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.

 

google is watching you

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.

drone spy

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.

THE SCARIEST THING

I was terrified.

Was it a big hairy spider? A home invader? A tornado? A threatened lawsuit? A burst pipe? A volcanic eruption (in New England, that would really be something else!) … ?

No. My computer refused to boot. It got to the “welcome” screen then just sat there. Going around and around and around. It has never done that. It was fine when we left to go to the grocery store. No blue screens of death or anything at all. It was computering along uncomplaining. Fine, thank you.

But. It. Would. Not. Boot.

I put it in “safe mode with networking” and restored it to the last save point … two days ago. And now, it’s fine again. No idea what happened except for a tiny, brief message that said “new drivers installed” then vanished — this while it was in “safe mode.” What drivers? I didn’t install any new equipment and the only driver I regularly upgrade is for my graphics card.

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So I have no idea what happened, but my heart is pounding and I’ve got a headache. I think my blood pressure just went into the stratosphere.

Although the computer is essential to my life, in fact everything on it would be easy enough to restore. Photographs and documents are safely stored on two external hard drives. My virtual life is on various clouds somewhere out in the Ether World — WordPress, Google, the bank, Amazon and probably a few others I can’t think of offhand. Other than Photoshop which I have on DVD, all my software is easy enough to replace by downloading.  Yet having my computer not boot filled me with dread and a horrible feeling of powerlessness. I think I’m less afraid of spiders … and that’s saying something because I’m really phobic about arachnids.

I will never know what happened. A virus? A bad download? Nothing is supposed to download to this system without my permission. It’s one of the reasons I don’t like Windows 10. You can’t turn off automatic downloads. I hate when things happen and I have no control over them.

If I wasn’t sure how important my computer is in my world, this absolutely showed me the bare, ugly truth. I need my computer like I need air. How did it come to this?

And wasn’t it a long way down.

ELEGANT SOLUTIONS?

According to the dictionary, an elegant solution is as follows:

“Refinement and simplicity are implied, rather than fussiness, or ostentation. An elegant solution, often referred to in relation to problems in disciplines such as mathematics, engineering, and programming, is one in which the maximum desired effect is achieved with the smallest, or simplest effort.”

I’m all about elegant solutions. I would add “least expensive” to “smallest, or simplest” because for me, elegant includes not having to buy it on credit.

Today, my elegant solution was delivered from the Microsoft store.

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It is a NuVision 32GB Windows 10 tablet. It cost (minimally on sale) $99 with free shipping.

I need some kind of compact tablet that can do email, a bit of blogging, and make an occasional typo correction. And listen to audiobooks. Not just the audiobooks in my library — all you can do on a Kindle.

I am one a judge for the Audies, kind of the Emmys for audiobooks. The genre I’m judging varies from year to year, but books for judges live in a separate judges library. Which I can’t get to using my Kindle. I can, of course, get there on this laptop, but I don’t always want to haul the whole laptop with me to listen to a book.

I looked at the iPad Mini, but that’s a lot of money for something I am not going to use a lot. I looked at the Galaxy S and liked it, but it’s also pricey. There are full size computers available for the same (sometimes lower) prices. I was all set to order the Galaxy because I also have a Galaxy phone and the two would be able to communicate … and I know how the system works, more or less.

Then, I saw this. The NuVision Windows 10 tablet. I wanted to give Win10 a run anyway and see if I can live with it. Because if I can’t, my next computer will be a Mac. Yeah, I know, but Microsoft is going in directions I don’t like, making everything proprietary. Meanwhile, this tablet has all the stuff you expect a tablet to have … except the big price tag. My kind of elegant solution.

The Windows 8 and 10 user interfaces are butt ugly. From a design point of view, I don’t think there’s a less attractive user interface anywhere. It’s also awkward and counter-intuitive. Win10 is not quite as awful as Win8, but Windows 7 is so much better in every way. I still don’t understand why they are off in this direction and why, even in this direction, they can’t make the interface smoother, more intuitive, and easier to understand. And less ugly.

There are also nasty rumors about Microsoft’s plans to make using their operating system a “rental” rather than letting you own it. I flat-out will not do it. I refuse. That’s my line in the sand.

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So, for now, my elegant solution is an 8″ Windows 10 NuVision tablet that — much to my surprise — works. After it finished installing updates, it settled down and did whatever I want. Cortana, the assistant … well. It think it’s  the replacement for Clippie, the aggravating know-it-all dancing paperclip. And about as useful.

The Win10 interface is not happy on an 8″ screen. It wants more real estate. However. With some sleight of hand and on-screen juggling, you can get it to do what you want. I’m sure with a bit more practice, I’ll be doing everything without any conscious thought.

I also managed to pair a small blue-tooth speaker to it. I’ve had this speaker for a while. It would not pair with my computer. Absolutely would not recognize it as a computer. Insisted it’s a pair of headphones and remained silent. It also thinks the tablet is a pair of headphones, but it plays anyhow. Which is fortunate because whatever it is that passes for speakers in this tablet should be ashamed of themselves.

I’m pretty sure this will do the job I need done and let me see if I can live with this operating system. I’m not ready to give it a thumbs up or down yet, though i will say that for $99, this is a nice little tablet. It has pretty much everything you want a tablet to have (except usable speakers). Nice screen resolution. No one makes a proper case for it, but for the price, I’ll live without one.

The virtual keyboard is much more responsive than the one on any of my Kindles or my phone and praise the lord … there’s NO AUTOCORRECT!

I’ll let you know how it goes.

ELEGANT | THE DAILY POST

WRESTLING WITH THE COMPUTER

I spent a day and a night in mortal combat with my computer. It wasn’t my computer’s fault. It was some update that caused something else to malfunction. Like a house of cards, it just went down and stayed down. Wouldn’t boot, wouldn’t tell me what the problem was. Finally, I managed to grab the last few digits of the blue-screen message and determined the area of the problem was graphics, coaxed the computer into backing up to a time before the “update,” and everything began to settle down.

As I near the end of the “free installation” period for Windows 10, Microsoft has become ever more strident in its determination to install it, including trying to install it without my permission.

windows 10

Which doesn’t work. It just errors out and makes a mess. This computer with its fancy shmantzy graphics card doesn’t run properly with Windows 10. It slows to a crawl, loses it’s file structure. I’ve attempted to install it four times and gotten fatal errors. It either crashed and would not recover, or it recovered, but was inoperable after a reboot. Enough being enough, I decided I’m fine with Windows 7.

I’ll be glad when the “free installation” period is over and I can stop worrying about sneak attacks on my operating system.

Technically, nothing can install without my permission. My settings decree I have to start an update before anything installs. But Microsoft seems to have found a way around my settings. To keep my computer working the way I want it, I turn it OFF unless I am sitting in front of it. This is inconvenient, but not as inconvenient as having Windows 10 trying to install itself while I am in the shower.

I’m hoping I’ve got it back on track now. These wrestling matches with the operating system are no fun and I absolutely do not want to have to replace this computer. Not only do I not have the money, but I’m happy with this computer. I don’t want the hassles that go with setting up a new one — especially using a different operating system.

I think I’m back. So far, so good.

TOO MANY BUTTONS

Some months ago, I bought a refurbished (read “used”) Olympus OM-D E-M5. I don’t think anyone ever really used it as a camera. Maybe it was a store demo or something like that, but it had all the plastic wrap still on it, so it was new. Except the there’s a newer version of it out, so probably this is one of the ways to offload leftovers of the previous model.

One of the things it didn’t come with is the User’s Guide. It came with no documentation at all, actually and an after-market battery charger.

I haven’t used the camera much. I haven’t been outside much or taken many pictures, so mostly, it’s has been waiting for spring when my interest in photography usually revives.

OM-D-E-M5

This also means that I am not as comfortable using this camera as I am other cameras. In fact, because it came without documentation and it’s got a lot of dials and buttons, I’ve been shying away from it. But. You don’t learn to use a camera by not using the camera.

Today dawned beautiful. The sun was shining, the sky was bright blue and the air was sweet and warm. Garry said “Let’s go.” I grabbed my Olympus OM-D E-M5 and off we went to River Bend. We exited the car and we went our separate ways.

I had decided to begin using the f1.8 25mm “normal” lens. It’s very sharp and has a lens hood, good for shooting on such a bright day.

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I took a few more shots then decided to change to my 14-150 telephoto. Except something happened. After I changed lenses, I couldn’t see anything in the LCD screen. It was dark and for once, it wasn’t because I forgot to remove the lens cap.

I got my hyper-ventilation and panic reaction under control and looked through the viewfinder. I could see through it. See the menu settings too. Which meant my camera was working. This could mean only one thing: I had inadvertently, accidentally, unintentionally, and unknowingly pushed a button.

I had no idea what button I’d pushed. No idea where to look for it. Before I’d done whatever I’d done, the camera had been automatically switching between viewfinder and LCD screen. But I had done something.

Eventually, I found a tiny button near the collar of the lens. I pressed it. The picture returned to the LCD screen. All was right with the world. This is not the first time or the first camera on which a previously undetected button got pushed with disastrous results.

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There are too many buttons. On everything. Cameras. Televisions. Remote controls. Computers. Tablets.  Telephones. Convection ovens. Too many settings for software. Too much. Of everything.

I wanted to buy a rice cooker that cooks rice. I don’t need it to also bake cakes, steam fish, and do my laundry. Just cook rice. White rice. It cost me more to get a rice cooker that does this one thing well, than to buy something with 13 configurable programs to all kinds of stuff I will never want or need.

I understand to sell things, you have to improve them. After all, who would buy a new version of Photoshop if it’s exactly the same as the one you already own? So, for good or ill, you have to change stuff.

But I didn’t buy my Olympus OM-D for its bells, whistles, or little buttons. I bought it because it’s water-resistant, fast, has great resolution, a bigger sensor … and at long last, a built-in viewfinder, something for which Olympus users have been yearning since forever.

72-canal-042716_045.jpg April 27, 2016

All those extra bells, whistles, and buttons are not a sales plus for me. Do you even know what the menu options in your various system menus mean? What all those buttons do? Or even where to find them?  There are too many buttons. Too many options.

Maybe the next upgrade to our equipment will be … (wait for it) … simplicity. Now that’s an upgrade I would embrace.

MISPLACED, NOT LOST

I sat here last night. Pondering the differences between this computer which runs Windows 7 Professional and all my other computers which run Windows 7 Home Premium. That was the precise moment I realized I had not the slightest idea where I’d put the system disks for this computer.

It was alarming. I next realized I’d no idea where I put the system disk for the version of Windows 7 installed the other laptop and was a bit hazy on where to locate disks for any of computer.

side view alienware closeup computer

I have every version of Quicken I ever bought — a lot of Quickens — but I no longer use Quicken. I do know where I keep my DVDs for Photoshop which is good because Adobe only sells their products online these days. I found more than half a dozen versions of Scrabble, but none will run on this system.

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Sometime around midnight, I went into a frenzy of searching for the system disks for this computer because I doubt they are replaceable. Garry found them. Sitting, half-buried, on the keyboard of the electric organ. Which no one plays because it doesn’t work.

So many computers have come and gone, I have system software for computers that left my possession years ago. I’m not sure what “Garry’s 14Z” means, because at some point, his 14Z was reloaded and I gave him my 14z. After repair, what had been his 14Z became my “spare laptop,” the one I use to listen to audiobooks as I fall asleep and that was replaced by a big Kindle. So what, exactly, does “Garry’s 14Z” mean? Anything?

my office and desktop computer

I have every version of old software I ever used. Manuals too. Empty boxes for each camera I bought. A lot of cameras. A lot of boxes. Empty Kindle boxes back to the first keyboard Kindle I owned.

I finally dumped the boxes of floppy disks which I have no way to read. I’ve kept CDs of documents and photos going back more than a decade, even though I have the same stuff on external hard drives. Who knows how long before CDs can’t be read anymore? I haven’t tried to read them in a long time, so I don’t know if even now the data is usable. Much of technology is faith-based.

Everything is “somewhere.” Nothing is lost. It’s just … misplaced. Sometimes permanently.

Misplaced

A NEW LOOK FOR SERENDIPITY

I have changed the look of Serendipity. Again. I am pretty sure I’ve gone through at least a dozen templates since I started blogging more than four years ago.

Why? Because I’ve had a series of issues for the last three or four months. Some minor ones, others not so minor. All of them required intervention which, to WordPress’s credit, they have worked through and fixed.

I am convinced at least some of them are glitches connected to the Wilson theme I have been using. This isn’t the first time I’ve had a template “go sour.”  I have a theory about this. I cannot prove it, but I believe it’s true.

UNTITLED

WordPress is forever messing around with their software. These changes affect not only what they intend, but have many unintended “side effects.” Like the way the new software affects individual template functions. They don’t do much (any?) beta testing. Like so many other big software companies, they make changes, throw the new version out to customers and let us find the problems for them.

I hate this casual attitude toward properly testing software. I resent it as do most serious technology users. But apparently testing new versions of software is not included in the development budget. Plenty of money to develop and not one cent for testing. Aggravating.

So, after I’ve been using a theme for a few months, glitches start appearing. It’s like playing Whack-a-Mole. You smack one problem down, another pops up. You whack that one over the head and out of the game, and three more spring from holes in the ground.

After a while, you figure “Okay, time to change games.” Or, in this case, templates.

This theme is “Untitled” and it displays pictures well and large. I’m not sure I like the way it handles text, but I will give it a chance. There are a lot of templates. I haven’t tried all of them. Yet.