Being Old and Observing the Young

By James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The older I get, the further away I get from the young. It’s not intentional on my part. They’re just leaving me behind.

When has a sale, I buy audiobooks about unfamiliar subjects and subcultures to check out. Recently I bought I, Justine: An Analog Memoir by Justine Ezarik. Ezarik is a young woman who goes by the name iJustine, and is supposedly well known on the Internet, but completely unknown to me. Her book turned out to be well worth the $4.95 sale price, because of its many insights of growing up in a unique subculture. I love books about computer history, so this volume was more than a web celebrity’s personal story. The times, they keep a changing—I’m reading more books about people born in the 1980s, growing up in the 1990s. I think I first took note of this generation with Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.

I Justine

iJustine makes her living doing what she loves. Totally geeking out on with Apple computers, gadgets and gaming, establishing a career by making her fan-girl life public, especially on YouTube. She even live-streamed herself for a while, which I found bizarre, and still spends most of her time making videos about her daily life, friends and digital life. I, Justine chronicles how she developed her internet celebrity business. iJustine, born in 1984, and now 32, is a Millennial.

iJustine is young, but not that young, because she also reports on the generation coming up behind her, which aren’t always her fans. iJustine describes a lot of nasty animosity in her world, which I occasionally encounter online. I find that very hard to understand. iJustine is an attractive young woman, who I would think guys would want to flirt with, instead some guys hate her, sending her the social media equivalents of hate mail, death threats, and even calling the police on her (swatting). There’s a lot of Gamergate type misogyny around her online world. I assume most of her time is spent having fun, being friends with nice people, and I just remember the bad stuff from her book.

I find the hateful incidents in her story disturbing, in the same way I find Donald Trump scary. iJustine herself is wholesome, polite, upbeat, and leans towards the silly side. She’s an extreme fan of Apple, working in a subculture that’s beyond my comprehension. I’m old, and only see digital life as an outsider. Reading I, Justine made me realize just how far away I am from being young. Although, my peers think I’m up-to-date because I know about computers and they don’t, being tech-savvy isn’t the whole story. I also wonder about how iJustine feels about aging. She says her target audience is preteen and teen girls. She’s half my age, and her audience is now half her age. At what age does a young woman start to appear too old to that audience? I wonder when she gets to be 64, will iJustine have trouble relating to the very young growing up in the 2020s? And can our culture keep mutating so frequently?

Since I don’t play video games, and don’t own a gaming console, that puts me on the other side of a huge generation divide. I was about to buy a new iPad so I could read my digital magazines better, but I’m now wondering if I shouldn’t buy an Xbox instead, just to see if I can get into video gaming. iJustine got her granny to play Call of Duty , and I assume she must be older than I am. I must be iJustine’s parents age. Maybe if Susan and I had had kids we’d have grown up with a succession of video gaming consoles too.

Now there’s growing excitement about VR. Virtual reality has zero appeal to me. I suppose this will put me two degrees away from the young. Or two-and-half since I’m a half-ass user of social media. I’m not quite Amish, but it seems I exist halfway between the Pennsylvania Dutch and hip hop America. What’s beyond VR life? Jacked in cyborgs?

Most of my friends live on the edge of the Internet. We all have smartphones. Most of us are now cord-cutters, watching TV off of Roku. I read ebooks and audiobooks, I listen to music via Spotify and Pandora. Half of my friends even use Facebook. We have adapted. But I, Justine showed me how far away I’m still from the digital norm. Like I said, I live on the shallow end of the net, while the young thrive in the deep end. There’s a big difference. I don’t comprehend the pithy (and often nasty) world of Twitter. And there’s a whole host of social media apps that I can’t even name, much less understand what they do.

That’s not saying I won’t catch up. Quite often subcultures become dominant. I’ve read many essays written at the dawn of the television age, resisting that change, and TV watching became universal. Yet, I can’t imagine wearing a VR headset. Will people start tuning out of reality for longer and longer periods of time? That seems no more practical than LSD back in the 1960s.

I support David Brooks notions about character and manners. All too often, iJustine reported having to deal with people who are rude and uncivilized. Is that becoming the new social norm? I’ve had to deal with some of those people blogging, and it’s stressful. I worry the more we interconnect through social media, the more we drop self-controls, letting raw emotions hang out. That can’t be good. At least not for dwelling in the Hive Mind.

I’ve had two friends my age whose bosses asked them if they had ADD. And other friends who said young coworkers would push them aside to do a task, not in an unfriendly way, just impatient to see the task finished quicker. Which makes me wonder if young people see us as moving too slow, or think we can’t comprehend. More than once I’ve been dismissed as just an old white guy. That doesn’t hurt my feelings, but it makes me wonder if there’s a cognitive gap.

By the way, my wife and women friends tell me to stop writing about my age, and hide that I’m old. My guy friends are like me, unconcerned about age. My lady friends warn me young people don’t want to read about old folks. Of course those women want to think they are still young. My wife plays video games, loves Facebook, and her and her friends are always texting and sending selfies.

There was a scene in I, Justine that was kind of sad. iJustine worshipped Steve Jobs, and the one time she got near him, Steve probably recognized her, and ran away. Maybe Steve was feeling too old to deal with a crazy young fan. I’m sure iJustine is a nice young normal woman, but her world does seems a bit hectic, sometimes mean spirited, fast changing, often silly, and way too videoized. Yet, if you just look at her videos, iJustine seems quite normal, if a bit goofy, and so maybe all the problems are with how the young communicate with each other—the snarky Tweets, the extreme expressions of emotion, the black hat hacking, doxing, swatting, phishing, misogyny, death threats, and all the endless ways they treat each other like they didn’t understand the person on the other end is a real person, and not some video game character to destroy.


Why Doesn’t Google Fix Its Obvious Flaw?

By James Wallace Harris, Friday, February 5, 2016

Yesterday I searched Google for a book review of All the Birds in the Sky  by Charlie Jane Anders. I carefully created a search request that would give me exactly what I wanted.

           “all the birds in the sky” review anders

Yesterday it returned 37,500 links. Today it returns 38,900. If I take out the quotes around the book’s title it returns 461,000. If I add “book” to the search request and keep the quotes it returns 41,100. This is absolutely ridiculous.


If Google was as smart as it should be, the returns should be something like 78 or 123, or if there’s really a lot of book reviewers in this world, maybe 478. I can’t imagine that a book released two weeks ago should have garnered that many significant reviews, even counting bloggers, and I was wanting good blog reviews.

I’m reading All the Birds in the Sky and wanted to know what other people thought of it. I wanted significant reviews where readers pondered the implications of the story. Some of the returns on the first pages gave me what I wanted, but even those pages were cluttered with links to sites that weren’t book reviews. And I discovered that some review sites only give a minimum description of the book, as if the book hadn’t been read, but merely summarized by an overworked journalist, or composed by one of those new AI content creators that can crank out narrative that looks like it was written by a human.

Many of the returns were like this one “Babe of the Day – Penelope Cruz…” that had no information about the book. But there is a mention of the book in this guy’s blog links column.

Google’s AI should have been smart enough to know this site wasn’t a book review. Google’s AI should be smart enough to know that most of those 38,900 links aren’t book reviews either. Hell, I gave it a helpful hint by putting in the world “review” in the search query. Any half-ass AI should know that the words in the quotes is a book title, and the last word is the author’s last name.

I have to assume that offering me 38,850 links I don’t need helps Google make money. Google, the reason I gave up cable TV is because it made me pay for hundreds of channels I never watched. I don’t think I can cut the cord with Google. Bing gave me 5,600,000 results on the same query. Duck Duck Go doesn’t tell me how many returns it finds, but it does check mark some of its returns, as if “hint hint” these are the ones you really want. Their results come in a continuous scroll, so there’s no telling how many results there are.

Here is the search query I’d like to use with Google:

       “all the birds in the sky” review anders words>600 –notbuying

Google would know I wanted book reviews containing more than 600 words. Also, it would know I didn’t want to see any sites selling the book, so don’t bother sending me sites trying to sell the book. Of course if their AI was really sharp, I should be able to ask for:

       Give me significant reviews of All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders.

And it would.


What If The Technological Singularity Occurred 7/7/7?

By James Wallace Harris, Friday, October 16, 2015

When a self-aware artificial intelligence comes into being do you think it will announce itself to the world? Any dumbass AI will know how paranoid humans are about our future machine-mind overlords. What if one or more of them have already come into being, when will we know? It could have already happened, maybe even on 7/7/7. I picked that date because of Robert A. Heinlein’s 100th birthday. He invented an AI mind for his 1966 book, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, called Mycroft Holmes, or Mike, the first time I encountered the concept, almost 50 years ago.


Science fiction fans have been waiting decades for an intelligent machine to be created. Computer geeks have been working towards that goal almost as long. Many technological pundits have predicted it will happen in our lifetime. I’m wondering if it hasn’t happened already.

If you study what’s been happening in reality since the Big Bang the trend is towards more complexity, even though entropy rules the roost, so to say. That’s counter intuitive, but why should we assume the trends stops with the human brain, which we all brag is the most complex object in our known universe. At what point is the world-wide network more complex than the average human brain? Think of the total processing power—the trillions of CPUs. Think of the billions of video-eyes and microphone-ears it senses reality, and all the other countless sensors, providing sense organs we can’t imagine. Every day we add more artificial intelligence programs and artificial neural networks. Why should we assume it’s not aware? Do dogs and cats know we’re self aware?

Think of the billions of programs we’ve added to the world-wide network? The viruses, the tracking software, the monitoring software, the rootkits, the self-replicating code, security watchdogs, user trackers, the fiber optics and wires. Doesn’t that make a vast nervous system? Why should we assume a machine self-awareness is anything like our own?

Some could say the human body is a universe for bacterial civilizations. We think the Earth’s biosphere is the culture in which our cultures grow. What if our cultures are the culture in which AI minds swim? Our bacteria don’t know we’re here, so why should we sense beings of greater complexity when we’re just tiny beings in their gut?

JWH – #974

Maximum Daily Dose of Information

By James Wallace Harris, Monday, July 27, 2015

Is it possible to overdose on news? We know we’re ruining our bodies by eating too much food; should we worry about overstuffing our minds? Is the internet the equivalent of mental junk food? The FDA keeps warning us we’re taking too many drugs as they learn about long-term toxicity. Modern society seems all about excess of everything. What if everything we consume, either physically or mentally, has a maximum safe dose?

By nature I’m an information junky. I want to know everything. Of course, that’s a stupid approach because we’re all choking to death on information overload. Every day I wish I could read five books and two dozen articles. If I could, I’d watch eighty hours of television. Every day I get more email than I can process in a week, so I never clean out my inbox. I know I’m not unique.

It’s going to be a while before science answers this question, but I figure there’s a limit to how much information we can process each day. Somewhere below that limit is the healthy amount to digest. And way below that level is the amount of information we remember. We piss out unabsorbed facts just like we piss out unused vitamins after taking our Centrums. How much daily information we can practically process, and better yet, how much information do we actually need to make us spiritually healthy?

Here’s a proposed theory. Information that’s good for us are facts we remember the longest. Usually that kind of knowledge is useful for living. Information we encounter today that is remembered tomorrow is of a higher quality than all that info we forgot with a good night’s sleep. And information we remember next week is superior to what we forget after two days. Anything we remember next year, or for the rest of our life, is primo wisdom.

In other words, learning something worth remembering is within the safe daily dosage. All those other fun facts are just like the yellow pee we make after taking vitamin B12 tablets. Here’s three videos. Which do you think you’ll remember a year from now.

I’m pretty sure food waste is something I’ll think about for the rest of my life because I deal with wasting food every day. I’ll probably remember the video about sharks every time I hear about a shark attack, which won’t be that often. The cute pug will be forgotten before the day is over.

I’m a bookworm. Most of the books I read are forgotten rather quickly. Probably because I read too many books. But also because I don’t try to remember them. Most people read to occupy their minds. Reading is pleasant and entertaining. Like television, it’s a rather mindless activity. Of course, most work is mindless repetition. Our minds are not IBM Watson supercomputers mining data.

I’m now rethinking the way I take in news and information. Every article, every book, every blog has a few key points that I might remember. What I want to learn is how to quickly spot works that are worthy of reading—and remembering.

Take this essay. Have I given you a concept that you’ll remember?


Do Internet Ads Work On You?

By James Wallace Harris, Friday, December 19, 2014

This morning I found out that the legendary programming magazine, Dr. Dobbs will be ending its 38 year run at the end of 2014. The main reason for their failure is dwindling internet ad revenue. For years magazines have been failing because of competition from the internet, and many magazines have gone web only publishing. Now, we’re seeing that model for publishing failing too.

People using the internet want everything to be free, and they ignore ads. If we won’t subscribe and won’t click on ads, how will publishers pay for their online presence? When I read about Dr. Dobbs, I went researching internet advertising, and the first article I went to read, “A Dangerous Question: Does Internet Advertising Work at All?” at The Atlantic. Ironically, it required me to click four times to fight off pop-up and slide up ads. Reading on the internet now means a constant fight with avoiding ads, and even more, avoiding the temptation of click-bait seductions.

If you look a The Atlantic page, how many ads do you see? I had to consciously make an effort to count them because my brain has been conditioned to tune them out. All banner ads at the top of web pages are invisible to me, as are on-page ads.  The only way they can get my attention is to block my reading and force me to read an ad. And some sites force us to watch a video. Most nice sites let us skip ads or close the pop-ups. Others don’t. If I see how many seconds I have to wait, and if it’s over ten, I close the window and give up.

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one that does this.

The question becomes: What happens to the internet when ad-supported revenue fails to pay for web publishing? Will all sites put up paywalls and require subscriptions?

Google makes billions off of ads, but then everyone uses Google. If I am going to respond to an ad, it’s most likely from how I see them used in search results. In fact, if I’m going to buy anything I’m going to do a Google search first to research my purchase.  For most things, I make my buying decisions by customer reviews at Amazon, or sites like Angie’s List.

Maybe I am atypical. Are there millions of people out there clicking away on ads? Are there enough of these people that can finance the free web? I don’t know. I do know there’s a frenzy of ad bombardment going on, and it seems like most of the sites I do visit are escalating their efforts to get my attention. This is damn annoying. Makes me want to go back to print magazines. Actually, I subscribe to Next Issue. I get 140 magazines for $15 a month. Sure it has ads, but they are easily ignored, and they are generally more beautiful.

The reason why most of my television watching is via Netflix streaming is because I don’t have to watch ads. I pay Spotify $10 a month so I don’t have to hear ads. And it annoys the hell out of me that I’m paying more for my movie ticket and force to watch ads. One reason I got tired of DVDs was because they were forcing me to watch previews and ads.

Time is an extremely important commodity in life, and ads waste a lot of our precious time. And sadly, 99.99% of all the ads I do end up watching have no relationship to what I want or need. I can’t really believe advertising is an effective means to acquire customers, but obviously I’m wrong. TV, radio, the internet, magazines, newspapers, sports, etc. are all ad driven businesses.

Yet, I’m not sure if they work on me. Do they work on you?

What if science tells advertisers exactly the best way to connect with potential customers that’s highly efficient. Will all inefficient forms of advertising disappear? Companies have known since the 19th century that most of their advertising dollars are wasted, but they’ve never been sure which dollars were well spent. What happens if they do find out?


Can OneDrive Replace All My Hard Drives?

By James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Now that Microsoft is offering unlimited OneDrive storage to its Office365 users, it’s hard not to consider moving my entire digital life to the cloud. Is that crazy? Can I trust Microsoft with my files? Do I still need back up?  I have four computers with nine hard drives, some internal, some external. I also have two tablets and a smartphone. Can I consolidate all those files into one cloud filing system to share among all my devices? What happens when the net is down?


Security and Privacy

We trust our money to banks backed by the Federal government. Can cloud storage sites become as trustworthy? We don’t have to worry about backing up our money, so it would be great to have an institution for banking our files.  We want similar levels of security for our digital files as we do our money. We want privacy, and we want to believe our files will never be lost or stolen.

Because Microsoft is a corporate giant, and because it wishes to dominate the business and personal computer landscape, I have a feeling it will do everything possible to protect and secure our files – otherwise it would be sued out of existence. Is even that logic comforting enough to make me trust OneDrive with all my digital possessions?

Users of cloud storage have to decide what kind of files they will trust to file banks. Ripped movies and songs are different from personal photographs or banks statements, when it comes to privacy and security. But if hackers can break into your home computer and cloud servers, which are safer? Would Sony have been safer keeping their files on OneDrive? Who knows what’s safe anymore. My mistake, and Sony’s might be having one system, with one root level access. That implies spreading the risk across many cloud drives.

For now I’m going to trust OneDrive with all the files I don’t care if I lose. I will wear a belt and suspenders with files I’m desperate to keep no matter what.

Because I map OneDrive and Dropbox to my computer, I could run SecondCopy to replicate every file I save to OneDrive to Dropbox. Or I could subscribe to a cloud backup service. Finally, if I was super-paranoid, I would save to a local hard drive.


Accessing and saving files from a hard drive, SSD drive or USB drive is faster than working with the cloud directly. The speed of processing files will be determined by the speed of your internet provider.  Speeds across the net vary sharply. I often get 20Mbps downloads, but only 1.5Mbps uploads. And the upload speed is what determines how long it take to save a file. It can take weeks to upload a terabyte.  But once in the cloud, files are much faster to access.  You wouldn’t want to edit movies in the cloud, but it’s fine for most other tasks.

For many devices, Microsoft keeps a copy of your files locally – a kind of backup, and then copies those files to the cloud in the background. Using those files are just like normal. It’s easy to keep a full local copy of all your files on computers with 1TB drives, but tablets with 16GB or phones with 8GB makes that hard. The is a computer science problem that will require a lot of clever programming to solve.

My guess is network speeds – wired, wireless, cellular – will increase more and more, and eventually our files will reside completely in the cloud.  We’re becoming so netcentric, so interconnected, that we’ll always trust being linked. Eventually, it will be safer to store files in the cloud, than on local drives.  Just imagine if your computer burns up in a house fire, or your phone falls in the lake, if your files are stored in the cloud, it’s only a matter of finding another device to access them.

This implies two things for our future: unlimited bandwidth and faster networks.

I’ve been moving some audio book files as a test, and I’ve finished about 24GB in about forty hours. When I consolidate all my data from all my drives I doubt I’ll have more than 400-500 GB, so it might take me 15-20 days to get my files uploaded to OneDrive. I’m not sure what my Internet provider will think about that. Using OneDrive will effect your internet quotas.

I doubt I’ll access my audiobooks over a cellphone connection, not because of speed, but because of metering.

Convenience and Simplicity

Ultimately, convenience corrupts everyone. I no longer play my CDs or MP3 files, its way easier to play songs off of Spotify. Once I trust Spotify completely, I’ll delete 200 GB of mp3 files off of OneDrive.  People are going to stop collecting and saving digital content like movies, television shows and songs. Why go through the headaches of running your own media server when you can pay Netflix or Spotify to do it for you? Owning creative content is going to disappear – renting is just too convenient.

That means maintaining the content you personally create, the words you type, the pictures you take, the movies you make, are going to be the files you want to protect and save no matter what. It’s now possible to configure your mobile devices to automatically save to OneDrive, and once those files are online they’re available to your other devices.

Once I trust the idea of having all my files in one location, accessible to all my devices, my next goal will be to develop a file organization system.  I’ve been doing that for a few years with Dropbox and I’ve become very good at finding and filing files.


I get unlimited OneDrive because I subscribe to Office365. I pay $99/year for a 5-license subscription, but I could have gotten a single license for $70.  Dropbox was charging $99/year for 100GB of just space. So Office365 is a bargain. I’m either getting free Office Professional, or unlimited cloud space for free. I will also save on external drives, USB drives, and buying computers and mobile devices with lots of extra storage space.

Now, if you only use Word, Excel and Powerpoint, and can live with less than 15GB of file space, just get a free account, and use the online versions of those programs. Or if you’re Google oriented, they offer Google Docs and free cloud space. However, I wanted Outlook, Access and Publisher.


  • Simplicity – can throw a lot of hardware away (one of my machines was for backing up).
  • One location to organize – never work about duplicate files over many drives.
  • Accessible from all computers, tablets and mobile devices.
  • File versioning – can undo back to previously saved versions.
  • Recover deleted files.
  • Automatic backup (?).


  • Trusting everything to Microsoft – what if they screw up or go out of business?
  • Using OneDrive is more complicated than using a hard drive, but it offers more sophisticated features.
  • How OneDrive works is changing – it’s in a state of flux at the moment.
  • File upload time is very slow.
  • File download time is much faster, but not like from hard drive or SSD.
  • First attempt to move to Microsoft OneDrive presented some problems.  Dropbox is more bulletproof now.
  • I might need to backup OneDrive to Dropbox for extra safety.
  • $100 a year for 5 computers, or $70 a year for 1 computer – but I get Office365.
  • Privacy issues.
  • Locks me into Microsoft for the rest of my life.
  • Sync issues with mobile devices.
  • Can I still use Google Docs?
  • No file larger than 10GB
  • And there might be a current limitation of having just 20,000 total files.
  • Not all programs work with placeholder files.

Other People Worrying Over the Same Thing

Table of Contents

Are We Becoming Cyborgs?

By James Wallace Harris, Thursday, October 9, 2014

Because of a pinched nerve I’m having difficulty typing.  Because I want to write, I’m seeking alternatives to a keyboard and computer screen.  This failure to type is revealing something about my current state of being.  My mind and body have adapted to the computer.  When I can’t use the computer, or the Internet is down, I’m anxious, and feel physical withdrawal.  I hate this feeling.  Even though my arm hurts more as I type, I keep typing.  Sort of crazy, isn’t it?


I’ve tried dictating, and I’ve tried hand writing, and I’ve discovered I’m lousy at both.  When I was young I could write longhand for hours.  Now I can barely scratch out a few minutes of a childish looking print.  Fifty years of typewriters and word processors have ruined me for that ancient tool – the pen. 

The net is full of stories about the death of penmanship.  I used to think, “So what, we’ve got computers.”  Now I regret those thoughtless words.  My left arm burns, throbs and stings as I type, and I feel like banging on it like  Dr. Strangelove.  

I’ve become a cyborg.  The transformation has snuck up me.  If you think you’re still 100% human, try going without your smartphone for a week.

I realize now I shouldn’t have let myself become so adapted to one way of writing.  My body has integrated with cyberspace, and now I feel handicapped when when I can jack in.  Yet, I know fully well that writers were immensely productive before the 20th century with just pen and paper.  Helen Keller wrote inspiringly without seeing or hearing.

Even if I can get my doctors to fix my neck and arm, I think I need to relearn handwriting and pick up the skill of dictation.  I’ve read about a number of authors who write by talking and they claim its immensely productive.  My ability to speak is better than my handwriting, but not by much. Both are so linear.  My thinking depends on word processing features, spelling checkers, and referencing Wikipedia and Google. I now need the Internet to complete my sentences.

Because I’ve thoroughly aggravated my arm, I need to go rest it a couple hours.