Whatever Happened to the Artsy Fartsy BBS?


by Roxanne Tellier

In the nineties, I ran the Artsy Fartsy Bulletin Board System out of my home for several years. Those were the days of 2400 baud modems and the scree scraw weeeeeeeeeekkkk!!! sound of the connection soon became a part of my every waking and sleeping moment.

In those days, tens of thousands of hobbyists around the globe ran primarily text-based boards, where users could exchange messages, upload and download files, (often pirated) play games, and generally hang out with other computer geeks.

leisure suit larryThese boards were in someone’s home, and that system operator (sysop) could see what the incoming caller was doing, since their actions scrolled by on the sysop’s own monitor. Sometimes a sysop would break into your session for a one-on-one chat, which was always a little bit of a fanboy experience. The sysop controlled entry – they could disallow your admission, or give you access to the ‘secret’ files you craved, like the latest version of FileMaker Pro or the naughty Leisure Suit Larry video games. And all you knew about this person was that they were probably as cuckoo for computers as you were.

Roxanne Online We ComputeThe boards were personal, they were usually rather unprofessional, messy, and run by teenage boys, and the boards were often geared to special interests. For about three years I wrote a bbs column, Roxanne Online!, for We Compute!, a monthly paper I helped launch, describing local boards, how to access them, and how to find boards that catered to your personal needs.

(I still have all of the clippings of those columns, and someday I intend to scan them, and upload the texts to a website. Patience, padawan.)

Only the cognoscenti, the nerds like myself who used local bbs boards, could foresee that this ability to communicate, pretty much for free, with likeminded people around the world, was the future. I loved being a bbs user, and when my old friend, Iain Grant, offered to set me up a board on my own PC, I jumped at the opportunity.

I became friends with many of Toronto’s FidoNet Region 12 Net 250 sysops along the way, getting to know people like Craig Hastings, Paul Chvostek, Don O’Shaughnessy, Luke Kolin, James Korolas, and Loralie Freeman, many of whom I remain in contact with today.

Over time, and as I trawled the Net Echos for fun, I came to know and eventually spend a lot of quality online time with, some of the denizens of the FidoNet Writing Echo. Each of the writers, whether their writing was yet in print or not, had interesting details to share about their work, and publishing. Pakki Chipps, Laurie Campbell, Rocky Frisco, Dennis Havens, George Willard, Jack Lynch, Billie Sue Mosiman, Shalanna Collins, Lisa Peppan, Carl Thames, Pamela Dean Dyer-Bennet, Diane Lamoureaux, Kevin R. Tipple, Karen Rhodes, Jack Ruttan, Douglas Rhodes, Rich/Rachel Veraa, Michael Nellis, Patrick Goodman, Rebecca Bohner were just a few of the people I would never have encountered, had I not discovered this wonderful online world.

And it was a very egalitarian world. When you chatted with people, you only knew as much as they’d decide to tell you. Anyone could present as any gender, race, or sexual preference. No one was ‘The Boss.’ the horseman

While most of us used our real names, there were a few who preferred to be known by a pseudonym. George Willard, aka Mark Matthews, was an ‘animal lover’ in the carnal sense, and his book, “The Horseman,” got him and his ‘bride,’ Pixel the Pony, as guests on a Jerry Springer TV episode that was the one episode Springer never aired. It was a very long time until the episode became available at all, and then, only on some rather shady video tapes.

I met Pakki Chipps ‘in real life’ soon after my mother died. I had mentioned in an online post that I needed to go somewhere and heal, and she immediately messaged me to say she was preparing a room in which I could stay, and that her daughter Weyla was already out picking flowers for the room.

sooke bcAnd that’s how I came to stay on a reserve in Sooke, BC, where I spent a week doing nothing but relaxing on verdant hills and exploring rain forests with someone whom I had previously only known online.

Many of us were musicians as well as writers. Rocky Frisco was a true Oklahoman character, adept at many fields. He’d been a race car drive, a disc jockey, a writer, an actor, and JJ Cale’s goto keyboardist from 1957 until Cale’s death in 2013. Rocky’s Wikipedia entry is a study in just how much one man can pack into a life. I was honoured to finally meet him when he played The Phoenix with Cale in 2002.

I would often feel that this entree into the online world was slightly unreal. I’ll never forget the time we were on vacation in Florida. We drove up to a Miami medical treatment centre, where we had arranged to have coffee with Rich Veraa, a writer who was a resident there. As we pulled up to the centre, I saw two men in wheelchairs – one white and one black – and realized that I had no idea what this long time friend actually looked like. It was an ‘aha!’ moment for me; in the future, I realized, people could be whomever they wanted to be online, unconstrained by any reality. For good OR ill.

rachel veraaSomewhere along the line, Rich Veraa became Rachel Veraa, but not many of us gave it a lot of thought. People lived their lives as they pleased, and most of us didn’t care what you got up to, as long as you had something interesting to share in your writing.

Not having met most of these writers in person was no impediment to very long, very strong friendships. Although the Writing Echo is long gone, I still stay in touch with many of it’s denizens, on Facebook, and thru the Writing Tavern Google group. I get to read the exploits of Laurie Campbell, as she and her husband prepare to return to New Zealand in retirement, and Dennis Havens can be counted on to keep me in the loop of what he’s been up to in his writing, and in the music world, where his past as a life long Vegas musician and composer of many a Sousa flavoured march makes him a delightful raconteur.

billie sueThe first time I encountered one of Billie Sue Mosiman‘s horror tales (she wrote over a hundred novels, and was also a well-respected editor of horror anthologies) I was a little bit in awe of actually having this talented woman as a ‘pen pal.’ I often think about how she would describe accompanying her beloved husband Lyle, a long distance trucker, while she sat in the cab and wrote to the rhythm of the road. Billie Sue loved her man, her little dogs, and her life, all with equal passion.

wiremanTo look at her, Billie Sue looks like a typical Southern belle (born someplace like Mobile, Alabama, I think) with no more concerns than the cotillion and whether there’s enough Spanish Moss on the oak trees adorning the plantation house… okay, I’m being silly again—I know those sorts of Southern belles went out about the time the carpetbaggers invaded the Deep South after the War of Northern Aggression, as some call it. Although she lives in Texas (or Alabama, I’m never quite sure) with her husband Lyle, I don’t think they can afford a plantation or would want one if they could. And probably the cotillion would be the last thing on her mind—unless as a setting for a massacre; she’s been a full-time writer for years, and her favourite genres are (surprise!) thrillers and horror/fantasy, at least judging by what she’s been publishing lately. The first book of hers I read was called Wireman, about a singular serial killer who used piano wire to garrote his victims. And she looks so normal!” (from AmazingStories.Com/2015)

pamela dean tam linEvery time I pick up one of Pamela Dean‘s wonderful science fiction or fantasy novels, I marvel again at how lucky I’ve been to have had access to her generous sharing of writing and publishing knowledge over the last three decades.

Times were very different, pre the sort of Internet connectivity we now take for granted. You probably didn’t know what a BBS was unless someone you knew was a hobbyist. Most people were actually a little afraid of computers in general; when I applied to be the executive secretary of the CN Tower‘s food and beverage director, the job involved working on one of the only five computers in total that were in use in the executive offices at that time.

first IBM PCTimes changed pretty quickly, though. We went from, “computers! too scary!” to “How does this thing work, and why do I have a steamer trunk full of AOL starter discs?” almost overnight. Prodigy and CompuServe also got into the game, and soon the internet was so intertwined with the corporate world that any sense of the intimacy or personality of the bbs days was gone. When the internet went viral in the late nineties, it was the computer equivalent of the dinosaurs being wiped out by comets – one day BBSes were there, and the next … poof! Gone.

Though – in the beginning, none of the majors really sounded much different than they had back in the 2400 baud modem days.

 

It was right around that time that we were moving from our home in the east end of Toronto to a bungalow in Scarborough, and that seemed like a good time to shut down the Artsy Fartsy, and put the home pc to better use, making a living, working from home (which was ALSO considered an impossible ‘ask’ for the average office worker in the mid nineties. Old school bosses just didn’t believe they’d get an honest day’s work out of anyone whom they couldn’t see by a quick glance around the workplace.)

BBSes were the gateway drug that allowed many computer geeks to get involved with the Internet, well before the hordes arrived. There’d have been no eBay, PayPal, or Youtube without the hobbyists who were the first to see the potential of a worldwide connectivity.

These days, what with our dependence on smart phones, and the ubiquitous
hyper-connectedness of the internet, most of the social media sites tend to feel more like corporate-sponsored trips to the mall.

Our interactions with friends and family (and Russian trolls) are interspersed with cute animal videos and products tailored to the information big data firms glean from our conversations, enabling big corporations to better target what they’ve decided we need in our lives, all for a pretty price.

It’s slick, and professional, and very corporate, impersonal to a fault. And it’s not anywhere near as fun as the bulletin board systems of the nineties.

You just had to be there.

Britney Spears Scares Pirates


by Roxanne Tellier

I originally wrote this column in April 2015.  Woke up today unable to write about the things I find so depressing in 2019, so … this retread will have to substitute for new thoughts on ‘interesting times.’

sexy-music“If music be the food of love, play on!”  Like food, music can be comforting. It can also be stimulating, annoying, or cloying. Music releases dopamine, the ‘feel good’ hormone, just like sex and actual food. Music can arouse feelings of euphoria and craving. Dopamine release is at “peak emotional arousal” during music listening, so you really ARE getting a bang for your musical buck.

Although there are exceptions – whether you consider them cursed or blessed, 5% of the population is indifferent to music, and feels nothing when they hear it.

But for the rest of us, music is much like a drug. When you’re listening to music that ‘speaks’ to you, you are completely dialled in to your brain, and that changes your brain chemistry. Music will change or augment your good or bad mood, and can cause you to slow down and relax, or jump up and dance.

brain-on-music-scienceComplex changes occur in our brains when we hear our favourite songs. We can be unconsciously manipulated through sound; studies show that listening to sad music can lead to a wide range of complex and partially positive emotions, like nostalgia.  Listening to particularly sad or happy music can change the way we perceive the world.

When you’re watching a film, you’re unconsciously processing the background/soundtrack tones and tempos which signal to our brains that what we are seeing should be experienced in the way the writer intended.

britney-scares-piratesThe sort of music we want to hear at a given moment has much to do with what we’ve heard before, the sounds that we’ve absorbed through our lives, the sounds that feel familiar, that work within the tonal range that defines what is ‘popular’ in our culture.  Which is why Britney Spears’ music has been used by the British Royal Navy to scare off Somali pirates.

Merchant naval officer Rachel Owens explained the tactics: “Her songs were chosen by the security team because they thought the pirates would hate them most. These guys can’t stand western culture or music, making Britney’s hits perfect. As soon as the pirates get a blast of Britney, they move on as quickly as they can.   (metro.co.uk)

The inherent nature and power of music affects the animal kingdom as well. Cows produce more milk when listening to relaxing music, and 3% more milk listening to slow music over fast.  Birds and whales compose musical creations very like man’s, combining rhythm, length, patterns and pitches we can recognize, and both will sing complex songs to communicate with each other, and during courtship.

music-dogs-loveIf your pet has a tendency to overeat in stressful situations, or suffers from separation anxiety, quiet music playing on the radio may calm their anxieties, relax muscles, improve digestion and increase restful sleep. Dogs are particularly sensitive to music, with classical music having been shown to actually calm pups prone to epileptic seizures, and stimulate and release endorphins in the brain that aid in pain reduction.

Our brains love repetition. The first time we hear a song, our brains are processing the input, constantly predicting what will happen next, based on a pattern. And brains are a little lazy … we love repetitive choruses. In fact, for each repetition of a chorus, the chances of a song reaching the top of the charts rise by 14.5%

no-stairwayBut there’s a limit to how much repetition we can take. Although hearing a song again and again makes your brain happy, because it’s already done the work to figure out what comes next, after a while, overexposure to songs causes an actual irritation. Like when you can’t bear another chorus of “Jingle Bells,” or break into hives at the ten millionth rendition of “Stairway to Heaven.”

One thing that I always find hilarious is how easily we mishear lyrics. As we listen, we’re actually Interpreting and anticipating what will come next, a combination of hearing and hope. And once you’ve misheard a lyric, it becomes more difficult to process the actual lyrics, especially if a part of you is tickled by how witty you find the misheard version.

cheese-mondegreenThere’s an actual term for misheard lyrics – mondegreen. It was coined by writer Sylvia Wring, in a Harper’s piece in 1954. She admitted to mishearing a piece of ancient English poetry her mother had read to her in her youth. Instead of hearing, “They hae slain the Earl Amurray, / And laid him on the green,” she heard, “They hae slain the Earl Amurray, / And Lady Mondegreen.”

Makes sense, right? Even though it’s incorrect, it fulfills the two-step process of hearing – the physics of sound entering your ear, and the part where your brain takes the sound and interprets what you’ve heard. When communication breaks down between sound and meaning – you’ve got a mondegreen.

We take what we’ve heard and shape it to what works for us. Bohemian Rhapsody becomes Bohemian Rap City. Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “bad moon on the rise,” becomes a ‘bathroom on the right.”  It makes more sense to imagine Jimi Hendrix kissing a guy than the sky.

brain-on-music-smileMondegreens work so well, in poetry, music and everyday life, that the misheard can become a new reality. “Spitting image” was originally “spit and image.” (Spit meaning likeness.)  It drives me batty when I see a writer refer to an all-intensive purpose, but they’ve come there from ‘for all intents and purposes. “.It’s not ‘tow the line, ‘ it’s ‘toe the line,’ from the early days of the British Royal Navy,(those guys again!) at a time when seamen fell in for inspection barefoot.

It’s a ‘dog eat dog world,’ not ‘a doggy dog world.’ We ‘champ,’ not ‘chomp’ at the bit, and we ‘nip it in the bud,’ not the ‘butt.’  Perhaps these misinterpretations are ‘blessings in the skies.’ No, wait, that would be a ‘blessing in disguise.’ You’ve got another ‘think’ (not ‘thing’) coming if you believe these expressions are really “one in the same,” (one and the same.)

For some reason, Cat Steven’s classic, ” First Cut Is The Deepest” seems to be a mondegreen buffet, no matter who has recorded the tune.

People hear the lyrics, “First cut is the deepest.” and mishear it as ….

First time as a DJ.

The First God is a DJ

First cousin of Jesus

The first God was a teapot.

The first god is a demon.

The first guy is the deepest

The thirst god is the deepest

The first dive in the deepend.

And, ” And I’m sure going to give you a try.” as  “And I’m sure going to give you a child.”

And, ” But if you want, I’ll try to love again ” as “But if you want, I’ll try another man.”

And, ” When it comes to loving me, he’s first.” as ” When it comes to love in need he’s the worst.”

People …. enunciate!

But even the grumpiest and most contrary Grammar Nazi can get a chuckle out of misheard lyrics. This video, apparently made as a birthday gift to a friend, captures every nuance and mondegreen that listeners heard in Joe Cocker’s classic rendition.

And the folks at pleated-jeans.com have a ton of terrific videos you can enjoy on Youtube, starting with this one:

and then there’s this :

 

As a prize for getting through all of that science, here’s my  gift to you. SketchShe, the models-turned-comedy act from Australia, released a new video this week. Shae-Lee Shackleford, Lana Kington, and Madison Lloyd debuted their latest ‘Mime Through Time’ sketch – but this time they decided to go topless.  Now that I’ve got your attention … here’s a lip sync medley that romps through seven decades of music. Enjoy!

 

On Lies, Trust, and an Omelette Bar


When I first starting writing my December 2nd column on the evils of lying, I started from a stance that lying was, as a rule, relatively harmless. But by the time I was winding up my research, I had a whole new perspective.

“Lying” sounds like something we teach kids not to do, because it’s kid stuff, not all that important, little white lies from little kids to save them from a ‘whupping.’

Lying is not supposed to be something that normal adults would do with any sort of regularity, because responsible adults are expected to stand by what they say, do, and believe.

As children, we were told to expect that people in respected positions would always speak the truth. That’s the oath people take when their words are important … they swear to ‘tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

But what happens when the people we are meant to believe … our elected leaders, civic leaders, corporate leaders, religious leaders … lie to us to further their own agendas? Their words then warp the teachings and beliefs necessary for a just society, based on respect for the veracity of each other. And that is some scary stuff.

brainwashing eyes wideWhen those lies become a continuous stream, and range from nonsensical, easily disproved, contortions of actual facts to major leaps of nonsensical confabulation, the problem becomes how to control a citizenry in which a large percentage has bought into the deluge, and effectively becomes a brain washed cult, no longer able to differentiate truth from lies.

Lying dissolves our trust, and trust is the invisible ‘glue’ that makes modern society and civilization possible. A fractured trust in leaders and important organizations is a very bad thing; that trust is the glue that allows us to survive disasters, participate in community activities, address inequality of income, and share our knowledge in order to increase our general health and happiness. Trust is difficult to earn, and easily lost, and yet it is possibly the single most important ingredient necessary for improving the human experience.

trust meI read recently that only 19% of millennials think the average person can be trusted. But the weird thing is that, despite all evidence to the contrary, they DO trust the system. and they believe that they, themselves, are trustworthy They just don’t trust each other.

Back in the good old days, say, around 1967, about 56% of us believed that ‘most people can be trusted.’ Our ability to trust is actually on the decline, and has been for quite some time. And that is because we have been lied to by those in whom we had previously put our faith.

why do you lie liarIt’s hard to put your faith and your money into the hands of someone whose own hands have been caught looting the cookie jar. When social media exposes the stories of people, just like yourself, who have been lied to, or who have been cheated by those in whom we are asked to trust, our credulity becomes strained.

 

Governing bodies, big and small, have asked us to trust that they had our best interests at heart. Unfortunately, too many of those officials have later been found unworthy of having their words believed. And it doesn’t matter if they had very, very, VERY good reasons to lie to the people; our rational brains may forgive them, but our gut never will.

trust me I'm from the govtToday, only 1 in 3 Americans believe that most people are trustworthy. Less than 1 in 3 trust that other drivers are competent, or would trust a clerk or website with their credit card. 1 in 4 people trust their employers, and less than 1 in 5 adults trust the government.

But here’s the interesting thing – when you ask people how much they trust people who are their neighbours, the numbers go up; 39 percent of millennials trust their neighbours, as do 73 percent of seniors.

Proximity and personal experiences with others tend to encourage trust; it is difficult to distrust someone with whom you have much in common. If you have a solid education, with a lot of exposure to different classes of people, you are more likely to trust a wider range of individuals than someone with an inadequate field of reference.

It’s interesting that those who are mentally, physically, or emotionally isolated have a harder time trusting individuals of varying colours, interests or abilities. ; These individuals will easily take as gospel, information that shows people unlike themselves to be untrustworthy.

Perhaps it is from this group that Trump draws his base; certainly, their blind faith in him, and loyalty to his campaign of fear and hatred of non-American humans is mystifying.

There was certainly a suspension of disbelief visible when Trump’s blatant gaslighting of America was in full display during his State of the Union speech. The president falsely claimed that fencing along El Paso‘s border with Mexico had directly reduced violent crime, despite FBI data that said otherwise.

el paso border crossingStatistics show that violent crime in El Paso has been falling steadily over the last 25 years. There was a little uptick, just for a bit, after border fencing was installed in 2008, but other than that, the statistics are clear.

Despite being shown that his information was false, Trump doubled down on his lies at an El Paso rally, asking his rapt supporters to accept as true his assertions over what had been gleaned from federal government data.

And it seems like his faithful are happy to believe whatever they are told.

He continued his bluster when he declared his fake ‘national emergency’ on Friday, telling the assembled dignitaries and journalists that he just didn’t believe the statistics that came from his own administration, that showed record low border crossing, that less crime was committed by undocumented immigrants than by native-born Americans, and where exactly the flow of illegal drugs was happening at the border.

He chose instead to believe statistics he’d been given that came from less reputable sources.  ” On Jan. 27, he tweeted that the cost of illegal immigration so far this year was $18,959,495,168. We traced that number to a report on the right-leaning One America News Network. The figure appears to be based on an estimate from an outside group, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), though the OAN figure was considerably higher.” (Washington Post)

snake oil salesmanHey!  let’s not let facts get in the way when we’re selling to the rubes! Somebody’s gotta buy this snake oil!

Trump’s willingness to flat-out deny reality when it doesn’t suit his purposes highlights one of the dangers of his presidency: He is shameless about not just contradicting the findings of his own government agencies but constructing a fact-free alternate reality where immigrants are violent criminals, drugs and tied-up women are pouring across the southern border, and the number of people making a dangerous trek through remote regions to enter the United States presents an existential threat. (VOX)

 Immediately following the declaration of emergency, Trump fled to his retirement home lair in Florida. While ‘chillin’ like a villain,’ it seems that El Presidente was caught “in flagrante delicto” at the omelette bar.

trump omelette bar Feb 2019 post national emergency

(well… caught red-handed with a plateful of bacon, that is … _

 Impeach this guy? More like im-poach.

I’ve gotta wonder if this really is him – after all, this guy looks like any generic, unhealthy old grandpa who has just wandered up to the ‘all you can eat’ cart at a cheap Best Western or Holiday Inn.

What is with the open garbage can? The multiple bottles of ketchup? The general slovenliness of the place, and the caption missing from the photo that should be saying, ‘With cheese, Mr President?” “Yeah… let’s make America .. grate again…”

If that is indeed the ‘luxury’ resort that costs it’s members $200K a year to enter, the decor is surprisingly outdated and cheap looking, like it was bought from the Wayfair returned items outlet.

The ten year old Walgreens poster, showing Trump as a younger and fitter man (remember when he really WAS 6 ft 3?) has got to be a cruel reminder to his wife and kids that daddy’s ability to ‘walk the walk’ has degenerated into “daddy needs to ride in the golf cart or we’re not gonna make it to the corner for ice creams!”

Is it really him? He looks dazed, like he hasn’t had his Adderall yet.  is this photo shopped, because enquiring minds want to know …where’s his hair? His ‘tan’? Those dozens of chins? His enormous behind?  Is that a chemical peel on his cheeks or vitilago? And did he raid Kim Jong Un‘s daddy’s closet for that outfit?

trump obama who wore it betterIf it turns out that this is, in fact, the emperor unclothed, then this photo has done a real service, at least to some of us. His base will likely never believe that the Trump that regularly throws a news hand grenade into our living rooms and then wanders off to play golf is not the pompous, pompadoured autocrat usually seen swanning around in his black ‘fat coat.’

His base will scream that the photo is ‘fake news,’ and that the libtards are once again continuing on their persecution of their anointed one’s preordained reign.

But for the rest of us, photographic proof that this harbinger of the apocalypse is nothing more than an old, frail man, with no real friends or any cultural significance beyond what the GOP have draped around the wizard’s image, is a moment to be savoured like a fine wine.

Trump’s followers want to wallow in Trump’s fantasy world, even if that world is filled with criminals and horrors. They don’t want to accept a reality that doesn’t include their Orange Emperor promising his loyal followers untold riches trickling down upon them.

baldwin trump 2019Thankfully, we still have access to alternate points of view. Saturday Night Live no longer allows it’s skits to be streamed on YouTube, so I can’t embed the fun Alec Baldwin had with his impersonation of Trump’s rantalogue last night. But it went something like this ….

” “This is a big one, so I don’t want to waste any time,” Baldwin, in full faux tan and blond wig regalia, said to open the show. He then claimed to be over six feet tall and “shredded,” adding that he looked forward to the visiting Hanoi with Chairman Kim who “is a very cool, misunderstood guy.”

 “There’s a tremendous amount of drugs flowing into this country — from the southern border, or the ‘brown line’ as many people have asked me not to call it.” Wall works. Wall make safe. You don’t have to be smart to understand that, and in fact it’s even easier to understand if you’re not that smart.”

Elsewhere in the speech, Baldwin‘s Trump confessed that he had to “fake” the national emergency and said he’d mulled over enacting the death penalty for non-violent crimes. He then said that he knew signing the declaration would lead to “immediately [being] sued.”

I’ll immediately be sued and the ruling will not go in my favor and then it will end up in the Supreme Court and then I’ll call my buddy Kavanaugh and I’ll say ‘it’s time to repay the Donny,’ and he’ll say, ‘new phone, who dis?’ And by then the Mueller report will be released, crumbling my house of cards and I can plead insanity and do a few months in the puzzle factory and my personal hell of playing president will finally be over..” (FOX News)

Thanks, SNL.  I needed that.

 

It Was 20 Years Ago Today


When you are smack dab in the middle of massive change, it’s nearly impossible to parse what is going on all around you.

hippies love not warBaby boomers have been there a few times. The chaos of the sixties, when the world suddenly went from belonging to your parents, to belonging to you and your like-minded friends – remember that?

That same sort of massive overturning of the status quo happened again around 1998, and most of us just rolled with it, not realizing how irrevocably our world was about to change. Once again, the world was being handed over to a new generation, and those who wanted to keep current, were about to be sent back to school or risk being considered a dinosaur.

tech change computers

A few weeks ago, a Facebook buddy, Walter Frith, posted something that I can’t stop mulling over in my mind … how is it that I lived in the middle of a complete technological upheaval, and never felt so much as a tremor?

Walter wrote, ” I’m watching the first season of The West Wing again for the zillionth time and having begun in the 20th century, it’s a hoot seeing the occasional typewriter, enormous video cameras, referencing the Encyclopedia Britannica with no mention of smartphones, Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia and Twitter, all of which had not been invented yet. Watching a political drama series without ANY reference to social media seems almost absurd now but the times were what they were back then, 19 years to be exact.”

… mind … blown …..

I was actually working in tech back then – first at Oracle, then as a writer and sales person for the Canadian rags Toronto Computes, then The Computer Paper, and finally We Compute!

old cell phonesFrom Parade Magazine:
The Evolution of the Cell Phone
• 1973 – The first cell phone. The phone Martin Cooper designed for Motorola weighed 2.5 pounds and had a battery life of 20 minutes.
• 1983 – Motorola DynaTAC 8000X. …
• 1984 – The Nokia Mobira Talkman. …
• 1995 – The Motorola StarTAC. …
• 1996 – The Nokia 8110. …
• 1998 – The Nokia 5110. …
• 2004 – Motorola Razr. …
• 2007 – The iPhone.

I had a cell phone in the late eighties, early nineties, but it was enormous, and cost hundreds of dollars a month to service. Very few people, beyond those who could write it off as a business expense, bothered with cell phones back then.

We moved to Scarborough in 1998, and I found a new career selling collectibles on eBay (which had debuted in 1995.) Most of my transactions were done by cheque or money order, until PayPal launched in 1999, and forever changed international commerce.

There was no Wikipedia prior to 2001, and though it may feel like you’ve always been on Facebook, that site launched in 2004, eventually burying MySpace, which had launched in 2003.

Youtube came along in 2005, and Twitter arrived in 2006. Mixtapes were effectively put out to pasture when Spotify debuted in North America in 2011.

And the smartphones .. ohhhh the smartphones! It was 2007 before we began arguing over which iteration of LG, Samsung or iPhone was best. Can you imagine that? In only eleven years, trillions of dollars have been generated for an industry that didn’t even exist before 1973.

It’s hard to envisage how we lived prior to all of this tech. Cast your mind back to 9/11, for instance. At that point, with almost no one being on any form of social media, the North American phone network became impassable in hours, as we all tried to connect with people who might have been affected by the tragedy.

The cell phone changed our life. The smart phone put an incredibly powerful computer into our pockets and purses. And most of us can’t envision leaving the house without that lifeline.

You know what else didn’t exist, even ten years ago? The iPad (2010,) and tablets in general. Uber (2009) and Lyft (2012,) AirBnB (2007,) Pinterest (2010,) 4Square (2012,) Instagram (2010,) and KickStarter (2009.)

And that’s just a few of the apps we believe we can longer live without .. and we have no idea what leaps and bounds of thought and tech might be coming down the pipeline to blow our minds in the 2020s.

There’s only one way that this relentless tech explosion could feasibly be stopped – if someone, a powerful person, so out of touch, so narcissistic and so megalomaniac, believed that it was within his right to take over the heart of current tech – the cell phone – and bend it to his needs.

That would be a bridge too far, I believe, and might even cause those who rely on the convenience of this ‘computer in their pocket,’ to opt out … to reject the very instrument that has become their lifeline to the rest of the world.trump on cell

But that would never happen .. right?

 

oh oh ….

 

 

 

Who’s Sorry Now?


act first apologize laterPaying attention to the tsunami of news lately is exhausting; trying to make sense of the escalating madness involves dancing between skepticism and honest disbelief at what our fellow man is capable of in the pursuit of power, fame, and wealth.

Not all of those who wish to impose their will or image upon us actually care about what we think about them, but those that do tend to live by the adage, “Act first and apologize later.”

The impact of their apologies rests not so much upon what they’ve done, as it’s often a fairly silly infraction, but on the real and/or perceived understanding of the impact of their words or deeds.

pedestals2And many times, the public apology has little to do with the person or persons they’ve actually harmed; if a married celebrity is screwing around on his or her partner, what difference should it make to anyone but the couple involved? Are we so bound up in our perception of celebrities as representing ‘the best of us’ that we forget they are actually just like us, with all our feelings and failings? Do we depend on those we pedestaled to reflect only the beauty of our souls?

Are public apologies becoming their own art form?

In 2009, David Letterman publicly apologized to his wife and “Late Show” staffers for having affairs with female staff members, and revealed that he was the victim of an extortion plot regarding the extramarital flings. He admitted he had done wrong, saying that his wife was deeply hurt by his behaviour, but he hoped to make it up to her.

kobe_bryantLakers star Kobe Bryant was accused of sexually assaulting a female hotel employee in Colorado in 2003. The charge was ultimately dropped (and a separate civil suit was settled out of court,) Bryant made a public apology to the woman, and he bought wife Vanessa, a $4million ring.

Actress Kristen Stewart got caught messing around with her married director, and then said she was really in love with then-boyfriend Robert Pattison. Result? Both the director’s and Kristen’s relationships were finished.

tiger-apologies-webWhen the former Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, finally fessed up about his love child with a long-time staff member, his then-wife of 25 years Maria Shriver filed for divorce. Tiger Woods had a harem of more than a dozen women when he got caught. His marriage was destroyed, and his career has never again reached the same momentum.

And we know all of this because the media told us, and the stars felt they had to apologize to the fans.

“For an individual or a society, that capacity (to apologize) is a sign of life, of vitality, of a soul that can still be moved. There is a wisdom beyond sentimentality in the authentic apology. It has a purpose,” (Charles Krauthammer, Time Magazine, 1983.) We yearn to believe that those who’ve attained fame or fortune on our goodwill and fandom have souls that can still be moved.

i'm the bestThat’s a lot to expect of individuals whose living is made by a fanatical devotion to a talent or ability, or of skillfully pretending to be other people. Or from people who live in a completely different world where they’ve come to believe that what they think is of world-shaking importance, and that they are somehow above the strictures the plebes live under.

We may love swimming in a pool of schadenfreude at the mighty made humble, if only for a fleeting moment. The bigger picture is that what we’re seeing is what happens to anyone when everything we do, say, type, text or sexpic is scrutinized and studied.

The scrutiny ramps up daily under near constant celebrity surveillance; during the week of June 2, 2014 alone, four different stars were pilloried, and scurried to assure the public that it was all just an honest mistake. Pharrell Williams appeared on the cover of Elle magazine wearing a Native American headdress, and immediately responded through his publicist: “I respect and honour every kind of race, background and culture. I am genuinely sorry.”

jonah hillActor Jonah Hill, meanwhile, frustrated by being constantly hounded by paparazzi, was recorded yelling a homophobic slur. Hill apologized while a guest on the Tonight Show, saying that “I said the most hurtful word that I could think of at that moment. I didn’t mean this in the sense of the word. I didn’t mean it in a homophobic way… Words have weight and meaning. The word I chose was grotesque and no one deserves to say or hear words like that…I’m sorry and I don’t deserve or expect your forgiveness, but what I ask is at home, if you’re watching this and you’re a young person especially, if someone says something that hurts you or angers you, use me as an example of what not to do.”

That same week, Liam Payne of One Direction apologized for a video of some of his band mates smoking a joint, and Justin Bieber (more on him later) apologized for being racist … again. Even American Idol’s Chris Daughtry caught fire for declining to sing during a televised D-Day event.

How do you win the Tour de France seven times? Doping! Lance Armstrong’s reputation as a world-class athlete was shattered after he publicly admitted to doping in an interview with Oprah Winfrey.

lance armstrong oprah“I view this situation as one big lie I repeated a lot of times. I made those decisions, they were my mistakes and I’m here to say sorry.” Armstrong also apologized to the staff of the Livestrong Foundation and stepped down as chairman of the organization. He has since been stripped of all his medals.

Update: in January 2015, Armstrong said on a BBC website that if he was faced with the same decisions again as back in 1995, that he would likely dope but would have treated people differently.

paula deen racismAnd then there’s celebrity chef Paula Deen, the target of a lawsuit alleging racial and sexual discrimination. In the time between the filing of the suit and the suit being dismissed, the Food network cancelled her cooking shows, publishing deals, and numerous endorsement contracts. Appearing on the Today show, the teary Georgia native apologized for using the N word, and said, “But that’s just not a word that we use as time has gone on. Things have changed since the 60’s in the south.” 

But for the biggest and best displays of arrogance, bravado, and “sorry, not sorry’ non-apologetic apologies, you really have to look to musicians.

2004 – Nipplegate. Janet Jackson has an infamous wardrobe malfunction while dueting with Justin Timberlake at the MTV produced Super Bowl halftime. CBS and MTV’s parent company Viacom essentially blacklist her, keeping her music videnipplegateos off their properties MTV, VH1, and radio stations. Eventually the blacklist spreads to include non-Viacom media entities as well. Partially acting upon that ban, a young software programmer at PayPal named Jawed Karim and some of his friends create a venue where people can easily upload and share video, and YouTube is born in 2005.

Timberlake’s response to the controversy: “Listen, I know it’s been a rough week on everybody. What occurred was unintentional and completely regrettable, and I apologize if you guys were offended.”

As Taylor Swift accepted her 2009 MTV Video Music Award, Kanye West leaped on to the stage, grabbed the mic from her and said, “Yo, Taylor, I’m really happy for you, I’ma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time! One of the best videos of all time!”

He’s publicly apologized several times since, to the singer, her mother, and her fans, and then apologized twice more on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, saying “I’m not crazy y’all, I’m just real. Sorry for that!!! I really feel bad for Taylor and I’m sincerely sorry!!! Much respect!!!”

John Mayer’s 2010 interview in Playboy Magazine was ripe for commentary, as the arrogant sod shot off his mouth about his penis, Jessica Simpson and black women. He’s since plastered social media with mea culpae, and even apologized onstage to his band for being such a naughty fellow.

madonna twitsMadonna (who?) started 2014 by instagraming a photo of 13 year old son Rocco holding a gin bottle while vacationing in the Swiss Alps. The drinking age in Switzerland is 16. This was shortly after she’d posted a pic of Rocco boxing, with the message, “No one messes with Dirty Soap! Mama said knock you out!” along with the hashtag “#disni–a.”

As the story spread through the internet, she upped the ante by posting, “Ok let me start this again. #get off of my d–k haters!”

Finally the meds must have kicked in. She deleted the photo as the comments rolled in, and daintily said, “I am sorry if I offended anyone with my use of the N-word on Instagram, It was not meant as a racial slur…I am not a racist.”

And now .. for the most non-apologies by a musician … drum roll please .. the winner is … Justin Beiber!

bieber roastCanadians are famous for saying “I’m sorry,” and Bieber, at just 21, and rumoured to be worth $200 million USD, wants to take that to the tippy top. He begged Comedy Central to ‘roast’ him for years, and a roast he did get. There was no lack of material, even though most of the events that need to be atoned for happened in just the last two years.

I don’t want to be accused of picking on the kid. So I’ll just do one paragraph about some of his adventures in 2013 and 2014.

He’s been arrested numerous times, and in numerous places; he’s been videoed peeing in a nightclub’s mop bucket; he attacked an L.A. photographer trying to snap then girlfriend Selena Gomez’s pic; he stormed through at least one airport with his shirt off despite freezing temperatures; he abandoned his pet monkey Molly in Germany; was arrested in Miami accused of road racing and driving under the influence of alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs; he angered British fans by turning up onstage almost two hours late; he suggested in a guestbook at the Anne Frank Museum that the Holocaust victim might have been “a Belieber“; he’s been flamed over illegal grafbieber harperfiti in Brazil, and was called to clean up more graffiti from a hotel wall in Australia; he disrespected the Argentine flag after he used a microphone to mop the floor with it during a concert in Buenos Aires; he allegedly egged his neighbour’s house in Los Angeles, causing extensive damage and almost injuring a 13-year-old girl; a police search of his home led to a member of his entourage being arrested for alleged cocaine possession; he nearly got himself beat up by Orlando Bloom, of all people; he posed for a Calvin Klein ad that some say has been mightily photoshopped; an infamous Scottsdale spewing became known as “Heave It To Bieber“; he was videoed spraying cleaning fluid onto a picture of former president Bill Clinton while saying “F–k Bill Clinton,”; ( he later spoke to the former U.S. president and apologized for his actions,) he met Prime Minister Stephen Harper wearing dirty farmer john jeans and a wife beater; he angered Chicago Blackhawks fans after both standing on the team’s logo in the Blackhawks locker room and getting a little too cozy with the Stanley Cup for their taste while posing for pics with the NHL‘s highest honor; at the last Grey Cup, Canadians soundly booed his image on the Jumbotron. I may have missed a few other incidents, but then, I’m not in his demographic.

bieber sorryBut – he’s posted so many videos telling us how sorry he is! And he looks so sombre and serious! “I think I was nervous because I was afraid of what people are thinking about me … I didn’t want to come off arrogant or conceited, basically how I’ve been acting the past year and a half. I’m not who I was pretending to be.”

I think this is the tenth or fiftieth time he’s said this, so it must be true! His latest video is even called “Sorry!”

But here’s the thing – apart from his enormous fan following of rabid teens, likely more titillated than shocked, no one has really been affected by the Beeb’s theatrics except himself. Some Canadians have certainly been embarrassed – check the Urban Dictionary for Justin Bieber. “7. National disgrace to Canada “ – but we lived through Rob Ford, we can live thru Bieber.

There are times when we need our public figures to own up to their faults, and publicly apologize for actions that were wrong or cruel; times when whole groups of people can be gently shown that it is neither right nor ‘cool’ to slur others beliefs, genders or colour.

And there are other times when apologies are little more than words designed to keep the public’s attention, just lip service, with no indication that the immaturity, selfishness or bigotry has actually been acknowledged as wrong, or that the individual has any real intention of changing his or her behaviour.

trust-quotes-john-harold-623

(edited copy, originally published  2015/02/08, DBAWIS)

Indiana – The Sting In The Tale


It almost seems redundant to once again revisit the events in Indiana of several weeks ago. And I wouldn’t even bother, except that I’ve seen several items on the television and in the media that miss a very important part of the story.

indiana stampIn a nutshell – Indiana Governor Mike Pense signed SB 101 into law on March 26, 2015. The bill, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, was a variation of a similar bill that 19 other states had enacted. There was a slight difference with Indiana’s version, however, since the bill carried with it a significant risk of discrimination or refusal of service state wide to the LGBT population.

Before the bill had even been signed, several large companies with business in Indiana threatened to withdraw from any further dealings with the state. The bill was signed despite those protests.

indiana how stupidWithin hours, social media had erupted in fury, and businesses and other municipalities began to announce a boycott of the state, including CEOs from Angies’ List, Salesforce Marketing, Apple, PayPal, Anthem Inc., Eli Lilly, Cummins, Emmis, Roche, Dow AgroSciences. Mayors of some other American cities would no longer allow their representatives to visit Indiana on the jurisdictional dime.  As the potential loss of income and taxes mounted into the hundreds of millions of dollars, the Governor began to back pedal on his decision, first announcing that the bill was simply being misunderstood, and then admitting that they would be putting amendments into the act, in an effort to calm the troubled waters.

In the midst of this chaos, a video was released that quickly went viral on Youtube. The owner of a small mom and pop pizzeria was filmed saying that their business would refuse to cater gay weddings.gay wedding pizza

The story was that ABC-57 reporter Alyssa Marino  walked into a random shop – Memories Pizzeria –  in the small town of Walkerton (Population 2,300),  and asked owner Crystal O’Connor how the business felt about Indiana’s new Act. Her reply was that she was in favour of it, noting that while anyone could eat in her family restaurant, if the business were asked to cater a gay wedding, they would not do it. It conflicted with their biblical beliefs. The question was entirely hypothetical, as the business had never been asked to cater a same-sex wedding.

The backlash was immediate. Within 24 hours, after numerous emails, phone calls, and threats from bodily harm to bomb threats, the business was closed. memories pizza

But within hours of the reportage, a GoFundMe page had appeared, with donations being sent to the family to offset their financial downfall. The page was shut down after 3 days, when donations reached over $840,000 dollars.

http://www.gofundme.com/MemoriesPizza

At the time, I thought the funding page was set up by a journalist who actually understood and empathized with the chaos that poor couple had been sucked into, based on a response to a hypothetical and malicious question by an opportunistic media. If that was the case, and based on how eagerly the public will turn on anyone for any perceived racism, sexism or other ism, I could only wish the couple well, and applaud the journalist’s actions. It’s the little guy, the Joe Public, who often winds up used and tossed aside in a ‘scandal’ such as this, and my concern was that they not be left penniless for their inadvertent martyrdom to their religious beliefs.

If only that high-minded sentiment had been true. And here’s where so many reporting on the situation have dropped the ball. As it turned out, the entire stunt was cooked up by a contributor to Glenn Beck’s website The Blaze. The contributor, Lawrence Jones, set up the page, and is also a political operative who has worked with James O’Keefe from Project Veritas as an “investigator” who has been involved with other political grandstanding in the past, including an attempt to “expose” fraud among “Obamacare Navigators” in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. the blaze indiana

Lawrence Jones did not altruistically set up the GoFundMe page to help the Pizzeria or its owners; the page was set up to create divisiveness and to establish an “us against them” mentality, pitting religious Christians and their beliefs against the 5% of the country who identify as non-heterosexual.

I learned a lot about the world, and myself, during that week. I learned that most of us who live in a technological world are hyper-aware of events in other parts of the world, over which we have little or no control. knee jerk reactionsI learned that politically inclined, social media addicts – like myself – tend to leap to conclusions, and knee-jerk into a strong left or right position. Some of those addicts will respond to those events with far too much enthusiasm, ramping up from their role of “concerned citizen” to “potential arsonist’ in the blink of an eye.

my right to discriminateWe may be brimming with good intentions, and righteous beliefs, but those beliefs have to be tempered with the knowledge that there are human beings being effected by our enthusiasm. It’s a very fine line between standing up for our own rights, and taking rights away from others.

I also learned that those of good hearts have to be constantly on the defensive against those with radical ideologies, whether religious or non-religious,  who seek to manipulate those kind hearts for their own gain, and perceived political support.

Universal-KindAnd the most interesting thing I learned along the way was that many of my friends who identify as LGBT were completely unaware of the bill, or any of the events that followed the bill’s signing. That in itself was sociologically fascinating – it would seem that the most incensed and obsessed torch bearers were not those directly effected by the bill. We who sprang into action were more concerned that those we love or care about, be they hetero or homosexual, be respected for their diversity and rights, as human beings. Human beings are not toys to be used as political playthings.

Define-PoliticsIn every society, there is a wide spectrum of beliefs. The key to an advanced and civilized society is to respect EVERY member who dwells within. Pitting citizens against each other, especially for political gain, is a dirty ploy that should not be rewarded by putting those divisive elements into power.

Smoke and Mirrors and Politics Oh My!


Pull the curtain back to reveal the secrets behind the Wizard of Oz. Pull the camera back to reveal how public relations imaging massages a wonderful picture of solidarity. paris leaders march PR

Don’t get me wrong; I think it’s terrific that more than 40 world leaders linked arms and joined a march of solidarity in Paris following the death of 17 people during the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, police officers, and a kosher supermarket.

At the head of the parade were French leader Francois Hollande led the British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, , Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, EU President Donald Tusk, and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, along with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Hollande had actually originally asked not to attend, feeling that Netanyahu’s presence might be ‘divisive.’

After a minute’s silence, the march began. One and a half million people walked behind the dignitaries, who did not stay for the entire length of the march from Place de la République to the Place de la Nation in eastern Paris, about 2km or 1.2 miles.

Joining the leaders’ own security staffs were about 2,000 police officers and 1,350 soldiers, including elite marksmen on rooftops.

So when this photo emerged today, I was not at all surprised. paris leaders march real

A wide angle shot, taken from a nearby rooftop, showed that the front line of leaders was followed by just over a dozen rows of other dignitaries and officials. Following them was a large security presence keeping the leaders separated from the throngs of other marchers.

World leaders want to look as though they are down to earth, and just one of the people, but in actual fact, they are kept fairly isolated from their citizens. They spend a lot of taxpayer money on keeping taxpayers out of their way through security forces. Even the most innocuous photo op involves days of preparation. The kiss that politician just gave that baby was not spontaneous. Leaders must be kept from both intentional and unintentional attack and surprises.

In March 2014, the National Post noted that the cost of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s RCMP personal security team has more than doubled since 2005, when the annual budget for the PM’s protection detail was $8.8 million, to the 2013-14 cost of $19.6 million, an increase of 122% between 2006 and 2014. It costs a lot of money to be that unpopular.

Security aside, heads of countries spend a lot of money and time on image. Specialists in public relations matters, aka “spin doctors,’ work closely with anyone who needs to present themselves, and politicians are no different. They are groomed in how to speak, behave, and maintain a positive public image.

Probably one of the first cases in which style over content ruled was the Nixon/Kennedy television debates of 1960. U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy, the Democratic nominee, and Vice-President Richard Nixon, the Republican nominee, were filmed at CBS’s WBBM-TV studio in Chicago.

“Nixon, pale and underweight from a recent hospitalization, appeared sickly and sweaty, while Kennedy appeared calm and confident. As the story goes, those who listened to the debate on the radio thought Nixon had won. But those listeners were in the minority. By 1960, 88% of American households had televisions — up from just 11% the decade before. The number of viewers who tuned in to the debate has been estimated as high as 74 million, by the Nielsen of the day, Broadcast Magazine. Those that watched the debate on TV thought Kennedy was the clear winner. Many say Kennedy won the election that night. Sorensen says the Kennedy team didn’t realize what a game changer the debate was until the following day at a campaign event in Ohio. “The crowds for his motorcade were much larger than they’d ever been,” he says. “That’s when we knew that, if nothing else, Kennedy had firmed up support for himself in the Democratic party.” (Time Magazine)

Technology has made it harder for aspiring and incumbent political aspirants to present an always positive image. With social media, a politician’s message can be blasted over Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube, creating a more human image. But it can also be used against them, as they are shown to make just as many embarrassing mistakes as any other human.

Mandela funeral selfieI’m sure that Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, British Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama would like to forget their selfies at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. Anthony Weiner had to resign his position as a member of the United States House of Representatives after getting caught sexting in 2011, and didn’t he do it all again during his attempted run for the Mayoralty of New York City in 2013!

ford mocks drunk driverAnd then there’s our own Rob Ford. Nearly everything he did during his term as Toronto Mayor was embarrassing, not only for him, but for the city.

So it’s not too surprising that the world leaders staged a photo-op. What is surprising is that so many people were shocked to discover, less than 24 hours later, that they’d been once again set up to see what politicians wanted them to see.

crisis up my sleevePerhaps it’s an object lesson that people of all countries should consider; the Wizard of Oz commanded Dorothy to ‘Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain‘, because in reality, he was just be a regular guy hiding behind a machine to create a mighty and powerful display.