The new censorship

Fall sky from the soybean field
Fall sky from the soybean field

I recently read an article, Blacklisted in Cyberspace, in the Washington Post.

The article reaffirmed my thoughts that we are now having to self censor communications in order for them to make it to their intended recipients.

Having worked at an email company, now MailTrust, I understand the problem of spam.  I also am familiar with the scoring systems which determine what mail gets marked as spam.

Unfortunately some of that scoring makes it easy for your email to never reach the person to whom you sent it.  That is frustrating for all parties.  One of the great advantages of email is that it is easy to include links and photos.

It is an advantage only when it works.  I have been trying to connect to a friend who went to the same high school as I did.  I mailed him a normal letter a couple of years ago and that did not work.  I managed to get his email address and send him a note, but I got no response.

Another friend tried to help us connect, and I managed to get a message that he would like to hear what I have been doing with my life for the last forty years.  I sent a note back with several links and a couple of pictures.

I was pretty irritated when he did not write back so recently when Harvard defeated Yale in “The Game” I sent him a link to the article.  I went to Harvard, he went to Yale.  I got a flaming email back saying that he had been trying to communicate with me for two years, and the first he hears from me is a football email.

Well I sent him a copy of the email that I had sent over two years ago.  I got back an apology, and a response that he had no idea what had happened to my other emails.

I am pretty sure that what ever spam detection software he was using at the time  added up the links and photos in my email message and decided it was spam.  He probably never checked his junk mail box or had it set to automatically empty.  That was the end of my original email.

This will be a hard problem to fix in cases where people do not already have established communication channels.  I would be very happy if everyone used a digital id certificate.

However, I understand why they do not.  My Vista machine recently decided it could no longer send messages from my account which has a Verisign Class 1 certificate.

It is no problem on my Macs, but it appears to be a big problem on Windows.

I am not happy with having to limit what I send to people that I know.  But that type of censorship is the only thing that I know to do  in order to keep my email on track.

If you need something to melt away your frustration with this, try my December YouTube video of the North Carolina coast.

Awash in misinformation

Power pole and evening sky
Power pole and evening sky

It takes little effort to find information these days.  Google is easy to use, and it almost always returns some results.  Unfortunately some of the time the information is wrong or not what you wanted.

Companies are spending fortunes trying to figure this out.

Most of the ideas revolve around an omnipresent search engine that gathers data that is already out there and serves it up in some useful way.

I would call that a top down solution.  It is trying to solve the problem with technology, programming, and as little local input as possible.

Recently I was writing a post, Not a nice gift from Canada, on my blog that I use to stay in touch with my Canadian roots.  I wanted the exact address of one our local fish markets.

A Google Search returned this “Insider Pages URL.”

Unfortunately the map was completely inaccurate.

A more accurate map is found at this link.

That came from a local Google map effort of my own.

There is an old rule about data that still holds true.  Garbage in, garbage out.  The challenge in providing good information is getting good quality data.

While large metropolitan areas might well have enough density and quality data to make some search engines very successful in providing information, I am not certain that it works as well in smaller or less well wired areas.

Actually a friend who had a key role in running the original Blacksburg Electronic Village and I are trying to do something of a bottoms up electronic village with local information entered and verified by locals.

It is a big challenge to make it work, but I think we have a very good chance.  The pieces are just being put together, but the Crystal Coast Electronic Village will have a consolidated area calendar for events, a business directory with maps at some point, blogs with pictures, and real estate listings already with maps.

Quite often the best solutions are those that involve people closest to the answers.  We will see if we can make it work.

Getting beyond an email’s title

Beaufort Boats

When I worked for Apple Computer, I would get hundreds of emails a day.  It was a challenge to get through them.  Of the course of twenty years I am sure a few fell through the cracks, but mostly I was able to keep up with them.

I never succumbed to the read the first line and call it quits method of email management.  I did answer many questions from people who had not bothered to the read the whole email in the first place.

Depending on how I felt at a given time, I might copy and paste the originial email with the answers highlighted.  However, I did find that the worst offenders never noticed.

Lately I have seen an even more serious email management disease.  These folks read the title of an email and assume they know what it says.

That is not only highly risky but certainly not very productive.  A couple of responses that I have gotten from people trying this are beyond worthless.

I guess it is function of the desire to get ever more done with little focus on actually be productive.

I would rather do less and make certain that I get right whatever I do.

The shrimp boats don’t go out as much

While we have made lots of advances in being able to grow seafood in ponds, some of us think seafood from the sea still tastes the best.

The trouble is that catching seafood from the sea has gotten very expensive.  With diesel fuel near five dollars per gallon this past summer, some boats had to change the way that they operated.

One boat that I know ended up staying closer to the early summer shrimp grounds, and then having the shrimp trucked back to their market.

When the catches are small it does not make sense to run the boats.  With prices under pressure from imported shrimp and fuel costs through the roof, it has been a challenge for our area shrimpers this year.

If you throw in a little bad weather and fluctuating demand from roadside customers who have stayed home because of high gas prices, you can start to imagine how hard it is to keep shrimping in these times.

it comes as no surprise that a few times this summer, fresh shrimp were unavailable.  I wonder if this will perhaps open a window of opportunity for smaller shrimp boats that don’t have to catch as many to be profitable.  It will be interesting to watch.

All I can say is that “Friends don’t let friends eat imported shrimp.”  I would rather have fewer shrimp but better ones, so I will stick to local NC shrimp which make the best appetizer ever.

Computers watching computers

Waves along the beach
Waves along the beach

With tropical storm Hannah perhaps becoming a hurricane before making landfall between Mytle beach and Wilmington, all eyes in Eastern North Carolina have been following the weather.

Those with access to a televsion have probably watched The Weather Channel.

Many people in offices must rely on their computers which are signed into a variety of sites from the Weatherunderground to Accuweather and Weather Channel website.

I kept checking the computer when I was at the office Friday morning.  We did have a few minutes of nasty rain before things cleared off early in the afternoon.

It was nice enough that securing our boat and outdoor furniture was a very pleasant job on Friday just hours before the Hanna landfall.

The brief bout of super humid air that passed through the area on Friday morning had disappeared.  At dusk we could only discern clouds to the west and south of our area.  There was no wind and no rain.

We decided to go over to the beach for dinner.  We noticed on the way over that Food Lion in Emerald Isle had closed.  In the restaurant we found out that the grocery store had closed at 3 pm. That was twelve hours before Hannah was scheduled to make landfall in South Carolina close to 100 miles away.

Perhaps they were worried about the wind becoming strong enough to close the bridge to the mainland, and employees being stranded on the island.  Anyway after dinner, I went back to checking the weather sites to see if I could find really detailed information.  It turned out that there was very little new information on the computer sites.  I resorted to calling a friend who lives on the SC/Ga. border.

According to him his area had also seen very little active wether so far.  I wished that I had kep the phone number of our friend near Myrtle Beach. In the end we went to bed not really knowing what to expect in the morning.

During the night we heard both wind and rain.  I got around 7:30 am only to find the power off.  It didn’t take long to figure out that the power had not been off for long since the coffee was still hot.

Not wanting to give up a good cup of coffee, I poured myself a cup and enjoyed that before venturing outside.  There I found a pretty good storm surge, but no worse than we had expected.  Our rain gauge only showed one half inch of rain.  That added to what we got Friday morning gave us a total of one inch of rain from Hanna.

There were a few pieces of pine limbs in the yard and my tomato plants seemed to have taken a beating, but we actually came through the storm in good shape.  By the time I went back inside the power came back on and things were back to normal.  Even the excess water behind the house disappeared quickly.

I guess in the end, the computers checking other computer sites were as effective as any other means in figuring out what might happen.  At least with computers, I could avoid most of the weather channel hype.

I was pleased when the power came back on that I could send pictures of the storm to my friends.

Certainly people responding to other people are the best way to figure out what is happening.  By the end of the day, I knew that the rain from Hanna didn’t make it past the Yadkin River, but that parts of the DC area got flooded while my friend in NJ got a good soaking from Hanna.  Tomorrow I should find out what Hanna has in store for Nova Scotia.

It is nice to be connected even if it is with computers.

Where technology seems to stop

View from my deck
View from my deck

I get a tremendous advantage from technology. I would not be able to share pictures without the technology revolution that we have had in the last fifteen years.

Getting documents to people is also much easier.  Finding additional information that people might need is also a piece of cake with Google and the Internet.

Yet there is one place that technology seems to fail.  Our digital identities are hard to verify and utilize.  I actually had someone pretend to be me on a forum.  People figured out that it wasn’t me, but it should not be so easy for someone to impersonate you.  We have the technology to prove who we are digitally. Unfortunately few sites utilize it.

In a regular day to day situation if the need to prove who I am arises, I can show my driver’s license, birth certificate, or passport.

I have digital credentials for my email, an OpenIID identity and actually a smart card for real estate which lets us enter homes. Yet very few people take advantage of digital ids.  It is almost as if people like the small degree of anonymity that comes from the digital world.

I have one friend with a digital id.  Most of our conversations are encrypted.

It seems funny to me that I send a PDF of a form to a client which is handled usually by printing, signing and faxing back to me.

Why can’t we take the next step and use a smart card digital id to let me send documents and let others to sign and return them.

I recently worked with a client who did not have a computer.  I actually had to print photos to send to them.  Any documents which needed reviewing had to be mailed.  The experience reminded me of how far we have come.

Yet we recently dealt with an individual several states away who needed to sign a title and get it back to us.

He missed the express shipping pickup, and we were delayed a day because of that.  It is too bad we don’t have electronic notaries who could validate that the right person is signing a document, then scan and forward a digital version to us that it could be printed as an original and recorded in the proper county.

I know we have the technology to do this.  I guess we would just rather keep doing it the hard way.

Technology needs common sense also

In a fog
In a fog

I found technology has enabled me to do many things in my life that I might never have done otherwise.

Sometimes technology gets in the way of doing things, but often people get in the way of technology.

it isn’t unusual for people to lose the advantage that technology can bring becuase they cannot break old habits or refuse to see how technology can help

This proper seems to span all ages.

I work in real estate, and we try to go on a weekly caravan to see the newly listed properties.

An email gets sent out the day before the caravan begging for all the new listings. Eventually we get a Word document with directions to all the places and the order in which we will visit them.

The next morning 15-20 of us meet at one of our offices and prepare to drive around the properties in three or four cars.

Almost always someone will add a property at the last minute or decide that we need to visit a particular house third instead of last.

Instead of taking two minutes to edit the document and reprint it for everyone, someone will announce the changes and hope that enough of the fifteen people and three to four drivers will catch the changes.

While everyone within ear shot tries to scribble down the changes, it is rare that we don’t have problems on the caravan.   It is ironic that the building where we meet before we get on the road probably has six or seven computers in it at all time, and at least as many printers.

I have made the suggestion a number of times that we print corrected sheets, but apparently folks would rather operate under false instructions instead of waiting a couple of minutes for a new document.

Every trip someone misses a house or gets them in the wrong order.

It’s almost like the document once it is sent out by email cannot be touched.

Today I decided to skip the chaos.  It is hard to watch group think make things more difficult.

Just a little common sense would dictate that we try to have the document we take with us in our autos be as accurate as possible.

One of our printers could spit that out in less than a minute, but we never take the time to do it.

There’s nothing like subscribing to a theory that makes things harder.