Online reviews can get people in trouble. In a case reported by the Washington Post, angry friends of a bride and groom accused a wedding photographer of being a con artist for holding photos “hostage” until an extra payment was made. The photographer went to court and won more than a million dollars in damages.

Thanks to the First Amendment, you can say almost anything you want in an online review of a product or service. Almost. If you say something like “scammer” or “con artist,” that’s accusing someone of illegal activity; you don’t want to do that unless you can back it up,

When writing an online review, be sure to use phrases such as “I didn’t like X,” rather than “X is a con.” Joy frequently does online reviews of things she buys, but never makes them a personal attack.

Blockchain Tango

Last September, Joy invested in Bitcoin, the virtual currency and Ethereum, one of the so-called “blockchains.”  It’s had its ups and downs, and once, in the middle of the night, she came close to selling all. Bob convinced her not to, which was a good thing. It was at its lowest low. Experienced traders often look for this moment, which is often called The Valley of Despair; 2008-2009 in the stock market was a classic example.

Like Bitcoin, a blockchain involves a network of computers, and everything is encrypted to protect privacy and remove the need for a middleman, such as a bank. But the blockchain goes a step further than virtual currency, so-called “smart contracts” can be self-executed on it. A computer in the chain knows what to do, when and under what conditions, based on the programming code it contains.

Here are some examples of how the blockchain is being used today, one frivolous, four serious.

  • CryptoKitties” is one of the first games to be built on blockchain technology. When you sign up, the program generates a virtual cat by way of a smart contract. Then you can trade yours or buy more. In December, when Bitcoin reached an all-time high, the most expensive CrytoKitty sold for $120,000. More than $12 million has been spent on CryptoKitties. None of it by us.
  • Peertracks” allows musicians to sell music directly to fans, eliminating the need for a record label. There are no ads or subscription fees. Each time a track is streamed by someone who wants to hear it, the artist is paid automatically.
  • Storj” allows people with excess online storage to rent that space. It’s like a filing system for the Internet, using a blockchain of transactions to encrypt and distribute data around the world.
  • Dentacoin” streamlines dental care by establishing insurance-like contracts between patients and dentists. Instead of paying high insurance premiums, patients pay a small amount directly to dentists in advance. That is used to cover their dental care. It’s in the dentists’ interests to focus on prevention, since just like insurance companies, they do better if they limit costs. There are 13 clinics currently using Dentacoin. (Update: As of July 4, 2018, there are 38 clinics in 14 countries.)
  • Propy” is facilitating the first auction on the blockchain, by selling the Palazetta Mansion in Rome, Italy.

Google Tour Creator

With Google’s free “Tour Creator,” you can create a panoramic tour in virtual reality or plain old real reality.

We made one in a few clicks using a few standard photos. Like anyone else, we could have clicked “publish” to put the result at, but we thought it was not a good idea to cause any random deaths through boredom. Instead, we looked at what others have done, which includes a continually moving tour of the Halls of Congress, castles, and the city of St. Paul Minnesota, among dozens of others.

You don’t need a virtual reality headset to view these, but they’ll look better if you have one. We gave away our Google Cardboard headset to a nine-year-old boy, but for $8 on Amazon we could buy another one. If you put your smart phone inside the box-like goggles, the scene appears all around you as you turn your head and you can look in any direction, including up and down.

Start at, and use photos from Google’s Street View or your own 360 degree photos. The Tour Creator is meant to be used with Google’s field trip app “Expeditions.” Since 2015, Google Expeditions have brought more than three million students to places like Antartica and Machu Picchu. No jet lag, no airport hassles. To take a trip yourself, go to YouTube and search on “Google Expeditions.”


  • Google’s AI Sounds Like a Human on the Phone.” Search on those words to hear a demonstration at of the new Google “Duplex.” Duplex, is kind of a smarter version of Google Assistant or Siri. It can make real calls to places like a hair salon and a restaurant. The people on the other end will have have no idea they’re talking to a robot. There are whole conversations, with questions answered, an appointment made, and answers about reservations given. In a later version, Google will actually go to the appointment and you won’t have to bother. (Just kidding.)
  • has interesting online debates. A recent one was: “Will Automation Crush Democracy?” You can vote for the side you favor. Of course if you live in a dictatorship or monarchy, you can’t vote.
  • shows you the possibilities of life 120 years from now, and historic points in artificial intelligence along the way. It starts with 1958 and the development of the “Turing Test,” named for computer scientist Alan Turing. The test is whether or not a person can tell they are talking with a machine or another person. One of the early examples was an artificial psychiatrist, which many people could not distinguish from a real one. In tests of the aforementioned Google Duplex, nearly all small business owners thought they were talking to a real person. We often have this experience at parties.




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