Author Archives: admin

Re-imagining the remote

March 18, 2015 in Blog by admin  |  No Comments

A new slate of tablets, smartphones and apps are being released to serve as remotes for our digital universe. Originally, their primarily function was to control our electronics.  As technology advances, these remotes can now run your “smart home” devices such as turning lights on and off; control the heating or air conditioning for your house; and much more. Soon, as T-Commerce begins to infiltrate our homes, however, these devices will offer a host of new options:

  • Want to buy that piece of clothing your favorite character is wearing?  Check.
  • Stats for the on-deck power hitter?  Check.
  • Filmography of your favorite star?  Check.
  • Tweet your opinion of what you’re watching? Check.

Developers are already working on apps that will instantly “read” which television show or movie you’re watching. Very soon options like these will automatically appear, tailored to your exact taste and interests.

Most of us are nonplus about this invasion into our digital universe.  Perhaps, however, we should rethink this encroachment into our living space.

A case in point:

As part of its End-User License Agreement, Samsung SmartTV and its Voice Recognition feature has issued the following warning (hidden deep within its privacy policy):  “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition”.

So what does this mean in English?

The average American spend more than five hours a day watching television.  During those five hours — assuming you’re watching Samsung’s SmartTV with any new-or-upcoming television or gaming system with a Voice Recognition system — every conversation you have with your spouse or family or friends is duly “captured and transmitted” to a “third party”.

Whether that “third party” is an advertising or marketing firm is never properly clarified.  Simply that conversations in your living space are “captured and transmitted”.

Samsung and other Voice Recognition manufacturers would like us to think that they’re merely capturing your impressions about a movie or television show.  They would probably be corporately “horrified” at the notion that they would ever intrude on the remarks that you hate your boss or punished your child or voiced some personal-held political opinion, all in the privacy of your home.

Yet “captured and transmitted” refers to any “personal or other sensitive information” and no amount of corporate backpedaling will change the fact that corporations are now able to record and store our most intimate and personal remarks in our last haven of privacy.

We wonder, if our devices are now capable of “capturing and transmitting” whether this trend will soon extend to our remotes.

Who Needs Pavlov’s Dog When We Have Disney and Microsoft…

May 14, 2014 in Blog by admin  |  No Comments

Ivan Pavlov, Russian physiologistRemember Pavlov and his dog?

Ivan Pavlov was a Russian physiologist who developed the theory / model known as conditioned reflex.

Using his soon-to-become famous dog, Pavlov conditioned the animal to associate food with the ringing of a bell.  He soon noticed that the dog salivated every time the bell rang…whether food was present or not.

(He later broadened his experiments to include children and, naturally, won the Nobel Prize and would soon become the darling of modern advertising).

Taking a page from Pavlov and his experiments, Disney and Microsoft are developing controllers that will take conditioned reflex to the next level.

For Disney, the system is known as Touché is modeled upon a touch-sensing approach.  For example, Touché can recognize when you’re sitting at your office desk (or not).

In their promotion video, they show a young child being monitored and trained to eat food properly (with a spoon vis-à-vis their fingers).  Depending on the response, a harsh buzzer versus soothing bell “trains” the child.  Pavlov and his dog anyone?!

For Microsoft, their system is known as SoundWave.  At the moment, SoundWave uses sound waves from the speakers and microphone built into PCs and laptops and seems an evolution from Microsoft’s Kinect motion controller.

Much like Disney’s Touché, SoundWave can also recognize when you’re sitting at your office desk (again, or not!).  While the harsh buzzer effect doesn’t seem present in SoundWave, the ever-repetitive hand motions that are translated into specific actions – such as moving or swiping your hand in the air to progress your computer screen or programs – seems just another variation of conditioned reflexes.

Computers have already changed the way we read (How Users Read on the Web (Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox) and think (‘The Shallows’: This Is Your Brain Online : NPR).  Will Touché and SoundWave be the next steps on the path to turn us into functioning automatons?


Big Brother at your backdoor…

May 7, 2014 in Blog by admin  |  No Comments

FBI logoAccording to recent news reports, the FBI is meeting with Internet companies – such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo and the like – to push its plan to force backdoor surveillance on social networks, VoIP,  e-mail servers and so forth.

The news reports are soft-peddling the FBI’s requests with terms like “quietly pushing” and “asking” Internet companies not to oppose a law  making backdoor surveillance mandatory.

This is much like a 500-pound gorilla “asking” for a banana.  Of course you’re going to give him the banana – and, by extension, grant mandatory surveillance – you’d be naïve not to, especially with the judicial clout the FBI and Justice Department hold over these Internet companies.

What does it all mean?

Quite frankly, if the FBI wants to see your e-mails, they would be able to easily access all of  them.  If the FBI wants to track what sites you’ve been visiting…not a problem.

For its part, the FBI just considers this an expansion of their existing powers.  They’re proposing an amendment to the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) which would require communication platforms (like the companies cited above) to build FBI-accessible backdoors into their services.  This, the FBI innocently considers, is just a way to use its existing powers more effectively in our ever-expanding digital age.

Supposedly a court order would still be necessary for any surveillance; but we’ve seen and read enough about the judicial system to know that such a court order is quite easily obtainable.  Child’s play, so to speak.

And, with companies forced to create mandatory “backdoors” into their data, everything about you is suddenly wide-open for inspection.

We all respect the FBI’s legal ability to search for criminals.  But does access to data from a handful of criminals off-set the potential access to data on millions of citizens?  Hardly!

But this can’t happen here!

Wanna bet?

It wasn’t so long ago that President Richard Nixon abused his political powers by requesting (through the FBI) wiretaps, secret files and so forth.  Back then, with no Internet access, these files and reports were nonetheless damaging.  Imagine what one political figure or agency could accomplish with built-in backdoor surveillance.

Big Brother isn’t just here.  He’s knocking – very loudly – at your backdoor!


The Future of Political Elections?

February 12, 2014 in Blog by admin  |  No Comments

The Future of Political Elections?Google officially announced its online information hub for political elections.  The website is dedicated exclusively to elections and includes new articles sorted by candidates and issues; links to voter resources and YouTube politics channel; and a dashboard that will allow you to search trends, news mentions and YouTube views for each candidate.

The debate has raged over people’s right to vote.  While the Fifteen and Nineteenth Amendments gave the right to vote by race or sex respectively, for years Poll Taxes, Literacy Tests and Jim Crow laws sought to restrict these freedoms.  The National Voters Registration Act of 1993 allowed qualified voters to register when applying for or renewing their driver’s license.

I anticipate a not-too-distant future when qualified voters will be allowed to not only register through political online sites such as Google, but will also be allowed to vote in Presidential and General Elections.


Taking Matters to a Higher Level

January 30, 2014 in Blog by admin  |  No Comments

Taking matters to a higher level (on piracy)Talk about “Intellectual Property” and most people yawn. Talk about “Piracy” and most people have a strong opinion. Yet “Intellectual Property” and “Piracy” are just two terms for the same issue – how open is the Internet and what right do we have to access someone else’s creative work? (Here’s the basic 411 on Intellectual Property).

Computer hackers – which is just a more benign description for pirates – intend to take the Internet beyond the reach of censors by putting their own communication satellites into orbit.

As reported by BBC News Technology, plans were outlined at the Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin. While it’s unclear (and possibly unlikely) that project organizers will pull together enough funds to properly launch their “Hackerspace Global Grid”, it does show the extremes which either side will take in support of their position.

The Day the Internet Shut Down

January 19, 2014 in Blog by admin  |  No Comments

History buffs, mark January 18, 2012 on your calendars.  That was the day the Internet shut down and sent an unmistakable message to the (former) formidable old guard…in urban vernacular it’s known as a ‘bitch slap’.

Protesting two bills in Congress – the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House and Protect I.P. Act in the Senate – hundreds of popular websites shut down.  Of more far-reaching significance was the surprisingly-effective lobbying efforts by technology companies such as Wikipedia, Twitter and Google to use their massive reach to influence online users all for political gain.

That would be like some companies (say, oil companies) joining together to shut off their supply all for economic and political gain.  Oh, I forgot, we’ve been down that road before.

So next time you’re online and the Internet decides to shut down because technology companies don’t like this or that, just remember January 18, 2012 and the how a potent political weapon was aimed square at the heart of the American people.

The Old ‘Bait and Switch’?

January 15, 2014 in Blog by admin  |  No Comments

Spotify logoThe term bait-and-switch is most commonly used in retail sales where customers are “baited” with products or services offered at a low price, only to discover that the advertised goods are not available and they’re “switched” to a pricier product.

Spotify, the free streaming music service which made its US debut in July 2011, just announced that all users will now be limited to just 10 hours per month and they’ll only be allowed to play individual tracks no more than five times per month.  That’s because Spotify’s unlimited music (the bait) is now only a limited time offer.  After your 10 hours of streaming music per month, the ad-supported Spotify hopes that you’ll sign up for one of its paid plans (the switch).

Dwindling subscriber businesses such as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times have already fortified themselves behind Internet pay-walls.  Does Spotify’s recent bait-and-switch business model herald a new direction for companies hoping to profit on the Internet?


Naked Came the Digital Stranger

January 14, 2014 in Blog by admin  |  No Comments

Back in 1969, a group of 24 prominent journalists poked fun at the poor writing of the then-current slate of best sellers. Using the pseudonym Penelope Ashe, each of the journalists scribbled an individual chapter, and, in their attempt to be intentionally inconsistent, often wrote without seeing what came before or after.

This literary hoax was penned as a deliberately terrible book with lots of sex and (naturally) became an instant best seller.

The digital publishing world has recently been getting into the act, catering online to frustrated writers. FanLit sites, such as Avon Romance, allow anyone with a keyboard to bring a story to life. One wonders…will history repeat itself?

Keeping up with the Tech: “The Shallows” by Nicholas Carr

December 5, 2013 in Blog by admin  |  No Comments

Nicholas Carr’s “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains” tackles one of the more important questions of the digital era: does our veracious consumption on the Internet come at the cost of our ability to read and think deeply?

While I have minor quibbles, overall I’m a big fan of the book; and apparently I’m not alone: “The Shallows” was nominated as a General Non-Fiction Finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize. If you have any interest in issues at the heart of the digital age, check this one out.

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