Category Archives: Technology

Even If You Leave, You’re Not Going Anywhere

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I know it’s fashionable to say, “I’m leaving Facebook,” especially for the seemingly never-ending data scandals.

But for those who don’t know, Facebook (and most other media companies) can and will follow you across your life, even if you’ve never had a social media account of any kind. I’ve written so much about the unicorn of privacy that I find it impossible to believe that someone thinks they have privacy if they are using electronic devices of any kind.

If you close your social media accounts, it will have almost no effect on the quantity and quality of information collected about you. Your behavior and history are unflinching indicators of everything about your life. Even non-electronic information is being used, so unless you opt for a life in a shadowy cave, there’s no escape from being included in the heap of other consumers.

Yes, you might be leaving Facebook, but it’s not leaving you. And neither are any of the other companies watching you. (FB and Google directly control about 70% of the entire digital ad market.) Whoever you use for your internet is allowed to sell your history.

You might as well set fire to your own underpants.

We’ll film it and upload your fire dance to social media for you, though.

Amazon will show you an ad for burn cream or new underwear to let you know they’re interested in your well-being and business.

No Cashier For You


“1) Will a cashier always be available at the local Neighborhood Markets?” The answer is “No,” if Walmart has its way.

By the way, this hasn’t been answered by any of the dozens of emails, tweets, or direct messages I’ve exchanged in the last few weeks. Luckily, the corporation is staffed by human beings, ones who exist in the real world – and who share our misgivings about achieving cost reduction by eliminating jobs (and people) at the expense of customer convenience. Despite my complaint regarding being coerced into using self-checkout, even for large volume grocery shopping, the bigger shadow will come from passive scanning technologies which are designed to eliminate almost all interaction between shoppers and employees.

To all those with physical limitations or who dislike being required to be their own cashiers for one of the largest corporations in the world, please accept my apologies. Walmart will imply that their “Store Pickup” system will address these concerns. They won’t, at least not in the immediate future. From listening to people I know who’ve tried the order ahead and “Store Pickup” system, they love the idea of it but have universal frustrations with the implementation. Most of the hiccups are from, you guessed it, human error and insufficient staffing to provide a worry-free grocery experience. Warm ice cream? Shorter expiration dates on your dairy? Less appealing merchandise compared to what you might choose? Scheduling and logistic issues? Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

If you have a disability or limitation, I can only recommend that you insist that all retailers accommodate you. If you resent being less valued as a customer, I can only advise that you seek a retailer which honors your request.

Most of us will gladly embrace self-checkout for some situations. We’ll even use the ‘scan as you go’ apps in most cases. Equally true, though, is that we’re not going to accept a multi-billion dollar corporation’s insistence that we do a job better performed by an employee of its organization, a job for which we are already being charged. There are times when we want a cashier, especially when we’ve accumulated a few dozen items in our shopping carts.

As for the customer service reporting system, Walmart’s is broken. As it turns out, it is deliberately designed to function that way. In the last few weeks, I’ve exchanged hundreds of emails, direct messages and fruitless tweets and posts. None of them came from an identifiable person. With each promise of contact, I’d be sent back to the starting point of the broken carousel. I could almost hear the crackle of laughter behind some of the redirects. Walmart insulates itself from marketing glitches by pushing everything back out to the local branches, as if the store manager is the one wanting to reduce his or her staff. In a moment of candor, I had a store manager tell me directly that he/she blamed all of it on corporate’s sole focus on cost, even though the metrics of customer satisfaction skew away from cost as being the sole factor.

Officially, no one at Walmart had the courtesy or professionalism to answer any of my questions, even when I reduced it to the one question which starts this post. Their failure to answer me is a testament to their proven ability to ignore most pushback and to their own belief that they are too large to fail. I can’t blame them, not really. Arrogance of that magnitude is almost inescapable when scaled to their size.

One thing I found out for certain is that Walmart is slowly transitioning to self-kiosks while simultaneously avoiding any blanket statements about their future. A bigger part of their vision involves using scanning technology or customer-driven input, which either passively tracks what we pick up at every point in the store or requires our input to scan or tally the selected merchandise. We are the proverbial frog in the slowly heating pot of water and we won’t realize that we can’t turn back until we’re too boiled to hop out. Walmart is counting on our complacency to reach a point of no return.

Between initiatives like Project Kepler and Code Eight, Walmart is investing heavily in technology which reduces labor by removing Walmart employees from the process as much as possible. For cost reductions, it’s smart. For human relations, it is less than ideal.

If you don’t want to use a self-checkout kiosk, the best option is to politely say “No.” If you’re told something you don’t like, try to remember that employees are either badly trained, which is management’s fault, or they are only parroting the words and procedures given to them, which is also management’s fault. They are still people first and employees second. This is ironic when you stop to consider that these very people are the ones Walmart is eliminating to save you money. Truth be told, most managers don’t have any real ability to control these types of issues.

It is a certainty that many retailers will follow suit and use technology to push our shopping habits in a new direction. As I’ve said all along, such technology holds a place in our future but it shouldn’t be forced upon us for all situations.

I started all this weeks ago by saying that Walmart and its smaller food markets in particular is a business model I very much want to embrace. I love technology and welcome both self-checkout kiosks and “as you go” systems. I resent the idea, though, that I am becoming an involuntary employee of the organization I’m rewarding with my business. For those who are older or with physical issues, I am especially concerned.

Locally, most of us will have choices through smaller grocery stores and chains. They’ll face the same price pressures, though, at some point.

I realize that this isn’t the most well-written post but perfect is the enemy of the good. If a billion dollar company can wing it, I see no reason to hold myself to a higher standard.

P.S. If you write me, I’ll be sure to forward that to my compliance and correspondence officer. Or Tier 3. Or Reader Spark. Or that guy Jonathan sitting in the basement waiting to help you. Please give me at least 24 business days to ignore your message.

Social Media Is You


Social media is different things to different people. As a universal tool, Facebook has created several tools to allow you to curate and control what you see (or don’t), including individual websites. Use the tools to control what you see before lamenting that there’s content that you don’t like. It’s not perfect, but neither is a conversation with friends. We all have friends who insist on talking about herbal tea remedies, Trump vs. Obama, or who invite us to play Pinball Casino Gunfight 2019.

It reminds me of those who visit the beach and shriek about the hot sand, never acknowledging that beach flip-flops cure the problem. It’s easier for you to put on flip-flops than it is to close the beach unless you’re Chris Christie.

Each of us has our own particular interests, whether they are sports, politics, religion, video gaming, or literature. We share many interests to varying degrees, but it’s hard to overlap completely in a world wherein some people think that baseball, the sports equivalent of earwax, is something interesting. I’ll watch any baseball clip if it contains someone getting brained by a thrown bat or the first baseman’s pants falling down as he dives for a grounder. (My ideal clip would be if every player suddenly stripped naked and jumped into the stands, screaming in Chinese.)

This is exactly why the smart social media companies have tailored their apps for individuals to control their own content. If each of us posts what we find interesting and we also curate our own news feed, it’s a little nonsensical to demand changes to a system already designed to address the ‘problem’ as you see it. Social media is similar to tv, with the exception that you have to do a little bit of work to avail yourself to the entire world it brings to you.

Social media has been one of our biggest communications accomplishments. We can log on and have instantaneous access to any of our friends, family, and co-workers, anywhere in the world. Of course, they are going to talk about things that you don’t find interesting. With a press of a button, you can forever eliminate any link to CNN, Fox News, MLB/NBA, or Infowars. You can also swipe past, just as if you were speeding past an old rust-covered jalopy on the interstate without looking to your right to see the weirdo driving it. (Hint: it’s probably me.)

As much as you might hate to see a post regarding Polynesian Ear Mites or How Democrats Are Drinking Their Own Urine, trust me, there are people holding their phones and rolling their eyes at whatever inane thing you find to be either interesting or entertaining. It’s what makes the world so interesting. As a bona fide eccentric, trust me when I tell you that you would be shocked to find out just how many people think each of us is full of crap.

Share what interests you and use the tools at your fingertips to avoid exposure to what you find ridiculous. You wouldn’t want to live in a world with reduced options because that world will soon enough find you as you grow older and those around you slowly circle in.

Some of us are fascinated by a million different things. Others, like me, create almost everything they post.

Between occasionally being forced to remember that Major League Baseball is actually considered a sport and it ceasing to exist, I’ll tolerate it for the few crazy moments it sometimes can provide. Social media is the same.

The Talking Dead of Our Youth


Please forgive the undercurrent of snark, as I discuss the “Talking Dead” who live among us…

Last week, 4 different friends posted versions of the old meme, “Aren’t you glad we did THIS instead of THAT,” referring to pictures of being outside playing instead of on their devices when they were younger. I know you’ve seen these memes; most of them have children smiling as if the dentist just administered a quadruple dose of laughing gas and then catapulted them out the window – banished to stay there until mom hollered for them from the partially-opened front screen door. According to the nostalgic memes, no one ever stayed indoors. Evidently, we were too busy enjoying the splat of mosquito bites, Michael Jackson wannabes offering us candy from the open side door of a poorly-painted white van, and the sheer unmitigated joy of simply being outside – as if in truth our parents hadn’t forbidden us to come back inside until we were called. The rest of us were outside precisely to avoid the dangers lurking inside our houses.

The weird disconnect for me is that most of the “Talking Dead” have their phones out 24/7 and display symptoms of paralysis when they are without their devices. At least once a day I observe someone ‘freaking’ a little when they’ve misplaced their phone, the battery goes dead, or their device won’t function properly. They wander about like zombies or blind cavefish, eyes glazed, talking about seemingly nothing else. Gollum would be envious of the idolatry of their electronic devices.

All of them get defensive and pissy when I ask them why they need to have their phones by the bed, for example, even though they complain about it accidentally waking them. (Duh.) When I point out that it is possible to set parameters for emergency calls only, they recoil in horror, as if any limitation to being accessible is somehow objectionable. Our daytime hours are populated with the buzzes and pings of the devices of those who must be on constant alert, as if Star Fleet is going to call us to battle at any moment.

We evolve to use the technology available to us, tempered by disposable income and opportunity. To believe that anyone who now lives with their phone in their hand or pocket (or by their bedside at night) would not have done the same had the technology been available when they were younger is welcome to take a polygraph and get back to me.

It’s okay to have appreciated your time outside when you were younger. But if you would have had our current technology then, you might still be up in the tree but your hands would still be furiously scrolling and typing into the great internet, undoubtedly spending an hour telling me how wrong I am about your compulsion.

Comparing now to then in any respect is just another version of the “it was better back when” argument that serves only to highlight one’s age. And if you are one of the many who simply can’t walk to the bathroom without a phone, please don’t post memes about the golden days of youth, when you were outside, eating crickets or whatever thing you now glorify.

I love technology, especially when it is used creatively or as a tool. The phone isn’t the issue and it never has been.

PS: For many, the cellphone is the new purse; a repository of secrets.

Prince and Privacy



What prompted this rambling post is that I made a Prince-themed picture for a Facebook friend. I made some graphics and ended up with something unusual and personal, as she was a major Prince fan. I used a high school yearbook photo of my friend that she didn’t even own. It is true that I had to use hop-scotch and logic to surmise her maiden name and geography, but I’ve done this so long that it was overwhelmingly obvious that the picture was indeed her when I encountered it. When I did an search, even though my Facebook friend is still alive, the amount and breadth of information was staggering. (PS: The more unusual your name is, the greater the likelihood that you can be found with much more speed and volume of information.)

I often forget that not everyone understands the sheer magnitude of the internet. There is nothing it fails to touch. Regardless of the number of posts I write above privacy and data volume, I routinely surprise someone with pictures of their junior high year book, their birth date, relatives they never knew they had, secret marriages and divorces divulged, or comments they wrote 15 years ago on a “We Love Axes” message board.

I’ve had situations where people assume I am stalking them or somehow have done something untoward to access information or pictures of them. While I don’t condone stalking, I hate to admit that I am still shocked at this reaction. Stalking requires effort and dedication to match the twisted mind of the person motivated enough to actually stalk another person.(My Facebook friend didn’t believe I was stalking her, to be clear, but she was definitely surprised…)

Since I live among normal human beings, I go back and read a reminder I wrote to myself in an old blog. The reminder tells me to pretend that the person in question just started out on the internet – and therefore is honestly surprised. Even when someone is a writer, actor or lawyer in real life, they are still prone to misunderstanding the reach of the internet in their lives. Once I can imagine the person involved honestly feeling exposed to it for the first time, I am once again sympathetic and feel uneasy at being the one to show them. It’s not my intention to ‘out’ them to the internet or make them feel violated.

The internet is exactly like a room full of stacked and folded newspapers. You might need  a year to go through them to find your name, but it is a certainty that your life is described somewhere in those papers. Over time, someone reads, indexes, and scans all those papers, page by page, thousands and millions of them. And so, your life gets increasingly searchable. You don’t get to vote on whether it happens, or even to what extent.

We sit in a seemingly infinite pool of data. It’s an inhospitable place if you want to feel like you live a protected and quiet life.





11112014 Facebook and Social Media Reveal More Than You Realize…

Originally, I had snippets of posts from people on FB. Some of the profanity, violence, and anger is difficult to reconcile with living, breathing people. Were it 1 or 2 instances of this, it could be chalked up to hyperbole, accident, or a misunderstanding.Whether our president, senator or city council is liberal or conservative, I hate that people I know would resort to calling for hanging, beheading, or violence toward them or their families.

Personally, if you are frequently posting or hitting ‘like’ on posts that contain inflammatory and hateful language such as this, you are approaching some level of responsibility for it. If you hit ‘like’ where the majority of the people posting are saying things like this, all your protestations notwithstanding, it’s logical to deduce that you are generally in agreement with them. You can hide behind the fact that you didn’t personally hit ‘like,’ but it’s illogical to argue that you don’t condone hate speech or that type of discussion. I try to avoid being associated with the fringes, instead participating in places where people observe the decorum of racous debate and interaction without the need to resort to horrific name-calling and violence. I like crazy. Just not “angry crazy.”

It is evident that many people don’t have the “ticker” on the right-side of their FB – or if they do, they may not understand just how much it reveals. For the most part, if you hit ‘like,’ comment, post, share, or do any activity recorded by facebook, people can see what you are doing, what sites you are interacting with and click on these in real time, or scroll backwards in time and see what you’ve been up to. If you find me in the ticker, you’ll find that I’m clicking on a lot of liberal nonsense and posting zany commentary and pictures. I work to avoid jumping into the crazy pools of people spewing anger without any creativity or imagination. (I like when I’m insulted, for example, as long as whoever does it is creative and avoids clichés or boring methods.)

I’m having trouble reconciling the people I know with the hateful, angry, twisted activity that shows on facebook. People might be cautious about what they comment on or share, for example, but the ticker reveals a much different personality than that which they are concealing indirectly. I’m not stalking anyone, just observing and, over time, coming to conclusions.

It’s one thing to be a crazy liberal or conservative, but I don’t think it’s smart to be communicating your participation in hateful, angry content on social media. It’s certainly your right to do so, but please don’t be surprised when people start noticing a pattern of engagement.

I understand that you might hate Tom Cotton or Obama. Disagreement, even passionate disagreement, is a great thing. Poisoning your own views with violent language and crazy speech is only going to hurt you in the long run.

If you are hitting “like” or participating on the fringes of social media, FB is keeping track and in many cases, sharing your activity with others, even if you don’t realize it.

03252014 Privacy? Ha, Ha !

A week doesn’t pass when someone doesn’t seem shocked that much of their “privacy” is available either online or through the government. People who lock down their social media are no more protected than those who post everything publicly. But I can see that it is easier to believe that your privacy is protected. One of the most common errors I find, especially among the more educated, is foregoing Facebook or Twitter but relying on services such as LinkedIn. While Facebook can be locked down and used even jokingly, LinkedIn (as an example) contains your real information. Many users don’t think twice about exposing their résumé on such services, voluntarily, yet don’t feel exposed because it is a ‘better’ service than other social media. The same logic extends toward ALL professional associations and clubs. History teaches us that smart people tend to exploit their environment, too.

Do you own property? Chances are that your name, address, taxes, children’s school district, and even a floor map of your house are a couple of clicks away, online, via your local property records. Most searches allow you to use last name only or for multiple guesses. (The more unusual any of your names are, the more easily you are found. Worse still, these property listings are VERY likely to include your middle names, or legal versions of your name that are otherwise more difficult to ascertain casually) On top of that, if you click on deed links, you can see the full legal signatures of everyone involved. Sometimes, your banking institution is listed, as well as other information you wouldn’t expect to be publicly available, such as the location of your garage, where the doors and windows to your house are and whether you have a basement. Almost always, there is also a “map it” link on the property, so anyone can click it and get a detailed map, including street view, of how exactly to get to your property.

1st Place to Look For Property Records in Arkansas  (Link…)
2nd Place to Look    (Link…)

If you own property, you are tacitly agreeing to forgo much of the illusion of privacy.

(Some lawn care services now simply look up your address to quote a price to maintain your lawn based on your lot size and layout, as they can use google street view and satellite imagery to see everything in and around your yard.)

-Marriage licenses? Public.
-Almost all divorce proceedings? Public.
-Voter Registration information? Public.
-If you sue or get sued, chances are all of it is public, including all the motions and filings.
-A lot of people’s job applications are public (even if you don’t get the job!)
-If you’ve ever been charged with a crime, much less convicted, that information is out there for basically anyone to find.
-If you own a business, your business license, incorporation papers and anything similar is a matter of public record.

Want to check your own voter registration (or that of someone else?) Watch what information pops up…  Check Your Voter Registration Information Here                  (This can be a useful link, regardless of privacy, as you can look over candidate information and sample ballots.) But for anyone who can just GUESS your birthday, they can find you without any real effort. You might think you are safer listing only your day and month of birth in multiple places, but it’s an easy guess as to what year you were born, based on schools and other data.

If you know where someone went to school, many yearbooks are available online, for free. If you don’t mind paying for the information, your options expand exponentially. School pictures are in the public domain and are basically impossible to stop from being disseminated. Using Google or DuckDuckGo search engines unveils another universe of photos. Even if you aren’t sharing on Facebook, chances are that your picture has appeared many times in newspapers, LinkedIn, professional newsletters, etc. Databases usually don’t forget you, regardless of the amount of time that has passed. If you learn to use search engines creatively, you are guaranteed to find pictures of anyone. If you don’t mind physically searching at libraries, courthouses and newspapers, you can access anything. We all have pictures of us floating around in real and cyberspace. Worrying about it is no longer meaningful. If you factor in how many times you’ve been filmed or photographed passively by CCTV or surveillance, the probability of you being identified using facial recognition software is 100%.

I’ve known a few people who have public and professional jobs who think their information is safe. “Safe” is a relative word in today’s world. Much of the information being collected is a result of our own tax dollars being used to create ever-increasing databases of information. Your specialized job doesn’t insulate you from exposure to the crazy world. I have yet to find anyone immune from the limelight of information exposure, no matter how careful they think they are being. Regardless of what any government agency collects, each of us is daily doing our part to add information to our database, whether we do so willingly or not.

Even using the most basic functions on Intelius, Zabasearch, PeopleFinder, Pipl or any other common search option yields a lot of information about people – all without paying. Examples sometimes include your age, address, places you’ve lived, professional associations, schools, etc. If you are willing to pay, the amount of information you have available increases considerably. Using the free services usually yields enough background information to confirm your search and to develop leads originating from the confirmed information.

If you make more money or enjoy a better professional standing, your exposure increases, as you are very likely to have been pictured and mentioned in a dozen different formats. Anyone with professional affiliations such as police, real estate, lawyers, or teachers is almost guaranteed to be found without fuss. (The very people who would be most likely to fuss about privacy are also the most likely to have their particulars splattered all over cyberspace and realspace. You are noteworthy and if it’s being noted, it is being saved for later.)

As for social media, it is amazing how many tools are out there to analyze the who, what, when and where of what you say on Facebook and Twitter, among other services. No matter what your privacy settings, listen to that little voice in your head telling you it is all floating around out there anyway. That little voice is correct. No matter how careful you are, at some point the certainly of all information eventually being exposed becomes unavoidable. Even if companies share just your metadata, the algorithms which monitor everything already “know” you. People who aren’t on Facebook, for example, are still identified. Facebook has a huge repository of information that connects you to family and friends. It “knows” who you are – even if you’ve never had an account. It knows what you look like, then and now. People think I’m making that part up, but it’s true.There are geniuses who can subvert any privacy settings on social media and get past the protocols for privacy.

In many places, once you put your trash on the curb, it is available for anyone to pick up and take. Yes, that includes your five years of tax papers, bank statements, personal letters – all of which you knew you should have shredded, but didn’t.

Since I starting doing genealogy, I have been constantly astonished about what is out there in cyberspace – much of it listed willingly by real people. Having access to some of it has allowed me to genuinely help people. I’ve been able to locate people’s “lost” birth certificates, find their biological relatives, locate people who were once important to them, provide information that has allowed people to substantiate claims for grants and Native American registration and so forth. Some of it has been very rewarding. But the more I learn, the weirder that nagging feeling in the back of my head gets. It’s telling me that privacy is an illusion that we are trying to collectively believe in, despite all the evidence. I’ve found pictures of people who have erroneously claimed to have never been photographed and found information and pictures of those who do jobs that require secrecy. Many times, some of this information that should be protected vigorously is offered by local, state, and federal agencies without consideration for content or identification. (As an example, investigators who have been recognized or rewarded or even been in the news for heroic acts.)

If you aren’t checking at least one of your major credit reports yearly, you are inviting misery into your lives. A copy can be obtained freely from all 3 major credit bureaus. Even if they aren’t a total solution, getting yours should be the minimum, every year. If you aren’t doing it, you might as well be writing your social security number on the wall at the bus station.

As far as I know, I’ve never broken any laws regarding privacy, nor have I used any paid services, even legal ones, much less illegal ones, to obtain information. (Employing a private investigator, for example, is legal and opens up virtually any avenue of inquiry you would want to pursue.) I’ve found that for almost all inquiries, enough is out there already to eliminate the need for complex searching.

And such is our plight – in a world of information overload, each of our lives is spilled out across the world in little pieces, waiting for the wrong crazy puzzle-solver to pick them up. Hiding in seclusion isn’t the answer as it ignores the fact that horse if already galloping out of the barn.

Lifehacker Link To Delete Oneself From the Internet…
It won’t “really” work unless you devote a lot of time to it!


05052014 Aliens !

Playing the game of “what if” for a moment. What is one of my most-anticipated things to see happen outside of my personal life?

Aliens. Seriously. Not the redneck anal-probe-in-the-deep-woods aliens, but bona fide aliens.

Whether through undeniable communications or appearance, I would love to live long enough to to know that alien life capable of communication exists. I don’t have to see them, just evidence of their existence, communications, etc.

Not just because every aspect of our society would be called into question, not to add novelty to our lives, not to render pointless much of politics, economy, education or beliefs…

But to know that we have been living in a fishbowl of isolation, letting our narrow, horrible ideas slowly poison us. Knowing that we aren’t alone, even if we are still unable to directly communicate, will transform everything about our culture and planet. It’s time for something to shake us out of our isolationist stupidity.

I think confirmation of alien life would be the single best thing to happen to humanity since… humanity. Our illusions of self-importance would vanish. Maybe it would cause a ripple of destructive effects here. Maybe not.

Originally, I had included Fermi, Sagan and other people’s views and arguments in this blog post. I edited all that content out as it detracts from the optimism.

I’m fairly certain that we will soon have alien contact. It is going to be interesting, watching the unexpected consequences ripple across our world’s cultures, economies, and religions.

P.S. I’m not referring to the kind of aliens portrayed on the “History Channel” or late-night sci-fi television.