Geoffrey Wells Letter #12:
I continue to explore the facets of privacy. It is a meme on the Internet today, and it is mutating from the embryo of the word private. The word is stealing DNA from the words, personal, confidential, secrets and identity. They are all closely related, though the distinction is important. There’s nothing nefarious about choosing to keep aspects of your life private. In those private times when we think, reason and create, we are free. We can exercise our freedom because we do not have to trust that our personal expression is judged by anyone but ourselves. We are free to decide when to subject ourselves to the scrutiny of the world at large.
A reader of my blog, Bill, sent me a response to my post last week. Bill says that, “The age of privacy is over! It’s an antiquated idea born during the age of industrialization and urbanization. There was no privacy when humans lived in communal groups. You fought with your wife–the whole village knew about it. Children acted badly–the whole village dealt with it. Your gay son couldn’t hide in a closet. If someone or family didn’t share the bounty of their hunt, they were forced out of the group and lost their place and the protection of the group. How did the concept of privacy come about anyway? Why do we insist on privacy? Why are laws written to protect privacy? Should any information be private at all? Can the concept of privacy coexist in an Information Age? Isn’t that contradictory? We need to think about privacy in a new way! Or, as the electronic information brings us closer in so many ways, are we returning to our ancient communal societal ethos–we share information with our electronic brethren and they with us. Privacy?!?! We don’t need no stinkin’ privacy!”
Well, Bill–I beg to differ. And let me start with your last statement. In Glenn Greenwald’s TED Talk, “Why Privacy Matters”, (see video below) which has been viewed 1.4 million times, he poses the hypothetical question to someone who claims that they do not care about privacy. He would ask this person to email all his passwords to him. Of course, like you Bill, he would refuse, but not because it’s personal, or private, but because it’s confidential. Here’s the video:
Margge, another responder, points out privacy is a personal choice. And my response was to agree, but on the stage of social media, friends, family and business associates challenge us to be authentic, because authenticity breeds success, and it encourages us to reveal our personal choices. If we’d rather not, are we being false, by hiding our private lives? Neither position is satisfactory and both have ramifications. We could protest–privately, but publicly is inadvisable; the unsettling thing about protesting on the Internet is that it serves to attract more attention. Nothing is more true of this than with the privacy issue. It is so common as to have its own label: The Streisand Effect. This term was coined after Barbara Streisand unsuccessfully sued photographer Kenneth Adelman and Pictopia.com for violation of privacy. The US$50 million lawsuit endeavored to remove an aerial photograph of Streisand’s mansion from the publicly available collection of 12,000 California coastline photographs. The campaign had the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely on the Internet. (Which is why the subject of this post, asks that you don’t read it.)
Of course all the talk of privacy becomes moot if our privacy is watched without our permission. And while this certainly is a problem, the fact remains that most private information is accessible from the Internet. And most of it is not watched or exploited. Like the economy, privacy relies on trust. My new MacBook Pro laptop was delivered yesterday, on time. I thought about how much trust it took to get it from Shanghai, China to my doorstep.
How many people were entrusted to get this laptop delivered on time?
Personally, Bill (and yes, it’s my personal preference that we preserve privacy), I think we’re a lot more civilized than when the (global) village knew everything about us. And, just to invoke the Streisand Effect, I’m thrilled you didn’t read this.
Geoffrey Wells letter #11:
I start with a request: Listen to this Ethiopian jazz while reading the rest of this blog. Don’t ask me to explain why the music adds poignancy to the subject matter of privacy, except I will say that this subject seems to strike deep notes in the soul. (…and thanks to @worldisafrica that I follow on Twitter)
Last week, as we saw a mountainside of the French Alps strewn with airline and body parts, I thought of the many and conflicted opinions we have about privacy; its precious and destructive power being played out publicly, viscerally–the volcanic shame oozing through the fissure of our collective guilt. It seems apparent now that Andreas Lubitz, who is alleged to have murdered 150 people, including himself, was a sick man. Did sheltering under the veil of privacy allow him to keep flying? Or was it Lufthansa’s policy and German law that prevented an oversight of the 27-year-old co-pilot’s health and mental state? This raises troubling questions about where the responsibility lies. Should there be separate rules that are applied to those who are responsible for the safety of the public? And if the answer is yes, then could we not argue that we are all responsible for the safety of each other, in some way? Isn’t that the social contract? Who, I would ask, cared so little for him that they allowed him to fly?When I drive on a four-lane freeway, how many people might I murder by driving badly, or because I had too much to drink, or was depressed? Would that mean that I should not be allowed to drive? Who is to decide, and how, and how often?
In Alex Preston’s searching essay, The Death of Privacy (The Guardian, August 3, 2014), he breaks down the debate; that what we hold as private is thought of as shameful and secret, or, conversely, that sharing what is private is seen as socially responsible and actually convenient. I don’t know to what extent people shared their instant reactions to the news of the Germanwings disaster, but I don’t think I was the only one thinking, “terrorist” and dark thoughts about the chaos in the Middle East. Of course that rush to judgement should be private, and if that sentiment went viral, then the condemnation would be sealed into the history pages of the Internet. That bell could not be un-wrung–unless, as Preston points out, public censorship becomes common. He cites the European Court case of Google vs. Costeja Gonzalz, who won “the right to be forgotten”. False judgement (read slander) might be erased in the future. So, will the Internet then be the revisionist’s history? I hope not: It might be kind, but it also might be a lie. Because that’s not what happened.
In Europe, Google search pages warn, “Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe.” –The Guardian, August 3, 2014.
The subject of privacy fascinates me. At a psychological level, it brings into question how conscious we are of ourselves. Privacy, is so fascinating to me, that I wrote my latest novel with the aim of exposing the privacy conflicts that a character might face. In THE FACES IN THE RAIN, Allison is, like many of us, somewhat indifferent on the issues of privacy, though she is fanatical in protecting her career as a musician and composer–especially after losing her identity. Determined that it will not happen again, she takes a passive-aggressive approach to protect both her privacy and her identity. So she corrupts them. So effective is she at this, that she is able to hide-in-plain-sight; a tactic commonly used by cyber criminals. Her approach is simple. Then the CIA informs her that she is being used by a cybercrime syndicate. With enough coding skill to be dangerous, and plenty of smarts, she has mastered the art of obfuscation. Now she must help them lay the trap, while undercover as someone else. The irony is that in the subsequent confusion she finds her authenticity. But reconciling it with her identity is another matter.
Allison, like the rest of us, while we gaze at our collective belly button, must answer the nagging voice, asking, “Who am I?” And so the personal and public consciousness of ourselves gets mapped to our identity in time and space. And if we’re careful, it will be what it is.
Well? Did you listen to the track while you read? Regardless of what you thought of the music, I hope you agree that it’s impact changes the emotional weight of what I wrote. Do you agree? Can music with creative writing be considered reading?
I’m writing this blog on the first day of spring, Friday, March 20, 2015. It’s snowing. A host, of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees…, well, they are shivering and shaking in the ground. The fluttering and dancing in the breeze will come later. The farm stands are still shuttered for the winter. While we eat California strawberries from the supermarket, I try to erase the sight of Long Island Sound (almost) covered in ice.
I have been recording on video, the Peconic Land Trust’s Spring Lecture Series: Long Island Grown – Food and Beverage Artisans at Work. After the lecture on The Appetizer, we pretended that spring was here: we took home microgreens grown in Long Island greenhouses; heavenly sweet thai basil, pea tendrils, and arugula from Good Water Farms. I made a lime/horseradish/Dijon vinaigrette, which got me thinking about what local means to us.
Talk to anyone about what they do, and sooner or later the obvious fact emerges: we live locally, though we are not prepared to act locally. Not easily do we give up the convenience of easy access and the homogeneity of packaged food. The reason that I love the Essential New York Times Cookbook is that I can’t find Spicy Orange Salad Moroccan-Style in my local market–I have to make it myself. The implication of acting locally is that our work and our activities revolve around ourselves, our communities and our local interests. Some Long Island restaurateurs who buy greens and fruit from local farms in the summer act locally, but in winter they buy elsewhere–from California, South America, New Zealand. Then, in winter, it’s too late to act locally, because they do not really think locally. For years conservationists have urged us to think globally and act locally. And yes, I get it: I am reminded of climate change as I drive to the supermarket, burning cheap gas. So, perhaps we should throw out the clever slogan.
Perhaps we need to think then act to sustain BOTH our neighborhood and our planet.
Is that too much to ask? If there were enough greenhouses, restaurants and local residents, we would have enough fresh, affordable and sustainable produce–year-round. As Brendan Davison of Good Water Farms says, “Turns out, come wintertime, we were left with little choice but to venture into the city in order to sustain the business. Luckily, we caught a break by being introduced to Whole Foods during our city jaunts, but what about the community we left behind?”
Local support should help farmers. Towns restricting greenhouses is not helpful. Go figure. They should think, then act.
Otherwise, we’re just fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
In case you missed it, the FED and corporate America are making progress in information sharing. (A theme that runs through THE FACES IN THE RAIN).
Senate approves bill that encourages IS companies to share information about cybersecurity breaches.
Hear what Leo Taddeo, (special agent in charge of the Cyber and Special Operations Division for the FBI’s New York Office) says about this:
pi in the sky:
10 stunning images show the beauty hidden in pi
Data art celebrates the magical, mathematical and infinite constant of pi.
The relentless thing about achieving a goal is that once you get there, you have to hang on to it. Otherwise, what’s the point? Can you say that you have achieved a goal, if you haven’t figured out how to keep it? Yet, the skills and talent it takes to reach the milestone of just achieving a goal, are different from the skills needed to keep what has been so hard to achieve. Just to be clear, I’m not talking about putting on your socks. That’s not a goal. Neither is keeping them on. Unless you’re two.
No, I am talking about worthy goals, goals that are difficult, goals that will fire every synapse of mind and heartbeat. Goals that benefit both self and the greater good. Yet, it seems to me, the harder the goal is, the more likely it is that it will be dropped (like the ball), or lost (the eye taken off the ball), or squandered. Oh yes, and the big one: the goal is often messed up, bungled, sabotaged. Why is this? Because, the goal is associated with an event, a snapshot in time. It is neither–a goal must be a continuum. A constant upgrade. Failed goals often involve a fight, a struggle that sometimes take a lifetime to achieve. The self-destructive perpetrator could be an individual, a professional or a political movement. How many stories are there about expeditions that climb to the summit of Mount Everest, only to make bad decisions that take lives on the way down? How many stories are there of professionals reaching the pinnacle of success, only to crash and burn in scandal and greed? How many freedom fighters have woken up one morning after the last bottle of champagne is gone, only to groan at the thought of governing a people who have never trusted them? Subsequently, the oppressed become the despots.
And what of those who succeed at both gaining and keeping the prize? They have seen their objective holistically. They are the visionaries. The act that starts the process of setting a goal is making the commitment to getting and keeping it, and implicit in the process of thinking it all through, taking everything into account, is integrity. A goal that is earned, is nurtured, and its value is shared.
To be successful, we must change our mindset. It’s not about getting and keeping; we must focus on earning, owning and sharing.
I write about this because, as a writer with a completed second novel, I am tempted to think that my goal is its release into the world. Yet I know, that is not the goal. The goal is to have as many people as possible read it. It’s not about selling the book, it’s about sharing my life-affirming view of our world. And so, while I nurture my platform, I ask that if you like my view of the world, and if you want to help me share my work then “like” my blogs, or reblog, or comment. Tell a friend. It all helps. And thanks.
So, who gets it right?
Tim Cook! With Apple’s release this last week, the Research Kit becomes the game changer in medical research. Of course I immediately signed up to the Stanford Medicine Cardiovascular Disease Research Kit. I have a healthy heart, but I was curious and wanted to find out how the Research Kit works. Its design and execution is superb because it’s easy. And it seemlessly uses data from my Fitbit. The surprising benefit for me was that I saw immediately that I was sleeping better. The genius of this open-source initiative is that by supplying data the participant benefits–without compromising his or her private information. The more people share their personal data, without identifying themselves, the healthier we’ll ALL be.
Should our privacy be a goal?
Whereas previously, we could assume that privacy was the default, now we have to fight to win it back. And when we get it back, we need to decide whether our privacy works for us, or is it to our detriment? I’m talking about an irrational adherence to keeping aspects of ourselves private, which, if shared would help to brand us as individuals coexisting in society. These are the private choices we all need to make.
Read Melanie Finn’s novel, SHAME, also (like FACES IN THE RAIN) set in Tanzania.
The list of places which have featured in Writers on Location is varied – Cuba, Arctic Norway, Mallorca, Las Vegas, to name but a few – but it is also pleasingly random. There’s no plan: each post starts with me reading a novel with a brilliantly handled setting and I enjoy fiction set all over the world. But even so, I’m delighted that Africa is making its first appearance in the series. Today’s guest Melanie Finn was born in Kenya and her deep knowledge and understanding of this extraordinary continent is evident in her new novel SHAME, set in Tanzania. She joins me to talk about a subject which is new to the Literary Sofa – witchcraft! (My mini-review follows):
There’s a strong dose of witchcraft in my novel, SHAME; the characters experience it as authentic magic or as the consequence of powerful belief. I’m 99% sure witchcraft is chicanery. …
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Recently, I’ve been hearing the same song. Everywhere, sung by a wide array of different artists. Odd. Because it’s like someone has put a spell on me. More odd, or odder, because, “I put a spell on you” is the song I hear, and every time, I think about Nina Simone–though the song was written by Jay Hawkins in 1956. (I suggest you play the video, while reading the rest of this post…)
I was eleven in 1964 when Simone’s cover of the song was climbing the Billboard R&B chart. That was the year I heard, “Rivonia” whispered in our home in South Africa, as if just saying the word would tag us as communists and anarchists. We lived just a few miles from Rivonia where, on Friday, June 12, 1964 Nelson Mandela’s original five-year sentence was extended to life imprisonment for high treason. A year later he was awarded the Joliot-Curie Gold Medal for Peace.
Yet peace was not on Nina Simone’s mind during those civil rights years in the U.S. She was performing at the meetings, and at the Selma-to-Montgomery marches she was rejecting Martin Luther King’s non-violent approach. Her civil rights message was standard in her repertoire. She later wrote in her autobiography that she and her family regarded all races as equal. Neither was Mandela’s final statement to the court a message of peace before his sentencing: “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the South African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Over the years Nina Simone returned to my consciousness. She’s appeared in the Cynthia Wells animated short, “Tallulah Queen of the Universe”, and in my novel, A FADO FOR THE RIVER, when she sings “Ne Me Quitte Pas” (Do Not Leave Me). Then recently, “I Put a Spell on You” was sung by Annie Lennox for the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack. So, I hear it in the media and the supermarket, reminding me that tomorrow Selma commemorates the 50th Anniversary of “Bloody Sunday”, and the Selma-to-Montgomery march, as well as the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
On the same date a continent away, Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life for fighting for the right to vote.
Which, (like my post last week) brings me to another icon of our modern age, Peter Thiel. Thiel is co-founder of PayPal, who said, “If you can identify a delusional popular belief, you can find what lies hidden behind it: the contrarian truth”. He explains in his book, “Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or how to build the future.” how he asks interviewees, “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”
Here is my speculative answer that I believe both Mandela and Simone might have given in 1964:
Most people believe that blacks in this country will never win the right to vote, but the truth is, they will. Eventually. And the contrarian truth is: Democracy is for all citizens. As Mandela’s autobiography states, it’s a Long Walk to Freedom. And Dr. King, standing on the steps of the capitol of Alabama in Montgomery at the conclusion of the march from Selma, said, “The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice.”
My answer to Thiel’s question would be:
I believe that most people think privacy is a form of freedom. But the truth is, freedom is not private. It’s a shared responsibility. And the contrarian truth is: Freedom is not a right, it’s a responsibility.
Allison comes to this realization at the end of THE FACES IN THE RAIN.
So perhaps this song is not just a frequency illusion at work.
(Sidebar note: The frequency illusion is also known as the Baader Meinhof Phenomenon, and is perhaps more ironically appropriate, since this revolutionary group executed violence in the name of a vague manifesto, whereas Mandela and Simone advocated a restrained revolution in the name of democracy, proving that what counts are the results, not the methods. The group also trained with the PLO, that also formed in 1964…)
Indeed, Nina, you have put a spell on me.
Before I go…
China has banned ivory imports for one year. To which I say, why only one year? And thanks to Prince William for speaking out on his visit to China.
Hello again. This week I’ve been thinking about how, during the creative process, the elements of a project meld into a single unit, but only in the finishing stage. For years I have managed projects, from large multi-million dollar IT projects with diverse teams, to novels and small movies. My wife and I are in the finishing stages of our third renovated kitchen. For some odd reason we enjoy transforming a kitchen into a paradise for the foodies that we are. I have found that every project is complete only when the finishing details are addressed, the problems are resolved and the questions are answered. In writing and movie making this comes in the final editing process–and therein lies genius.
By the way, if you read these letters in email, you are missing out on the media links in my blogging. Clicking will take you to my WordPress blog site, which will be a better experience than email. And while I’m at it, if you know someone who might be interested in the sort of things I write about, please forward the email to them. There, I said it, now on to other matters…
As Thomas Edison said, circa 1903, genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration. In my experience that one percent comes last. Of course to refer to every completed project as a work of genius would be the ultimate form of self-aggrandizement, which is why, I suspect, people misquote Edison, substituting genius with “success”; the assumption being, genius equals success. Not necessarily. Rather, I prefer to think of the genius IN a work that is truly completed–because the result is always more than the sum of its elements. Genius can show up, uninvited and unexpected, but always dependent on the simple act of finishing. It’s a great motivator.
A case in completion, with a little inspiration, if not genius, is the video I posted this week for The Perfect Earth Project and the Peconic Land Trust’s Toxin-Free seminar.
Distilled from a seven hour seminar down to three minutes and thirty seconds, the promotional piece did not work until I inserted a short music queue at the start and the end. Suddenly it become a single statement, encapulated by Paul Wagner (Soil Food Web, New York), who simply stated, “Manipulate the biology, not the chemistry”; revealing a key to sustainable toxin-free gardens.
Which brings me to Max Levchin. Co-founder of PayPal (with Elon Musk and Peter Thiel), Chairman of the Board of Yelp, on the boards of Yahoo and Evernote, and CEO of his own innovation and investment lab, HVF, (which stands for Hard Valuable Fun). He also heads up GLOW, a womans’ health fertility company, and Affirm, a financial services company offering consumer credit at the point-of-sale, i.e the cashier. I watch interviews with him, and I learn something from him every time.
In a celebrated–at least by me–interview with Charlie Rose (aired on 8/1/2013), he said, (paraphrasing Warren Buffet), “…people really don’t understand compound interest” and he extended that idea, saying that people generally don’t understand the concept of compounding changes–if you improve by 1% every day, you will grow amazingly…and it’s very hard to detect if you don’t have a long view and can’t look back at the data. This is his point about the value of Big Data. It’s why I wear a Fitbit. Similarly, a project that improves in 1% increments, provided it is improved until completed, will become exponentially improved. Some to the extent genius is produced.
Finishing is shining the cask until the genie (derived from the latin word, genius) rises from it.
I believe this is true of the final editing of a book or when making a movie. See the full interview here: http://www.hulu.com/watch/517751
Here are his views on the NSA and privacy:
My Composers at Play podcast, named, “Writing About Music” is now live. I was delighted to be included in the conversation with a panel of three composers to discuss how to write about music and how to overcome the subjective meaning we attach to words. In a wonderful coincidence, composer, drummer and academic Jenny Olivia Johnson (listen to Dollar Beers-Redondo Beach ’96) and Christine Chen were in LA just in time to join Sophocles Papavasilopoulos to ponder the role, responsibility, and limits of words describing music. As I suspected, no, hoped, the conversation revealed new approaches for me to take when describing music or the process of creating it. For example I had not thought about the physicality of the musician performing a composition that he or she wrote. Nor have I considered the spacial aspect of how instruments are placed during a performance–something Jenny has investigated. Listen to the podcast here. (Heads up–it’s 46 minutes long):
Finally, to end with a reality sandwich; I just started reading Mark Goodman’s Future Crimes. In the last third of his promo video (below) Mark touches on a successful hack of Apple’s Touch ID — to Bill Stamatis’ point that bio-metric ID’s are not infallible.
This week, I had the pleasure of talking to Sophocles Papavasilopoulos on a podcast of Composers at Play. On a previous post I mentioned this interesting series about composers who also perform. At my suggestion, Sophocles kindly agreed to create an episode about how writers describe music. I’ll be posting that podcast in this blog, (date TBA). It’s a fascinating discussion with Sophocles, another composer and another writer. It was interesting to me that some composers–maybe even many–think words can never explain what music evokes. So what is this writer to do–since both my books have music themes? We spoke about words forming their own music, the subjective use of metaphor–silver, for example, evoking completely different music for each one of us, and then, as if to qualify the subjectivity, we considered the dubious effectiveness of onomatopoeia; the shimmering sheen of silver notes, etc. More on this when the podcast is released.
Grassroots: No more excuses
Also, this week, as part of my role on the Peconic Land Trust Outreach Committee, I shot videos of the inaugural Toxin-Free Lawn and Landscape Seminar. This was a seven hour program presented by the Perfect Earth Project, in conjunction with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County and the Peconic Land Trust. Bottom line: Toxin-free lawns and landscapes are achievable and landscapers are getting on board. Pets and people can picnic again without fear of carcinogens. No longer can homeowners say that organic growing “doesn’t work” — if they’re in doubt, they should attend this seminar next year. No more excuses for poisoning our planet.
It occurred to me as I was cutting the day’s footage (to something less than five minutes), that this process is not unlike editing a novel. Cut anything that does not address the premise. Finally I see some hope for the restoration of Peconic Bay and its wetlands, shell and fin fish.
I’ll be posting the completed video on my YouTube channel.
Openness: A shift in power
- Cloud and mobile computing.
- Social networking
- Analytics: The difference between data and information is clear in this dynamically updated graphic. “Big Data” is a misnomer–the data analytics support BIG DECISIONS. And when that happens, information is beautiful, as this site demonstrates:
Happy Valentine’s Day.
If we trust the sharing economy, and are creative beings, then our need for privacy is at odds with our need to share. The creative process is impossible without time to think, to try options, to fail, to try again, and only when we are completely satisfied–only then–should we be free to release our work to the world. Every creative endeavor must at some point be exposed to others. Respect for the timing of that release is fundamental to the freedom of artists, engineers, composers, inventors, and yes, even writers. Or, it should be. Conversely, those who participate in the sharing economy say that the creative process benefits from the wisdom of the crowd. Creators have always grappled with the dilemma of sharing work before it’s “ready”.
I’m currently reading BOLD – HOW TO GO BIG ACHIEVE SUCCESS AND IMPACT THE WORLD by Peter Diamandis. Peter is a Greek-American engineer, physician, and entrepreneur best known for being the founder and chairman of the X PRIZE Foundation, and the co-founder and chairman of Singularity University. In his world of anything-is-possible, he shows how sourcing from the crowd can make things happen at a massive scale.
So of course I wondered how many of my own UNEXPLORED IDEAS would, or perhaps could, still benefit from crowdsourcing. In this list I am proud to say (yet slightly ashamed) that I had the idea in 2001 for a taxi service in LA that, at any point in time would optimize trips and do pickups on a demand/shared trip basis. So when Uber came to life, of course, I said, it had to happen. Well, the critics would say timing is everything. Without the Internet of today and the sharing economy that idea could never happen–and I would agree. Nevertheless, it was possible to imagine it because it filled a basic need–convenience at the right price. Here’s another one, yet to be realized. Boston has so much snow it is dumping it into the ocean. California has a chronic water shortage. Can’t the crowd figure it out?
SIDEBAR~ I HAVE BEEN USING EVERNOTE, AN APP THAT HELPS ME MANAGE NOTES, APPOINTMENTS, REMINDERS, LISTS, ETC. IT INTEGRATES WELL WITH SUNRISE, A CALENDARING PROGRAM. I FIND THESE TWO APPS BETTER THAN EITHER GMAIL OR THE BUILT-IN IPHONE APPS.
How many times has this happened to you? Did you think of the Airbnb brainwave one morning before work in the proverbial shower? And what do we do with these ideas? Well, mostly, nothing. They are too hard, too impossible, too wacky, stupid, impractical and expensive to take seriously. Diamandis urges that none of that matters. All you need to do is XYZ on a sharing site. And the creator says, let me first get my project done, then I’ll go there–which misses the point completely. Yet, are we being irresponsible if we don’t create and share both the process of creating and the creation itself, all at the same time?
On the same theme, this week President Obama announced new (foreign) policy regarding cybersecurity. He stressed the importance of investment in Science and Technology and the need for working together. But what if an employee at a pharmaceutical company betrayed the trust of the government? I explore that theme in THE FACES IN THE RAIN. My takeaway, not surprisingly, is that it takes TRUST for this policy to be successful. While I agree that passwords are no longer sufficient to protect us, I think that bio-metric identifiers such as a thumb print or an eye iris is not a panacea. How log will it be before we hear of amputated thumbs or iris scan copying?
The President said, employees must trust employers with their information, and employers must trust the government. Trust must prevail with every permutation of these relationships. And not just on Valentine’s Day.
What a great portrait. Why is it that I like to write strong female characters? Growing up around three headstrong sisters and a mother who is still a tower of strength must have inspired me. Anyway thanks for his post.
I was 17 when I became infatuated with Angelina Jolie. It was 2001 and Tomb Raider was about to come out. Hollywood, the media, tabloids, everything seemed a little different back then. It wasn’t so immediate around the clock. There was less internet and no social media. An half hour interview with the celebrity you liked still had to be scheduled on MTV and taped on VHS. Magazine clippings actually mattered. And I settled in to watch MTV At the Movies: Tomb Raider, and I met my spiritual soul mate. I did tape it, and I watched it over and over. It wasn’t just how beautiful she was, or the things she got to experience while filming Tomb Raider in Iceland and Cambodia; it was the tone of her voice when she got excited. It was how she talked about love and her husband Billy Bob Thornton. It was that…
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It’s been an ugly week. The ISIS barbarians who defile Islam and all human decency succeed only to make us more determined to annihilate them. And one of the weapons in our arsenal is making information transparent and accessible.
So, some good news: Electric Power is coming to Africa, and it is sustainable.
The irony is that although Africa has a highly developed cellular/telecom infrastructure, there are places where there is no electric power to charge a cell phone. Xavier Helgesen understands that problem and has figured out a way to bring solar power to homes for the cost of what they used to spend to just cook–with kerosene. Now they now can cook, charge their cell phones, connect to the Internet, listen to the radio and watch TV. It’s not charity–they pay for it with mobile payments. It’s a sustainable (and growing) business. Unlike in the U.S. mobile payments in a country like Tanzania, is ubiquitous. Helgesen works in markets where 90% of the population is off the grid. He normally sees a 30-40% adoption of solar power. For more on this see the Forbes article.
And the food is outrageously good…
Tanzania (and Zanzibar) is a great place to eat.
Ancient travelogues describe Zanzibari rice, ghee, groundnuts, cassava, wild fowls, pulses. – THE INDEPENDENT, FRIDAY 06, 2015.
I’ve been listening to streamed Trance Groove music this week. It tends to be wallpaper, but some of it is wonderful. Here’s a collection of slabs; do something else, make coffee, read, whatever, but please don’t watch the video. It’s about the music. In the background.
Chalk up another one for the hackers. 80 million people now have their PII (personally identifiable information) compromised. I have Empire Blue Cross/Blue Shield so I’m also a target. Seems they took everything, so what DON’T they have? Passwords. Which means there will be a concerted effort to extract them from me–and you. This is done through phishing on-line, especially on your email. Bloomberg reports that the Chinese cybercrime group that calls itself “Deep Panda” is responsible for the attack.
It is unclear if these are state actors or simply criminals. And I have to wonder if the same short-sighted mentality also believes that ivory is “auspicious”?
Remember that the really dangerous hackers are PATIENT, that is, they will gather this information and keep it (or put it on the black market) so that they can monetize it over an extended period. They will also not want to attract too much attention. See how these cyber criminals evaded detection since 2007. This Cisco article explains.
In THE FACES IN THE RAIN, Allison becomes a proxy for criminals who target her music collaboration site. Given her understanding of how to hide in the noise of Internet traffic, the arrangement was likely to continue. Then she loses her phone…
Protect your passwords. As always, be vigilant of the following:
- Emails asking you for your information so that your “records” can be updated.
- Phone calls pressuring to give information or “update records”.
- Make sure your anti-virus and operating system is the latest version
- Only use strong passwords, never less than 8 characters–try something like this: .!.5bT_2 (Write it down and store it in a safe place. More on password vaults in a future blog…)
- Where possible use two-factor authentication.
Have a good week, and be safe.
Writing about music…
This week I explain why I write about music, musicians and musical instruments. It’s a strange fascination, because I’m not a musician. But I did discover that I was musical. As a young teenager, I took piano lessons which, to the casual listener was an irrefutable disaster. Whether it was Moon River or a Liszt piece I lost interest in learning to play what was on the score. Of course I did not have the benefit of access to Internet lessons…
…but I was interested music. I used the score as a reference–and “made up” the rest. This habit earned me whacks on the knuckles from my piano teacher, Ms. S, who kept a twelve-inch ruler with her for bad pupils. I didn’t hate Ms. S because she whacked me, I hated her because she never acknowledged that I actually put a lot of thought into how I would change the score. How dare I? For her it wasn’t about nurturing the love of music, it was about having students that could play scores to please their parents. I wasn’t arrogant, I didn’t think that I improved the original, but my version actually held together and followed the conventions of the piece. Who cared, I reasoned, if the melody line changed? To make these modifications I had to understand the structure of the piece, and began to get a feel for cord harmonization. I became much more interested in music theory than if I was dutifully reproducing what was on the score. I was analyzing the score and composing, but I did not know it. Later, I went to a jazz piano teacher whose idea of a lesson was to let me hear how well he played. Thing is, I hated his flowery technique, so that didn’t last. Which left me with a piano to play. And I did, for hours on end, without constraint. My parents loved it. Why I didn’t pursue this penchant and chose to be a rock and roll drummer is a subject for another day, another blog post. Maybe another book. Not surprisingly I loved Whiplash. It triggered an avalanche of feelings burying me in guilt, longing, fury and joy. The filmmaker, Damien Chazelle should be proud. Which gets me thinking about Dave Brubeck, who, I suppose, I idolize. I pay him homage in THE FACES IN THE RAIN:
Allison suppressed the thrill of sitting at the piano where so many great artists played. Feeling like an interloper, she warmed-up with a few arpeggios, paused, took a deep breath and attacked Dave Brubeck’s Blue Rondo a la Turk. She applied every lesson learned, every nuance of what she had learned from the master composer. Using the one-two beat that sets up the attacking theme and ends with a one-two-three beat, she took out her frustration on the piece, challenging Sipho’s world view. Playing on ivory keys is not wrong, she thought, viscerally controlling her fingers that nailed the precise timing that the theme demands. When the composition transitioned to a straight, swinging duple meter with an even beat—which she interpreted as flowing like the waterfall he had described—she regretted her unfair assessment of him.
Tender, softly the twelve strings weave a fabric of quick tempo and sweet tonality upon which the pattern of the melody emerges. The music rests and the room is quiet.
Softly shaking, the fadista begins to sing. Her voice sashays through the tune. Although I do not understand the lyric, at the end of the stanza there is a refrain which soars to a high minor key with such surprising intensity that it sounds like an anguished plea for help – purity balancing on a tremolo note like a tightrope artist. The effect is so sincere and breathtaking I swallow a pain in my throat I haven’t felt in years. The contralto of her voice has transfixed her audience and I too am transported as the guitarista plays a short vibrato melody that forms a transition to the next stanza. She looks up at the ceiling, her ponytail hanging straight down her back, the tip of each finger on each hand pressing into the other.
Just as David Lean used the balalaika in Dr. Zhivago, I use the Kalimba in THE FACES IN THE RAIN as an emotional prop between Allison and Sipho. Although Allison and Sipho have mixed feelings for the fifty-five year old Frank Sinatra song, THE SUMMER WIND, it becomes the key–an encrypted analog code–that unlocks their communication when it is played on a kalimba.
Here is an excerpt:
Later, the low sun having turned the walls of the room yellow and red, Allison heard the kalimba—her sipho, or was this Sipho himself, luring her from her unconscious mind? Four notes: three words and four consonants to go with them—the sum-mer wind. Impossible, yet it could only be him. She listened. Outside on the quiet street, again the four notes played, repeating, waltzing. She woke again. This time painfully, step by step, she detached from the IV and the oxygen tube clamped to her nose. She was able to sit up, to touch the cool ceramic tiled floor with her toes. Gingerly she hobbled to the open window, taking deep breaths of that healing summer wind. Closer—the four notes again. From her second-story window, she peered down into the narrow street, suffused with hues of blue and purple evening light, bare light bulbs here and there, spilling yellow across the cobbled road, turning the Muslim pedestrians into silhouetted abstractions that silently shuffled toward the minaret, thin and resolute at the intersection.
This scene is set in Zanzibar, at an apartment similar to this Airbnb:
Containers and smuggling:
Ivory is smuggled in every way imaginable, and smuggling in containers is common:
Here’s an excerpt from FACES:
Garrett and Rex produced their business cards.
“He’s with me,” said Garrett, pointing at Rex with his thumb.
Rex watched the official reading the cards, nodding slowly as he assessed the significance of a CIA visit and an executive from Biogenem.
“I head up the container control program here,” he said to Garrett, handing him his own business card. “The contents are clean, but we found traces of elephant blood on the container floor. We’re investigating where the container has been—the Biogenem imports are sourced here in Kenya. We look a little harder at containers going to Vietnam—a high risk country for trafficking. Of course, if you have information you could share, I could perhaps release it sooner.”
“So, tell me if I have this right,” said Garrett. “You’re interested in the container, not the contents?”
“Correct. We checked the freight—it looks legitimate—powered talc, carnuba wax, corn starch”—he read out of the file in front of him—“let’s see…gelatin, castor oil and mineral oil.”
“That sounds right,” said Rex. “We use these products as excipients—inactive ingredients used in tablets and capsules.”
Enjoy the Super Bowl, but remember, the app is NOT SAFE, according to Security Week Magazine:
Researchers noticed that while the initial login to an NFL account is secure, the customer’s username and password are leaked by the mobile application in a secondary unencrypted API call. Another issue identified by experts is that the application leaks usernames and email addresses in an unencrypted cookie immediately after the user logs in, and subsequently when the app makes calls to nfl.com domains.
Writing about (in no particular order)
Privacy, Music, Elephants & Cybersecurity
When people think about privacy on the Internet, they come to question the concept of TRUST. Although the number-crunchers and propeller-heads want to think that commerce is “just business”, in fact it only succeeds because there is an element of trust. Well, Ed Snowden changed that. Trust began to erode, and that made b-to-c commerce much more challenging.
If you have the time, and care about this, then listen to this (above) one-hour panel on the subject of trust, from Bloomberg at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, featuring:
Marissa Mayer, chief executive officer for Yahoo! Inc.
Marc Benioff, chief executive officer for Salesforce.com
Mike Fries, chief executive officer for Liberty Global Plc
Tim Berners-Lee, computer scientist at MIT
and EU’s digital economy chief Guenther Oettinger
They talk about the outlook for cloud computing, securing personal data on the Internet and steps web-based businesses must take to gain user trust.
If you don’t have the time, then here are my quick notes on the panel discussion:
privacy + “beneficent” applications + transparency = TRUST
For jazz after 11pm in NYC, I recommend the late night session at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.
What a blast — every Tuesday-Saturday at 11:30PM, the Late Night Session features some of jazz’s most talented up-and-comers.
Late Night Session curator and vocalist Michael Mwenso hosts special sets on Thursday and Saturday nights showcasing select invited guests.
No reservations necessary. Just swing by!
$5 cover Tuesdays & Wednesdays
Hint: I use this as a key device in THE FACES IN THE RAIN.
Ivory smuggling tied to cybercrime?
The assumption that I make in THE FACES IN THE RAIN about the African ivory trade being a supply chain facilitated by cyber criminals, is not so far fetched.
This week Reuters reports that, Kenya weighs Chinese request for extradition of 76 held for cyber crime.
Couple this story from the Huffington Post that Chinese officials are using their embassy to smuggle ivory,
And this report, that some staff members of the Chinese Embassy in Tanzania were major buyers of illegal ivory.
Kingpin arrested in Mombasa:
…and the conclusion is that where there is gold there’ll be crooks.
But, because of the transparency that Internet scrutiny brings, and because Kenya and Tanzania have no intention of being colonized again (this time by China), they will prosecute those who trade in ivory. And I wish them every success! Good news.
Cybersecurity news continues to slam us across the networks. Here’s a sampling of clips:
“the digital tools that are reshaping our economy make more sense to young digital natives than to members of older generations”
I have a growing selection of video on my YouTube channel.
Please check it out and subscribe.
Safety tip of the week:
When you register at any Internet service, try to NOT use your email address.
If they allow it, use a different user name. It makes hacking a lot harder.
This blog is a continuation of my biography. Please click here for my Early Years.
In 1973 Geoffrey Wells and his friend drove to Mozambique, and while there took a river tour to see the hippos on the Limpopo River. This was the year before Salazar’s totalitarian regime fell in Portugal.
The Carnation Revolution that followed became the genesis of his novel, A FADO FOR THE RIVER.
In 1980 Geoffrey immigrated to the U.S., settling in Los Angeles; gaining experience in the crafts of film making–working on commercials as a set carpenter and on features as set decorator, production assistant, and location scout. He helped out on student films (as assistant editor) prior to being accepted in the producing program at the American Film Institute. In order to do this, he worked the graveyard shift as a room service waiter at a Beverly Hills boutique hotel catering to rock stars and celebrities. He glimpsed the after-hours hotel life of The Rolling Stones, The Cars, Styx, Miles Davis and Richard Burton (a year before his death), among others.
In 1984 he graduated in Producing from the American Film Institute. While working for film distribution companies, he developed and optioned properties for feature films, and worked as assistant to the director Robert Ellis Miller, where his primary responsibility was reading and critiquing film script submissions from agents. This was also his education in the interdependent nature of Hollywood productions; concluding that controlling and owning Content was the only way to ensure success. By writing short stories he began to learn the craft of writing.
In 2001, Geoffrey wrote and produced a short animated film The Shadow of Doubt with his wife, Cynthia Wells (animator and director).
The entire film was produced on PCs as an extended CGI effect. It won six awards, and screened at 26 film festivals, worldwide. This was followed in 2004 with the first writing on A FADO FOR THE RIVER.
The novel was first released as an ebook in April 2011.
Geoffrey’s professional life started in advertising. He rose to Art Director on the key accounts of Coca-Cola and L’Oreal at McCann-Erickson in Johannesburg (South Africa), producing print, outdoor and television commercials for the southern African market. The film making process that went into making commercials fascinated him; especially editing and post-production.
After immigrating to the US in 1980, he returned to his advertising roots as Director of Marketing and PR for an independent film distribution company. It was during this period that he first began using the emerging business software tools of spreadsheets and databases.
Pursuing his interest in software development, he joined the Walt Disney Company’s Buena Vista Television, in the Research Department. He was promoted to Director of Information Technology (IT). He headed up development of software for television which included a syndication system, managing revenue and licensing of TV shows such as Home Improvement, The Golden Girls and others. He spent the next eleven years at Walt Disney Pictures and Television; managing software development of syndication, pay (cable) television, a film rights system, and satellite scheduling systems. He then spent the next six years at Disney’s ABC Television as Vice President of Information Technology, managing IT at the ABC owned television stations, before moving to Fox Television Stations in a similar role as Chief Information Officer and VP of IT.
Geoffrey Wells resigned from corporate life in 2012. He and his wife moved to Southold, NY. In their first year Geoffrey entered politics, running for town Trustee.
Mr. Sanders edged Democrat Geoffrey Wells, 60, by just 578 votes. It was the slimmest margin of defeat for a losing candidate in a Trustee race since 2001, when Republican candidate Henry Smith was defeated by just 294 votes for a third open seat. ~ Suffolk Times, 11/21/2013.
Following the election in November 2013, Geoffrey focused on THE FACES IN THE RAIN, completing the first draft in June 2014.
At a point in time, after the deaths of the thirty thousand elephants killed in 2013 has sunk in, the inevitable question surfaces: Why should the international community care about elephants?
It’s not just because they are beautiful, social, caring animals. It’s because by mining the ivory from their carcasses, a vortex of violence and crime begins and spreads across the world. Revenue from the tusks increases as ivory is traded from poacher to broker to agent to war lords and militia gangs who in turn use the revenue to purchase arms and pay soldiers to terrorize villages and towns across Africa. (See the Charlie Rose segment)
An LA Times article on this subject, states,
“The Shabab’s spot as a premier broker is in part due to its financial and organizational prowess.”
THE FACES IN THE RAIN makes the hypothesis that the militia gangs of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, the Janjaweed raiders of Sudan, the Congolese rebels, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, the Ugandan soldiers who gun down elephants from helicopters, and the Al-Shabaab war lords do not have the financial and organizational prowess for which they are given credit. My novel proposes that they rely on cybercrime syndicates to broker deals, source arms and launder money for these groups. Allison and Sefu are sent to Tanzania to purchase ivory with the expectation that it leads the CIA to the cybercrime syndicate that specializes in manipulating the darkweb. I believe this trend will escalate.
Despite all this nefarious activity, the US is, this week (of August 4th) hosting the White House Africa Summit with nearly fifty African heads of State.
My hope is that as the international dialog continues, and the mechanisms that facilitate the trade of ivory are shut down. Of course criminals will continue to exploit wildlife as long as there is a demand for their parts. And while that continues, rehabilitation centers such as this (below) will need to continue their work.
Tanzania’s president, Jakaya Kikwete, described the considerable efforts his country was taking to provide extra training and resources to game rangers, but said he was hampered by lax security elsewhere in East Africa.
Related NPR Stories
“The elephants are killed in Tanzania,” said Kikwete, “but the consignment [of ivory] came from Kampala, Uganda. And moved through Mombasa,” the main port of Kenya. “So there is definitely need for working together.”
Geoffrey Wells was born in the gold mining town of Welkom, in South Africa. The Wells family moved to various mines in South Africa and Ghana as a result of his father’s consulting work as a mining engineer and contractor in the field of shaft sinking and tunneling. When he was a young teenager, the family moved to a farm, and eventually back to Johannesburg where his father joined the university as professor of mining engineering. Geoffrey’s mother is of French and English descent. Her forefathers came to South Africa in the 1820s. She speaks several African languages and would delight Geoffrey and his sisters with stories of childhood days spent with Xhosa tribal friends.
Geoffrey’s young teenage years were split between boarding school and farm life. On the farm, at the age of thirteen, he learned to drive, operate a tractor, and plow a field. He was taught to milk a cow by a farm worker. Family dinners were events as Geoffrey and his three sisters were encouraged to engage in conversation and debate with their parents on any subject that might arise. There were times when the dishes were pushed aside to make way for an encyclopedia, reference books and novels. After dinner his father would read to them; classics such as Robinson Crusoe and The Wind in the Willows. Or his mother would tell stories of her years growing up with her six brothers.
While at boarding school, Geoffrey learned the pain and joy in cross country running and rugby. When the family moved back to Johannesburg, Geoffrey started playing drums with a guitarist friend, and soon a band came together–they started playing Neil Diamond and disbanded a few years later playing Jimi Hendricks and Cream. But the outdoors called, and at South Africa’s version of the Outward Bound School Geoffrey served as one of four team leaders. He and a friend climbed Giant’s Castle in the Drakensberg Mountains. (In 2003, two years to the day after 9-11, Geoffrey and the same friend climbed to the top of Kilimanjaro.)
After high school he was conscripted into the South African army doing his basic training with a commando unit based at the edge of the Kalahari Desert. He fell in love with the desert nights and sleeping under the stars. Geoffrey was called up during the Angolan war to defend the border from insurgent communist rebels and Cuban mercenaries. He reported to a psychotic captain who ordered him to serve as quartermaster and intelligence clerk. In doing so, he saw the horrific photographs of the atrocities perpetrated by both sides.
(Stay tuned for the next update on my professional life, film making and the start of my career as a writer.)