The Internet of Everything–Tech Support…conversations with a robot

There is much talk and buzz about the Internet of Everything where in the very near future all of our material possessions and items in our environment will be connected to the Internet to better service and facilitate our lives…or so they claim.

The extreme Internet of Everything advocates envision drones delivering our purchases and robots driving our cars while we passively go along for the ride…viewing our virtual worlds on Google Glass…

Human On Board

Human On Board


As a taste of this imminent brave new world, I offer this transcript of a recent text “conversation” I had with a customer service “representative” of a cable company regarding installation of a cable box.  I was trying to resolve an issue–THE NEW BOX DID NOT WORK–and I could not get connected to a live person (a.k.a. human being) on the telephone.

No Signal!

No Signal!


Instead I was directed to an online web chat service support site.  I saved the transcript and offer it to you below. The “conversation” is a bit awkward as the exchanges sometimes crossed in the back and forth.  I think there was a human being…somewhere…on the other side of this conversation…but I am not so sure anymore!

However, I think you will get the drift…

…and by the way, I eventually did convince the company to sent someone (as in a human being, and not a robot) who found that the trouble indeed was not of my doing.  They found an old trap in the line outside the house.  See the photo at the end of this article


Customer Support: What is your issue?

Frank: My Issue: we are trying to connect our new cable box.

Customer Support: Hello, Frank.

Frank: hello

Customer Support: Oh, all right. I can help you with that. No worries, Frank.

Customer Support: You have reached the right person, and I’ll assure you that together, we can resolve your issue today.

Frank: we need to talk to a real live person

Customer Support: I am a live person, Frank.

Frank: tried phone number 888-270-6445 was no help

Customer Support: Have you tried 1-800-934-6489, Frank?

Frank: not going to listen to another phone robot

Frank: can someone call me

Customer Support: Sure thing. May I ask if this box is your second one?

Frank: Something appears to be wrong on your end

Customer Support: Oh, have you installed it already?

Frank: yes it is installed and a signal has been sent

Frank: we are receiving weird channels—-not ones we have subscribed to

Customer Support: I understand. Will you please give me the serial number of the affected box?

Customer Support: This is located at the back or bottom of the box and it usually starts with letters M, P, G, T or S.

Frank: now a whole bunch of different channels are coming in so someone must be doing something?

Frank: PAFR06166588

Customer Support: Thank you for that. How about your other box, Frank?

Frank: we took the first box back yesterday and we were given this box as a replacement we were told that something was wrong with the first box but i think something is wrong on at your end.

Customer Support: No problem. Frank, I would be happy to walk you through some troubleshooting steps that have been proven effective in resolving this type of problem. Is that alright?

Customer Support: I have not received any response from you in a while. Please let me know if you still require my assistance. Thank you.

Frank: okay

Frank: we have only basic cable now a lot of other channels are showing up but not the basic cable that we pay for

Customer Support: Cool. Will you please check on your wiring? Kindly make sure they are properly connected from the box and TV to the wall outlet.

Customer Support: I understand, Frank. Thank you for the information. Will you please make sure the cable wires are tight and secure?

Frank: obviously we are connected correctly if we are getting channels

Customer Support: All right, Frank. This problem is caused by signals from the network that have not synchronized well with the cable box. I will need to send a command to refresh the cable box and its signals.

Customer Support: Frank, is the box on?

Frank: Yes

Customer Support: Will you please give me a minute to do this task?

Customer Support: Thank you for waiting. I have successfully sent the signal to your equipment and I am glad to tell you that your equipment responded positively.

Customer Support: Will you please check on your channels?

Frank: still the same

Customer Support: Alright, kindly turn off your cable box and unplug it from the power outlet. Then, wait for 10 to 15 seconds before plugging it back and turning it on again.

Frank: okay

Customer Support: Please keep me posted, Frank. Thank you.

Frank: we’ve done that and nothing changed

Customer Support: Thank you for doing those steps, Frank. I’d like to inform you that it may take 3 to 5 minutes for your channels to load one by one.

Customer Support: What channels are you getting, Frank?

Frank: lots of channels——but not the ones we pay for

Frank: also getting a lot of radio stations which we do not subscribe to

Customer Support: I see. Thank you for the heads up.

Frank: we are not getting 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9 — the channels that we pay for

Frank: someone needs to call us—-someone who can really DO something

Customer Support: Will you please give me 2 minutes to review on your channel line up. Frank?

Customer Support: Would you like a tech visit instead?

Frank: we’ve spent 2 whole days messing with this – we are very upset and disgusted

Frank: only if it’s free

Customer Support: I understand where you’re coming from, Frank.

Customer Support: Please do not worry about any technician fee, our priority is to have the equipment fixed as soon as possible.

Customer Support: Oh, I’m sorry. This case is a failed Self – Install, Frank.

Customer Support: There will be a possible charge, since the installation you did didn’t work for your cable.

Frank: i’m not paying

Customer Support: You belong to the West Market, Frank. You may check your channel line up.

Customer Support: I want to ensure your issue is addressed. Can you let me know if you still require support please?

Frank: we still require support

Customer Support: Were you able to check on your local channel line up, Frank?

Frank: yes, and the channel numbers have not changed

Customer Support: All right, Frank. Thank you for checking that one out. I’d like to inform you that this is a FAILED Self – Installation and what we need is to have a technician come over and install your box properly for you.

Frank: that’s fine, but I’m not paying for that. I already installed it per your instructions!

Customer Support: This will be determined by the technician, Frank.

Frank: no no no—–don’t come here if you plan to charge me

Frank: the problem is on your end not ours

Customer Support: All right, Frank. I respect that. I’d like to inform you that since you did the installation yourself, the issue with your channels is caused by this. What needs to be done is a proper installation by a professional.

Frank: that makes NO sense we are getting channels just not the ones we paid for.

Customer Support: Something went wrong with the installation that’s why you’re having these channel issues – missing channels.

Frank: but there is something wrong at your end why can’t someone call us on the telephone

SESSION TERMINATED by me…the human being, aka, the customer

Note–The issue was resolved two days later by an on site service team–without any charge.  The trouble was in the cable line…not my installation of the cable box…





2013—Digital media expands…print media shrinks

Over the last three years I have had occasional “musings” about our digital information age and even ventured forth with a few comments…

2010– 2011…Time for a new route or an old rut?

2011–My Book My Record…Thriving Analog Artifacts in a Digital World?

2012– Digital Books…the next generation reading format?

In keeping with this three-year tradition, I offer a few thoughts for 2013

As Bob Dylan might have put it: “The Times And Media, They Are A-Changin'”

2013 is a year in which the “digitizing” and electronic distribution of text and image media will proceed apace.  More and more people will be using their phones, tablets, e-readers, and laptops to create and distribute, text, photos and videos…and to secure their news, not to mention directions to the nearest store having the object of their heart’s desire on sale…at the lowest price.

As a consequence, the future of print media in 2013…the latest 2014, perhaps…does not look particularly promising.  For example, the December 31, 2012 print edition of Newsweek was its last. Starting in 2013, readers will be able to access the magazine only by subscribing to online delivery. For a detailed explanation of this decision, go to A New Chapter…Sometimes change isn’t just good, it’s necessary. One wonders whether Time magazine will be far behind.

At the local level we still have print editions of The Press Democrat and the Petaluma Argus Courier, with no notice, as of the time of this writing, that they will cease.  However, there has been discussion of charging for online content at one or both of these publications.  Advance notice, perhaps, that the print editions are in jeopardy?

Change is inevitable and inexorable.  The movement to exclusive online distribution of stories and news will, in my opinion, change the nature and character of the content.  My view is perhaps conditioned by the fact that I am used to reading long articles such as the recent 14 page section in the New York Times presenting a single story complete with several large photographs.  In a world where it is difficult to get many to click beyond one or two screen pages, writing such as this will not survive.  I, for one, will miss it.

In one sense the rapid changes in media are an affirmation of Marshall McLuhan’s aphorism: “The medium is the message. This is merely to say that the  personal and social consequences of any medium – that is, of any extension of  ourselves – result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by  each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.”

Oh to be sure there will be an ever increasing volume of information coming to us on our various electronic devices and small screens in the years ahead. However, I for one will cling to the New York Times Sunday print edition for as long as it is available.  As for Newsweek, I will miss it and will not subscribe online.  This is not out of spite.  It is simply that online reading of long articles is not something I particularly care to do.

What will happen to text,  I think, is what has already happened to photos. See Many More Images, Much Less Meaning.

We face, I suspect, a future of endless communication…with less information.

You can say that, but…

…only as long as you are aware of the potential consequences.

The recent national story about Congressman Anthony Weiner’s Twitter posts plus some of the comments posted to the recent Petaluma Patch article, Police launch active investigation into Aqus Cafe vandalism serve as the background for this attempt to again cover the issues of

  • Free speech
  • Appropriate speech
  • Legal liability and other consequences for the author (anonymous or not) of the posted words or photos–whether they be in a forum, an article comment or in a blog

This article is a summary of the several articles posted in the past.


In today’s online world, you have the ability to exercise your power of free speech on any number of news websites that permit blogs or public postings to news stories, on-line forums or other message boards and social media sites. However there is no absolute right to say or write anything you want without risking litigation or other consequences.

As a user of such websites, including the social media sites, you should be aware that these sites have user agreements dictating that the author of any blog, post, or comment is responsible for its content.

For purposes of this article, think of “Free Speech” as a large ocean with two shores, or boundaries if you will. For convenience, I will call them the Criminal Liability Shore and the Civil Liability Shore…

  • On the Criminal Liability Shore, you will find several prohibitions against “incitement” with the classic example being that of Oliver Wendell Homes–You can’t yell “Fire” in a crowded theater when there is no fire. Updating Holmes, you had better not exercise your “Right of Free Speech” by saying “bomb” at an airport, unless you enjoy the prospect of suffering significant and swift consequences.
  • On the Civil Liability shore, you will find numerous restrictions and potential litigation on what you can say or write due to trademark and copyright laws. In addition, there are the classic twin specters of defamation claims and potential libel suits.

In between the two shores, there is a vast ocean of unrestricted speech–ideas, criticism, argument, advocacy, complaints, general ranting, etc. The contents of this ocean are only regulated by…

  • Social convention–e.g. there are certain things one should not say at a wedding or an office party…or in some bars after midnight.
  • Employer rules, policies, and regulations
  • Contract or agreement–such as a website user agreement.


Defamation (Libel & Slander) is an extremely complex legal topic. Almost every word used to describe the parameters of defamation is a term of art with a mountain of case-law behind each word or phrase…publication, distribution, retraction, trade or business libel, malice, actual malice, intent, negligence, etc.

  • From a practical standpoint, not every disparaging, critical, negative, or derogatory statement constitutes legal defamation. By case-law, public figures and elected officials must endure even more than the average person, as they must prove “actual malice” in the publishing of an alleged defamatory statement.
  • Even if defamation is established, proving up damages is not always an easy task.
  • On the other hand, as a litigant defending against a defamation claim, you may be forced to spend a considerable amount of money to prove your defense. In short, you may win against the defamation claim…but you will be broke.

In my opinion, most (if not all) of the risks of potential defamation claims can be avoided by the use of a little common sense and common courtesy when posting on a public forum.

Now, for those who still want to push the limits–and, in my opinion, they know when they are crossing the line–I suggest they read the next section.


Screen names are not a protection against discovery

I have a natural bias of wanting to know the author of anything I read and believe that people should put their name behind their words. For example, can anyone imagine John Hancock signing the Declaration of Independence as BIGJOHN?

I have come to the reluctant conclusion that the use of screen names is acceptable although I prefer otherwise.

How you act behind the screen name (i.e. what you write) is an entirely different question. You are ultimately responsible for what you say whether as “Big John” or John Hancock. 

There is a belief by some that you can say anything under a screen name and never be held accountable if a person or a business suspects a criminal or civil law has been broken and decides to pursue the case in court.

The practice of allowing the use of screen names is not an implied permission to engage in defamatory language or to violate the terms of a website’s user agreement. You do so at your own risk, particularly in the area of business or trade libel.

In my opinion, if there is litigation generated by an anonymous posting or series of posts, a  website is going to give you up in a New York minute.

Think about it…before you post your next brilliant “flame” for all the world to see…

Oh, one more thing. For those who are inclined to post photos of themselves on social media sites, do not use former Congressman Anthony Weiner as a role model. His photos may not have been “illegal”–but they certainly had consequences.

Legal & Personal Dangers–The Internet & New Media World…A Coda

In this post, I offer several items for your consideration:

  • An article by Bill Keller in the New York Times Magazine.  Mr. Keller is quite a bit younger than yours truly, but he definitely hits the mark in The Twitter Trap . The sub-heading gives you a sense of the article: ” What thinking in 140 characters does to our brains.”
  • An update on Your Internet Posts Can Get You Sued For Defamation…or worse! is also in order. One of the stories covered in that post involved the Cleveland Plain Dealer and a judge. Briefly, there was a question of certain anonymous online posts on the newspaper’s web site that were alleged to have originated from the courthouse.  The newspaper decided to break the story and revealed the courthouse internet connection as the source.  The judge was removed from hearing the case in question due to the appearance of impropriety. However, the judge sued the newspaper alleging defamation and breach of the newspaper’s confidentiality agreement for commenters.  The suit was recently settled without going to trial and without disclosure of the rationale for the settlement.

Related links providing background on the Cleveland Plain Dealer lawsuit:

  1. On The Media Transcript
  2. She’s Out: Judge Shirley Strickland-Saffold Removed from Cleveland Strangler Case 
  3. Saffolds dismiss lawsuit against Plain Dealer   
  4. The Indiana Law Blog  

In closing…

There are many positive aspects of the new media world  but it is also adversely affecting many cultural norms of behavior.  Of course this is simply my opinion–an opinion based on the fact that I am 66 years old, out of date, and basically irrelevant.  Personally, this is not a bad state of affairs–in fact, I have been secretly working on achieving this status for quite some time…and intend to take full advantage of it.

My Book My Record…Thriving Analog Artifacts in a Digital World?


The two stories in this article were developed as the result of comments posted to 2011…Time for a new route or an old rut? by readers in Peoria, Illinois and Sonoma, California. Both comments suggested that the dystopian digital future I portrayed was perhaps not as comprehensive as I inferred. Whether it is or not remains to be seen.  Notwithstanding, I think the stories are worth telling in their own right…

     A book story…                                                                                                                        

 A record story…


Reader Mary Dene Etter reports that hard copy books are still popular with children in Peoria: “I am currently involved in a local project to put six books in the hands of all K thru 4th graders in District 150 (Peoria) schools. In a little over two years we have distributed 12,000 books.  I cannot imagine anything digital replacing their enthusiasm as they anticipate having their own library.”                                   (Photo Courtesy of Look! It’s My Book!)

I fully realize that there are programs such as this in many cities. Notwithstanding, this story caught my attention as I am a product of Peoria’s District 150 schools.

The book distribution program described by Mary Dene is sponsored and managed by Peoria’s Look! It’s My Book!  and Janet Roth, President describes their efforts:

The most wonderful magic has been the incredible support that Look It’s My Book! has  gotten.  We are now up to seven schools, (there is a district wide poverty level of 70%); we’ve given away over 12,000 books, and have over 160 volunteers. 

It has been so fun to see the children pick their books!  One little girl actually clapped her hands and jumped for joy when she found out we had Fancy Nancy! One little boy came over and asked me how did you pronounce the word mischievous. I told him. Then he asked, “What does it mean?”  I said it was someone who wasn’t exactly bad, but who got into trouble sometimes and liked to do things like play practical jokes.  His eyes lit up and he asked “How do you pronounce that again?” I think he identified with the term.*

Mary Dene also reported by e-mail: “Many stories to tell — one from a bus driver who says he always knows when it’s been “book day,” the kids are so quiet (reading their new book).  We get lots of smiles and hugs; also get to witness their enthusiasm as they discuss their newest book with their friends.”

Back in the day, Peoria, Illinois was the most “middle” of middle class cities in a cultural and economic sense. The expression, “Will it play in Peoria?” evolved from describing a rough river town on the Vaudeville circuit to describing a city that was a test market for new consumer products.  It was, if you will, an island of middle class stability. 

Having moved to California in 1985, I lost touch with the “realities” of my home town. Consequently, I had trouble processing the fact that the poverty level in the district is now 70% as reported by Janet Roth. A little research verified this figure. See Schools struggling to deal with rise in poverty 

All I can say or offer at this point is a loud HUZZAH to the many people behind Peoria’s Look! It’s My Book!It may be a digital age, but you have found the perfect analog response to a difficult problem.


A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I used to be a vinyl record collector. However, I thought the medium had disappeared with the advent of the audio CD in the early Eighties.

Therefore, when Gina Cuclis in Sonoma, California reported that her twin daughters (Seniors at Sonoma Valley High) love listening to vinyl records, she had my attention.  

  • She even suggested that this might be part of a larger trend eventually generating a nostalgic yearning for  printed newspapers. 
  • Perhaps…perhaps not. 

What focused my mind was the reference to records.  I know there is a small group of hard-core audiophiles who still reject the digital recording format in favor of analog records and spend large sums of money for playback equipment.  But I was not aware that the love of records was shared, shall we say, by a wider group of more rational people.

I pursued the subject further with Gina by e-mail and telephone:

My daughters — Olivia and Elena Tennant love vinyl. Olivia gave her sister several vinyl records for Christmas. I find this very interesting. As Millennials, they are the first generation to grow up with the Internet, yet they prefer old-fashioned vinyl records.

They tell me their friends feel the same way. I find them both at times with their friends in our living room listening to my husband’s and my old Rolling Stones albums. They say the vinyl “sounds better.” They will download from iTunes some of the same music for their iPods. But then they’ll listen at home to an old vinyl record.

As a music aficionado, I was taken aback by this information–I, for one, love the CD format and was more than happy to have moved on from records several years ago. 

I performed a little research and discovered that there is a genuine resurgence of interest in the record format. It is not confined to a group of young adults in Sonoma, California.

  • Many new releases are offered on Amazon in three formats:  CD, MP3 downloads, and…vinyl records.
  • Elvis Costello reportedly prefers the vinyl record medium.

Vinyl records? LP Albums? Who knew? Well, it seems is if Olivia & Elena have figured it out.

For more information on this phenomenon, see the “Vinyl Links” section at the end of this article.**


* Our project becomes even more important as we look at crime.  The April 10th edition of the Economist looks at the question: Are there ways to prevent people from becoming criminals in the first place? There is plenty of evidence that a lack of education goes hand in hand with criminal behavior. But few studies have established that less education is actually a cause of crime.  However, now there is one. It was almost accidental, when the UK changed their law and extended the time students had to stay in school “they found a causal link between low education and crime.”   They found this group with the additional year of schooling was less likely to engage in criminal behavior.   The authors could even calculate that one year extra of education reduces property crime by 1-2%. And a study of American crime found the biggest benefit from extra education was fewer violent crimes.   Reading skills keep children in school.  Books in the home allow kids to gain those critical reading skills…that’s why we are doing Look! It’s My Book! 

2011…Time for a new route or an old rut?

The end of a year is a time for reflection and so it is that I find myself ruminating over the keyboard during this last week of 2010…

“We know what we are, but we know not what we may become”- William Shakespeare

I have no great words of wisdom or forecasts for 2011 except to note that the Gales of Change will continue to blow in 2011. At a minimum, we can expect further disruptions in the economy, government budgets, and the general well-being of society.

In short:

  • It is more than likely that 2011 will not be a good year.
  • We will be fortunate if it is no worse than 2010.

The above notwithstanding, I offer two futuristic observations on our digital communications media world in the coming year(s).



The almost relentless drive to digitize all forms of consumer media will accelerate in 2011

DVD’s and CD’s will be harder to find as they are replaced by downloads and on demand services. The pressure to buy e-books, to watch movies online, and to consume music by download will continue.

Large scale Sunday newspapers may soon disappear…

Eventually, everything will be available online–exclusively–for consumption on an electronic device…

  • Digital downloads will generate a tremendous savings in resources previously dedicated to producing and distributing consumer books, recordings, magazines, newspapers, DVD movies, etc.
  • Homes will no longer be cluttered with books, magazines, photo albums, and recordings.  They will be available online and on demand…for a fee of course.
  • Public & private libraries will no longer be necessary in an online digital world.
  • Book stores, like the Dodo, will become extinct.
  • Book signings will be replaced by Facebook entries & Twitter Tweets.

Eventually, all human generated content and information–writings, books, film, photos, government records, business records, personal records, and archives–will be stored in a central computer cloud…and accessed through a wireless umbilical cord.

Of course, there is one question… will control the cloud?Storm cloud asking…


To Tweet or not to Tweet–That is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous Facebook fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of social media links*

Recently, I have been reflecting on two books (hard copy versions) that have stirred my little gray cells in the spirit of Agatha Christie’s Poirot. 

They are interesting contradictions, these two books…

Both can be read at several levels… 

  • The first deals with the tensions, dynamics, and strains of creating something in and for the “real” world.
  • The second describes how the “real” world is being replaced by the Virtual Internet Worldwith its infinite array of marketing, news, and social media communication channels…the latter filled to the brim with a stew of 140 character texts, digital snapshots, video clips, and banal messages–a world where constant communication is more important than content or context. It is a world we have yet begun to understand as it changes our entire media landscape…and us. ***

In musing over the information and ideas presented in these books, I asked myself two questions for 2011…

Is it time to find a new route in the new Social Media?



Is it time to go back to the future and stay in the old rut?

After careful deliberation, my answer is…the old rut!


Simply put, I have no interest in contributing to the digital vapors of the new “social” media.

I find less and less reason to follow, much less take part in, a virtual world where people, for the most part, would rather commune with others on their mobile devices or computers instead of engaging in face to face encounters.  I am well aware that this is the reality of the day and it is not going to change. I do wonder if this is not one of the reasons why some decry the increasing coarseness of, and rude behavior in, society…

Could it be that we are losing our ability to interact and communicate personally because it is so much easier to do it through a surrogate electronic device?

I have always tended to pick the “road less traveled” in the spirit of Robert Frost or to cheer the underdog in conflicts and see no reason to change now.

Therefore, I will continue working in the now out of date world of 300 to 800 word blog articles written and formatted as if they were set out on a real page with large scale photo prints. While read or seen by few in the Virtual World, as they are not suited for quick consumption on handheld screens, it is the course I elect to maintain. ****

Looking ahead to 2011, my plans are to continue posting articles from time to time on such topics that may come my way–usually by way of photographs made during the month.

  • If you care to follow along in 2011, there is a free, easy e-mail subscription section in the right hand column on this page. 
  • The Photo Blog (Click Here) will also continue in 2011. As with this blog, the Photo Blog has a free subscription link if you care to follow my irregular photographic meanderings. The subscription link is at the bottom of the page

In closing, Happy New Year to one and all. It’s going to be a bumpy ride to an uncertain destination.

Strap on your seatbelt and…Fingers crossed


  • *With apologies to Mr. Shakespeare!
  • **I strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants to get a sense of the changes in our media world in terms of how they took place and what lies ahead.  It is extremely well written and documented.
  • ***This “virtual” article is the equivalent of five 8 1/2 by 11 pages set in size 11 Georgia font. It contains 1153 words, 6,524 characters with spaces, three full-sized photographs, five emoticons, and six notes.  Obviously, it is hopelessly out of date by current Internet writing standards!
  • ****As an alternative explanation for my decision, I borrow a few words from that great philosopher from Texas, Waylon Jennings: “I’ve always been crazy and the trouble that it’s put me through…I’ve always been different with one foot over the line…I’ve always been crazy but it’s kept me from going insane.”


  • For those not familiar with Petaluma, the first photo is a composite of two exposures of the Clock Tower at the corner of Western Ave and Petaluma Blvd.
  • The “tunnel” photo is a triple exposure of the inside of the Waldo Tunnel approach to the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • For larger views, click on each photo.