15-Seconds of fame from Facebooks 15-years.

Marketplace recently tweeted asking how social media had changed or impacted your life. Of course I had a response.

They emailed today to ask if I’d record a voicemail, and used a segment of it in todays show for a segment called: “thefacebook.com” went live 15-years ago today.

In addition to what went on the show, what I also said was:

I had a facebook ID for longest time, probably from 2008-9, and following all the privacy violations and everything else, I closed my facebook account and deleted my data 2-years ago.

I do have an Instagram account but use it very sparingly; I’ve had a livejournal account since 2003, it was mostly to track my triathlon training, racing and travelling, I still have it but don’t use it these days, I’m getting old.

I’ve mostly reverted to doing everything I used to do, before facebook. There are websites that do everything that facebook does, they are different websites rather than everything being all on thefacebook, which gives Facebook way too much information, in my view.

Elements – Earth, Wind and Fire on Soul!

Since finishing the book, and this blog post about Maurice White, I’ve been digging through some of my other archives. I found an amazing live performance from the groundbreaking WNET show Soul! broadcast on January 10th, 1973.

The accompanying video, the shows are available via pbs.org in some regions, and via WNET Thirteen, if you can access them. A low res version of which can be seen below via Youtube, is perhaps remarkable for a number of reasons. It documents a group in the midst of change.

The original Earth, Wind and Fire had recorded two albums for Warner Brothers, and then fell apart, as many groups do, with arguments over this, that, money etc. in 1972. This performance featured the core members of what had become EWF 2.0. Cleaves would move on, Ronnie Laws had billing on the recording, but had already quit, others would be added over time.

Featured in this recording were:

Maurice White – Kalimba, Vocals and Percussion
Jessica Cleaves – Vocals
Philip Bailey – Vocals and Congas
Johnny Graham – Guitar
Verdine White – Vocals and Bass
Larry Dunn – Organ and Electric Piano
Ralph Johnson – Drums
Andrew Woolfolk – Sax and Flute

This is the group, plus Andrew McKay, that would go on later in 1973 to record their 4th album, Head to the Sky.

Their dress style hadn’t started evolving yet, here they were dressed, as you’d expect for early 1970’s, their performance style had though. As the last number finished, the group disappeared from the stage, leaving just Ralph Johnson.

Musically, the group show what would become their trademark for the next 10-years, across albums and countless hit singles. The performance opens with one of the best  videos of Maurice White playing the Kalimba; his fingers and thumbs rapidly producing what would become a trademark, and unique sound.

Philip Bailey shows his amazing vocal range on, as far as I’m aware, their only recording of , James Taylors Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight. There is, as there alway would be, the omni-present, bare chested, Verdine White and his amazing bass playing.

The group is already tight and the tracks here, some from the 3rd album Last Days and Time including the opening song, Power.

Overall, for me, this recording has all the elements that made Earth, Wind & Fire. Enjoy.

Faster Payments – Will tech eat the banks?

pexels-photo-870902
Checks and Pony Express

At last the big, big tech companies are driving the US Federal Reserve to sponsor and get behind a faster payments initiative.

Amazon, Apple, Google, PayPal, Square, Stripe and Intuit, have all co-signed a letter supporting the the Fed being in charge of the development of a system that can connect all the banks and credit unions in the U.S. to speed up payments. I’ve long complained here that the US System is laughably out of date, and the system Automated Clearing House and its associated network is still loosely based on the delivery times of the Pony Express and definately around checks.

The ACH itself still describes itself as a using batch processing and a store-and-forward system. And that’s exactly the problem, the store-and-forward part and the regional centers deployed to support it are largely based on the old Pony Express delivery model. The ACH and it’s partners have pivoted since the push by the tech giants, to lauding their fraud and safety. Largely the only reason they can is because of the huge inefficiency and delays built into their system, rather that the inherent security qualities they’ve developed.

While a fast payments network should not be implemented over the public Internet, it’s simply both unbelievable, and unacceptable that my bank cannot not directly send money from my account to your account. This isn’t about Bitcoin and similar nonsense, it does require databases that have the attributes of a Blockchain, but it doesn’t require a Blockchain. This isn’t spin to invest in some imaginary new technology, it is merely a plea to move to a modern switching network, with updated apps.

I don’t transfer money around in Europe or the UK anymore, maybe once a year or so. However, I’ve been able to use the UK Fast Payments network via my UK Bank, FirstDirect, to instantly pay other banks/accounts in the UK, as well as transfer money from UK Pounds Sterling to Euro’s in a German bank in less than 2-hours, all at not cost to me, and using a single system, rather than a secondary system, branded app, or external service. Faster Payments isn’t just a year or two ahead of the US, it’s currently celebrating its 10th Anniversary, and will likely be on its 15th before the US has anything.

That’s mostly why services like PayPal, Stripe, Square, PopMoney exist. To allow the banks and credit unions offer a service they themselves can’t offer. Also, when originally launched it was a way of charging extra for a service that was faster and more flexible than their ACH system offered. Any institution currently charging for these services is charging for lipstick on a big now.

pronto

I first came to the USA in 1983 to work on the server-side of worlds first home banking system, Pronto, at Chemical Bank in New York; in 1987, I was hired by IBM UK in their London Banking Branch, to help London banks like Lloyds Bank, NatWest and TSB, as well as Abbey National, prepare their systems to start Year 2000 (Y2K) testing.

Finally, in 1998, was the Chief Architect for IBM in their NatWest (Business) Online implementation. The first at-scale version of Internet banking at National Westminster Bank, after failed projects by Sun Microsystems and Microsoft.

nwol

I have some idea of the complexity of updating and integrating batch, hub and spoke systems, it’s no cheap or easy. While it’s easy to assert the banks don’t want to change because as everyone believes, “they are making money out of the delays”. They are really not, in any meaningful way. What they are doing is simply avoiding making key investments and dressing it up under the guise of safety and security. Now they are blaming the “lack of a mandate“.

as everyone believes, “they are making money out of the delays”

And that’s what is likely to be their undoing. They’ll continue to push back and resist, until so much of their business has shifted to non-core systems. While the likes of Amazon and Google have to be in the ACH, and have Fed backing and security, they can increasingly provide a home run around the traditional banks.

Earth, Wind and Fire; life and guidance

foto_20190111_100904Over the year-end I read the Maurice White, Herb Powell penned autobiography, “My Life With Earth, Wind & Fire”. It was both an interesting read, and revelatory.

While my early teens were heavily influenced by David Bowie, my late teens and in some respects the rest of my life was heavily influenced by the sound, and especially the mystical guidance that seemed to be coming from the group, led by it’s founder and bandleader, Maurice White.

White’s spiritual approach gave endorsement to my own uncomfortableness with my Christian upbringing and doubt that a single “God” existed. I never met White, but in the way you idolize someone, I thought I knew him through his music. I didn’t at all.

The book itself covers all the key phases of his life, and especially the struggles and troubles he wanted people to know about. His youth in Memphis was shocking. Yes, I guessed it wouldn’t be good, as a black kid in Memphis in the 40’s and early 50’s but it was worse than a white kid from England born in the 50’s could imagine. In many ways, I assume the events described, meant that Maurice spent much of his life searching for meaning, and examining ways to find context for what had happened to him.

As well as his long path through music until he hit success with Earth, Wind & Fire, the books chronicles Whites, obvious to me, struggles with commitment and identity. We all need stories in our lives to make sense of them, to understand  why you are, who you are, and the book covers Whites journey to understand his stories. Notwithstanding all that Whites’ story really had some great commentary and lessons on surviving in the music business.

Rocks Back Pages has a revealing and frank interview with Maurice, by Cliff White, from I assume London during the 1979 tour, which I attended. RBP also has a list of articles which contains some useful background.

Surprisingly, NAMM, the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM), doesn’t seem to have an interview with Maurice, but it does have interviews with Verdine White, Ralph Johnson, and Larry Dunn, all of which are really interesting and add great context.

ewf tatooI came to Earth, Wind & Fire in 1974, via Ramsey Lewis Sun Goddess album in 1974 and then their Open Our Eyes album, and shortly afterwards, That’s The Way of the World.

It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I saw them live, but in the “long, hot” UK Summer of ’76, I stopped one afternoon in Dunstable to get a drink. We’d been out at the disused quarry on the A5, practising motocross. I was riding my Honda XL125.

Nextdoor to the corner store/newsagents I’d stopped at, was a tattoo parlour. Back in the 70’s tattoos were not the fashion items they are today, my dad had a traditional, simple knife and heart tattoo on his left arm, but few people I knew did. I walked in, hand drew the logo that I’d seen on EWF albums, and asked for a tattoo. Not only had the tattoo artist not seen the shape/sign before, I had no idea what it was.

These days of course, with the pervasive internet, you’d just google and look up tattoos on pinterest and see what you can find. Of course these days I know it’s the astrological sign for Jupiter.

Like many, my interest in EWF faded in the Mid 80’s as the group fragmented, and the focus drifted. As I work to digitize my entire vinyl collection though, I’ve once again found their tight music, soaring vocals, and inspiring lyrics a great launching point for many parts of my own story, which started on the 23rd night of September. Kalimba.

“Socialism” vs. “capitalism”: what left and right get wrong about the debate

This is a great read, and completely on the “money”.

I grew up in “social” aka council housing or, as they call in America, the “projects”. I’ve worked in Moscow, East Berlin, Romania and China; I’ve been to all the countries in the Middle East with the exception of Libya; Israel twice, none of them have socialism but I’d rather not live there. The UK even with added “free” Healthcare, a Labor government, at it’s most extreme, the UK never had socialism.

Any discussion of Healthcare or public “welfare” in the USA descends into an argument about socialism within 90-seconds. It almost carries a worse stigma than Nazi Germany.

I can only think it comes from an era, when people were more easily brainwashed by propaganda, unlike now when propaganda comes from social media in the form of bias/prejudice sponsored intelligence attacks.

I assume, since i don’t know, that there a heavy sell to support anti-communism from the 20’s through McCarthy, and through the Soviet era to the destruction of the Berlin wall. You can see the same imagery in any of the ridiculous tea party supporting websites.

My favorite is this Regan poster. I’m not sure what we won, but having been in Russia both before, during and after the 1991 Soviet coup d’état , they’ve made huge changes, huge gains,and Russia doesn’t have the same scale hunger, desolation it had when it was the center of the Soviet Union, it now has arguably as many or more billionaires than America does.

We, with our self prescribed image of rugged individualism, innovation, and capitalist world leadership, on the other hand just have even greater wealth disparity, a completely fscked up Healthcare system, and a collapsing democracy manipulated by the very side that espoused Reagan.

The false dichotomy article linked below encapsulates so much of what we need here, now. I speak as someone who can afford not to work, who is in the 5% but knows America can and must do better.

https://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/2018/8/16/17698602/socialism-capitalism-false-dichotomy-kevin-williamson-column-republican-ocasio-cortez

America and Syria – the backstory

President Trump has decided, unilaterally apparently, to pull all America troops out of Syria, both surprising his Chiefs of Staff and allies.

The American story with Syria is intertwined with almost everything the west has done in the Middle East since the end of the 2nd World War.  American was the prime enabler of the Assad family rise to to power, and as everything post war seemed to be, all about fighting the rise of Communism and installing “democracy”.

Syria gained its independence in 1946 and in 1948 engaged in the Arab-Israeli war. Later in 1949, the Americans were party, or if you believe many, responsible via the emergent CIA, for the coup d’état that replaced the Syrian democracy with Husni al-Za’im, who was executed later the same year.

The Syrian story since the 2nd World War is complicated, wars, Hamas, Iran, Hezbollah. Assad senior played key roles in much of the 1980’s terrorism, before the US and especially the UK decided that their actual target in the Middle East was Gaddafi, and that they needed Assad’s Syria as an ally their upcoming war.

So, you can be surprised by President Trump’s actions, you can blame it on his trying to appease Russian leader Putin, or you can just believe that this is yet another of President Trump’s rollbacks of President Obama’s actions. Whatever you do though, don’t think American involvement in Syria is just about the defeat of ISIS.

serveimageA great read is Wilfords 2013 America’s Great Game. You can purchase the book from Amazon, you can read a book review on the Boston Globe, or this review, “Playing Both Sides” on the New York Times. better still, you can watch/listen to Wilford, here on C-Span.

Missing the point of Healthcare costs

We managed to get Health Insurance sorted out for my wife and daughter, without falling into the trap of me getting covered by an ACA policy, which would put me in jeopardy of violating the “public charge” agreement I accepted when applying for my green card. I’m self-insuring for another year aka uninsurance.

Today I took my daughter to the dentist, she needed two baby teeth pulled to make way for her adult teeth. The insurance didn’t verify when they put it in. So I paid by card. In a subsequent phone call we went through the process of how to claim the money back. The process involves mailing in an invoice, the insurer authorising it, contacting the dentist and having them re-submit for insurance payments, and then finally refunding us our payments.

Of course, I won’t pay for any of this back and forward. Insurance does. Insurance will pay the broker and admin who finally were able to spend a full hour helping us get the forms submitted without putting me in legal jeopardy.

The paediatric dentist will absorb the cost of trying to get the bill paid through insurance, then after discounting their charges for “cash”, taking a hit for payment by card, and then there is all the additional admin that the dentist and the insurer will have to put in. None of that is free, it’s all rolled into the cost of insurance. Repeat that thousands of times per day over a population of 300+ million…

Before this episode is finished, it will have cost more for the admin than the dental treatment. That’s madness. That’s just one small reason why we pay so much for medical insurance, and it’s invisible.

An Apple a day keeps the Doctor Employed.

apple drCNBC has an interesting article about the number, and quality of Doctors they employ.  I’ve no idea what’s going on an Apple, for a number of reasons, I’ve never bought a single product of theirs.

However, given their deep pockets and ability to play a strategically long-game, I for one would be surprised if this isn’t significantly more than just about the watch and apps that can diagnose conditions based on data in collects.

Here are my thoughts, in the form tweets to @charlesarthur original tweet and link to his daily Startup link list overflow.

 

Why we can’t have essential things

The meme

But this is much less funny. The drug companies have been conspiring to raise the prices for generic drugs.

albuterol, sold by generic manufacturers Mylan and Sun, jumped more than 3,400 percent, from 13 cents a tablet to more than $4.70.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/investigation-of-generic-cartel-expands-to-300-drugs/2018/12/09/fb900e80-f708-11e8-863c-9e2f864d47e7_story.html?utm_term=.4ec5cbabdebd

What’s a #blockchain?

I posted the above to twitter, but its not really a joke. #blockchain has become the emperor’s new clothes and to some degree, @AARP is right.  The original article may be a little more aimed at humour than technical depth, but it’s not wrong.

A few of my friends have already been cold called and offering blockchain backed securities and similar. We know that’s mostly just marketing BS, but they don’t know. So this is, whatever you think, a good way to get them thinking about it.

For 90+ percent of the AARP readers these are good enough descriptions. The people who are AARP members who need to know about Bitcoin and Blockchain, already do and won’t be influenced by @brucehorovitz full article.

1535400878477-lost_and_foundIf you are really interested in the concept, and a non-tech example of #blockchain, Vice has one of the best examples I know of. It explains how, since 1995, how the theory of a blockchain and public ledger have been used in a non-technical solution. It covers and explains the use of a digital document store. The key to their store, was in fact to publish the unique hash for every document, and rather than use a technology solution as the public ledger, simply to publish the unique hash in the New York Times.

A more technical explanation is by Steve Wilson, on Constellation Research, called Blockchain Plain and Simple, covers the subject, and keeps on topic.