five years plus sixteen more

Back in 2004, I had a post called "Five Years" that celebrated this fifth anniversary of our getting broadband internet at home. Which means it's been 21 years now, so long that I can barely remember what it used to be like. I tried to explain it to my 8-year-old grandson ... how we used the phone lines to connect, how before cell phones you had phones connected by phone lines, how your modem connected to the same lines, how you couldn't talk and compute at the same time ... I finally gave up trying to explain.

In that old post, I wrote:

If I had to list the three most important events in our home computing lives, they would be:

1983, when we got our first computer.

1984 or thereabouts, when we got our first modem.

August 31, 1999, when we got cable internet.

Those are all events that happened to us, in our house ... getting a computer, getting a modem, getting faster internet access. The Internet is a lot different now than it was then, but those changes have come from outside the house. We still have a computer, we have an Ethernet connection to the cable internet that is similar to what a modem used to do. I guess wireless access would be the fourth most important computing event since then, as it allowed us to connect our phones and laptops and tablets as well as our computers. (It's a sign of how old I am, that I still use a desktop computer.)

But the things we associate with home computing aren't exactly "in our house" anymore.

Google was founded in 1998.

Wikipedia launched in 2001.

The roots of Facebook came in 2003.

YouTube was created in 2005.

Twitter came along in 2006.

You get the idea. All of these are better for our having broadband internet ... you could say that much of them wouldn't exist, at least in their current form, if broadband hadn't expanded into more homes.

Of course, now, schools from kindergarten to college are taught online, thanks to the pandemic. Those of us who are trying to stop the expansion of that pandemic mostly talk to our friends and family via video chats.

If you want to go back in time, try to remember before there was Google. (At least there were search engines before Google.) Or try to remember before home computing was even a thing. It was a long time ago.

black mirror: bandersnatch

So, what the hell is this? Is it an episode of Black Mirror, a movie from the Black Mirror crew, or something else? It feels like a Black Mirror episode, albeit a movie-length one. But I've noticed in the couple of days since I watched it, that I refer to the experience as "playing", as in "when you're playing it, if you choose X". So maybe it's just a fancy video game. I'm at a loss for how exactly to evaluate it.

In case you've missed the hype, "Bandersnatch" is an interactive movie that works like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Every once in awhile, a choice of two items appears on the screen. For instance, at the beginning, our young hero, a games programmer, comes down to breakfast. His father asks him what he wants, Frosties or Sugar Puffs, and those words are shown at the bottom of the screen. You choose one, and the story proceeds, informed by your choice. (I took Frosties.) The choices get increasingly troubling, such as deciding which character will kill themselves by jumping off a balcony. This being Black Mirror, there are no happy endings ... although there are apparently at least five possible endings, none of them work out well for the protagonist.

You can see why this is hard to evaluate. Just on a basic level, the "Bandersnatch" I saw, which followed my choices, is different from the one you will see, or even from any subsequent viewings by myself (there are supposedly over a trillion unique permutations). There's no use judging the plot, because it's never the same from one viewing to the next.

The question thus becomes, does this stunt have value beyond the playfulness of its construction? At least in the one time I watched/played, the movie was seamless. There were never any glitches to remind me I was watching/playing a movie that was making decisions every step of the way. Because of that seamlessness, it's easy to forget the technical aspects. Honestly, though, I can't say "Bandersnatch" had much going on beyond the trickery, which isn't to say it was pointless ... it was fun, even intriguing. The best part came when the hero starts thinking he is being controlled by some force, some other people. At first, it just seems like part of his growing alienation and paranoia, but then he gets specific: I don't know why I chose Frosties over Sugar Puffs, I just did, someone controlled my decision. And the viewer realizes that we have become part of the story, for we are the ones controlling him.

It's all perfect for the kind of endless examination of minutiae that flourishes on the Internet ... within hours of its release, people were posting flowcharts of all the possible choices, and spotting the frequent Easter eggs, many of which are call backs to other Black Mirror episodes. This is not where I would suggest people start who are new to Black Mirror ... it is far from the best episode. But it is a different kind of viewing experience, worth a shot (or two, or five, or a trillion).

the modern world, kaiser edition

I tried to refill a prescription on the Kaiser website for pickup tomorrow. I got an error message. Since I had to go to pick it up anyway, I figured I'd go down today and refill it. This morning, I got a text message from Kaiser: my refill was ready for pickup. I went, picked it up, and tried to refill another med I needed. They were out of stock, so they sent my refill order to a different Kaiser pharmacy nearby.
I walked over and waited. Suddenly, I got a text message: your refill is ready. Maybe 20 seconds later, my name popped up on the "your refill is ready" board. So the text message was faster than the notification system in the pharmacy.
To be honest, the true Modern World irritation was having to jump through hoops to get pseudoephedrine while I was there, but that's a different, never-ending story.

no phone

Back in 1970-71, my brother and I lived in a little apartment in Capitola, California. We didn’t have a phone, and of course, this was long before the days of cell phones. So no one could call us, and if we wanted to make a call, we walked down the street to a motel that had a pay phone in its parking lot.

Now, Robin and I have several phones. There’s her phone, and my phone. She has a couple of work phones. We have two phones we don’t use (one we have never used).

Thursday, my phone quit charging. Friday, I took it to the shop and was told the charging mechanics inside were broken, and that I’d need a replacement, which was covered by the insurance our son always convinces us to get. Friday night, I did a web chat, after which I was told a new phone (not exact, but equivalent) would be on its way that day, with an ETA of Monday.

Within half an hour, I got an email telling me my replacement phone was on backorder, and there would be a 3-7 day delay before they sent my phone.

So, no phone. I have a tablet, and I have that leftover from the dinosaur era, a big-ass desktop computer (on which I am typing this post). But no phone. No text messages while I am out and about. No camera for quick pix. No Google Maps telling me where to go, step by step.

I am bereft.

sing me a song: windows 10, day one

The first noteworthy thing about Windows 10 is that the opening screens look exactly like Windows 8.1. While I have a feeling the deep changes in the OS will manifest over time, at first glance, Windows 10 looks kinda like Windows 8.2. That is, while Windows 8 was a startling change from Windows 7, there is little about Windows 10 that is startling at all.

I think that’s a good thing. But the truth is, as I ran through the usual stuff I do on the computer, the most common thought I had was that I had no thoughts at all.. Everything ran the same as it did yesterday.

There are two major changes, though. I’m giving the new web browser, Edge, a tryout. I don’t know if I’ll stick with it ... I spent a lot of time just making it act like Chrome, which makes me wonder why I would bother to change at all.

But then there’s Cortana. First seen in Windows Phone 8, this is Microsoft’s answer to Siri. You talk to it, it responds. It does useful stuff, it does goofy stuff. It is integrated into Bing search, and it learns your preferences over time. It will set reminders or notes, play music, all sorts of things.

Here’s the Microsoft promo:

I’ll be honest, the most fun we had was playing with Easter eggs. We asked Cortana to sing us a song, and she gave us “Frère Jacques”. We asked her to tell us a joke, and she did.

As the video suggests, Cortana works best when integrated across machines, so you can tell her something on your Windows phone and it will be there when you move to your Windows computer. And this leads to an interesting problem.

For I’ve had something resembling Cortana for some time now. It’s Google Now, which as you might guess is Google’s attempt to enter this market. It works in a similar fashion ... you can talk to it, it knows your preferences, it integrates with your calendars and stuff like that. I’ve rarely taken advantage of the voice-recognition software ... I felt funny talking out loud to my device. But that seems more natural when talking to my desktop, for some reason, so maybe I’ll get used to this interface.

Which is where that problem comes in. Google Now knows everything about me that exists in the Google universe. And that’s pretty big ... it’s my email, it’s my calendar, it’s my Google searches, it’s all the things I do with my Android phone. it works with what I’d call Google Steven, and it’s pretty accurate for what it tries to do.

But Cortana will only know me by my actions on my desktop. It won’t know what I do on my phone. If I use Bing for searches, it will know that about me, and maybe my Bing searches are different somehow than my Google searches. The point is, Cortana will work with Windows Steven.

I can’t wait to see how the two Stevens differ.

adventures in customer support

My wife works from home. Her office is on a different floor than our router, and she struggles mightily with speed and connection issues. (All the rest of our wi-fi stuff works fine.) We decided what she needed was a dedicated connection to the Internet. So I contacted Comcast Support via the online chat service.

When asked to categorize my problem, I chose “Internet (Other)”. Here’s how the chat began:

Comcast > I understand that you want to add a internet outlet, am I right?

Steven > I think so :­). Wife needs more speed/smoother experience, wifi is not doing it for her, she works on a different floor from our main router.

Comcast > I see, let me connect you to our SALES Team to further assist you.

After an extended discussion with a member of the SALES team, the following ensued:

Comcast >  Since your wife is getting a slow wifi connection, I will be referring you to our Internet Department. Would that be okay with you?

Steven > ok ... I think they're the ones who sent me to you :­).

Comcast > As I have checked, Steven, the one who sent me to you was from another department but not our Internet Department.

So off to the Internet Department I went (again?). The first thing the new support person said was, “It's a privilege to have you here on chat and I am looking forward to provide you excellent service!” Then:

Comcast > I understand that you are having a slow WiFi connection and want to add a coax outlet to get a wired connection, did I get that right?

Steven > Yes. It may be as simple as my wife's workstation being in a bad position in the house, but she definitely has speed/connection difficulties when she is working. The other wireless stuff in our house works fine. She thought if she was able to get her own wired connection, it would solve the problem.

Comcast > I see, Steven, you are wrongly transferred to Internet troubleshooting department. Let me connect you with our sales department who will set up an appointment for technician visit to add the additional coax tap, however, there will be some charges for the visit. Would that be fine with you?

Steven > well ... I was transferred to you by the sales department :­) ... but yes, it's fine

Finally, this occurred:

Comcast > Let me connect you with the concerned department for best assistance. Please stay connected while I transfer this chat. Please wait, while the problem is escalated to another analyst.

New Comcast Support Person > Analyst has closed chat and left the room.

This took about 45 minutes.

temporary thing

Just a note: my computer is acting up, I'm worried the hard drive is dying, so things will be a bit spare around here for a bit. Yes, I know, I missed Music Friday, which was partly blog burnout, but also computer anxiety.

To make up for yesterday, I'll attach a music video to this post. Hadn't intended it to be this one, but I'm inspired by the title of the post.

maybe it's just that my brain is broken

Today I watched a soccer match between AC Milan and Inter Milan. Matches between these two are called the “Derby della Madonnina” (here in the U.S. it’s just the Milan Derby). This rivalry dates back to 1908. The two teams are historically very good. What makes this rivalry especially noteworthy is that both clubs play their home matches in the same stadium, the San Siro.

AC Milan’s home jerseys look like this:

Milan 2014

Inter Milan’s home jerseys look like this:

I’m not sure why Inter, the “away” team in this match, wore their home jerseys, although I guess they were playing at their home, the San Siro. Whatever, the players looked like those jerseys for the match, with Milan in red and Inter in blue.

As I often do, while the match went on, I had the WhoScored website up in my browser. They offer real-time stat updates. The screen for Milan-Inter looked like this:


I hope you can see the problem. On WhoScored for this match, Milan was in blue and Inter was in red, although those colors were switched for the actual players’ jerseys as I watched my TV. What was worse, in the first half, Inter was going from left-to-right on my screen, Milan from right-to-left. I hope you can see how this was a problem, as well.

My brain couldn’t handle all of this. Even though I’ve seen these teams play many times, I kept getting confused about which team was which as I watched.

I’m sure the brain scientists can explain why this was so frustrating. Or maybe it’s just that my brain is broken.

[Ed. note: if you click on the Who Scored link now, the colors are correct.]

we tweet, therefore we are

It hits like a flash mob. You’ll have your Twitter feed running in the background, you’ll check it periodically (the length of the period depending on the level of your obsession), and you’ll see the usual stuff coming at the usual speed. Twitter allows each of us to create our own set of people to follow, so each feed looks different, but we all know what a “normal” day looks like on Twitter for us. In my case, I get lots of stuff about sports, and stuff about television, and stuff from friends. Then, suddenly, one of the people you follow takes part in some instant meme, like #RuinAKidsMovie. Let’s see, in the last hour, I’ve seen Beauty and Bestiality, Bowel’s Moving Castle, Mary Poppin Pills, Sex Toy Story, Shitty Titty Gang Bang, Scat in the Hat, and Lady and Her Cramps, among others.

Your Twitter feed becomes overwhelmed with these jokes, some of which are great, but in totality, they make Twitter an awful place to visit. Luckily, the flash mob moves on eventually, and things return to normal, until the next meme strikes.

Sometimes, it’s not a meme. It’s just the nature of the social media beast. ESPN is running an ad that claims during the World Cup, there is only one time zone:

Twitter is a perfect place for virtual hanging out with millions of like-minded folks. This is especially true during real-time events … when there is an earthquake, I always go straight to Twitter to see who else felt it … during political actions, participants and observers can report using Twitter … and, of course, during sporting events that create “only one time zone”, everyone can join in simultaneously.

You get mini-videos showing worldwide Twitter usage during the match between Ghana and the USA. (If you didn’t know where Ghana was, that visual would tell you in seconds.)

If you are not a fan of the event taking place, this stuff seems like a nightmare meme. Instead of Sex Toy Story, you get “GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL!” tweets turning up a couple of dozen times on your feed within a few seconds of each other.

The excellent Rob Neyer, well-known baseball fan and expert (and apparently a non-fan of soccer), posted the following tweets in succession:

Wow, all the identical tweets after every goal have me hoping that U.S. gets eliminated quickly.

hahaha fun making a small joke and seeing which people think I should "go back to Russia"

Seriously, question to my friends: Why tweet exactly the same thing that thousands of others are tweeting? This is a professional matter.

We’ve all been there, at least all of us who frequent Twitter. And it’s annoying when we aren’t in on the party. But Neyer struck a nerve with soccer fans, who tend to have a pretty thin skin when it comes to their favorite sport. Hard to tell if folks were being tongue-in-cheek, but Neyer was told he “hates the country” and was labeled “Worst person today”. Finally, “KinnerMode” wrote, “The game-winning USA goal was amazing…but that doesn't make @robneyer wrong.”

Think about similar situations in “real life”. The neighbors are having a party, and people are enjoying themselves … the music’s playing, the conversation is happy, people spill out onto the back porch. You’re sitting at home reading a book. You might feel happy for your neighbors, but you might also think, “Damn, it’s loud!” Or you go to work on a Monday, and all anyone wants to do is talk about Game of Thrones, and you don’t watch that show. You might feel happy that your workmates have something to bond over, but you might also think, “Can we PLEASE talk about something else?”

That’s what Neyer was talking about. He’s checking Twitter just like any other day, and he probably has a lot of sports fans on his Follow list, being that he is himself a sportswriter, albeit one who specializes in baseball. All of a sudden … maybe he’s watching the Royals’ baseball game, maybe he’s thinking about the great baseball player Tony Gwynn, who died today … maybe he’s not paying attention to GHA-USA because he’s not a soccer fan, not even of the World Cup. And then … BOOM! John Brooks scores for the U.S., and Rob Neyer’s Twitter feed explodes with dozens, hundreds, thousands of frenzied fans, all tweeting some variant of “GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL!”

Maybe you are one of the many of us who rejoiced at Brooks’ goal, maybe you shouted your joy on Twitter or Facebook or Google+. And it felt wonderful to know there were all those other people watching the same thing at the same time as you, inspired to Tweet at the same moment that you were inspired to do the same. Twitter becomes our virtual pub.

But Twitter isn’t that place on the corner that people go to when they want a beer. No, Twitter is a pub in your backyard, full of people even when you are doing something at home.

After Clint Dempsey’s goal, 34 seconds into the match, one person tweeted, “Grateful not to be watching this in a bar.” And she is a fan! I knew just what she meant … sure, I jumped up and shouted and stomped on the floor at my house more than once during the match, and yes, I was happy to share those moments with people on Twitter. But I appreciated the virtual aspect of the camaraderie. And I don’t blame Rob Neyer if he experienced multiple simultaneous GOOOOOOL! tweets the same way I experience the flash-mob memes of #RuinAKidsMovie.

Meanwhile, there are still people who actually watch the games in public, and there are television stations there to report on it in real time, just like Twitter, only with pictures!

Local Reporter Captures USMNT Game-Winner Live, Has Priceless Reaction