The Case Against Mass Surveillance

American Flag

American Flag

NOTE: this post was published in June of 2016, but it was gone from my post listings when I went looking for it to optimize it. Fortunately, my RSS feed had published it in its entirety. The content is still timely.

I recently read a suggestion that if we have nothing to hide, we have nothing to fear.  To put it another way, if we’re not doing anything wrong, we shouldn’t have a problem with government surveillance. I’d like to offer the following rebuttals in response.  I don’t have citations immediately available, because this material that I present has been accumulated from many sources over the years. Some came from academic research in the course of my career studies, some from podcasts regarding liberty and public policy, and some from general technology news.


The government really hates the use of encryption for any purpose other than government use.  Government agents have categorically stated that the use of encryption automatically casts a cloak of suspicion over a user of it. However, encryption  is necessary for security. Without encryption, no online transactions would be safe to use. You couldn’t access your bank accounts at their websites, you couldn’t perform any commerce transactions. You couldn’t apply for a job online. Well, let me correct that: you COULD, but you would be exposing an awful lot of information to anyone who was able to grab it, and without encryption, anyone could grab it. That means your credit card information would travel across the internet in easy-to-read plain text. Your social security number in an online job application would be available to anyone to see.  These are things you DON’T want just anyone to see.

So why would anyone use encryption for any other purpose? Well, the United States federal government considers you to be a suspect if you fall into any of the following categories:

1. Those that talk about “individual liberties”

2. Those that advocate for states’ rights

3. Those that want “to make the world a better place”

4. “The colonists who sought to free themselves from British rule”

5. Those that are interested in “defeating the Communists”

6. Those that believe “that the interests of one’s own nation are separate from the interests of other nations or the common interest of all nations”

7. Anyone that holds a “political ideology that considers the state to be unnecessary, harmful,or undesirable”

8. Anyone that possesses an “intolerance toward other religions”

9. Those that “take action to fight against the exploitation of the environment and/or animals”

10. “Anti-Gay”

11. “Anti-Immigrant”

12. “Anti-Muslim”

13. “The Patriot Movement”

14. “Opposition to equal rights for gays and lesbians”

15. Members of the Family Research Council

16. Members of the American Family Association

17. Those that believe that Mexico, Canada and the United States “are secretly planning to merge into a European Union-like entity that will be known as the ‘North American Union’”

18. Members of the American Border Patrol/American Patrol

19. Members of the Federation for American Immigration Reform

20. Members of the Tennessee Freedom Coalition

21. Members of the Christian Action Network

22. Anyone that is “opposed to the New World Order”

23. Anyone that is engaged in “conspiracy theorizing”

24. Anyone that is opposed to Agenda 21

25. Anyone that is concerned about FEMA camps

26. Anyone that “fears impending gun control or weapons confiscations”

27. The militia movement

28. The sovereign citizen movement

29. Those that “don’t think they should have to pay taxes”

30. Anyone that “complains about bias”

31. Anyone that “believes in government conspiracies to the point of paranoia”

32. Anyone that “is frustrated with mainstream ideologies”

33. Anyone that “visits extremist websites/blogs”

34. Anyone that “establishes website/blog to display extremist views”

35. Anyone that “attends rallies for extremist causes”

36. Anyone that “exhibits extreme religious intolerance”

37. Anyone that “is personally connected with a grievance”

38. Anyone that “suddenly acquires weapons”

39. Anyone that “organizes protests inspired by extremist ideology”

40. “Militia or unorganized militia”

41. “General right-wing extremist”

42. Citizens that have “bumper stickers” that are patriotic or anti-U.N.

43. Those that refer to an “Army of God”

44. Those that are “fiercely nationalistic (as opposed to universal and international in orientation)”

45. Those that are “anti-global”

46. Those that are “suspicious of centralized federal authority”

47. Those that are “reverent of individual liberty”

48. Those that “believe in conspiracy theories”

49. Those that have “a belief that one’s personal and/or national ‘way of life’ is under attack”

50. Those that possess “a belief in the need to be prepared for an attack either by participating in paramilitary preparations and training or survivalism”

51. Those that would “impose strict religious tenets or laws on society (fundamentalists)”

52. Those that would “insert religion into the political sphere”

53. Anyone that would “seek to politicize religion”

54. Those that have “supported political movements for autonomy”

55. Anyone that is “anti-abortion”

56. Anyone that is “anti-Catholic”

57. Anyone that is “anti-nuclear”

58. “Rightwing extremists”

59. “Returning veterans”

60. Those concerned about “illegal immigration”

61. Those that “believe in the right to bear arms”

62. Anyone that is engaged in “ammunition stockpiling”

63. Anyone that exhibits “fear of Communist regimes”

64. “Anti-abortion activists”

65. Those that are against illegal immigration

66. Those that talk about “the New World Order” in a “derogatory” manner

67. Those that have a negative view of the United Nations

68. Those that are opposed “to the collection of federal income taxes”

69. Those that supported former presidential candidates Ron Paul, Chuck Baldwin and Bob Barr

70. Those that display the Gadsden Flag (“Don’t Tread On Me”)

71. Those that believe in “end times” prophecies

72. Those that store food beyond two weeks’ worth.

That is an intimidating list! Notice that very few of these groups of people have much, if anything, to do with radical Islamists. If the surveillance agencies collect enough material, eventually nearly everyone could fall into at least one of these categories, and if material (emails, texts, letters, phone conversations) were collected that “proved” that you fall into more than one of the categories listed above, you could end up on the no-fly list, you could lose a security clearance if you have one, your identity could be flagged and you could be prevented from certain types of work, you could be followed. I don’t care if you have nothing to hide, if you get followed enough, you begin to hate it.


Mass surveillance is ineffective in keeping us secure. Surveillance of individual targets is incredibly effective in garnering useful information. Groups of data sets can provide trends and help connect the dots in some amazing ways. But when larger and larger data sets are gathered, even the best software loses effectiveness in drawing lines and connecting trends. The more records there are collected, after a point, the less valuable each record becomes as a piece of security information. The security agencies have justified mass surveillance by saying that they want these records on hand in case they need them. But projects like Prism and KeyScore are collecting so much data–in the case of Prism, ALL OF AT&T DATA NETWORK TRAFFIC–that finding anything of value among all those records would be exactly as easy as finding a needle in the proverbial haystack. So if they were to look for keywords, which keywords should they look for? “Bomb?” If you were actually going to bomb a target, would you really put it into an email? Even an encrypted email? Not likely. If the agencies do a massive record search on the word “bomb,” what they’d likely come up with is references to a new song being “da bomb” or a movie that bombed at the box office. And searching that level of record storage, even with a huge computer processing center, would still be so laboriously slow that by the time they found anything they could actually use to build any sort of accurate picture, whatever it was that was happening, would already be past.


Government doesn’t always get it right. So supposing in several different emails, to different people, maybe several years apart, the agency found an email that confirmed an order for fertilizer, because it’s gardening season. And another time they found a record of a van rental because you were taking a bunch of kids on a field trip. and another time they found a search engine record showing that someone at your house seem extremely interested in a particular historical landmark, because your son was doing a report on that landmark. Prior to the bombing of the Murrah building in Oklahoma City, they wouldn’t have made anything of it. Since that incident, however, surveillance revealing a fertilizer-van rental-landmark connection might send a signal to the agents that you were planning to pull a McVeigh.

But this example is conjecture. There are documented examples of agents using surveillance and putting the wrong pieces of the puzzle together and coming up with a picture that “almost” makes sense, but which was totally incorrect. The E-Verify system  of verifying employment eligibility is a prime example of what should be a slam-dunk great system to make sure that only eligible people get to work in America. But there have been many–way too many–false positives on American citizens, who have to spend their own money proving not only that they are American citizens, but that the E-Verify system has falsely flagged the as ineligible to work in the country. And after that happens, there is no recourse for them; the government accepts no responsibility for getting it wrong. Can you not see how objectionable this is?


And here’s another reason we don’t need to trust the government with all our data: The OPM data breach. The Office of Personnel Management suffered the largest data breach of any government agency last year. Millions of records of people directly and indirectly employed in government service had their personally identifiable information compromised. I don’t work for the government, I am employed by a technology services contractor, but my services are leased to the US Army. I had a background check in preparation for this job. So this exposure affects me, AND my husband, AND my kids. So because the OPM didn’t take the proper security precautions (and they have admitted this), millions of records of employees AND their family members have been compromised.

So I’m not guilty of anything; I just know how these pieces get put together, I know where the surveillance security holes are, and I know that there are way too many things that the government considers fodder for the Enemy List. It’s not that I have anything to hide from the government. The government has taught us through its actions not to trust it with our individual security, and now they’re wondering why we don’t.


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Spatty review – Get the last of that stuff out of the bottle

close up of Spatty

What is this?

This is a Spatty. It’s a tiny little device that has made me soooooooooo happy! The spatty has a rigid plastic handle and a soft plastic tip that allows me to scrape down into the sides and bottom of containers to get every last bit of substance. Let me show you.

What does the Spatty do?

I didn’t realize I wanted to write this blog post until I saw how well the Spatty does what it does.  One of my pet peeves is the amount of liquid foundation makeup that sticks to the sides and bottom of the bottle that you can only use if you stand the bottle on its head and let it all drain to the lid. The problem with that is that when you take the lid off, you have a mess!  The Spatty lets you scrape all that stuff off the sides and bottom, with some exceptions. This bottle has a right-angled neck, so the corners of that angle are not going to be reachable with the Spatty.

front of bottle cleaned


You can see in this picture that the Spatty has scraped a lot of the foundation liquid from the sides of the bottle.

side of bottle scraped

bottom of bottle showing scrapeEven down to the bottom of the bottle!

bottle scraped nearly clean

There will be some parts that the Spatty can’t get to, but I think it’s pretty impressive that I was able to scrape the bottle nearly clean. At the point where I would have previously thrown the bottle away, I had almost two weeks of use still left in the bottle.

What else do I use a Spatty for?

I have an eye cream that is thicker and creamier than my moisturizer, it’s actually a cream rather than a lotion. But the jar it comes in has an opening about an inch in diameter. That’s just enough room to get my finger in it, but not big enough to do so without getting the cream under my fingernail. The product costs enough that I don’t want to waste it by washing it off my nails down the drain, and I can’t do a good enough job of getting it out of my nails to use on my face. Enter the Spatty – I can pick up just enough of the cream to use on my face without wasting it on my nails.

Where can you get a Spatty and how much does it cost?

I got mine at Walmart for just under five dollars. It’s already saved me that much in the makeup I scraped out of the bottle. I haven’t used it anywhere else in my home, because my personal care products are the only bottles I can’t get my hand into. I hope this tiny little device makes a fortune for its creator, because they deserve it!

Here’s a link to it on Walmart’s site

Here it is on Amazon – a little more expensive but if you were adding it to another order it might be worth it

Posted in Life (mainly mine) | Leave a comment

Orchestrated Divisiveness

photo credit:

Let’s address the elephant in the room: I’m a middle-aged white female, so the viewpoint is going to come from that angle. It’s also important that you know that I do not watch the news, and I’ll explain later why watching any news program is likely to make you less informed than if you didn’t watch any. I wait for synthesis. After the initial emotions are out, and the real facts get presented, then I can make a reasoned decision on what happened. Sometimes. Sometimes we just don’t know what we need to know to make a decision. And sometimes it’s really none of our business. At those times, we need to pay attention to what the focus is.

Look around at your friends. You probably have a pretty diverse group of people you like spending time with, and the group probably shifts depending on the activity. When I want to go hiking, the group tends toward the outdoorsy crowd. At work, we’re pretty geeky. We have varying skin tones and cultures and backgrounds. We represent a pretty broad income and wealth spectrum, but none of us fall into “the 1%” of wealthiest Americans.

Divisions are being imposed on us. I don’t know a single person among my friends of any color who would participate in rioting or looting in “protest.” I don’t know a single person among my friends who would say that any lives are less valuable than any other lives. I don’t know a single person among my friends that would justify police brutality against any person of any race. All of my friends are saying the same thing, that their friends also don’t feel that same way. Surely we don’t live in a tiny minority of people who behave rationally toward one another? So where is all this contention coming from?

We are being fed.

Think about it. These feelings of animosity are NOT organic. They are generated. People don’t naturally feel resentment toward people of other income levels. People don’t naturally hate people of other races. Women don’t naturally resent men. Children don’t naturally hate their parents and hold them in contempt. Hate is being generated. Hate is being spoon-fed to us. And we are eating it up and regurgitating it on command. Why?

The answer can be condensed into one word: Control.

As long as we feel that we have an enemy, we can turn to the government to control that enemy, and we will give up a significant amount of our liberty in order to gain that control. The result is that we ourselves become the subject of control. Since we still live in a white-majority nation, agitators stir us up against minorities, and we are afraid that “they” will “come after” us, so we call for a heavy hand of law and order to maintain “peace.”  Do you feel peaceful? Probably not. Why not? Because contention cannot produce peace.

And, still in that white-majority nation, it is true and evident that minorities, and most particularly blacks and hispanics, are NOT treated by authority equally with whites. And to minorities want justice. Who can blame them? It rarely comes. But on those occasions when justice is served, and justice falls on the side of the minority individual, do we feel peaceful? Probably not. Why not? Because contention cannot produce peace.

We see the “news” reports about wealthy people and corporations doing bad things, and the divide is then not along racial lines, but along income or wealth lines. Those horrible corporations should be made to suffer like the rest of us peons. When you see a Bernie Madoff go to prison, does that bring you peace? Probably not. Why not? Because contention cannot produce peace.

In as many ways as we can be divided, we are being divided, and manipulated to hate all members of all groups outside of the one we are in. In the Venn diagram that represents your life, that area in the very center where everyone shares all your characteristics and viewpoints, that’s the group of people with whom you are supposed to feel comfortable.

The media outlets are not informing you. Regardless of how many outlets you watch with what you think are “differing biases” you are still getting only what you are supposed to get to make a very uninformed decision. And once you make your decision, and you are prepared to defend it with all the emotion evoked every time you hear something about it, you are unlikely to change that decision.

We need to all be looking at “news” and “information” with a very skeptical eye. If you must watch the “news,” try this: try NOT forming an opinion on a new story. Try to ask yourself, “What if they got most of the facts wrong on this?” What if they’re telling us only the part of the story that makes this person look bad, but nothing that makes him look good? And what if he really is good? And what if they just plain don’t know anything about the story, but just brought you some sensational stuff on it? Over the next few days, more “facts” will be discovered, but if you have already formed an opinion, you won’t change it with new “facts.” So try to NOT form an opinion. Then, over the next few days, try alternative news sources for more information. Over time, you will see stories come out on blogs from people who were really at the event and have a point of view that is very different–and likely much more valid–than you will hear reported on the “news.”

And most importantly, don’t let the media outlets do the analysis for you. Analyze it for yourself, and do so with an understanding that the analysis that is brought to you by the mainstream media outlets has been orchestrated to make you angry or afraid of anyone on the other side of the issue.

Finally, try turning off the news for a week. I promise you, you won’t be missing out on anything important. You will still hear about the most important stuff, but you’ll be able to investigate it with a much more open mind. Seriously, don’t even listen to talk radio. Don’t listen to radio news. Just turn it all off, and hunt down those incidents that you are genuinely concerned about. There is very little going on in the world that changes your life and that you can do anything about. When you do this, you will be searching with a less-jaundiced eye, a less-formed opinion. You will go through a bit of withdrawal. But at the end of the week, you will feel more peaceful.

Why? Because contention cannot produce peace.



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Making My Coupons App Work With My Grocery List

I am waiting for someone to create an iPhone app that will allow my scanned coupons to work with my grocery list. I’d love to be able to select “lunch meat” and have the app tell me, “You have a scanned coupon for that. Note it in shopping list?” so that while I”m shopping I’ll know to pull that coupon. Ideally, the app would allow me to check off items on my list and hold them in another list, so that before I get to the checkout I could pull the coupons I want to use before I get to the checkout, but not in the middle of the aisle of groceries. If you can develop that app, I have several customers lined up for you. In the meantime, I have a method of scanning my coupons and exporting them to an excel file that I can use with my shopping list, and it’s not that difficult. The steps are as follows:

  1. Scan or import the coupons

  2. Export them to a file

  3. Unzip the file

  4. Import to spreadsheet

  5. Work with the data

The coupon app I use is called Coupon Keeper 2, and it’s not free. Current price on it is $12.99 and I’ve used more than that in coupons, so as long as I can actually use the coupons I clip, it’s worth it. There is a Lite version, and I’m not sure what the differences are.

1. Scan or Import the Coupons

Adding coupons can be done in four different ways: you can scan the coupon’s barcode, you can do a bulk import of the published coupons, you can type in the barcode and search for it, or you can manually put the information in.

To scan the barcode, find a comfortable position for the phone or import device where you will be able to move quickly from one coupon to the next without having to reposition the device each time you add a coupon. The position shown below is how I hold my iPhone while I’m scanning the barcodes of the coupons, it allows me to position the phone over the barcode and see what the camera sees, then to select the “save” button without moving my hand from the grip I have.

The green lines show where you want to position the barcode within the camera’s view. Once the camera gets a good focus on the barcode, it will capture the image automatically.

As the image is captured, the fields are populated with the coupon’s details, as well as an image of the coupon itself. Select the Save in the upper right. If you already have an identical coupon, you will be presented with the option to add the current coupon to an existing coupon. To manually add a coupon, you just type the information into the fields.

A bulk import is just like it sounds; you select the source of the coupons, by week, then within the source you select the items you are clipping and want to add to your database. My experience with this process is that there are going to be several items in the physical circular that aren’t listed in the bulk import, and the scan process for me is much more intuitive, so I don’t bother with the bulk import, I just clip the ones I want and scan them in.

If for some reason the coupon doesn’t scan (sometimes the camera just can’t focus the barcode well), you can type in the barcode and search. The app will find the coupon in the national database and populate the fields, just as it would with a scan, then you just select Save again.

2.Export them to a file

After you have your coupons entered into the phone’s app, you want to make the information about them available outside of the app, so we’re going to export the data out of the iphone into a file on your computer. So still in the Coupon Keeper app, go to the Settings icon, looks like a little gear, and select Data Management.

Within Data Management, select Export Active Coupons to iTunes. You could select Export All, but that would send expired coupons as well, and there may be some use for that, but not for this purpose.

Now we’re going to go to a part of iTunes you may not have known is there: File Sharing. With your phone connected to your computer and iTunes open, sync your phone. Then find the phone icon up near the upper left corner, and click on it:

In the left column, under Settings, select Apps. Scroll down to the bottom of all the apps loaded on your phone, and the whole screen will scroll up as well. At the bottom of the page, you’ll see File Sharing, and a list of apps that can share files with the computer from the phone.

You should fine a file with today’s date on it. Click once on that file to highlight it and elect Save to…, and navigate to the location you where you want to save it, then click on Save To.

3. Unzip the file.

The file has the same file name you saw in iTunes, and it’s zipped, so you’ll use whatever unzipper you normally use (modern systems will do this automatically just by double clicking on the filename).

It unzips it into a file folder, and the folder will have a comma-separated-values file and the images of all the coupons:

You can close the file manager now and we’ll open up Excel. If you are using a different spreadsheet, the instructions should work pretty much the same. So just open the program without opening up a file yet.

4. Import to a spreadsheet.

Select File, then in the dropdown menu, select Import.

What type of file do we want to import? It’s a comma-separated-value file, or CSV. If you opened the file just on its own, it would open up in a text-editor, and you would indeed see the values, or items in the file, separated by values, and it would be such a jumble that it wouldn’t make any sense. So we’re going to let Excel separate the values for us. Select Import.

Navigate to the folder ExportCoupon, then select the file Coupon.csv, and select Get Data. The next three steps are going to tell the spreadsheet how you want to see the data. The default selections should be correct, it’s a pretty simple file. Select Next>.

Once again, these defaults should be correct, and you should be able to see some of your coupons in the Data preview section. Select Next> again.

These defaults are also self-correct. Select Finish.

For this import, we do want to use the Existing sheet, and it should default to =$A$1, so just leave it there. Select OK.


5. Work with the Data.

Your spreadsheet is populated with ALL the coupon data, some of which is not going to be very useful. I keep the columns for Name, Category, Detail, Expiration, Quantity Available, and Value. I delete the columns that I don’t find useful, and I add one column for Item. In that column, I put what I call it in my grocery list. I also make sure the coupon Category corresponds with the category separators I use in my coupon keeper.

Verify some of the expirations, you may see this:

Verify if that coupon has no expiration, or if the database had it wrong, and if so, you can correct it here.

Now you have a spreadsheet of coupons that corresponds to your shopping list (I use Our Groceries, the free version because I don’t mind the ads), and you can sort the items in your spreadsheet so you are using the closest to expiration first, or by whatever else makes sense to you.


Posted in Life (mainly mine), Technology in perspective | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Pigeon

Something caught my eye this morning as I was going about my normal routine, a movement just outside my apartment window. I turned and saw a pigeon standing on his side of the ledge, peering at me through the glass. I had seen birds fly past my window before, many times, but I don’t recall any ever landing outside my window, at least not while I was standing looking through it. But birds do tend to live outside, so I moved on, giving it no further thought.

Walking past that same window about half an hour later, I saw him (her?) again. At least, I think it was the same bird, but as they all look very similar, it would have been difficult to say with any certainty. This time, however, I noticed something unusual about the bird–it had something attached to one of its legs.

I walked slowly and cautiously over to the window. The bird seemed unafraid as I approached, and even as I raised the window with a painstaking timidity, it never moved. It just stood there, watching me.

I didn’t try to reach out to it, not at first. I spoke softly to it, though I can’t imaging how the bird could hear my voice over the noises of the street below. “Well, bird,” I said, almost in a whisper, “where is your nest? I don’t see it up here anywhere.” Of course I didn’t expect the bird to answer, that would almost certainly indicate I was acting out a very realistic dream. I left the window open and went about the rest of my morning get-ready, sometimes talking at the bird as I went. Just before I began gathering my things to head out the door, I turned again back to the bird–only this time, he was standing inside my window. Not far inside, just one step onto the windowsill on my side of the glass, and still completely unafraid.

I tentatively walked to where the pigeon seemed to be waiting for me. He held out the leg with the attachment, and I could see that it was made of a soft leather, probably a deerskin, and it was held on with narrow strips of the material gently knotted. Untying it and unwinding it took much less time than I had predicted, and I was soon holding a diary-sized piece of very normal paper with a message:

Congratulations–this bird has chosen you as its new partner. He isn’t much of a companion, but he has brought me communiques from some very remote places. It is rumored he was instrumental in solving a murder mystery in Vladovostok. The message he brought me first didn’t indicate a name, and the legging he is wearing is the same one he came to me with about five years ago. It doesn’t seem to have been affected by time or weather. PS–he doesn’t always come back.

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In a well-meaning article from MIT, a “living wage calculator” showed the difference between the current minimum wage in various states and the costs of living under different circumstances in the different counties in those states. The project was designed to demonstrate the disparity between what Americans will tolerate as the least amount of money paid for any labor and the least amount of money it takes to live wherever you happen to be regardless of your circumstances.

For example, this image shows the results for Jefferson County, Alabama:


Here is the same chart for Fairbanks, Alaska:

We are left to draw a lot of our own conclusions from this project, because there are a lot of questions that are not answered. For example, why does a single person in Jefferson County, Alabama, spend $600 on housing? I did expect a lot more disparity between Alabama and Alaska, but I’m actually encouraged that the cost of living in Alaska is so low–I may still consider moving there.

There was no objective that I could find for the project. Are we to push for higher wages or greater transfer benefits? Both? The requirements for wages obviously decrease with other benefits provided. For example, if a family of 1 adult and two children is living in subsidized housing, $735 per month is extravagant.

We fall back to the decades-old debate regarding the purpose of the minimum wage, and entry-level jobs. The time to learn to work is BEFORE the children come along. The time to earn more than minimum wage is BEFORE the children come along. The time to gain entry into the workforce and develop skills is BEFORE the children come along. There is no societal reason, with all the advances in technology and education available to all layers of society (I’ll get to that in a minute) for anyone to never advance beyond entry level skills, with obvious exceptions to mental incapacity.

A worker can bring excellence to any position, and will quickly outgrow each position in so doing. Most managers are not stupid. They can spot talent and initiative. Most managers want to find someone who will go the extra mile. They want to foster growth. They want to bring people up beyond entry-level. Excellent employees are pursued by other employers.

There is no reason at all that a two-adult household must survive on 80 hours of minimum wage work. One of those adults can work more than one job, and should. One of those adults may be able to provide greater income working two, or even three, part-time jobs, than one minimum wage full-time job. Part-time work can often pay more than minimum wage, because the employer rarely pays benefits to part-time workers. Minimum wage jobs rarely offer benefits, so working one full-time job isn’t likely to offer any advantage over two or three part-time jobs. A single, childless worker certainly ought to be working more than 40 hours a week if the only work he can get is minimum wage.

We are majoring in minors, drowning in minutiae, focusing on entirely the wrong end of the work/wage string. We shouldn’t be trying to give more money for the same amount of work. Workers should be striving for excellence all the time. They should be demanding it of themselves all the time. They should be encouraging others to provide it, mentoring those new entry-level workers who haven’t a clue what the end of the minimum-wage line looks like.

Our path to this spot is littered with trophies acquired just by showing up. It is cluttered with diplomas received for spending a specified number of days occupying a school desk. The same mindset that has our children unable to deal with difficulties and crises has them blaming society for their poverty. The rise in suicides over bullying isn’t about bullying. It’s about the inability of a tender psyche to get over hurt feelings. Our children are no longer allowed to be resilient enough to deal with their problems.

And therein lies the major issue.

We have padded hard times so they don’t hurt so bad. We’ve made it easier for moms to raise kids without the burden of a permanent man in their lives. We’ve taken away the stigma of divorce so that if it feels good, it is good, and whatever emerges out of it is society’s responsibility.

Frankly, if a student can’t handle getting a bad grade on a report card, it’s pretty evident that the child is not ready for college, let alone a professional position. Until they learn to take some hard knocks at a minimum wage job, they are not fit for anything greater. And until they understand that they are not too good for the minimum wage job, they’re barely good enough for it.

Posted in Economics in Practice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Let’s See if I Can Provoke a Lawyer



Nutri Bullet


I’ve spelled it as many ways as I can think of that will still trigger the spider crawling the web for the hyperactive lawyers for the Nutribullet company.

I follow a blog called Lazy Man and Money. It is devoted to helping readers get value for their money without having to spend every waking moment in that pursuit. The blogger often reviews products that he has purchased with his own money. His reviews are completely unbiased, as a result, and based solely on his experience with the products, rather than being paid endorsements. I can highly recommend this blog if you’re interested in seeing how other people are making money work for them after they’ve worked so hard to get it.

Not all that long ago, Lazy Man posted a review of Nutribullet, a higher-end blender for making juices and smoothies. You’ve probably heard of it. He really liked the product and gave it a great review, and included links to sites where the item could be purchased. Nutribullet should have been thrilled and asked him if they could send him some recipes or accessories in gratitude.  In fact, for product review for a different product, the company did send a letter of thanks, and did offer to send him some product.

Nutribullet sent him a Cease and Desist letter.

It’s as though they don’t want anyone saying anything good about them, although the reality is almost certainly not that well-thought-out.

I understand that automation is the wave of the present and future. It seems to have escaped the lawyers here, though, that sometimes a human needs to oversee the automation. I believe that where something is so badly gone wrong as this, a computer crawled the web looking for likely incidents of trademark infringement and found the name mentioned at Lazy Man’s website. Rather than setting the spider to notify the trademark holder of what it found, it seems that the spider sent out these notices indiscriminately. Had some real human in the lawyer’s office actually read the blog posting, no such notice would have ever been sent.

Lazy Man is protected, furthermore, under Fair Use Doctrine. Captain Jack Sparrow said there are two rules: What a man CAN do, and what a man CAN’T do. Here it is in a nutshell.

What a man CAN do: You are allowed to use a trademarked name or copyrighted material for certain uses and under certain conditions. You are allowed to name the name in a product review, or for other informational purposes. You are allowed to use someone’s logo in your review or article on their product. You are allowed to play a clip of a song in a review or article.  You are allowed to talk it up or talk it down.

What a man CAN’T do: You are not allowed to use someone else’s material and call it your own. You are not allowed to take someone else’s material and sell it without their permission. Their permission may include license of some sort, may include compensation of some sort, may include attribution of some short, or may include none of those things. You are not allowed, without permission of the trademark or copyright holder, to use someone else’s material in advertising for your product.

In one of my other blogs, Grown Up Tech, I use photographs that are licensed under a Creative Commons license; there are different levels of Creative Commons license, but the one I use most is the Attribution license. The owner of the artwork requires only that you appropriately attribute the work to him. I also did a review of Microsoft’s products, Evernote’s products, and Amazon’s drone. I used artwork provided in their press packages. Those photos and logos were provided for exactly that use. The companies actually WANT you to use those photos, they are provided because they demonstrate exactly the image those companies want to portray.

Cornell University has produced a Fair Use Checklist for public use. It’s downloadable as a PDF, so keep a copy of it handy. Seriously, it would have been good for Nutribullet’s lawyers to have had a copy of this, don’t you think?

Do you know of any other cases of misapplication of this law? As technology becomes more ubiquitous, we’ll hear more and more. Tell me your stories on it in the comments.

Posted in Economics in Practice, Technology in perspective | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

It’s Time To Demand Excellence

The money I spend on things represents an exchange of excellence. It represents the fruits of my best efforts exchanged with the fruits of my employer’s best efforts. As such, when I purchase something, I expect the fruits of the other party’s best efforts. If I am willing to exchange less than excellence, that is, less money, I expect less in return. But I stand behind my efforts, and when we have an agreement for exchange, you will get what we agreed you will get. Because I am willing to make you whole in the agreement we make, I have a moral right to expect the same of you.

The general understanding in America is that unless stated otherwise, goods sold new are in NEW, PERFECT condition. No flaws. No defects. No usage. No wear-and-tear. From the moment of first use, degradation begins. That’s a given. Wear and tear happens, and sellers and makers should not be held responsible for what happens with normal use. But we should be able to hold them accountable when normal use results in excessive damage, or when damage is discovered not attributable to use, for example when the item is broken or damaged when it is removed from packaging, or when it falls apart with just a few uses, as I experienced recently. Because the seller did (eventually) make the necessary adjustment, I will not publish the name. This isn’t about them, in particular. It’s about sorry customer service in general.

There are a lot of different things that affect the delivery of customer service. One of them is the culture of the organization. If the top levels of the organization are firm in the belief that the customer must get what he has paid for, and have communicated that to all levels, all levels usually exemplify that understanding.

In this case, I don’t know that it was ever articulated. I don’t know much about the firm from an internal standpoint. We purchased several items, all quite large and none of them were cheap.  I understand that things happen. I understand that during a milling process there may be flaws in thread and yarn. I understand that much of the work that produces our goods is automated, and I understand that quality checks pull items out of batches, not every individual piece. So when one of the pieces was discovered, upon unpacking, to have a flaw, I was not surprised that the store immediately ordered a replacement. This piece was small enough that I was able to return it to the store and bring the new one home when it came in.

In less than two months, a flaw was detected in both of the larger pieces. They are identical, and as a matter of fact, four flaws were detected altogether, in the same place on both sides of each piece. Getting acknowledgment that this was a problem was easy. Getting the replacement parts for the pieces took some time. I understood that as well, the service manager said he had five similar situations. If I am the factory manager and one store calls with five situations all alike, that means I probably have stores all over my region with the same issue–and I need to find out why. That can explain why the factory was slow in replacing the parts.  But it doesn’t explain why the factory didn’t communicate that to the service manager, and it doesn’t explain why the service manager didn’t explain it to me. The service manager should have been pushing harder for that information.

In the mail, we received a little envelope of hardware. It came in before the actual parts did by almost two weeks, and as it turned out, was never used. The large replacement parts were delivered to my house via UPS. Then I found out that we were expected to do the repairs ourselves, and then bring the (very large) defective parts in to the store.  Let me explain this: We are not repair technicians for this type of item. And even if we were, the concept of making the customer whole should not include having them repairing their own merchandise when the merchandise is covered under warranty.

I was never again able to get the service manager on the phone. But I did–after several attempts and messages left–get on the phone with the store manager. In a conversation that lasted way too long, she insisted that since we did not have the merchandise delivered, repair at our home was not covered by the warranty. We would have to bring the items in, or pay a fee to have someone come to our home.  Never raising my voice, but nonetheless sounding, I’m sure, very frustrated, as I was, I pressed the issue that this was defective merchandise and the right thing to do when the customer has been sold defective merchandise is to make the customer whole at no inconvenience to the customer. The larger and more expensive the purchase, the more this should be the case.

I told her that someone has the authority to make this happen, and she said that would be the owners, and they have never done so. I asked for the owners’ names, and she said she couldn’t give out that information, and when I said, “That’s okay, it really is a matter of public record, I can get that information in a matter of minutes, don’t worry about it,” her whole tone changed. She immediately said that she would make a phone call first thing in the morning, and if I didn’t hear from her by Monday, I should call her.

I had no intention of calling her. I was tired of calling people.

On Monday I did a search on the store’s name and found the names of the owners. It just so happens that the store’s Google listing also lists the owners’ Google+ page for the store. I let fly.  Then I did a Facebook search and found the store has a Facebook page as well. I copied and pasted from the Google+ page into the Facebook page.  Keep in mind that there was never any abusive language exchanged. There was never any shouting. There was never any profanity. But within an hour I got a phone call from the store’s General Manager who wanted to set up a time to have the repairmen come out to my house and make the necessary repairs and pick up the defective parts.

The repairs were not something we could have done. It took two knowledgable men nearly two hours to get it done. We would have taken much longer and may possibly have done further damage to the pieces. I’m satisfied that the replacement parts have resolved the issue, and we have been made whole.  But it took the megaphone of social media to make it happen.

I offer excellence. And only because I offer excellence do I feel that I have the right to expect it of others. The miracle of social media is not that we can share billions of cat videos or even that we can keep in touch with friends and family, although that is one of the benefits I enjoy. The real miracle of social media, if we will use it, is that it allows us to hold people accountable in a very public way. Now, we have to be responsible to do this effectively. We must remain respectful. We must remain honest. We must not ask for things we do not genuinely deserve. But with our new media, everyone has a voice, and we should be using it to demand excellence.

Posted in Ramblings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cyberbullying Has Very Little to do with the “Cyber” Part

To begin with, I do not want to be interpreted as not having sympathy for victims of bad behavior. In fact, the whole reason behind my other blog ( is to empower people to make use of technology to increase their prosperity. But the bold reality is that cyberbullies are bullies regardless of access to technology. Technology just makes it easier to torment people, and opens up the floodgates of available victims.

Technology is never the cause of problems between people. Technology is, for good or bad, for better or worse, a facilitator. Technology can assist in fanning an old flame on Facebook; in fact, Facebook is being blamed for an increasing number of divorces. A strong marriage in the first place is not vulnerable to such, and a partner who could be swayed on Facebook could be swayed anywhere else as well. Technology is being blamed for the rise in pornography addiction. Although it wasn’t as widely known, due to the lack of resources to tell us about it, pornography was available before computers were putting it on the web. And before printed pornography, there were “peep shows” and stalkers. Technology is being blamed for cyberbullying. Saying mean things is nothing new. If you didn’t receive the barbs, you saw it happening to others.

The problem isn’t the technology, and removing the technology from the picture isn’t going to solve it. The problem is lack of respect for people and relationships. And the reason it is spreading isn’t because of the availability of technology. It’s because the lack of respect for people and relationships is spreading.

One thing that is different is that our children have unprecedented unsupervised access to unlimited numbers of people that they may or may not know. You may think that you have your child’s internet access closely supervised, but unless you spend all your time in that child’s presence, you don’t have that access completely controlled. Your child has friends who have that unlimited access, and once they hand over a smartphone to your child to watch a humorous video, the world is at your child’s fingertips.

Having the ability and opportunity to see the world from many different viewpoints is excellent, and I encourage you to share those opportunities with your children. Let them see the different lives that make up the world, and how those different lives affect what the people living them think and feel and do. Ask them questions that start out, “If that was you, what would you do?” But make sure that you are involved in that exploration. This is appropriate use of this wonderful resource.

English: A Bully Free Zone sign - School in Be...

English: A Bully Free Zone sign – School in Berea, Ohio (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bullying is bullying, regardless of where and how it happens. What is less well-known, however, is that every bully has been bullied.  A bully is seeking to exercise worth or superiority, or to manifest strength and power, when the bully is feeling none of those things. At the heart of every bully is a cowering, trembling little child desperately trying to be someone not cowering and not trembling, and the only way they know to make that happen is to do to someone else what they perceive is being done to them. Bullying is learned behavior. That in no way excuses the bully, because it is still a choice. But as a parent, as a sibling, as a classmate, as a spouse, as a friend, you have opportunities every day to not contribute to the creation of a bully simply by not being one. By extending respect to everyone you encounter, and by demonstrating to your children that this is the only acceptable way of interacting with people, you can prevent the creation of bullies.

When you or someone you know is on the receiving end of bullying, only two courses of action will stop the misbehavior: walk away, and have nothing to do with the bully; or stand up to the bully. Standing up doesn’t have to mean retaliating, it just means not allowing the bully to determine what you do and how you feel. The primary factor in that is not being formed externally. When you, or your children, know that you are a being of worth regardless of other people, when that is an inherent part of a person’s being, a bully has no effect.  Since what the bully is seeking is validation and power, not granting that negates the process without causing collateral damage. Online, that can mean unfriending/blocking a bully, and I don’t understand why more people don’t take that action. I also don’t understand why more parents don’t know that it’s going on in their children’s lives, and I don’t understand why, when the parents DO know about it, they don’t insist on simply severing the connection.

This isn’t rocket science. Respect people. And don’t allow people to have extended influence in your life if they can’t treat you with respect. It really is that simple.

Posted in Technology in perspective | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

No Expectation of Privacy

I have tried a couple of times to post this to facebook, but it never makes it to publication.  I got to Google+.

The liberal media wants to play this down by saying it’s not important. It is. Make no mistake.

Obamacare Gets Creepier! “You Have No Reasonable Expectation Of Privacy” In Source Code


Posted in Liberty | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment