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.

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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.

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.

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.

RECHARGING EVERYTHING

Everything — or nearly everything — runs on batteries. Rechargeable batteries. Laptops, tablets, Kindles, cellphone, headphones, cameras, mouses (mice have fur and make squeaky noises, mouses attach to your computer using USB transmission), GPS, clocks, flashlights, remote controls, electric razors, tooth cleaning machines, and a mind-numbing array of other small electronic devices I can’t remember until I need them. Even our bed has a remote control … and it runs on four rechargeable AAA batteries.

Charge!

To keep the world running, I have to charge things that recharge and keep a stack of AAA and AA rechargeable batteries ready to go.

I have never lived in a house that had enough electrical outlets for things like lamps and televisions, but with all these chargers to accommodate, I own big power strips. Everywhere you look, and in many places you would never think to look, in every room, power strips keep the chargers charging and other electrical devices functioning. The strips range from high-end hubs with surge protection to whatever was on sale at Walmart when I needed a power strip. Every strip is as full as the size and shape the chargers allow.

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Power strips are mostly designed by people who don’t use them. I have come to this conclusion based on the stupid design that presumes you will never have anything larger than a lamp plug that needs a socket. Not even a vacuum cleaner cord fits properly, much less a laptop power supply.

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No room is left on either side that would make it possible to fit more than two or three chargers in a strip theoretically designed for half a dozen plugs. There’s no allowance for odd-shaped power supplies that will use half a strip.

I don’t understand why chargers have to be so inconveniently shaped, or why they can never make a 3-pronged plug that will fit into an outlet without a fight. Why do most chargers require that you insert them at the end of the strip. No one ever seems to consider that there are only two “ends” and only one without a cord in the way. There’s some kind of Murphy’s Law that say if you are going to need two wall outlets, both devices will need to be on top or on the bottom.

I have 2 electrical sockets in the bathroom and 3 devices that require electricity. Fortunately, I never use more than one at a time because only one will fit. The other socket is unusable. One charger blocks both outlets. Always.

black and white wires power lines

I don’t typically notice how dependent we are on batteries until I’m packing for vacation. An entire carry-on is allocated to chargers and batteries and that’s just for stuff we use while we travel: laptops, accessories, Kindles, phone, mouses, etc. I used to pack this stuff carefully. Now I just shove the chargers and wires in a bag and untangle as needed.

If you think our civilization will endure, remember this. In fact, given the scandal of the exploding Samsung Galaxy Note 7 batteries, it’s surprisingly timely.

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Our world depends on electronics and those gadgets are dependent on batteries. All which need to be recharged. From an electrical outlet. Without electricity and batteries, life as we know it would end in about two weeks. A month maximum. After that?

Our society would disintegrate, becoming a jungle in which every person will fight to the death for a working battery.

RECHARGE | THE DAILY POST

THE SAME. BUT LOUDER.

There’s a major kerfuffle about the new iPhone 7. I am not an iPhone fan. We’ve owned them, both the four and the five and were underwhelmed. We were much happier back when we could use a Blackberry, a mobile phone that was designed to be used as an actual telephone. You know, with sound you could hear. Even a real keyboard. Since the end of the Blackberry, it has been downhill. Our current phone, a Samsung Galaxy that we picked entirely based on the quality of its sound, is okay. It works and does what we need to do with it. I’m not in love with it, but I’m satisfied that it was almost worth the ridiculous amount it cost.

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Which is less than half what the new iPhone 7 will cost.

So what are the new upgrades that make it so special? They dumped the analog earphone jack which everyone used to listen to music. They have, instead, put in another speaker. Which, my good friend the audio engineer says will make its tinny sound louder, but not better. On a more positive note, it will force buyers of the new iPhone to get those expensive blue-tooth earphones which, at $150 a pop, should add a nice pop to Apple’s bottom line.

They have also (finally) made it water-resistant. You can drop it in the toilet, pull it out and go right back to sticking it on your face. What could possibly go wrong with that?

It is heartwarming to see how corporations “get” us and respond to our needs, isn’t it? Have you ordered your iPhone 7 yet? Don’t forget to buy those new blue-tooth earphones! You’re going to need them.

EVIL SQUIRREL’S NEST COMIC #225 — 8/18/16

Since today is all about cell phones, somehow, this seemed the perfect companion to the fantastic, new iPhone 7 announcement!

Please visit Evil Squirrel’s Nest for lots more cool and usually hilarious stuff!!


See the rest of the story and other stories & comics: Evil Squirrel’s Nest Comic #225 – 8/18/16

THE DAY I (PERSONALLY) TOOK THE MACHINES DOWN

ADVENTURES IN UPGRADES, PART WHATEVER

Garry wrote how the patrons of our local grocery store went into shock when the debit and credit card readers stopped working. The lost, hopeless, dead eyes. Cash? Checks? What? I don’t understand?

Read it here: THE DAY THE MACHINES WENT DOWN

Yesterday was even more special because I personally took the machines down. With a lot of help from Bank of America. Our bank. Probably the biggest bank in the country, whose local Uxbridge branch is where we conduct business. It’s across the parking lot from our favorite grocery store.

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Hannaford is not the biggest local supermarket. Its selection tends to be a bit whimsical. Just because you could find the Asian Sesame dressing last week does not mean you will ever see it on the shelves again. We have adjusted. I think of it the way I used to think of seasonal vegetables when I lived in Israel. You could get anything — in season. Otherwise, you ate something else. Adjusting ones life and eating habits to the rhythm of the earth and its crops. Or, in this case, to whoever stocks the grocery shelves.

I awoke yesterday to the realization we were out of food and this is Labor Day weekend. If we didn’t shop today, the shelves would be empty. On Monday, the store would be closed.

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So, after the clock’s hand had slid past three o’clock when road construction in town ends, we took to the road. It’s just about 3 miles to town. Two lanes. No wider than it has to be.

I have to backtrack briefly. BOA has been “upgrading” debit cards to include a security chip. They notify you they are going to replace your card. When you receive it in the mail, you must activate it, sign it, and cut up the old one because it will no longer work.

I’m as geeky as the next techno-junkie yet I am highly dubious about “security enhancements” by banks. I have seen how very wrong they can go. Regardless, I had no choice. My card arrived a week. I followed instructions.

Garry has been spared this “upgrade.” Overlooked? Whatever the reason, he is happy to do what he has always done. It works, no problems. Bank of America has had its servers hacked several times (it was on the news, everywhere). The bank is more of a security risk than we are. But I digress (again).

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Going into town took a long time. Although the road repair guys had gone home, the people building the new fire station had not stopped work. And the school buses are back, too.

Worst of all, a cop was directing traffic. Apparently in cop school, they teach them to let every single car going one way through the construction zone until finally, when not a single car can be seen, they let the other lane start moving. By this time, there’s a mile of backed up cars to clear. When there’s no cop, drivers work it out for themselves and while it may slow down, there is no massive traffic jam.

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We finally got to the store. Parked. Went in. Fresh, local corn has arrived. Oh yum. I bought some. Bought stuff for dinner. Got some fresh veggies. Got some swordfish. Frozen shrimp. Did not buy lobster, even though they were on sale. Picked up everything on the list except frozen pizza. And headed for the checkout.

Not bad for a Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend. And then, it was time to pay. I took out my brand, new chip-enabled secure debit card and pushed it into the reader … which immediately cancelled the transaction and told me I had removed my card too quickly. My card was still IN the machine.

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The young woman at the register took a deep breath, reinstated the transaction, and in went my new, secure debit card. Again. This time, it cancelled the transaction, said there’d been an error and I had removed my card (still in the machine) too fast. The register froze. The folks behind me in line were pretty nice about it. No one pulled a gun.

They got other registers working and everyone migrated to other aisles. Except us. Because we were already in this register and they had to reboot it to get it unfrozen.

“It’s not my fault,” I whimpered. “They said I had to get this new card with the chip.” Which was true, so I don’t know why everyone was mad at me.

“Feel free to get mad at Bank of America. They’re just over there,” I said, pointing to the other side of the parking lot. “Tell them!”

When the machines came back up, Garry used his card, the one without the chip.

Finally, we went home. I called the bank and was put on hold. I put the phone on speaker and left it to its own devices expecting I’d eventually hear a “How can we help you.” An hour later, it was still playing drippy muzak.

I tried a different number. Same message, but different muzak. I tried the local bank site. All the chat people were engaged. They suggested I try later. Their email was also down. By now, I was getting a feeling there was more going wrong at Bank of America than a bad chip in my debit card.

Finally … almost three hours after I first called, I got a “live chat” person on line. Bianca. Hello Bianca. My new debit card with the fancy chip technology isn’t working.

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“We have a note that you entered an incorrect PIN earlier today.”

“I was never asked for my PIN. It cancelled my transaction and told me my card had been removed too fast, but the card was still in the machine.”

“I can send you a PIN reminder.”

“I know my PIN. It’s the  card. It also froze the store register. Everyone on line had to go somewhere else to check out. Take responsibility. This is a bank problem.”

“Chip technology is going to be everywhere. We are no longer issuing debit cards without chips.”

“Then send me a card with a chip that works. Like test it before sending it to me?”

We went back and forth for a while. They are sending me a new card. With a new chip. Which, presumably, will work. Given that not only did the chip fail, but BOA was unavailable for hours, I bet BOA had a system failure. Since they’ll never tell you what’s really going on, all of this was a smokescreen to avoid having to say “the bank is experiencing server problems.”

Their server problems turned this into the day I took down the machines at Hannaford. Just because I live in a small town, doesn’t mean we don’t have adventures.

I’m probably going to become a local legend.


POSTSCRIPT: Bank Of America’s servers were in fact down pretty much all day yesterday. Not the first time, by any means and very likely, not the last time, either. Why do they persist in lying about it? It doesn’t make the problem go away. Would it really make the situation worse to admit the bank’s servers are being “upgraded” (or whatever they are doing) and tell us our cards aren’t working because they are effectively offline?