Roku 3–”Loading, Please Wait” Message is Driving Me Crazy-But Is It Roku’s Fault?

I have a Roku 3 and have been using Rokus for three generations now.  However, in the last year I’ve been getting more and more “Loading, Please Wait” messages.  I’m even using Ethernet instead of Wi-Fi, to have the best connection.  At first I thought it was my internet provider, or network traffic, or even an example of net neutrality breaking down.   I stream Netfix, HBOGo, Warner Archive, Amazon and HuluPlus.  I was mostly getting the loading message from HBOGo and Warner Archive, but then it started with Amazon too.  Amazon even automatically refunded my rental fee when a western I was watching timed out too often.

Then I made an interesting discovery!

roku

I got the idea of streaming from my computer that’s also attached to my TV—I use it as a DVR for over-the-air TV.  Bingo.  Everything streamed perfectly, at the highest resolution, plus the picture looked richer in colors.  Evidently, a computer with a Athlon X2 processor and 4 GB of memory, with a PCIe video card does a better job decoding streaming television than the Roku.  So maybe it’s not the internet or my provider?  Speedtest.net does tell me I get 19.43 Mbps download and 1.92 Mbps upload on my U-Verse connection, which is pretty good.  But that’s to a test site and not to a streaming server.

On the other hand, my Roku 3 seems to have no trouble streaming with Netflix.  Is it the hardware or the servers the Roku is streaming from?

The Roku does have a dual processor, but only 512 MB of memory.  This might explain why the Amazon Fire TV has 2 GB of memory and a quad processor.  I would buy the Amazon Fire TV to give it a try but it doesn’t support several Roku channels I depend on.  Using the computer is great for viewing films and shows without the dreaded “Loading, Please Wait” message, but instead of channels I have to go to individual web pages, each with their own different kinds of controls.  I have to use a wireless keyboard that doesn’t work as conveniently as the Roku remote, and that’s a pain-in-the-ass.

The Roku is an excellent system for viewing internet TV—I’d hate to see it crap out.  My biggest headache using the Roku is watching Warner Instant and HBOGo.  And some people do have trouble with streaming Netflix, even with fiber optic connections, like this story.  The solution this user found was to use a private VPN that circumvented congested internet routing.  This makes me wonder if my Roku 3 is somehow using different routes than Chrome on the PC, or if internet providers can detect Roku traffic and treat it different.

Like I said, I’ve been a faithful Roku user for years, and love it.  Maybe there’s something wrong with my Roku 3, but checking Google I see other people have this problem too.  And it does seem to be somewhat internet traffic related.  I usually don’t see the “Loading, Please Wait” during the day time, mostly during primetime, especially on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.  So it appears the Roku 3 works well if things are just right.  My guess, as more and more people use these streaming services because of the popularity of Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire, traffic and server demand will get tight.  Adding a bit more horsepower, memory, and maybe a better video GPU, might process the bulging traffic in a more efficient manner.  I expect the Roku 4 will have specs similar to the Amazon Fire TV, or top them, to fix this problem.  That is, unless internet providers aren’t throttling traffic from devices like the Roku.

This is a technical mystery beyond my ability to decipher.  I recommend people having “Loading, Please Wait” issues with their Roku, or other small streaming device, try plugging their laptops with HDMI connectors to their television and see if they get better streaming via a computer.

My guess is demand for internet services is always growing and we’re always going to see breakdowns at the weakest link in our technological chain.  Right now, for me, it’s my Roku when it’s connecting to the most used servers on the internet.  We might be pushing the limits of what a $99 device can do.  I wonder if the Amazon Fire TV costs more to make than what it sells for?  Or is the solution for Warner Instant and HBO to add more server capacity and pay for better peering?

JWH – 7/22/14

Would I Be A Better, Happier, More Productive Person If I Didn’t Use The Internet?

The Internet has consumed our culture.  We are quickly becoming a hive society.  Is that good or bad?  I think it’s good, but like all good things, I think it comes with some bad aspects.  Yesterday I watched the movie Chef, a moving story about  a father getting to know his son, but also a lesson in how Twitter works, for both good and bad.  I also read “How YouTube and Internet Journalism Destroyed Tom Cruise, Our Last Real Movie Star” in the LA Times, about how Internet gossip can create false impressions in the hive mind.

Internet

The Internet is capable of spreading liberal and conservative concepts with equal speed.  It is just as effective at teaching the truth as it is as spreading lies.  The Internet is equally suited to preach Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Atheism.  Net Neutrality is an ideal in more ways than one.  The Internet can be as addictive as a drug, or as productive as any tool.

The internet is tremendous fun, and I could never give it up, but what if I used it much less?  Most companies consider the Internet a  productivity waster and limit employee access.  Now that I’m retired its very easy to just get seduced into following one link after another, just clicking my way through the day.  I have fiction writing and programming projects I dream of doing, but instead I’m enticed by endless tidbits of fascinating facts.  No wonder George R. R. Martin writes on an ancient DOS machine using WordStar 4.0.

In some ways the Internet, including all the television, movies, music, ebooks, games, comics, news, magazines and audiobooks it delivers, is the ultimate song of the sirens.  Instead of owning a dog, I enjoy photos and videos of dogs on the Internet.  If I was younger and hornier, I’d probably be spending my time with virtual women.  Instead of watching cable TV, I get my shows via the Internet.  Instead of listening to music on CDs I have Spotify.  Instead of reading magazines I read Zite and News360.  When I want to cook something new I watch a how-to on YouTube. 

Everyone sees daily tales about Internet abuse, but who actually walks away?  Would I work on my novel full time if I canceled U-verse and unplugged my TV?  Is the Internet keeping me from being creative, or am I enjoying the Internet while not facing up to the fact that I’m not creative.

Obviously humanity is not going to reject the Internet any more than it’s going to reject fire, farming, writing and science.  The Zen of right living is to use any tool wisely.  The Internet is like a telescope, it allows us to see further, but do we always need to observe reality at an eyepiece?  Most people believe moderation is the key to everything, but I wonder if we don’t get the most from our tools by learning to use them as little as possible.

What inspired this essay was the realization that I was compulsively reading news stories from the Internet because I felt like I was learning so much.  The truth is we forget most everything we read.  Real learning comes from distillation of facts, not the abundance of facts.  It’s better to read one memorable essay than to read a hundred fascinating essays.  Strangely the one essay that stuck with me from yesterday is the one about Tom Cruise, and how the Internet tarnished his reputation.  And I have to admit that I went from liking Tom Cruise as an actor to avoiding his films because of Internet gossip.

I would be a better, happier, more productive person if I used the Internet less, and maybe elements of this essay have some 12-step properties.

JWH – 5/25/14

My War On Ads!!!

Is it me, or am I seeing an explosion of ads on the internet?  First it was on page ads, then pop-up ads, then double pop-up ads, and now we’re seeing new kinds of animated ads attacking us from the  bottom up, or expanding out from the sides of our web pages.  We’re forced to see video ads that demand 30 seconds of our precious time – when will it be 60 seconds?  This sucks.  If I had to watch ten 30-second ads a day, that would be 300 a month, or 1.5 hours a month devoted to waiting to see content.  I’m getting old, and time counts, because it’s running out.

Everywhere I look there is bait to trap me into viewing ads.  Are we intelligent beings seeking information, or just gerbils being trained to click on ads.

ad-traps

Again, is it me, or is the web content changing, so as to trick us into seeing more ads by offering more prurient content?  Many sites are sexing up their article come-ons, either with sexy photos, or with outrageous titles, or tempting us with juicy tidbits of gossip, to get us to click to read, only to force us to wait through one or more ads before rewarding us with their lame-ass stories.  Often a promised video news story is shorter than the ads I have to watch to pay to see it, and often that news is seldom worth seeing.

I completely understand that nothing in life is free and I have to pay for my lunch, but some techniques used by contemporary publishers are just so damn annoying that it makes me want to avoid their wares completely and the products they advertise. 

This morning The Mail promised me story about adult elephants rescuing a drowning baby elephant, but when I clicked to see the video they asked me which ad I wanted to watch.  Neither were appealing, so I just closed the window.  If they had had an ad for something I’m interested in I might have watched, but most ads are for things I completely don’t care about.  The time it takes to watch them are a complete waste of my life.

That’s what I do more and more, close the window or tab, rather than see the ads.  I’ve even thought about going back to paper magazines to learn about the world, because web page ads are ruining the internet for me.

Demanding Our Attention

I understand that reading on the web requires seeing ads.  Ad supported sites are the norm.  However, the visual bombardment of ads on landing on a web page seems to be escalating to the point that I wished I could tell Chrome and Google to ban some sites for the rest of my life.  The other day I went to a site that resized the screen to blow up ads on the right and left, and along the bottom of my screen.  And pop-up windows with ads is becoming the norm.  And audio ads that automatically turn on are growing in popularity too, even though they are extremely annoying.

Advertisers are finding ways to capture our attention and not let it go until we’ve seen what they want us to see.  I hate that.  I wish there was some way to send you the finger online.

I’ve learned from growing up reading newspapers and magazines how to tune out passive ads.  And I’ve tried Chrome extensions like AdBlockPlus, but it doesn’t work perfect, and I’m not really sure it’s kosher.  I’m willing to pay for my supper, if it’s reasonable.  That’s the trouble with internet ads, they aren’t reasonable.  Neither, are television ads.  Or phone soliciting.  Because I don’t subscribe to cable, I get over-the-air TV, which is chock full of ads. 

A big portion of my retirement life is avoiding ads.  It’s becoming a war.

Ads want our attention, and that’s understandable.  If only I only had to watch or read ads for things I was interested in.  The advertising world is based on grabbing our attention, but I can’t believe all the expense they go to in gaining our attention is practical.  How many people actually buy something because of an ad?

What we need is a new ad paradigm. 

Information in Slide Shows

A common trick now is to have a sensational topic that involves 12, or 15 or 25 pages of slides.  Each segment of the list involves reloading the page, and thus regenerating ads.  Isn’t this just web page trickery to add counts to their ad counters?  Part of the problem is not the advertisers, but the publishers.  All too often content on the web is geared to making us click.  Just how much worthy news do we need each day.  Certainly not enough to fill millions of web sites.

We’re just rats in the maze being taught to click.  That’s not good for us, or for people selling stuff.  I want people who have something worthy to sell to succeed, but find success with people who need and want their products.  I hate that the internet has become a click factory generating economic activity.

Man, we really need a new ad paradigm.

How Could Things Be Different?

Aren’t web cookies, the NSA, credit card transactions and cash register scanners already supposed to know what I buy?  Why can’t I log into a web site daily and see ads meant just for me and earn some kind of ad income credits to be automatically spent as I go to web pages during the day?  They could see I’ve already prepaid and let me look at their content without annoying me.

I’m willing to pay not to see ads.  I subscribe to Rdio, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Spotify, Warner Instant Classics so I don’t have to see ads.  I also subscribe to Hulu Plus, and they force me to see ads, which seems incredibly unfair.  I’m seriously thinking of canceling them because of this.  If I pay for a subscription I should NOT have to see ads.  I also subscribe to The New York Times, and their site does have ads, but so far they aren’t too annoying.  Yet, every time they interrupt my reading with a pop-up, I think about cancelling my subscription.

There’s got to be a better way.  However, I don’t think Advertising Age disciples are thinking in that direction.  Generation Like, as one PBS documentary called our young people of today, not only accept ads, but embrace them, becoming marching morons for advertisers and these kids don’t even understand the phrase “selling out.”  Our modern world has become so Orwellian in ways that George Orwell failed to foresee.  He thought only communism would use Newspeak to conquer the masses, not understanding that capitalism would use it too.

In my war against ads and telemarketers, I feel like I’m Winston from Nineteen Eighty-Four always seeking ways to avoid the view screens of Big Brother.  John Varley wrote the classic paranoid science fiction story about machine intelligence called “Press Enter _” back in 1984.  In it, his character moves off the grid and won’t use anything electrical to escape from an evil intelligence living on the net.  Is that the only way to escape the advertising world?

Take Up the Cause!

Watch what you click.  Don’t encourage the enemy.  Close those windows.  Don’t go to sites that take advertising too far.  And please some of your brilliant tech gurus, invent some way for people to market their wares to people who want them without making billions of us not have to see trillions of ads we don’t want to see.

JWH – 5/14/14

The End of Zite–The Beginning of News360

Here’s the problem.  Every day on the internet millions of articles are published and some of them are ones I really want to read.  Finding those articles that are perfect for my peculiar interests is like finding Malaysia Flight 370’s black boxes in the middle of the Indian ocean.  Over the years various genius programmers have come up with systems for customized news reading.  The big breakthrough was RSS feeds, and then Google Reader.  But even then, you’d get hundreds or thousands of articles to sift through each day.  What’s really needed is some kind of AI smarts to find less than 50 daily news stories that can be quickly perused.  You want your news feed to only have stories that matter most to you.  After the iPad came out I discovered Zite, and thought I had found news nirvana.  Well, Zite is going, and I’m trying News360.

news360

What the Internet gives, the internet also taketh away.  Time and again I fall in love with technology only to have it taken away.  Remember Lala?  Now I’ll be losing Zite.  To me, Zite is the one app that made tablets great.  Zite was the best Internet newsreader I ever used.  I liked it far better than Google Reader, another technology that was prematurely wrenched from my hands. 

Zite has been bought out by Flipboard.  Now I have nothing against Flipboard, except that I don’t enjoy using it.  Flipboard uses a different metaphor for presenting the news, built around do-it-yourself magazines.  Zite was more like a customized newswire feed.  Zite learned what I was interested in reading, and queued up a bunch of great stories for me to check out.  The more I used it, the smarter Zite got, finding just the right stuff to read.  This is very efficient for reading from the fire hose of news stories available every day on the net.

robotreadingmagazine

Curated News

Like the curated music site Pandora, what voracious news readers want is a reader robot to pre-read the news and decide what we’d like to read.  Zite was my reading robot, but now it’s being killed off.  One of the most popular reading robots is Flipboard, and it has bought Zite in hopes of using its technology to be a better reading robot.

I’ve used Flipboard from time to time but have never been comfortable with it.  If they integrate Zite’s intelligence into Flipboard I might start to like it, but even then I don’t like the visual layout of Flipboard.  For now I’m experimenting with News360 – which Paul N. Shapiro turned me on to – so I don’t need to worry about the Flipboard Zite merger.  Check your app store and try it out – News360.

News360 does one thing that Zite didn’t and I always wanted, it has a website front end so I can use from my desktop.  The controls are nicer on the iOS and Android versions, but the website version is quicker to use, and links me directly to the news story as it appears on the web.  The tablet versions of News360 take a bit more clicking to get to the actual reading.  Zite was the tops for reformatting web pages for easy reading.  News360 is fancier in some ways, with more options, but it takes more clicks to get to the full reading copy.  I haven’t decided if I like News360’s rolling cubes or not.  On the iOS version, it appears the full text can be scrolled on a cube site.

Thumbs Up or Down

There are millions of blogs, magazines, newspaper, journals, websites that publish something new every day.  Even if you find all your favorite publishers and check their site daily, you’d spend way too much time going through stuff you don’t want to read.  And even with a good news reader that zeroes in on your interests, it will find stories you’ll want to look at but still waste your time.  For example, News360 sent me “Einstein’s ‘spooky’ theory may lead to ultra-secure internet.”  The topic interests me, but the piece was short, fluffy and lacking in any real content.  So far, no news collector system I’ve found is perfect, or even close to perfect. 

Reading Robots take training.  And for that, you need ones you can thumbs up and thumbs down on what they give you to read.  However, I can’t thumbs down the article above because it was skimpy, otherwise News360 might stop sending me other articles on quantum mechanics.  You have to apply your intelligence to training your robot.

I’ve just started using News360 and I’m trying to train it not to send me stories I see on the nightly news.  I already waste 30 minutes a day watching the TV news so I don’t want to see those stories again.  I also subscribe to The New York Times – so I don’t want that kind of general news in my news feed.  However, I still want special interest news from The New York Times because I don’t catch everything.  By unchecking Top Stories I got rid of most of the general news.

News360 also found me this morning “The future is coming. 6 ways it will change everything.”  This is still speculation, but it’s the kind I like.  I’d like more substance, but News360 has quickly zeroed in on my interests.

Training a system to be perfect is hard.  I told News360 I’m interested in steampunk, so it found “This $80K Steampunk Inspired Baron Safe-Box…” – that’s interesting, and has visually appealing photos, but ultimately fluff I don’t want to waste my time on.  I’m going to thumbs down the article and hope News360 finds me something more substantial about steampunk – but ultimately I might have to kill that topic.  I’ve already killed the topic Leonardo Da Vinci because News360 kept giving me stuff about a TV show.  Like I said, no system is perfect.

Sometimes New360 makes a mistake that turns out to be wonderful.  I told News360 I wasn’t interested in science fiction movies, but was interested in science fiction books.  This morning it found me  “The Glorious Incoherence of Divergent” at The Atlantic.  Now most everything at The Atlantic is über-readable, but what made this piece a treasure trove is it tied in Philip K. Dick’s books to current movies and YA books.  I’m very into Philip K. Dick, so I forgive News360 giving me a movie review.  It was smart enough to know the article wasn’t just about the movie.

News360 does allow me to block sources when I use the tablet app after I’ve thumbs down something.  This can be dangerous.  Often a news story will come from many sites – it’s been syndicated – so be sure and don’t nix something you like.  But if it’s a single site that you’re sure you don’t want to read from, this is a great feature.  Last night I blocked MTV.com.  I’m just not that young anymore.

I wished News360 had some way of asking about the quality of the content.  A way to mark something that’s too fluffy, or even too verbose.  I also wish it allowed me to diss certain kinds of formatting.  I hate slideshow news – like seeing a headline for the twelve types of dogs that don’t like cats, and then having to click through twelve pages just to see the names of twelve breeds of cat hating dogs.  I think these slideshow stories are a ways to generate ad clicks, which I find fucking annoying as hell.  Just use a goddamn list, please.

Discovering Cool Publishers

One of the most brilliant side-effects of using a reader robot is discovering new publishers.  If you go to a big bookstore and browse the magazine section you might see a couple thousand magazines.  But on the web there are millions.  Discovering new publishers is pretty much serendipity.  If you pay attention to the sources of the articles you like, you’ll discover new sites to read in general.

Theoretically if your reading habits were very specific, you could just bookmark several sites that pertain to your topic and view them daily.  But I’ve yet to find any site that every article they publish is always of interest to me.  So even having my Reader Robot read my favorite magazines is a big help.  I wished sites like News360 had a configuration page that allowed me to list my favorite publications.   Some Reader Robots allow for adding RSS feeds, but News360 doesn’t seem to do that.

News360.com

The best thing about News360 is it’s web site.  Most other magazine styled news aggregators are designed as apps for tablets and smart phones only.  I’m an old fashion sit in the desk chair kind of guy, so I appreciate being able to look at the news on a 27” monitor.  Even though my Nexus 7 has more pixels than my 1080p monitor, I can scan content faster on the big screen.

I’m not used to News360 on my tablets yet, not like I am to Zite, but I’m adapting quickly.  And now that I have a magazine style newsreader for my Chrome browser, I’ll probably be even more addicted to reading the news.

JWH – 3/25/14

Is Addiction to the Internet Permanent?

Has Internet usage become a permanent part of our lives, or is there still a chance it could be a fad? 

Isn’t there always a possibility we could reject using the Internet, or that something bigger and better might come along?  Or is networking everyone and everything, to everyone and everything else, just too good of an idea to give up?  Can anything bigger and better come along, other than an ESP hive mind?

the-internet

Over the recent centuries, there have been many back to nature movements.  None ever caught on with the public at large, but these movements have been big enough for thousands of people to retreat to living in the country hoping to find a more fulfilling life.  Both the 19th and the 20th century had fairly large communal living movements, and Henry David Thoreau is still very appealing to people today.

I guess the question to ask is:  Does the Internet make people happier?  Billions certainly have flocked to it.  And it certainly gives the illusion that the world is much smaller, and it’s possible to know far more people.  I assume people are happier, because most net users spend hours each day on the web, and billions of smart phones have been sold.

I guess the next question to ask is:  How would you live without the Internet?  (Just, in case it went away.)

My immediate answer is I’d read books and magazines, watch TV, and listen to CDs.  That’s what I did before the Internet came along.  And I think that answers the title question.  Everything we liked before the Internet was internet like.  We cherished technology that brought us news from around the world, that let us keep up with other groups of people, to share ideas, to feel part of a bigger world.  Retreating to living on a commune in the woods sounds very isolating and lonely, but I could probably do it if I at least had a nice selection of books.

I really can’t imagine people rejecting the Internet, other than maybe religious extremists.  Sooner or later, fundamentalists may reject the Internet because it’s like the teaching of evolution, something that will undermine their beliefs.  I can picture some fundamentalists giving up the Internet like the Amish gave up modern technology.

I guess it might be possible for some people, Internet addiction could be so bad that they will reject it completely, because it will be an all or nothing affair for them.

And finally, there might be some people, like those who have given up television, because they are so focused on their work, art, sport, hobby, etc. that the Internet will seem like wasting time.

For most people, I think our addiction to the net will only grow.  I get a lot of my television from the net now, and nearly all my music, and I subscribe to a service for magazines over the net.  I download audiobooks and ebooks, and read them on Internet connected mobile devices.  I participate mildly in social media, mainly the old fashion kind like Yahoogroups for book clubs, and blogging.  I keep my photos online, and my documents, and all my ripped CDs.  When I want to learn something new I turn to the Internet.  For example, when I wanted to peel a mango I studied it on YouTube.  When I check out a library book, I look it up online and put it on hold.  When I shop for clothes or new gadgets, I shop online.  Now that I’m retired I spend a fair amount of my social time online, rather in person.

Damn, I’m addicted.  Maybe I should give it up.  Why should I?  I don’ think there’s a real reason.  But could I?  Know what’s funny, the hardest thing I’d have trouble giving up is Audible.com.  I’d painfully miss Rdio.com, but I could go back to CDs.  And my pocketbook would miss Amazon.com, but the only way to get audiobooks cheap is via Audible.com.

If I could walk more I might do more “real” things.  One reason I don’t feel my spinal stenosis as a burden is I love living on the net.  I can’t walk for exercise, but I could bike.  I could go see more people.  I could get some dogs and cats.  I could garden.  I could take up guitar playing, or chess, or wood working.  There’s endless amount of things to do off the net.  I’m just as addicted as all those kids who live and breath social media lives.

For me, if I had to live without the Internet, I’d spend my days writing like I do now, but I’d write essays or stories to submit to magazines.  I think periodicals were the Victorian age’s Internet.

I’ve got to assume the Internet is here to stay, and its where I’ll live until I die.  I asked my wife just now if she could give up the Internet, and she snapped back, “Are you crazy?”  She freaks out if she gets out of reach of her iPhone.  She watches television with her laptop on her lap.

I do wonder if the Internet could become any more addictive?  What features are left to add that will fill up the rest of our real lives?  No, the Internet is not a fad, it’s become a way of life.

JWH – 2/19/14

The Impact of the Like Button

PBS Frontline for 2/18/14 aired the documentary Generation Like about how teens are using the Internet to be liked, and how corporations are using this mass movement to their advantage.  To be honest, the report claims teens are quite savvy about how they are being manipulated by marketing gurus and feel they are playing the system right back at them.  At best it’s a symbiotic relationship.  The funny thing is the documentary makers asked many teens to define “selling out” and they couldn’t, yet corporations have a new mantra, “your consumer is your new marketer.”  This show is about the need to be liked, the need to sell, and how society is changing when everyone is selling themselves.

facebook_like_button_big1

I found Generation Like quite amazing, especially as a 62 year old guy who knows damn little about modern teens.  The change in teens thriving on the internet is as profound as the baby boomers experienced in the psychedelic sixties.  I’m curious how representative this report on teen life is to the average teen, and luckily at the PBS Frontline page provides some statistics at “What Are Teens Doing Online?

Even though Frontline does a fantastic job of covering the topic, I was left with many questions.  Is this melding of marketing to teens wanting to be liked while they struggle to find their identities an American phenomenon, or is it worldwide?  What impact does it have for kids who don’t get hundreds of likes, and what does it mean for popular kids with hundreds of likes to know that some kids gets millions of likes?  Has popularity ever been so quantified?  Is this the start of a hive culture?  And can a hive culture work when all the individuals are promoting themselves?  Are we at the start of a cultural transformation or a fad that will go away? 

Many of the teens talked about their talent, but weren’t specific as to what that was.  Others, like the 13 year old Baby Scumbag was quite aware of what got hits, and was expecting to make money.  If Hollywood was a driving force for fame in the 20th century, the Internet in the 21st century will be many magnitudes more forceful.  And these kids want more than 15 minutes.

I remember the pressure to be liked as a teen, or even to be popular, but it was nothing like this.  I was happy to have one or two good friends, and pleased when others knew my name and said hi.  From the outside looking in, it appears these teens feel like struggling actors trying to get noticed.  How is that changing the nature of friendship?  On the other hand, many of the teens profiled, helped each other in real life to create their internet lives, so they are still socializing in the old way.   

This documentary is the tiniest tip of the iceberg at exploring the new online world.  I barely know how to use Facebook.  I have a Twitter account, but I only use it to remember what I’ve read online.  And most of the other social media sites this film explored I’m clueless as how to use and what they do.  Will adults slowly absorb this Like Culture?  I do blog, and I do get Likes, but not many.  But then I don’t crave them like the teens in this show.  The show ended with this wonderful visual.  A young girl is all animated while producing her video for YouTube, but when she turns off the camera, she sighs, deflates, looks very bored, and the film ends with the sound of her fingernails clicking distractedly on the camera.  Will being on for the Internet become a kind of social crack, and normal life a kind of lonely withdrawal?

You can watch the entire film here.  See I’m doing the same thing as the teens.  I’m marketing for PBS, and liking their show.

JWH – 2/19/14 

Understanding Identity Theft-And the Scary Implications of Stopping It

With the recent Target hacking scare, identity theft has almost become a panic.  My goal here is to explain identity theft to myself and my readers so we can avoid it, but also to reveal a surprise side-effect of stopping identity theft.  One news commentator pointed out that Europe uses Smart Cards which are more secure against identity theft, and I wondered why we don’t use them in the U.S.?  This got me to thinking about the nature of identity theft.  To simplify, here are the basics:

  • Person
  • Proof of Identity
  • Financial institution
  • Transaction system
  • Business
  • Thief
  • Fake Identity

Because we now have electronic transfer of spending instead of money, the goal of a thief is to initiate a financial transaction with a stolen information about your identity.  When you deposit money in a bank or get a line of credit from a credit company, those institutions create an identity profile of you.  To spend money requires proving your identity at a transaction location.

identity_theft

Our old fashioned credit cards are rather simple.  The POS (point of sale) validates the card to see if it’s active.  The cashier must accept proof of identity from the person using the card.  If you are standing at the Target checkout counter, they will ask for an ID, or if you are buying from Amazon, they will ask for a password.  Both are easy to fake.  There’s a reason why many credit card thieves first go to gas stations – they don’t require any proof of identity. 

Even though the Target hackers stole over a hundred million card numbers and pins, they still have to find businesses that will process  transactions without a proof of identity, or create fake credit cards and fake identities.  Because they also stole names, addresses, and personal information, PINs, this is a scary possibility.

Proof of Identity

Every person has dozens of identities.  Your school or work has a system to identity you.  Your bank, credit card companies, insurance companies, health insurer, stock broker, library, utility company, phone company, etc., all have ways to identify you.  Even if you stood right in front of each of them, they wouldn’t know you personally.  They know you by your proof of identity.  Normally this is name, address, phone number, social security number, credit card number, library card number, customer number, etc.  Often this is in the form of ID card.  All of this information is easily stolen, and easily used by thieves.  In the old days, a fake driver’s license and stolen checks or credit cards was all it took to spend someone else’s money.  Now it’s just a name, debit card number and pin.

How To Stop Identity Theft

The current methods of protecting identity theft are far from perfect, but they are:

  • Keep your personal information as secret as possible
  • Use strong passwords and encourage the use of secondary pass phrases
  • Use credit cards from companies that have strong security monitoring
  • Monitor credit rating services
  • Hire a monitoring service

These efforts fall into two phases.  First, keep your information away from identity thieves, and second, stop thieves as quickly as possible when they do steal your identity.  What we really want is to stop thieves altogether. 

The best way to stop identity theft is absolute proof of identity.  This means creating a validation system to prove you are you in any financial transaction, whether in person or online.  I don’t believe Smart Cards are the solution.  Smart Cards are just credit cards with a computer chip – they make it harder for thieves but not impossible.  What we really want is biometric authentication.   This is technology that connects authentication to our biological selves – thumb print, voice pattern, retinal scan, face pattern, DNA, and so on.  Of course this means revamping our entire financial transactional system.  How does Amazon take your thumbprint?

There is new technology that might allow this transformation quicker than we thought – the smart phone.  But first some digression.

Let’s say a thumb print and voice pattern becomes the standard of identification.  How are they taken, and how are they validated?  There are a number of ways.  Smart Cards could store your voice and thumb print on a chip, and a POS terminal could take your prints and validate them against the card.  That would make things much more secure, but theoretically thieves could print fake Smart Cards with their prints recorded in them with your financial identity.  What we want is your credit card company to store a copy of your voice and thumb print, and the have the POS terminal authenticate your prints when you make a transaction.  Then we won’t need credit cards at all.  Identity will be bodily proof.

The trouble is our current infrastructure isn’t set up for this, so what would be the fastest way to transform our society into one secure from identity thieves?  Like I said, smart phones might be the answer.

There are many unique qualities about a smart phone.  The phone number, the IP address, the SIM card, the hardware address for the Wi-Fi card, etc.  All that’s needed is a way to tie your physical body to the smart phone.  Ultimately, in some science fictional future, I believe we’ll have a identity chip implanted in our bodies at birth and all our network connections will recognize us that way.  But until that future arrives, I believe smart phones are the answer.

Some smart phones can already do thumb prints, and voice prints can be done in software.  Newer phones could be designed to make biometric validation even easier.  Think of a smart phone as a genius level Smart Card.  To make a financial transaction you’d need your phone and your body.  That’s very hard for thieves to steal.  Not impossible.  A thief holding a gun to your head could make you buy things, give you money at ATMs.  But stress detectors might be added to smart phones to tell if a user is under duress.  We’re getting very close to foolproof.

Good Side Effects

If such a smart phone authentication system was developed it could have many positive side effects.  We’d have one of the best electronic voting systems possible.  It would allow for easy political referendums, or extensive public opinion polls.  This would change the nature of record keeping for school system, health insurance, all the way down to library cards.  Used in schools it would allow for instant testing and grading.  The spin-offs are endless.

Of course it would reduce identity theft.

Bad Side Effects

Identity theft is an easy way for thieves to steal from people without meeting them.  If we take this away, thieves will have to go back to being more personal about taking our stuff.  Switching to a smart phone authentication might increase robberies, muggings and burglaries.

However, the real scary thing about smart phone identity authentication is it creates a global identity card that’s extremely easy to track.  Americans have always been against a national ID card, and this system would be that to the nth degree.  Since we know the NSA is already tracking our phones, it’s not hard to imagine a whole host of governmental agencies, as well as businesses tracking our every move, communication and transaction.

It would make living off the grid almost impossible.  Anyone without a smart phone would have a very difficult time establishing any kind of identity with businesses, hospitals, insurers, libraries, credit agencies, etc.  If every policeman had a smart phone that could talk to your smart phone think of the Big Brother angle of that.

Other Solutions

Life on Earth is always evolving, and so does technology.  If we wanted, we could invent anonymous electronic spending.  Money is slowly disappearing, and with it privacy.  You can buy pre-paid credit cards and anonymous dumb phones to maintain your privacy, but that might not last for long.  If money disappears how do you buy pre-paid cards?  With direct deposit paychecks its now impossible to live without a bank account, and that requires a networkable identity, and thus a way to authenticate that identity.

People might not know it, but we’re on a path to no privacy.  For some people that might not matter, for others it matters a great deal.

JWH – 2/11/14

When Does Abnormal Become the New Normal?

There’s two films showing at Sundance this week about web addiction.  Web Junkie from China is about teens going through rehab for internet addiction, a condition that China deems a psychological category for severe treatment.  Then there is Love Child, about a Korean couple who let their real baby starved to death while obsessively caring for a virtual baby.  A while back there was a spate of articles stating that 45% of Japanese women 16-24 were not interested in sex.  Then there are all those stories about Japanese children never leaving their bedroom – it even has a name, Hikikomori.  And the long term trend in America is to live alone.  Any many young women today claim their boyfriends would rather play video games than have sex.

Now I imagine there are parents in America who would love to send their kids to camps to get them away from their computers, but I’m not sure we think of compulsive internet use as an addiction.  When everyone is a pod person, it’s hard to know there’s another way of life.

How much is too much of anything?  When does something become an addiction?  Are bookworms who read all day book addicts?  Lots of retired people spend their entire days watching television.  Are they TV addicts?  Of course, people who work 60 hours a week are sometimes said to be addicted to their jobs, and called workaholics.

Evidently, there’s an assume dichotomy:  normal life and escapism, so if we spend too much time away from normal, we’re addicted.  But what if living in front of a computer becomes normal.  I was a computer programmer, and often spent my entire work day in front of a monitor.  And, then I came home and spent my evening in front of a computer writing.  Was I addicted?  Or was that just life?

I spend a lot of time at my computer desk.  I don’t play games, and I don’t stream TV and movies.  I do write, listen to music and read news stories, all of which I did before computers and the Internet, and what I would do if I didn’t have the Internet.  A couple years ago I lived three days without power and in the evening I’d write by pen on a yellow pad, listened to books and music on my iPod touch, and played old radio show tapes on an ancient Sony Walkman, all by flickering candlelight.

web-junkie

I know what they mean about addiction.  Younger people do spend a lot of time on the net.  But women my age spend a lot of time on their smartphones, and panic when they don’t have them.  And more people than ever seem to love living alone, often with their TV, computer, and game console.

Is the real problem video games?  Is the main worry that video are games more appealing than day-to-day living?  In the film clip above one young guy says he played World of Warcraft for 15 days straight.  Now, maybe that is an addiction.  However, if you have lots of free time, isn’t a computer game a higher form of stimulation?  It’s certainly more engaging than reading or watching television.  We live in a world of growing unemployment.  A good portion of our population is without engaging work, so why not turn to the Internet.  It’s better than drugs – where the original meaning of addiction comes from.  And what does it say when video games are more appealing than sex?

And there’s one more thing to consider.  Humans are self-aware beings living inside a skull of an animal.  We have five senses bringing data in from the reality outside of our body.  Could the Internet be our sixth sense?  Or an extension to our sight and hearing?  Doesn’t the Internet just extend the range of our body’s normal senses?  Can living alone on the Internet be considered the beginning of a hive mind?

Is hearing a real tree fall in the forest different from hearing a virtual tree fall in the forest?

JWH 1/22/14

The Speed of Knowledge versus Copyright

No one yet knows the real impact of the Internet on human society.  If it wasn’t for copyright laws, the Internet could be the ultimate library. A dazzling library that it would surpass all existing world libraries and all libraries in history.  Even now, most people get more information from the Internet than they ever gotten from a library, or for that matter, from books, magazines, journals and newspapers.  Yet, the Internet is severely hobbled by copyright.

Writers need to make a living, and publishers need to make a profit, so it’s understandable that copyrights should protect intellectual property.  I don’t resent the need for writers and publishers to make money.  I do resent that making money impedes the flow of knowledge.  It’s a shame that the current distribution systems are so inefficient at spreading commercial knowledge.

the-new-yorker-january-6-2014-1

Take for instance the article I just read in The New Yorker, “The Gene Factory” by Michael Spector.  If you follow the link you’ll reach a teaser section of the article and information about how to subscribe.  This does not let you quickly read the article, which means you probably won’t.  If you’re already a subscriber and have set up your digital access, or can just grab your latest copy of the magazine, then reading is a little faster, but not quite as convenient as following a link.  Please make the effort, the article is worth it.

Many journals and magazines do offer to let readers buy an immediate reprint, usually for several dollars.  This is step in the right direction, but their pricing structure usually causes web users to skip the article.  Now I would prefer that the content of all magazines, journals and newspaper be free, but I’m no old hippie, and can understand the need to charge.  What I suggest is to make selling articles easier and price them at impulse buying fees.  What we need is a good micropayment system so publishers can charge 10-99 cents an article.

“The Gene Factory” by Michael Spector is an article that most people should read, but especially people worried about America’s future and science fiction writers.  If you’ve ever seen the movie Gattica then you’ll know what this article is about.  Then again, if you’ve ever been fascinated by the decline of the British Empire and wondered when and how the American Empire would start declining, then again, this article is for you.

gattaca

“The Gene Factory” is specifically about  Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI), but also about the impact of gene sequencing on human society.  The New Yorker article is very long and full of wonderful details and speculation, far more than I want to paraphrase here.  Which is why our society would be so much different if I could just provide you a link and you could go read the article.  Then if the article also included links to all the research that Michael Spector put into writing the article, we could all study what he has to say in depth.

Now, wouldn’t that increase the speed of knowledge?  And if you don’t feel the need for such speed, then again, I recommend you read the article.

Some magazines like The Atlantic and The Smithsonian put much of their content online for free.  I wonder if ideas in their content is spread faster and further throughout the world’s population than paywall controlled content?  That has to be the case, but I’d love to see the numbers.  Wouldn’t it be lovely to see public hit statistics for every article on the web?  Wouldn’t it be very cool to have a place on the web to see what people are reading, the Top 100,000 for the last hour, day, week, month, year and decade?  Think about the data mining possibilities!

Even cooler would be a raw hit score, plus a weighted score from people voting reading value.  So much more could be done for the Internet.  I feel like I’m thinking about television technology in 1939 and wondering what its real potential will be.

By the way, I use the Internet service Next Issue to subscribe to over 125 magazines for $15 a month.  It’s a quick way to get access to The New Yorker and many other magazines.  Next Issue might be worth trying just to read “The Gene Factory.”

JWH – 1/2/13

Rethinking My Kindle Magazine Subscriptions–And Electronic Magazines in General

Years ago I cancelled all my magazine subscriptions to go paperless.  I was finding plenty to read on the Internet for free, and I was experimenting with services like Zinio, which offers electronic magazines.  Then I got a Kindle and iPad and subscribed to Kindle magazines at Amazon.  I liked I could subscribe by the month, and quit any time.  But like paper editions of magazines, I often didn’t keep up, and unread back issues piled up.  So I cancelled my Kindle subscription to The Rolling Stone.  I thought I’d have all my back issues to read when I got some free time, but once you cancel, you can’t download the issues, even for the ones I’ve “bought.”  If you had previously downloaded an issue it stayed on my iPad.  Unfortunately, I discovered there were many I never downloaded, even though their cover image was in my library listing.

See, I was thinking all those back issues were mine to read whenever I wanted, even if I wanted to wait years.  But that wasn’t the case.  I’m not bitching about Amazon’s licensing restrictions, I’m just reporting how things work.  It turns out that when I re-subscribed I could go back and download those previously subscribed issues.  In other words, you can get past back issues if your currently subscribing and paid for them previously, but they aren’t accessible when you aren’t paying the current monthly fee.

Reading on the iPad wasn’t bad, but I had an iPad 2, the one before the Retina Display, and reading small print was a bitch.  Using a tablet for both bookshelf and reader has it’s drawbacks.  When I upgraded to iOS 7 and v. 4 of the Kindle Reader, it zapped my collection of old magazines, telling me I needed to download them again.  I had just cancelled my Kindle subscription of The Rolling Stone, because I had started getting the paper copy again, and thus I couldn’t re-download my old issues.

Okay, I thought, the reason I subscribed to the paper copy of The Rolling Stone was to get access to the complete archive online.  Well, that didn’t work out either.  The online viewer for The Rolling Stone has one of the worst screen readers I’ve ever used.  It magnifies better than the iPad, but moving around the page and between pages is just flat out horrible.  I can’t believe many people would take the time to read old copies of RS online.

[Update 10-18-13 - the RS online reader looks great on my 24" iMac at work.  For some reason the reader controls and the bottom of the page are removed from my Windows 7/Chrome browsing.  I also tested it on Ubuntu 13.10, with Firefox on a 1280x1024 screen.  It worked better than Windows 7/Chrome but not as nearly as good as Mac/Safari.  Unfortunately, I don't have a Mac at home.  I need to test Windows 7/IE and iPad 2 when I get home.  Maybe there's hope.]

What’s funny is the reader that comes with the complete archive on DVD is much better, but still clunky.  They’ve had that reader for years.  The current online reader won’t even show the bottom of the page on my 23” 1920×1080 screen.  It’s a huge step backward.

You know what? It turns out the old fashion paper magazine is the real winner here.  Damn, technology goes down in flames.

Now it is possible to create an elegant screen reader that shows old magazines, just look this December, 1959 issue of Galaxy Magazine at Archive.org.  If the folks at The Rolling Stone used this program to show it’s back issues I’d be in periodical heaven.

galaxy-mag

[Click to enlarge]

Now I’d love to have a complete back run of Galaxy Magazine in this format.  It would be better than owning all those shelves of moldy pulp paper copies.  And it would be great to have them on a modern tablet with 2560 x 1600 pixels screen.  The Archive.org reader works very well on my iPad, making it the most comfortable way to read this classic SF mag.

The ideal way to read magazines would be to have a large, very high resolution tablet, with the complete archive of a magazine online, and an excellent viewer app.  That way the environment benefits, and we wouldn’t be bothered by shelves and shelves of old magazines to maintain.

Right now I’m very disappointed with the electronic versions of The Rolling Stone, either tablet version or online version.  Reading the paper version is the easiest technology.  That’s a shame.  I was so looking forward to doing some serious reading of past years of The Rolling Stone.  Now that I start my retirement years next Wednesday I’ve got some real reading time.

JWH – 10/17/13

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