Pandemic Diary 28: Focus, People, Focus

Whatever the opposite of a laser is, that is my unfocused brain in quarantine some days.

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Anecdotal evidence is evidence only of an anecdote, so I report this not with statistical accuracy but only as something noticed: there has been an uptick in the number of posts on my social media feeds of individuals who describe themselves as “TIs” or “targeted individuals.”

“Targeted individuals” labor under the belief that each one is the focus of intense electromagnetic energy pulses sent to torment them; now, these individuals indeed appear to be tormented, to judge from what they write and how they write it (ALL CAPS and no punctuation), so it is no surprise that they need something on which to blame their depression and suffering.

I am one of those readers who always takes a moment to report these accounts to the Twitter or Facebook offices as “someone in danger of self-harm.” As a more-than-casual consumer of content from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, I have my own sense of how often I encounter posts from self-proclaimed targeted individuals: about twice a year. There have been more than that number this month alone.

Is this an effect of quarantine? Our national and global economies are in a free-fall brought on by a mandatory lock down (in many communities) made necessary by a fast-moving virus that mostly kills the infirm and elderly but also kills the young, middle-aged, and healthy (in New York City, more than twenty-five percent of the dead were younger than sixty-four and the greatest number dead of COVID-19 with no underlying condition are those between forty-five and sixty-four; not young but still employable); which ended almost all in-person commercial activity; which led to businesses shut down and employees furloughed or laid off.
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Pandemic Diary 2: Use a Password!

Much of life in the coronavirus lockdown moved to online video conferences about three weeks ago, a fact which is reflected in the NASDAQ share price of one company, Zoom Video Communications, Inc: on March 13, it was $107.47 per share and on March 23 the price was $159.56 per share. (It has since dropped to $121.93 as of today, largely for reasons discussed below.)

There have been video conference web sites, platforms, and applications available for many years, but Zoom is free for a “Basic” plan, simple to navigate on a smartphone or laptop, handled the increase in traffic with ease (“a 535% rise in daily traffic to the Zoom.us download page, according to an analysis from web analytics firm SimilarWeb”), can handle groups in the dozens if not hundreds, and is quite easy to use. College classes have used Zoom as virtual classrooms for years, so when college campuses closed in the pandemic, all unfinished courses moved to finish the semester on the virtual platform.

Zoom allows yoga instructors to continue to conduct sessions, therapists to meet clients, recovery groups to hold as many meetings as they may want to, corporate boards to meet, the quarantined British prime minister to run cabinet meetings, journalists to conduct “in-person” interviews, quarantined families to continue to be families. And it is a free service for the “Basic” package, which allows for forty-minute meetings.

Zoom also promises end-to-end encryption for secure conferences. That last part is not a lie, but it uses the phrase end-to-end in a way that does not mean what the average user of the service might think it means.
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I, for One, Welcome Our New Robot Overlords

Most if not all of us have seen dialogue box like the one above in our online lives. Sometimes, a real person is called for, even in our heavily automated world. Especially when real money is about to be moved from one virtual hand to another.

About fifteen years ago, some Carnegie Mellon computer scientists developed a method to be employed to differentiate between a human being and a bit of software. They dubbed it, “Completely Automated Public Turing Test To Tell Computers and Humans Apart,” or CAPTCHA. There are several dozen applications commercially available that perform the test.

Some require a user to type in a randomly generated word or number sequence that the app has displayed just for them. Some require a bit less, a simple mouse click inside a box that sits next to a (sometimes) charmingly worded version of the question, “Are you a robot?”
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Today in History: Oct. 24

The photo above was taken 65 miles above White Sands, New Mexico, 70 years ago today. It is the first photo of Earth taken from space.

After the Second World War, the United States took possession of the German missile program and had enough equipment to build about 80 V-2 missiles. V-2 No. 13 was launched with a 35-millimeter film camera on board and a timer set to take a picture every second and a half. It fell back to Earth after a brief straight-up-and-down flight and the film (protected in a steel canister) was safe.

Clyde Holliday, an engineer who designed the camera, wrote about the experiment in National Geographic in 1950: “Results of these tests now are pointing to a time when cameras may be mounted on guided missiles for scouting enemy territory in war, mapping inaccessible regions of the earth in peacetime, and even photographing cloud formations, storm fronts, and overcast areas over an entire continent in a few hours.”
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Marketing the Unmarketable: The PineApple Case Study

A few weeks ago, this web site published a post written by a guest writer, “Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak Unveils PineApple, an Apple Competitor.” It was me playing a teeny-tiny part in a grand marketing prank/scheme at the invitation of a friend of a member of Time Over Distance (t/d), a social media company based in the United Kingdom.

My only up-front admission that the article was a part of someone else’s April 1st prank was hidden in front of everyone: I published the headline in italics. (Like above.) Otherwise, I published the article as it was submitted to me, by the friend; I even took dictation as some edits were offered, and I embargoed the article until after midnight on April 1. (Which coincidentally taught me how to schedule posts on WordPress, so my “Today in History” columns now appear after midnight.) The article was published on this web site and around the world on many other web sites, all of them more famous than this one. I did not write it. I was just one more tiny microphone. Here on The Gad About Town, it was the second-fastest article in 2016 to receive 200 hits, which may not sound like very many visits, but it is a large number of visits for any article on TGAT.

Here is the behind-the-scenes story about PineApple, Steve Wozniak, marketing, April 1st pranks, the ways in which truth is sometimes more interesting than fiction even when the fiction is pretty darn cool and has guest celebrities and big media companies involved. As told by “raincoaster” today on the web site raincoaster media: “Marketing the Unmarketable: The PineApple Case Study.” Here is raincoaster’s article:
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Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak Unveils PineApple, an Apple Competitor

SAN FRANCISCO—Following Friday’s unveiling of the much un-anticipated PineApple, a bemused tech press is left scratching its head over Steve Wozniak’s next big idea.

Wozniak, who co-founded tech giant Apple in a garage along with his pal Steve Jobs, is going head-to-head with his old company with his new startup, dubbed PineApple. Apple was named after Newton’s apple, which disrupted his thought process and led to his development of the theory of gravity. PineApple is a fruit of a different color, its spiky exterior giving no hint of the sweetness within.
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Refresh … Refresh … Broken

Technology has once again one-upped me.

In a former life, I wrote technical documents—white papers—for electrical engineers for five years and instruction manuals that were used in home construction around the nation. You’re welcome. Expertise takes different forms, and mine is in forming sentences. The engineers supplied all the science-y numbers that make buildings happen.

All I know is that I have spent the last eight hours mourning the imminent death of my cell phone, which is going to come when I jump up and down on it. For those of you taking notes, all none of you, I only just recently acquired this smartphone, which has given us all some beautiful photos for this website and my Instagram page. Perhaps it will again, if I do not jump up and down on it.
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