Category Archives: Media

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.

The Amazing Randi

About James Randi - JREF
James “The Amazing” Randi
A bit Gandalfesque, don’t you think?

James Randi has made his last escape–this time from this world.

He called himself a conjurer, rather than a magician. He viewed his craft from a very pragmatic standpoint and had no patience with those who claimed to have supernatural powers. These included stage magicians, faith healers, psychics, and others.

When he was younger, he carried a check in his pocket, which he would give to anyone who could perform “magic” that he could not duplicate as an illusion. I forget the amount of the check (large for the time, but not by today’s standards), which eventually fell apart along the folds because no one ever qualified. Later, the James Randi Educational Foundation offered a million dollars to anyone who could perform any supernatural, occult, or paranormal action under test conditions agreed to by both parties.

At one point, he was the magic expert for Alice Cooper. The show opened with sparks flowing from Alice’s fingers when he first stepped onto the stage. Naturally, one does not want live, extremely flammable pyrotechnics on one’s fingers until necessary. He related how, before each show, he’d be with Vincent Fournier in the dressing room, chatting about whatever. Randi was fascinated how, when they got the three minute warning and he’d start attaching the squibs and Vincent would immediately go into character, transforming into Alice Cooper.

He wrote 10 books, most of which are available from Amazon, as well as many public libraries. However, if you’re not a magic aficionado, a great book to start with is Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind by Alex Stone.

The Amazing Randi earned his title of Amazing by teaching and researching as well as performing.

James, thanks, and I wish you well.

Too Much Star Wars?

I confess, there is a lot of science fiction I enjoy–to the point where I refuse to pick either Star Wars or Star Trek as a favorite. When Star Wars first came out, I saw it a number of times in the theater and had the movie on VHS cassette as soon as it was possible. (Kids, ask your parents to explain VHS.)

And, yes, I wish George Lucas had left well enough alone and not made all those changes to the movie. The original theater release did not need improving.

My older son and I watched it numerous times together. When my younger son was a baby and teething, colicky, or otherwise unhappy at night, I’d tell my wife that he wanted to watch Star Wars. She thought that was crazy, but when I took him into the living room, at the first chords of John Williams’s Star Wars theme music he halted his fussing. He’d snuggle into a comfortable position and was soon asleep.

Having provided my Star Wars bona fides, there are some things I see as beyond normal. I periodically get science fiction stories pushed to me on the Internet. Most recently, I ran across “Star Wars: 10 Things You Never Knew About X-Wings.”

The article (post?) goes into detail, such as:

Focusing on the main three X-Wings, the T-65B sits at 13.4m long, 11.76m wide, and 2.4m deep, weighing ten metric tons and going at a max acceleration of 3,700 G (G-force, the force acting on a body of gravity) a max atmospheric speed of 1,050 kph, and one hundred MGLT (Megalight per hour, the relative sunlight speed in realspace).

The T-70 has the same width but a shorter length and depth/height of 12.49m and 1.92m compared to the T-65B. It goes 50 more kph, 10 more MGLT, and with 100 more G-force. Upgrading one more, the T-85 is by far the biggest, at 15.68m long, 13.65m wide, and 2.7m deep. The T-85’s speed is again, by far, the most impressive at 3,800 G, 120 MGLT, and 1,300 kph max atmospheric speed. All of this information is available in the Rebel Starfighters Owners’ Workshop Manual. 

I’ve seen records of archeological digs that were less specific.

Sometimes, even science fiction has TMI (too much information).

Russki TV – “Better Than Us”

Better Than Us | Drama Quarterly

I confess! I’ve been watching a science fiction series on Netflix that was produced in Russia. The tempo–at least for the beginning was slower than I’m used to–but it still was worth watching. Apparently, it was originally called Better than Human, but some other show had copyrighted that name, so it was re-titled as Better Than Us.

In a nutshell, a bot (android) by the name of Arissa has transcended the usual robotic norms, including Asimov’s rules. She has gained a sense of right and wrong, although sometimes, the way she expresses them is a bit oblique. Why? Because she has a sense of self and a sense of morality.

As Winston Churchill noted, Russia–including (in my opinion) Russian entertainment–is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

As I said, the tempo is a bit different than American TV, but interesting and worth watching nevertheless.

Oh, be aware–the closed captions do not match the translated speech, but, hey–what the hell.

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.

Survival of the Republic

Is progress really beneficial? I’ve been contemplating that–seriously–and I’m not sure.

George Washington was unanimously elected by the Electoral College. The initial idea was to avoid political parties. The candidate with the most votes became president, and the second place became Vice President. Therefore, George Washington became President and John Adams the Vice President.

After Washington served two terms, John Adams was elected the president, with Thomas Jefferson in second place and therefore the Vice President. The next election, Jefferson opposed Adams, won, and became president. Voila, the effort to avoid political parties died.

John Adams, who was one of the driving forces for independency, as it was called at the time, was described by others as “obnoxious and disliked.” His personality was matched by a short, rotund body, with few teeth. He might have been brilliant, but was not, in any way, attractive.

If Adams made a harsh comment, in those days, it would have merited little notice. Newspapers of the time were small and printed weekly or less. President Adams pronouncements would have been little noticed outside of Washington, DC.

Today, every comment, statement, quote, burp, or fart is immediately broadcast across the world with video of the incident, commentary, point and counterpoint within minutes.

Washington might survive today’s news cycle. Adams and his successor, Thomas Jefferson, probably wouldn’t.

Think about that. Think about the republic without Adams and Jefferson because of 24/7 cable news. I’m not saying it’s better or worse–I’m just asking you to think about it.

Are we better off today?

Virtual Flying

NOTE: I recently had shoulder surgery so I’ll be typing one handed for a while and may not blog as frequently.

I love flying–not riding in an airliner, but actually being pilot in command. However, as I’ve gotten older, it’s no longer practical. I was originally licensed as “private pilot, single-engine land.” I still qualify to fly as ‘recreational pilot,” but it would make my family nervous. Not to mention that renting an aircraft is about five times as expensive as it was when I first flew. Ouch!

The big issues over the years is that when I had spare time, I didn’t have spare money and vice-versa. Actually I’ve never really had either spare time or spare money. Sigh!

Nevertheless, in my lifetime I did learn how to fly and will be a licensed pilot for the rest of my life. Ta-da!

A few years ago, my family gave me a flight simulator as a gift, including the yoke, pedals, and throttle/lever assembly as well as the Microsoft Flight Simulator program. Wow!

Shortly thereafter, Microsoft stopped selling or supporting their flight software. Bummer!

Recently, Microsoft released a 2020 version of Flight Simulator. Yay!

I tried loading into my new lap top (circa February 2020), only to be informed that my computer wasn’t fast enough. Awww!

So, yes, I broke down and bought a real gaming computer. Ka-Ching!

My son hooked it up and I was ready to play. Hoorah!

So far, all the program seems to do is to tell me to wait while it downloads another update. Booo!

I’ll update you when I can, but this one handed typing wears me out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Space – A Great Frontier

Echo 1 was a Mylar balloon satellite launched in 1960 that was visible from the earth. At night, we’d rush outside at the time printed in the paper and watch it go by.

During the Mercury launches 1961-1963, we sat in the classroom clustered around a transistor radio.

For Gemini launches in 1965 1nd 1966, someone brought a 45 pound “portable” black and white television into the classroom.

For the Apollo Missions, especially Apollo 11, we watched from home on console TVs with a 17 inch color cathode ray tube screen.

I lived in Florida for a portion of the shuttle era, I walked down my driveway, turned tight, and saw it live. For most people, there would be a brief mention with a few seconds of video on the evening news.

Today, I watch the Space-X Crew Dragon return to earth, with live video from inside the craft and the recovery boats on my iPad.

Cool.

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 Audiophile

Today I saw an advertisement for bone-conduction headphones at Sam’s Club.

In my young adulthood, I enjoyed stereo systems with awesome fidelity. I  worked my way up to a Dual turntable that had stroboscopic speed adjustment, a top of the line Fisher amplifier and speakers, a Technics-by-Panasonic cassette deck, and Koss Pro-4AA headphones.

Today, fidelity has given way to compressability–how much music can be fitted into the smallest space. Almost everything is MP-4 or other streaming media, which is relatively low fidelity. And bone-conduction? That was once a last desperate method to convey sound into the auditory nerves when the natural routes failed.

Cochlear implants use bone-conduction, not fine music systems.

Or do they? Maybe bone-conduction is superior. I don’t know. The range of frequencies I can hear has narrowed with time, so maybe bone-conduction would be better.

I’m not quite ready for that. I’ll stick with my Koss Pro-4AA headphones. By popular demand, they began manufacturing them again.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

Unintended Consequence

I managed to hang onto most of my hair until relatively recently. I felt pretty good about that, especially since one of my sons is follicly challenged to the point where he shaves those lonely hairs on his head. Nevertheless, things are catching up with me now.

In the sixties and seventies (the 1960s and 1970s–not my 60s and 70s) long hair was in vogue. My hair was curly, so I never looked as cool as Sir Paul McCartney. In those days, unfortunately, Brian May (Queen’s outrageously talented lead guitarist) was recognized for his musical talent–not his hair–so straight hair was far more cool.

Due to work rules, I kept my hair short for year, but I promised myself that when I was no longer limited, I’d regrow my Van Dyke beard and add a ponytail to my hair.

Alas, it was not to be. The beard was a nonstarter. I let it grow for a week once when we were on vacation, but it was an ugly shade of grey that made me look at least 30 years older than I was. If you had put me and Obi Wan Kenobi together, he would have looked like an innocent youngster compared to me.

With COVID-19, I’ve been self-isolating for nearly two months. I still shave most days, but no haircuts. So how does this work out for my decades-long desire to look cool? Not very well

When I get up in the morning and look in the mirror, I must admit that I look quite a bit like a movie star celebrity.

Between the balding and the curly hair, I look like a chubby version of Larry from the Three Stooges.

 

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.”