The Future Of TV… Though Not Yet

Watching shows on the net today reminds me of watching UHF pre-cable. It was there, but a hassle. It’s more likely I’d watch on my PC where there’s a fuller multimedia presentation through your browser.


When Amazon briefly marked its brand new Fire Stick down to $20, I bought one. It now joins my Roku and Chromecast as ancillary TV receivers. It’s TV over the Internet instead of over the air. Some ‘channels’ are linear others totally on demand.

Definitions are getting blurry. Are they channels? Is ComediansInCarsGettingCoffee a channel or show or both or neither? That’s still being decided.

cbsn-logoI downloaded an app to watch CBSN, the new all news offering from CBS.

It’s available only via the net.

It looked pro. They’ve gone for warmth with a tie-less anchor and brick walled studio. The production seemed a little thin. 24/7 is a lot of time with few additional bodies. TV can be done inexpensively. The product is almost as good.

It is well written and serious–CBS’ish.

Screenshot 2014-12-02 21.26.07They play an animated “We’ll be right back” bumper. Really? In 2014? These are early problems which will be solved.

I probably won’t watch CBSN much on the big TV in the loft. Too many steps. Using the big TV for shows on the net today reminds me of watching UHF pre-cable. It was there, but a hassle. It’s more likely I’d watch on my PC where there’s a fuller multimedia presentation through the browser.

What happens to the incumbents–newspapers and local TV news outfits as more and more services set out to the Internet? They adapt or perish.

Some adapt, still perish.

Have you read a newspaper with a hyphenated name? The Journal-Courier, Courier-Journal, Star-Ledger, Times-Picayune, Times-Herald-Record, Post-Gazette, Post-Dispatch? Consolidations and shakeouts happen.

When I was a kid, New York City had seven citywide English language newspapers with additional dailies in Brooklyn, Staten Island and Queens. Not anymore.

This market, Orange County, is greatly under-served. Maybe some clever video news provider will shake-in? Alas, the bigger trend is in the other direction.

Addendum: I am considering sending the Fire Stick back. It is unstable or unusable on the two sets I’d like to use it on. I believe the problem has to do with DHCP, a method of digital rights management and these individual sets. Will Amazon fix the problem? It’s stopping me from using their product.

Amazon Would Like To Listen To All Your Conversations

Everything you say is going back through the Internet to Amazon’s servers. Will it be eavesdropping on your life? I think that’s Amazon’s point. We are being farmed for our data.

Echo - KeyFeaturesDevice

Amazon’s newest product is Echo. Echo’s implications are simultaneously interesting and creepy. Echo is a standalone digital assistant that responds to voice commands. Think Siri, but without the phone.

Here comes the creepy part.

Tucked under Echo’s light ring is an array of seven microphones. These sensors use beam-forming technology to hear you from any direction. With enhanced noise cancellation, Echo can hear you ask a question even while it’s playing music.

You know the scene in Casino where Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci turn on their car’s radio to keep from being heard? Not anymore!

It hears you when you’re sleeping. It knows when you’re awake. It knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.

Amazon claims:

Echo begins working as soon as it hears you say the wake word, “Alexa.”

Echo-AudioExplodedDeviceThat’s not so. It has to be listening to EVERYTHING to know when “Alexa” is said.

This wouldn’t be as scary if your individual Echo kept your secrets. It does not.

Echo’s brain is in the cloud, running on Amazon Web Services so it continually learns and adds more functionality over time.

Everything you say is going back through the Internet to Amazon’s servers. Will it be eavesdropping on your life? I think that’s Amazon’s point. We are being farmed for our data.

I’m making the point with Amazon, but Siri and Google Now are already doing most of this via your cellphone or web browser (see the example at the bottom of this page).

There’s no doubt the Internet gives us powers and abilities far beyond anything I imagined as a kid–and I had a good imagination. But there is a downside. Even if voice recognition was flawless (and it’s anything but), bad interpretation will surely cause unforeseen grief.

Those pushing this part of the technology say errors will be limited. I have no doubt. But fixing errors is expensive. Google, Facebook and others have already shown, companies would rather you didn’t know how to contact them, much less help you fix problems of their doing.

The good news is they don’t look at us as individuals. The bad news is they don’t look at us as individuals.

Amazon And Us

amazon logoMy dad and I were on the phone yesterday. He told me he just ordered corn flakes via Amazon.

A click in the evening brought the flakes 36 hours later.

“How do they do it,” he asked?

My mom and dad, now living comfortably near my sister and her family in frigid Wisconsin, aren’t very mobile. Grocery shopping is tough.

We’re big Amazon users here too. I’m looking around my office at loads of items delivered to me. I’ve ordered on-line when I could have just gone to Home Depot, under five minutes away.

Is this a good thing? Over the short term it’s great. I get what I want with less hassle and for what’s usually the best price.

Amazon figured out how to get things to me fast using a variety of delivery services. It’s a data driven company. There’s a method to their madness, but no two packages come via the same route.

Over the long run I’m much less convinced all of this is a good thing! Staples announced they’re closing 300 stores in the US. Radio Shack is lopping off over a thousand. Retail’s in trouble. Malls are in trouble. Even Walmart is worried. Amazon is trying to hide in the corner, softly whistling.

At the same time, Amazon’s become adept at extracting favorable tax rates and incentives. A Google search for “tax incentive amazon” shows a half dozen states considering or already offering large sums of money to Amazon.

Everything I buy online I don’t buy in a store. Amazon fills the gap with fewer employees earning less money. I’m not paying today. I’m paying tomorrow. The jobless require assistance. It’s not the workers fault.

George Jetson at WorkIf the Jetsons had properly predicted the future, where George comes to work and immediately puts his feet up on his desk, we’d be fine. I grew up with that fantasy. But labor saving hasn’t meant making life easier for labor. The effect has been quite the opposite.

The convenience offered by buying online is huge. It’s only when you see the whole picture, it becomes suspect.

These are complex choices. I’m not rushing to a decision. It’s confusing.

Credit Card Calamity

“Is this your first time,” today’s fraud lady asked?

Last Thursday evening Helaine picked up the phone. It was the credit card company. You know it’s problematic when they call you and the person on the other end is in the states and speaks well. Someone from area code 267 (Philadelphia’s 215 wannabe overlay) had spent some time on the phone querying their system for our account balance and limit info.

“We have to close your account,” the disembodied voice said.

I assume we’re the mother lode for a scammer. We have impeccable credit (thank you Helaine) and a card limit large enough to charge Stef’s tuition. But I only carry one credit card in my wallet. How quaint. How last century. Cut that single card and I’m screwed.

The fraud agent at the credit card company began to read charges to Helaine. They were fine. It didn’t make any difference. The bank was familiar with the number the call came from. There was crime waiting to happen!

Later I spoke to someone else at the card company. Again, she read charges and everything was fine. The weekend was coming, I pleaded. Don’t cut off the card now–and she didn’t!

As requested, I called today to get the new card wheels in motion. Once again the woman on the other end read charges, but this time there were purchases I didn’t recognize. One, from a Dr. Kim in Idaho, was for a few dollars. Someone was probing,–making sure the card was OK. The biggest of the three questionable charges was from for over $150.

Changing credit card numbers isn’t simple. There are accounts that automatically draw from our card on a monthly basis. Have we remembered them all? The bank says incoming payments or credits and our Southwest mileage will make the transition without problem. I suppose they have experience.

Both Helaine and I have our credit card number memorized–the 16-digits, the 3-numbers on the back and the expiration date. We will have to be retrained.

Next month I’ll request my free credit report (NO–not from and make sure things are OK;.

“Is this your first time,” today’s fraud lady asked?

American cities got fire departments because insurance companies demanded them. We’ll get rid of credit card fraud the same way–as soon as the credit card companies are ready to put their collective feet down and demand them.

SonyBMG’s Rootkit – Real World Story

I have written a few times about SonyBMG’s rootkit, originally intended to protect songs on their CDs. All my writing has been in the abstract, looking at the whole situation from afar.

Tonight I got this email, and the problem has come closer to home.


I have been reading your blog since you started it. Therefore I thought of you recently when my computer was harmed. I have been online for about 7 years and have had my current computer for 3 years. NO problems with virus’ etc. I have been very careful with my online activity.

Now comes the problem. I am a Neil Diamond fan (no laughing) for at least 30 years. Therefore my husband bought his latest CD “12 Songs” the minute it was released. Not his best but still a good thing after 4 years with no released CD’s. Unbeknown to us this CD was infected with XCP software. I played it in my computer and it disabled my CD and CDRW drives.

I contacted Dell techs (no help). I never mentioned the CD. Next step….I called our computer repair man. He spent two visits eliminating possible reasons for the unresponsive drives. I did tell him that the last CD in the drive was the ND/CD. No problems with my BIOS, drives, motherboard etc. So he determined it was my Windows OS that was corrupted.

Upon starting the repair disk it seemed to be working. NOT– it kept looping. At this point we wanted to return to the computer as it was. Again it wouldn’t allow this.

So Windows had to have a clean install. You know what that means!!!!

Lost all hard drive and software and everything that has been done on this computer for 3 years. Frustration. You bet. I am trying to restore my poor computer one step, one day at a time. What a lot of unnecessary work. I would have expected this from my online time NOT a CD. If I had ANY idea that this was possible I could have prevented this.

We still had no proof that the ND/CD was to blame. Then by chance my husband came across an announcement on the SONY/BMG site that explains the infected CD problem.

All the info is a day late and a dollar short for me and my computer.

All SONY wants to do is replace the CD.

Why has this problem not been more widely shared with the public? It is a huge problem. 52 artists have been affected. has pulled many many CD’s. This IS big news affecting a large part of the music listening population. However I found all of this out too late.

Do you think this is right? And where do you suggest I go from here?

Hope this isn’t too long and will be of some interest to you.

Thank you for any consideration.

Barbara (last name removed)

Seymour, CT

I told Barbara to write our state’s Attorney General. This is the kind of case he often takes.

Truthfully, I don’t know what Sony’s responsibility is, or if there is a responsibility. Obviously, there is real damage and real costs incurred by Barbara.

I don’t know how Sony will deal with it. So far, their position has slowly evolved as if it was being formulated based on response to their last action. I’m not sure there are provisions for the Barbaras of the world… or if there ever will be.

I wonder how Neil Diamond feels about all this?

Very Special Burger

I work in New Haven, Connecticut. It is a smallish city – just a bit over 100,000 people. The downtown, though decimated by years of decay and neglect, is starting to show some bright spots, including restaurants and residents.

Yale University shares land with New Haven – not much else.

For a small city, New Haven has a lot of history. Our current president was born here (though he hides it well – claiming to be a Texan). He and his predecessor went to school here. The cotton gin, first assembly line using interchangeable parts, telephone switchboard and phonebook, Erector Set and Lionel trains all originated in New Haven.

However, if you were to ask a native New Havener which first was most important… it would be none of those. That’s because New Haven is the birthplace of the hamburger.

How weird is that?

There’s a legend… and it’s probably true… but I’ll leave that to the proprietors of the place where I had dinner tonight, Louis Lunch.

Louis’ (pronounced Louie’s) is a tiny place, so well hidden that I had driven by it hundreds of times over the last 20 years and had never seen it! The walls are brick. The booth I sat in was minuscule with carving on the wooden table (the same kind of carving often left by students on their schoolroom desks). Sitting against the outside wall I easily felt a cold draft against my legs.

The action at Louis’ takes place behind the counter, where burgers are broiled vertically, over an open flame, in three cast iron grills. The grills themselves are ancient – actually dating from the 1890’s!

You can have onions, cheese and tomato, but no ketchup! No French Fries either. At Louis’ it’s their way or no way, and that includes toast, not a bun.

There are two reasons Louis’ is still around. First, it’s the burger, of course. It is unbelievably tasty. Second, and more important, Louis’ is an anachronism. In this Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, world, Louis’ operates without consultants and accountants and p.r. flacks. There aren’t rounding errors or spoilage. Each individual burger counts.

I’m amazed it took me 20 years to get there.

Blogger’s note: I have no clue where, when, or even whether to use an apostrophe when referring to Louis’. If you’re an etymologist, my apologies in advance.