Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Okay, time to 'fess up!

by Don Keith

(While watching the Congressional testimony by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and the inane questions from our elected representatives, I could not help myself. Now it appears likely that there will be some kind of legislation proposed for restricting social media in a new effort to protect us from ourselves. But can government legislate and keep people from doing dumb stuff?  Can they stop people from believing everything they read on Facebook, see on CNN or Fox News, or read in the National Enquirer while waiting to check out at Publix? 

Maybe the better question is, "Should they?"  Legislate, I mean. At any rate, all this pertains to rapid technological change and how it affects media and society.  Thus my post below.)

Okay, time to 'fess up. Raise your hand if:

- You had no idea that if you put on #Facebook your address, the names of your kids, the place where you are at this very second, or your opinions on the presidential race, your favorite football team, or whether or not you preferred cilantro in your salsa any of the 120 million Facebook users worldwide could see it instantly upon your hitting the POST button.

- You thought all this stuff was free, no strings attached and not only didn't know but didn't care how Facebook, #Instagram#YouTube#LinkedIn and all the others made money to pay for all this web design, expensive computer servers, bandwidth and all that technical stuff.

- You thought it was just a happy coincidence that if you went shopping for a mattress and box springs online that for the next two months, no matter the website you visited, you kept seeing ads for mattresses and box springs.

- You are unable to figure out why, if you printed out a map of and directions to Albuquerque, you suddenly started getting spam email and even actual paper junk mail from every hotel, auto rental agency and pizza parlor in Albuquerque.

- You never considered that if you post on #Facebook a cute picture of your 2-year-old child peeing off the deck onto the azaleas, it will one day show up when he is running for Congress or applying for a job at NASA.

- You always...ALWAYS...check the box declaring you have read and understood the 30,000-word privacy and data-use policy of every web site you have ever joined, every bank home page where you have an account, and every on-line vendor from which you have purchased something, all to facilitate whatever it is that you are trying to get done, and you simply have never had the time to even scroll down so much as a millimeter or read a single word of that legalese novella.

- You click on every link on every piece of email you get--apparently from your bank, your email provider, the IRS, a friend traveling in Ecuador who has been robbed, and even companies with which you have no account at all (just in case there really is something wrong because they wouldn't be emailing you if there wasn't) and happily give your user name, password, checking account and charge card number, Social Security number and blood type, just to make sure your checking won't be closed, your email blocked, your taxes audited, your friend incarcerated, or your vacation to the Bahamas cancelled...even though you have never had an account with those companies, only know the "friend" through Facebook, or never booked a vacation to the Bahamas in your life.

- You thought #Google was a philanthropic organization, providing all that search engine power out of the goodness of their hearts, and even put the very best results at the top and down the side of the listing on the page so you didn't even have to look any farther.

- You see no chance that that picture of you chug-a-lugging that bottle of Jagermeister or forwarding that hilarious ethnic joke will ever become an uncomfortable topic in a job interview.

- You are truly ticked off that this #MarkZuckerberg guy sold information about YOU to companies, surely without asking you first...and surprised that the guy even owns a tie and a dress shirt since you've never seen him in anything before but jeans and a tee shirt.

- You figure you are just unlucky when you buy that computer protection software you saw on some late-night infomercial in order to clean up your virus-ridden computer, laptop, smart phone, or on-line clothes dryer, yet the software is now telling you that you have to send them $59.95 a month for the rest of your natural life if you ever want to use your device again.

- It never occurred to you that if #Alexa or #Siri could hear you and know what you are asking or saying--even when you are not saying it to them--or if you use the free #WiFi at the tattoo parlor, anybody else could hear you or see what you are doing because it is RADIO!

- You spend more time posting pictures of your kids at soccer practice than you spend watching your kids practice soccer because you are so busy taking pictures and posting the pictures at soccer practice.

- You have shared posts with your friends that were so funny or inspirational or thought-provoking that you couldn't even remember sharing them when you got called into the boss' office to explain you are not a racist terrorist or to the principal's office to get expelled.

- You have more friends on Facebook or contacts in your #Linkedin profile than people you actually know by a hundredfold... but if anybody...even a semi-naked person named Zumbezi Gatalayana from South Sudan, who works at Sears in Miami and has an MBA from North Dakota State who just today created a #Facebook account featuring two pictures of herself, one in which she is white and one in which she is black...sends you a friend request, you are by-God going to accept it because she is certainly interested in your soccer pictures, your whereabouts, your recipe for salsa, and your kid peeing off the deck.

So? 'Fess up! Right there on #Facebook or on some other social media site, or share or forward this to everyone on your email or contact list. Only 120 million folks will know what a doofus you are!

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Commercials. Are they going the way of the (fill in your own favorite now-defunct technical thing-a-ma-jig)

by Don Keith

I do still try to listen to over-the-air radio sometimes. And there are times when I am forced to watch a TV show or newscast in real time without benefit of commercial-clipping. 

And it hurts. It is painful. It is discouraging.

And you know what it isn't? It isn't effective for the advertiser. I doubt many listeners or viewers pay attention to the incessant wall of commercial content that gets spewed out between precious bits of music, information or entertainment. I got in my truck the other day and tuned in a local news/talk station's PM drivetime show. From the time I started listening until I arrived at my first more than twelve minutes, I promise...I heard nothing but commercials and station promotional announcements (commercials for the station).

One of the more astute observers of trends in media is Mark Ramsey, who has been quoted in this blog often in the past.  Because he IS an astute observer of media trends.  In a recent blog of his, he talked about news that at least one major media outfit was considering cutting back to TWO MINUTES of commercials PER HOUR.  Not twenty minutes. Two!  And the discussion is interesting.

Is it possible?  Can others even think seriously of such a dramatic cut in commercial load when the common wisdom is sell everything you can?

I don't believe it is a question of "can they?"  It is a question of "will they?"  Or will radio and TV wither away as consumers become more and more viewers and listeners to content that has NO commercials? And go away because advertisers finally realize that being the middle spot in a ten-minute commercial break does them absolutely no good?  Or that "BROADcasting" is yesterday's ad medium and they can now target right down to the eyeballs and eardrums they actually want and need to reach, not pay for everybody with a radio or TV set?

I would talk more about this but now, here's a word from our sponsors...

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Oh, the irony!

By Don Keith

Interesting news stories--with a common theme--in the October 2017 issue of the amateur radio magazine CQ. They are:

A report that the U.S. military has, after much experimentation and testing, decided that the high-frequency radio spectrum (HF, often referred to as "shortwaves") offer excellent communication capability and could be of great value. The story includes a quote from a Navy spokesperson that, "We tested our ability to talk, and we were able to send text to one of our other units that is across the Pacific Ocean." The military release goes on to say, "HF has become a viable alternative for military forces when more common forms of communication, such as satellites, are unavailable." Such technology offers legitimate and valuable backup to whiz-bang satellites and digital yakking.

Well, "Duh #1!" Even now, when solar propagation is approaching a minimum, the shortwaves do offer propagation to all parts of the world. Talk across the Pacific?  Heck, I did that just this past weekend...from my basement!  Guam and Japan, to be exact, all the way from Alabama. And I also made a contact with a ham radio operator in Western Australia via what we call the "long path," not the usual 11,000-mile route to my west and to the Land Down Under.  No, we communicated with my signal leaving my basic little wire beam, running about 500 watts, and headed eastward, across the Atlantic Ocean, over Africa, across the Indian Ocean, about 13,500 miles to the other amateur's station. If the U.S. military is still not convinced of the capabilities of HF, I invite them to take a look at my logbook.

Then there is another report that the Navy is revisiting more ancient technology, the LORAN earth-based radio navigation system that has been mostly replaced by GPS satellites. Someone realized that those satellites can be hacked and most ships at sea would instantly be lost...unless they could locate their sextant and wait for a night sky. (Last I heard, most Navy vessels, and especially submarines, still carried that truly ancient device, the sextant, just in case. They can only hope somebody aboard knows how to use them.)

"Duh! #2."  LORAN worked pretty well, I understand. The fact it was based on radio and required some rather bulky antennas spelled its doom years ago. Appears, though, that somebody realized that sparkly, spangly new technology may have its flaws.  Just as with our trusty and reliable computers, a backup is always a good idea!

And finally, it probably would not surprise you to know that most people under 25 years old would have no idea about what a 33-and-a-third RPM record was. Or an 8-track tape. Or even a cassette tape. Not even, in many cases, a music CD. But did you know that many younger folks today don't realize that your television set can pull in programming from, in most cities, more than a dozen 24-hour-a-day content generators?  A source not associated with a satellite or cable? And that such stellar programming is absolutely free?  It's called over-the-air television broadcasting! Yes, a tower on the hill, pumping out hundreds of thousands of watts of high-definition TV programs. These stations DO still exist! All you need to get this programming is an antenna.  Your TV set is already equipped to pull in the signals. And once you pay for the antenna, the rest is free. Gratis. No cost whatsoever, other than having to watch commercials.

The CQ article quotes a story in The Wall Street Journal reporting that the National Association of Broadcasters--the industry group that represents, in part, those over-the-air telecasters--says one in three Americans are completely unaware of such technology. They also quote a merchant that sells antennas saying that many of his customers question the legality of intercepting this programming for no charge. "They don't believe me when I tell them that these channels are not only free but legal, too," the merchant says.

The final "Duh!" Technological change has become so rapid that even existing technology that still offers real benefit--HF radio, LORAN, over-the-air TV--can get lost in the swirl of sexy new stuff.

(And a personal note, my dad became a TV repairman and antenna installer way back in the early 1950s. That was when people realized that they could get television programming in their home, that it was like radio only with pictures, and they only needed to purchase a set and put up an antenna. My dad put up masts with antennas on top of them all over East Central Alabama. Maybe some of those are still up there after sixty years and can still pull in a picture. Who knows?)

Oh, the irony!