d was the catalyst (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avatar_(2009_film).  It takes a few years to run its course, since the market has to see if the 3d movie is financially successful, and then filmmakers start throwing ideas at the studios.  The studios, caught up in the new wave, green light almost anything remotely feasible, and hope it pays off.  Many that just want to cash in on Avatar’s shirttails will release some cheap knock-off, probably direct-to-dvd.  Others will take a couple of years to develop, but if they take too much time the novelty may wear off before the movie’s released.

Here’s a clue with the success or failure of 3d…  If you are issued glasses when you arrive at the theater then 3d is nothing more than a novelty.

Maybe a theater will be able to provide a dual screen system, one behind the other, perhaps with just the slightest angle of difference, similar to what we would see from each eye, and our brains combine those images into a 3d projection. No glasses required, except for those who wear them now for corrective purposes. Of course, the seating angle (i.e., where you’re sitting in the theater) would alter the images seen on the screen, so that there would have to be something to correct that.  That’s for the industry to figure out.

In the meantime, even if you’ve purchased the entire series on Blu-ray just a couple of months ago, along with the video tapes, laserdiscs, lunchboxes, dvds, and other materiel sold over the years, you’ll still line up to watch TPM, AOTC, ROTS, ANH, TESB, and ROTJ at the theaters.

You know what, I probably will too.  

Posted in Technology

Show Me Some Apps, Tech Trash, Geek Garbage

I watched Steve Jobs (RIP) unveil the first iPad, and found myself thinking “Meh – it’s just an overgrown iPhone.”  I wasn’t terribly impressed with the iPhone either.  I waited to see what the market was going to do.  Being from geekdom I knew that it was just a matter of time before SOME iteration of an iPad-like tablet device was going to be in my possession.

When Toshiba released the Thrive (http://us.toshiba.com/tablets/thrive/10-inch/) they touted it as a tablet that was designed by laptop specialists, whereas all the others seemed to be cell phones on steroids.  I bought the top of the line model from Newegg.com, and was really looking forward to putting it to use.  A couple of weeks later I received it, opened the box, turned it on, admired it, then plugged it in to my PC to charge and registered it with Toshiba.  Downloaded the software and updates needed, and then started looking at the apps loaded into the tablet:  games, e-reader, gps, a number of other generic, nothing special, Honeycomb apps.  What I wanted was something that I could take on the road, and since I work in Customer Support, I wanted to be able to VPN into my office network, and using a Remote Desktop Client, provide support without lugging around a laptop.

Yeah – No…

While I pictured myself using a PADD, ala Star Trek (http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/PADD), in reality, it was not going to get used AT ALL for it’s intended purpose.  In fact, it is so useless that I’ve consigned it to the geek garbage bin that I have accumulated over the years – all that stuff that was so cool until I bought it.  What was wrong with it, and could it ever be put to its intended use?  First part of the question:  although it has VPN, it is not compatible with the Cisco VPN client that we use.  As I understand it, Cisco does provide a “VPN Anywhere” client that may be compatible, if they so chose to support this tablet.  Also, since it is a wi-fi device – no 3G/4G cell connection, I thought I’d use my “Web’N’Walk” UMTS stick provided by T-Mobile, for those times when I’m on the road, and which the Thrive patently ignored.  Then there was a lack of reasonable RDP software.  Whether the LogMeIn app would or wouldn’t work depended on the successful operation of the vpn connection at the minimum.*  Could it be used for its intended purpose?  I think so, but that’s dependent on what people expect AND DEMAND of the companies that provide App support.  Right now it’s mostly eye candy & entertainment.  I had it at work the other day, still trying to figure out a use for it.  I had acquired the recent Giants vs 49ers NFC Championship game.  A colleague came into the office, saw the Thrive and started asking questions about it.  I demo’d some of the features including the video, and he was particularly struck by the clarity and colors of the football game. He may buy it off me. So, now, instead of it being in geek garbage, maybe it’s worth a few bucks to someone.

So, here’s this tablet – can’t use it for much more than a reader (which is not only too heavy to hold, but the battery life sucks for a reader).  I have readers already: 4 of them, to be exact, with a 5th on the way ** (I like readers, and I find them very useful, except for my one color reader, which is really a disguised tablet with the same issues that the Thrive has).  The Thrive has 2 cameras, including video, for social networking, but there’s no video-conferencing app.  Googletalk is voice only.  The video recorder has some cool features, but holding a 10″ tablet to capture video is silly.  Email?  C’mon on – almost every cell phone now has that capability.  So, what good is it?  Geek garbage.

And, just like an idiot, last week while at the PX, I bought a Samsung Galaxy Tab, hoping against hope that it was better.  No – it’s smaller, more portable at 7″, but no improvement.  I generally don’t believe in returning something that works; only if it’s misrepresented somehow, or defective in some fashion.  If I’m stupid enough to buy it, then I don’t believe the retailer should be responsible for my stupidity.  I may sell it, but I’ll likely just hold on to it, hoping that someone will provide that killer app, or a desire to take it off my hands.  I don’t know – maybe I’ll open a museum some day;  Call it “Piper’s Museum of Tech Trash”.

Of the amount of geek garbage that I’ve accumulated over the years:  let’s see, I remember buying an Atari Portfolio, which was a DOS subnotebook from 1989 (what??? – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atari_Portfolio), the Rio Karma (which actually did see some use, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rio_Karma), Creative Zen W (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ZEN_Vision_W), an iMac (used as a Windows machine instead, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imac), and the Kobo reader.  I also have 2 Sony Readers (to be fair the first one broke), a Next2 (http://www.nextbookusa.com/productdetail.php?product_id=2).  I’ve laptops at the house, ranging from 8″ netbooks to a 19″ monster that won’t go anywhere near my lap.  PCs that I’ve built – both cutting/bleeding edge power machines with SSD hard drives, and extra small form factor jobs that could overload by playing Free Cell (ok – so that’s a bit of an exaggeration).  I’ve got cases laying around, some complete, some empty, some in-between.  Hard drives, graphics cards, monitors, RAM, soundcards, mice, keyboards, motherboards, CPUs – I could probably build 5 PCs without buying another thing.

Have you ever tried to SELL a PC that you built at home?  Advertise in the newspaper, Craigslist, ebay…  Invariably, a potential buyer will ask, “who made it,”  or “”What is the brand?” You tell them, “I built it,”  and I guarantee that you’ll never hear from them again.  On the other hand, I HAVE built systems for people that asked for them, custom-made, based on what they intended to do with them.  Outside of a short learning process/adjustment period, I’ve never needed to fix a machine because it broke or failed to do what it was designed to do, even budget PCs that I’ve built for others from spare parts.  I have been called in because someone let their AV protection lapse, or performed some bonehead procedure that wiped all their *.exe files, or filled the harddrive up and then wondered why the computer I built for them was running so slowly.

Got sidetracked there – I had to go back up to look at the title because I forgot why I started this post.  Apps!  Oh yeah.  Basically, they’re mostly crap.  So, I ordered a new tablet, but this one’s Intel i5 based and it uses Windows 7, probably even Windows 8 when it gets released.  Since it is a Windows tablet there should be no issues with the software that I install or the UMTS stick. It’s pen-based instead of touchscreen.  I was never crazy about the touchscreen anyway – too many oily fingerprints to clean.  If you’re wondering what the model is…  I built it.   No, not really, It’s a Samsung Slate (http://www.samsung.com/us/computer/tablet-pcs/XE700T1A-A06US?).  I actually found it for $300 – $500 cheaper, depending on how you view these things, by buying it through the Microsoft Store (http://www.microsoftstore.com/store/msstore/list/parentCategoryID.44066900/categoryID.54536100 – I’ve included the link for all similar tablets with Windows, so you don’t have to feel “beholden’ to Samsung).  Now, Ive never bought ANYTHING from the MS store – I didn’t even know they had a store, but it was a couple of hundred bucks cheaper than Amazon or Newegg, AND they provided a $200 coupon which I can certainly put to use.  I’ll let you all know whether this tablet’s as useful as I hope, or gets added to my geek garbage.

“That’s all I have to say about that”  — Forrest Gump

* A footnote about Logmein – it was a 90 day wonder, a trial version, which I don’t remember seeing advertised, and I don’t know if the clock started on that when I first ran it, or when I registered the Thrive.  It doesn’t work now without a payment, and I won’t pay for it if I can’t sample it first.  Catch-22.

**My newest reader is now here, and I’m hard-pressed to set it down.  This particular one is a Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/p/nook-simple-touch-barnes-noble/1102344735).  One word of warning though; after updating the firmware on it, at times, it suffers with response issues where the touchscreen won’t work when turning pages, but the (almost invisible) vertical buttons on the side work just fine, otherwise, it’s snappier than the Kobo (my previous reader), better contrast, and more features.