Over the last few years, I’ve written a few times about senior citizens and technology. There is no better time than right now to figure out how you can connect with those whom you love or care about (and not just seniors!) since there are a lot of lonely and isolated people during this pandemic time.

I’d expect that you certainly don’t want your parents, grandparents, elderly family members, or other seniors — who, without question, are our most vulnerable during this pandemic and will be the last to go out or connect with others in person — to be even lonelier or more isolated than ever before!

Many people have commented on those posts of mine, but even more have used my contact form to reach out to me directly and asked questions, provided solutions they had or knew about, or reinforced my belief that online communication with others can really help.

HMM…MAYBE I COULD HELP HER?

This past week a woman sent me a long message which started off with this:

Hi Steve, I found your blog after realizing I will probably need to purchase something for my father (and mother who has dementia) to do video calls. Like you talked about in your blog it has to be as easy as turning on a device, make sure wifi is connected, and just clicking 1 button (only) to call me. The device can’t be small because Dad has vision and hearing problems. No extra apps, etc.

She also mentioned these requirements:

  • My dilemma is that I myself am disabled, and cannot easily go to a store to buy a device, set it up, pack it up and then ship it to him.
  • I also don’t want to spend over, let’s say $300-350.
  • Also, the device can’t be fidgety like a small tablet.
  • Anyway, if you have any other ideas that could fall in or below my price range, I’d love to hear. Esp if it’s geared toward disabled/seniors (e.g. big buttons/keypad/screen). It literally has to be visually and aurally very usable, clear, and with no quirky gadgets.

I thought it might be helpful for you to read most of my response to her since the solution I recommended to her might help you too.

PLEASE NOTE: I know there are a lot of other tablets, devices, and cheaper solutions, so no need to pick apart my suggestion below. Make your own suggestions in the comments.

One other consideration is this: Unless you’ve done what I’ve done in the past — set up laptops, computer towers, tablets, IP-and-mobile phones and other devices for seniors, all while coaching them on their use — then please understand that I’m hypersensitive to the need for something that just works, is easy to set up and easy for seniors to use. That is what I’ve suggested below with my recommendation.

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I’m seeing so many people struggling with understanding why our nation (and other nations) are essentially in lockdown, especially when “more people die of flu” and “just a tiny few have been identified so far“.

Do you understand how quickly the growth of a virus can move throughout humans? The wheat and chess board problem below is a great illustration of how exponential growth works — similar to how a virus spreads in a human population — and why the governmental reaction is happening to restrict our movements at this point in time.

THE CALIFORNIA EXAMPLE
As of yesterday, all non-essential services in my current State of California are shut down and people are mandated to “shelter in place” so as not to communicate the novel coronavirus to others. But why is this happening now?

According to How overwhelmed is California’s health care system about to be? California may not even be able to handle the surge of COVID-19 cases with the current hospital beds:

“Projections by state health officials have indicated that California hospitals could handle a surge — right now, statewide — of about 10,000 patients. But given the potential for the virus to spread so far and so fast, some models project the state could need twice that, closer to 20,000 extra hospital beds.”

A few facts about the State of California and the death rate and the state’s ventilator need is in order:

  • As of the end of 2018, the population of California is 39.56 million people.
  • Approximately 3.4% of people 60+ years of age are dying from the virus. Others in multiple younger age ranges are ending up with lung damage and both require ventilators to survive or minimize that lung damage.

Yesterday California Governor Newsom made announcements and sent a letter to the Trump administration stating that 56 percent of the state’s population — 25.5 million people — is projected to be infected with the coronavirus over an eight-week period.

With California’s citizenry being left to move about as before the virus emerged, the projection is that within two months a whopping 25.5 million people would have COVID-19 and therefore 3.4% of 25.5 million = 850,000 dead (and an unknown number of younger people with lung damage).

THE WHEAT AND CHESS BOARD – A LINEAR VS. EXPONENTIAL GROWTH EXPLANATION
The reason for the lockdowns is that the deaths are caused by acute respiratory failure requiring ventilators for those afflicted. If there aren’t enough ventilators the death rate goes way up.

The spread of a virus, especially one as communicable as this novel coronavirus, is exponential…and that’s the problem. Left unchecked (i.e., we were NOT locked down) the virus would spread exponentially.

You maybe saying, “Steve…I still don’t get how or why it would grow so fast and why the government’s numbers of people infected are so high.” It’s not your fault if you don’t understand since your brain understands linear growth easily, but your brain is NOT good at understanding exponential growth.

Linear growth is always at the same rate, whereas exponential growth increases in speed over time. If the coronavirus spread at a linear growth rate the numbers are larger than most people can understand since they are so enormous.

To understand both types of growth, let’s look at a chess board which has 64 squares on it and is one where you place grains of wheat on each square.

1) Linear growth is always at the same rate, so this is easy when you put one grain of wheat each day for 64 days. At the end of 64 days you have 64 grains of wheat.

2) How many grains of wheat would be on the chessboard when you finish with exponential growth? Since exponential growth increases in speed over time — just like a virus would spread — let’s see what happens when you double the number of grains each day for 64 days like you would if you were at the mall, in a restaurant, and moving about as you did normally before the virus hit:

  • FIRST DAY: You place one grain of wheat on the first square on the chess board
  • SECOND DAY: You double the grains of wheat on the second chess board square … so now there are two grains on that second square
  • THIRD DAY: You double the grains again and now you have four grains on the third chess board square
  • FOURTH DAY: You double the grains again and now you have eight grains on the fourth chess board square
  • FOURTH THROUGH 64TH DAY: For the next two months continue to double the grains each day and place them on each subsequent square.

At the end of 64 days you would have 18,446,744,073,709,551,615 quadrillion grains of wheat! (NOTE: A quadrillion is a thousand trillion).

THAT is why we are in lockdown and trying hard to flatten the curve, performing social distancing, and trying to stop the exponential spread of this virus until a vaccine (and other mitigation strategies) can be found.

Here’s an interesting video to give you an idea on how quickly exponential growth occurs:

There is a power in getting away from our “shoulds” and I’d like to explain why it can be powerful for you too.

My wife and I would occasionally use Marriott points to spend a weekend night in a hotel, which often elicited a “wink-wink” or nod from friends and family. We’d feel like we were sneaking away, having an affair, and sometimes even felt a bit guilty that we weren’t being “productive” with our time.

But the power lay in getting away from our “shoulds” at home and it felt incredibly liberating to escape them. When at home there are always seemed to be a laundry-list of shoulds just hanging over our heads:

  • ”I should be fixing __________”
  • ”Laundry needs to be done and we should do a few loads”
  • ”That closet needs to be cleaned out and we should do it soon”
  • …and so on.

Often I couldn’t even walk through my own house without seeing all the shoulds and both of us rarely gave ourselves permission to just hang out, relax, and table the shoulds for a set period of time.

Don’t get me started on all the “work shoulds” too. Like you, we would usually need three or more days of a one week vacation to begin to forget all the shoulds at work. When working day-in and day-out (including weekends since we’re self-employed) meant that shoulds could be done any time and they were always out there waiting for us to do them!

But every time Michelle and I have been able to leave our shoulds behind — and felt free to think, talk, watch movies, goof around, hold hands, explore and play — we have always come back refreshed and renewed…and have been better people, more relaxed ones, and eventually more productive because of leaving them behind, if only for a short time.

Give it a try. Put yourself in situations where you are removed from your own shoulds (and couldn’t do them even if you wanted to!). I guarantee you’ll feel the freedom too.

I came across two fascinating articles today that actually make me even more concerned about what kind of world we will be leaving to our children and future generations:

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION SEES A 7-DEGREE RISE IN GLOBAL TEMPERATURES BY 2100

“Last month, deep in a 500-page environmental impact statement, the Trump administration made a startling assumption: On its current course, the planet will warm a disastrous 7 degrees by the end of this century.”

THE OIL INDUSTRY TAKES ON CLIMATE CHANGE DESPITE TRUMP’S ROLLBACK

“A tangible shift over the last two years is sharpening among the world’s biggest oil companies, including in America, to more readily acknowledge and address climate change.

The bottom line: The trend, fueled by investor and lawsuit pressure, is underway regardless of, and partly in response to, President Trump’s retreat on the matter.”

As sea levels rise, coastal areas slowly become uninhabitable, crop yields mean food shortages, economic losses accelerate and a global refugee crisis unfolds, the climate change naysayers will surely forget their short-term denials.

It’s likely too late already to reverse the changes by the end of this century, but if we don’t continue to discover ways to stop the burning of fossil fuels we can guarantee we’ll make this planet uninhabitable itself.

For Further Reading

Catching up on news and information this weekend I was intrigued when I came across this new 2018 Millennial Survey by the consulting giant Deloitte. It confirms many of the things about the Millennial generation that I’ve been observing, especially amongst those I know personally. Almost without exception the Millennials I know are exhibiting enormous distrust in business and bemoan the lack of ethics, morals, values and the increasing despair they feel when it comes to both business and government.

Add to that the low wage growth globally — all while the top earners accumulate most of the wealth like those here in the United States — and that adds to the despair. Who wouldn’t be angry if you had accrued huge student debt, housing prices had exploded so high that you couldn’t even afford to buy your first home, and you watched as bankers, business leaders and others raked in most of the monetary spoils in the economy?

While you can download and read the report yourself — which is focused on business and not government but is a fascinating read nonetheless — the executive summary sums up the essence of the survey and its results:

Following a troubling year, where geopolitical and social concerns gave rise to a new wave of business activism, millennials and Gen Z are sounding the alarm, according to Deloitte’s seventh annual Millennial Survey. Millennials’ opinions about business’ motivations and ethics, which had trended up the past two years, retreated dramatically this year, as did their sense of loyalty. And neither generation is particularly optimistic about their readiness for Industry 4.0. Their concerns suggest this is an ideal time for business leaders to prove themselves as agents of positive change. The findings are based on the views of more than 10,000 millennials questioned across 36 countries and more than 1,800 Gen Z respondents questioned in six countries. The survey was conducted 24 November 2017 through 15 January 2018.

Millennials recognize that we’re all in this together and that cooperation is key to our survival, growth, peace, and brings meaning to our lives.

This survey was across 36 countries but thinking just of the United States of America, democracy doesn’t work if it’s every person for his or her self. When business regulations mean it’s OK to do just about anything if it means increasing the bottom line. When our country’s leader moves in the opposite direction on climate change, the environment, while lying like a rug and disparaging our intelligence agencies, journalism, other countries, and everything else but himself.

Millennials are done with this crap (as is 50% of the country) but they are in the driver’s seat when it comes to affecting change: They’ll inherit this country and are the ones who can remake it. They will demand business puts on their big-boy pants and realizes we’re all in this together, and act like it in all dealings. I do believe this next generation will make America great again by demanding we bring back compassion, truth, ethics, values, and a vision of global cooperation.


The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is doing something unprecedented for a tactical government bureau: they just released a draft request for companies to bid on their “Media Monitoring Services.” This request from DHS seeks a firm that could build them a searchable database that has the ability to monitor up to 290,000 global news sources:

Services shall enable [the DHS’s National Protection and Program’s Directorate] to monitor traditional news sources as well as social media, identify any and all media coverage related to the Department of Homeland Security or a particular event. Services shall provide media comparison tools, design and rebranding tools, communication tools, and the ability to identify top media influencers.

They’re claiming “standard practice” but DHS is NOT an intelligence service and global monitoring is what the National Security Agency performs as does the Central Intelligence Agency. WTF is DHS going to do with this sort of database? Why do they need “media influencers” and “bloggers”? The request specifically requests:

24/7 Access to a password protected, media influencer database, including journalists, editors, correspondents, social media influencers, bloggers etc.

Most troubling was their intent to have this database indicate what the coverage “sentiment” is:

[The database shall have the] ability to analyze the media coverage in terms of content, volume, sentiment, geographical spread, top publications, media channels, reach, AVE, top posters, influencers, languages, momentum, circulation.

Why am I concerned and bringing forth a story like this one? Because our Department of Homeland Security potentially has an enormous tactical advantage set forth in the Constitution that could allow them to subvert our protections under that very Constitution and our Bill of Rights. Don’t believe me or think I’m paranoid? Then read this about our Constitution and the 100-mile border zone that DHS could essentially do whatever they damn well please within, like searching our “sentiments” when within a border zone and restricting our movements if we’re deemed a threat to homeland security.

To say the shit-hit-the-fan after this release is an understatement. Here is a Google search that has articles from Forbes, Bloomberg, CBS News, CNN, Chicago Sun-Times, and a host of others. Here is a Twitter search to allow you to read thousands of tweets questioning why in the world DHS needs such a database.

Many of we “bloggers” also leapt on this story as it is clearly easier for DHS to level suspicions at us. It’s also significantly easier to intimidate an individual than it is an institution filled with journalists like CBS News or CNN.

That said, other government agencies, like the FBI, have adopted secret rules to spy on journalists who publish classified information and hunt down their anonymous sources.

While all the articles I read were questioning the ‘why’ behind having this database, DHS’ spokesperson, Tyler Q. Houlton, had this to say in response to their sh*t hitting media’s fan:

My gut tells me that the “why” behind this database is that DHS wants to have a searchable one so they can perform quick lookups for those crossing our borders, being stopped at checkpoints, and potentially for those of us who happen to be within 100 miles of any border.

I’d argue that questioning is healthy and an imperative in a democracy, and having the DHS spokesmodel suggest otherwise is disingenuous.

Read the bid yourself below or download it here:

RNBO-18-00041_SOW_-_Draft (1)

Photo courtesy Electronic Frontier Foundation

Though I’ve been following this story at the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s website (see Geek Squad’s Relationship with FBI Is Cozier Than We Thought) it was today’s Ars Technica article that really got my blood boiling (see Best Buy defends practice of informing FBI about child porn it finds).

“In a statement sent to Ars on Tuesday, Best Buy wrote that it continues to “discover what appears to be child pornography on customers’ computers nearly 100 times a year. Our employees do not search for this material; they inadvertently discover it when attempting to confirm we have recovered lost customer data.”

Inadvertently? Bullshit.

While I’m the last guy to defend anyone who has child porn they’ve gathered and stored on their computer or device the big issue is this: Best Buy **must be** using forensic tools to actively search the entire hard drive — including cached images — and then Geek Squad humans ARE ACTIVELY VIEWING every .jpg, .png, or raw image on the computer or device and getting paid to do it!

Otherwise, how else could they possibly determine something is “child porn” without looking at it?

On my main computer (and external hard drives) I have nearly 50,000 images I’ve taken, scanned, or my family has taken and I’m storing them in a central location (and, before you ask, there is NO porn…child or otherwise). If you were a Geek Squad worker, there is no way you could be recovering one of my hard drives and have a clue what those images are, unless you looked at them OR had a forensic tool that enabled you to find every image on a computer or device so you could skim through them.

That EFF article had this to say about Geek Squad using forensic tools (my emphasis):

But some evidence in the case appears to show Geek Squad employees did make an affirmative effort to identify illegal material. For example, the image found on Rettenmaier’s hard drive was in an unallocated space, which typically requires forensic software to find. Other evidence showed that Geek Squad employees were financially rewarded for finding child pornography. Such a bounty would likely encourage Geek Squad employees to actively sweep for suspicious content.

Even if a computer owner inadvertently ends up on a website that has such images — by following some link and then takes their computer in for Geek Squad service — those images are in the browser cache so that person could be instantly branded a child porn lover or pedophile and turned over to the FBI. Unless you are smart enough to use FileVault on the Mac or TrueCrypt for Linux or PC and encrypt your drives (like I do), they can see anything-and-everything once recovered.

What if a rogue Geek Squad person looked at your important documents? Maybe copying down account or social security numbers, poking through email text files, or otherwise digging through all your digital files when your computer or device was in there for repair? 

Remember: Defending against illegal searches and seizures means forcing law enforcement to abide by the Constitution and get a warrant. Not pay-off or otherwise coerce a company’s employees to do the FBI’s illegal forensic for them.

Especially when everyone knows that if an illegal search and seizure is labeled an investigation in to “child porn” or “terrorism” then the stupid usually rollover and let law enforcement do whatever they want unless you, like I do, find this practice and Best Buy collusion an illegal search and seizure (especially since the FBI paid them to do it) and get mad about it and take some action.

For more see these:

When I was in high school in the early 1970s, Robert Redford’s film Jeremiah Johnson came out. Even as a teen I would oftentimes prefer living (or just being) in the wilderness than surrounded by human-made stuff, and the movie seemed to connect directly to my soul.

The movie’s meaning to me became clearer as I would watch it over-and-over-and-over again as the years have gone by. After the DVD came out in 1997 (and the BluRay in 2012 which I also own) my watching increased, especially as I traveled more, my jobs grew increasingly stressful, and I would constantly find ways to physically, mentally and spiritually escape to wilderness.

The plot is about this man, played by Robert Redford, who is a Mexican War veteran named Jeremiah Johnson. It starts out with him taking up the life of a mountain man, supporting himself in the Rocky Mountains as a trapper, and all the things that happen to him on this adventure.

But that plot description doesn’t do justice to the impact it made on me since it transported me to the mountain wilderness. It also doesn’t really zero-in on the essence of the film itself, though later on the director, Sydney Pollack, said this in a video interview:

“It’s a picture that was made as much in the editing room as it was in the shooting,” said Pollack. “It was a film where you used to watch dailies and everybody would fall asleep, except Bob and I, because all you had were these big shots of a guy walking his horse through the snow. You didn’t see strong narrative line. It’s a picture made out of rhythms and moods and wonderful performances.

THAT is the essence of the film: “a picture made out of rhythms and moods and wonderful performances” and why it connected with me. I could smell and sense the places depicted in this film and the movie filled me with a sense of peace (though native people’s struggles against the encroaching Europeans have always filled me with sadness about the injustice, and this movie depicted that well too).

The connection was so strong that in 2013, on one of my many road trips to experience places and take photos, I sidetracked to go up to Robert Redford’s Sundance resort in Utah. I’d hoped to find some of the filming locations in the nearby park, but the ranger told me that they were never publicized in order to keep people from disturbing the areas. Still, it was a place I wanted to be since the quiet, peace and serenity of this resort was evident from the moment I began walking the grounds.

So thank you Robert Redford for making this film. You, and Minnesota’s own Sigurd Olson (see Listening Point and Listening Point Part 2) are what allowed me to maintain my inner sanity during a 10-15 year span of time when I was internally struggling to “be” in wilderness while living in the hustle-and-bustle of a human-made world.

Check out the movie’s trailer:


Download a large version of the movie poster here.

Image of Trump by DonkeyHotey under a CC-by-2.0 License 

There is an old adage used by investors, strategists and market watchers that “markets hate uncertainty” and the Donald Trump presidency is all about throwing grenades in to everything and creating that uncertainty. As I read, talk with senior leaders, venture capitalists and even small business owners like myself, everyone is unsure what to do next when it comes to healthcare insurance, investments, and more.

In my view Trump’s creation of uncertainty is negatively impacting markets, innovation, investment (both domestic and foreign) and is only going to get worse as his presidency continues.

Here are a few examples that have come up from the beginning of April until today:

That last bullet point is about uncertainty in healthcare, especially after the House passed the repeal of Obamacare, and how insurers, hospital and clinic systems, physicians, business leaders, and so many others are just not sure what to do next. They see how horrifically bad the GOP direction would be if passed by the Senate — and how it leaves out millions of our fellow Americans — and are on-hold until Trump and the GOP figure out what to do themselves.

Virtually everything under Trump is uncertain and his administration’s falsehoods (i.e., lies) about even small details means that any initiatives or policies Trump and his minions put forth are treated with uncertainty.

Uncertainty is my reason #2,445 why Trump is the worst thing that has ever happened to America.

While discussing cyber security and online safety with clients, family and friends, I’ve had several of them ask me for guidance on how to secure their communications and web activities. While a thorough examination of all the detail surrounding privacy, security, and good online habits could be the length of a book, let me give you some of the basics along with a few links to learn more.

There are several reasons you should care about whether your online, digital communications and web surfing are private:

a) Tracking: Ever wonder how Facebook knows you just shopped for Corningware at Amazon and suddenly the ads on Facebook are displaying other bakeware companies? Would you be surprised to know that nearly all websites you visit set a little digital file called a “cookie”—a file that can prove to be very beneficial most times—but that some cookies are set by third party companies that do nothing but track ALL of your website visits (and much more) everywhere? 

b) Are You Naked on Public Wifi? If you ever connect to a public Wifi hotspot, you should know that it is trivial for a Wifi hotspot to be spoofed and you might have already inadvertently connected to it! There are also packet-sniffers that can view any unencrypted traffic going back and forth between your laptop or device and the Wifi router and some blackhat hacker can view it.

Want to see how incredibly trivial it is to create a man-in-the-middle attack and spoof a Wifi hotspot? Then read this article which should scare the beejesus out of you (it did me). It’s called Maybe It’s Better If You Don’t Read This Story on Public WiFi and its tagline is this:

We took a hacker to a café and, in 20 minutes, he knew where everyone else was born, what schools they attended, and the last five things they googled.

If after you have read that article you are still logging on to public Wifi hotspots without using a VPN, please comment below and give me your argument as to why you think it’s OK to get online with public Wifi and no VPN. I’ve yet to hear a single, valid reason why someone shouldn’t connect securely.

c) Government Surveillance: You’ve undoubtedly heard about Edward Snowden who revealed the vacuum mass surveillance apparatus in place by the National Security Agency and that they’re are scooping up ALL metadata about who called whom; what websites you visit and searches you perform; what texts you send; who your Facebook/Twitter and other friends are; what photos you post; and much more.

As a preview to what might very well happen here in the U.S. under a Trump administration, a new law just passed in the United Kingdom and it will give you a taste of what is probably coming to America…and soon…and why we all need to be more diligent about our privacy and security. The UK Now Wields Unprecedented Surveillance Powers — Here’s What It Means spells out what we could expect in the US in the near future:

The UK is about to become one of the world’s foremost surveillance states, allowing its police and intelligence agencies to spy on its own people to a degree that is unprecedented for a democracy. The UN’s privacy chief has called the situation “worse than scary.” Edward Snowden says it’s simply “the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy.”

The legislation in question is called the Investigatory Powers Bill. It’s been cleared by politicians and granted royal assent on November 29th — officially becoming law. The bill will legalize the UK’s global surveillance program, which scoops up communications data from around the world, but it will also introduce new domestic powers, including a government database that stores the web history of every citizen in the country. UK spies will be empowered to hack individuals, internet infrastructure, and even whole towns — if the government deems it necessary.

It is also probable that both the UK and the US will take steps to ban end-to-end encryption (one reason I use more and more services outside the US) and/or legally force companies to insert backdoors in their software so law enforcement can get in to the computer or device you own, especially without having to secure one of those pesky search warrants. It’s actually a lot more ominous than that, but writing much more about it is beyond the scope of this post.

Are you scared now?

You should be. I am, and I stay abreast of all of this every, single day. Read on for some specific tips and tricks to stay safe online.

Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream…and a few scared internet users

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