Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Web Secret 581: Why my iPad has Diamond Medallion status

During a recent trip from New York City's LaGuardia Airport to Ft. Myers, Florida, I left my iPad in the seat pocket of the plane.

I realized this happened approximately 6 hours after I left the airport, and my first step was to contact Delta Lost and Found. Well friends - here's a bit of bad news - most of the airlines have outsourced their lost and found departments to companies with catchy names like instaFILE. I paid instaFILE the required fee of $29.95 and waited for a miracle.

The following morning I suddenly remembered that I wrote a column about technology. I fired up "Find my iPad" and realized my iPad was still on the plane - it was on the runway back at LaGuardia - so glad Delta does a thorough job of cleaning their airplane.

My instaFILE agent sent me this message:

"Hello Marina,

My name is James and I am currently working on the search for your iPad mini. I look forward to handling your case and will be reporting back to you with an update on your claim."


I wrote back:

"Hi JAMES - I did 'Find my iPad' and yesterday it was located “near LaGuardia airport, NY” - today it shows the iPad is at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport which makes me think it is still in seat pocket 27D of the Delta plane I flew in on yesterday."

A day passed and James wrote :

"Hello Marina,

Thanks for informing me of the location of your iPad. I will continue to search for how to get it. Thanks,- James"


Then, all of a sudden James informed me he had forwarded my case to Delta. They wrote:

"Dear Marina,

You've lost something important to you and we're dedicated to helping you find it. We'll search our inventory of items and e-mail you if we find an item that closely matches your description. Although we do not accept liability for lost items, we are committed to reuniting our passengers with their lost belongings.

Sincerely,

Delta Air Lines Lost Item Recovery Team"


I watched helplessly as my iPad continued to jet set around the USA. It flew to Jacksonville,Florida, it flew back to LaGuardia. I continued to keep Delta and James informed of its whereabouts via email - the only we I could communicate with them.

Delta wrote again:

"Dear Marina,

The search continues. Although we have not yet located your missing item, know that we are still diligently searching for it.

Sincerely,

Delta Air Lines Lost Item Recovery Team."


At this point I got exasperated and filed a complaint with Delta:

"You must not clean your planes very well because I left my iPad mini 5 on my flight on and it just keeps flying around the country in the seat pocket of the plane I was on. Reference my lost id claim number. I can track the location of the iPad on my computer. It is not lost - just get it off the plane and mail it to me."

More time passed and I got a call from Delta's LaGuardia Lost and Found that they had the iPad. Must have been the result of my complaint letter.

Probably not. I got the following message from Delta a few days later:

"Thanks for letting us know about your flight experience from LaGuardia to Fort Myers on May 23, 2019.

It’s so easy to leave behind something important while flying and I’m sorry this happened to you. I do appreciate the fact that you’ve reached out to our Lost and Found Unit and as soon as your Ipad is found, we will do our best to get it back to you.

We appreciate your concern regarding this matter. To be helpful, I’m sending your thoughts to our Baggage Service leadership team for review, although, I can’t offer a timeline; hopefully, we can find what you left behind."


Bang head against wall. Repeat.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Web Secret 580: Comeback of the Century

I read a surprising Op-Ed in the New York Times by frequent contributor Timothy Egan. It was titled: "The Comeback of the Century - Why the book endures, even in an era of disposable digital culture."

I thought you should read it too, abridged as usual:
In the digital age, the printed book has experienced more than its share of obituaries. Among the most dismissive was one from Steve Jobs, who said in 2008, “It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore.”

True, nearly one in four adults in this country has not read a book in the last year. But the book...is back. Defying all death notices, sales of printed books continue to rise to new highs, as do the number of independent stores stocked with these voices between covers, even as sales of electronic versions are declining.

Nearly three times as many Americans read a book of history in 2017 as watched the first episode of the final season of “Game of Thrones.”

So, even with a president who is ahistoric, borderline literate and would fail a sixth-grade reading comprehension test, something wonderful and unexpected is happening in the language arts. When the dominant culture goes low, the saviors of our senses go high.

Storytelling, Steve Jobs may have forgotten, will never die. And the best format for grand and sweeping narratives remains one of the oldest and most durable.

But also, at a time when more than a third of the people in the United States and Britain say their cellphones are having a negative effect on their health and well-being, a clunky old printed book is a welcome antidote.

When people go on a digital cleanse, detoxing from the poison of too much screen time, one of the first things they do is bury themselves in a book — that is, one to have and to hold, to remind the senses of touching “Pat the Bunny” in infancy, a book to chew on.

“I think it’s somewhat analogous to what happened with food,” said Rick Simonson, longtime buyer at the Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle. “We came of age when the commercial messages about food were all to make it instant. Now look at how food has changed ‘back’ — the freshness, the health aspect, the various factors like community.”

While our attention span has shrunk, while extremists’ shouting in ALL-CAPS can pass for an exchange of ideas, while our president uses his bully pulpit as a bullhorn for bigotry and ignorance, the story of our times is also something else. It’s there in the quieter reaches, in pages of passion and prose of an ancient technology.
I have nothing to add.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Web Secret 579: 1994

1994 was a blur for me as I struggled to manage very premature twins on heart monitors, a 4 year old, and a full time job without losing my mind.

Recently, New York Times journalist Caity Weaver described her valiant effort to live like it was 25 years ago - before Google, before texting and before iPhones.

Great! Now I could find out what I missed. Here is a summary of what she wrote (Bear in mind she was 4 years old in 1994):
Average Americans "spent 1994 eating Dunkaroos in the back seat...They were in phone booths... They were smoking cigarettes — not on domestic flights under six hours, thanks to a then-recently-passed draconian law prohibiting this, but just about everywhere else...

My assignment was to attempt, for one week, to live, 24/7, as if it were 1994...

...I would 1994-ify everything within my purview. For instance...I would avoid catching B trains to work since they did not stop at my neighborhood subway station in 1994. To the extent possible, I would use only products invented in or before 1994. I would dine exclusively at restaurants that opened that year or earlier. My irrational need to receive constant updates on all current events and internet gossip ... would have to be satisfied by the newspaper, the radio and network news.

Aside from figuring out how to get from anywhere to anywhere (which, I eventually discovered, was sadly nearly impossible in 1994), the most taxing element was preparation. At work, my primary tools would be paper — a kind of very, very thin, stiff, dry, fragile fabric for writing on — pens, and my landline desk phone. ...I would reduce my 2019 computer to word processor functionality — no email...

1994 would extend to my personal life too....I transformed my iPhone into a landline by disabling notifications for every application except calls, and leaving it plugged into a wall outlet in my kitchen. I printed out seven pages of phone contacts because I did not know any of my friends’ phone numbers, nor indeed the phone number of the man I have been dating for four years and am engaged to marry.

I bought a genuine 1994 Radio Shack television set with a built in VCR on eBay. It arrived broken. A Radio Shack cassette tape recorder also purchased on eBay also arrived broken. 1994 was not that long ago, but everything from 1994 was broken, or seemed so. I fretted that the 1994 Sony Walkman I received was also broken because no music emanated from it when I turned it on, but then I discovered that the Walkman merely demanded headphones before it would play...

...I ordered the cheapest cookbook from 1994 I could find, which was titled “Cooking Light Cookbook 1994.” I borrowed a 1994 Zagat from a co-worker.

To help me identify buildings it was safely 1994 to go into, I acquired “New York, a Guide to the Metropolis” ... For entertainment, I bought the books “The Celestine Prophecy” and “Prozac Nation.” And for exercise, I purchased guided aerobic VHS tapes on eBay.

...For a week, [my fiance] and I would be unable to enjoy one another’s company while watching streaming and OnDemand TV programming in stunning 4K resolution... All of our social plans would have to be decided in advance, since he would be unable to reach me unless I happened to be near the kitchen, at my desk at work or already with him... Most annoyingly for both of us, Taylor (along with everyone I encountered) would be banned from using his smartphone to inform me of the time, the forecast, directions, invitations, addresses, phone numbers, recipes, news he had learned from digital sources and the easily researched answers to any of my spontaneous questions...

The first thing I noticed at midnight when the clock struck 1994 was the sudden silence in the room. The second thing was the deafening volume of my inner monologue. I was getting ready for bed, performing the half-dozen mostly mindless tasks that, because they occupy my hands, normally provide a treasured window for listening to an audiobook or podcast. As I smeared surprisingly solid and burning Noxzema cream across my cheeks, however, all I could hear were my own thoughts...

In addition to providing brief news summaries, the radio was my primary source of weather forecast information. It was incorrect every single day, but never more so than the morning I embarked on a 35-block pilgrimage to visit Manhattan’s four remaining pay phones (all on the Upper West Side) and was forced to spend 20 minutes standing under scaffolding, filthy city rainwater soaking the pages of my handwritten observations.

The most time-consuming task of my week was identifying places to go, and figuring out how to go to them with paper maps. I spent hours methodically calling restaurants listed in the Zagat...to see if they still existed. They don’t. The majority of numbers just rang forever...

In the weekly allotment of time I normally spend half-browsing the internet while half-watching TV, I read three books. I reorganized my dresser and my closet. Taylor and I went for walks. One evening, I even cracked open “Cooking Light” and prepared my sweetheart a complete meal called “Dinner for Your Sweetheart,” which was disgusting.

I should have known it would be, because while light cooking is not a radical concept, many of the dishes depicted in this book were unrecognizable to me...

While I will stop at nothing to avoid making or receiving a phone call in 2019, phone conversations in my private 1994 provided valuable lifelines to the loved ones and entertainment news from which I had been cruelly severed...

By the fourth or fifth day of 1994, I’d stopped impulsively grabbing at empty spaces on my desk for my cellphone, but my reflex to quickly Google things never deteriorated. I began compiling my questions — a list of itches to be scratched at a later time — and spent the final day of my week at the Brooklyn Public Library, to see what percentage of answers I could find in books. About 17 percent, it turned out...

...alone in my living room, I discovered the only thing about 1994 I truly enjoyed: workout videos. I loved the inane prerecorded affirmations. I loved learning individual dance routine components and putting them all together at full speed...

I left the library to head to dinner with someone I had never met at a place I had never been. On the subway, I realized I had forgotten to bring the notebook where, earlier in the week, I had written the restaurant’s address. I’m used to jotting everything down (typing it in the Notes app on my phone) because I have a terrible memory. I sat up in my seat and considered the situation.

...my mind was dead quiet for the majority of 1994. I wasn’t bored. I was just thinking in a very straightforward way about whatever I happened to be doing at that moment...

Out of this silence, out of some long-since-condemned corner of my hippocampus, the address surfaced...

I pictured my frantic brain. In 2019, it spent its days firing off repeated ALL CAPS bulletins of basic information into a nonstop podcast din. ... Maybe the quiet hadn’t replaced my thoughts. Maybe my thoughts had just relaxed into their natural hushed state. 1994 was the time before the commotion. Or that seemed plausible, anyway. I couldn’t look it up."
Is 1994 Paradise Lost?

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Web Secret 578: New uses of AI in mental health

Here are examples of new uses of AI in mental health (courtesy of "The Incredible Ways Artificial Intelligence Is Now Used In Mental Health by Bernard Marr):

Researchers from the World Well-Being Project (WWBP) analyzed social media with an AI algorithm to pick out linguistic cues that might predict depression. It turns out that those suffering from depression express themselves on social media in ways that those dealing with other chronic conditions do not, such as mentions of loneliness and using words such as "feelings," "I" and "me." The team's findings were published in the journal "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."

After analyzing half a million Facebook posts from people who consented to provide their Facebook status updates and medical records, they were able to identify depression-associated language markers. What the researchers found was that linguistic markers could predict depression up to three months before the person receives a formal diagnosis. Other researchers use technology to explore the way facial expressions, enunciation of words and tone and language could indicate suicide risk.

In addition to researchers, there are several companies using artificial intelligence to help tackle the mental health crisis. Quartet's platform flags possible mental conditions and can refer patients to a provider or a computerized cognitive behavioral therapy program. Ginger’s contribution is a chat application used by employers that provides direct counseling services to employees. Its algorithms analyze the words someone uses and then relies on its training from more than 2 billion behavioral data samples, 45 million chat messages and 2 million clinical assessments to provide a recommendation.

The CompanionMX system has an app that allows patients being treated with depression, bipolar disorders, and other conditions to create an audio log where they can talk about how they are feeling. The AI system analyzes the recording as well as looks for changes in behavior for proactive mental health monitoring. Bark, a parental control phone tracker app, monitors major messaging and social media platforms to look for signs of cyberbullying, depression, suicidal thoughts and sexting on a child’s phone.

I'm kind of terrified.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Web Secret 577: Preparing for a cyber attack

Open Minds is a top notch consulting firm in the health and human service space.

Last month, they published an excellent article in one of their newsletters "Preparing For A Cyberattack — In Four Steps".

Here is a summary of key points:

Cyberattacks — an attempt by hackers to damage, destroy, or hold hostage a computer network, system, or data—have come to health and human service organizations.

The field has become a prime target for hackers. Health care now has twice the number of cyberattacks per day compared to other industries.

You can’t necessarily prevent a cyberattack, but you can mitigate its effect with a few fundamental preventive measures. Here are those preventive measures:

Understand state-specific plans for protected health information (PHI)—Protected health information is the term given to health data created, received, stored, or transmitted by HIPAA-covered entities and their business associates. Protecting this information is especially important and complicated because the federal government has rules, and each state have its own set of rules (including privacy regulations) that control access and security for PHI. It’s mandatory to know what data in your possession and what rules are governing how you handle that data.

Conduct a data risk assessment This assessment helps you identify at-risk, sensitive, or classified data, and the level of risk that it may be attacked, hacked, or breached. If you can’t provide a succinct answer to the question, “How vulnerable are you to data breaches” then chances are you are extremely susceptible. Running a risk assessment means assessing all your technology (hardware and software), your organizational processes for managing data, and reviewing the staff protocols and training for those who will use and have access to the data.

Build a data security strategy A data security strategy is your plan (including procedures, policies and protocols) for how you will protect your data from being compromised, breached, hacked, or held for ransom in any way. Provider organizations need both a strategy and an action plan to leverage the security potential of data encryption, standardized processes for authentication of user identification, defined policies about appropriate data access, and regularly scheduled audits of the databases. Once you have the tools, getting the processes in place will also mean training staff to use and protect your secure system.

Develop a data breach response plan A response plan is the approach organizations take to address and manage the aftermath of a cyberattack. It’s best to have a plan, including how to stop the hacking and report the incident. Having a slow response to either of those things will only compound the problem (and possible the financial repercussions with the feds). Your data breach response plan needs a leader, a team with clearly defined goals during the hack, and an incident response plan to guide the team through response protocols.

As always, if you do not have cybersecurity expertise in house, it pays to hire a pro.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Web Secret 576: Deadwood

In a 2014 article, the chief television critic of the New York Times, (and one of my high school classmates!), argued that the 3 season HBO show "Deadwood" - which first aired in 2004 - was the prelude to the 2nd golden age of television.

With the Deadwood movie coming out as I write this, I was inclined to see what the fuss was about and watch the series for the first time.

Deadwood is demanding of its viewers. The program is set in an 1870s mining "camp" in the Dakotas, where life is filthy, violent and profane. The plot is extremely complex and the characters are multi-layered. Their motivations are often obscure, and take many episodes to fathom. The show's creator extensively researched the language of the period and the protagonists speak with a great deal of vile language and use a turn of phrase that is very different from the way we express ourselves today.

For the first 4 to 6 episodes, I almost gave up on watching the show. I couldn't understand who the principal actors where and at times I could barely understand what any of them were saying. I turned on closed captions - which helped immensely - and got used to the dialogue. I finally got a lay of the land. And then I was hooked.

Deadwood is one of the most beautifully written TV shows I have ever watched. Perhaps the most beautiful.

I constantly want to pause to write down lines I have just listened to. Viewers often quote from the speeches of Deadwood principal character Al Swearingen to illustrate this beauty. But I prefer this exchange between theater troop leader Jack Langrishe and his friend and perhaps lover, the aged and dying actor Chesterton. The two speak in the hotel room where Chesterton is bed ridden:
JL: I am your Jack, Chesterton, but your producer too.
C: A rigor we've always sustained.
JL: To carry a performer through illness where recovery is in prospect is an indulgence one can sometimes justify, but support of idleness destined for the grave that, Chesterton, the narrow economy of our art does not permit.
C: You would have me die destitute?
JL: You will purchase your keep with that voice - intrusive and incessantly opinionated - no vagary of our past has yet stilled.
If you love Shakespeare, this is the show he would have written, if he had lived in the 21st century.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Web Secret 575: I Won’t Upgrade My Phone Until It Can Turn Into a Magic Pony

I occasionally come across an article that is so on point, I publish it in its entirety - abridged.

"Why I Won’t Upgrade My Phone Until It Can Turn Into a Magic Pony," written by Jessica Powell for Medium, an online magazine, is one such gem.

Here it is:

Of all the absurd things I’ve hoarded over the years, by far the stupidest collection in my closet is a box of old mobile phones. I’ve told myself ... if there were an apocalypse, I might be able to barter one away in exchange for food or water.

But in truth, I think I’ve just held on to them because they mark the passage of time...Plus, how often do we get to document, on such a personal level, the rapid evolution of a particular piece of technology?

When mobile phones were first introduced, they were elusive status symbols.... Their huge, brick-like size announced their worth: Look at me, they screamed...My father, a doctor who was often on call at the hospital, had one of these enormous phones, and none of us was allowed to touch it...

But luxury is defined in part by scarcity. Bit by bit, phones got smaller and cheaper and into the hands of more people. Having a phone was no longer a privilege reserved for the few...

I got my first phone in 2001. While it was nothing fancy, it was a wondrous thing that fit in the palm of my hand and made phone calls. It could also — well, no, that was really all it could do: make phone calls...

...I never once thought of these early-aught phones as status symbols the way I had back when phones were scarce — they were simply pieces of plastic and wire that helped me make calls from one place to another. They seemed about as unique to me as paper towels or USB sticks.

And yet, once smartphones rolled onto the scene, everything seemed to change. Overnight, it seemed that phones had once again become major status symbols.

Beginning in 2007, it was no longer a question as to whether you had a phone, but rather what kind of phone you owned. One’s choice of device spoke volumes — it fit you into a tidy categorization of wealth and interests. Having an iPhone meant you had money. A BlackBerry? Lots of money. An Android? Not so much. A flip phone? That was just kind of embarrassing.

It wasn’t just about wealth — your phone post-2007 said something about your lifestyle. iPhone users were the creative types. Android users were into tech. BlackBerry users — while those still existed — were men in suits who fired off angry, monosyllabic emails and probably made inappropriate comments to the secretaries in the coffee room.

There were now phones for any need or purpose. Even thematic phones had a decent run in some parts of the world. On a work trip to Jakarta, I picked up a special-edition “ladies-only” phone — a pink device sparkling with white plastic crystals...

All of which is to say that 10 years ago there was a wealth of phone options and a whole lot of competition...

But today there are essentially two operating systems — Apple and Android — and our phones all basically look the same and can do the same things...

But there’s a bigger problem that has nothing to do with the relative inconspicuousness of phones: incremental innovation. ..what are we really getting in exchange beyond a slightly better camera and screen?

Sure enough, the latest numbers show that people are upgrading their phones at a much slower rate than before...

If the companies want our money, they’ll have to build far more magical devices or figure out how to add some glitz and glam on the side. Bring us a gigantic phone we can swim in. Or a phone that will whisper compliments to us as we walk down the street. A phone that populates everything around us with AR-driven dancing ponies, or one that will double as a Swiss army knife in the event of the apocalypse I keep worrying about.

In the absence of all that, I’m sticking with my current 2017 phone until it breaks. I’ll spend my money on things that really show people who I am — like drinking raw water, putting jade eggs in my hoohaw, and raising chickens in my backyard biosphere.

And when that phone finally breaks, I’ll do something really radical — go phoneless.

The ultimate status symbol, of course, being someone who is so superior to everyone that they don’t need to communicate with anyone.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Web Secret 574: People Walker

A couple of weeks ago, I had dinner with my friend Rochelle Sharpe. Rochelle is a Pulitzer Prize winner and a previous staff reporter at the Wall Street Journal. So when she talks, I listen.

She told me that she is working on an article about loneliness, which scientists tell us is a very serious and epidemic problem.

Why, in an era when technology makes it so easy to connect, we should feel increasingly alone is not clearly understood.

Rochelle asked me if had heard about "The People Walker" in Los Angeles.

I had not.

So as soon as I got home, I googled it. Turns out the people walking idea was already getting press in 2016. An article in The Guardian described how an aspiring actor came up with the idea.

I also learned that People Walker is now a full fledged app, allowing lonely people to connect "with safe and reliable walking partners on-demand."

Coming soon to an urban center near you...

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Web Secret 573: Streaming down the hill

I don't remember when I started streaming TV shows, mini series and movies. I was most definitely NOT an early adopter. Didn't quite get it.

The chief television critic of the New York Times reported that most of her friends pitied her when he took that position in 2004. "TV," they scoffed, "how are you going to stand watching all that trash?" Ten years later, is colleagues envy her, and movies are the trash - endless reiterations of the same 3 plot lines or yet another superhero offering. (PS the critic in question, Alessandra Stanley, was a prep school classmate of mine.)

As I write this, I literally can't remember the last time I went to the movies. It was many months ago and I paid extra to sit in a comfortable reclining seat, drink a chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc and eat farm to table fare.

Wait - I can do that at home - anytime I want. I have a large 4K TV, which may be small compared to an IMAX screen, but I don't have to deal with cinematic deplorables. By which I mean children jumping around, teenagers texting non-stop, and demented senior citizens loudly asking questions because they can't follow the plot. I have wine in my fridge, and any food in the world can be ordered on my "GrubHub" app.

One thing that I started noticing recently is how many streaming apps I have loaded on my smartphone and tablet:

Netflix - Love Death and Robots
Hulu - The First
PBS Video - Victoria
CBS All Access - The Twilight Zone
HBO GO - Game of Thrones
FXNOW - Fosse/Verdon
NBC - Good Girls
Bravo - Project Runway
YouTube - Origin

I am sure I'm forgetting a couple. I am feeding an addiction for science-fiction, fantasy, historical drama and documentaries. Many, many, documentaries.

I am never going to watch it all.

I have to schedule "Reading a book" lunches - because otherwise...

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Web Secret 572: 44 pages

Do you remember reading "Highlights for Kids"?

Maybe in your dentist's or pediatrician's office?

Would you think it still existed in 2019?

Would you think it's still relevant in our digital world?

Would you think it is one of the most ethical companies in America?

Would you think it is run by 4 generations of the same family?

Well, I didn't know any of the above.

Until I watched a warm blanket of a documentary, "44 pages."

You should too.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Web Secret 571: The Kindness Diaries

Years ago, I found myself stranded in a remote Andean village for a number of days. There was no running water, no electricity and the villagers tilled the soil using Medieval tools.

One of the families in the village offered me food and lodging while I waited for the bus to come. By Western standards, these people were poor, yet I was amazed at their happiness and serenity.

I find myself thinking back to that experience as I watched "The Kindness Diaries", a wonderful documentary series on Netflix.

The series follows the journey of host Leon Logothetis as he travels the world with no money, choosing to rely entirely on the kindness of strangers for food, lodging and gasoline to fuel his motorcycle.

When Leon and his crew meet someone who touches their hearts, they reward them with a gift.

Every episode, I too am touched, and I cry.

Things I've learned from watching this program:
  1. The poorest people are usually the most generous. I don't know if this is because they have more empathy, or they have less to lose by gambling on helping a total stranger.
  2. True contentment is not linked to material wealth.
  3. I want to visit Bhutan. The government of Bhutan is guided by the philosophy of Gross National Happiness. I will say no more.
  4. Kindness can be found anywhere. You just have to ask.
True chicken soup for the soul.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Web Secret 570: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert

The Internet taketh away.

But sometimes it giveth big time.

Take NPR's Tiny Desk Concerts, "Intimate video performances, recorded live at the desk of All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen." Since 2008, a Who's Who of musicians and bands have performed them, from Adele to Chance The Rapper, from T-Pain to Yo-Yo Ma.

In 2015, the Tiny Desk people decide to launch a contest to find undiscovered talent. Contestants must submit a video showing them performing a song they have written while seated at a desk. Winners perform a Tiny Desk Concert.

In 2016, there were 6,000 entries and six judges unanimously selected Gaelynn Lea as the winner.

Yesterday, I accidentally came across her Tiny Desk Concert - I had never heard of her:


Within 10 seconds of clicking the link, I feel like I noticed 6 things simultaneously:

1. she is a little person
2. her limbs are askew
3. she plays the violin like a cello
4. her playing is amazing
5. her voice is amazing
6. the song she wrote, (Someday we'll linger in the sun,) is amazing.
7. I had never heard anything like it.

Food for the soul.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Web Secret 569: Friendship has been digitized

In an op-ed piece in the New York Times, author Stephen T. Asma, a professor of philosophy, wonders whether the "pre-internet, face-to-face experience of friendship that I knew growing up will be lost to our post-internet children."

He goes on to note:

"Each year, more and more of our lives take place in the digital space. The average teenager spends up to nine hours a day online."

"The loss of intimacy, however, does not seem to be a concern among the young people actually growing up online; they report feeling socially supported by large networks of online “friends” whom they rarely or never see face-to-face."

"But do these young people even know what they are missing? And does it matter?"

"According to a new survey, 86 percent of American and British citizens believe that “increased use of technology” is contributing to social isolation."

"Deep friendship...is when you care for your friend for her sake, not for any benefit you can accrue from the relation. This is selfless friendship. You can have only a couple of these friends because they require a lot of time, work and effort, and a general blending or intertwining of two lives. You have to clock time with these people, and you must make sacrifices for each other."

"The kind of presence required for deep friendship does not seem cultivated in many online interactions. Presence in friendship requires “being with” and “doing for” (sacrifice). The forms of “being with” and “doing for” on social networking sites (or even in interactive gaming) seem trivial because the stakes are very low."

"When I asked my undergraduate students whether they had people in their lives who would bring them soup when they’re sick, they laughed ... and said they’d just order soup from GrubHub..."

Asma muses, "...digital life produces false friendships (because they are relatively disembodied). In other words, young people do not know that they lack real friends.."

He concludes, "Our worries about online life are inevitable, I suppose. We’ve never seen anything quite like it in the social world before."

It's going to be a bumpy ride.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Web Secret 568: Human contact is a luxury

In an important New York Times article "Human Contact Is Now a Luxury Good", author Nellie Bowles argues that while screens used to be for the elite, that is no longer the caase:
"The rich do not live like this. The rich have grown afraid of screens. They want their children to play with blocks, and tech-free private schools are booming. Humans are more expensive, and rich people are willing and able to pay for them. Conspicuous human interaction — living without a phone for a day, quitting social networks and not answering email — has become a status symbol.

All of this has led to a curious new reality: Human contact is becoming a luxury good.

As more screens appear in the lives of the poor, screens are disappearing from the lives of the rich. The richer you are, the more you spend to be offscreen."
Later, she notes:
"So as wealthy kids are growing up with less screen time, poor kids are growing up with more. How comfortable someone is with human engagement could become a new class marker."
Our elderly will be cared for by avatars and robots.

An article in Vox pointed out that already
"The rapid influx of advanced technology is changing the practice of medicine... Nowhere is this more apparent than a story where a physician told a fatally ill man in a Fremont, California, hospital that he was dying via video chat on a screen attached to a robot.

The patient...was sitting in his hospital room when a “telepresence robot” — or a mobile robot with a video screen that live-streams a physician in another location — rolled in and informed him that there was nothing that could be done to treat him. Quintana, who had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, was with his granddaughter and a nurse when he was told his options for managing pain at the end of his life. The granddaughter, shocked at this bombshell dropped from a disembodied robot, filmed part of the encounter, which subsequently went viral online."
I don't know what else to say.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Web Secret 567: How to become web dead 2.0

Over 10 years ago, I wrote a blog post "How to Become Web Dead" - about erasing oneself from the Internet in case of overexposure.

in 2019, this has become many orders of magnitude more important and more difficult. I especially recommend clinicians think about locking down their social media against curious clients. Recently, the New York Time published an article "How a Bitcoin Evangelist Made Himself Vanish, in 15 (Not So Easy) Steps" with some up-to-date ideas on how to virtually disappear.

1. Create an LLC. People end up in databases when they fill out forms to buy property, register for credit cards or complete run-of-the-mill transactions. Create an LLC in a state that does not require the corporation to record the name of its owner.

2. Turn off all geolocation services on your smartphone

3. Create a V.P.N. for home internet use. In order to shield your internet address and your location, he turned his home internet router into a virtual private network, or V.P.N., that made all his internet traffic appear to come from different internet addresses in different places. I showed you how to do this in a previous post "Individual cybersecurity when traveling."

My additional suggestion:

4. Lock down all of your social media accounts. Better yet - consider deleting all your social media accounts and open new ones that you only share with your very closest family and friends.

5. Reread "How to Become Web Dead" - turns out most of that advice is still worthwhile.

Step lightly.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Web Secret 566: Unreasonable

I am known to jump up and down about the need for EAP companies and individuals to have sophisticated marketing and a one to two minute video.

I wish I could use an actual EAP as an example, but no one is doing what I am talking about - yet. What you get on most EAP services is a list of services - ditto in their videos.

What is an example, is a technology accelerator called the Unreasonable Group.

Let's look at their 2 minute video, entitled "We are Unreasonable"shall we?



Note that they don't actually explain how they do what they do - instead the video is aspirational - you, the client, and Unreasonable are working towards the same high level goal. They describe the big picture of what their company hopes to achieve for their clients. The video itself is composed of photo and very short video clips downloaded, most likely, from the Internet. Their text is superimposed over these images.

There are no actors, no special effects - it's about the message. Not expensive to produce.

This is how they describe themselves on their website (the emphasis is mine):

"At Unreasonable Group, we believe entrepreneurs building rapidly scalable businesses are our best bet for solving the most significant social and environmental challenges. Every day, our team strives to give entrepreneurs tackling these challenges an unfair advantage. We do this by connecting entrepreneurs with the networks of mentors, investors, businesses, policymakers and specialists they need to scale. Unreasonable’s economic model rests on identifying and securing new partnerships with multinational companies, foundations, and governments."

Note the provocative and unusual use of the word "unfair."

Makes you pay attention, right?

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Web Secret 565: Leaving Neverland

When I was 18, a person whom I revered sexually molested me.

That was over 40 years ago.

It has taken me decades to fully process that experience, and understanding came incrementally.

My incident isn't remotely on the scale of what was endured by James Safechuck and Wade Robson as told in the HBO documentary Leaving Neverland. They were children and I was a very young adult. Their abuse lasted years. Mine maybe 10-15 minutes.

But to those critics who are dubious about how long it took for these victims to speak up, I would say this:
  • You cannot imagine, or maybe you've forgotten how sheltered we were before the Internet and social media. At 18, I was probably more naive than a ten year old is today. I had not been schooled in "bad touch" as today's children are in elementary school. And if I'd been asked, would have pictured perpetrators as obviously evil strangers. Most of the topics discussed openly today - cancer, incest, rape, suicide, etc. - were taboo in the seventies and even beyond.
  • Thus when we the naive were victimized by a charming, admired, trusted perpetrator, we were shocked and confused. We had a sense of disbelief. "Did this just happen?", we asked ourselves. Maybe we misinterpreted the situation?
  • It took me a longtime to understand that being heroic or amazing in one context doesn't mean you can't be profoundly flawed and sick in another. Coming to that realization is devastating.
  • It took the recent "Me Too" movement for me to label what happened to me "sexual assault." I had never thought about it before in that way.
  • It took this documentary for me to fully realize the psychology of "grooming" targets.
  • We are handicapped by the fact that incidents are seared in our memories from when we were very young. It takes time, therapy, having children and/or education to step out of your young mind and revisit what happened from the perspective of a sophisticated adult.
In order to heal, we all have to leave our Neverlands.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Web Secret 564: The Culture Map

Vignette #1: At work, my 25 year old son is in charge of an international group of interns, most of whom are barely younger than him. He told me he had to give a stern lecture about business etiquette to his Korean interns who persisted in sending work emails festooned with emojis, many with obscure, untranslatable meaning.

Vignette #2: I am very direct when giving feedback - whether at work or with my children. Some attribute this to a lack of tact and considerable arrogance. It took me years to even learn that sometimes I need to pull my punches.

Today, I came across the work of Erin Meyer and all is explained. Erin is a professor at INSEAD, one of the leading international business schools. Her work focuses on how the world’s most successful managers navigate the complexities of cultural differences in a global environment. Erin has figured out how to explain the differences between countries through eight workplace behavioral scales.

To get a feel for Erin's work, enjoy this 30 minute presentation on The Culture Map.

So going back to vignette #2. Let me begin by saying that my formative years were spent in the French school system and living in Europe. Then let me add that one of Erin's scale is "Evaluating." This scale measures a preference for frank versus diplomatic criticism. The French, for example, are much (much!) more direct when it comes to negative feedback.

For the French, this approach starts as early as first grade, when even the most minor assignments are graded on a scale of 1 to 20. (PS: the score of 20 is rarely given, the French don't believe anyone is perfect.) In addition, everyone in the class is ranked in every subject versus his/her peers. This evaluation is underscored every trimester, when, at the end of the marking period, two levels of honor role distinction are given.

So that was my exposure to negative criticism. I'm used to it. I find it useful. But in the US that is not acceptable business practice. Negative feedback is best received when tempered with some positive words.

Erin, where were you when I became a supervisor in 1986?

I have no explanation for the emojis.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Web Secret 563: Oddly satisfying videos

A recent New York Times article "Finding What’s ‘Oddly Satisfying’ on the Internet" aims to describe a curious niche of videos that human beings find satisfying for as yet unexplained reasons.

As the author explains: "These videos are compilations of physical objects being manipulated in certain highly specific ways: melted, smoothed, extruded, carved, sliced, dissolved. Frosting piped fluidly over a layer cake. Molten glass slowly ballooning from the tip of a blowpipe. Crayon wax swirling in a factory vat, propelled by the rhythmic swoosh of a giant paddle."

A few examples below.

I hated the music in this one, and prefer to watch it muted.




This one provoked more revulsion than satisfaction:


Here is a compilation of objects being crushed in a hydraulic press. Loved it.


These kinds of videos typically have hundreds of thousands, nay, millions of views - which begs these questions:

What is the evolutionary reason for this commonality of satisfaction?

Is understanding why these videos are appealing trivial or important to understanding mankind?

Is the evoked satisfaction exclusive to 21st century humans?

There is no question that watching the icing video relaxes and puts me to sleep in a matter of minutes and it's a lot safer than popping an Ambien.

And I seem to have vivid, happy memories of extruding Play-Doh from my childhood.

Well guess what? There are many videos of grown ups "demonstrating" vintage and recent Play Doh kits. Here is one with over 8 million views:



It's a mystery.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Web Secret 562: Mix

One of the very first websites I blogged about way back in 2008 was StumbleUpon.

StumbleUpon discovered web sites based on my interests. The personalized recommendation engine learned what I liked, and brought me more.

It was easy. And FREE.

Today, having once again fallen into a blogging rut, I went to visit StumbleUpon only to find out that it has been gobbled up and transformed into a website called Mix

Much like its ancestor, Mix promises: "All your favorite things. All in one place. Mix learns what you love to show you even more."

After I fed it my interests in the web, nerd culture and gizmos, Mix showed me dozens of articles like:

Six artists who are shaping the future of AI

Top 10 free iPhone only apps that you will not find on Android

The five most worrying trends in artificial intelligence right now

Mix - I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Web Secret 561: Talking to Machines

I came across an article in Fast Company "Could talking to a bot help you feel better?". It provides a nice summary of the state of the art of chatbots, as well as their promise.

Not much about the peril.

Let me summarize:

One of the world’s first chatbots was a therapist. Built in 1964, the program, called ELIZA, was designed to mimic techniques from Rogerian psychotherapy where the therapist prompts the patient to examine their own thoughts and feelings.

ELIZA had no memory or understanding of the conversation. It merely searched for a keyword in the last sentence typed in by its interlocutor and calculated an answer using a rule associated with the keyword. Nevertheless, many users became convinced that ELIZA understood them.

ELIZA created the most remarkable illusion of having understood in the minds of many people who conversed with it.” Users would often demand to be permitted to converse with the system in private. This phenomenon became known as the ELIZA effect.

These days we’re surrounded by chatbots and voice analysis apps, a growing number of which are geared toward improving how we feel. Aimed at users who suffer from conditions like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, or simply from stress, chatbots claim to be able to identify the mood or condition of the user, and in many cases can also offer advice or suggest therapeutic exercises.

There is even a chatbot for substance use disorders.

As with ELIZA, many users had emotional interactions with this chatbot. They thanked it for its help. One participant struggling with domestic problems and opioid abuse even sent the bot photos of her vacation at Disneyland with her children. “Hey, I know you are not real but I just wanted to send these pictures of my family out at Disneyland having a great time,” the user told the bot. “I’m doing better now. Thank you.

For all of the supposed benefits of mental health and counseling bots, critics have questioned their safety and point to a lack of regulation. Others have wondered if a reliance on bots and screens might deprive people of the benefits of real-life communication and connection.

The concerns about connection coincide with a rise in loneliness. Recent research on the placebo effect suggests that the effect may actually be a biological response to an act of caring. A study explains that human beings “evolved in an environment which did not require them to distinguish between authentic and simulated relationships.” So when people interact with a non-human listener, they may feel as though they are dealing with a sentient being who cares about them.

At the end of the article, the author notes: "In a society where people seek constant validation via social media, yet feel chronically lonely, can non-human listeners ease our sense of isolation and the problems that result from it, or could these listeners become the ultimate “online only” friend, addressing our basic human need for connection and caring in a way that ultimately leaves us even more alone?"

Sobering.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Web Secret 560: Do Not Disturb

Countries around the world are banning bosses from texting and emailing workers after business hours and on weekends.

It's toxic.

Your relatives and friends need to be stopped from driving you crazy too.

Thank you Whitson Gordon for explaining how to configure the Do Not Disturb mode to let calls through from certain people, at certain times, or only in case of emergency.

iPhone users have a plethora of options for Do Not Disturb mode, ensuring that only the important stuff gets through. Head to Settings > Do Not Disturb to customize it. In particular, you’ll probably want to adjust the following options:

Scheduled: Turn this on, and set it to whenever you go to bed and wake up. Notifications will still appear on the lock screen; they just won’t make noise. If you’d prefer to hide them from the lock screen as well, turn the Bedtime switch on — that way, they’ll only appear when you drag down the Notification Center, rather than tempting you to answer emails at 10 p.m.

Allow Calls From: By default, your iPhone will silence all calls when Do Not Disturb is on. With this setting, though, you can allow calls from your Favorite contacts, like your spouse or parents. Also, consider turning on Repeated Calls, too, which will allow calls through if it’s an emergency and the same person calls twice within three minutes. (But watch out for spam callers who try to get around it by calling multiple times in a row.)

Those are the crucial ones.

Peace and quiet.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Web Secret 559: Reply all

I hate "reply all".

It appears few email users ever consider whether it makes sense for everyone to receive their thoughts.

In a recent New York Times article, writer David Pogue asked his readers "How to Handle the Dreaded ‘Reply All Moment’"

Here were some of their suggestions:

1. Resend a corrected version of the same message four times. The flood of identical emails may minimize the amount of attention attracted by the first one.

2. Resort to deception. Blame a computer virus or a young child.

3. Enlist someone you have good rapport with to Reply All to your Reply All, and say something funny to cut the tension.

4. In general, though, the wisest course seems to be quick action and a huge helping of humble pie. “You own it, make apologies, spend 48 hours in shame, and move on.”

Here's how to avoid the fiasco in the first place:

Enter the address last. Compose the email, and only then go back and enter the address(es). This technique requires extra steps, but it guarantees you’ll never accidentally Reply to All.

Give yourself an “Oh no!” window. In some email programs, you can set up a freakout delay. Your email will wait 60 seconds (or more) after you click Send, giving you a window in which to realize your gaffe and stop the message in its tracks. Other programs allow you to "unsend" the offending email.

Think, people, think.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Web Secret 558: The Cannabis Reporter

Like it or not, very soon medical and recreational cannabis will be the law of the land.

The Cannabis Reporter podcast aims to provide information about this complex world through interviews with experts, policy makers and other individuals shaping the future of cannabis culture.

Here is a sampling:

Navigating the Regulatory Rifts of Intercontinental Cannabis Banking & Commerce

Advantage Canada: How Legalization Will Help First Responders Access Cannabis for PTSD

A Higher Calling Down Under: Cannabis Research & Alzheimer’s

Why do I hope for a federal law legalizing medical and recreational cannabis?
  • The current legal situation is a mess - there are 50 states in the US and each of them has a different stance about legalization.
  • Many states have decriminalized possession of small amounts.
  • There is no standardization of product.
  • It is difficult to conduct large scale research on the positives and potential issues raised by cannabis use.
  • Chronic pain sufferers will tell you we have a dire need for alternatives to opiates and non steroidal inflammatory meds.
  • TSA security officers do not search for marijuana.
  • Good luck to corporations with work sites in different states with different cannabis regulations. What should be your policy when a terminally ill employee asks to use medical marijuana during a lunch break to manage nausea?
We need one federal law in this land so that we can regulate cannabis just as we have regulated alcohol and tobacco use.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Web Secret 557: Baron Fig

I don't exactly know what I was looking for on the Internet when this article popped up in my browser: "The 100 Best Pens, As Tested by Strategist Editors."

I'm not sure what was more exciting - that the testing was rigorous, that I knew about or had owned 99 of the 100 pens tested, or that the pen that came in first place was unknown to me. My husband thinks it is indicative of a disturbingly profound degree of nerdiness. No surprise there.

Anyway, the pen that came in first place was the Baron Fig Squire Roller Ball. It was judged best for smoothness, low smudging, lack of bleed-through, feel, and looks.

The Squire was first introduced during a highly successful 2016 Kickstarter campaign that I somehow missed.

My only problem is that I can never remember the name of this company.

I keep thinking it's Fig Newton.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Web Secret 556: meal subscription plans

True confession: I hate to cook.

I have been on a mission to find a meal delivery service that is delicious, has an easy interface and meets the nutritional needs of the three people in my household. In addition, since the only kitchen appliance I will operate is the microwave, all meals need to be zapable.

This is not as easy as it sounds.

Here are all the programs I tried and ultimately rejected:

Sakara, promised "Life-transforming, plant-rich super meals delivered to your door."
My review: This is the meal plan if you are 5 feet tall and weigh 90 lbs - the portions are tiny. Delicious but tiny. And expensive given their tininess.

Fresh N Lean promised "Healthy Meals Prepared & Delivered To You." My review: Their breakfast muffins were great, as were their almond snacks. But the meals were mediocre and tasted the same. Unless you try their a la carte option - way too expensive - you get no choice over what they send you. And their user interface as quite frankly, a pain in the ass, usually requiring a phone call. And they got it wrong anyway.

The Good Kitchen promised "fresh, fully prepared meals delivered."
My review: not enough vegetrian options. Just not that good, kitchen.

There was a paleo plan that was terrible.

And a vegetarian plan that only offered meals that looked like wet dog food.

Currently I am giving Freshly a try. They promise a "flexible subscription with chef-prepared recipes and ingredients that not only come fresh (not frozen), but are ready to eat within 2 minutes of opening — no prepping, cooking, or cleaning required."

I'll let you know...

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Web Secret 554: Bandersnatch

I remember the early "choose your own adventure" video games of the 1980s.

Laborious and slow, black and white and pixelated, it could take half an hour to move a primitive character down a black corridor. You answered questions like: "Does Igor go left or right" by typing in "R-I-G-H-T."

So how does 30 years of technological advances impact an early video game?

You get Bandersnatch, the first ever interactive film. Thank you, Netflix.

Set in the 1980s, Bandersnatch centers on Stefan, an ambitious video game developer. Inspired by his favorite childhood choose your own adventure novel, Bandersnatch, Stefan sets out to create an innovative text-based game where the player's choices influence how the story unfolds.

Every so often, as you watch the film, a text field appears and you have what feels like 15 seconds to make a decision. Does Stefan eat Frosties cereal or the other kind? Does he spill tea on his computer or does he run out of the room? Does he bury the dead body or chop it up? You click on your choice. And your decision gets played out.

Now here is what is truly amazing: the film never stops while you make your selection, and whatever you decide unfolds seamlessly. I was blown away by the sheer technology of it.

The movie typically runs for about 90 minutes, depending on the choices you make at the plot's branching points. Bandersnatch has more than 1 trillion possible permutations of its story, but the piece has "five main endings" that viewers can eventually end up with.

Play Bandersnatch and you are experiencing the future.

Right now.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Web Secret 553: Snopes

In this age of fake news, who tells the truth?

Snopes.com.

Snopes promises to be "...the definitive Internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation."

Take this statement: "18 Migrant Children Died in Border Patrol Custody During the Obama Administration."

Snope says the following about it:

"What's True

A 2016 Human Rights Watch report analyzed ICE death reviews of 18 adults who passed away while under detention by U.S. immigration authorities at various facilities between 2012 and 2015.

What's False

We found no documentation supporting the claim that any migrant children, much less 18 of them, died while in the custody of the U.S. Border Patrol during the administration of President Barack Obama.
"

This is followed by an extensive discussion on the origin of the statement and a series of references that support Snopes corrected version.

Not all the statements Snopes dissects are political. Some are nutty social media stories like:

Was a Man Hospitalized After His Apple Airpods Exploded in His Ear? Short answer: No.

Ingesting "a tablespoon" of fruit syrup every 15 minutes for an hour can help someone dealing with vomiting or diarrhea.. Short answer: Unproven.

Snopes is bipartisan:

Did a GoFundMe Campaign to Fund a Border Wall Raise Millions of Dollars Within a Few Days?. Short answer: Yes.

We all need Snopes.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Web Secret 552: A Great F*cking Bag

I don't know what this says about our civilization, but there are endless Kickstarter campaigns featuring bags, backpacks, luggage, and packing systems.

So it takes genius marketing to stand out from the crowd.

Hello, Använda. A Great F*cking Bag.

Anvanda's 2 and a half minute intro video is inspired, simultaneously making fun of the backpack invasion and differentiating themselves from other products with the inspired use of humor and profanity.

Their copy follows in sync with their video and is hilarious.

Study the whole thing.