85,000. What it means. What it doesn’t.

To put this into perspective, my “about” page and five top posts account for around 35,000 hits. “The Me Page” alone has gotten more than 12,000 hits.

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Still, the cumulative effect is that a lot of people have visited this little blog of mine, for whatever reason and it’s a bit humbling to realize that’s the number of people in a pretty big town, more than a packed crowd in Yankee Stadium. I know there are people out there whose statistics put them into the hundreds of thousands. What’s weird is I see if I don’t quit, I’ll get there too. Not tomorrow, unless something I write goes viral (unlikely) … but I’ll get there. Because every day, I get around 200 hits, unless the première show for the 2012-2013 season of Criminal Minds is playing — in which case I get closer to 1000 hits (that’s how I know the show is airing).

I am writing this before I quite hit the 85,000 mark. At this moment in time, I’m at 84,958, so I’ll cross that bridge tomorrow. I don’t have the exact numbers, but it ought to be more than 85,000. I’m probably jinxing myself.

Number of posts? Closer to 1500, but I deleted several hundred and I’ll probably have to do it again to keep the website from collapsing under the weight of too many posts. I’ve been a busy writer. Meanwhile, I’m beginning to rerun posts because — hey — I think they’re pretty good and worth running again.

The ups and down of statistics can produce a lot of anxiety, so … you gotta have faith. I don’t just look at raw numbers because they are only a part of the puzzle. I don’t have more visitors or even as many as I did — the total number of visitors is down considerably from the peak last fall. It was the election and the Internet was a wild and crazy place. Yet the overall hit count has remained reasonably steady because guests spend more time on my site, read more posts, look at more pictures. The average number of posts hit per visit is greater than 2, sometimes a lot more. That tells me I’m doing something right.

It tells me I’m writing more interesting stories, posting better pictures. This matters to me far more than raw numbers. To know you come and stick around, enjoy my work enough to read more than a one post makes me feel pretty good.

The numbers of followers I’ve got has topped 400 from WordPress. I’ve got a bunch more from Twitter and Tumblr, maybe a couple of dozen from Facebook (not quite as many as WordPress counts them). A year ago I couldn’t even imagine so many followers.

Followers get  emails. Many people read posts in email and don’t bother to visit the website. It’s a peril of email notification. If you can read it in email, there’s no incentive to go to the main site since the emails contains 90% (or more) of the post. It’s a trade-off. Followers are good to have, even if they only read the email. Honestly, I don’t care if they read my posts on a telephone pole. Where isn’t important.

Sudden drops in hits are alarming and baffling, especially when numbers pop back up the next day. What was that all about? You will never know. One of the great mysteries of blogging. Numbers by themselves don’t mean everything, but they don’t mean nothing, either. A lot of hits indicates interest at the very least. Hit counts on individual posts tell me a lot too.

There are two kinds of posts in the blogging world. There are posts that are highly topical and burn really hot for a short time. Most of these involve breaking stories, current events, scandals, stuff like that. And there are slow burners. Timeless material, fiction, reviews.

Reviews can have a very long shelf life. People keep coming to read them over and over. Many of these are informational in nature, reviews of technology, books, movies. Oddly, reviews of extremely obscure movies do quite well, maybe because it’s difficult to find reviews of them anywhere. Camera reviews seem to have an eternal life. Book reviews of popular authors continue to be accessed months after original publication.

The posts with a long shelf lives gather a lot of hits over the months. One of my top three posts has more than 5000 hits, but it took more than 9 months. As long as the material remains relevant, people will find it. Good placement on Google helps too, but over all, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the longevity of reviews in general, technology in particular.

So for all that WordPress doesn’t think much of my work, a lot of other people apparently feel otherwise and in the end, that matters. It matters a lot. My followers, my readers have become a kind of family. We share each others’ lives, pains, joys. We celebrate and mourn together. We’ve never met, but we aren’t strangers.

I still save every “like” and every notification of a new follower. I would follow all my followers, but I’m out of time. I can’t keep up with that many blogs. I can barely keep up with the books I’m supposed to be reading and reviewing.

I can’t imagine how people do this when they have full-time jobs and young children. I’ve never been more impressed than I am with homemakers and career men and women who manage to handle their family obligations, jobs and blogs. All honor to you. You are the real rock stars.

The FBI can’t do a simple Google search?

On Criminal Minds in the première episode for the 2012-2013 season, the “perp” sews a victims mouth shut but in his mouth leaves the message “Gazing through to the other side.” The BAU FBI team cannot find any reference to this quote. So I typed it into Google and hit Enter. Guess what?

It’s part of a song, the lyrics to which essentially are the plot of the episode in which the first four victims are women, thrown into ditches, with their mouths sewn shut.

If I can find this in one hit on Google, is the FBI less capable than I? Unable to do the most basic Google search? There isn’t anything more basic than typing in what you want to know about then hitting Enter, is there? My granddaughter could do this kind of search before she was in first grade.

If anyone thinks I believe the FBI is actually producing the show, anyone who can chew gum and walk at the same time knows this is a network television show that employs a staff of writers to write scripts supposed to make us believe these are hyper-competent profiler/agents. And they can’t run a Google search any grade school child can run. Wow! Bad writing and plagiarism? What a terrific combination for a show about the FBI!

There could be an innocent explanation, like the real authors of the material were paid, but never credited. I’d like to hear that. It could restore a bit of my rapidly diminishing faith in humankind.

Because it couldn’t be plagiarism. CBS wouldn’t allow that, right? Because networks, TV execs, writers, etc. are all so honest that such a thing could never happen. And the tooth fairy left you a buck under your pillow.

The song is by a group named Blitzen Trapper, lead singer/lyricist, Eric Earley.

“Black River Killer”

They booked me on a whim and threw me deep in jail
With no bail, sitting silent on a rusty pail
Just gazing at the marks on the opposite wall
Remembering the music of my lover’s call

So you make no mistake
I know just what it takes
To pull a man’s soul back from heaven’s gates
I’ve been wandering in the dark about as long as sin
But they say it’s never too late to start again

Oh when, oh when
Will the spirit come a calling for my soul to sin
Oh when, oh when
Will the keys to the kingdom be mine again?

It was dark as the grave, it was just about three
When the warden with his key came to set me free
They gave me five dollars and a secondhand suit
A pistol and a hat and a worn out flute

So I took a bus down to the Rio Grande
And I shot a man down on the edge of town
Then I stole me a horse and I rode it around
Til the sheriff pulled me in and sat me down

He said, you make no mistake
I know just what it takes
To pull a man’s soul back from heaven’s gates
I’ve been wandering in the dark about as long as sin
But they say it’s never too late to start again

Oh when, oh when
Will the spirit come a calling for my soul to sin
Oh when, oh when
Will the keys to the kingdom be mine again?

Well the sheriff let me go with a knife and a song
So I took the first train up to Oregon
And I killed the first man that I came upon
Because the devil works quick, you know it don’t take long

Then I went to the river ford to take a swim
You know that black river water is as black as sin
And I washed myself clean as a newborn babe
And then I picked up a rock for to sharpen my blade

Oh when, oh when
Will the spirit come a calling for my soul to sin
Oh when, oh when
Will the keys to the kingdom be mine again?
Oh when, oh when
Will that black river water wash me clean again
Oh when, oh when
Will the keys to the kingdom be mine again

-

It took me less than 10 seconds to find this. What’s going on guys? Television has become boringly derivative, but this is not merely derivative, it’s theft. I wouldn’t mind hearing from someone about this. I would like to hear an explanation.

NOTES:

1) According to one of the show’s producers, the show is based on the Blitzen Trapper song. The group was compensated for its use. It isn’t plagiarism, just bad writing.

2) If the writers don’t want us to assume the same rules apply in the TV show as apply in the real world, they should not pretend the show is about FBI agents who are part of the élite unit of an actual law enforcement agency. If you don’t want to play by the rules of the real world, create a fake world where you can have stuff fall up because gravity doesn’t exist. You cannot have it both ways.

3) I reopened the comments because I just reblogged it (2/4/2014). Let’s see if anyone still cares! — I closed the comments and deleted all 48 comments including mine. Some of you seem to have no sense of proportion. This is a television show, not life and death.

4) I wrote this post last September, 9 months ago. It was intended as a comment on what I thought was poor script writing and the uncredited use of someone else’s material. In the months since I wrote it, the issue of the song’s use has been clarified. I’m tired of arguing about this. Please feel free to argue amongst yourselves. Leave me out of it.

Daily Prompt: The Stat Connection – How to make friends and influence people

My most popular all time whiz-bang post was written during a five-minute commercial interruption of the 2012 première episode of Criminal Minds. Over a thousand hits came pouring in for that post plus another few hundred over the next few days and many more in the months since. It remains my highest drawing post. When the season première came around in England, I got 1400 hits in one hour.

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I always know when the episode is playing somewhere because each time it shows, anywhere on earth, in rerun or as a new series, I get another thousand or so hits. The last time was the middle of June when a rerun of the episode was on cable and I got just under 900 hits in about an hour and another 300 the next day. Sure does goose up those stats, eh?

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What have I learned from this? If you want to be popular, write about television shows and be lucky. Make sure Google puts you at the top of the search for that thing, whatever it is. Because that’s what drives them to me. Not my brilliant writing, not the extraordinary subject matter. I wrote a little piece quickly, without much thought, published it within a couple of minutes. It accounts for 10,111 total hits. I have no idea what kind of lesson to take from that. Do you? You may read it here: The FBI can’t do a simple Google search?

In second position for all time hits, with a solid showing of 5,043 hits is a joke about cell phones and Albert Einstein. I copied and pasted it from Facebook. It’s funny, but it’s not exactly a cogent, well-written commentary on the human condition. I’ve written shopping lists with deeper meaning. In the name of scientific inquiry, feel free to give this your full attention: The man who saw the future …

Finally in the number three position with 2,645 hits is a reblog of an article comparing two Olympus cameras, the PEN PL-5 and the PEN PM-2. It gets from 20 to 100 hits a day, every day since I published it about a year ago. Apparently if you are shopping for Olympus cameras, you are more likely to find me than the original author. The mystery of Google strikes again. You will enjoy this if you are buying a new mirrorless camera. The information is excellent and if I’d written it myself, I’d be prouder still: Olympus E-PL5 vs. Olympus E-PM2, a surprise. I bought the PM2, by the way. I already owned the PL-1 and P3.

There is no connection between these posts other than they hit the public fancy and placed well on Google’s search engine. One was written by someone else, another is a well-known Internet joke, and third comments about a popular TV show and involves hunting serial killers. What it proves to me? Popularity has little to do with good writing, meaningful subject matter, or even good taste. Taken by themselves, statistics are worse than meaningless: they are deceptive. If you can find another interpretation, I’m all ears.

Rarely are your best efforts your most popular posts. So far, never. The pieces of which I’m the most proud often languish unnoticed while articles written in haste with little thought, but about popular subjects do very well. On the rare occasions when a piece I’m genuinely proud of does well, I glow.

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Meanwhile, by dint of working really hard at finding interesting, entertaining and valuable subjects to write about, I’ve got almost 85,000 hits, more than 400 followers, about 1200 posts and Word Press has never found a single thing I’ve written or photographed worthy of being Freshly Pressed. Not a single picture or post. That boggles my mind too because I’ve read a lot of the freshly pressed material and can’t remember any of it. It was smooth reading and totally forgettable. Maybe I’m trying too hard.

Some days I wonder why I bother? I could just go find stuff on the Internet and reblog it and get fantastic numbers. But then I slap myself on the face and remind me I don’t do it for the numbers or even for the recognition, though I certainly wouldn’t mind positive input.

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I do it because I love it. The writing, the photography, the relationships. I really, truly love it. So until I just wear out and give up from sheer exhaustion, I guess you are all stuck with me.

Other recent top entries, many of which are informational and/or technical should not surprise me because I was a technical writer for 35 years and I write a good reference stuff. After all those years, you’d figure I’d have a grip on that, at least. So here’s a list of my most popular posts (not in order, but overall hit count showing). Within the list are contain some pieces I think are pretty good. Well-written and containing interesting or useful information, or just an opinion I’m glad someone found worth reading.

Why tablets can’t replace computers. And why they shouldn’t. (301 hits)

Amazon Kindle Fire 7-Inch HD: 13-months later (369 hits)

The Felix Castor Series, Mike Carey (359 hits) 

How many states are trying to secede? (843 hits)

Things that go bump in the night (354 hits)

Gazing through to the other side: Hollywood and Moral Character (751 hits)

Where do the swans go? (334 hits) (photo gallery)

Old Coney Island Impressions (306 hits) (photo gallery)

Nothing ties these articles together. Not theme, style, subject matter. The only thing they share is (with two glaring exceptions) the author — me. What should I make of this? You tell me. I don’t like any of the conclusions I draw.

Fame With Obscurity: A Peculiar Achievement

I am occasionally stunned by how many hits I got on a single day. It happens intermittently, usually when this season’s premier episode of Criminal Minds is being shown as a rerun here or in some other English-speaking country. This little post about a bunch of FBI profilers shows up at the top of a specifically worded Google search. Whenever that episode plays somewhere and people go looking for combination of words, bingo. There’s my site, at the top of the search and I get a little flood of hits.

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I used to wonder what caused that sudden burst of interest in my site. Now I know  immediately that somewhere, that episode is playing and once again I’ve been discovered … but only for about an hour. These one-time visitors don’t become (usually) followers. They come, they read. Then they leave and forget me.

When I look at my statistics, those individual bars of hits loom far above the other bars representing numbers of hits for a day.

This could have been my 15 minutes of fame, except that no one knows who I am unless they already know me, in which case, they probably are not looking for me via a Google search. I thus succeeded in being secretly famous.

I pondered this conundrum for a while, mulling over how I ended up an anonymous writer. I never wanted anonymity. I post my picture and I sign my name to emails from readers when they write to me. It just sort of happened.

The search that did it.

Some years ago, I began using “Teepee12″ as my Internet “handle” because it reminds me that I wrote and published a booked entitled “The 12-Foot Teepee.” Virtually no one is buying the book these days — not that it was ever a best-seller — so using this is a way of keeping in touch with an important piece of my personal history. My book is obscure. Really obscure. No one who isn’t a close friend or one of the few hundred other souls who read the book would associate Teepee12 with me. It never crossed my mind that this would ever make a difference in my life. No one gives you advice on this when you are choosing your online or website name.

So I figured I should add my name to my website. I don’t want to change the site name: I like it. Serendipity is so appropriate. I write with extreme serendipity. Not only can you not predict what I’ll write about, but I have no idea what I’m going to write about. I may not know what I’m going to say until it falls out of my fingers into the keyboard.

I’ve been “Teepee12″ for years. I felt odd naming the blog after myself. It’s wasn’t humility, more like bashfulness. Or just ignorance. It was an accident. I tried to fix the problem by putting my real name on my blog. It’s on the masthead, or whatever we call the top of our first page in the blogosphere. It doesn’t matter. I remain Teepee12 and expect always will be.

I guess I blew it. I missed my fifteen minutes. If you know me, you are laughing. I’m laughing too. It’s just how my life goes. I should have guessed it would be this way.

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Daily Prompt: Ripped Into the Headline — I have misplaced my outrage …

Not everyone gets my sense of humor. Despite that, I persist in being myself. I realize irony is wasted on a lot of folks and allusions to movies, books, and history merely annoy them. I just can’t help it. I gotta be me, even if it confuses and aggravates a big slice of the population. I’m just not everybody’s cuppa tea.

Right now, I’m walking around laughing, sometimes hysterically, at the gigantic fuss, furor, and scandal over NSA listening to our phone calls.

So last night, when we were nicely tucked into the most comfortable bed in the world, I said to Garry:

“Can you think of any government anywhere, or any time in the history of humankind, during which governments have not spied on their citizens or subjects?”

He honored me with a thoughtful few seconds before answering … or maybe he was just twiddling with the remote control.

“Nope.”

“I think the way it works is this. First, we invent heads of state. Kings, presidents, emperors, whatever. Next, they invent a secret police so they can keep on being the head of state. The only thing that seems to change is the technology. And the quality of the dungeons.”

“Yup.”

“I think it’s a mistake to try and monitor all those telephone calls. I mean, they are just going to be buried under more data than they handle, so instead of getting more information about real problems, they are just going to get lots of jabbering kids yakking with their friends, people arguing with customer support, and boring conversations by people like us. We never say anything interesting on the phone. We hardly talk on the phone at all.

“Yup.”

Our conversation has continued into today as Garry has pointed out that he is positively shocked to hear that the NSA is listening to our phone calls. SHOCKED!

I said I would have to compose a strongly worded letter and send it to someone, although I’m not sure who.

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Americans seem to have a national need to be outraged about something or other. We apparently require a level of constant civic hysteria, maybe to keep the news from being boring. Scandal keeps ratings up and gives talk show hosts something to rant about. It gives both liberals and conservatives something to accuse each other of doing, even though every administration has done pretty much the same stuff and always will. They did it in ancient Rome and Greece. Egypt, too. Governments spy on their citizens. The more prominent you are, the more dangerous you are perceived to be, so the more attention is likely to be paid to you.

I’m wondering how long this is going to stay on top of the news. Because nothing is going to change. Ever. Governments will spy on their citizens. Citizens will be outraged. The outrage will be ignored. Eventually, everyone will move on to the next big thing.

I actually think our security moguls are shooting themselves in the foot trying to monitor so many people. At a certain point, everything and nothing are identical. If you try to collect every conversation, you wind up knowing less than you did when you targeted actual likely evil-doers. But hey, what do I know, right?

I’m having trouble getting myself worked up over this.

You see, I remember Richard Nixon. I even remember the end of the J. Edgar Hoover era. I’ve read history. Unlike some people, who apparently actually believe that all those traffic cameras have been installed to monitor traffic, I know they are there to keep track of us. You. Me. All of us. Is someone monitoring them all the time? Hardly likely. But if anyone is looking for me — or you — well, I’m sure they will have no trouble finding us.

Did I know the NSA was monitoring phone conversations? Not specifically, but it’s hardly a revelation. Do I believe that if we form protest groups, write letters to congress, they will stop watching and listening? Are you kidding? They aren’t going to stop and making a fuss about it is likely to make them take a long hard look at me. I would prefer to skip that.

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My government spies on me. And you. And everyone else. They were spying on us during the 1960s. They were spying on my parents and their friends in the 1950s and 1940s. What’s your point? Obama didn’t start this. Bush didn’t start it. FDR didn’t start it. Abraham Lincoln didn’t start it. It’s been going on as long as there have been governments and it will never end. Nobody asked my permission and my objections will accomplish nothing. Privacy is an illusion and if we ever had any, we lost it a long time ago.

I know I should be appalled, angry, enraged at the intrusion into my private space, but instead I keep laughing. I am incapable of being appalled. I have completely run out of outrage. Our dogs remain undisturbed and my husband amused. This particular crisis will have to go on without us.

Someone else will have to be outraged on our behalf. Please, whoever you are, don’t forget to send that strongly worded letter. Send me a copy. For my records.

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Daily Prompt: Do Not Disturb — Through A Prism

Author John Scalzi in his blog Whatever posted what I think is a sane, intelligent answer to the uproar and outrage over “discovering” that the government is spying on us. The article is titled Hey Scalzi, Don’t You Have Anything Angry to Say About That PRISM Thing? He points out that we all know the government is spying on us. We certainly have to know that Google and Facebook are spying on us. Microsoft has been spying on us for years as has Apple and Amazon. Depending on the security level of your home network, your entire neighborhood could by spying on you. There’s nothing new about this and if you had for some weird reason assumed your government which has been ramping up surveillance activities for more than a decade is not spying on all of us, it leaves only one question: How naïve are you?

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Living where I live and doing what I do, I recognized long ago there is no “off the grid” for me. Unless we were to go live in a cave in the far northern reaches of somewhere or other — if you know Garry and I,  that’s about as unlikely a scenario as anyone could create — I’m no cave dweller. The idea of living anywhere without a high-speed Internet connection gives me the willies.

That the government is using its capabilities to keep an ear and an eye on our transmissions, just in case something sounds suspicious and/or terroristic not only doesn’t surprise me, it would surprise me if they weren’t doing it. Land’s End monitors my purchases and browsing to create advertisements likely to lure me to buy from them. So does L.L. Bean, Dell, Amazon and everyone else from whom I shop. Google probably knows what color underwear I put on this morning. They’ve got my email and every photograph I’ve ever posted. Moreover, like most of the rest of you, I have a blog. Everything I write, every picture I publish goes off into cyberspace where it lives forever. If I Google myself, I find that like a mosquito captured in amber, my previous identities are still floating around out there, unchanged by time.

Years ago I accepted reality. If I want to belong to the world, I’m will be exposed to and by it. If you think otherwise, you are in denial.

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All of those agreements we sign because if we don’t, we can’t use the software or that website, explicitly say we are granting permission to collect information, read our posts, access our applications and mine our data. I am mindful of what I post on the Internet. I write a lot, but I never post anything online that would embarrass me if someone announced it from the pulpit in church. If I have secrets, they stay secrets by the simple, primitive expedient of keeping my mouth shut.

Living out here in the middle of nowhere, we are less invaded by cameras and spy satellites than more heavily populated areas. It’s not because we aren’t as likely as anywhere else to be engaged in some kind of nefarious activity. It’s simply a matter of using available resources. There are only so many cameras and people to monitor them. We just aren’t worth the effort. Besides, if you want to know everything that is going on in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, drop by. Hang around the grocery store for a couple of hours. You’ll know everything and everybody in very short order.

The truth is that I don’t have much to hide. There’s stuff I did in my past that could potentially embarrass me, but it wouldn’t land me in jail. Probably my husband knows more interesting stuff than I do, but he was a reporter for a long time. And he isn’t talking. Not to me, not to anyone. He subscribes to the belief that a secret is something you don’t tell anybody. I’ve been trying to worm information out of him for more than 40 years. He just smiles and keeps watching whatever show is on TV. You have no idea how frustrating I find it, but comforting too. Because he’s not telling anyone my secrets either.

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The government isn’t looking for me. I’m not buying guns, building bombs or selling drugs. I’m not traveling anywhere much, unless you count the occasional friend and doctor’s appointment. You could monitor my telephone traffic 24/7 and learn absolutely nothing because I don’t spend any time on the phone except when arguing with customer service reps, usually the cable company. And while it might be entertaining, it isn’t likely to be particularly exciting or enlightening. It certainly has nothing to do with anybody’s security, not even mine.

Spying? I’m more worried about Facebook and Google, WordPress and Amazon. They really do want to know what I’m doing so they can sell me stuff. They are very good at doing it, too. If the government were to question them, I guess the entire U.S. Government infrastructure would know my shoe size, what software I use to edit photographs and write, and that I still dress in essentially the same styles I was wearing 40 years ago. They’d know what dogs I’ve got, what food they eat. What food we eat, for that matter and probably what medications we take. I cannot imagine what use they might find this information. It doesn’t even interest me much.

This is the world we have chosen, designed and bought into. We have GPS units that broadcast our location to anyone who wants to find us. Virtually all of us have cell phones that are easily tapped and tracked. All of our bank transactions can be accessed by Lord knows how many people. If we are on Social Security and Medicare, the entire government is aware of our income, medical issues and who knows how much more. That would be assuming they are actually interested enough to look, which frankly, I doubt.

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My government is not hunting for me. If they were, all they have to do is give me a call or drop by the house. They know where to find me. They know where to find you, too. That they can collect mountains of data is one thing. I very much doubt they have sufficient personnel to sift through more than an infinitesimal percentage of it. And if they are as efficient at mining data as they are at everything else, your guilty secrets are safer with the government than with your best friend.

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Taming the Techno Beast

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of posts focusing on how civilization is disintegrating because of technology. The loss of privacy, clearly because of websites like Facebook. The prevalence of moronic rumors on the Internet that for incomprehensible reasons, people actually take seriously. And of course, the loss of language and relationship skills by young people who communicate entirely by texting in code that no one over the age of 18 can decipher not to mention the pernicious effects of electronic books replacing paper and ink. And finally, my personal favorite, the paranoid belief that mobile phones are scrambling everyone’s’ brains and are probably responsible for the epidemic of worldwide stupidity.

I’m not convinced we had any privacy to lose. If you weren’t a recluse living in a cave, then you lived amidst people. In towns, villages and cities. In tribes, settlements and family groups. In metropolitan areas, we form villages within the larger population. We call them neighborhoods. You don’t come from New York or Boston.

You come from Park Slope or Southie, Roxbury or Astoria. As long as we live in and around other people, they know all about us. They know a lot more than we wish they did. You sneeze and your neighbors say a collective “gesundheit.” Have a fight with your spouse and everyone knows every detail the following morning. Gossip is the meat and potatoes of human relationships. Call it networking or whatever you like: we talk about each other all the time. Privacy is an illusion.

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The big difference is you can use your own computer to tell total strangers everywhere in the world all your personal business. But that’s your own choice. It’s entirely voluntary, but millions of people do it every day. I suspect — on the whole — we care a lot less about privacy than we say we do. Sure, we want to protect our bank accounts and credit cards from being stolen, but otherwise? How much do you really care who knows what’s going on in your life?

We are herd animals. We are nosy. We gossip. Knowing your neighbors’ business doesn’t require technology,  just eyes and ears. For broadcast purposes,  a mouth works as well any other device.

One of the more common assumptions about technology is that this stuff is more important to young people than older folks. Older people are supposed to resist new technology, to be stuck in our ways and refuse to move on.

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I recall thinking along the same lines when I was young and stupid. Young people underestimate their elders. Maybe it helps them gain the courage to face uncertain futures, but as one of those Old People, I find it annoying.

People my age have not rejected technology. Au contraire, we embrace it with enormous enthusiasm. Technology has impacted us more than any other age group. Computers give us access to the world, let us to remain actively in touch with scattered friends and family. It helps us know what people are thinking. Digital cameras with auto-focus compensate for aging eyes. Miniaturization makes more powerful hearing aids so that people who would be condemned to silence can remain part of the world. Pacemakers prolong life; instrumented surgeries provide solutions to what used to be insoluble medical problems and lets us keep active into very old age. Technology has saved us not only from early death, but from losing touch.

We can watch movies whenever we want, the old ones from childhood and the new ones just out of theaters. We can view them in comfort on huge screens as good as the movies, but with better sound and cheaper snacks … plus a convenient “pause” button if you need to hit the bathroom or kitchen.

Virtually every one of us has a cell phone, uses electronic calendars as well as a wide range of applications to do everything from post-processing photographs and balancing our bank accounts,  to cooking meals.

My generation consumes technology voraciously, hungrily.

Unlike the kids, we don’t take it for granted. We didn’t always have it. We remember the old days and despite all those nostalgic postings on the web, most of us are glad we don’t live there anymore.

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We can’t all repair a computer, but neither can the kids. They know how to use them … my granddaughter was using a computer when she was three … but she has no idea how a computer works and would be hard put to explain the difference between the operating system and an application. Most of her friends are equally ignorant. They are on top of the world when things work but  if anything goes wrong, suddenly Granny transforms to Computer Guru.

For teenagers and young adults, technology is no miracle. They don’t need to understand it. They feel about computers the way we felt about electricity: we didn’t need to know how it worked. We just put the plug in the socket and turn on the lights.

There is a down side to technology as there’s a down side to everything. An hour’s power outage and we are lost. Dependence is not what worries me. I’m no survivalist. Without modern technology, I wouldn’t make it through a week.

I worry that young folks are not learning how to talk to each other and will have a hard time forming relationships. Not that we did all so well ourselves, but at least we talked to each other.

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The ubiquitous availability of social networking gives kids the illusion of having lots of friends … yet many of them have no real friends … not the kind of friends you can depend on and who will hang on through a lifetime.

I don’t want anyone to give up their electronic goodies … but it would be nice if there were more direct communication, human to human. I have watched groups of teens sit around in a room, but instead of talking, they send texts to one another. Good relationships need a more touchy-feely approach.

All of us have gotten a bit lazy about relationships. We send an email when we should pick up the phone. We pick up the phone when we should make a visit. There’s nothing electronic that can replace a hug.

Yet I believe civilization will endure. Stupid people were always stupid. They always will be. Those who believe nonsensical Internet rumors without bothering to learn the truth would never have been truth-seekers anyhow. Before we had Internet rumors, we had plenty of regular rumors. They didn’t travel quite as fast as they do on the Internet, but they got the job done. The problem isn’t computers; it’s people.

I don’t get why people have a problem with electronic books. As far as I am concerned, reading is good no matter what form the words take. For me, electronic books are a dream come true. I will always love the smell and feel of paper and ink, but I am glad to not need more space for books. I’m love my Kindle. Nobody had to slay a tree for the book I’m reading.

I  will always love bookstores, the feel and weight a book, the smell of ink on paper, the gentle crack of the spine when you open a new one, but I only buy special books, first editions, reference books.

The good old days weren’t that terrific. There were good things, but plenty of bad stuff. Ugly stuff. Institutionalized racism, a gap between classes far worse than today. Real oppression of women, so if you think we don’t get a fair shake now, you would never have survived growing up in the 1950s. Help wanted ads in newspapers were divided by sex; we had to wear skirts to school, even in the dead of winter.

Today, our houses are heated better. Basic household goods are relatively inexpensive. Wal-Mart sells cheap underwear. Don’t knock it: I hate spending money on underwear!

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If you want an education, you can get one … no matter what your color or ethnicity. The  legal barriers to individual development have been lowered. The world and the people in it are imperfect; there’s more than enough hate to go around and we’ll never see the end of war, but at least the law is changed. That is not a small thing. Human beings are good at hating. Laws can change the rules, but not human nature.

I wish the quality of entertainment was better and I wish they taught grammar in schools, yet I was never taught grammar and I’m reasonably literate. Those who love words will learn to use them by reading, listening and absorbing the music of language.

Language will continue to evolve but it has always been a moving target. It’s not changing because of computers. We don’t talk as they did in Olde England and future generations won’t talk — or write — like us.

The basic nature of humans hasn’t fundamentally changed. We have a savagery embedded in our DNA.  I doubt anything will erase it. Will we evolve to the point where we are truly civilized and the hidden beast is gone? I doubt it. I believe we would lose our humanity along with our bestiality. It is our never-ending battle to tame our baser instincts that defines civilization.

That, and having a really fast Internet connection.

GAZING THROUGH TO THE OTHER SIDE: HOLLYWOOD & MORAL CHARACTER

Blitzen Trapper

When I got 1000 hits in about half an hour, I knew that they must be rebroadcasting this season’s premier episode of Criminal Minds. I’ve written more than 1000 posts, but this is the one that gets the most hits.

So, it must be the perfect time to re-post this piece. The question is whether or not the plot used in the premier show of season 8 of “Criminal Minds” is based on a song by a group named Blitzen Trapper, whose lead singer/lyricist is Eric Earley. This comes up each time the show airs, which is how come I get all these hits on that post.

To settle the issue once and for all — or until the show airs again — one of my correspondents is a producer on Criminal Minds. He assures me the group is being compensated and nothing underhanded is going on. I’m grateful to discover things are not as bad as they seem. It’s so rare. Usually, whatever is going on, things are worse than I imagined possible.

A screenshot of the BAU Team on the jet.

A screenshot of the BAU Team on the jet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve gotten a bunch of emails from people who seem otherwise intelligent yet against all reason believe big corporations would never take advantage of “little people,” and certainly would never commit (gasp) plagiarism. What makes this belief bizarre is that the corporations under discussion are run for and by people in show business. Unless my correspondents are living on a different planet than me, why would they think this? Have these people displayed such high moral character that they are incapable of illegal or immoral behavior? Could anyone be that naïve?

Apparently yes.

Corporations spend millions of dollars on public relations and advertising campaigns designed to convince us that they have our best interests at heart. They are entitled to give it their best shot, but why would anyone actually believe them? How has any corporation ever shown itself  to be on any side but its own? And show business folks? These are not people famous for moral turpitude. Plagiarism is ridiculously commonplace. I don’t know a writer with hopes of breaking into “the business” who hasn’t had a piece of work stolen. Here’s how it works.

You go for an interview. You bring your story idea, your script, manuscript, lyrics, arrangement, proposal, whatever. You present it to the person to whom you hope to sell it. You make your pitch, praying this is the big score you’ve been waiting for. Alas, it is another rejection. You’re used to rejection. It comes with the territory.

A few months later, a new television series is introduced that has an identical storyline to the one you were trying to sell to that very production studio. A few relatively minor details have been altered, but you recognize it and so do all your friends.

Wathcha gonna do, eh? You’re going to sue the studio? Take the network to court? Bring suit against the record label? You have that kind of money and clout? If you were pitching your material, you are probably broke. They’ve got armies of lawyers. You’ve got your paycheck and tips from waiting on tables while you try to finish your next piece. Only in the Bible does David win. Goliath wins in the real world.

There is a great deal of plagiarism in television and movies, so much that the relevant lawsuits rarely make the news any more.

In the software world, accusations of intellectual property theft have reached the point where, after endless legal battles between Microsoft and Apple, every major manufacturer is suing every other manufacturer for copyright infringement. Who wins? Since everyone steals from everyone else and everyone is guilty to some extent, the winner is the company with the best lawyers or the most political influence. And of course, who paid off who.

Oh no, that doesn’t happen, you cry! Our legal system can’t be bought and sold. Right. And the tooth fairy left you a buck under your pillow last night. No really, she did. Honest! My congressman told me, so it must be true.

Public servants are as honest as the day is long. Corporations care about you and me. Hollywood and television executives are persons of the highest moral character. The moon is made of green cheese. Tomorrow I’m going to sprout wings and fly.

In this case, I believe my source, that Blitzen Trapper is being duly compensated and the worst crime involved is bad scriptwriting, which is not illegal, though it ought to be. The writers assumed the audience would not Google the song lyric within the first 10 seconds after the show’s characters said “there’s no reference to it anywhere.” Obviously they think we the audience are incompetent and stupid. It’s infuriating but it’s not against the law. Yet.

Just when I’m getting on my high horse about how we aren’t as dumb as they think we are, I get letters from readers proving that a lot of people may really be that dumb, or at least that naïve. I find this scary. Hell, these people are allowed to vote!

My signature line on email uses the following quote: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” – Robert Hanlon

In this case, for this show, I may have attributed to malice that which was in fact adequately explained by stupidity. That’s their excuse, but what excuse do you have for believing propaganda paid for by people who would squash you like a bug without a second thought?

I don’t get it. Maybe someone can explain it to me,

Now I am ONE

This is, more or less, the anniversary of when I started blogging. I say more or less because I started Serendipity last year on February 4, 2012 by writing an opening post and creating an “about me” page, but after that, I did almost nothing until May.

Maybe I just needed to write. Perhaps it was all the pictures I had never shown to anyone. I know the heating up of the political season had more than a little to do with it, the increasing noise of politics rolling through America like an out-of-control freight train.

February 2012

February 2012

I had been trying to ignore the whole thing.

It’s not that I am disinterested in politics. Far from it, but I was and remain unhappy with America, her handling of the election process, the failure of everyone in both parties to address real issues in favor of mud-slinging. Anyone who was even tangentially in touch with the greater world could feel the rumbles of that train. Eventually, it would leave no one untouched.

Maybe on some level it’s a good thing. At least it got people involved. Eventually, it pulled everyone into a vortex. We all have a stake in America. Even non-Americans have a stake in us. We aren’t supporting players on the world scene. Our name goes up above the title when the credits roll.

It doesn’t mean that we do such a great job. We get mixed reviews at best, but it’s not like some other nation is doing so much better. It’s easy to take potshots at the U.S. We are a big target, a larger-than-life bullseye and anyone who isn’t blind can hit us. I must be more of a patriot than I think I am because I get pissed off at people from other countries who rage about our politics. Clean up your own mess before you criticize ours. But I digress.

Election day 2012

I got sucked in. By September, I was deep into the tornado of the American Presidential election. From my perspective, as a senior citizen with serious financial concerns, dependent on Medicare and Social Security that was supposed to keep me alive in my old age, the Republican position on these issues scared the pants off me.

Mind you, there’s no way to be sure any candidate or party will keep campaign promises after the votes are counted, but we don’t have unlimited choices. In the current universe, we get to pick A or B and if we aren’t happy about the choice, the only other option is to become politically irrelevant — vote for a third-party with no chance of winning or not vote at all. It’s a choice many people resent.

But. If there’s a better way to elect a country’s leaders, I don’t know about it. I’ve lived under parliamentary rule. It’s different in theory, but practically speaking, you still wind up picking A or B because any other party for which you vote is going to hook up with A or B after the election as part of a coalition. In the final analysis, all representative democracies are two-party systems. The mechanics are different, but the result is the same.

So I started dipping my oars in the water and eventually, I went from dipping to strenuous rowing. All over the Internet, from Facebook to private email, there was a passion and intensity to this election I’ve never seen before. Shouting, ranting, verbal violence, racism, classism and a scary amount of ignorance made my head spin and my stomach twist into a knot.

I’ve always enjoyed elections. Politics is our national sport, the only one where everyone can play with no restriction on age, physical abilities, or talent. This was not like previous elections. It was disturbing on many levels. So much rage on both sides, so much hatred spewing from so many mouths, right and left. There was no room for the voice of sanity, civility or commonsense. Although things have cooled off, there’s a roiling anger, a seething unrest that is almost palpable and scary.

Americans are unhappy. Discontent with their government and leaders. Many are angry about how everything has been handled for the past 20 years or more. It’s not only this election; it’s the direction of the country. There are good things that have happened … but there are too many bad things being ignored by everyone who could do something.

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That was when I began to participate in the blogging world. As the U.S. sunk deeper into a particularly violent political battle, I got a leg up from the activity. Without the election to grab people who normally ignore news, I would not have gotten so much attention. It was mostly luck. This isn’t humility. I’m not especially humble or modest about my writing. I have personal insecurities galore, but I’ve spent a lifetime writing and I do it pretty well.

It reminds me of the conversation I had with our dentist. He’s frequently criticized for having a lousy “bedside manner.” I like him because he’s fast and he’s good. His prices are average or lower than average, you can get an appointment immediately any time you call. He’ll get done in two hours what most dentists stretch out for weeks or months. I commented how much I like the quality — and speed — of his work. He looked at me. “I’ve been doing this for more than 35 years. If I’m not fast and good now, I should be doing something else.” Right you are, doc.

I kind of feel the same way. If after all these years of calling myself a writer and writing professionally as well as just because I love it … if after all that I’m not good at it, I should pack it in and watch more television.

Mostly though, I knew the Internet is vast. The virtual world is crammed with voices clamoring for attention. I figured the odds of my getting heard was small to none. Surprisingly, I was wrong and I am grateful to have been wrong. I wish I’d risen from obscurity to a this highly localized celebrity by dint of brilliance, but it was more like dumb luck. I wrote something that got picked up by Google and pushed me to the top of the search engine. I reblogged a post that went viral. A few other popular posts and suddenly, I had an audience. I thought they would go away when the election was over, but apparently there are people who think I am worth a few minutes of their day. In a world so busy and frantic, that’s no small thing. I’m more than a bit awed when I realize that I’ve had over 46,000 hits in about 6 months, starting from zero. Once you get rolling, the process continues on its own momentum.

It could end as fast and as randomly as it began. I am aware of the fragility of this sort of thing. Popular today, forgotten tomorrow.You can get back to nowhere even faster than you rose out of it. This is particularly true when you really don’t know how you achieved success in the first place. It happened, but it wasn’t a result of anything you did intentionally or could replicate.

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Popularity means permanently treading on eggs. It is wise to have a goal beyond just racking up numbers in the win column. If you have a star to follow, you will probably survive as numbers surge and without apparent reason fall through the virtual floor.

So, here I am. One year since the “official” beginning, 6 months since I began to develop an audience.

Where to go from here? I can’t not write. It’s like breathing. Gotta do it, so you’ll keep hearing from me, though this site is getting a bit huge and more than a little unwieldy as a result of 859 posts. They are hard to wrangle.

A couple of days ago I deleted a bunch of posts, mostly reblogs, on which I got neither “likes” nor comments, just to lighten the load. I find myself in the awkward position of having to post fewer things, especially reblogs and photographs. Distressing, but I will deal with it somehow.

I’ve never been able to pick a focus for my blog. I can’t see this changing because I often don’t know what I’m going to say until I start saying it. I don’t want to get more specific. Much of the fun of blogging is the unexpectedness, the lack of structure. Not answering to a boss or having someone reminding me of an upcoming deadline.

So this is my blogging birthday. See? There’s a single candle on my cupcake. Let’s blow it out together and make some wishes, shall we?

Don’t tell me your wish. If you tell anyone, wishes don’t come true!

Gazing through from the other side with a British accent

It’s 5 hours later in London than in New England. I was reminded of this today because a few minutes after 4 in the afternoon, I got almost 400 hits from England on a blog I wrote Last September.

The post is about the première episode of this season of the CBS series “Criminal Minds.” For those of you who have never watched the show, it is based on the FBI‘s Behavioral Analysis Unit based in Quantico, Virginia.

I wrote the original post on September 26, 2012, which was when the première episode for this season of “Criminal Minds” aired in the United States. For some reason, that post hit the top of Google’s search engine and has stayed there ever since.

The series supposedly portrays the FBI’s best and brightest. The words “gazing through from the other side” were left at a crime scene and in the show, the team can’t find any reference to those words anywhere in the virtual universe. Of course the first thing I did after they said they couldn’t find it was type the words into Google and hit “Enter.” Up came the song, the lyrics, the group … and it took me perhaps 10 seconds.

Apparently the same thing happened today in England when the show aired for the first time. Everyone watched the show, heard the line, grabbed their tablet or laptop, Googled the phrase … and found me.

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I realize it’s TV, not the real FBI, but surely even the fake FBI can do a simple Google search. My granddaughter was doing Google searches before she finished first grade, so it is hard to believe a television show would portray federal agents as less computer savvy than a 6-year-old.

It had been an unremarkable day, even a bit slow. I usually get most of my hits in the evening, so when I looked at my site in mid afternoon and saw I had around 140 hits, it seemed normal.

A screenshot of the BAU Team on the jet.

When I went back to look at my site a bit after 4 in the afternoon, I had gotten almost 600 hits, the vast majority from Great Britain for that same post about “Criminal Minds.” I may not be the sharpest tack in the tool box, but I deduced today was the British première of the show. I was so sure I didn’t even bother to check until an hour ago when I Googled “criminal minds UK première” and it came up as 28 January 2013 at 9pm — 4pm my time.

That little post, written between commercial breaks, has been my all-time most popular post. It isn’t my best work. It isn’t even close to my best. I’ve posted hundreds of better pieces, but none ever got such a big response. It makes me think about why I’m blogging. I want to be read, but it would be nice to be recognized for work of which I’m proud. Regardless, my most popular stuff is never my best. Sometimes, it isn’t even mine — it’s a reblog. That hurts.

When I get responses to posts on which I worked hard, it makes me happy. Responses from people who “get me” are gratifying. The only thing that could make it better would be money. Feel free to send cash or checks. I’m sorry, but I don’t accept credit cards.

Dumb and getting dumber

Our books say a lot about us ... maybe too much.

Our books say a lot about us … maybe too much.

I’m a big believer in research, checking and double-checking sources. But I also learned a couple of important lessons writing documentation and other educational and explanatory material for almost 40 years.

Relax, Chicken Little. The sky is not falling.

The first rule of survival is to keep a sense of proportion. Whether it’s your personal life or national news, not everything is equally important. Lighten up. Develop a healthy attitude of skepticism. If you keep believing everything you read, I have to assume that you aren’t very bright.

Assume your friends are kidding, not trying to insult you. If they really are insulting you, maybe you need different friends; then again, maybe you deserve it. The problem may not be them: it could be you. Just consider the possibility.

It’s been a rough period for everyone. We need to laugh, not get enraged at everything we read, at everything anyone says.

As far as “news” goes, most stuff in the news isn’t news. It hasn’t happened. It will never happen. Not only has it not yet happened, but is isn’t even at the proposal stage. It’s the stuff people run up the flagpole to see who salutes. Somewhere between 99 – 100% of it won’t make it to proposal, much less law. If you let everything get to you, you will spend your life outraged. That’s hard on your nervous system, blood pressure and those around you. Not everything is life and death. Chill.

More rules for surviving the information age

Stop blaming technology. Technology doesn’t do anything. It’s what you do with it that counts.

Rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, I never said technology is “bad.” God forbid I should be so hypocritical.

I love my electronic goodies. My point continues to be that people — especially young people — confuse the tool and the purpose. They become so pixellated by the glamour and total coolness of widgets and gadgets that they forget  these are not an end, but a means. You are supposed to use this stuff to accomplish things: communicate, create, learn. Write a book. Edit a photo. Make a movie. Design something. Think amazing thoughts.

On the communications, front, if you use nothing but electronic communication for your relationships, you aren’t going to know how to talk to people.Eventually you will have to talk to someone about something important. The sooner you get the hang of it, the better. I watch my granddaughter and her friends sit next to one another while texting. How can you learn to relate if you don’t know how to have a conversation?

Worse, if you use computers to think for you, you won’t learn think. The substitution of automatically gathered data for focused research and thoughtful analysis is particularly alarming because (wait for it, drumroll, flourish of trumpets … okay, now) computers can’t think.

That’s right. You heard me. Computers can’t think. They are processors that collect and find data. They follow rules embedded in the software that runs them. Which, I should point out, you probably didn’t write (if you did, excuse me, you are exempt). After that, we the humans, Earthly creatures who sit at the top of the food chain, are free to use that data to whatever purpose we choose. But what do we choose? Good question. Mostly, far as I can tell, nothing much.

The big problem is that with the help of a computer or any one of a zillion computer-like devices (telephones, tablets, pods, pads, doohickies and wazoos), anyone and his cousin George can collect information by the bushel.  Having collected oodles of data, most people figure they’ve done their part but their part hasn’t even begun. Most people cannot figure out what concepts or ideas the collected information supports, what conclusions can be drawn from it, how to analyze what — if anything — it means. Nor can they connect two related ideas without a flow chart …  and many can’t connect two related ideas even with the flow chart.

In a world where we actually need to warn people not to text while driving, something is seriously wrong with the whole thinking thing.

The widespread outbreak of stupid is alarming. All over America, mothers are wondering how they produced such stupid children.

We don’t think. We don’t read. We skim over information, ideas, articles, gathering buzzwords and slogans, never stopping to figure out if this means anything. Worse yet, half the stuff we learn by this process is wrong

– Α – 

It’s not what you don’t know that will get you; it’s what you DO know that’s wrong.

Information is not knowledge.

Information is not communication.

– ω –

It takes human brains and thought to change information from raw data to concepts and ideas. You need to synthesize, postulate, consider. Determine what is important and what isn’t, what is relevant, and most of all: what is true.

We don’t seem, as a society, to believe that thinking is required anymore. Google it. There’s your answer. But whether or not you can get the answer by looking it up depends on the question. If the question is “Who got the best actor Oscar in 1974,” you can look it up. If the question involves right or wrong, good or evil, the existence of a deity, the value of anything … the meaning of anything … looking it up is part 1 or an infinitely long list.

Then, there’s telling other people about what you’ve figured out. Just because you collected a vast amount of information doesn’t mean that it will mean anything to anyone else. Does it mean anything to you? Seriously? If it’s just a bunch of facts that anyone could collect, does it matter? You need to do something with the information to make it mean something. After that,  you can disseminate it in a form that others can understand. If you don’t take this final step, it’s just noise. Or spam.

I think here, therefore I am here. I think.

I think here, therefore I am here. I think.

How dumb are we?

The dumbing down of society is not because of our tools and toys. It’s because we’ve forgotten they are just tools and toys.

We have fantastic resources and waste them on drivel. Modern processors are amazing. We have access to any data, any information ever written, yet we have not improved our ability to communicate, relate, think, or create. Without a context, all our fancy stuff is expensive, silly playthings on which we waste time and other precious resources.

We have tools. If only we were using them better, our world — our own personal world as well as the great big world we share — would be a better place.

P.S. Those weird characters before and after the big quotes are an alpha and an omega. If this doesn’t ring a bell, don’t worry. You can look it up.

30,000 hits … Go figure.

It seemed appropriate — what with getting all these awards during the last few days — that this is the week I hit another landmark. On November 9th, I passed 20,000 hits and today, exactly 3 weeks later, I hit

30,000

From February 2012, through the end of September, I gathered 10,000 hits. It took me a slightly more than a month to get the next 10,000. On November 9, I was at 20, 783.

At 11:38 pm — right now — I am at 30,044, which is just about 10,000 hits in three crammed weeks.

When there’s a lot of stuff going on, people come looking for more than information. We all want explanations, validation, confirmation that what we believe is right or what we disbelieve is wrong. Those of us who put ourselves out there gain a certain amount of popularity, maybe notoriety or at least a degree of attention in return for fending off a lot of flak for having expressed opinions with which others do not agree. I try to back my opinion with facts, at least as far as I am can establish whatever facts exist. In the end though, facts are slippery as eels, subject to innumerable interpretations. Statistics are easily twisted to support virtually any position. Numbers are neutral, but what we do with them is not.

November 2012 was a newscaster and blogger’s dream. The richness of the available subject matter for a writer was unlimited.  It gave me a lot of room to stretch my writer’s wings, to try writing about things that would normally not fall in my purview.

The dreams of writers and reporters inevitably are built on events that are someone else’s nightmare. Sometime since the advent of electronic media has come to dominate the news industry, news no longer means information about current events … what’s happening. It used to be that news might be good or bad. News was merely “new.” It was the newness that counted, not any predetermined content.

It’s different now. Today, all news is bad news. “If it bleeds, it leads” is the unofficial motto of newsrooms around the nation and probably the globe. Violence and death draws an audience. If a story has a happy ending, it’s likely relegated to feature status or considered “not newsworthy” and thus completely ignored.

Lacking fresh disasters, the next hot ticket in the news biz are scandals, financial crises, sports, weather, and anything happening to a celebrity. These days, we have celebrities who are famous for being famous. They’ve never done anything noteworthy. They don’t act, sing, play an instrument or invent things. They aren’t politicians or scientists. They are nobodies. I hope I am never desperate enough to write about any of them. Since I have pretty much no idea of who is currently famous, I’m unlikely to write about them. Most of the time, guests on talk shows are strangers to me. I can’t tell one from another. Neither can my husband. If you are looking for the latest gossip, I’m afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere. I have neither information nor opinions on the subject.

Election day 2012I plead guilty to enjoying lively discussion and controversy, though I require civility however much we disagree. I figure we should be able maintain the same level of manners in public disputation that we would demand of a 5-year-old. That has turned out to be an unreasonably high expectation when issues of national importance were under discussion. No kindergarten teacher would allow such appalling behavior from her charges, but we not only tolerate, but actually encourage worse behavior from public figures.

As angry as I have been about policies and issues, I have been far more upset by the bad behavior of public figures, many with advanced degrees slinging mud, calling names, and clearly trying to incite violence. There ought to be limits, there ought to be a level below which we will not sink. Watching “Lincoln” yesterday reminded me how uncivil our public behavior has been over the years. The difference between then and now is the presence of electronic media that allows everyone to immediately see — in real-time — how ill-mannered we really are. It used to be a dirty little secret; now it’s an international embarrassment.

The sheer energy generated by so many major events occurring at the same time helped me gain an audience at a faster rate than I could have done had there not been so many important events occurring. There was Sandy, the giant storm. A storms is inherently uncivil. Storms have an excuse. They have no brain cells, just mighty wind, rain or snow … so a storm has an excuse for mindlessness, but what excuse can there be for people like Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck?  Perhaps they too lack brain cells. But more likely, they simply like a conscience and the level of manners required of a pre-schooler.

I get a reasonable number of regular visitors these days. I’m not exactly viral but I have an acceptable following. The number of visitors rises and falls according to some invisible tide over which I have nominal control . When Serendipity’s visitor count first popped up from 70 or 80 on a good day to over a thousand, I figured it was a fluke and would fizzle. As I expected, the visitor count has leveled off, but apparently people who initially dropped by for a particular post continued to return for other things. I am more inclined to trust the new, steadier numbers I get now than the wild up and downs surges of early and mid November.Here, Griffin!

It’s harder to find relevant, exciting content when there are no super exciting events in progress, but I try to stay relevant, try to find interesting subjects. Maybe make a few people laugh or at least smile. I like offering historical background for whatever is going on, the rest of the story we didn’t get in elementary school. Understanding the world is easier if you have the perspective of history. Context counts.

Thanks for reading, thanks for being my friends and making me feel that I’m still a real live part of the living world.  Let’s all hope that this year is going to be a better one than last year. Maybe less full of news, but more full of joy!

Ten useful things I’ve learned about blogging

I started this blog in February 2012, but it wasn’t until the end of May that I started to write regularly. Before that, I posted erratically and rarely.

Criminal Minds Season 7 Promo

In September, I tossed off a very short post about Criminal Minds (the TV show, not politicians) that somehow wound up the first result in a Google search. It has stayed in the top 5 search results (out of 4,100,000 possible results) for more than a month. I have no idea how that happened. That single post has gotten more than 3,500 hits and keeps going. It took me 5 minutes to write and was a response to something that bothered me about the show. Who knew that so many people cared about a television series about profilers and serial killers?

The ups and downs of popularity remain a mystery. Immediately after that post, my numbers went way up, then as I expected, began to drop, then level out. Even so, I tripled the hits I get each day. Folks came for that post and stayed for others. I also have an unknown number of  followers on Bloggers, Twitter, ScoopIt, Pinterest and StumbleUpon.

I am, as my blog title suggests, eclectic. By profession, I’m a writer. By inclination an historian. My hobby is photography. I have distinct audiences for writing and photography. I haven’t figured out how much these groups overlap. Even within my writing, subject matter varies quite a lot. Amongst philosophical ramblings, discussions of whatever current events are on my mind, and so on, I write a lot of stuff about movies and TV. There is a specific audience for the media posts.

Posts I labor over may be barely noticed; others that I just drop on the page get lots of hits. I have learned, through trial and error, a few things worth mentioning. I’m sure I’ll learn more. I need and want to learn more. Meanwhile, here are 10 things I’ve learned that seem to be true:

  1. Less really is more. More than 1000 words is too long. 500 words is plenty, especially if you include pictures. Sometimes, just a caption is enough.
  2. Use more pictures, fewer words. Everyone likes pictures especially nature, pretty girls, children, dogs, and for some peculiar reason, Arizona.
  3. Funny gets more hits than depressing. Being serious is appropriate for serious subjects, but you can use a light touch even with heavy material.
  4. Popularity is nice, but it’s your blog. Do your own thing. That’s the point, isn’t it?
  5. Digress but remember to come back. When I tell stories, I ramble. It’s my style. I wander before I get to my destination, but there’s a limit to how far and how often you can roam without losing your reader.
  6. Be economical in how much material you use per day and per post. If you set yourself an unsustainable pace, you’ll burn out.
  7. Have fun. Have a lot of fun. Enjoyment is contagious.
  8.  Do what you love. Blog about the things you find beautiful, important, amusing, or interesting.
  9. If you aren’t having fun, give it up.
  10. On the graphics side, leave white space. At least 50% of the screen should be empty. This percentage includes the space between pictures and text, between paragraphs, margins at the top and both sides, space between columns. Clutter is hard on the eyes and gives your site a “rummage sale” look. Do you really need every widget?

Explainer: understanding Sopa: IMPORTANT!!

See on Scoop.itMovie From Mavens

Will 2012 see the end of the internet as we know it? The House judiciary committee tried to finalize the Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa) before Christmas for a vote early next year.

This and its companion bill PIPA would have affected everyone who uses a computer, in the US and around the globe. This is, sadly, neither sci fi, nor a joke. It was real and the results would have been immediate and grave for all of us. Just because it’s currently dead in the water does NOT mean it won’t be back. They will try it again and next time, they won’t do it so directly … they will try and slide it in a side door in the dead of night.  If we have a president who is more concerned with big business than with freedom, guess what folks? You lose. We all lose. And we lose the one single thing that most defines us: freedom of speech.

See on www.guardian.co.uk

Everything Is Changing: A Look at the Future While Tripping Down Memory Lane

After contemplating operating systems at length, I started rethinking the whole thing and I began to wonder if operating systems will be relevant a couple of years from now. Because everything is changing.

My current primary computer.

Change is hardly new to the world of computers and technology. Change is what drives the industry. Change is how come you need to buy new software, new hardware, new operating systems. Change can make things work better, but it’s not unusual to discover that your “upgrade” is a downgrade because what used to work no longer does. You pays your money, you takes your chances.

I grew to adulthood in a pre-computer society. I started working before cable TV, when encyclopedias were huge heavy sets of books and a computer was gigantic and needed a whole building for itself. It ran on punch cards and used weird languages like COBOL and FORTRAN. Even decades later, personal computers were just one step removed from a doorstop, floppy disks were 5-1/2 inches across and really flopped.

Those early machines (personal units, not mainframes) — I hesitate to call them computers — didn’t do much. They didn’t have hard drives. There was no software and no user-friendly interface. I don’t think the concept existed. No WYSIWYG. What you saw was a black screen with lurid green letters that made you feel like you were going blind after an hour or two.

Then … everything changed.

First there was Apple and then Windows. Windows didn’t work very well at first, but soon enough, it got better. And then better again.

There were different players and more operating systems in the beginning. Wang and DEC plus a crazy quilt of dedicated word processors and computers made by Commodore, Atari and many others. For a while, I had an Amstrad, a European machine that was almost a computer, kind an intelligent typewriter with a screen that spit out paper.

This was the Amstrad!

Then, everything changed again. Computers started to really do stuff. It was magic!

I worked on this machine in Israel using the first word processing tool, WordStar.

For a while, it seemed like everything changed every day. One day, there was a thing called the Internet. I had to buy and install Netscape to access it. Once connected, there wasn’t much going on, but it was cool to just roam around and see what there was do see.

You could send electronic mail — email — if you had a friends with computers. You sent them messages over old copper telephone wires and everything happened in slow motion.

My first personal computer.

Just getting on to the Internet could take … well, let me put it this way. Turn on the computer. Turn on the modem. Go to the kitchen. Prepare dinner. Cook dinner. Serve dinner. Eat dinner. Clean up everything. By the time you got back to your computer, you might have actually managed to connect to something. Or not.

My first PC. I think everyone had one of these at some point!

Then suddenly AOL popped into existence. I got a really fast modem. It ran at a whopping 2400 BPS! Imagine that. I worked in California from my home office in Boston. Cool! Telecommuting was the cat’s pajamas.

By the time my granddaughter was born in 1996, everybody had a computer or two. In her world, computers have always been fast, the Internet has always been the world’s shopping mall. Ebay and Amazon are no big deal.

My old 486 ran for 10 years. It wasn’t fast, but it sure was durable.

At age three, she could run basic applications. For her, it’s like electricity was to us: something you use that is always there and always was. I’m sure she can’t imagine a world without it. It’s hard for me to remember that world and I certainly would not want to go back there.

Memories of days of yore … but not halcyon I fear,

For a brief interval, the rate of change slowed. We drew a collective breath and didn’t have to buy new computers for a couple of years. High speed connections arrived, though most home users didn’t have it right away. Everything kept getting faster and soon, with cable modems, no one could even remember what it was like to try to get onto the Internet using an old telephone line.

Commodore 64 – the most popular computer ever produced.  More than 30 million of them sold.  I had one of these, too.

Every time you looked around, there was a  new generation of processors, bigger and faster hard drives, amazing super high definition monitors and speaker systems to knock your socks off.

The Internet became a world-sized shopping mall and overnight, catalogue shopping became website cruising. The Internet was a world unto itself; I played bridge in real-time with a partner who lived on an island off the Pacific coast.

We have computers all over the house and what isn’t a computer is run by a computer or contains a mini computer … microwave ovens, smartphones, digital cameras and GPS units. I personally have three computers — in my office, living room and bedroom. My husband has two. My granddaughter has 3, but I think a couple of them don’t work any more. My son has two, my daughter in law has one but if she wants another, we have a spares and she can just grab one.

Eight computers are in daily use and only 5 people live here. I feel that we will soon need to get computers for each of the dogs. For all I know, whenever we are out, they go on-line and order stuff. I’m sure Bonnie the Scottie has at least a thousand Facebook friends.

A brief interruption of cable service leaves us wandering around like wraiths, without form or function. Five of the seven primary computers are less than 2 years old  so I figured we were set for a few years at least … but then everything started changing. Again.

Today, it’s all about “the cloud.” It’s still the same old Internet, but “cloud” is the “in” word for stuff stored on external servers. We’re going back to where we began, to using stripped down computers with no hard drives. Instead, everything is stored on someone else’s computer — out there. In the “cloud.” Our data might be anywhere. We have no way of knowing where it lives.

Am I the only one who finds this unnerving?

I can see advantages. When you eliminate memory sucking operating systems and cumbersome installed applications, your computer will run much faster. Start-up is instantaneous because your computer doesn’t have to load services and applications. You don’t have to maintain and upgrade big expensive applications and volumes of data. You won’t need ever bigger hard drives, more memory and video RAM. You wind up with faster computers that are less expensive and easier to maintain. It’s a win-win, right?

Or is it?

How much do you trust your Internet service provider?

If your cable company has a bad day or the servers on which you store your critical data go down — even for a short while — you have nothing. As long as everything works like it’s supposed to, it’s hunky dory, but Murphy hasn’t left the building yet.

Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong, and will do so at the worst possible time.

Maybe it’s my age showing, but I would prefer to have data on hard drives that I control. That I own.

The idea of entrusting everything —  from my photographs to the manuscript of my book — to an unknown server somewhere in the world scares the Hell out of me. What if the building in which the server storing my stuff burns down? Gets hit by a terrorist attack? Taken down by hackers? You have no way of knowing what country your data is in, how stable its government is, or how good an infrastructure it maintains. You financial data could be in Pakistan, Indonesia, or Kuala Lampur. Or next door.

Is there a compromise possible? Because when I think about entrusting everything to a cloud, I begin to twitch.

How many times have you been unable to access a web page because servers are busy or crashed? The times when their — or your — servers are inaccessible because of maintenance, repair or upgrade. Or those ubiquitous hackers. What if you need a critical piece of data from a server while its offline? It does happen.

My bank was hacked and they had to send me a new bank card. Several places I shop were hacked and I had to redo my accounts because they’d been compromised.

My laptop. Today’s super little machine.

If your ISP is down, you are out of business. If you think your cable company has you by the throat now, how much worse will it be if everything you need to run your life and business is dependent on their services?

Facebook and Google already have trouble keeping up with the demands on their resources. How will they manage when they have thousands of times more data and tens of millions of users depending on them for everything from email and applications to data retrieval?

Those of you who are old enough to remember the great Northeast power blackout in the mid 1960s know what I mean when I say that overloaded systems can go down like dominoes. I am all in favor working together with my fellow human beings throughout the world, but at a certain point, when does inter-dependency make us excessively vulnerable?

If you put too many eggs in the basket, when the basket falls — as it inevitably will — the eggs break.

You don’t have an omelet; you just have a mess of busted eggs.

Addendum: A Personal Note

I worked for more than 35 years in a development environment. That was my world and although I’m not an engineer or developer, I know what’s behind a user interface. For example, modern word processors embed commands in text, but behind the interface, it’s entering the same commands I entered directly on the huge IBM mainframe. It’s faster and prettier to use a word processor and you get the bonus of being able to see how your document will look when printed, but it’s just elegant wrapping on an old familiar box.

My concern is not the graphical user interface (GUI) that overlays our computer (regardless of operating system), but that we are being herded toward using external storage over which we have no direct control for everything from our bank records to personal correspondence.

For businesses and individuals, data is a very big deal. The biggest deal. Our national economy is information and service-based. We no longer make “things” here. Our product is information. Data.

If that’s too abstract for you, personally, I have twenty years of photography and a lifetime of writing stored on CDs, DVDs, and external hard drives. I won’t entrust this stuff to an unknown server somewhere “out there.” It’s too important to me and too unimportant to anyone else. 

Anybody anywhere can build a server farm. It’s a great business requiring little more than a lot of big servers, a place to put them, climate control, and a few capable IT people to tend the equipment.

Where are these places? Most are in countries whose government is, by my standards, unstable — possibly dangerously so. How good is the infrastructure? Are they in the middle of a war? Are their electrical generating facilities dependable or sufficient? What protection against hackers do they provide? Are they trustworthy? They could as easily be a bunch of criminals and the data they collect is the mother lode.

I am not going to entrust what took me a lifetime to create to an unknown, nameless entity. Google, for examples, uses servers anywhere and everywhere. Your data and mine is unlikely to be in one place. It is wherever it went when you saved it.

I won’t get into how links and pointers let us retrieve data, but the potential for error, loss, and piracy is huge. So, I’m not buying into the Cloud. Call me an old cynic, but I want my own stuff on my own equipment.