How smuggled mobile phones are rewiring Brazil’s prisons


It’s easy (for me) to become discouraged about the surveillance state the US (and lots of other countries) has become. How can you resist an entity like the NSA? Perhaps, in the long run, we cannot. But in a twisted way, stories like the one below give me hope.

In Cell to Cell: How Smuggled Mobile Phones Are Rewiring Brazil’s Prisons, Jonathan Franklin describes how Brazil’s prison gangs are using technology.

Wired prisoners change the entire concept of incarceration. Instead of being isolated and punished, the inmate with access to a cell can organize murders, threaten witnesses, plan crimes, and browse online porn to figure out which escort to order up for the next intimate visit. […] Brazilian organized crime leaders continued to have widespread ability to make calls, receive calls, organize conference calls, and even hold virtual trials where gang leaders from different prisons are patched in to a central line to debate the fate of gang members accused of betraying the group’s ironclad rules.

Yes, I get that the gangs are committing awful crimes. But then, so are oppressive governments. We can talk about Right and Wrong at Sunday School, this is about technology.

Driving Miss Steve

dokeSelf-driving vehicles seem inevitable. As Kevin Kelly might say, it’s what technology wants. I’m hoping they become a reality by the time I need one. But let’s say that doesn’t happen in our lifetime. Can there be any doubt our vehicles will more and more intelligent?

I’ve been kicking myself a little for going too fast on a snowy/icy highway ( and wonder how it might have gone if I had been driving a car that’s smarter than I am. (Insert jokes here). I would instruct my smart car to use Morgan Freeman’s voice from Driving Miss Daisy.

Me: Mornin’ Doke. Take me to that Japanese restaurant at the mall. I’m meeting a friend for lunch.
Doke: Um–hum. I saw that on your calendar but the roads between here and the mall are something awful and according to your email setting this up, it ain’t all that important. I shore wish you’d call him and reschedule. Here’s his mobile number.
Me: Come on, the roads aren’t that bad. I’ll be careful. Let’s go.
Doke: The safest speed I’d feel comfortable with is 30 mph and you’d be pretty late going that slow. Mr. Brandon’s calendar shows him with no lunch plans the rest of the week. Let’s call him and reschedule.
Me: Are you going to make me use the POC (Programming Override Command)?
Doke: Gimme a second to pull up my original system settings… Here we go. Uh huh, you checked the DON’T LET ME DO ANYTHING STUPID box and agreed to Terms and Conditions. So, you see, I can’t let you drive under these conditions.
Me: So you decide when and if I can go somewhere. Is that it?
Doke: Aw, now, Mr. Steve it ain’t like that. Let me have the House Bot make you some hot chocolate and we’ll see how the roads look in a few hours.

Million Dollar Illusion

A fascinating (scary?) report on why a million dollars might not be enough for retirement.

“One out of 10 people who are 65 today will live past 95, according to projections from the Social Security Administration.”

Or (gulp) this:

“$10,890 is the median financial net worth of an American household today.”

Not surprised to learn that more people are not planning to retire.

“An annual survey for the Employee Benefit Research Institute found that in 1991, only 11 percent of workers expected to retire after age 65, while this year, 36 percent said they would retire after 65 — and 7 percent said they didn’t plan to retire at all.”

The piece confirms what my advisors recommended regarding SS benefits.

“If you delay claiming benefits past what the government calls your “full” retirement age — 66, for people retiring this year — your monthly benefits increase by 8 percent a year until you reach 70.”

I confess to finding it a little hard to scrape up a lot of sympathy for someone that can’t live on sixty or seventy thousand dollars a year. Guess it’s what you’re used to.

“The maximum Social Security benefit for a retiree at 66 this year is $31,000 — about the equivalent of drawing down 3 percent a year on a portfolio of $1 million. […] Still, even $61,000 or $71,000 a year — the combined Social Security and cash flow from the $1 million portfolio — isn’t likely to be enough for most people who have grown accustomed to living on $150,000 or more a year. And $150,000 is the median income of a typical household in the top 10 percent, roughly the ranking of a family with $1 million in net assets, Professor Wolff says.”

And the original factoid I posted earlier:

“A typical 65-year-old couple with $1 million in tax-free municipal bonds want to retire. They plan to withdraw 4 percent of their savings a year — a common, rule-of-thumb drawdown. But under current conditions, if they spend that $40,000 a year, adjusted for inflation, there is a 72 percent probability that they will run through their bond portfolio before they die.”

Why local TV is alive (if not well)


I avoid local TV like dog poop on the sidewalk but it seems to be alive and well, perhaps for the same reasons millions of people still use AOL. Here’s a couple of pulls from a commentary by Terry Heaton, a guy who seems to know a lot about TV

“The concept of network content distribution through local affiliates is what’s being challenged by the Web. Local broadcasters are middlemen in the delivery of network content to the masses, and that was fine in a world absent horizontal connectivity. My version of Gilmore’s Law is that “the net regards middlemen as a failures and routes around them,” and I’m not alone in this thinking. The networks simply can do their thing far more efficiently — and thereby, profitably — by going directly to consumers.”

Oh, now I remember why I stopped watching local TV.

“Local television is still atop the heap in terms of delivering the goods for certain advertisers, most notably political candidates. Saturating the airwaves — especially in key states — with ads for those running, delivers incredible profits for local broadcasters. This is not going to change, and absent some major innovation that pushes campaign managers elsewhere — perhaps mobile? — the money is going to continue to support local broadcast companies.”


“Connectendess — which is state of always being connected to the Internet and thus to people, things, life, work, commerce, love, hate and anger – is the single thought that dominates my mind, and it defines how I view everything, how I evaluate everything. It is my telescope and it is my microscope. I don’t see the world in silos called mobile, broadband, browser, app or television. Instead, it is all about being in the state of connectedness.”

From post by Om Malik

What does mobile explosion mean for news?

Some nuggets from new Pew Research Center report based on a survey of 9,513 U.S. adults conducted from June-August 2012 (including 4,638 mobile device owners)

  • Half of all U.S. adults now have a mobile connection to the web through either a smartphone or tablet
  • Nearly a quarter of U.S. adults, 22%, now own a tablet device-double the number from a year earlier
  • 64% of tablet owners and 62% of smartphone owners say they use the devices for news at least weekly
  • As many as 43% say the news they get on their tablets is adding to their overall news consumption. And almost a third, 31%, said they get news from new sources on their tablet
  • Fully 60% of tablet news users mainly use the browser to get news on their tablet, just 23% get news mostly through apps and 16% use both equally

“Mobile is going to crush Facebook”

“The logic for Facebook’s price decline is that they have a problem in mobile. They can’t offer all the games they can in a browser. They can’t offer the same ads or branding opportunities. All true,” he writes. “If you think mobile will displace online usage from PCs then you should immediately short Google and other ad plays and buy TV stations and networks. If you can’t buy an ad effectively on mobile and no one is using a PC to connect to the internet any more, then the only way to reach an audience is going to be via good old tv. And all that over the top video noise, forgettabout it.”

Mark Cuban on Facebook

What did we do before computers?

It’s a question I silently ask myself from time to time, so I thought I’d try to reconstruct how I (and others) did my job when I first came to Learfield in 1984. (This photo was taken in 1985 and I’m including it with this post as a memory aid.)

It might be easier to to start with what we didn’t have. I’m going to say no computers even though there was a Lisa II (?) running VisiCalc. No fax machine. No mobile phones.

The bulk of my job was dealing with affiliate radio stations and there was only three ways to do that:

1. Call them on the phone
2. Send them a letter in the mail
3. Get in the car and go see them in person

Each week we would send stations a “log” showing which commercials would be airing in each of the news or farm programs we sent them via satellite. One of the secretaries had drawn a table (6 columns for M-Sa and 13 rows for the number of shows) using a ruler. This was copied (we had a copier) each week and the blank table was rolled into an IMB Selectric typewriter and the names of the sponsors typed in.

This had to be completed by Wednesday of each week in order to get them mailed and to the stations in time for their “traffic” person to insert those commercials into THEIR log for the coming week. And delay and the system fell apart.

The photo above reminds me I used a manual typewriter often enough to keep it close. The computer in the photos is a Zenith and I was the only person in the company with his own personal computer.

We also had a big IBM Displaywriter that allowed us to do mail-merge documents. Amazing tech for the time.

Next to my phone is a Rolodex with all of my contacts, each typed on the big Royal but continuously updated with scratch-throughs and margin notes. If you got fired, you wanted to have a copy of your Rolodex.

If –god forbid– we needed to get information to every network affiliate “fast,” someone had to call each station, one at at time.

One of the tools I relied upon most was my big map. You can’t see them but there is a pin showing the location of each radio station on the network. It was a thrill to add a new pin and agony to remove one.

Long before Google Docs, there was the bulletin board for all the important lists. (this was not portable)

Years later we got our first fax machines, even though most of our stations didn’t have them. We knew they would. Someone stood at the machine and keyed in the name and phone number of every radio station (or advertiser). When you wanted to blast a fax out to a “list,” you fed the document in and it called each number, transmitted the facsimile; printed a “receipt” and then called the next number on the list. It was wonderful. We didn’t have to wait 3 or 4 days for the USPS.

And it got better. As we got more computers and modems, programs like WinFax could do the job of a fax machine but with far less effort and with much greater speed. We could keep a station’s fax machine humming all day and all night, burning up expensive rolls of thermal paper. The term “spam” was years in the future.

Now we post information to our websites and stations download at their leisure. We communicate with them on Facebook and Twitter and all the rest. Email is instantaneous.

Will it get faster/better/easier still? Hard to imagine how but I assume it will

Apple taking over mobile?

The first iOS gadget shipped in 2007 and just a whole bunch of folks scoffed at the notion anyone would pay $400 for a mobile phone. What’s happened since then?

  • Nokia’s smartphone handstet market share dropped from 24% to 16% in one year.
  • 97% of all tablet traffic in the United States comes from iPads. The number is 100% in Japan and 99% in the UK. (The global average is 89%.)
  • last year Google earned about $102 million from apps sales, while Apple raked in $1.7 billion.
  • Apple has ordered two manufacturers to build enough iPhone 5 handsets to sell 15 million in the first month of sales (August or September).
  • 40% of all smartphone buyers in Europe say they intend to buy an iPhone next time they buy a phone.
  • There are 910 million mobile phone subscribers in China (where the iPhone is very popular)
  • Apple has sold 25 million iPads to date and one analyst believes Apple will sell a billion of them.