Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Web Secret 499: the best of iWebU - Know Your Meme

On August 15, 2018, I will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of iWebU - that's over 500 weekly posts.

Leading up to that momentous date, I am re releasing the "best of iWebU", starting in 2008 and moving forward in time.

These are the posts that stand the test of time and remain as valuable today as they did then.

And so, I revisit Web Secret #79: Know Your Meme. Why? The Internet meme continues to be one of the most powerful agents of change in the world.

Note to my readers: Most of the links in this post - the important ones - continue to work.

Web Secret #79: Know Your Meme - December 9, 2009

Create a successful meme to promote your product or your services and you have captured lightning in a bottle.

There is no more powerful form of viral marketing.

What's a meme?

It's a catchphrase or concept that spreads quickly from person to person via the Internet, much like an esoteric inside joke. The content often consists of a joke, an altered or original image, a complete website, a video clip or animation, among many other possibilities.
  • An Internet meme may stay the same or may evolve over time.
  • Internet memes have a tendency to evolve and spread extremely quickly, sometimes going in and out of popularity in just days.
  • They are spread organically, voluntarily, and peer to peer.
I have previously written about the brilliant "Whopper Sacrifice", but there are others, many others...

What does it take to come up with a compelling meme? Enter, a fabulous website that catalogues memes making them easy to study. As an example, typing in "hamster" in the site's search window brings up the 1998 Hampster Dance, one of the earliest examples of an Internet meme. Of course the Hampster Dance was meant to entertain, not sell products. But there is much to learn from even non-commercial memes.

But what about something more recent?

Check out the Starbucks Love Project launched December 7th. It asks that you submit a 30 second video of you and your friends singing the Beatles "All You Need Is Love" or your "love drawing", and Starbucks will contribute 5 cents towards the global fight against AIDS.

Today, December 8, hundreds of thousands of people from 120 countries have already participated.

Now how much good will do you think Starbucks has generated for itself?

But what if you have zero dollars to invest in viral marketing?

Once upon a time, there was a real estate project in San Franciso called Pacific Cannery Lofts. The challenge they faced was getting San Francisco dwellers to buy one of their loft apartments in West Oakland - which most locals considered to be an Outer Mongolia location.

The Pacific Cannery marketing team had no money to promote the project.

But they were smart. They borrowed a car, a very cheap video cam and they created a handful of minute long videos titled “Time Trials”, shot documentary style, showing how quickly a person could drive from the Lofts to various desirable locations in San Francisco. They uploaded the videos to YouTube.

"Time Trials" became a cult hit. Hundreds of people e-mailed them to one another. Some even filmed their own "Time Trials" and submitted them to YouTube as well.

Completely cool.
So clever.
I am jealous.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Web Secret 498: the best of iWebU - Whopper Sacrifice

On August 15, 2018, I will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of iWebU - that's over 500 weekly posts.

Leading up to that momentous date, I am re releasing the "best of iWebU", starting in 2008 and moving forward in time.

These are the posts that stand the test of time and remain as valuable today as they did then.

And so, I revisit Web Secret #39: Whopper Sacrifice.

Why? Because this Burger King viral marketing campaign remains one of the most creative I have ever encountered.

Note to my readers: The links in this post have long been taken down.

Web Secret #39: Whopper Sacrifice - February 11, 2009

If you read my Web Secret #9 you know that viral marketing refers to techniques that uses pre-existing social networks (eg Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) to produce an increase in brand awareness or achieve other marketing objectives.

Recently I read about a viral marketing ploy used by - of all companies - Burger King, that is so clever, elegant and thought provoking, I just had to share it with you.

Basically, Burger King created an application for Facebook, called Whopper Sacrifice that rewarded you with a coupon for BK's signature burger for every 10 'friends' you managed to delete from your massively cluttered list of Facebook friends. The application then sent a notification to the banished party via Facebook's news feed explaining that your desire for a Whopper was stronger than your love for the unlucky former 'friend.'

The app also added a box on a user's profile page charting their progress toward the free burger with the line, "Who will be the next to go?". Sacrificed friends had the option of sending an AngryGram to the axing perpetrator.

The marketing ploy was so successful that visitors to are now told that "Facebook had to disable Whopper Sacrifice after your love for the Whopper sandwich proved stronger than 233,906 friendships."

I figure that for the cost of about 23,000 burgers, Burger King probably reached 500,000 potential customers. And they got a ton of free publicity for their innovative viral marketing tactic.

Now it's your turn. How will you virally market your products and services? The majority of viral marketing techniques don't cost a penny. Just brain power.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Web Secret 497: the best of iWebU - Web Sites that Suck

On August 15, 2018, I will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of iWebU - that's over 500 weekly posts.

Leading up to that momentous date, I am rereleasing the "best of iWebU", starting in 2008 and moving forward in time.

These are the posts that stand the test of time and remain as valuable today as they did then.

I begin with Web Secret #24: Very Bad Websites. Why? Unfortunately, there are still terrible websites out there - I am talking to you Nespresso.

Note to my readers: Websites that Stuck stopped updating after 2014 - but the site is still up and in my opinion - it's the best of its kind - and hilarious to boot. Also - and maybe this is comforting - the individual websites that I listed have gone out of business. They were too terrible to survive. The "Checklist 1 - 149 Mortal Sins That Will Send Your Site to Web Design Hell" alone is worth reading:

Web Secret #24: Very Bad Websites - October 29, 2008

Just as you can learn from visiting the very best websites, you can learn a lot from visiting the very worst.

Conveniently for all interested parties, there is a web site that collects and ranks the absolute turkeys of web design, web navigation and web content. I am talking, of course, about the fabulously edifying and entertaining "Web Pages That Suck".

The great thing about this website, is that not only do they rank the worst of the worst on a yearly basis, but they accompany their selections with witty commentary.

You too can explore such atrocities as:
Tally-Ho Uniforms & Accessories - one of the top 10 worst websites of 2007
Yvette's - a rising contender for the worst of 2008
Burlington Ufo and Paranormal Research and Education Center ("This is so godawful that it ruptures the very fabric of space and time")

Remember my August 22, 2008 post, Web Secret: Ten Commandments of Website Design? This is what happens when you simultaneously violate all ten commandments.

Bonus Secret: Wondering if your web site sucks? Then read their "Checklist 1 - 149 Mortal Sins That Will Send Your Site to Web Design Hell", and wonder no more.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Web Secret 496: Computer security

Last month, CNET published an informative article "How to give your parents the security talk this Thanksgiving" which I have decided to summarize (with occasional comments) for you, my readers.

I am doing this because my experience has been that most people - whether they are Boomers or Millenials - don't know Jack about computer security.

So even though the topic is borrrring, you should at least understand the following:

Phishing: This is when someone pretends to be somebody else in an attempt to steal your information, whether it's a credit card number, login password or any data that can be used in an attack. Phishing attacks often come in the form of email that contains a link taking you to a website designed to trick you. The easiest way to avoid getting phished is simply to not click on any links in emails. If an email coming from Netflix says your account is getting canceled, just go directly to Netflix's website to check it out -- don't do it from the link in the email.

3 tips to spot a phishing email:

Grammar: Bad grammar is a tell-tale sign of an online scam.

Check the source: The address the email came from is often a thinly veiled disguise (coming from instead of, for example).

Weird links: You can hover your mouse over links and pictures to see where they'll lead you. If an email claiming to be from Netflix is actually going to a suspicious website, that's a good sign it's a scam.

My comment: Phishers are becoming increasingly expert at sending emails that look authentic. Many of these emails report that something is being canceled. Automatically be wary of any such email.

Password managers: It's a pain to have to remember different passwords - but it's also a must. Fortunately, there are services out there that will keep all your passwords in one place.

With password managers, you just have to remember one password for the manager. You log into that service and the managers sync across your browsers and devices, bringing both security and convenience. Find out more here.

HTTPS and SSL: Every time you go on a website, you should check to see if there's a green lock icon next to the URL. That symbol shows you're on a page protected by HTTPS, which stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure.

The green lock tells you the website has Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) enabled, meaning there's a certificate to prove that the website is secure and that your sensitive information can't be stolen or spied on. Think of it as a virtual seal of approval that your secrets are safe.

Sometimes going on a nonsecure site can't be avoided (CNN's website, for example, is not HTTPS). You should be careful about entering sensitive information on public Wi-Fi if you have to go on non-HTTPS pages.

Ransomware: This is a type of virus that locks up your important files and sometimes your entire computer, unless you pay the ransom.

You should back up your files regularly in case you ever get hit with ransomware - my fav utility for this is Carbonite. CNET has an entire guide on whether you should pay the ransom. The short answer is don't.

Patching: Companies like Microsoft and Apple aren't sending frequent updates just to annoy you. Most of the time these updates come with patches to fix security flaws that were recently discovered. Suck it up and update your devices.

Two-factor authentication: It's an extra layer of security on top of your password.

It's around you everywhere you go already: swiping your debit card and then entering your PIN code, or writing a check and showing a driver's license with it. The factors are often a combination of something you know (a password, a PIN, answers to a question) with something you have (a thumbprint, a card, a phone).

The most common version of two-factor authentication is a code texted to your phone after you enter your password. Warning - this can be more complicated and annoying than it sounds.

Be safe. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Web Secret 495: the Uncanny Valley

It is my son Eric's job to keep me teetering on the brink of horror by sending me the latest and greatest news from the frontiers of A.I. and innovation.

This week, he clued me in on a concept called the "Uncanny Valley." The "UV" is "a hypothesized relationship between the degree of an object's resemblance to a human being and the emotional response to such an object. The concept of the uncanny valley suggests that humanoid objects which appear almost, but not exactly, like real human beings elicit uncanny, or strangely familiar, feelings of eeriness and revulsion in observers."

Remember the toons in the movie "Polar Express"? Disturbing right?

Even more disturbing: CGI (computer generated imagery)has been perfected to the point where reality and computer generated imagery are indistinguishable.

In a must see short film, "Goodbye Uncanny Valley", the UK artist and animator Alan Warburton explores the implication of this advance. It's a bad news/good news situation.

1. Bad. Worried about fake news? What happens when you can't tell the difference between the actual and the computer generated? When you no longer need flesh and blood actors because it's cheaper to just create them? Warburton doesn't offer any solutions. Who needs human psychotherapists if you can talk to an image of one which can access everything mankind knows about counseling?

2. Good. In the movie "Interstellar", the film maker programmed what was known about black holes to create a visual representation that obeys the known laws of physics - even though no one has ever seen an actual black hole. Imagine being able to perform scientific research without the cost and restrictions of current knowledge.

3. Good. Artists on the cutting edge of computer generated art can use the advances in CGI to create wondrous images. Think Dali surrealism on testosterone.

Right this second, we don't have to worry about point 1 too much - perfected CGI is the realm of movie makers with very big budgets, and an army of experts. But in time, the cost will go down and sophisticated tools will replace the animation experts.

And then?

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Web Secret 494: AlphaGo Zero

It's time for another bulletin from the frontiers of artificial intelligent (AI).

In a major breakthrough for artificial intelligence, AlphaGo Zero took just three days to master the ancient Chinese board game of Go ... with no human help.

Let me repeat: Google’s AI group, DeepMind, unveiled the latest incarnation of its Go playing program, AlphaGoan AI so powerful that it derived thousands of years of human knowledge of the game before inventing better moves of its own, all in the space of three days.

The feat marks a milestone on the road to general-purpose AIs. Because AlphaGo Zero learns on its own from a blank slate, its talents can now be turned to a host of real-world problems.

At DeepMind, AlphaGo Zero is working out how proteins fold, a massive scientific challenge that could give drug discovery a sorely needed shot in the arm.

As an article in the Guardian pointed out, "While AlphaGo Zero is a step towards a general-purpose AI, it can only work on problems that can be perfectly simulated in a computer, making tasks such as driving a car out of the question. AIs that match humans at a huge range of tasks are still a long way off... More realistic in the next decade is the use of AI to help humans discover new drugs and materials, and crack mysteries in particle physics."

And now you know.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Web Secret 493: Ripl

Ripl is an amazing free app which everyone who has a private practice, small business, blog, etc. should immediately download.

The app allows you to easily create a snappy, attractive, and totally professional looking video in a matter of minutes and post it on social media.

To demo it, I created a video about James Dean - the family cat - and posted it to Facebook.

Now that I know how to do it - I could probably create another video in seconds.

Full disclosure: in part I did this to show off JD (as he is known in our family.)

But really - the app is awesome.

PS If you are feeling more ambitious, you can create animated videos using

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Web Secret 492: Top Apps for Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Promotion

I watched Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas give a stirring presentation"Shining Lights of Hope: EAPs, Leadership and the Social Movement of Suicide Prevention" at the 2016 World EAP Conference. So I paid attention when she published a blog post "15 Top Apps for Resilience, Mental Health Promotion & Suicide Prevention."

In her introduction to the post, she writes: "When we consider a comprehensive strategy to suicide prevention and mental health promotion, it’s helpful to segment approaches into 'upstream' (preventing problems before they emerge through self-help), 'midstream' (catching emerging problems early and linking people to least restrictive support), and 'downstream' (helping people with more serious mental health challenges and suicidal thoughts) tactics.

Thus, for this article, I have organized some of the most popular, best researched and most innovative apps into these three categories."

She lists a number of apps that I have previously posted about - but here are some new ones for you to consider:

Upstream: Resilience Self-Help Apps

Positive Activity Jackpot Developed by t2health, this app uses the phone’s GPS system to find nearby enjoyable distractions. It comes with a clinician’s guide.

Pacifica Pacifica is designed to help people who live with anxiety through soothing meditation and other personalized self-help strategies. Check out the science behind this strategy.

Midstream: Early Detection and Peer Support/Life Coach Apps

DBT Diary Card and Skills Coach Through this app, users can master the skills of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), known for its effectiveness in regulating emotions and interpersonal relationships. Users remind themselves of skills they are trying to develop and track skill use.

Downstream: On-Line Mental Health Services and Suicide Prevention Apps

Koko Developed by researchers at MIT, this app provides help for people in all states of distress from bullying and harassment to suicide and self-harm. Koko provides evidence-based supportive interactions with users while referring users in crisis to international lifelines for immediate help.

Virtual Hope Box The original non-app version of the Hope Box was developed as a tool to help therapists in clinical practice work with their suicidal clients find reasons for living. Clients would find something like a shoe box and fill it with future goals, pictures of loved ones, bucket list experiences, and the like. When they felt their suicidal intensity increase, they would bring out the box to remind themselves of these things.

The Virtual Hope Box (VHB) does this and more. Still designed as something to augment treatment, the VHB helps people live through painful emotional experiences through distraction, inspiration, relaxation, coping, support and reasons for living.

SAMHSA – Suicide Safe This app is designed to help healthcare providers reduce patient suicide risk and is based on the SAFE-T Approach.

Thank you, Sally.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Web Secret 491: 13 Things I Found on the Internet Today

I came across 13 Things I Found on the Internet Today (vol. CCLIII).

As someone who has been blogging weekly since 2008 without EVER missing a week, I admire consistency. So 253 posts about fascinating esoterica? Hats off to you, Nessy.

If you go to the landing page, you will note that the aforementioned Nessy also writes about other topics.

"Don't Be a Tourist" is a travelogue of off the beaten path places.

"Art and Design Awesomness"... Well, Nessy, you had me at Pachinko.

Bottom line, you could happily spend hours wandering around this website.

But back to 13 things (Vol. CCLIII). Nessy is a Brit living in Paris so a lot of her finds skew towards Europeana. And what finds they are:
  • Pripyat: Before & After
  • The Forgotten Gravetunnels of Brussels
  • Bizarre Victorian Erotica - with Skeletons
  • A Medieval Medicine Chest
  • Early science-fiction illustrations for Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon
  • Before the FBI, there was the Pinkerton Detective Agency, which had more employees than soldiers in the US Army.
It's all quite delightful, a little strange, sometimes a wee bit morbid.

And utterly fascinating.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Web Secret 490: Self-Archeology

I am fascinated by professionals who have successfully taken an out of the box approach to marketing their therapy, coaching or counseling services.

These geniuses are hard to find and few in number. Since I started this blog in 2008 - I have come across less than a handful of these individuals.

Here is a quick recap:

January 27, 2010 - Web Secret 86: Where The Client Is

February 20, 2013 - Web Secret 246: What's Your Grief

February 27, 2013 - Web Secret 247: A daring adventure

August 21, 2013 - Web Secret 272: Notes from the job search

I have no idea why 2013 was such a banner year for these innovators. And with the passage of time, there have been changes - "Where the Client Is" is defunct - though you can still visit the site and learn from it. "A daring adventure" has been updated and is no longer as great. Steve Paul of "Notes from the Job Search" sadly passed away in February 2017. But the posts I wrote remain relevant.

So after a 4 year dry spell you can only imagine how excited I was to find Self-Archeology.

As always - they grab me with their website titles. Who wants to be in therapy - if you could instead be on "A daring adventure"? Who wants to be coached, if instead you can be in the pursuit of "Self-Archeology"?

Darius Cikanavicius of "Self-Archeology" writes, "Everyone knows themselves at least to some level, but... not many people have a really close relationship with themselves...However, in each of us there is a treasure – our true self ...our buried emotions, dreams, goals, spontaneity, enthusiasm, empathy, happiness, love, and other virtues.

In order for us to find all of those treasures, we have to search, dig, and excavate. After finding them we have to carefully brush, clean and polish them. And then we can delight in the benefit and joy that they provide us, exhibit them to the world, and present them to others as a gift. I've called this process...self-archeology.

I love that! It is such a powerful and positive reframing of the psychotherapeutic process.

There is much to learn from "Self-Archeology" and I urge you to explore every corner of this website, especially if you are about to create your first professional website or launch a marketing campaign for your services.

Much to learn you still have...

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Web Secret 489: 5 online counseling platforms

Thank you Valerie Kuykendall-Rogers, MA, LPC-S, CEO of Apex LLC for writing an exhaustive review of online counseling platforms in a recent blog post.

Valerie advises clinicians to evaluate 5 key factors when making a decision about which to use:

1. Security/HIPAA Compliance
2. Price
3. Accessibility
4. Scheduling
5. Payment Options

Here is my edited version of her recommendations:

Breakthrough has an app for clinicians to use to schedule, check messages, and for clients to search for counselors. They will verify insurance benefits when clients sign up and verify payment. They will even file the insurance for you and pay you the contracted rate. Breakthrough allows you to send secure messages to clients, upload documents to them, and notify you when a client has completed pre-session assessments and is online and ready for the counseling session to begin. Breakthrough also has pre-assessments that can be given to clients prior to each session, specific paperwork/informed consents specific to online counseling, and a form to use to document your session. They charge $6.00 per usage and are HIPAA compliant. They provide great IT support.

Clocktree is a HIPAA compliant online platform that does not require you to download any additional software. They have an app that you can download on any type of mobile device to conduct online services using phone, tablet, or computer. They provide scheduling and send you reminders via email and text the day before, as well as intermittent reminders the day of a session via text and email. You are able to send and receive secure messages. You can also schedule up to 10 hours of video per month, free of charge. There is no membership cost for clients to use Clocktree.

BetterHelp - is an online, HIPAA compliant platform that doesn't require any additional downloads. They provide a free trial service and a mobile app. They provide secure and encrypted messaging between you and the client. However they do not accept insurance. Clients are charged a membership fee. They have a scheduling platform, however, it is unclear if they give you the capability to document or write notes following sessions.

I-Couch is an online therapy platform much like Clocktree, except they charge a monthly fee of $40. However, this money go far. It provides you with features such as a website, invoicing/credit card payments, a forms library, and the ability to conduct groups. It also provides other common features such as secure messaging, online client portal with scheduling, and secure, HIPAA compliant video. This platform doesn't require any additional downloads and can be used on just about any browser, however, they do not have a mobile app. They provide a 14 day free trial.

Thera-Link - is a great HIPAA compliant, secure, online counseling platform, however, it is costly. $30 a month allows you to conduct a max of 5 session. Unlimited starts out at $45/month. It is unique in providing a virtual waiting room! You create an avatar, select music, and voila, instant online waiting room! It's a robust online platform service that provides options for group counseling, scheduling, email notifications, secure messaging, ability to use on phone/tablet as well as computer, a mobile app, and the ability to accept payments of your choosing.

As always, I urge anyone interested in providing video counseling to become a Certified Cyber Therapist through the Online Therapy Institute.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Web Secret 488:

Are you looking for a job?

I remember looking for my first job about 300 years ago.

It involved looking at the New York Times "help wanted" section. Circling the jobs I was interested with a highlighter, then cutting them out with a scissors and pasting them in a notebook so I could remember which ones I had applied to.

Then typing a cover letter and a resume and mailing it out. In an envelope. With a stamp.

Then waiting for a phone call.

If you were lucky, you had an answering machine - a clunky device with a cassette tape.

Enough reminiscing.

It's 2017 and you have glassdoor.

In 2008, Glassdoor launched itself as a site that “collects company reviews and real salaries from employees of large companies and displays them anonymously for all members to see.”

If you weren't in the job market, it was fun to read the disgruntled eviscerating an assortment of Fortune 500 corporations.

If you were job hunting, it was useful to get a sense of these big companies.

That was then.

Today, Glassdoor has evolved into one stop shopping for employment seekers - it not only provides reviews, but salary information, interview tip, and a job board.

Good luck!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Web Secret 487: context

As I write this post, New York City pauses to observe a moment of silence in remembrance of 9/11.

16 years have passed.

I struggle to remember what the world was like in 2001.

What the Internet was like.

I come across a fascinating article "What Online Internet Websites Looked Like in 2001" which helps me remember that:

In 2001, the majority of Americans didn't have the Internet.

Most people got online using dial up connections.

Only 7% of Internet users worldwide had broadband.

Most things purchased online were paid for by money order...

If you got any news on the phone, it was probably because you were using it to talk to someone. Assuming you had a cell phone - only 45% of Americans had one.

No social media. No instant, updated every second, news.

No context.

Context: the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.

Easier, because you were only aware of what was right in front of you.

In 2001, you probably lived your life not that differently than you had 16 years earlier, in 1985.

Here, in 2017, everything has changed and my life is nothing like it was in 2001.

I telecommute - made possible by a laptop and high speed connectivity.

I shop online - rarely in a store.

I read books on my iPad.

I almost never use snail mail.

And unless I turn off every device I own - a rare event during my waking hours - it feels like I am connected to the world.

So while I listen to the 9/11 ceremony on my TV, videos of hurricane Irma stream across my screen.

News from Europe is texted to me by a friend in Switzerland.

Somewhere there are disasters, destruction and death on a large scale.

Here the sun is shining and it's New York Fashion Week. I can stream it if I want.

I wonder how it is possible to live a moral life in 2017.

If I know everything...

...Shouldn't I be on the barricades somewhere, saving someone?

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Web Secret 486: TouchNote

In the prescient science fiction movie "Her," set in a near future, the main character works as a professional writer, composing letters for people who are unable to write letters of a personal nature.

This makes perfect sense. Consider that as early as 1982, futurist John Naisbitt coined the expression "High tech, high touch" in his book Megatrends.

He theorized that in a world of technology, people will long for personal, human contact.

So when was the last time you wrote a postcard?

It used to be "de rigueur" to send a postcard from abroad, when vacationing.

Children looked forward to getting these cards for their scenic panoramas and exotic stamps.

I haven't sent a postcard in years. But all that might change because of a new app "TouchNote."

Mailing a postcard is easy because all you do is:

1. select an image from your photos
2. write a caption
3. add an address from your contacts
4. press send.

Postage is free and the whole thing will set you back $2.99.

The more postcards you send, the less it costs.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Web Secet 485: the computational universe

It's 7:30 am during the week.

I am: 
1. drinking a double espresso
2. solving the NY Times crossword puzzle
3. eating a bowl of cereal.  

Not being a morning person, I am somewhat comatose. In contrast, at that same time, my son Eric is in alert mode. He likes to invade my personal space to lecture me about the topics he finds interesting: science, tech and economics. It is not sufficient for me to nod my head. He expects me to understand what he is talking about.

A few months ago, he told me about the computational universe and a guy called Stephen Wolfram.

This time, I realized I had to shake myself out of my torpor and pay attention.

So should you.

Meet Stephen Wolfram.

Stephen is very, very smart. He is a theoretical physicist, a computer scientist and a mathematician.

And he was the youngest person at age 21 to ever win a MacArthur Genius Award.

Wolfram’s scientific work involves the development of a major new approach to science, in which nature is described in terms of simple computer programs rather than traditional mathematical equations. His work provides new foundations for examining a range of fundamental questions in physics, biology, computer science, mathematics, and other areas.

I know, it gives me a headache. But we must plow on, because this is important folks.

It was previously thought that describing something as complex as the universe would require very complex mathematical proofs.

But Wolfram discovered that profoundly complex systems can be generated by very simple programs.

Here is one of his most important discoveries - he calls it Rule 30.

I'll let him explain:

"Look at each cell and its right hand neighbor. If both of these are white, then take the new color of the cell to be whatever the previous color its left-hand neighbor was. Otherwise, take the new color to be the opposite of that.

The picture shows what happens when one starts with just one black cell and then applies the rule over and over again. And what one sees is something startling - and probably the single most surprising scientific discovery I have ever made. Rather than getting a simple regular pattern as we might expect, the cellular automation instead produces a pattern that seems extremely irregular and complex."

So class, to summarize Rule 30:

1. though the rules are simple

2. and though it starts from a very simple condition - black and white squares

3. the behavior produced is very complex.

This is what is produced after repeating the rule hundreds of times:

Wolfram believes this basic phenomenon is ultimately responsible for most of the complexity we see in nature.

In other words, if we really want to understand nature’s complexity, we need to go beyond mathematics with all its complicated equations and symbols.

Instead we should be embracing “a new kind of science” – as Wolfram titled his book – in which the answers to science’s most difficult problems lie in simple computer programs.


We should be able to use simple programs to decipher the wonders of the universe.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Web Secret 484: Chatbots

When James Vlahos found out his father had terminal cancer, he decided to use cutting edge technology to preserve his memory in the form of a chatbot.

A chatbot, in case the definition has slipped your mind, is a computer program which conducts a conversation via auditory or textual methods.

Such programs are often designed to convincingly simulate how a human would behave as a conversational partner.

In a moving article in Wired magazine, A son's race to give his dying father artificial immortality, Vlahos describes his quest to create a chatbot that captures the spirit of his dad.

He decides to use software produced by PullString, a computer conversation company founded by alums of Pixar, to accomplish this.

He examines the morality of creating his Dadbot, even wondering, "In dark moments, I worry that I’ve invested hundreds of hours creating something that nobody, maybe not even I, will ultimately want."

He learns the limitations his Dadbot. And that teams of scientists are trying to win Amazon’s inaugural Alexa Prize, a $2.5 million payout to the competitors who come closest to the goal of building “a socialbot that can converse coherently and engagingly with humans on popular topics for 20 minutes.

After his father dies, Vlahos considers his accomplishment:

"The bot of the future...will be able to know the details of a person’s life far more robustly than my current creation does. It will converse in extended...exchanges, remembering what has been said and projecting where the conversation might be headed. The bot will mathematically model signature linguistic patterns and personality traits, allowing it not only to reproduce what a person has already said but also to generate new utterances. The bot... will even be emotionally perceptive."

He wonders, "Would I even want to talk to a perfected Dadbot? I think so, but I am far from sure."

In the end, when his young son asks to use the Dadbot, he concludes that the value of what he has created lies in preserving his father's memory for his descendants.

What say you, iWebU readers?

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Web Secret 483:

Last month a representative from a large substance misuse treatment facility came to the headquarters of the Employee Assistance Professionals Association - my day job.

She told us that most people think their health insurance companies cover treatment - only to find that they cannot afford even the co-pays.

Fortunately, they had had great success in referring patients and their families to a company I had never heard about.

They are the only recovery-based behavioral healthcare lending company in the country, providing low interest loans for behavioral health, substance abuse and/or eating disorder treatment. They help cover the cost of co-pays, high deductibles, or the entire stay.

They make it as easy as possible to apply for a loan. Potential clients answer a few simple questions and are approved instantly. The money is wired into their accounts the next business day and sometimes, that very same day.

I thought you should know.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Web Secret 482: iGen

I'm not going to lie - I am having blogging fatigue.

I find myself thinking more and more about stopping iWebU.

And writing a blog about beauty and fashion. Something frivolous and evanescent.

And then one of my admirers sent me an article from The Atlantic: "Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?" and I was galvanized all over again.

Jean M. Twenge's article is so important that I am going to summarize her findings here.

First off, you should know that Ms. Twenge is a professor of psychology at San Diego State University and the author of Generation Me and iGen.

Twenge has been researching generational differences for 25 years. She writes: "Typically, the characteristics that come to define a generation appear gradually, and along a continuum. Beliefs and behaviors that were already rising simply continue to do so...

However, around 2012, she noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states, "...many of the distinctive characteristics of the Millennial generation began to disappear." In all her analyses of generational data—some reaching back to the 1930s—she had never seen anything like it.

She asked herself, "What happened in 2012 to cause such dramatic shifts in behavior? [I realized] was exactly the moment when the proportion of Americans who owned a smartphone surpassed 50 percent."

She identifiest iGen as "...a generation shaped by the smartphone and by the concomitant rise of social media... Born between 1995 and 2012, members of this generation are growing up with smartphones, have an Instagram account before they start high school, and do not remember a time before the Internet. The Millennials grew up with the web as well, but it wasn’ hand at all times... iGen’s oldest members were early adolescents when the iPhone was introduced, in 2007, and high-school students when the iPad entered the scene, in 2010..."

She believes "...the impact of these devices has not been fully appreciated, and goes far beyond the usual concerns about curtailed attention spans."

It's not all bad: "’s teens are physically safer than teens have ever been. They’re markedly less likely to get into a car accident and, [have] less of a taste for alcohol than their predecessors...The teen birth rate hit an all-time low in 2016, down 67 percent since its modern peak, in 1991."

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

"The allure of independence, so powerful to previous generations, holds less sway over today’s teens, who are less likely to leave the house without their parents. The shift is stunning: 12th-graders in 2015 were going out less often than eighth-graders did as recently as 2009.

Today’s teens are also less likely to date...only 56 percent of high-school seniors in 2015 went out on dates; for Boomers and Gen Xers, the number was about 85 percent.

The decline in dating tracks with a decline in sexual activity. The drop is the sharpest for ninth-graders, among whom the number of sexually active teens has been cut by almost 40 percent since 1991. The average teen now has had sex for the first time by the spring of 11th grade, a full year later than the average Gen Xer.

Nearly all Boomer high-school students had their driver’s license by the spring of their senior year; more than one in four teens today still lack one at the end of high school...In conversation after conversation, teens described getting their license as something to be nagged into by their parents—a notion that would have been unthinkable to previous generations.

Beginning with Millennials and continuing with iGen, adolescence is contracting again—but only because its onset is being delayed. Across a range of behaviors—drinking, dating, spending time unsupervised— 18-year-olds now act more like 15-year-olds used to, and 15-year-olds more like 13-year-olds. Childhood now stretches well into high school.

Why are today’s teens waiting longer to take on both the responsibilities and the pleasures of adulthood? ...iGen teens have more leisure time than Gen X teens did, not less.

...So what are they doing with all that time? They are on their phone, in their room, alone and often distressed.

The number of teens who get together with their friends nearly every day dropped by more than 40 percent from 2000 to 2015; the decline has been especially steep recently. It’s not only a matter of fewer kids partying; fewer kids are spending time simply hanging out.

You might expect that teens spend so much time in these new spaces because it makes them happy, but most data suggest that it does not. The Monitoring the Future survey, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and designed to be nationally representative, has asked 12th-graders more than 1,000 questions every year since 1975 and queried eighth- and 10th-graders since 1991.

The survey asks teens how happy they are and also how much of their leisure time they spend on various activities, including nonscreen activities such as in-person social interaction and exercise, and, in recent years, screen activities such as using social media, texting, and browsing the web. The results could not be clearer: Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy.

There’s not a single exception.

The portrait of iGen teens emerging from the data is one of a lonely, dislocated generation.

One piece of data that indirectly but stunningly captures kids’ growing isolation, for good and for bad: Since 2007, the homicide rate among teens has declined, but the suicide rate has increased. As teens have started spending less time together, they have become less likely to kill one another, and more likely to kill themselves. In 2011, for the first time in 24 years, the teen suicide rate was higher than the teen homicide rate.

What’s the connection between smartphones and the apparent psychological distress this generation is experiencing? media ... exacerbate the age-old teen concern about being left out...

This trend has been especially steep among girls. Forty-eight percent more girls said they often felt left out in 2015 than in 2010... ...Social media levy a psychic tax on the teen doing the posting as well, as she anxiously awaits the affirmation of comments and likes.

These more dire consequences for teenage girls could also be rooted in the fact that they’re more likely to experience cyberbullying...Social media give middle- and high-school girls a platform on which to carry out the style of aggression they favor, ostracizing and excluding other girls around the clock.

iGeners sleep with their phones.. They check.. social media right before they go to sleep, and reach for their phone as soon as they wake up in the morning...

The smartphone is also cutting into teens’ sleep...Fifty-seven percent more teens were sleep deprived in 2015 than in 1991.

The correlation between depression and smartphone use is strong enough to suggest that more parents should be telling their kids to put down their phone.

This will be challenging - Twenge notes "I’ve observed my toddler, barely old enough to walk, confidently swiping her way through an iPad."

Twenge concludes her article on a somewhat optimistic note: "I saw hopeful signs that kids themselves are beginning to link some of their troubles to their ever-present phone."

I wasn't convinced.

This is something all of us, every generation, is going to have to think about and address.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Web Secret 481: Ti Arto Titanium Pen

I have a thing for pens.

I have blogged about this before - on several different occasions.

So if you don't share my addiction, skip this post.

Before, when I wrote "pens," I only meant fountain pens.

With a broad, preferably double broad nib.

Until now.

Hello Big Idea Design's Ti Arto Titanium Pen.

What's special about the Ti Arto?

Be still my heart - it accepts 200 different kinds of refills!

I know.

That's amazing.

Because, I can fit it with a Zebra LH 1.6 mm ballpoint pen refill. A broad, very broad point.

As I wrote in my review for Jet Pens:

Here's what you do:
1. take the pen apart
2. throw out the refill that comes with the pen
3. load pen with Zebra LH-1.6 Ballpoint Pen Refill - 1.6 mm
4. Freak out at how cool this pen is and how smooth it writes.

'Nuff said.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Web Secret 480: Beautycounter

 iWebU has a new look! Hope you like it!

This is a public service announcement.

Are you a person?

Do you:

1. Use makeup?
2. Wash your face?
3. Wash your body?

If you answered "YES" to any of these questions, then you need to know a dirty little secret:

When it comes to the personal care industry, US companies are allowed to use harmful ingredients and make their own judgments about safety.


In the European Union 1,400 chemicals are banned or restricted in personal care products. The United States has only partially banned 30 to date.

I wonder who benefits from this lack of regulation...

But I digress.

Lucky for us, Gregg Renfrew was horrified by this discovery and started Beautycounter, a line of bath, hair, beauty and skin care products that promises to never use products that are toxic.

Cue the video:

You can buy the products online, or with the help of my wonderful consultant Karen Duncan.

She can be contacted at

If you are fortunate enough to live in the New York tri-state area, she will even make a house call.

Stay safe.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Web Secret 479.5: Please update your account to enable third party hosting

Dear iWebU fans:

With zero notice, Photobucket announced via a spam like image and text (that appears at the bottom of my blog posts) that it wants thousands of bloggers to pay them $399 a year to host their photos.

Because I have been writing this blog since 2008 and have written close to 500 posts, it is physically impossible for me to fix every image on every post.

I am still working on a fix, but in the mean time, sincere apologies for the problem.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Web Secret 479: PsyberGuide

There are hundreds of mental health apps and wearables out there, promising help for everything from anxiety to depression to more.

How do you know if they work?

You turn to an amazing resource,

Here is their manifesto:

"PsyberGuide is a non-profit website dedicated to consumers seeking to make responsible and informed decisions about computer and device-assisted therapies for mental illnesses.

PsyberGuide is also intended for professionals and researchers seeking to enhance their knowledge in this area.

PsyberGuide's goal is to provide accurate and reliable information about software designed to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety disorders. PsyberGuide is committed to ensuring that this information is available to all, and that it is free of preference, bias, or endorsement."

PsyberGuide is a project of The One Mind Institute, a leading non-profit organization devoted to funding cures for brain illnesses." And a remarkable organization in and of itself.

If you go to their "Product Listing," you will note that each app is listed along with a PsyberGuide rating that corresponds to the amount of research and support backing the product. In addition, there is an App Quality Score on a scale of 1 to 5. Finally, there is a link to an expert review - if one exists.

How is that for thorough evidenced based vetting?

The founder of PsyberGuide, Stephen Schueller, PhD, is a member of the Internet World Health Research Center, a remarkable institution whose mission is to harness the power of technology to reach those most in need with effective interventions that can be administered via the Internet or via a mobile device.

Their goals are:
  • To contribute to the reduction of global health disparities
  • To develop evidence-based self-help Internet and mobile-based interventions and to make them available to anyone around the world at no cost
  • To conduct innovative eHealth and mHealth research.
I'm already feeling better.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Web Secret 478: The Typewriter Insurgency

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said: "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function."

So right this minute, and just for the hell of it, half of me wants to throw my laptop out the window and join the "Typewriter Insurgency."

You see, back in 2012, Richard Polt decided he was fed up with our digital world, and he wrote a brief manifesto in his blog:

"We assert our right to resist the Paradigm, to rebel against the Information Regime, to escape the Data Stream.

We strike a blow for self-reliance, privacy and coherence against dependency, surveillance, and disintegration.

We affirm the written word and written thought against
multimedia, multitasking, and the meme.

We choose the real over representation,
the physical over the digital,
the durable over the unsustainable,
the self-sufficient over the efficient."

Polt believes in the typewriter.

His manifesto has led to a book, "The Typewriter Revolution," (a typist's companion for the 21st century.) And to being featured in a documentary "California Typewriter," "a portrait of artists, writers, and collectors who remain steadfastly loyal to the typewriter as a tool and muse."

It almost makes me want to buy one.

And then I remember:

1. Typing is not compatible with manicures

2. Typewriters are heavy

3. They break and require schlepping to the repair store - see number 2

4. Remember carbon paper, white out, and erasable onion skin paper?

5. They use ribbons.

I am not ready to move to that cabin in the woods.

Off the grid.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Web Secret 477: Amazing Websites

Forget social media.

To access useful and immersive information, you need to visit a website.

Remember websites?

Here are some fantastic ones:

Radio Garden - A remarkable website that allows you to tune into radio broadcasts all around the world simply by dragging your mouse around an interactive map.

My Car Makes Noise - A lifesaver if you’re about to take your car in for expensive repairs. The site lets you browse car-related sounds and helps you determine exactly what the problem is.

Still Tasty - A simple site that gives accurate estimations if the food in your fridge is still safe to eat. The ultimate shelf life guide.

Explore Everest - An awesome full screen experience that takes users from the Everest basecamp all the way to the top. It makes you fully appreciates what a daunting experience climbing Everest really is.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Web Secret 476: Fun and games

I like games.

But I don't like to kill orcs, zombies or other assorted creatures. And I certainly don't want to be racing against the clock.

No, I want my games to be soothing, beautiful, and quietly challenging.

So forget first place shooter titles. Instead download:

Monument Valley I and II. If M.C. Escher could have designed a game, this would be it.

The Room I, II, III. Imagine an incredibly baroque and complex chest of drawers whose secrets unfold themselves like origami whenever you solve a puzzle.

Fairway Solitaire. Sometime I want to enjoy the junk food equivalent of gaming. Fairway Solitaire is a combo of classic solitaire and golf. It is brainless and utterly addictive. Perfect for standing online or passing time in a waiting room.

It's summer.

Have some fun.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Web Secret 475: tech's frightful five

Two months ago, I read a New York Times article "Tech’s Frightful Five: They’ve Got Us."

I can't stop thinking about it.

Author Farhad Manjoo makes the point that we are all in "inescapable thrall to one of the handful of American technology companies that now dominate much of the global economy. I speak, of course, of ... the Frightful Five: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Alphabet, the parent company of Google."

Farhad then asks the reader: "If an evil monarch forced you to choose, in what order would you give up these inescapable giants of tech?"

The first cut was easy for me - Facebook. It never had much of a hold on me. I rarely post, preferring to spend a few minutes each day scrolling to read what my friends are outraged about at that point in time.

See ya, Facebook

After that, it was very difficult.

I live in a retail desert and I would guess that 80% of what I purchase I do through Amazon. And then there are the TV shows I enjoy through Amazon Prime. But if I absolutely had to, I could purchase directly from product websites. It would take longer, but it could be done.

Bye bye Amazon.

Microsoft - sure I use Word every day, and PowerPoint and Excel from time to time. But I could use Apple's Pages and Prezi instead. I also don't use any of Microsoft's laptops, tablets, etc.

Ta ta Microsoft.

Alphabet - is not just the parent company of Google, but of YouTube. There are other search engines - Wolfram Alpha comes to mind. But YouTube? It's not about cat videos for me. I go there to see my father George London. He is preserved in dozens upon dozens of live and taped performances. It would be hard to find an alternative source for all of those clips.

So reluctantly, adieu, Alphabet.

Last would have to be Apple. I could not survive without my MacBook Pro, my iPad Mini, or my iPhone 7 plus. It's how I work and navigate the world. Through them I read books and play games. I use countless iOS apps, to do countless things.

I will leave you last, Apple.

Now it's your turn.

How would you rank the frightful five?

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Web Secret 474: Singularity Hub

No need to consult the Oracle at Delphi, you can predict the future by visiting Singularity Hub.

I'll let them explain themselves:

"Singularity Hub chronicles technological progress by highlighting the breakthroughs, players, and issues shaping the future as well as supporting a global community of smart, passionate, action-oriented people who want to change the world."


Here is a taste of what you can learn on their website:

4 New Human Rights for When Our Brains Are Hooked Up to Computers

Cybersecurity Pros Will Soon Patrol Computer Networks Like Agents in ‘The Matrix’

Dwarf Planetary Systems Will Transform the Hunt for Alien Life

These 5 Big Tech Trends Are Changing the Way We Learn

I'm hyperventilating.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Web Secret 473: slow TV

All of a sudden slow TV is having it's day.

Slow TV involves broadcasting tasks and activities in real time. With little or no narration.

In Norway, slow TV is a huge hit.

Norwegians produced a 7 hour train journey.

And a 13 hour National Knitting Night.

These slow gems are now available on Netflix.

If watching sheep being shorn is not your vibe, check out these perennial favorites:

It doesn't have to be Christmas to enjoy "The Yule Log."

Channel your inner Seventies and watch the iconic Bob Ross, host of the "Joy of Painting."

Slow TV: the antidote to our rapid paced 21st century lifestyle.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Web Secret 472: the people who train the robots

Before the robots take over our jobs, they will have to learn our jobs.

This is already happening.

The New York Times profiled five people who have been put in this remarkable position. More than most, they understand the strengths (and weaknesses) of artificial intelligence and how technology is changing the nature of work.

Here is the Cliff Notes version of that article:

Rachel Neasham, travel agent

Ms. Neasham works for a travel booking app Lola. She knew the company’s artificial intelligence computer system — its name is Harrison — would eventually take over parts of her job. Still, there was soul-searching when it was decided that Harrison would actually start recommending and booking hotels.

At an employee meeting late last year, the agents debated what it meant to be human, and what a human travel agent could do that a machine couldn’t. While Harrison could comb through dozens of hotel options in a blink, it couldn’t match the expertise of, for example, a human agent with years of experience booking family vacations to Disney World.

Ms. Neasham sees it as a race: Can human agents find new ways to be valuable as quickly as the A.I. improves at handling parts of their job?

Diane Kim, interaction designer

Ms. Kim works as an A.I. interaction designer at, a New York-based start-up offering an artificial intelligence assistant to help people schedule meetings. pitches clients on the idea that, through A.I., they get the benefits of a human assistant — saving the time and hassle of scheduling a meeting — at a fraction of the price.

It’s Ms. Kim’s job to craft responses for the company’s assistants, that feel natural enough that swapping emails with these computer systems feels no different than emailing with a human assistant.

Dan Rubins, chief executive

Mr. Rubins created Legal Robot, a start-up that uses artificial intelligence to translate legalese into plain English.

Having reviewed nearly a million legal documents, Legal Robot also flags anomalies in contracts.

Legal documents are well suited to machine learning because they are highly structured and repetitive. The less time lawyers need to spend reviewing contracts, the more time they can spend on, say, advisory work or litigation.

Sarah Seiwert, customer representative

It took two weeks for Ms. Seiwert to notice that her company’s A.I. computer system was starting to pick up on her work patterns.

She is a customer representative at the online test-prep company Magoosh. When an email comes into Magoosh, its A.I. system reads the email, categorizes it and routes it to the appropriate employee. After a few months, it starts to automate responses for some common questions. This happens when the A.I. has seen enough examples of how human agents handled the request that it gains confidence that its answer will be correct.

Even though the A.I. is learning from human, Ms. Seiwert doesn’t foresee a future where she’s out of a job. Too many questions still require a level of human intuition to know the appropriate answer.

Aleksandra Faust, software engineer

Formerly known as Google’s self-driving car project, Waymo wants to build autonomous vehicles that can react properly under all kinds of unusual circumstances. Not only when drivers run red lights, but also when a child crosses an intersection riding a hoverboard while walking a dog.

Waymo’s cars have driven two million miles in the real world and billions more in computer simulations. But it’s impossible to program for every event.

Safety is a concern, but so is comfort. Take the process of braking at a red light. When human drivers see a red light, they tend to slow down gradually before coming to a full stop.

A sudden stop is dangerous because other drivers may not be paying attention. And it is jarring for the passengers.

Ms. Faust’s team creates different models for the most natural way a car should brake depending on how fast it is going.

We live in disruptive times.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Web Secret 471: the death of in person psychotherapy - part 2

This week I finally realized, (much sooner than expected,) the in person psychotherapy session is marching towards extinction.

It happened when I noted the sudden proliferation of apps and platforms geared towards a virtual or digital counseling/coaching experience.

I'm talking about you:

Encrypted texting platform  

Texting apps  
Talkspace - raised 15 million in venture capital. Talkspace for business is invading the world of corporate mental health and EAP.

Online therapy platforms
better help

Cognitive therapy app - also marketing to the workplace

Coaching app  
Lantern - raised $17 million in venture capital

Mood tracking app  
T2 Mood Tracker - Who is behind this app? The US Department of Defense

Artificial intelligent weight loss coaching app
Sam - powered by IBM's Watson.

And I could have listed dozens more.

People born in 1993 are the last of the Millenial generation. In a couple of years, Gen Z will begin to enter the workplace.

They have never known a world without Facetime or Skype.

So combine money, the US military, IBM, millions of dollars and a growing number of users who are perfectly comfortable with digital media; couple that with a demand for immediate response.

And you have an explosion.

And the old office based clinical model will die.