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December 26, 2018

The price of your data on the dark web

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"So much stolen data is available on the dark web, people shouldn't worry whether their information has been swiped," said Elvis Chan, a supervisory special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation who investigates cyber intrusions. "Every American person should assume all of their data is out there."

[via the Wall Street Journal]

December 26, 2018 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Elegance and laziness

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When I drive through McDonald's, I hold my credit card in such a way that my thumb is over the hologram (above) when I hand it to the person inside.

That way, he or she doesn't have to change the card's position after taking it from me before inserting it into the reader.

You say, "Joe, you must be crazy to actually spend time thinking about the best way to hold your credit card during the McDonald's drive-thru experience."

You might be right.

Here, I invoke the opening sentence of Saul Bellow's magnificent "Herzog," to wit.: "If I am out of my mind, it's all right with me, thought Moses Herzog."

Not only do I always seek to find the fastest/easiest/most elegant way to do things, but I also try to make others' involvement equally efficient.

It's how I'm wired: alway was and always will be.

December 26, 2018 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Come With Me — Helen Schulman

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This new novel was so good, I had to invoke SlowRead.

SlowRead is my neologism for purposely trying to make a book last as long as possible, by daydreaming and looking away from the page and wondering whether I need a haircut and whatnot.

Few books get this treatment, of that you can be sure: authors guaranteed this form of adoration include Lorraine Adams, John le Carré, and Gerald Seymour, among others.

But I digress.

As I was reading the book I wondered how to approach my post about it; after all, it's one the five best books I've read so far this year, and that number must be around  150±50 by now.

Then, as oftimes happens, I was saved by the bell: nonpareil New York Times writer Sarah Lyall reviewed it.

I concur with everything she wrote, but she put it far better than I ever could.

But that's why the Gray Lady pays her the big bucks, right?

Below is the review, which appeared on December 17, 2018.

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The Multiverse Isn't All It's Cracked Up to Be in "Come With Me"

Maybe you think your obsessive need to find out everything about everything via your personal device is a delightful reflection of the boundlessness of your curiosity and the suppleness of your intellect.

But your little quirk might not seem so charming when you see it manifested in Dan, the dispirited journalist in Helen Schulman's new novel, "Come With Me." Having slid down the greasy newspaper pole into joblessness, Dan has become a self-loathing middle-aged slacker who whiles away his days e-chatting with other underemployed writers and using Google to settle the picayune disputes anxiously raging in his brain.

But as with the pleasures that come from pornography and Krispy Kreme doughnuts, these cerebral gratifications are brief and ultimately unsatisfying. His phone is his sin, his soul, his torment, "an oxygen tank for his breath-starved mind," Schulman writes. His thirst for understanding can never be satisfied: Each moment of knowing gives rise to a new moment of not-knowing.

The other characters in this smart, timely and highly entertaining novel all have their own troubles with, for lack of a more specific term, technology. This is the shadow under which we operate. What is all this convenience and quick-fix distraction doing to people, to families, to society? Is it bringing people together or driving us apart? Are we using it, or is it using us?

These are not new questions. None of us is immune to the siren call of our gadgets, or to the nebulous sense of voluntarily hurtling toward some unforeseen future that is very bad. But Schulman, whose most recent previous novel was the best-selling "This Beautiful Life" (2011), has wrapped her distress in such an attractive package that the book slides down almost without your noticing its seriousness of purpose.

Here is Dan's son Jack, constantly on Skype and FaceTime with his long-distance girlfriend, Lily, bringing her along 24/7 while he eats, showers, sleeps and has virtual sex (with her). The sex is better on the phone — "it was like she was in a trance, like she'd do whatever he wanted" — and they end up spending more time together when they’re apart than when they're actually in the same place.

Here, too, are Jack's younger brothers, twins known uncharmingly to the family as Thing One and Thing Two, after the Dr. Seuss characters, who have the requisite alarming love of PlayStation.

Then there is Amy, Dan's wife, who serves as the book's emotional heart. Juggling work and home, she’s ended up doing P.R. for a rackety startup run by the ludicrous Donny, a hoodie-wearing, Steve Jobs-imitating, Mark Zuckerberg-worshiping 19-year-old who happens to be the son of one of Amy's oldest friends. Sometimes their meetings are held in his dorm room at Stanford, featuring his never-made bed. Sometimes he surprises her for breakfast meetings at home and finishes the box of Puffins that is meant for her kids.

Donny's company is experimenting with an algorithm that allows people to play out alternative virtual-reality scenarios from their pasts — their "multiverses" — for "Sliding Doors"-style experiences. He makes Amy his guinea pig, using intimate details about her that his indiscreet mother has shared with him. Her would-be lives spin out in front of her.

She relives bits of her history and sees what it might have been like if she had, for instance, stayed with the irresistible, irresponsible, unfaithful, unemployed musician/actor/philosopher she lived with before Dan. What if she had not aborted their baby? What if Eric, the older brother she revered, had not died? What if? These fictional scenarios are utterly convincing and fill us with as much confusion, fear and longing as they do Amy. "It's like nostalgia, only a billion times worse," she says. "It's like being boiled alive in oil."

The family reaches a fault line when Dan becomes interested in a woman named Maryam, a photographer who is obsessed with the devastation wrought by the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan.

Along with an exotic magnetism that quickly wears thin and a Knight fellowship in "experimental storytelling, immersive journalism and interactive design," Maryam can out-nerd even Dan with the cascade of facts at her fingertips. She has a tiresome belief in her own fabulousness and a habit of sounding as if she is quoting from her own Nobel citation.

"I came to Stanford to study the neurobiological effects of cyberconnectivity," she declares. "But recently, every cell in my body has been crying for Japan." One of her former lovers is described as a "South American professor/revolutionary/poet, a super hottie, a sexual adventurer, who had also been in the Olympics."

Schulman deftly moves around, telling her story from various points of view. Sometimes she strays a little far afield — I wasn't sure I cared about the dating travails of Jack's girlfriend’s mother, as amusing as they were — but her observations, particularly about the ridiculousness of the Northern Californian start-up mentality, are always apt and sharp.

As the book gathers itself toward its conclusion, the crises that strike the family are all too non-virtual. Their machines cannot help them. We can play out multiple scenarios, dream multiple fantasies, write multiple stories in our heads, but in the end we have only one — complicated, imperfect, hard-to-face — reality.

December 26, 2018 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Eraser Pencil Stand

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From the website:

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A dome-shaped eraser that doubles as a pencil stand.

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The eraser has a hole in the middle for keeping a pencil upright and handy.

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• Thermoplastic rubber

• Pencil included

• 1.9"Ø x 0.8"H

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Navy, Mustard, or Pink.

$6.

 

December 26, 2018 at 08:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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