Automated Dining in an Automated World – Still Hungry for Something Else? 

I think it used to be a novelty.  At least that is how I remembered going to a Horn and Hardart Automat when I was a boy and being intrigued by the process of opening tiny glass doors to retrieve your favorite dishes.  It has been a while since I have experienced this self-service feature but from what I have read about today’s automats are that they are more technologically enhanced and offer a more varied menu that would even appeal to vegetarian diners.  Now it appears that diners are frowning upon “faceless dining.”

Eve Turow Paul recently wrote in Forbes magazine that “the links between technology and increasing rates of loneliness, depression, and anxiety.  Many in this young generation battle a creeping sense of nugatory existence by connecting over a meal – whether it’s by cooking for family, dining out with friends, or chatting with others online about gluten-free recipes.  My research clearly shows these human-facing moments and different instances of interaction help soothe this digitally-connected generation.”

Funny, I don’t remember family meal times as always being a “soothing experience.”   But I guess that we all got to know more about each other in a “face-to-face” way.

Ray Myers

P.S.  Happy Halloween 👻, everyone.  I will be back next Friday after a Halloween break with family.  I hope it’s not too scary!


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Facebook and Google and Amazon, Oh My!

Don’t worry, Dorothy, these tech giants aren’t as dangerous as those “Lions and Tigers and Bears” that you worried about in the land of Oz, or are they?  I guess I just get worried when I hear words like “lobbying Congress” on behalf of more transparency in government regulation – not that there is anything wrong with that.  But it seems that the people who are making the most financial benefit at this point are the lobbyists on K Street, D.C.  Now I know that those lobbyists are real “truth-seekers,” and maybe they do know all about “disinformation” campaigns, but how do you legislate for transparency on the Internet?  Do we currently make all advertisers on public and commercial media do that now?

“The lawmakers behind proposed ad transparency legislation said the bill is designed to prevent another Russian-backed disinformation campaign that ran on Web platforms during the 2016 elestion.  Facebook said that it will take its own steps to increase the transparency of political ads and that it generally supports legislative efforts to do the same.”  I think that this is all very interesting since Facebook seemed to be the favorite vehicle for Russian-backed disinformation in the 2016 campaign.  But why should I worry.   All these Congressional leasders are servants of the American people first!

This is what was recently reported by Hamza Shaban the Washington Post: “Lawmakers behind the proposed ad transparency legislation said the bill is designed to prevent another disinformation campaign.”  Good luck with that!

Ray Myers

Fighting Against Trumpism and Racism – Not a War of Words

It’s just too easy.  We can write blogs, tweet our anger about the state of affairs in the U.S. today, but do you often wonder about who is really listening or who really cares. It is all so easy and self-satisfying to let people know how angry and upset we are.  But at the same time, do we really begin to ask ourselves whether this is all having any impact?  Mere words may not be enough.  

I think the Bully-in-Charge (a.k.a, the so-called president) really has the upper hand.  He uses Twitter to communicate with all his adoring fans, and they really like it.  Nothing is really complicated – just listen to my harangues and we will all feel a lot better.  He will lead us in making America Great Again.  Just read and believe!  He is tweeting while “Rome burns,” and very few seem to really care.  I am sure we can all write statements in opposition to all this “fake rhetoric” but what have we really accomplished?  Many worry that ceaseles statement -writing is sucking us dry.

In a New York Times’ opinion piece on Sunday Tiya Miles wrote: “I doubt my own courage and wonder each day whether I could deploy my body beyond the relative safety of marches approved by permits.  But I am certain of this: The change we seek to make won’t be accomplished by words alone.”

Ray Myers

Social Media Becomes Hate Media

So how did all this happen?  We have gone from “fake news” to hate mongering on social media sites such as Facebook.  A student was recently stabbed to death at a bus stop on the University of Maryland campus.  I guess those Russian hackers really paved the way for co-opting our technological prowess and turning it in to a tool for disinformation and now, tragically, a tool for hate and deadly crime.  This is NOT what was supposed to happen.

This slaying sparked national outcry after police announced that they were investigating the accused murder’s connection to a Facebook page called Alt-Reich.  University of Maryland Police have said that the content from that page was full of racist and inflammatory material.  University police also said that drugs and alcohol may have played a role in the case.  What a deadly combination!

And what can the so-called president do to help social media be more social and less hateful?  One suggestion: stop tweeting about how “right” he always is, attacking any opposition on a personal (ad hominem) basis.

Ray Myers


Where in the World is Amazon’s HQ2 Going to Be?

Everyone seems very interested in this question.  As in most questions about real estate it all seems to come down to “location, location, location,” even when your business is basically online.  But in this case it is not the buyer (Amazon) who has to come up with the cold, hard cash.  It seems like other locations across the country are all in a bidding war to come up with the most attractive offer that will entice Amazon to choose their locale.  Even suburban Washington, D.C. wants Amazon to call northern Virginia their second home

The State of Virginia is weighing in to support their northern counties. The Washington Business Journal reported that the State was considering offering up to $30 million in property value to Amazon at no cost.  This property is currently occupied by the Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) near Washington’s Dulles Airport.  The CIT property is currently tax-exempt and assessed at a combined $29.45 million.  It includes the 173,000 square-foot CIT building, 13.5 acres of undeveloped land and is right on the edge of Amazon’s requirement of “30 miles from a population center.”  All of these transactions have apparently been done confidentially and not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

So hurry up everybody if you have an interest in being Amazon’s HQ2.  I only read about northern Virginia’s interest this past weekend.  You have just ONE MORE DAY to submit your proposal for Amazon’s HQ2!

Ray Myers

High Rollin’ Online and Presidential Profits

I just made a quick visit to the Garden State (that’s New Jersey for the uninitiated) and I can happily report that the casinos and online gambling sites are alive and well.   So how come Donald Trump’s casinos and hotels have gone bankrupt and are shutting down, i.e., his Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, NJ?  Maybe it was just more profitable for HIM since he has a better deal now as the president.  And he and his entire family are on the government payroll and don’t pay a nickel for anything they may need.  He just sends the bills to Uncle Sam (that’s you and me).  

FYI.  New Jersey is now joining Nevada and Delaware in an online poker pact.  Figures released last Thursday by the New Jersey Division of GamingEnforcement showed Atlantic City’s seven casinos and online gambling outlets won $235.8 million in September, an increase of 4.1 percent compared with September 2016.  That included $20.4 million last month from online gambling, up 25 percent over last year.

Maybe we will eventually see how the president is faring financially when he finally releases his tax returns, whenever or whether that will ever be?

Ray Myers


Russia Targets U.S. Military Community with Facebook and Twitter

It just keeps getting “curiouser and curiouser” as Alice once said while traveling through Wonderland.  But you really don’t have to go to Wonderland to have this feeling.  I think I am having that feeling right here in the U.S.A. as we discover more about the Russian interference in last year’s election with every passing day.  Social media has become political media and our comrades in Russia are showing us how it’s done.  So maybe this is how you really achieve world dominance after all.  Here is how it was reported in The Washington Post on October 10 by Craig Timberg.

Russian trolls and others aligned with the Kremlin are injecting disinformation into streams of online content flowing to American military personnel and veterans on Twitter and Facebook, according to an Oxford University study released Monday.

The researchers found fake or slanted news from Russian-controlled accounts are mixing with a wide range of legitimate content consumed by veterans and active-duty personnel in their Facebook and Twitter news feeds. These groups were found to be reading and sharing articles on conservative political thought, articles on right-wing politics in Europe and writing touting various conspiracy theories.

In some cases, the disinformation reached the friends and families of military personnel and veterans as well, the researchers said. But it was not always clear who was creating the content. Twitter, for example, makes it easy for users to hide their true identities.

“The social networks mapped over Twitter and Facebook include both genuine accounts created by U.S. military organizations, by service personnel and veterans themselves, and by groups seeking to influence those users,” the report says. “Some of the accounts are pro-Putin accounts pushing out significant amounts of Russian-oriented content.”

The report by Oxford’s Project on Computational Propaganda, which has been studying ways that fake news and propaganda reached Americans during the 2016 election and its aftermath, is the first in which the group sought to explore the spread of disinformation on both Twitter and Facebook, and also how links are shared back and forth across these platforms.

Facebook and Twitter both declined to comment on the report, advanced copies of which were shared with the companies by the researchers.

To examine the kind of information that reaches military personnel and veterans, the researchers analyzed content between April 2 and May 2 on Twitter including popular hashtags such as #GoArmy or #Iraq to determine what users of these hashtags posted. In some cases, said Philip N. Howard, an Oxford professor who co-authored the report, known Russian trolls were using those hashtags to draw attention to content they were promoting.

They researchers also tracked information on several military-themed websites and used the traffic to these sites — along with the Twitter data — to determine what Facebook accounts promoted similar content on publicly available pages. That yielded maps of online interaction showing, for example, that accounts that linked frequently to veterans and military issues also in many cases linked to content related to Russia.

Russian trolls and others aligned with the Kremlin are injecting disinformation into streams of online content flowing to American military personnel and veterans on Twitter and Facebook, according to an Oxford University study released Monday.

The researchers found fake or slanted news from Russian-controlled accounts are mixing with a wide range of legitimate content consumed by veterans and active-duty personnel in their Facebook and Twitter news feeds. These groups were found to be reading and sharing articles on conservative political thought, articles on right-wing politics in Europe and writing touting various conspiracy theories.

In some cases, the disinformation reached the friends and families of military personnel and veterans as well, the researchers said. But it was not always clear who was creating the content. Twitter, for example, makes it easy for users to hide their true identities.

“The social networks mapped over Twitter and Facebook include both genuine accounts created by U.S. military organizations, by service personnel and veterans themselves, and by groups seeking to influence those users,” the report says. “Some of the accounts are pro-Putin accounts pushing out significant amounts of Russian-oriented content.”

The report by Oxford’s Project on Computational Propaganda, which has been studying ways that fake news and propaganda reached Americans during the 2016 election and its aftermath, is the first in which the group sought to explore the spread of disinformation on both Twitter and Facebook, and also how links are shared back and forth across these platform.

To examine the kind of information that reaches military personnel and veterans, the researchers analyzed content between April 2 and May 2 on Twitter including popular hashtags such as #GoArmy or #Iraq to determine what users of these hashtags posted. In some cases, said Philip N. Howard, an Oxford professor who co-authored the report, known Russian trolls were using those hashtags to draw attention to content they were promoting.

The researchers also tracked information on several military-themed websites and used the traffic to these sites — along with the Twitter data — to determine what Facebook accounts promoted similar content on publicly available pages. That yielded maps of online interaction showing, for example, that accounts that linked frequently to veterans and military issues also in many cases linked to content related to Russia.

The kind of information shared by and with veterans and active-duty personnel span a wide range, with liberal political content also common, though not as common as conservative political content. The online military community, the researchers found, also shared links about sustainable agriculture, mental health issues such as addiction, and conspiracy theories.

No one subject dominated the online content flowing among these communities, but the largest individual categories dealt with military or veteran matters. Russian disinformation was a smaller but significant and persistent part of the overall information flow.

“The very idea that there’s aggressive campaigns to target military personnel with misleading content on national security issues is surprising. It’s disappointing,” Howard said. “Because they’re opinion leaders, they get more attention from governments and people who spread misinformation.”

The other authors of the report, titled “Junk News on Military Affairs and National Security: Social Media Disinformation Campaigns Against US Military Personnel and Veterans,,” were John D. Gallacher, also of Oxford, and Vlad Barash and John Kelley of Graphika, which uses social media data to analyze online relationships and influence.

Ray Myers

Digital Tool for Reporting Hate Crimes 

Please have a look at this article I am posting in its entirety.  Unfortunately, hate crimes seem to be on the rise, but fortunately we now are able to report their occurrence more accurately, and share information about them in a more timely manner.  An innovative and powerful example of how “technology can scale access to knowledg

For victims of hate crimes, the struggle for justice is often along one.

Many victims never find justice, experts say, because they don’t know where — or how — to seek it out. A substantial number may not even be sure they’ve been the victims of legitimate hate crimes, or they’re too ashamed or nervous to contact law enforcement, so they choose to remain quiet instead of seeking assistance, experts say“The data reveals that about 80 percent of Americans who want access to legal information or services can’t get it,” said Nicole L. Bradick, a former civil rights lawyer in Maine. “On the one hand, that’s because people believe the cost is too high. On the other, that’s because taking steps to advocate for yourself in the justice world are seen as big, scary steps.”

In some ways, they’re right, said Bradick, who is the chief strategy officer for CuroLegal, an organization that aims to improve legal access via technology. Depending on the nature of the incident and where it occurred, reporting a hate crime can involve multiple organizations — some public, some private and some overlapping — and the process can vary depending on state laws. The how-to information is out there, Bradick said, but it exists in isolated pockets around the Web.

To simplify what can be an incredibly confusing process, Bradick and a team from Cisco Systems and the American Bar Association’s Center for Innovation unveiled a digital tool last week to help streamline parts of the reporting process by turning them into an easy-to-use Web application. The name: Hatecrimehelp.com.

The service, which is free, uses a format similar to “Mad Libs” in which users fill out a paragraph by choosing from words describing their incident, which can include terms such as verbal hate, property damage, violence or harassment.

The form allows users to add the location of the alleged crime, their Zip code and what they think motivated the incident — ethnicity, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation or immigration status, for example.

Once the form is completed, the page offers the names and contact information of local nonprofits organizations and government resources for hate crime reporting, as well as a feature that explains “what to expect” from each organization.

The site also explains the difference between a hate crime and a “bias incident,” and offers a side-by-side look at a state’s law vs. federal law.

“We wanted to create technology that would present the law in digestible ways,” Bradick said, noting that the designers put themselves in the shoes of a hate crime victim and spent months doing Google searches to better understand the challenges victims face online.

“Almost everybody has a smartphone and can pull up this information on a browser from anywhere. We’re huge believers in the idea that technology can scale access to knowledge.”

Bradick said the page was prompted by the spike in hate crimes since last year’s presidential election, an increase that has been documented by academics, politicians and experts at organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The FBI reports that there were more than 5,800 hate crime incidents involving about 7,100 victims in 2015, the most recent year that statistics were available.

As The Washington Post’s Janell Ross reported last week, another division of the Justice Department that uses a survey to ask Americans directly about whether they’ve been victims of hate crimes paints a vastly different picture of hate:

“Each year, the results are quite different than the landscape of crime delineated in the FBI’s report,” Ross writes. “Between 2004 and 2015, people living in the United States reported experiencing an average of 250,000 hate crimes each year, according to a report released by the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Justice Statistics in June. In the last five years of that period, nearly half of the hate crimes — 48 percent — self-reported by victims were “motivated by racial bias” and 90 percent involved violence, according to the DOJ report.”

To address underreporting, Bradick said her team plans to do user testing to make sure their site is as easy to use as possible.

“When it comes to the law, we don’t make it very easy for people to avoid feeling overwhelmed and to protect themselves or take advantage of the protections the law provides them,” she said. “Hopefully, we can begin to change that.”  (Holley, Washington Post, 10/9/1)

Ray Myers

Online Dating

“Being upfront about my disability liberated me.”  In this case a young woman, Emily Ladau, who describes herself as playing the online dating game finally decided to make it clear in her online profile that she was in a wheelchair.  Ironically she was a person who was a advocate for the rights of the disabled, but in the dating world, her disability was her secret shame.  Here is how she describes the change she made on her own online world.

“So I decided it was time for a change. I started gradually, making references to my disability throughout my profile, then adding photos in which my wheelchair is clearly visible. I tried to keep things light and humorous. For instance, OKCupid asks users to list six things they can’t live without; one of mine is “the invention of the wheel.”

Still, I found myself having to make sure that potential matches had actually picked up on the trail of clues I’d left. I grew tired of feeling like I needed to deceive men into being interested because society instilled in me that my disability makes me undesirable. Finally, I took the leap I’d been so afraid to make, opening up about disability to strangers whom I hoped would appreciate my honesty and perhaps send me a message.

Prominently in my profile, I wrote: “I’d like to be very upfront about the fact that I use a wheelchair. My disability is part of my identity and I’m a loud, proud disability rights activist, but there is so much more that defines me (you know, like the stuff I’ve got in my profile). I realize some people are hesitant to date a human who experiences the world sitting down. But I’d like to think you’ll keep reading and dive a little deeper. And you’re welcome to ask questions, should you have any.”

Once I added that paragraph, I felt liberated, relieved that anyone I spoke to would have a clearer picture of me. There have been plenty of matches that haven’t worked out, and whether that’s actually because of my disability, I’ll never know. But I had a nearly yearlong relationship with a man I met through OKCupid, so I know it’s possible for lightning to strike again. My dating life remains a comedy of errors, and I still struggle every day with the feeling that my disability means I won’t find love, but at least I’m being true to myself. I’m putting myself out there — my whole self — and it feels good to be proud of who I am.”

Emily Ladau (@emily_ladau) is a disability rights activist, writer and speaker. She is editor in chief of Rooted in Rights. Her work can be found on her website, Words I Wheel By.

Ray Myers