Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Web Secret #369: will life be worth living in 2000 AD?

I came across a fascinating little article from the July 22, 1961, Australian Weekend Magazine: "Will life be worth living in 2000 AD?" Complete with sexist, vintage advertising.

Really, it's a miracle that I aspired to do anything beyond vacuuming the house...

The article features scientific predictions about the year 2000 and beyond, digested for a popular audience.

Impressively, they mostly got it right. What they got wrong were rosy predictions about transportation.

We are not:
  • "...whisked around in monorail vehicles at 200 miles an hour and ...taking a fortnight's holiday in outer space."
  • "[ing] at 1000 m.p.h. at a penny a mile. Hypersonic passenger planes, using solid fuels .., reach any part of the world in an hour."
  • "By the year 2020, five per cent of the world's population will have emigrated into space. Many will have visited the moon and beyond."
But look at what they got right:
  • "You'll have a home control room - an electronics center, where messages will be recorded when you're away from home. This will play back when you return, and also give you up-to-the minute world news, and transcribe your latest mail."
  • "You'll have wall-to-wall global TV ... TV-telephones and room-to-room TV."
  • "Mail and newspapers will be reproduced instantly anywhere in the world by facsimile."
  • "There will be machines doing the work of clerks, shorthand writers and translators. Machines will "talk" to each other."
  • "Our children will learn from TV, recorders and teaching machines."
I'm still waiting for this prediction to come true: "There will be no common colds, cancer ... mental illness."

And why don't we have this? " will be put away by remote control..."

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Web Secret #368: private internet access

Are you a fan of British TV series like Downton Abbey, Mr. Selfridge, and the like?

Then you know that by the time you are watching the show in the US, it was already aired months earlier in the UK.

This pisses me off.

I have tried to subvert this by logging on to and sneaking onto the British ITV player.

Does not work. They know I come from the US. And I am refused access.

No more, thanks to

Now to be honest, most people who subscribe to PIA do so out of concerns about Internet privacy and cybercrime. That has never been a sufficient incentive for me to shell out the $40 per year it takes to get the service.

Watching British telly at the same time as my friends from across the ocean? Sign me up.

But don't listen to me, watch the video.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Web Secret #367: the search for excellence

The Wizard of Oz is the best movie ever made.

The reasons for this belong in another post, probably another blog.

When I was a child, the Wizard of Oz was aired on television once a year. It was event television.

You and your family gathered around the single TV set your family owned, and someone wrapped some aluminum foil around the antennas in the vain hope of improving the grainy, staticky reception. Then you watched, transfixed, desperately trying to memorize every moment, every song, every line of dialogue. Because, poof! it would be gone - not to be seen again for another year.

Those days are long gone, along with nightly family dinners, and other such ephemera.

To make up for those losses, the gods of media gave us excellence.

Courtesy of the Internet. Anytime. At the click of the mouse.

In the 21st century, I can watch the Wizard of Oz whenever I want to. In fact I can watch it deconstructed into hundreds of HD clips, with better quality sound and visuals than I could have ever dreamed about in my youth. I won't even embed one in this post. You know those clips. I know them. We all know them.

The word in French for Internet user is "internaute." It literally means "astronaut exploring the Internet."

Accompany me, an internaute on an idiosyncratic expedition.

Arthur Rubinstein famously described the adagio from Schubert's String Quintet in C Major as "the entrance to heaven." I am not restricted to listening to a contemporary performance of this work. I can access any rendition ever publicly recorded. So for me, it's the 1941 performance by the legendary Budapest String Quartet, accompanied by Jascha Heifetz, arguable the greatest violinist who ever lived.

The adagio can be heard at minute 14.01. It is a sublime performance, made more poignant by the fact that it was recorded during one of the darkest periods of human history.

It is mine to experience. Anytime.

Sporting glory? I can watch Torville and Dean ice dancing to Ravel's "Bolero" on their way to the 1984 Olympic gold medal. To this day, it is widely considered to be the greatest ice dance ever performed.

Missed Laurence Olivier performing the lead in Shakespeare's Richard III on the stage of the Old Vic in 1946? No problem, catch him sneering his way through "Now is the winter of our discontent" in the 1955 movie:

You can find surprising pockets of perfectionism. In the UK, Magnus Macdonald machine tools impeccably crafted items out of Titanium. Pens, pill pots, and the like.

Excellence is not only the search for athletic, artistic, scientific and cultural achievement. It is also embodied by the human spirit.

When I feel like the world is going to hell in a hand basket, I watch the youth of the world dancing to Pharrell's Happy:

You too can become an "internaute" and launch your own expedition.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Web Secret #366: Microsoft Office Lens

I just came back from a business trip.

Time to submit an expense report.

I extract a number of taxi and meal receipts from my handbag. Printed on thermal paper, they are curled up and hard to flatten. I am irritated in 5 seconds flat.

I could have had Office Lens.

Microsoft Office Lens (free on iOS and Android) is a handy app that acts as a pocket scanner for receipts, notes, business cards, menus, and more.

The app then crops and enhances the image so it looks tidy, and uses optical character recognition (OCR) so that later on, you can go back and search the text in your images — no more digging through mounds of receipts or sticky notes. It can automatically generate a contact card you can add to your phone, and it converts other images into Word docs, PDFs, and PowerPoints, which you can save or share with contacts.

Cue the video:

Now download it.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Web Secret #365 : Commodity Goods

When I encounter a company that combines bespoke service with a modern approach - I feel the need to share.

I hate buying perfume from a department store or Sephora (and not because I don't love you, Sephora.)

This is what I hate:

1. pressure from salespeople - many of whom know nothing about fragrance.
2. the gagging smell of dozens of airborne scents mingled together.
3. olfactory overload - after I have tried two scents I can't try any others.
4. I want to wear a scent for at least an hour so that I can appreciate the dry down, the sillage, and other sensory experiences.

Commodity Goods, where have you been all my life?

This is their approach to selecting a perfume:

1. Go online and pay $24 for a scent Fitting Kit.
2. They mail you 10 different vials of perfume to try in the comfort of your home.
3. Take your time, take days to test them out.
4. Once you have a favorite, go online and select it. They will send you a 10ml spray of your choice (perfect for travel) for free, shipping included.

In case you're interested, I opted for Whiskey.

Love it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Web Secret #364: delivered

I have a confession.

I have everything delivered.

OK, slight exaggeration. I have 95% of everything I buy delivered.

My groceries are delivered to my apartment door once a week by FreshDirect.

My prescriptions are delivered by my drugstore.

Instead of going out to restaurants, I have meals delivered from those restaurants via GrubHub.

When I want a taxi, I don't stand in the rain with my arm stuck out. I summon a car with Uber.

Just about everything else, I get from Amazon - delivered to me in two days. Forgot to order toilet paper from Fresh Direct? Get it from Amazon. Interested in trying out that weird facial cleanser from Korea? Amazon. Want to read the latest French bestseller? Download it from

Now there are imperatives that make much of this online/app ordering necessary. I live in a warehouse district that is slowly becoming residential and there is no infrastructure. I would need to drive to go to the grocery store, and the drugstore. There is a subway stop within walking distance of my building, but if and when I want to take a cab - there are none. The neighborhood is too remote for any traffic.

But even if I move to a more populated, easier access area, I doubt that I will ever go back to driving to my routine shopping. I can order my food in a few minutes because Fresh Direct knows what I like. I can find just about anything from anywhere in the world on Amazon. Why go out? Why deal with congested parking lots, disagreeable (or non existent) clerks, lack of inventory?

I am not alone.

In a thought provoking article "The Shut-In Economy," writer Lauren Smiley describes a new urban based "on-demand everything" world, populated by apartment dwellers who are "served" by an army of delivery staff. Services that were once only available to the 1%, are now easy to access as long as you have a smartphone. And all of these services give us free time to pursue other interests, or spend time with the kids. That's the good news.

The bad news? Smiley writes, "As income inequality increases, the shut-in model is tailor-made for the new polarized extremes. After all, either you’re behind the door, receiving your dinner in the tower. Or you’re like the food delivery guy... He’s the opposite of a shut-in. He’s stuck outside, hustling."

It's a brave new world...

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Web Secret #363: managing media

The age at which children get a new smart phone and access social media is getting younger and younger.

We want to benefit from new technology but we are increasingly buried by it.

What to do?                

In his excellent New York Times article "How to Manage Media in Families," Bruce Feiler gives us some answers.

Bruce is skeptical of the dozens of online sample contracts for parents to execute with their children. He notes,  "I'm realistic enough to know that a three-page contract will be swiftly ignored and even it can’t keep up with the last parent-avoiding app. What I craved was a handful of overarching rules that could guide our interactions."

So, here is the abbreviated version of Bruce's rules:

1. I’m Still Your Parent
Parents should set guidelines in advance: make it clear that you own the device, you pay for it, and if there is any behavior that you feel is not true to your family values, you can take it away.

Part of this deal is that you will respect their boundaries, but you also have the right to join any social network they join, know their passwords and check their texts. Though it seems as if children know everything about social media, actually they’re still learning.

2. Step Away From Your Phone
Phones will be turned off and put away at certain times of the night. Research backs this up. A study from the University of Basel found that teenagers who kept their smartphones on at night were more likely to watch videos, text and have poor sleep habits and higher depression.
But, when parents say, ‘You can use the phone only from this hour to this hour,’ it’s hard to manage. So set rules like all phones go in a box when children go to bed, all devices go in the center of the table during mealtimes, including at restaurants, etc.

3. Read Every Text Twice
Explain that digital communication can easily be misconstrued. Before you send a message, go back and read it again. Everyone agrees on the need to prevent children from sexting, bullying or posting something inappropriate. But how to convey that? Think about your grandmother, think about the principal. Think about the most embarrassing adult in your life. Before you hit send, reflect on how that person would react. I would add: discuss when a phone call, an in person meeting, even an e-mail should be used rather than a text.

4. No Phones at Family Time
Everybody I spoke with had certain rules about family time. Specify. Just 10 minutes. No devices. That’s our time together. Have weekly technology-free activities.

5. The Rules Apply to Grown Ups Too
Parents, are often the most egregious technology abusers of all. They also need to follow rules.

One final caveat: "No technology agreement can be written in stone. It needs to be revised with every
new child, every new phase, every new device and every new app."

Amen to that.