Archive for the ‘Computer and Mobile Technology’ Category

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Yesterday, Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook and one of Mark Zuckerberg’s college roommates, wrote a New York Times Op-Ed proposing that Facebook be broken up. I’m not a big proponent of government intervention intended to stifle the growth of large successful businesses. But, Chris’s arguments are compelling. For example, he says of Mark’s 60% ownership of Facebook shares:

Mark alone can decide how to configure Facebook’s algorithms to determine what people see in their News Feeds, what privacy settings they can use and even which messages get delivered.

Although, in my view, Chris misrepresents the intent of the American constitution when he says…

America was built on the idea that power should not be concentrated in any one person, because we are all fallible. 

… he makes an important point about monopolies and the concentration of power.

I have heard an interesting counter-argument to Chris’ contention that Facebook is like AT&T once was and that competition is not an issue. The argument goes like this:

“Facebook provides their services for free and, since they aren’t selling anything to users and aren’t exchanging money for access, this can’t be about monopoly and antitrust”.

Perhaps there is a long debate to ensue. But I want to give you my opinion with one simple concept:

<<<<< DATA HAS VALUE >>>>>

To me this is unquestionably an antitrust issue. Every time I point my browser at Facebook, Instagram, or WhatsApp (I don’t actually use the latter) I am exchanging my personal data for the services I’m consuming. I know I’m doing this and I only do it because I get value from these services. I’m exchanging something of value for something else of value.

The problem is that if I don’t like Facebook software, I have no other choice. I can’t move to another social platform (no, Twitter isn’t a substitute), and I can’t just stop using these apps without sacrificing my network of relationships. (After all, Facebook was established for what appeared to be a really cool purpose and that is something I embrace).

In my estimation, then, I’ve exchanging a value (my data) for a service (my network) and the value I exchange is put to productive reuse by Facebook (they sell my data to advertisers and use it to drive my experience). So, my valuable data is  exchanged and re-exchanged just like currency. If I have only one choice about who to give my data to then that is the data version of antitrust, the “not a monopoly” argument dies instantly.

Should Facebook be broken up? You decide. But, does Mark Zuckerberg own a monopoly? Unquestionably.

Mark Zuckerberg gives me a network every day. In exchange I hand him a piece of my ever-growing “dataganger”. Billions of us do that every day and that is called a concentration of power.

I’m thinking of writing a book.

I thought I made up a word called “Dataganger” but I Googled it only to find that others have beat me to it. The great news is that I could instantly “Google” it. The bad news is that there is now another bit of data to define my “Dataganger”! I still want to use the word if I ever write the book. Here’s why:

  • Several medical image libraries have gigabytes of image data of my brain.
  • My Alexa insures that Amazon knows when I go to sleep, when I awake, which podcasts I listen to, that I listen to the BBC World Service when I go to bed, when I go upstairs and downstairs, what music I like, what my political views are, and a million more things about me that “she” probably records when I’m not looking.
  • Twitter knows all my political views and all my likes and dislikes.
  • Facebook knows pretty much everything
  • Google knows everything I’ve ever researched about my health, sporting teams, technical interests, and almost everything I’ve ever cared about.
  • Amazon knows all the books I like, what coffee I drink, what toilet paper I buy, what Indian food I like, what watches I wear, what pet food I buy, and, by the way, every product I’ve ever bought at Whole Foods.
  • My Nest thermostat knows what temperature I like any time of the day or night and when I am and am not home.
  • My T-Mobile SyncUp Drive knows every place I drive either of my cars, how fast I drive, how many times I brake too hard, how much time I’m on the road, and how I maintain my cars.
  • My iPhone knows where I am anytime of the day or night, how much I walk, what apps I use, what I like and dislike, and thousands of other bits of telemetry relative to what I am and do.
  • LinkedIn knows everything about my career history, aspirations, and business relationships.
  • My Fitbit knows how much I walk.
  • My watch knows how much I walk and everyone who texts or calls me.
  • My parking lot key card reader knows when I come and go from work.
  • The Harvest app knows everything I tell my company about my work hours.
  • The fingerprint reader on my office door knows whenever I enter or leave the office.
  • My Ring Video Doorbell know who comes to by front door, when, and possibly even why.
  • Comcast Xfinity knows everything thing I watch on every TV in my house.
  • Zillow knows where I live, who my neighbors are, what my house is worth, and the demographics of my neighborhood.
  • My Roku knows anything about my viewing habits that Xfinity doesn’t know, and, since it’s on my Comcast ISP, Comcast has that data too.
  • has my entire genome.
  • And let’s not even start on Credit Karma!

But wait! There’s more!  The sad fact is that every one of those services has probably sold my data to many others so that they can target me with ads.

So, what’s my point – aside from the fact that I’m over-connected? There are two.

First, In every single case I have done this to myself. I have chosen to exchange my data for one form of convenience or another. I did this by either reading and agreeing to terms and conditions that I have no possible leverage to negotiate, or by not even reading those Ts&Cs. After all, what am I supposed to do, not have a smartphone just because T-Mobile and AT&T won’t negotiate? I knowingly make what could be a really stupid decision every day.

My second, and perhaps more important point is that there is now a distributed data copy of Steve Bilow, floating around Cyberspace. It may be distributed but it’s still privately owned. This is my digital doppelganger and the only one who seems not to own it is ME.

That is what I call my “Dataganger” and I have a lot more to say about it in my next few posts.

There may be a book in my future. Who knows?

(Well, actually, Amazon, Google, Twitter, Facebook, Nest, T-Mobile, Apple, Fitbit, the parking lot and building owners at my place of business, Harvest, Comcast, Zillow, Roku, Ancestry, Credit Karma, and only God knows who else probably have enough data about be to make a pretty accurate inference. So, SOMEBODY probably does know.  Just not me. I own one me… large corporations own the other, the federated, me. That’s the bad news…………..)


Wow. This is WAY cooler than all the financial and marketing visualization I try to do.

via Sefaria in Gephi: Seeing Links in Jewish Literature

Dartmouth, May 1964 – The original BASIC computer programming language turns 50 years old this month! It’s hard to believe that it was only 16 when I wrote my first program on punch tape for a Data General Eclipse. I’m feeling old but, in the spirit of history, here’s a summary of the life of BASIC and a little bit on my relationship to it (yeah, yeah, yeah… I know that only I care about the latter but, hey, it’s my blog 🙂 )

1964 – Dartmouth BASIC by J.G Kemeney & T. E. Kurtz @ Dartmouth College

1969 – Dartmouth BASIC fifth version by J.G Kemeney & T. E. Kurtz @ Dartmouth College

1970 – General Electric ships the fifth version of (Dartmouth) BASIC with their systems.

1971 -BASIC the Sixth by J.G Kemeney & T. E. Kurtz @ Dartmouth College

1974 – ANSI committees form to standardize both minimal BASIC and Standard BASIC.

1975 – TinyBASIC by B. Albrecht & D. Allison (takes only 2K of memory and is loaded from a punch tape and Altair BASIC is introduced by Bill Gates and Paul Allen

1976 – Bill Gates writes “An Open Letter to Hobbyists” complaining that Altair BASIC was being copied all over the place before Microsoft even made it available. This is the first ever case of software piracy!

1977 – Commodore BASIC was developed by Microsoft for the Commodore PET computer. This was my first computer!

1978 – ANSI issued the Minimal BASIC specification (ANSI  X3.60-1978)

1981 – I wrote my first BASIC program on a Data General Eclipse I found in a storeroom at CalArts. It was called “RMUSIC” for “Recursive Music” (hence my license plate on my Volvo). The program resulted in a sadly un-singable vocal piece of the same name for my friend Liz Lindenfeld, MS-DOS 1.0 ships with BASICA on August 12th and GW-BASIC is introduced.

1982 IBM releases BASCOM 1.0 and I wrote my first BASIC program to profile the Acoustics is a theater space on my Commodore PET.

1983 –  J.G Kemeney & T. E. Kurtz release TrueBASIC based on Dartmouth BASIC 7.0 and Microsoft releases the BASIC Compiler v5.35 for MS-DOS

1984 – Microsoft BASIC Compiler 5.36 is released and the ISO issues ISO 6373-1984 for the Minimal BASIC and Microsoft releases BASIC  for the Apple Macintosh

1985 – Microsoft releases QuickBASIC 1.0, IBM releases BASCOM 2.0, and Commodore BASIC is introduced on the Commodore 128

1986 Microsoft QuickBASIC has 3 releases for the Mac

1987 Microsoft QuickBASIC has 3 more releases for the Mac and releases Microsoft BASIC 6.0, ANSI issues the Standard BASIC specification (X3.113-1987), and Borland releases Turbo BASIC.

1988 – Microsoft QuickBASIC has 4 more releases for the Mac

1989 – Microsoft BASIC Professional 7.0 is released

1990 – Microsoft BASIC Professional 7.1 is released and PowerBASIC Inc. forms fro the development of Borland Turbo BASIC

1991 – Microsoft ships QBasic 1.0 with MS-DOS 5.0; the ISO issues ISO 10279-1991 for Full BASIC; Microsoft ships QuickBASIC 1.0e for the Mac; Microsoft ships Visual Basic 1.0 for Windows

1992 – Microsoft Visual Basic 2.0 and VB version 2.0 for Windows

1993 – Microsoft ships VB 3, VB 1.0 for Project and Excel, and QBasic for DOS

1995 – Microsoft ships Visual Basic 4.0

1997 – Microsoft ships Visual Basic 5.0

1998 – Microsoft ships Visual Basic 6.0

2002 – Microsoft ships Visual Basic .NET 7.0 and DarkBASIC – brings DirectX 9 into the BASIC world

PLEASE post comments on this post if you find errors or omissions.


I remember, back in the 1980s, driving daily down the freeways of Los Angeles. Millions of people, none of whom knew, or cared to know, each other. It was that great postmodern anomie that Emile Durkheim understood nearly 100 years before the postmodernists and post-structuralists even existed. That isolation we feel in a sea of other people who don’t interact. Well, today, things are different. The isolation of the LA freeway system will never disappear. But our need to be generally isolated has been mitigated, at least to some extent, by social media. Many people feel that social media isolates us even further. But I would argue that, as long as we use it as a tool toward social interaction and not a replacement for it, social media can enhance our inter connectivity and reduce our sense of isolation.

But, here’s the rub. A hundred years before Durkheim, Jeremy Bentham invented something that has a striking similarity to a specific aspect of the internet. He created a prison system architecturally structured in such a way that guards could see all the prisoners but the prisoners could not see the guards. This design of guard towers was called a “panopticon”. The premise of the design is that if the prisoners never know whether or not they are being watched, you don’t have to watch them all the time. They’ll be “well-behaved” because they might be being watched. This is what I feel is the downside of social media, and the Internet in general.

We think we are free to interact with our friends. But we have to be careful. Kids have to worry that one wrong party picture will affect a college acceptance. Parents have to worry that posting a cute picture of their middle school child will invite sexual predators. Checking in on Foursquare tells everyone you’re not at home. Even I, at 52, have to wonder whether one silly tweet could offset 3 decades of great work in computer graphics and television technology. So, the fact is, we really aren’t free. Every time we post to Facebook or Twitter, or we post to a blog (like this) we choose to forsake our privacy (which, when surrounded by the big virtual panopticon in the ether is, for all intents and purposes, our freedom). So, at least in one way, the Internet doesn’t really make our lives better. It makes us choose either social interaction or freedom; basically you can’t have both.

So, just to be clear, I’m going to continue to use my Facebook, Twitter, G+, and Foursquare accounts; and I’m going to continue to blog. But the next time I actually crave social interaction, I think I’ll head down to the Coffee Nook to hang out with the “old guys” and read the news on some nice old-fashioned dead trees.

Consider this: perhaps not everything new is “progress”. Just some food for thought.

In my last post on the Kindle Fire I said I was disappointed because I could not log into my Google applications from the Amazon Silk browser. Well, I figured out how to do that and I want to share it.

In the browser settings there is an option called “accelerate page loading”. It is turned ON by default. When on, it uses Amazon’s server farm to “accelerate” your browsing experience. One subjective, editorial, unscientific observation is that (at least in my case) the browser seems slower with that option turned on. My unscientific guess about why they have it on by default is that it gives them a massive data mining opportunity. After all, you are telling them everything you are doing on the Internet. So that’s a huge data collection tool for them.

My pragmatic experience is that when this option is on, some things, like logging into Google, are blocked. I could not do it when I wrote my last post and I can’t do it now. BUT, when you turn that setting OFF, then you are no longer relegating all the control to Amazon. For one thing, you are not offering up all of your data. But for another, you are not subject to whatever THEY decide to allow or disallow. So….

If you want access to your Google account, your YouTube account, and who knows what else, just go into the browser and turn “accelerate page loading” OFF by un-ticking the box.

Feel free to comment on this post if you have something to add or if you know more than I do (which doesn’t take much).

We are now a bi-technological household. Patt has an iPad 2 and I just got my Kindle Fire. I think I’m going to like the Kindle and that it will work just fine for me. BUT, if you are thinking of buying one you need to be really clear that it is NOT an iPad replacement.

I’ve played with Patt’s iPad and the Fire has far fewer apps, a smaller display, less memory, a less cool UI, and most importantly, it’s nowhere near as responsive as an iPad. I wanted an inexpensive tablet and I think it’s very cool. But, I’ll still be using my old eInk Sony Reader to read outside (because it’s a far better display than either the iPad or the Fire when it comes to reading text in bright light) and I’m glad that I did not succeed in talking Patt into forgoing the iPad because she needs more than the Fire can deliver.

The Kindle is based on Android 2.3 that has been reskinned and modified. That’s why it only runs SOME Android apps. Also, instead of a traditional browser like Chrome, or IE, or Opera, or Netscape, the fire provides a browser called Amazon Silk. This browser uses the conceptually very cool idea of only running the UI on the device and actually running the computationally intensive stuff on Amazon’s server farm. I admit that it sounds cool. BUT, for this reason, Amazon can restrict what you can do. Relinquishing control definitely has a downside and I urge you to read on to see some examples. Before I complain, I need to say that, for me, the Kindle Fire is great little tablet! But if you are considering buying one instead of an iPad then you REALLY need to know that it’s not really a replacement. Then again – Patt’s iPad cost $650 and my Fire cost $199; so, for the money, The Kindle Fire is very cool.

Here are a few first observations I have made as a new owner of both the Kindle Fire and iPad 2:

Amazon wants to sell you stuff. Apps, books, videos, whatever. That is no surprise. You don’t lose money selling a product unless your business model supports an ancillary revenue plan. BUT to help them do that, there are some odd and unexpected things you should know.

(1) Amazon wants to sell magazines. I assume that is why Zinio Reader is not available. Much more bothersome is that the New York Times App that runs fine on the iPad and my Android phone (access to which I get “free” with my NY Times print subscription) is also not available. No matter how many hundreds of dollars you pay to the Times for your print subscription, you still ALSO have to pay $19.99 a month for a Kindle subscription.

(2) Amazon’s “Silk” browser is backended on their server farm. The premise is that it’s higher performance because the heavy lifting is done off of the tablet. Personally I don’t think it’s very fast at all. It’s okay, but not as they describe it. What they don’t tell you is that by controlling the meat of the browser, they can control lots of things that you can’t change. Notably, the Fire BLOCKS logins to Google Apps. I had to buy a $5.99 calendar app to sync with my Google Calendar because I can’t log into Google. I can deal with that BUT I CAN’T LOG INTO YouTube or G+ either because Google owns them! Now THAT is bullshit.

(3) Not surprisingly I can’t watch my iTunes videos because they have DRM and (a) there is no free DRM removal software and (b) that’s really not legal anyway.

Again, to be clear, I love the Fire despite the limitations. For me, it’s a great little tablet to do email, watch movies, listen to music, take notes with Evernote, access (most of) the Internet, and read books. AND THANK GOD that Angry Birds runs just fine too 🙂  But, I can’t emphasize enough that the Fire is definitely not for everyone. If you need the responsiveness, screen size, flexibility, and app count of an iPad: Buy an iPad! I’m really glad I got the iPad for Patt. She runs around with clients and the iPad is better suited to her (besides she says I can “borrow it anytime”).

There is one more soapbox that I want to stand on for a moment. I still think that ereaders best serve us in the form of dedicated devices with eInk displays. As a guy who uses my Sony Reader every single day, I still don’t think you can beat eInk for reading books. Besides, other than eInk based devices, what computer can you take on a month-long vacation without a power adapter! The Kindle Fire obviously does not use eInk and so it is not the best of all possible eReaders. Just keep that in mind.

One last editorial comment: I contend that you can’t beat Apple’s quality, style, and ergonomic design and you can’t beat eInk for reading text. So, personally, I do not think it’s a good thing to try and make a device that is everything to everyone. For me, in general, the jury is still out on tablets.

Now, all of that said, I really like my Fire and I’m glad I purchased it. The limitations are, however, definitely becoming more interesting and more prominent as I use it. At $200, I’d still buy it, even knowing the limitations.

By the way, I find it quite funny that Patt feels guilty because she has the $649 iPad and I only have the $199 Kindle. Usually she is the owner of all my hand-me-downs like the old iPod, the second old iPod, etc.  SO… if you run into her with her iPad, let her know that it’s okay that she has a cooler device than I. That doesn’t bother me at all. She deserves it. It’s her being a cooler person than I that pisses me off 🙂