Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Web Secret #333: the Internet in 1993

I have twins born in 1993, and I thought about them when I viewed "A Tour of the Internet in 1993" on the Mental Floss website.

Eric and Nina are only 20 years old, but in terms of technological progress, it's like a hundred years have passed.

This is what the kids will notice while watching the tour:
  • Everything is SLOW. Logging in to the Internet via dial up modem (see minute 1:40) - slow. Ordering a CD (9:30) - so slow that they give up. It's all very slow.
  • What's on the screen - numbers and characters - looks a lot like the gibberish you see on the computers in The Matrix.
  • 3:02 Clinton's inaugural speech. Now we are not talking a video, or even an audio file. It's just an accessed text document.
  • Hardware - the only thing that looks like it does today is the keyboard.
  • 7:30 - NASA has developed video conferencing. But it's not available to the consumer.
  • (17:07) - "Internet talk radio." Exciting? Not.
  • Geeks rule - they are creating the Internet, they use the Internet.
  • Bad nineties outfits - see 19:02
  • Bad nineties hair - see 23:41
  • Canon's latest laptop - clunky at 4lbs - everything that today's sleek laptops are not. Bundled with a printer and costing between $1,600 and $2,000 - or $2,600 and $3,200 in 2014 dollars.
  • Alacrity, (who every heard of them?) introduces a printer that copies and faxes - all for $500, ($820 in 2014.)

So children, take out your 5S model iPhones, and your circa 2012 MacBook Pros. Now look at them.

A moment of appreciation, please.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Web Secret #332: Ice Bucket Challenge

What do Bill Gates, Oprah and Matt Lauer have in common?

They all took part in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

The Challenge was an epic viral event that raised millions of dollars for ALS, (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease,) and involved 1.2 million posts on Facebook.
It happened in a matter of weeks.

Like most successful viral videos, it cost the ALS Association zero dollars. The videos did, however, obey the rules I outlined in a previous iWebU post:

1. unexpectedness - this is the lightning in a bottle, something happens in a video that no one would expect.
2. a tastemaker - a person who is famous or influential talks, tweets or otherwise communicates about the video.
3. communities of participation - a large group of the tastemaker's followers tweets or posts the video to their friends and followers.

In case you have been living under a rock, this was the genesis of challenge: Pete Frates, a 29-year-old former college baseball player with ALS, came up with the idea, people make a video of themselves dumping a bucket of ice water on their heads, post it on Facebook, Instagram or other social media sites, and then challenge friends to do the same within 24 hours or donate $100 to ALS. (Many do both.)

Instead of having ice water poured on his head — “ice water and ALS are a bad mix,” he said on his Facebook page — he posted a video of himself bouncing his head to “Ice Ice Baby,” the 1989 hit by Vanilla Ice. He challenged some friends, and the stunt spread quickly through Boston circles, then across the web until a parade of boldfaced names joined in.

Genius, genius, genius.

Now it's your turn.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Web Secret #331:

I have spent the past 4 months binge watching Mad Men, House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, and more.

How did I find the time to do this?

I didn't quit my job. Or decrease the amount of time I spend sleeping.

I simply stopped reading. I stopped reading "The New York Times," (except to do the crossword puzzle,) novels or non-fiction of any kind.

I am becoming illiterate. I need help.

Millennials don't angst over this type of problem.

My 20 year old son suggested an antidote:

Medium is a website brought to you by those guys who created Twitter. I'll let them explain it: "Medium is a new place on the Internet where people share ideas and stories that are longer than 140 characters and not just for friends."

For the person with a short attention span, Medium tells you up front how long it will take you to read one of their published stories. For example, a very interesting essay like "How to Know Everyone - a roadmap for professional relationship management" is supposed to take you 11 minutes. Honestly, these days I am mostly reading 2 minute stories.

But I feel less guilty. I read something.

Now for the person attempting to write a story, Medium is, quite frankly, a nightmare.

It has what the experts at Web Sites that Suck call "Mystery Meat Navigation."

As I quickly discovered, Medium's minimalist interface is, well, so minimal that you could spend hours on the site trying to figuring out how to do just about anything.

I dare you to figure out:
  • what Medium is. There is no "About" section. Right this minute I can't even remember how I figured this out. I may never be able to duplicate it again.
  • how to login or create an account. Turns out you click on the "M" in the right hand corner. Intuitive - not.
  • where to write a story. When you go to write a story, there is a helpful title prompt. I typed in a title and then tried to figure out where the field was to write the story. I waited for a sign. I clicked frantically in various empty spaces around my title. I almost gave up. Then I pressed "enter." That's what I was supposed to do. Intuitive? No.
  • how to publish a story. Once I wrote a story, I couldn't immediately figure out how to publish it. It turns out you have to click on a symbol "<" located in the right hand corner of the site to get to a button that says "publish." That's just not OK. How can anyone be expected to think "<" means publish?
  • how to find your story once it's published. So after I clicked publish, I decided to find my story "Blurred Lines - it's not just a song." It had vanished. Turns out you click the "M" and you can type the title in a query box. Oh.
  • how to find the "right drawer menu." Medium claims "If you slide open your right drawer menu, you can change how your story will be presented in reading lists and search results." Problem is I never found the "right drawer menu." I've never even heard of a "drawer menu" as a concept. I have given up finding the "right drawer menu."
Don't think for a minute that I am alone in my perplexity. The FAQ section of Medium, is full of missives from angry, desperate and confused users of the site begging for direction.

I would direct you there but I can't remember how.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Web Secret #330: Useful websites

Every now and then I run across someone's curated list of useful websites.

A couple of months ago I found the most excellent "70 of the most useful websites on the Internet."

Here are some of my picks from that list: - Find out which top online sites store data about you, and tell them to unlist your info. - how silly of me, when I call a company, I want to speak to a person. This website tells you how to do that. - is your PC running slow? Time to remove the unwanted programs that have been accumulating on your machine. But you haave to do it carefully... - how can you improve the visibility and Google ranking of your website? Woorank will tell you how. - as concerns about Internet privacy ramp up, you might want to switch to this search engine, which promises not to track you. promises simpler online meetings with screen sharing. They have a free trial. - sometimes I am on a web page and I want to print it. Then I found out that I can't. This website solves that problem.

Do you have a favorite website that's not on the list?

Send it to me and maybe I will blog about it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Web Secret #329: the Golden Age of Television

Growing up I was told over and over that there had been a Golden Age of Television. This always pissed me off because The Golden Age of Television began sometime in the late 1940s and extended to the late 1950s/early 60s, and I was just young enough that I missed it.

Thanks to YouTube, cable and Netflix, I can experience many of the programs from that golden age:

The Twilight Zone - the iconic sci fi series

Playhouse 90 - a weekly series of live hour-and-a-half dramas. Think "Requiem for a Heavyweight", "The Miracle Worker," and "Judgement at Nuremberg."

The Bell Telephone Hour - a long-run concert series which showcased the best in classical and Broadway music.

But to experience the essence of that era, all you need to do is watch "What's my line?." What’s My Line? was a guessing game in which four panelists attempted to determine the line (occupation), or in the case of a famous "mystery guest," the identity, of the contestant. It ran from 1950 to 1967.

They don't make'em like that anymore. The host, the panelist and the guests were beautifully attired. Men wore jackets and ties. The women were elegantly dressed, coiffed and bejeweled. The host John Daly was an American journalist, who had been the vice president of ABC during the 1950s. Panelists included various members of the intelligentsia, people like Louis Untermeyer, a poet and Poet Laureate, Bennett Cerf, one of the founders of the Random House publishing firm, and Fred Allen, a comedian who was famous for his absurdist, topically pointed radio show.

The guest list was not confined to movie stars like Groucho Marx, Elizabeth Taylor and Sammy Davis Jr, but other major cultural and artistic figures. See:
The shows expected a great deal from its viewers. It expected them to appreciate smartly crafted, witty and literate questions from the panel. It expected them to know or want to learn about the major artists of the times.

When the Golden Age came to a close, we endured decades of increasingly inane television with some occasional breaths of fresh air.

Finally, with the 21st century came a second streaming golden age of television.  Welcome:
  • House of Cards
  • Orange Is the New Black
  • Mad Men
  • Game of Thrones
These shows also expect a great deal from their viewers. They expect them to love a show in which the protagonists may be old, African-American, bisexual or transgendered. They expect them to see a bald, dying, female, Hispanic convict as a hero in the mold of Cool Hand Luke. They expect them to follow complicated plot threads. They expect them to tolerate stories with unhappy endings.

Both the first and the second golden age of television expect viewers to be intelligent.

Now that's subversive.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Web Secret #328: Binge Watching

When I was a kid during the Sixties, my parents told me that TV was going to rot my brain.

Here's the thing, though: I watched way more TV this past summer than I ever did during the summers of my youth.

I binge watched:

Mad Men (6 seasons)

Dr. Who (7 seasons)

Orange is the New Black (2 seasons)

Torchwood (3 seasons)

Sherlock (3 seasons)

and House of Cards (2 seasons.)

The other thing is - I didn't watch any of these TV shows on my TV.

I streamed them on my ipad.

You can look at this two ways.

First, the good news: we are experiencing a Golden Age of television. NEVER has there been such intelligent, high quality, knock your socks off programs.


Now the maybe not so good news: I have virtually stopped going to the movie theater. Why should I pay $15 to sit in a crowded theater with a bunch of badly behaved teenagers, on broken theater seats, eating unhealthy calorie laden candy and soda, watching a mediocre movie, when I can lounge on my leather Chesterfield sofa, sipping my favorite Sauvignon Blanc and eating sushi, while enjoying amazing, personally curated, commercial free TV shows?

I have also virtually stopped watching TV. With the exception of key World Cup soccer matches and Wimbledon, I did not watch any TV on my TV.

And while I have been a voracious reader my entire life, I did not read a single book this entire summer.

And though I pride myself on being very cutting edge in all of my activities, I know that I am not alone.

It bodes ill for the future of the movie theater. It bodes ill for conventional network TV. It bodes ill for the overall literacy of mankind.

And it is yet another rapidly evolving phenomenon which is changing the world around us.

So fast.

That we don't understand the implications.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Web Secret #327:

How would you like to unsubscribe from all the junk emails that accumulate in your inbox in a matter of minutes?

For free.


This is what you do:

1. Go to the web site and click on "get started".
2. Enter the email address and password for your e-mail account.
3. Wait a maximum of 2 minutes.
4. Get a list of all of the newsletters and junk you signed up for (or forgot that you signed up for) - in my case there were well over 80 such subscriptions.
5. Unsubscribe - with a single click of your mouse - from each of the ones you don't want to get anymore. (I can't even tell you how great and powerful that made me feel...)
6. You have the option to receive your remaining subscriptions in a single e-mail, once a day.

That's it.

They will ask you to publicize that you used the service on Facebook or some other social media channel. I did not have a problem with this because a. this app is amazing and b. all my friends wanted to use it as well.

Simple to use and effective.