Joy Sorrow Fear Anger

 

3 weeks and 1 day ago, our first grandchild was brought into the world. This made us gloriously happy. But it was accompanied by a deep sadness. Because of the pandemic we have had to put off indefinitely flying out to visit our grandson, daughter, and son-in-law. Zoom is just not an adequate substitute for holding and helping care for a newborn.

We fear picking up the virus and bringing it to them. We fear, as people in the more vulnerable age range, getting the thing ourselves. The descriptions of the suffering and death that many have faced with the virus are truly harrowing.

And I worry about what kind of world we are leaving Giovanni Dawson. The pandemic, the looming economic meltdown, a chaotic and nasty public sphere of politics, the climate catastrophe all feel like crushing pressures to face. I am angry about the state of the world. 

And yet, there he is and he makes my heart melt.

I have to remind myself that in the span of time, new people have been born into equally, often far more troubling times. Most of human history has been brutally harsh. Much of the world still faces hardships I can’t imagine surviving. But children manage. Children thrive.

So, on balance, I am comforted to know that Gio will be loved and cared for. And sometime soon we will find a way to hold him. Until then, I have to be satisfied by watching over him like some kind of digital guardian angel.

Sleep tight baby Gio.

Giovanni Dawson
Gio asleep in his crib.

Reviews of Free Zoom Alternatives

Video conferencingBrief Reviews of Free Video Conferencing Platforms

After using a licensed version of Zoom for a month, I began casting about for free alternatives that would satisfy the basic needs of a couple group meetings that we participate in regularly. Don’t get me wrong. I like, Zoom. I just didn’t want to spend the money right now for something I could get by on for free. I’m cheap that way.

Our needs are pretty minimal: Allow for at least 10 participants, have screen sharing and offer meetings lasting up to 2 hours.

I subscribe to several tech-oriented newsletters and so have received links to a bunch of articles that point to Zoom alternatives. But none seem to have all the services I have found, each only pointing to a few. Here’s my offering of listing all the options I have found so far. I’m not trying to review them all as I haven’t had time to thoroughly test each service. And the services keep evolving faster than I can keep track.

I will list my top two free services and then the rest I’ve at least looked at.

Jitsi – So far this is my favorite. It’s dead simple to use from their website, and has apps for mobile devices (iOS, Android). At the time I checked the limit was set to 75 participants if you are using their server. There are no time limits. It touts end to end encryption and screen sharing. For large groups it has the hand raising feature so a moderator can have some control of the conversation. Most interesting of all. it’s an open source project which means anyone can download it and build apps on top of the code or modify the code. You can also run your own Jitsi server if you have the chops and want to go beyond their server limits. There are additional features like recording your calls that make this pretty robust for a free service.

Google Hangouts –  This was the first free video conferencing system I’d tried and, though it seems to be in constant flux, it still holds its own. They’ve opened up the number of participants to only 25 people per call (with the 10 most active participants shown at the bottom of the screen). You can record your calls, but to store the calls in your account you would have to pay a small monthly fee. This post has a feature comparison between Zoom and Hangouts

Google Duo – Duo has a nice interface. However, I couldn’t find a screen sharing feature. Also, you connect with people using their phone number. So, that’s a different approach. There is a limit to 12 people and has end to end encryption.

Skype – Part of the Microsoft family, Skype has been around for quite a long time and it’s pretty robust. From their Fair Use Policy on Group Video: “Group video calls are subject to a fair usage limit of 100 hours per month with no more than 10 hours per day and a limit of 4 hours per individual video call. Once these limits have been reached, the video will switch off and the call will convert to an audio call. If a participant of a group video call is not on a version of Internet Communications Software that supports group video calls, then the call will be an audio call only for that participant. The number of permitted participants on a group video call varies from 3 to a maximum of 50, depending upon device and associated system requirements. You can find more details at www.skype.com/go/gvc.” I didn’t find a screen sharing feature, though, so this makes it not so great for my purposes.

Discord – This service was originally built for gamers to chat,  but is now used by a variety of groups. The video/screen sharing service is limited to 10 people. I have had limited experience with this service, but plan to give it a try just to learn its capabilities. Desktop and App versions. There’s even one for Linux! That’s unusual.

Spike – This is an interesting option that combines email and video conferencing. It’s also free if you are using a generic email account like @gmail.com or @yahoo.com. However, the free version is limited to 10 chat participants. But if you are using a custom domain email like @morsemedia.net then it’s $5.99/mo paid annually, and there are no limits.

Summary

That’s it for now. I’m sure more services will appear as video conferencing will not be going away, even as the pandemic fades. What did I miss? What are your favorites? Let me know in the comments.

Small Adventures in Cryptocurrency and Blockchain

Back in 2014, I began to read about Bitcoin, a new type of currency. I had no idea what it was or how it worked. But I had seen the price rising. At the time 1 Bitcoin was already worth about $566, having started at essentially zero 6 years before.

I decided I wanted to learn more about Bitcoin and the technology behind it. I was afraid I’d already missed the boat, so I only wanted to dabble and not “bet the farm”. I signed up for an account on Coinbase (disclosure: I get a small reward if you sign up using that link), already an established Bitcoin marketplace. I bought 1/5 of a Bitcoin for around $114 as a way to keep the concept in front of me. I didn’t actively trade, just watched as it meandered in value and then, suddenly began to take off. As of today, my investment is worth over $2000.

Bitcoin, cryptocurrency

Unfortunately, as you can tell from that, I am not a crypto millionaire. But I really didn’t set out with that goal. I’m much too cautious for that. Still, I have made more than enough to pay for my new iPhone X. I just need to figure out when to pull the trigger and cash out enough to cover that cost. Should I hold? Should I take some of my gains now? (BTW, whenever I do, I will have to pay taxes on them).

In the meantime, my dabbling has kept me interested in the whole cryptocurrency field and the underlying technology called Blockchain. This included following the incredible story of Silk Road that used Bitcoin to trade in drugs and other nefarious goods and services. What the hell had I invested in?

But Silk Road was brought down and the dark reputation of Bitcoin was slowly rehabilitated. Some business started taking Bitcoin as payment. Cryptocurrency broke into multiple variants, like Ethereum, LiteCoin, and many others. In fact, at one point Coinbase split my Bitcoin holding in two, so suddenly I was the owner of Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash. It’s all still quite muddled, but also exciting to watch.

And the buzz around the possibilities of Blockchain and how it may affect our lives well beyond Cryptocurrency is even more interesting. Some have claimed Blockchain will prove more revolutionary than the advent of the Internet itself. Others are not so enthusiastic.

It’s difficult to separate the hype from reality at this stage. But if you want to get just a basic idea of what a blockchain is without getting a headache, I suggest watching this:

 

Reviving the Blog

Look out! After a few years of neglect I have decided to put some time back in to this blog site. It’s one of the oldest sites I still have so the record goes back pretty far. I’m putting a new look on it and that will be developed over time. But the point is, suddenly I have things to say that I don’t have another great place for.

Stay tuned!

Backslash

A couple days ago i was listening to a podcast and the speaker was describing a URL for a website and he said something like www.blahblah.com backslash somepage.

Backslash? I always thought it was a forward slash. Here’s a backslash \. Heres a forward slash /. Am I wrong? I don’t know. because there seems, after all these years, to be some cnfusion. The backslash is usually used in local computer paths. \files\images\picutresoofmydog\fido3.jpg for exambple. But URLs are someplace.com/thispage. A forward slash. 

But I know there is confusion about which is which because I have tried to give people URLs over the phone and they often say: “Backslash or forward slash?” And I just don’t know what they are talking about so I say “leans to the right slash’. But usually I just give up and say, “Give me your email address and I;lll send you a link and you just click on it. Of course, then I have to be sure I get their email address exactly right, meaning they know how to tell  it to me and I transcribe it correctly. 

People hear what they hear. I have said my domain and email address includes morsemedia.net. I don’t know how much email I have lost with people sending to morsemedia.com or morrismedia.net. I say “Morse, like the code”. But who remembers Morse Code, or thinks it’s Morris Code?

I am often  amazed that anything of value ever gets communicated.

Betas vs Silicon Valley

Betas vs Silicon Valley

I try out a lot of shows. I like winding down with a good show on the tube/pad/laptop/phone/some device. Netflix, Amazon Prime and iTunes. They’re everywhere I am. What a world we live in.

So, when we still subscribed to premium cable channels I started getting hooked on HBO’s Silicon Valley. Then along came the trial season of Betas on Amazon Prime. The shows have a very similar premise: A team of young geeks striving to make it with their innovative app amid the crazy, over amped, high rolling tech world in the Bay Area. There are so many parallels between the two shows I kept thinking the characters from one would run into characters from the other.

Despite the similar premise there are differneces. The production values on Silicon Valley seem a little higher, the characters a little less extreme. There is a kind of coolness to the show that seems to emulate the image we have of the real Silicon Valley and its high tech, Apple like atmosphere.

But for some reason, I came away liking Betas overall better. I thought it was funnier, the characters more like-able. As the season went on I grew to empathize with them more.

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Silicon Valley

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Betas

I don’t know, maybe now that we don’t have HBO any more, I’m rationalizing, settling for what’s available. Now that old HBO stuff is showing up on Amazon Prime, I guess I could go back and watch them side by side. Yeah, that’s right. I have all the time in the world for that.