Category Archives: Communications

I Feel Like a Number

Numbers - Dr. Odd

I read a couple of things recently that made me feel like a number. The shorter of the two was “The Master’s Tools” by Arielle Pardes, which appeared in Wired 28.18. (I’ve been reading Wired for years and just realized that they don’t use months to mark their issues.) The other is the book Mindf*ck: Cambridge Analytica and the Plot to Break America by Christopher Wylie.

Both detail how the seemingly innocent trail of Internet data we leave behind can be used by politicians to aim targeted messages at the most receptive audiences.

In a nutshell, the political message to a white, Catholic gunowner who lives on a farm is most effective if it is crafted differently from the one for a black professional who lives in a city. Facebook is one of the prime sources for the data that allows politicians–and other businesses–to slice and dice people and tell them what they want to hear.

Even if the message is not blatantly misleading, there’s something wrong with the inability to tell every voter the same thing.

I avoid Facebook and many other social media platforms because I do not want all kinds of information collected about me and sold to people who want to sell me something. I don’t like being a target.

Back in 1978, Bob Seger wrote the song, “I Feel Like a Number.” I thought I understood it then. I really understand it now. [Link to lyrics and audio]

Thanks for the warning, Bob.

FUD

I spent almost a decade working for a major medical equipment manufacturer. that made and sold products like CT and MRI scanners. These came with price tags in the millions of dollars, so competition was fierce, and customers wanted to make the best possible decision as to the best product.

Our most significant competitor was General Electric whose products were very good. Picker International, the company I worked for, would often be the first to introduce new technology. We used to joke that sometimes that the leading edge was actually the “bleeding edge.” GE might have lagged behind, but by doing so, they were able to observe and then develop a competitive, yet more mature product.

One of the sales tactics we often faced was referred to as FUD–Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. Competitors would ask customers if they were sure that the new technology would work. What if this or what if that? Our biggest competitor could end their sales pitch with the following statement:

No one ever got fired for buying GE.

The statement was true. However, I don’t know of any case in which someone got fired for buying a GE competitor. Nevertheless, this the argument carried a lot of weight and was difficult to counter because it is impossible to prove or disprove a negative.

FUD is a powerful persuader that is not dependent on specific, proven facts.

Now that you know what FUD is, look for it in today’s political rhetoric

Anti-Social Media

In the early days of the Internet, its primary users were academics who saw it as a forum for the free exchange of ideas. As such, it was afforded some legal protection by Section 230, which says:

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

That’s Section 230 in its entirety—short, sweet, straightforward. However, as we know, no good deed goes unpunished. Today, much of the internet is used as to present falsehoods, launch attacks, conduct illegal transactions, etc. all while remaining anonymous.

Why? Section 230 treats “interactive computer services” as conduits, like telephone companies. The phone company (supposedly) neither knows nor cares about what you say on the phone. On the other hand, newspapers, radio, and television must adhere to certain guidelines. For example, they cannot broadcast the tone used by the National Weather Service for emergencies unless it’s either an emergency or a clearly identified test. Likewise, certain language is prohibited.

The infamous website Backpage, protected by Section 230 until it was shut down, acted as a link for sex—including sex with minors. How many of these “sex workers” were, in fact, victims of human trafficking?

So, what’s the difference between communication and content providers? I see at least two major differences:

  • Telephone conversations are between two people or, in the case of a conference call, to a group of people who choose to participate. In any case, the audience is limited in some manner.
  • Mass media, like newspapers, radio, and television are intended to be available to anyone.

To my mind, social media are, today, more like mass media. In fact, I don’t see a fundamental difference. So why aren’t they regulated like other mass media?

Money.

The owners of social media have made so much money that I believe it is unlikely, if not impossible, for any control to be imposed.

When I write a blog, even when I’m aggressively challenging someone’s position, I endeavor to write factually, civilly, and coherently. I hope someday, this will be the norm. With Section 230 in place, this is unlikely.

How About a Little Reality?

(Typing one-handed–sorry)

A million years ago, when I was in uniform, if there was a threat, I expected immediate notification of whatever was 1) known, and 2) expected. My Sailors knew, far better than me, what was important. Their experience and expertise allowed me to coordinate efforts to support them. They were better at their jobs, thank God, than I was.

When a unit is being fired upon, when a squad is pinned down by a sniper, or a ship is taking on water, the facts–however ugly–are important. If the troops at a certain position are under attack, it doesn’t matter if they are calm. Reality is reality. If they have a reasonable view of the operational environment, they will do everything to succeed.

Some politicians worry about how events make people feel. I recommend that they worry more about giving people the information to make rational decisions. Adults who feel badly, unless personally affected, will be fine.

Being upset is better than being dead.

Today’s Cartoons

New! Series 2 LOL Dolls! - YouTube

Image courtesy YouTube

I grew up with cartoons that were leftover from the 1940s. There was Popeye fighting Nazis, Woody Woodpecker, and, of course, Looney Toons with Chuck Jones art and Mel Blanc voices.

The newest we had were Hannah Barbera products–the Flintstones, the Jetsons, Huckleberry Hound, etc. Television was only available during limited hours, ending with the playing of the National Anthem after the Tonight Show.

My granddaughters watch cartoons on cable. Cable cartoons are apparently like cable news (You get the picture). I can only watch about 30 seconds at a time, but as near as I can tell, they are all commercials all the time.

One they watched on their latest visit was LOL Dolls, which is apparently a Disney product. The entire program–based on the compilation of the aforementioned 30 second views–seemed to consist of hands opening up the various LOL products accompanied by manically enthusiastic girls’ voices.

My favorite (?!?) was the kitten character series, which come with various accessories, including a litter box. Children are expected to gleefully peel through simulated cat litter to find surprise toys that are hidden therein.

These cartoons are truly different than Popeye.

Luddite – Part Two

I actually did write this out in longhand with my Cross pen circa 1985 (75 percent off when I bought it), which I carried and wrote with through Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait. My article was barely legible to me, and if I scanned it, it’s too small to post, so I had to resort to the word processor.

When I was young, most cities had one or more newspapers. Toledo was ahead of its time, with two newspapers owned by the same company and printed on the same printing presses–much like many cities see today. The owner supposedly said that the biggest news was the Dempsey-Tunney boxing match of 1919 and if he had his way, it would stay the biggest news.

In any case, most newspapers published one major edition each day. Unlike in the movies, the editor screaming “Stop the presses!” was rare, as was newsboys in ill-fitting clothes and funny caps yelling, “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!.” There may have been an extra edition when President Kennedy was assassinated, but since that was early afternoon, it’s unlikely. The evening news was a half-hour (including commercials), as was the 11:00 PM news.

Today, we are bombarded 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year on multiple channels, news feeds, social media, etc., much of which is intended to draw you to click-bait, sell you hemorrhoid medicine, or miracle cures for erectile dysfunction. It’s all BREAKING NEWS that’s JUST IN.

I think the old style was better, thank you–one newspaper and 30 minute news programs.

Becoming a Luddite

I have always appreciated technology. I had one of the very first home computers (RCA Cosmac 1802 processor with 256 BYTES–yes, bytes–of memory and a hexadecimal keypad). At last count, I have five computers running in the house. That does not count smartphones, iPads, Kindles, or any devices belonging to other family members.

Every time I turn on the television, the radio, or check online news I get frustrated. It doesn’t matter your political views or whether you like masks or not. It doesn’t matter as to your religious views or lack thereof. The world has raised stupidity to an art form.

If I touch a hot stove, I immediately remove my hand and avoid the heated element. If I taste something nasty, I spit it out and don’t consume any more. If the news disgusts me . . . .

So, don’t expect me to be writing a lot. If I do, it will be written using a real fountain pen in my renowned, mostly illegible, chicken scratch.

COVID-19 Experiment

Effective today, 15 July 2020, hospitals and states have been directed to send their COVID-19 data directly to the CORONAVIRUS Task Force in the Department of Health and Human Services rather than the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention). In the past, these data were submitted via the National Healthcare Safety Network, which is a CDC online site, but the information from the Department of Health and Human Services specifically says:
“As of July 15,, 2020, hospitals should no longer report the Covid-19 information in this document to the National Healthcare Safety Network site.”

The instruction can be downloaded here.

It will be interesting to see if this does result in faster, more accurate data. As I’ve pointed out before, there seems to be a delay for COVID-19 data  from weekends. Maybe this will more accurately represent the timing of new cases and new deaths. This may be important if schools reopen next month.

As an experiment, below are graphs depicting the trend lines for new cases and new deaths. It will be interesting to see if the same tend continues. The data is obtained from Worldometer (link) and I began collecting on 24 May, so it represents about a month and a half of data.

New COVID-19 Cases

New COVID-19 Deaths

Visual or Text?

As I get older, I find things out about myself that I never realized before. They’re things that have been the same for all my life, but I just never noticed them.

For example, when I daydream, it isn’t all graphic. If I’m daydreaming about going on a boat trip, I may visualize water or even the deck of the boat. However, the main daydream is more like a script:

“The weather was calm that day. The waves were high enough to lap against the hull, but not enough to create any discomfort. The sun shone in a blue sky spotted with wispy cirrus clouds.”

I’m almost surprised that my brain soesn’t include stage and camera directions:

“Boat arrives from left. When it reaches center stage/screen, camera zooms in on small waves then pans up to people on deck shading eyes and looking forward.”

I guess it’s one of the hazards of  being a writer. Artists probably see pictures, but we writers see words.

As I sat and wrote this blog, I happened to look at the top of the WordPress screen. There are two tabs labeled “Visual” and “Text”. Maybe my perspective isn’t so unusual after all.

I Avoid Facebook

I’ve mentioned this before, but perhaps not in this detail.

I avoid Facebook. I have an account left over from years ago when I opened it to keep tabs what my kids were posting.

When I get friend requests, I’m sure many people feel I’m ignoring them. I’m not ignoring them. I’m ignoring Facebook.

Facebook allows anything anybody anywhere posts regardless of how much needless damage will be caused. Facebook is not responsible for erroneous, fake, or hateful posts by anonymous entities. I say entities because posters are not necessarily people–entities may be foreign agencies, spambots, or other human impersonators.

Why?

There is a law often referred to as Section 230. As I understand it, it says that internet interactive computer services, like Facebook, are not responsible for what gets posted. This law says that internet services are communications services, just like the telephone companies. Since no one controls what someone says on the telephone, Facebook and similar providers are not responsible for content. This is unlike newspapers, magazines, television, or radio.

So, the business model for Facebook is:

“Facebook has the right to collect massive amounts of monies from its advertisers without any limits. In exchange, Facebook has the obligation to collect massive amounts of monies from its advertisers without any limits.”

Don Vito Corleone would be green with envy.

Create meme "the godfather , vito corleone , Corleone ...

 

I’m Feeling Petty (or is it Petit?)

The Supreme Court of the United States grapples with many important issues and “hands down” their rulings. “Handing down” is meant to imply something like dealing with the gods on Mount Olympus.

However, I do wonder why, when nine of the greatest(?) legal minds are put together, why do they disagree so often? Why are so many decisions 5-4?

Oh.

Silly me.

Politics.

When I took business law in college, the professor advised us never to confuse justice with fairness. The judicial system, he explained, was not fair and was merely a mechanism to resolve disagreements without resorting to duels, trial by combat, or shootouts in the street at high noon.

A pity, as resolving disputes would be far more interesting with those methods. A good shootout would be interesting to watch. The Supreme Court? Not so much.

In any case, today the Supreme Court ruled that adding “.com” to any word makes that word+”.com” copyrightable. Therefore, I’m putting all of you on notice.

Be aware that sfnowak.com is copyrighted. Don’t try to steal it. It’s illegal to do so. The Supreme Court says so. Neener neener neener!

Besides, why in the world would you want to?

Success

When I was growing up, it was still possible—and often expected—that a young man would finish high school and get a factory job with one of the automotive companies in the area. Grandpa had worked there, Dad still did, and Junior would carry on the family tradition.

Success was having a decent wage, benefits, and a pension. It was expected that there were certain trade-offs, such as losing the occasional finger to a punch press or periodically taken from work to the hospital for stitches. The work was mind-numbingly repetitious, but that was just part and parcel of the process. It was okay, though, until manufacturing moved overseas or was automated.

For other people, the self-imposed standard is higher. People study music or art, practice their chosen mode of expression throwing themselves into it, heart and soul. Imagine, after years of study and dedication:

  • The musician finds that the culmination of his talent and effort provides music for telephone callers who are placed on hold.
  • The artist, skilled in a variety of visual techniques, from oil painting to sculpting, ends up producing billboard illustrations.
  • The young model who has posed for a variety of photographs, finds that one of them shows her face on the internet with the captions “All cheaters have one thing in common.”
  • The actor, after years of stage plays in high school, college, and off-off-Broadway finally makes it as a movie only to find that most of his time is spent repeat the same lame line over and over to allow for different camera angles, the reaction of other actors, etc.

I’m grateful for what life has given me, even though (especially?) I’m not in the spotlight.

George Floyd – Different Approaches, Different Results

If someone knelt on a dog’s neck for nine minutes in public, they’d most likely be arrested.

Kneeling on George Floyd’s neck until he died was wrong. Period. There should be no argument about that.

Floyd’s death, and the circumstances leading to it upset many people. Admit it, such a reaction is normal and to be expected.

What is surprising is that some people are not upset. Are they oblivious? Do they believe that this action should be accepted? Even with extensive videos of the incident and with the mayor of Minneapolis condemning it and firing the individuals responsible?

It is not rational to expect people to respond by writing a letter to the editor or calling their city officials. Floyd’s murder was a blatant disregard of human life, by an individual who apparently had a long history of abusing his authority–15 complaints in 18 years–and no telling how many unreported incidents of abuse.

The response in many cities has been to send in police wearing bulletproof vests, armed with M-16 rifles, in addition to their usual 9 mm sidearm, Taser, pepper spray, baton, blackjack, etc..

There is a reason that the Posse Comitatus law does not allow the US Military to engage in law enforcement, except for specific, and rare, situations. Unfortunately, city/county/state officials choose to militarize their police forces.

Based on observation of the results, heavily armed police do not seem to result in a peaceful resolution. In fact, so far, it hasn’t resulted in any resolution.

In Norfolk, VA, a peaceful demonstration was planned to block a road for nine minutes–the amount of time that the knee(s) were on Mr Floyd’s neck. They also peacefully assembled outside the Norfolk Police Department building.

Police Chief Larry Boone took a different course of action than his counterparts in other cities–he joined the protesters, holding a “Black Lives Matter” sign. He gets it. He’s employing communication instead of confrontation. Will this result in a peaceful resolution in the days or weeks ahead? No one knows, but there are a wider range of options available to the City of Norfolk than for most of the other cities.

Why did he do this? I don’t know his exact thoughts, but I suspect it was because he saw Mr. Floyd’s death as wrong. Dead wrong. Period.

I Told You So!

Back in my healthcare days, there was a general practice physician who delivered babies, which back then was still quite common. This was long before ultrasound could provide an image of sufficient clarity to determine sex, so the reveal didn’t occur until the baby was born.

Naturally, soon-to-be parents back then were as interested in knowing as much about their child as parents are today. This physician’s solution was to tell the mother during a routine prenatal visit that her baby was a boy. At the same time, he’d write in her chart “girl.”

After the birth, if it was a boy, he’d say, “I told you so.” If it was a girl, he’d show her the entry in the chart.

[If I had a clever segue, it would go here.]

I have been trying to avoid most of the alleged news–and that refers to every single outlet, from ABC to Zee in India because my blood pressure is high enough already, thank you. The news reports are:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic will be around for years if not centuries.
  • We’ll have a vaccination in a few months and COVID-19 will be obliterated.
  • Mail-in ballots suffer from voter fraud.
  • Some states have been using mail-in ballots with no problems; the President and his Press Secretary vote by mail and have done so for years..
  • The economy is great–look at the stock market.
  • The economy is terrible–look at unemployment.

Like that old doctor, I think the only thing to believe is the news media is positioning itself to be able to say, “I told you so.”

Life and Death

According to https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/, we’ve now experienced over 100,000 deaths. Our leaders response? They are too busy arguing among themselves, apparently for the sake of arguing.

It’s like someone in a swimming pool is drowning. The lifeguards do not act as they argue whether it is better to use the pool hook, a flotation device, or to jump in and help them.

They can’t agree, so the unfortunate individual drowns. The lifeguards then explain that whichever measure they would have chosen doesn’t matter, because the swimmer died anyway.

It Will Never Be a Movie

If the Coronavirus COVID-19 were a movie treatment, it probably never would get made. Look at the plot elements:

  1. A deadly disease begins in a faraway city known for both selling live exotic animals for food and for having a secret government lab.
  2. The disease is viral. Viruses, unlike bacteria, do not respond to antibiotics. Since a virus is not actually alive, it cannot be killed, only neutralized.
  3. The disease preferentially attacks the poor, minorities, the aged, females, and people with pre-existing medical problems.
  4. Some who are infected by the disease show no symptoms, but are carriers of the disease and can transmit it to others.
  5. Some of those infected exhibit flu-like symptoms, are misdiagnosed. The defining symptom, death, follows soon thereafter.
  6. Some adult patients show no obvious symptoms, except upon examination, it is discovered that their oxygen levels are dangerously low, which can lead to death.
  7. Children, at first were believed to be asymptomatic, later many develop a whole host of symptoms that are completely different from those experienced by adults.
  8. Politicians, faith healers, scammers, etc. seize the opportunity to amass wealth and/or power.
  9. Much of the protective equipment, drugs, and medical supplies needed to handle the disease are produced in the country from which the disease originated. Many US companies had moved manufacturing offshore to save money; there is insufficient manufacturing capacity in the US.
  10. Scientific experts advice is ignored while the Internet and other sources promote a variety of alleged cures, treatments, and religious talismans–none of which seem successful.
  11. There is insufficient capacity to test all suspected cases, so the number of people affected are likely under reported. Some cases are only diagnosed after death, when an autopsy is performed.
  12. State and local governments discourage people from engaging in activities that spread the disease, encourage the use of masks to protect others, and maintaining a six foot buffer between people.
  13. With workers unable to do their jobs, the economy suffers. People are laid off or lose their jobs.
  14. The number of confirmed cases in the US approaches 1.5 million confirmed cases, with nearly 90,000 deaths. These numbers only include patients who were tested or otherwise diagnosed.
  15. Some claim the disease is caused by a new cellular telephone system; others call it a hoax; still others see it as a conspiracy to restrict constitutional rights.
  16. Armed dissidents, encouraged by a variety of sources, protest the social distancing, stay-at-home orders at the state capitals, clustering in large groups, usually without masks.
  17. In the meantime, the country from which the disease arose and several of its allies launch cyberattacks on the US to steal medical secrets relating to healing or preventing the disease–and anything else they come across, once they get inside a computer.
  18. As US cases seem to slow their rate of growth, state and local governments relax social separation. People immediately return to pre-pandemic behaviors and the dissidents declare victory.

The screenplay ends here. The audience is left in limbo, unsure whether the disease is indeed winding down, or preparing for a second wave. Unsure as to the future of the economy.

As I said at the beginning, no studio would ever consider wasting time on a script for this scenario.

COVID-19 Fuss

I don’t know what all the fuss is about. Maybe I just look at things differently.

After years of working, spending five days each week lusting for weekends when I could be home.

I like being home.

Then there’s the mask thing. I’m not particularly grotesque, but, in my opinion, I look better with any type of mask than I do without. Bruce Wayne felt the same way.

So, what’s the fuss? Tell me what’s a happening.

It’s Not About You

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/77/Sneeze.JPG

“The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.”
                                                                                  – Oliver Wendell Holmes

Wearing a mask in public is not to protect the mask wearer from germs. It’s to keep germs from being transmitted to others. COVID-19 is a respiratory disease and is contracted by inhaling the virus.

A sneeze is a veritable biological weapon. Whatever is in your mouth and nasal system is sprayed as an aerosol, covering an area well beyond the social distance of six feet. In fact, it appears to be well over 20 feet. The droplets can remain suspended in the air for several minutes When they settle, pathogens are deposited on surfaces with a virus that can last up to several days.

National Geographic has an interesting article.

Some decry that their rights are being violated by pandemic restrictions, such as face masks.

Using Supreme Court Justice Holmes logic, your right to go without a mask also ends where my nose begins.

 

 

Yes, But Is It Funny?

Humor is the ability to lead the reader or listener down one thought and suddenly surprise them with a hard left turn.

A priest, a Rabbi, and a Protestant minister walk into a bar.
“What is this,” the bartender asks, “some kind of a joke?”

Today, with everything going on in the world, it’s hard to think of anything funny to write about, especially if one tries to avoid rubbing salt into somebody’s emotional wounds.

I have desperately tried to find the humor in things, but lately have failed.

As soon as I think of something humorous, I’ll write about it.

Make Me Laugh

We’re all getting a bit squirrely being stuck at home–especially if you have kids–trying to telework, and being bombarded by  the continuing banter of the various experts predicting the future. It’s difficult to find humor in the situation, but I’ll try.

Maintaining social distance—-“I now pronounce you husband and wife.” Turning to the groom, he continued, “You may now wave at your wife who is an appropriate six-feet away.”

If restaurants reopen, wait staff will have to wear masks and use disposable menus—–“Who was that masked waiter?”
“I don’t know, but he left this silver tip tray.”

A politician, an elected official, and a cable news personality walked into a bar. The bartender looked at them and asked, “Is this a joke?”
One of them replied, “Nope, just business as usual.”