THEY’RE SPYING ON US … DOES IT MATTER?

THEY ARE ALL OUT TO GET YOU. OR TRYING, ANYHOW.

Google is spying on you. So is the government. And Amazon, and almost every single website you visit … even if you don’t actually visit it but just pass briefly through a photo that’s linked to the site. Every bit of raw data is collected by some database (search engine). Usually more than one. I know this because I helped build these databases. No kidding, I really did.

So unlike most civilians who didn’t think all this data mining would get personal, I figured it would inevitably spread to pretty much everything.

google-search-screenGoogle was the winner in the search engine war because it was, from the beginning, better than its competition. It still is. No one has created a better search or data mining engine, though this doesn’t preclude future competition. Technology never stops trying to build a better whatever.

Google built an empire on their engine. The best, fastest, most complete database in the world. Knowledge is power, so it is said. Google has continued to add to that base and use it in many profitable ways. Mostly, by making advertising personal.

ABOUT THOSE UGLY SPYING RUMORS THAT AREN’T RUMORS

Does Google spy on us? You betcha. ALL the Databases everywhere are collecting information about everyone around the world. Don’t think for a moment it’s just an American phenomenon. Not hardly. Google does it better and more thoroughly and more openly, but spying via computer has become the way the world turns.

 

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Information gathering is a million times (or more?) faster than it was in the early years. Where it goes from here is anyone’s guess. But does that translate to everyone knowing your secrets?

EVERYONE KNOWS EVERYTHING ABOUT EVERYONE, RIGHT?

Not really. Your buying habits are public even if you don’t shop online. Those discount cards and other store ID cards track every purchase you make using any kind of plastic, including your debit card. This information is mined by a parent company, sliced and diced and sold to other companies. Data mining a huge industry and you are both a product and a target. (Think about that for a while.)

But as for the rest of our lives …

Just because we can accumulate information at warp speed doesn’t mean we have the ability to do much with the raw data. The ability to collect information has far exceeded anyone’s — Google’s or the government’s — ability to analyze and make sense of it. Piles of raw data are accumulating on servers, but it isn’t doing anything.

I laugh at the idea that the government is tracking each of us. Personally. They are so buried in their own data, they are barely keeping their collective and individual heads above water. By trying to monitor everything, they effectively wind up monitoring nothing. The amount of data collected by satellites alone is overwhelming.

The terrorist they caught the other day wasn’t on the radar and probably, neither will be serious future threats. There’s so much information it has effectively become no information. Huge heaps of raw data is the same as no data. To make that data useful, an army of analysts would have to start working on it yesterday. No government is hiring an army of analysts, which means the data will grow old and meaningless without anyone having so much as skimmed it.

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Solving crimes and dealing with terrorism will continue as it always has. Live agents, police, the military — aka people — will use the same forensic methods “as seen on TV” to get the job done. They will rely on informants and citizens to report suspicious activity. They will follow clues, leads, and try to find people who are doing dangerous stuff. Let’s hope they are successful.

Relax. They are tracking your shopping, but they don’t give a hoot about the rest. If there’s information about you out there? Odds are no one will ever see it or be able to find it. You would have to do something to bring yourself to their attention — which I highly recommend you not do.

Meanwhile, all the information gathering engines are busily gathering everything.

Everything is, practically speaking, identical to nothing. Your secrets are safe from everyone except companies who want to sell you stuff. They can always find you.

SKIMMING THE NEWS

We saw the two young (both 28-years-old) women  — Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin — who co-founded “The Skimm” on TV. Colbert, I think. Yup, Colbert. Garry was slightly outraged because he thinks everyone should read a newspaper and this is just one more step in the dumbing down of the news … and everything else. Cleanliness may be next to godliness, but being well-informed is godliness. If you don’t know what’s going on in the world, you cannot get into heaven.

(There will be a quiz at the gate. Spelling and punctuation count.)

Although I agree about the whole dumbing down thing, I also think you can’t reverse the way culture changes. You can become an old curmudgeon. You can join the ranters and ravers on social media, but it won’t stop change from happening. Especially since most people don’t regularly read a newspaper and aren’t going to start.

But. Many people try to keep in touch with current events and I believe more would if they could do it without investing a lot of time, money, or effort.

I was curious. Unlike Garry, I don’t read a newspaper. Haven’t in years. I read articles when something interests me. New Yorker articles more or less daily. Books (mostly audiobooks) constantly, though the literature I read is designed to keep me out of rather than in touch. I thought a one page news summary delivered to my inbox — especially if written with humor and style — might fit nicely into my world. Keep me sufficiently up-to-date so I don’t sound like Gary Johnson who didn’t know what or where Aleppo is (was?) … but would not require serious commitment to daily newspaper perusal.

I looked up The Skimm. I didn’t know how to spell it, but Google doesn’t care, they fix your spelling. It’s free, so I signed up. I signed Garry up too. Sneaky sneaky.

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And, it turns out, I like it. It’s well written. Pithy. Witty. Clever. Leans a little to the left, which works for me. I find myself looking for it. Looking forward to it. It’s not exactly a deep, analytical purview of the news, but it gives me an idea what’s happening and to and by whom it’s happening. A place to start if I’m interested.

Despite himself, Garry likes it too. He didn’t want to like it. Doesn’t entirely approve of it. I suspect he considers it cheating on some existential level, like reading the classic comic instead of the book. Nonetheless, he reads it. So, in case you’d like to give it a try, here’s a link for you to click: THE SKIMM SHARE LINK

classic-comics_no_01_three_musketeersNOTE: If you are young, you’ve probably never encountered a classic comic. Pity about that. You haven’t lived until you’ve read the comic book version of an assigned book and used it as the basis of a book report or essay. For which you got an A.

The Skimm gives prizes for sharing their link, by the way. However, no prize would make me write about it if I didn’t like it.

I’m enjoying it. I think you might, too. Not only do I feel a bit better informed in a general kind of way, but I get at least one good chuckle with each read — and it is no more than five minutes of my time.

I can spare five minutes for an overview of the news.

HIKING THE HALLWAYS OF MEMORY

HIKE | THE DAILY POST

Every night, I fill up my cup, grab my bag o’ medications, pet the puppies, and hike the hallway to the bedroom at the other end of the house.

After arriving, I put the bag where it belongs. Adjust the bed to its TV viewing angle. Turn on the television for Garry. He watches with headphones while I read or listen to an audiobook. I fire up my blue-tooth speaker.

BEDROOM SOUTH 7

I divide up the nighttime medications into two cups, his and mine. The cups are actually lids from medicine bottles, but I they are convenient. I put Garry’s  antihistamines in one, all my stuff in the other. My stuff includes the rest of my blood pressure meds plus whatever I’m taking to keep my arthritis from solidifying.

I never remember everything. I forget to turn off the fans in the living room pretty much every night. I sit on the edge of the bed trying to remember what I should have done but didn’t. “Ah,” I think. “Fans.” I hike to the living room. Turn off the fans. Pet the dogs. Assure them they are not getting another biscuit no matter how cute they are.

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Back down the hall. Brush teeth. Sit on the edge of the bed. Oh, right. I have to refill the antihistamine bottle. It’s empty. Back to the kitchen where the huge bottle is stored. Fending off the dogs, I amble back to the bedroom. I put the various medications in the little cups and get the nagging feeling I’ve forgotten something else. Like … I didn’t close the kitchen door. It’s a dutch door and we leave the top of it open during the day to catch the breeze. Tonight, it’s supposed to rain so I should close it.

Up the hall to the kitchen. Close door. Pet dogs. Back to bedroom.

Garry shows up, having done whatever it is he does for however long he does it in the bathroom. I hand him his two pills. He takes them and settles into watching highlights of the Sox game, followed by a movie or something. I turn on my book.

Forty-five minutes later, I’ve got a headache. I’m not sleepy and everything hurts. Why are my medications not working? There’s nothing more I can take. Panic is setting in.

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Which is when I realize all the pills are still in the cup. What with all the hiking up and down the hall, I never took them. Probably explains why they aren’t working.

I laughed. Continued laughing for a while. Garry took off his headphones long enough for me to explain why. I got to the punchline, he looked at me and said: “You hadn’t taken it, right? Yup, that’s classic.” He smiled. Nodded. Put the headphones back in place.

As our memory — collectively and individually — gets less dependable, we have substituted routines and calendars. I take one of my medications only once a week, so I have a calendar reminder. All appointments are on that calendar, Garry’s and mine, because otherwise, we will forget. No maybe. Forgetting has become normal.

If we do everything the same way at the same time every day, we’re much less likely to forget. Still, it can be pretty funny.

Yesterday, we were watching a show that included a dog. Garry assumes I know every dog breed at a glance. He’s right. I know the breeds, but these days, I may not remember its name. I will usually remember the group — guarding, herding, hunting, hound, terrier, non-sporting (“other”), toy. If I can remember that, I can go to the AKC site, find the group, scroll the list and find the dog. But they’ve changed the AKC website, so it’s not as easy as it used to be. I wish they’d stop fixing stuff that isn’t broken.

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I knew the dog that Garry was asking about was the same as the dog Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) had on his show. The dog’s name was Eddy. I remembered that. No problem. The breed name was on the edge of my brain, but not coming into focus. I gave up and Googled it.

Search for: “Breed of dog on Frasier TV show.”

Except I couldn’t remember the name of the TV show, either. So I first had to find the name of the show.

Search for: “long-running comedy on TV about psychiatrist.”

Up popped Frasier. Phew. I could have also found it by looking up that other long-running comedy, “Cheers,” in which Frasier first showed up as a character, but I couldn’t remember its name either.

One of these days, I’m going to have to Google my own name. I hope I find it.

BROADWAY MUSICAL MEMORIES by ELLIN CURLEY

When I hear songs from the past, I always remember them in context. I think about where I was when I first heard them or when I most often heard them. “Oldies” from the 60’s bring back images of doing homework in my bedroom with the radio on. Some songs conjure scenes of riding to or from school with friends and singing along with the radio.

I have always loved Broadway musicals and have been going to see them since childhood. Every show is frozen in time in my mind. My first musical was “Peter Pan” with Mary Martin. I was six and my five-year old friend had to be taken out of the theater because she was so terrified by Captain Hook.

I saw “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum” as a teenager with my parents, the night before my father had major cancer surgery (he survived and lived for many years).

baby-playbill

My favorite Broadway memory is seeing the show “Baby” when I was pregnant with my second child. The show follows several women who are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, just had a baby or just found out they can’t have children. I swear to God my daughter kicked for the first time in the middle of the show about pregnancy and babies! She has always loved musicals too, so maybe her connection to them started in utero!

Today, when we listen to our favorite radio channel, The Broadway channel on Sirius Radio, we reminisce about when we saw each show. We often argue about how old she was or what was going on in our lives when we saw this show or that show. She’s usually right.

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One of my all time favorite shows has followed me through the different stages of my life. I first saw Stephen Sondheim’s “Company” when it opened in 1970. I was in college and saw it with my parents. It was revived in 1990 and I saw it again as a young mother with my first husband. Another revival was produced in 2010. This time I was a middle-aged empty-nester and saw it with my second (and current) husband. I hope I’m around for the next 20-year anniversary production.

sound-of-music

Another show, “The Sound Of Music” has spanned the generations for me. I saw the original 1959 production, again starring Mary Martin when I was 10 years old. I became obsessed with the show and the music. I played the album endlessly. I can still sing all the songs. I read everything about the show and the cast and anxiously waited for the 1965 movie, with Julie Andrews as Maria Von Trapp. I became obsessed all over again.

Fast forward to the 1990’s. My daughter was around eight when I first played the movie for her at home. It was magical to see it through a child’s eyes again. She loved it so much we had to watch it over and over on the VCR. She too became obsessed with everything “Sound Of Music.” We even visited the real Von Trapp family resort in Vermont while we were skiing with the family. It is a love we still share. Someday I hope to share the same music with my grandchildren.

So when I listen to the Broadway radio channel, I’m not just listening to good music, or even familiar music. I’m taking a trip down memory lane. I’m reliving the wonderful time I’ve spent in Broadway and off-Broadway theaters over the years.

I don’t go to musical theater as often any more, in part because ticket prices have become so outrageously expensive. But my memories of songs, shows and theatrical experiences are as strong and happy as ever.

LATE MIDSUMMER MURDER MYSTERY by GARRY ARMSTRONG

THIS IS FICTION! NOT TRUE. A STORY. NOT A REAL EVENT.

Homage to MidSomer Murders from Garry Armstrong, the show’s current number one fan. And with a nod  and a wink to Sunset Boulevard and Philip Marlowe. On the occasion of our granddaughter’s 20th birthday, a lovely little murder.

Photographs (mostly) by Marilyn Armstrong,  except for the first one, which is Garry’s, aka “The Victim.”


Shock waves are still reverberating throughout our pastoral valley. Some call it a loss of innocence for this small town. Usually, the biggest news is about roadwork tying up traffic on main street. Burglaries or car break-ins top the police blotter. No one worries about big city violence. Everyone knows everybody. It’s that kind of town.

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My granddaughter’s birthday party murder was the game changer!

State police are still sifting through the testimony of party guests. Records are being checked for previous criminal activity. Cold cases are being unwrapped, searching for clues or patterns.

The honored guest

The honored guest

Reviewing party guests, no one stands out as an obvious suspect. Everyone seems pleasant, amiable. Perhaps not overly friendly, but polite and civil. No blatant hostility was evident. No obvious suspects stand out from the crowd.


THE SUSPECTS

Profilers are looking at the gathering, breaking them down into age groups and backgrounds. Motive is the big question. Everyone is so vague in their answers. This case calls for someone with expertise.

And, that would be me. The victim. This is my case, my story. I will tell it best because it revolves around me. It always did, in life and now, in death.

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A retired, award-winning TV News reporter, I was checking out suspicious things before my demise that warm summer’s day. Now I know it was no coincidence, but at the time, I was bemused by the variety of possible weapons I found in the shed. All so readily available to anyone with a grudge and an opportunity to commit murder.

I’d covered so many murders in my forty plus years on the job, I knew something was amiss. Something was strange, wrong. Creepy. Unfortunately, I was right. Pity I didn’t realize the object was … me.

I didn’t say anything to anyone. It was pleasant party. I hoped we could avoid family squabbles and enjoy the festivities and go home with nothing more than mild indigestion to deal with. Everyone was focused on food. Hot dogs, burgers, salad, coke and beer. Good stuff. Classic American cuisine.

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I was on my third or fourth hot dog. Feeling pretty good. I discreetly eyed the other guests, trying to put those weapons I’d seen out of my mind. Conversation was light. Restrained. Most guests kept their distance. Something was amiss, but I couldn’t put my finger on precisely what.

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It fell on me to make some toasts, I suppose because of my professional background. I looked at the faces as I offered some light banter. No one seemed offended — but no one really laughed. I must’ve touched someone’s hot button — but who?

I turned around to get some water. I felt a whack on the back of my head. The world went blank.

The Victim!

The Victim!

On the ground unable to move, I could still hear the people gathered around me. I hoped someone was calling for help, but it seemed everyone was taking pictures — of me — or selfies with my body as background.

I heard giggles and laughter. Then nothing. Nothing but The Big Sleep.


To be continued … as soon as we figure out what happens next!

And since that was indeed a gather together of friends and family in celebration …

The Daily Post | Together

SATURDAY SCOTTIES

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What happens when you’ve got a couple of cute Scottish Terriers, lots of cameras, and the sun is shining?

In memory of biscuits past ...

In memory of biscuits past …

Photography! Pictures of (you guessed it) Scottish Terriers. Bonnie and Gibbs, on a Saturday in September. Obviously exhausted from a hard day of cadging biscuits and battling throw cushions.

Note the open eye. He does not sleep. He is watching. Thinking.

Note the open eye. He does not sleep. He is watching. Thinking.

It’s a hard life, but someone’s gotta do it.

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HUNTING THE PERFECT COMPUTER AND COMING ATTRACTIONS

It was our anniversary yesterday. I didn’t spend the day reading blogs and writing. Instead, I goofed off.

We went out to dinner. After we came home, I didn’t start putting together a post for today. I did put together something special for Saturday. Garry wrote it. I did most of the photography (and all of the processing … but I always do all the processing). It’s fiction and funny. It sure made us laugh. And we had a lot of fun putting it together. It took much more work than most of our posts and far more planning that either of us is usually willing to do. So it will be up solo (!!) on Saturday. Hope you like it.

It’s fiction. Those of you who know old movies will recognize bits of  Sunset Boulevard peeking through.

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I spent the rest of the day not buying a new computer. I know I’ll have to buy something eventually, but I not sure what I need or want.

I’m not thrilled with Windows 10. I’m less than happy with the road Microsoft has been taking for several years. I’m least happy with their requiring you to take all update downloads automatically. I have not had good experiences with automatic updates and I’m reluctant to  surrender control of my computer.

On the other hand, I’m pretty sure Apple invented the word “proprietary” and having owned lots of Apple computers and other devices over the course of my life in technology, I’m not sure they would be a better choice. Just … different.

Most Apple computers I’ve looked at seem under-powered and over-priced. The tech support people are snobs. Sorry, but they are. Every time I have had to deal with them, I wanted to whack them.

After a lot of browsing, I’ve found a couple of computers I like. One is an Asus, the other is by MSI. Neither is a company with which I’ve previously dealt. The machines are priced right and have impressive specs. Both also have well-documented issues: Hinges and build quality on the Asus, and getting too hot to handle and weird software glitches on the MSI.

alienware side view computer

I have always found Dell/Alienware to be solid, long-lasting machines that work perfectly right out of the box. But — they are expensive. Almost all of them cost at least 25% more than equivalent machines made by other companies, yet maybe they are worth it. Every Dell I’ve owned has continued to run when other computers are buried in a landfill. Most are still running and essentially problem free many years later. I’ve moved up and on, but my former computers are running fine for people who aren’t Photoshop users. And don’t have a strong preference for listening to audiobooks while processing photographs, which is what finally forced me to get this machine. Discrete graphics makes a huge difference.

I’m putting computers on wish lists, hoping something will pop, be the perfect combination of specs, build quality, and price.

Until I find whatever, I’m looking, not buying. I’m open to suggestions and would appreciate them. Although I’m not a gamer, I’m addicted to having a computer that will do everything — at the same time. Fast. And never, ever crash.