Saturday, March 26, 2016

Forced to Choose

I like to think I'm pretty open to a variety of experiences, be it food, places or activities. Sure, I have things I might prefer, but truth be told, they're not articles I hold very dearly. I like Italian food, but am easily tempted by Thai. I enjoy hiking, but also like walking through museums. The city is good today, the country tomorrow. Other than a strong dislike towards Brussels sprouts, sandals with socks, and Britney Spears songs, I can be persuaded to try just about anything. (Yes, I know the way you prepare YOUR Brussels sprouts is unbelievably delicious, but not to me.)

But not playing favorites is getting me into difficulties. I'm not talking about how it occasionally annoys my wife (ask her: it's probably more than occasionally). The truth is I really don't have an answer to "What do YOU want to have for dinner?" or "What do YOU want do today?" I see my being non-committal as being flexible and open, as opposed to not wanting the responsibility for making a choice. That said, I do know that feeling of sometimes just wanting someone to tell you what to do, as opposed to weighing the pros and cons of every decision, no matter inconsequential it may seem.

The problem is that this not holding strong preferences seems to be placing my personal security at risk. Hard to imagine that my lack of a favorite color or bestest book would mark me as anything more than not being a third grader. But that's the situation I find myself in as I am asked to prove, as Popeye said, "I am who I am, and that's all I am."

Recently signing up to handle some online financial transactions I was happy to see that security was a major focus. Data breaches are everywhere, both public or private. And while the system presented to me wouldn't stop the Chinese from infiltrating the FBI's computers, perhaps it would at least deter some 18-year-old hacker in the Ukraine from gaining access to my Time magazine account and ordering subscriptions for all his relatives in Donets'k.

So I input my name and other relevant info, and selected a password that contained letters, capitals, numbers, special symbols, ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and things Prince used to call himself. I even managed to type the same thing twice, no small feat when the string is 16 characters long and reads like a 2-year was banging on the keyboard.  

But then it came time to set up my super special challenge questions. These used to be easy: your mother's maiden name, the high school you went to, your first employer. But with more and more data online, it takes even a casual snoop just seconds to call that stuff up. Between Linkedin, Facebook and other random websites of old info, if it takes more than two minutes for a stranger to find out your last three jobs, your entire educational history and your family tree, its only because they paused in the middle to reply to a text.

As a result, I was asked more subjective questions to which only I would know the answers, and which would be almost impossible to discern based on a factual record. What was my favorite movie? My favorite drink? My favorite place to vacation? As I said, I like a lot of things, and so the answers to those kinds of questions depend on my state of mind, mood and other factors. I like Diet Coke with pizza, but iced tea with pretzels. Sure, I admire "Singin' In The Rain" but thought "The Godfather" was also a masterpiece. Love going to Italy, but Hong Kong is exciting too. Whatever I answer right now would not necessarily be the same response I would give in two weeks. Put another way, I could be locked out of my own account for liking both Steely Dan AND The Eagles about the same.

I know it makes me less safe. But this all means I will have to default to the traditional questions, and make the name of my first pet the way to prove I am who I am. The problem is this: I'm just a little uncomfortable that the way to access my all that money I've been saving for my retirement is to type "Cuddles."


Marc Wollin of Bedford loves it when someone else decides where to go for dinner. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The GREAT Debate!

"Good evening and welcome to the premiere of GDN, the GREAT Debate Network. I'm Megyn Kelly here at the GDN anchor desk, and I'm joined by my co-anchor Jake Tapper. First, a few words to introduce this new venture!"

"Whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, odds are you've tuned into one of the more than dozen debates that have been held this year involving more than 20 candidates for President of the United States. Well, we've noticed too. Viewership has averaged an astounding 13 million people. Contrast that an episode of ‘Grey's Anatomy' at about seven and half million, ‘The Blacklist' with six and half million and ‘The Vampire Diaries' with a little over a million viewers. It seems that you just can't get enough of the back and forth, right Jake?"

"It is unbelievable, Megyn. By far the highest rated programs have been the simplest: a bunch of people standing on stage before an audience responding to questions. No script, no car chases, no sex or violence, unless you count a few Donald Trump moments. At its top, 24 million of you tuned in. But even when Trump passed on appearing, twelve and half million of you flipped past the "The Goldbergs" and "2 Broke Girls" to watch. There's only one conclusion: you like to see people yelling at each other. And so the GREAT Debate Network was born."

"Every night we will bring together a diverse panel of luminaries and celebrities to take on a wide range of topics. Grilled by an equally all-star panel of journalists, pundits and opinion makers, we expect to see the sparks fly and the insults get heated. All in all, you'll have a place to go to see real human conflict, one which will give you plenty to talk about the next day with your friends as you wait in line at Starbucks. Megyn?"

"Jake, it promises to be an action packed schedule. To be sure, there are lots of important and hot button issues to discuss, from abortion to immigration to the Supreme Court. But there are lots of other topics, perhaps not so weighty, that engender passionate opinions on both sides. Android vs iPhones. Cones vs Cups. Miley Cyrus. In each case, about half the country adores one side, and the other half thinks the first half is crazy. Here on GDN, you'll get to hear it all, and for sure, someone will be saying out loud what you are only thinking. Jake, why don't you tell the viewers about what really makes GDN special, our interactive feature."

"You're right Megyn, that's key. With each of the presidential debates, surveys have shown that while people were watching on TV or online, an equal number had another device in hand, and were commenting on it or reading those comments. Nearly 2 million tweets were seen by nearly 8 million people on the last one alone. And so we will be incorporating that stream into our broadcast. If you look at the bottom of our screen now, you will see your comments, put downs, insults and snarky comebacks scroll across in real time. I see some of you are already getting into the spirit. And no, I don't use hairspray."

"Jake, the spray is all mine. Let's start with our inaugural debate. Live from the Allen Fieldhouse, home of the University of Kansas Jayhawks, let's throw it to our host for the evening, Anderson Cooper."

"Thanks Megyn. Let me say welcome to all our viewers, and on a personal note, what a thrill it is to be part of this new venture with such an all-star group of journalists. Tonight's first debate on the GREAT Debate Network is on gun control. On the stage tonight will be the head of the NRA Wayne LaPierre, former New York City Mayor and gun control advocate Michael Bloomberg, gun enthusiast and rock singer Ted Nugent, and actor and gun control advocate Bradley Cooper. They will be questioned by moderator Brett Baier, journalist Jorge Ramos, columnist David Brooks and reality TV star Kim Kardashian. And joining me at the breaks to take stock of what we are seeing will be former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former gold medal winning decathlete when she was known as Bruce, and now TV personality Caitlyn Jenner. We'll be back for the opening statements right after this word from our sponsors. You're watching the GREAT Debate Network."


Marc Wollin of Bedford senses a ground floor opportunity. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Pocket Change

I used to look with disdain at people who pulled out phones that were dented and dinged, with screens cracked and spider-webbed. I mean, how hard was it to take care of your tools? It showed a callous disregard for one's possessions, an attitude that spoke volumes about the person. Of course, that was before I dropped mine squarely on a cobblestone curb, creating a lattice of cracks that radiated from one corner. In seconds I went from disdainer to disdainee. Or to paraphrase the great cartoonist Walt Kelly, I had met the enemy and he is me.

Still, it worked fine, even with the little piece of tape I put over the edge to seal the cracked glass. I would replace it soon enough, I reasoned: let's wait to see what the next new product cycle brings. Then I dropped it again, crunching the edge further, splintering more glass and necessitating more tape, to be used as much as protection so as not to lacerate my ear. Perhaps the time had finally come.

So I stuck my nose into the ubiquitous cell phone emporium to see the possibilities. I assumed my choice of phone would be determined by its features. Maybe it would be the screen: how easy it would be to read in daylight, how durable it would be when it encountered that, ahem, inevitable fall. Or perhaps battery capacity would be the decider: could I get through a day of normal usage without it having to plug it in? Or maybe some other metric would tip the scales, such as processor speed or storage capacity.  

The one thing that never occurred to me was that which phone I bought would be determined by the size of my pockets.  

In a nod to practicality if not fashion, I had been clipping my phone to my belt since I first got one. With the first flip phones being small but not too small, it was a natural accommodation, even if recalled my wife's earlier chagrin when I had my keys there (once a geek, always a geek). Still, phones were cooler than keys, and I was hardly an outlier in this technological peacocking.

For a short period of time, the trend seemed to be towards the diminutive. The original Star-Tacs were substantial, though not bulky. But their progeny managed to fulfill the promise of electronics in general, putting more stuff into a more compact package. I've lost track of the exact count, but it had to be three or four product cycles where, contrary to Donald Trump's assertions, smaller was indeed better.

But then smart phones started to take over, and texting and surfing became more important than talking. As such, screen size mattered, and each iteration of device has been inching upwards by inches. Indeed, my current device was a relative beast on my belt, getting caught on coats and jackets, and indeed crashing to the ground partly due to its increased size. One could see where this was going, and it wasn't pretty: I walked past a guy on the street the other day with an iPad mini on his belt. It looked like he was carrying a television on his butt.

And so while my browsing focused on technological features, I also had to square it with the fact that this next one might just break the belt. It would have to be pocketed to be carried, necessitating a major reorg of my slacks. No more cash and ChapStick here, and change and keys there. I would have to make room for the phone where it would not get scratched, jiggle against other loose metal items, and be accessible every time I reached for it. And when I bend over, it has to not get broken, as well as not cause serious injury to, shall we say, some tender areas.  

The upshot is that I may have to change my everyday wardrobe. But cargo pants, while they afford extra pockets, are too causal for most situations. Likewise in the other direction: wearing a suitcoat all the time would offer a solution, but is impractical as well. And so I am faced with navigating a new closet order. As of this writing, I've not decided on a phone nor a pair of pants. All I can say definitively is that I've ruled out carrying a purse.

For now.


Marc Wollin of Bedford hates that he needs a new phone. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

I Don’t Want My FTV

If you've never been, it's worth taking a trip to the Newseum in Washington DC. Located just off the National Mall not far from the Capital, the museum is a fabulous exploration of journalism and the media. In addition to the engrossing displays on the evolution of TV News to historical newspapers, it has special exhibits on the coverage of 9/11 and iconic photos that document significant events of our time. It also has a few unexpected and unique touches, such as amusing tiles in the rest rooms that show questionable headlines from newspapers far and wide ("Drunk Gets Nine Months in Violin Case"). But because it is a museum focusing on the media, also in the rest room I wasn't too surprised to see the water taps topped by little TV's.

In spite of the context, I was a little dismayed. After all, in today's modern world, there are precious few places where you can get away from the constant bombardment of electronic advertisements. You expect it when you are online: sidebars and banner headlines fill half of almost any website you visit. But even out in the physical world, the bits and bytes don't stop pummeling you. Drive down the road, and high tech billboards stream an ever changing barrage of commercials and promotions. Stroll past a store, and whether it's Victoria's Secret or Bass Pro Hunting and Fishing, there's a better than even chance that there will be a screen nestled among the merchandise showing the product in action. I'll leave it to you to decide which is more exciting to watch, and which you shouldn't let the kiddies see.

All that means that one of the few places you could escape from the electronic noise was the rest room. While there might be some music pumped in, that was usually the extent of the intrusion. (Let's not get into the subject of those who insist on using their cell phones while going about their business. One word: Argggg.) At most higher end establishments, the walls are mercifully free of come-ons of any type. At some more rollicking neighborhood joints, you might find a few old style flyers tacked up advertising upcoming musical entertainment. And yes, you occasionally come across some where the "media" consists of a crude scatological drawing and a scrawled "For a good time call 555-1212."

But if space was the final frontier in "Star Trek," washrooms are the uncharted territory for flat screens. Mind you, we're talking about public accommodations: it's not uncommon to find small TV's in bathrooms in high-end hotel rooms, with some even built into the mirrors that are invisible when off. And so while there may be wall space in a public restroom that could hold a 42" monitor, it's hard to imagine someone stopping between, er, "tasks" to take in an ad for a new Hyundai.

Enter Faucet Impressions. One challenge of video advertising is to get people to focus directly on an ad at the best time, and not just glance away. What the company does is mount a four-inch or so LCD screen directly to the water faucet above a sink. Just below the screen is the auto sensor that turns the water on. So in order to start the flow, you wind up looking directly at the screen. Move your hands slowly to find that sensor, and as the water starts so does the ad, running from the beginning precisely where you are looking.

And that's what I encountered. It was not a part of the museum displays, but your basic electronic billboard in miniature form. The company boasts installations at places like the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and the Seven Clans Casino in Northern Minnesota. In those environments one can imagine them running ads not only for specific products, but promoting events on site be it a show, restaurant or their reason for being: "Now that you have clean hands, clean up at Roulette! Table 25 has an opening!"

As for me, I washed and dried, then headed back out into the displays. I walked past the flashing screens showing coverage of past political campaigns, and found my way to the collection of front pages throughout history. Sometimes all you want to do is read something that's not forcing you to catch it.


Marc Wollin of Bedford loves to turn off his electronic thingies. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.