#COVIDChronicles-208: November 4, 2020-Check out this bypass: The VPN Highway-Jamaica Observer article

My short piece on virtual private networks.

Check out this bypass: The VPN Highway
— Read on www.google.com/amp/amp.jamaicaobserver.com/digital-life/check-out-this-bypass-the-vpn-highway_206818?profile=1442

LET me share a secret, an open secret. I watched the riveting tennis finals at Roland Garros in France last month, thanks to an online facility called VPN. What is a VPN? It’s a virtual private network which behaves as if your computer is on a desk in Paris or anywhere in the world you wish.

The techies describe the process this way, “VPN acts as a safe passage for your online traffic (browsing, streaming, downloading, etc). It routes your traffic through a VPN server in a specific location of your choosing that spoofs your location (IP address — a numerical label assigned to each device) and assigns the location of that VPN server.

That’s good for many reasons. One is, you can disguise your actual location, which offers some security against those trying to target your exact whereabouts. You can post on Facebook as if you’re in Manchester, England, while actually in Manchester, Jamaica. Your device is given a new IP (Internet protocol) address.

Another benefit is when access to content is limited by geographical location (‘geoblocking’); you can bypass that by seeming to be in the ‘right’ location. For example, some US news media content cannot be accessed in the European Union; also Netflix and Amazon Primehave content that varies by location because of content licensing agreements. You may have noticed the difference in your travels whereby their UK and USA offerings differ.

Caribbean residents use VPN to get access to sports content, such as cricket, meant for and broadcast outside the region. With a VPN someone can use, for example, CBS All-Accessor ITV Hub to get content from these broadcasters by, respectively, setting VPN to US and UK and registering.

The legality of circumventing geoblocking to access foreign video services under local copyright laws is unclear and varies by country. Some reports suggest streaming services like Netflix turn a blind eye to what some in the entertainment industry see as a form of ‘online piracy’, as it benefits Netflix by extending the reach of their services.

Geoblocking allows price discrimination by goods or service providers, forcing customers to accept higher prices in their location even when the same goods can be obtained more cheaply elsewhere. The European Parliament voted in 2018 in favour of a regulation that bans geoblocking for most types of online content. However, some digital media, including Netflixand Amazon, are exempt. The move widens access to many online services including shopping, travel bookings, hotel reservations and car rentals within the European Union, where many companies continue to use geoblocking to restrict their content nationally.

Having the VPN is only part of a solution, though.

You’ll find some apps are not available in your actual location, for example the ITV Hub app is not available in Apple’s US Store. It must be downloaded from its UK site, which is just a digital switch and entirely legal. That may be no real hassle if you have no running subscriptions, but if you have them, it means suspending or cancelling them and then re-subscribing.

Costs vary, so you need to shop around for what suits your needs and budget. Many VPN providers offer free trials and sweet promotions for new subscriptions, so check them out.

Where travel is on hold for many, we must find ways to keep in contact with the rest of the world. VPNs can help keep you virtually connected.

Dennis G Jones, JP



IG/Twitter: @dennisgjones

Generational shifts and technological changes: some thoughts

I think often about the various analyses that are circulating about ‘Millenials’. According to Pew Research, the group is those born between 1984-97; that makes me a part of the ‘baby boom’ (born between 1946-64; my father’s in the ‘silent generation’, born between 1928-45. Reading the Pew analysis, it’s focused on the USA, and I’ve often taken a deep breath as I think whether the strange social dynamics of that country are really the right basis for assessing groups outside that frame. But, having said that, as all of my children have spent a significant amount of their time living in the USA, some of the analysis may apply. My household has two Millenials on that basis, plus a teenager (so far as I see, yet to be defined as an analytical construct). While I personally don’t share the views of the researchers, the assessments make me think about generational shifts that do seem to have significance. While what interests me is not easily set into an analytical frame, it does focus on how technology shifts how we act and perceive our options. I’m just going to run through a few major technological changes that I recall and see where it leads.

Since, I was born in the mid-1950s, I’ve experienced the spread of several major developments in human activities, all of which have made immense changes in mobility:

  • International air travel: important, in facilitating my rapid migration from the Caribbean to Western Europe, and later facilitating the work I did travelling between England/USA and other countries. My parents, born between 1929-1931 never made any use of air travel before 1961 and only used it a few times, after, including to return the Caribbean on vacation and eventually to emigrate, but also (for my father) to make the ‘reverse triangular journey’ from the Caribbean to west Africa and back. Air travel has also become much cheaper and available to many more places and no longer limited to a wealthy few people or a few major destinations. Distance is much less of a deterrence to travel.
  • International telephone traffic: less important in those early years as a migrant for keeping in touch with those ‘back home’; letters and telegrams did that, if at all. But, such calls were costly, or difficult to make. When I worked in the former USSR, for example, I remember having to ‘book’ time to make calls overseas and then taking my turn in a booth to be connected for my designated time. Visions of operators plugging cables into slots easily came to mind. I recall my parents calling from Jamaica after they remigrated in the mid-1980s and having to dial using an International Call Authorization System (ICAS) code (a 10-digit number that restricted access for long-distance calling). I remember international calls being expensive, prohibitively so I recall when I travelled to Uganda on business in the early 1990s and found that I was facing a several hundred US dollar bill for a few minutes talking to my HQ (all because the country had to reimburse international phone companies for a series of telephone frauds). But, international calling is no longer limited to cables stretched over land or under water, and the advent of cellular technology and the Internet have made calling as easier as hailing someone in the street. Yesterday, I explained to a lady in her 90s how to use WhatsApp; she already had it installed on her mobile phone, but did not really understand how it worked and what could be done with it. Free calling via such applications and Internet/WiFi access now makes distance again a trivial inconvenience.
  • Personal computers and the Internet: access to both has spread rapidly and changed much. I remember the absence of both when I was at university, without which students had to write either by hand, or use typewriters, and print documents on paper, and copy text via carbon, or photocopying, and send them elsewhere by actual mail, or later by electronic means such as a fax. I remember a document (several hundred pages) being sent the whole night and in the morning finding the fax machine had stopped because the phone line had been interrupted). Just in my lifetime, I recall a portable computer that was more the size of airline carry-on rolling bag and having to lug in home many nights to continue working on an important project. Hours spent typing my thesis and correcting mistakes with Snopake or White Out correction fluid, and carrying bulky documents are truly things of the past. I thought I’d arrived when I bought an electric typewriter. I couldn’t conceive then of a document existing in a form that was not solid, but somehow existing ‘in the ether’. Something that could be created and moved and never appear in any form other than visually or even as sound. Yesterday, I explained to the same 90-year old lady how composing documents on the Internet works and how she can ‘carry’ her material around with her just by having access to a table she hopes to get. I showed her how to dictate a document and see her spoken words appear as text on a screen. Her eyes lit up. But, it’s the power of digitization that has made computing and the Internet powerful: information in digital form can be moved more rapidly than ever before and with little concern about its volume. My huge document sent by fax in the 1980s can now go as a digital package in seconds. Money flies around the world in nanoseconds and as mere digital and electronic entries and makes images of people transporting bundles of notes or piles of certificates seem ridiculous. These developments and once sound and images could be digitally packaged, then the world really shrunk.

These late 20th century developments have had bigger impact because of the 19th century developments caused by industrialization and its associated rapid urbanization. The world became a place of mass production and massive communities, which made personal interconnection harder because of the way life became less interpersonal. Fewer people knew how and who affected life’s changes. Digital information allowed that process to be reversed simply by making the sharing of information much simpler.

I tend to not get excited about things like use of social media, as I’ve yet to see many things that are fundamentally different to what existed before, only they tend to be more apparent than before and maybe some more amplified. Social media has created avenues of human interconnection that existed before (eg broadcast messages) but are now much easier to use and faster, which can have familiar downsides with verbal communication, such as misunderstandings because of crosses messages or misinterpretation of tone. Technology that now allies have us to send oral and visual additions to text, enhance the interactions but don’t alter then at their core. Those who prefer to be loud, remain so; those who’re quiet remain so, etc; those who wish to be silent or mere observers, can remain so.

Some platforms allow people to get more influence than they experienced before. Some give the illusion of empowerment.

Some of the concerns about social media reflect that we are presented visibly or audibly with more of our social ills (call that nastiness). I’ve yet to see worse bullying than I knew as a boy when children teased each other, or adults taunted each other and worse. I’ve yet to hear of anything worse than having one’s head put down a toilet and having it flush while struggling and hearing the perpetrators giggle. The public verbal nastiness of the 45th president is perhaps the most widely displayed set of bullying many people see, and it’s interesting not least for the ways that supporters do what enablers do so well–explaining it away, with actions that often amount to ‘victim blaming’ personified. Bullying does not have to go beyond the psychological, but I have yet to see the equivalent on social media of anyone clubbed over the head with a crowbar. What I do see is lots of people who are perhaps naive about what goes on everyday in the world being surprised that these things are now appearing right in front of their eyes our under their noses. That’s not to excuse any actions, merely to give a different context. While I grew up in working class areas of London, I’ve spent my life mixing with middle- and upper-class people. Bullying (including its niche areas, such as racism and sexism) knows no class boundaries.

Moving experiences: the power of the new

Several people found my post about the stress of moving earlier this week had lots of personal resonance for them. Some also asked me to do some more posts as things went along.

One of the things that moving does is put time into perspective. In our case, having had many personal belongings in storage for a few years, their release has exposed the ravages of time–some things do not thrive when not used or kept in artificial conditions–as well as the speed of change in recent years.

The ravages tend to ‘attack’ things that need air and light. So, many wooden things we have have lost some lustre and may need a lot of TLC to get back their sheen; maybe, some good doses of linseed oil will work wonders.

Technological change has been rapid over the past few decades. Nothing shows that more than the world of electronics. However, the side aspect of this is how homes have had to change to accept these changes. For instance, we left behind a house that had an armoire and shelving to house a television and stereo music system. Well, now the world is full of flat-screen and wall-mounted TVs, so no need for furniture. We have the space under the TV and the cable boxes, etc. need to sit somewhere, but not in the old-style (relatively) set up.

Wall-mounted, flat screen TVs now the norm

Most people are not fans of dangling wires and I can now understand how nice it must be to design and build your own home and have these wires and cables hidden or so set up that they are not so readily visible. Anyway, time to think about creative coverings.

We’ve moved from a world of music on discs and tapes to a world of streaming. So, I had to smile when I came across some packs of blank cassette tapes. I should ask my teenager if she knows what they are.

What!? Cassette tapes

A friend suggested I sell them on eBay, and there’s a good market.

We don’t even need a radio to listen to radio broadcasts, as many cable services offer radio stations in their packages.

What about WiFi? Long gone are the days of having computers connected to the Internet. Now, we have wireless access all over, or almost all over, and get antsy if we have weak signals in any part of the area. I am thinking about leaving some of those weak spots, though, as a kind of ‘quiet zone’, especially as that is around the master bedroom. I’m pretty comfortable with many changes and all the little things one needs to know about setting up Internet connections. But, my heart goes out to those who never grasped how it all works. They may even have never mastered the remotes for the TV and still are at a loss when new equipment arrives and has to be used. Like the transition from a kettle on a fire to an electric one, it can be an odd shift.

We’re also having to deal with the ‘new’ that is not so new, that is living in a different climate and culture. The climate part is great in that summer all year round is a joy. But, life is different in the tropics. I do not freak out when I see lizards crawling over my sneakers, but I’m reminded I need to check my footwear before sticking my feet in 🙂 If you don’t like living things sharing your space, then see you later. Ants love people and their food supplies. I’d rather remove the temptation than spray, etc, but my wife loves to be armed with Bagon. Then, there is the bad weather. I have not been keep to open lots of windows because I don’t know how the rain falls where we are. When it rains, it can pour hard in Jamaica, and much as I love fresh air, I do not like surprise pools of water because I did not realise from where the rain comes.

So, as we plod along and things take shape, little adjustments will get made. I’ve mastered the lights. Success! Set realizable goals. Few boxes today than yesterday? That’s the spirit!

Teaching moments: Simple actions in Rio that would look good in Jamaica

A ten day trip to Rio, whose prime purpose was to enjoy the atmosphere of World Cup football, is no fact finding tour. But, I’ve had to look at socioeconomic developments and try to assess them quickly for most of my working life. So, let me use that experience to share some observations that could help Jamaica move ahead. They are not in any special order.

Tourists need to be left to enjoy their visits and feel safe. Arriving in Rio, the biggest problem is figuring out where to collect baggage; the claim areas are split, either side of duty free shopping. Once done, passing Customs is simple, with basically no stop. Admittedly, Jamaica has been tagged as a drug haven, so we need stiffer checks to protect ourselves from those who want to try some simple drug running, as part of organized operations or just to get some extra dosh. That hurts our tourism badly, and maybe the only way out is some brutal sentencing, including near immediate deportation. The idea of airport courts seems radical but, it may be what’s needed to frighten the daylights out of the casual wrongdoers. Admittedly, tourists arriving at Montego Bay tend to have lghr checks than arrivals at Kingston, most of whom are residents. That, naturally, sets up resentment from locals. But, evenhandedness is something with hitch Jamaica struggles.

Once on land, tourists in Rio see plenty of signs that security is ready to deal with all problems.

Rio Tourist Police, on Ipanema beach strip

Municipal and national guards were everywhere in uniform Rio. It was likely that some of the road sweepers or other tourist workers were undercover operatives. They were on hand, visible, and clearly ready. I have no idea at what cost. But, no one wants to robbed or mugged on the street when just trying to enjoy sun, sand, and sea.

Tourists just want to have their fun
We read stories about how favelas and streets had been cleared of vagrants. News reports yesterday mentioned how protesters had been picked up ahead of the final and that 25,000 security personnel had been added to deal with potential protests at the final. Rio is in a very difficult position, so extreme measures are no surprise. But, in the end, the naive or educated visitor wants to come and go safely, and leave a country to sort out its internal strife.

Like Jamaica, Rio has its vendors. They work the beach strips, selling on the beach, trinkets, drinks and snacks. On the roadside, little cafes and juice bars are dotted around. Massage services are there, too, on the beach. Most vendors take no straight away. Pestering in not common. I did not see if vendors were licensed. But, they went on walking the beach. Most beach visitors just went about their recreation. No one offering them drugs. They could get drinks if they wanted, or play or doze, if not.

I’ve barely seen any police at Jamaican resorts, by contrast. Maybe, they are all under cover. But, we have reports of petty or more serious crimes against tourists. Each incident is a blight, and becomes amplified as a negative story when people get back home. Most people have positive images of Jamaica before they visit. The taxi driver who loves “Bobby Marley” is typical. We need to harness that.

Taxis should be safe and trustworthy . Most visitors do not know their way around a foreign country. They often think they are easy targets for exploitation. So, one way of allaying those fears for the benefit of all is for the popular form of transport from point to point, the taxi, be a reliable service. Rio has a lot of taxis, but they never seemed enough.

Taxi, with onboard GPS, meter, visible official driver ID

Perhaps, the arrival of all those football fans was the reason for seeming excess demand. However hard it was to get a taxi, each one tended to give the same experience. The driver was licensed: the vehicle had the driver’s badge clearly visible. The vehicle was metered. The cost was clear, and drivers did not haggle over the small number, eg R$11.30 was R$11. The driver wore a belt and each seat had a belt. (One driver, seeing my 10 year old daughter was in difficulty strapping in, stopped to free the belt, which had gotten trapped under the seat. Attentive and courteous.) If uncertain of destination, drivers quickly tried to verify directions by using on board GPS, or checking with another driver. Vehicles were NEVER overloaded: no space, no rider. No exceptions. Naturally, in this age of widespread smartphone use, some drivers tried to stay abreast of social activities. One driver was constantly checking and sending voice messages,though he limited this to when stopped at traffic lights. One driver was one the phone to an acquaintance, but still drove carefully.

We took at least two taxis each day and never saw one accident–at all. Rio has six million people and an area half that of Jamaica. Admittedly, road conditions are far better in a Rio, with several four-lane freeways through the city.

Rio has good, spacious roads

Pedestrians do not have priority, so that would tend to create more problems, but none were evident.

If visitors feel safe travelling around a strange place, day or night, they are likely to venture out more and further. That tends to mean more spending. We are experienced travelers and have a friend who had lived in Brazil and spoke Portuguese. But, those aspects did not feature much in routine travel. We tried our luck on the streets, often needing two taxis, which did not arrive simultaneously. We never ended up at different places; we sometimes had a long wait to meet up again. We were not really worried. We did some research and ventured out on ferry boats, too. No mishaps. Drivers also gave good advice about when to travel and better routes.

My understanding is that the government did not mount any special campaigns. But, perhaps, the trade associations got members to buy into supporting the events with positive attitudes. Or, people have understood what is good for business.

Free Wifi internet access needs to be widely available. Most traveller know about the high cost of roaming charges, so shy away from making local telephone connections. However, they will do their best to keep in touch with friends, families, and colleagues through email, text messages, including via Whatsapp, and social media sites. You only need to go anywhere with free wifi to see the clusters of communicators. Rio offered free wifi to those who were already subscribers to local telephone services. But, many bars, restaurants, and shopping areas had free wifi. Even some hillside slums, favelas, had free wifi networks.

Favela Santa Marta has free wifi

Brazil has benefited from extensive infrastructure investment connected to major international events. Again, the pay off comes through the easy experience visitors have.

Litter is a major turn off. In Rio, garbage disposal was constant. Large bins on the sidewalk, plus cleaners walking the beach strips and streets. Of course, people are dirty, but it need not swamp everyone or everywhere. We saw plenty of garbage in a favela. Bottles and cans get used as missiles. Likewise, roads that need repair trap trash as well as people. The impression left was that Rio was clean, even if sour-smelling. That’s an observation, not a criticism. Big cities have their odour.

Finally, Rio celebrates its street art. Downtown Kingston has recently had much of its murals removed from ghetto areas. The rationale was that this glorified local criminals. Whatever the truth of that, the murals are important local expression. By contract, Rio promotes such art.

Favela art, Rio

Admittedly, a recent government initiative has sought to regularize favela life, and accepting murals adds to the sense of ownership. Heavyhandedness is often not needed, once respect has been shown by those in formal authority.

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