Trinidad and Tobago and/vs AI.

When I wrote ‘Artificial Extinction‘, I briefly touched on coverage related to artificial intelligence here in Trinidad and Tobago. It’s hard to explain just how out of mind it is, so I’ll just write a bit of the local scene.

Today, as I stood in line waiting an annoying amount of time waiting to pay for the 5l bottle of water at a local convenience store, I glanced at the headlines. As usual, there was someone having trouble with something at the head of the line, the other register was closed, and the line formed.

One of the benefits of that line is that I get to run my eyes across the front pages of the local newspapers: Newsday, Trinidad Express and Trinidad Guardian.

The Rastafarian gentleman in front of me found something of interest in the Trinidad Express. I saw something about the need for Constitutional Reform, a picture of “Indian Arrival Day Stalwarts”, ‘Paradise in Peril’ and a plea from the mother of a kidnapping victim. Having been back and forth over the decades, the news seems to say the same with only names changing. The politicians play politics, the crime has spiraled so long that it is now in control of the criminals, and nobody has fresh ideas. They all seem to be foreign and abused ideas, much like some of the used cars you can buy from Japan.

This is the canvas upon which local news is painted daily. I thought about seeing Trinidad and Tobago represented on Planet Earth (Episode 6) through Grand Riviere Village’s volunteer work to assist and protect the leatherback turtles. when I did a web search, I found the leatherback turtle site offline (something I’m considering digging into). That’s a shame. Keeping a website online for something with international attention seems important.

I get home, walking past the condo’s office, I wave briefly at the administrator who was busy talking with someone. 15 years as a corporate secretary, retired, decades of experience that could soon be replaced with something purchased off the shelf. The latent thought of my own experience being replaced looms quietly in the background as I enter the elevator, my thoughts on how to connect the local perspective on technology and thus artificial intelligence to the larger global perspective of “this could end very badly“.

My friends and neighbors are more worried about their family’s security than some online application spitting out gobs of text when asked a question. In a land where there are no questions, no one needs an oracle. The economic diversity of Trinidad and Tobago is simply not there, the oil money stolen or squandered (or both), and the youths see increasingly little opportunity outside of crime, as we talked about while I was at the barber shop last week.

Artificial intelligence is not going to help with these things, because these are largely broken systems that those who profit from do not want to fix. ChatGPT can go blue in the face telling the politicians what they should do. They’ve been told what it has to offer thousands of times before over the decades. The faces largely have not changed, only grown older and in one case distinctly more cadaverous.

Years ago, I had a Minister message me once because something I wrote, and he asked where I got the data from – I cited the source that he should have been aware of, the open data portal of Trinidad and Tobago. He was agog. He’d been asking for that information for over a year and no one seemed to know where it was. The website has since been updated, the data not so much.

Meanwhile, the largest employer in Trinidad and Tobago is the government, where many good people participate in overcomplicated wheels of bureaucracy. We could use technology to replace much of that, but then where would the people work? And since they vote, who would they vote for if they lose their jobs?

With this context, now, I can now discuss AI in Trinidad and Tobago in the context of jobs, particularly the last 3 paragraphs:

“…Taking charge of this rapidly evolving scenario of workplace change will demand one fundamental and overdue evolution in governance, the continuous gathering and distribution of actionable information about how this country operates.

It was a note that Jonathan Cumberbatch, Assistant VP, Human Resources and Administration at UTT touched on cautiously when he noted that, “Data drives most of the conversation outside of TT, but we don’t have a sense of that in TT.”

The propensity of governance to proceed on feelings, hunches and political expedience might have worked in the past, but the national distaste for transparently gathered, publicly available information cannot continue into an era hallmarked by a reliance on reliable, continuously updated datasets.”

AI and your job“, Mark Lyndersay, TechNewsTT and BitDepth#1408 for May 29, 2023

Of course, it wasn’t a global roundup of people related to AI, just those with local interests talking to the local Chamber of Commerce related to their products. Microsoft was definitely there, others… not here.

The short answer is that Trinidad and Tobago isn’t ready. Neither is most of the rest of the world, which is why there’s concern by some. I’ve seen firsthand government offices and even business offices completely ignore data driven approaches. Just recently, I proposed starting with the basics in the condo’s office, only to hear that without actual data they’re just pushing forward into a ticket system to solve all the problems. In time they will find it creates new ones, but that will be another story.

The point is that if you can’t even do data driven stuff, keep a volunteer website up when there’s international attention, the wave of artificial intelligence that will drive the world economy will leave many people stranded on islands, perhaps even twin island Republics. What will be done about this?

Maybe they’ll talk about it in Parliament. Then, if history repeats itself, nothing will happen.

Or, things could change. Things definitely should change, but those changes need to happen faster and faster as the government slides into the Pitch Lake, dragging it’s citizens with it. .

Artificial Extinction.

The discussion regarding artificial intelligence continues, with the latest round of cautionary notes making the rounds. Media outlets are covering it, like CNBC’s “A.I. poses human extinction risk on par with nuclear war, Sam Altman and other tech leaders warn“.

Different versions of that article written by different organizations are all over right now, but it derives from one statement on artificial intelligence:

Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war.

Center for AI Safety, Open Letter, undated.

It seems a bit much. Granted, depending on how we use AI we could be on the precipice of a variety of unpredictable catastrophes, and while pandemics and nuclear war definitely poses direct physical risks, artificial intelligence poses more indirect risks. I’d offer that can make it more dangerous.

In the context of what I’ve been writing about, we’re looking at what we feed our heads with. We’re looking at social media being gamed to cause confusion. These are dangerous things. Garbage in, Garbage out doesn’t just apply to computers – it applies to us.

More tangibly, though, it can adversely impact our way(s) of life. We talk about the jobs it will replace, with no real plan on how to employ those displaced. Do people want jobs? I think that’s the wrong question that we got stuck with in the old paint on society’s canvas. The more appropriate question is, “How will people survive?”, and that’s a question that we overlook because of the assumption that if people want to survive, they will want to work.

Is it corporate interest that is concerned about artificial intelligence? Likely not, they like building safe spaces for themselves. Sundar Pichai mentioned having more lawyers, yet a lawyer got himself into trouble when he used ChatGPT to write court filings:

“The Court is presented with an unprecedented circumstance,” Castel wrote in a previous order on May 4. “A submission filed by plaintiff’s counsel in opposition to a motion to dismiss is replete with citations to non-existent cases… Six of the submitted cases appear to be bogus judicial decisions with bogus quotes and bogus internal citations.”

The filings included not only names of made-up cases but also a series of exhibits with “excerpts” from the bogus decisions. For example, the fake Varghese v. China Southern Airlines opinion cited several precedents that don’t exist.”

Lawyer cited 6 fake cases made up by ChatGPT; judge calls it “unprecedented”“, Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica, May 30th 2023

It’s a good thing there are a few people out there relying on facts instead of artificial intelligence, or we might stray into a world of fiction where those that control the large language models and general artificial intelligences that will come later will create it.

Authoritarian governments could manipulate machine learning and deep learning to assure everyone’s on the same page in the same version of the same book quite easily, with a little tweaking. Why write propaganda when you can have a predictive text algorithm with a thesaurus of propaganda strapped to it’s chest? Maybe in certain parts of Taliban controlled Afghanistan, it will detect that the user is female and give it a different set of propaganda, telling the user to stay home and stop playing with keyboards.

It’s not hard to imagine all of this. It is a big deal, but in parts of the world like Trinidad and Tobago, you don’t see much about it because there’s no real artificial intelligence here, even as local newspaper headlines indicate real intelligence in government might be a good idea. The latest article I found on it in local newspapers online is from 2019, but fortunately we have TechNewsTT around discussing it. Odd how that didn’t come up in a Google search of “AI Trinidad and Tobago”.

There are many parts of the world where artificial intelligence is completely off the radar as people try to simply get by.

The real threat of any form of artificial intelligence isn’t as tangible as nuclear war or pandemics to people. It’s how it will change our way(s) of life, how we’ll provide for families.

Even the media only points at that we want to see, since the revenue model is built around that. The odds are good that we have many blind spots that the media doesn’t show us even now, in a world where everyone who can afford it has a camera and the ability to share information with the world – but it gets lost in the shuffle of social media algorithms if it’s not something that is organically popular.

This is going to change societies around the globe. It’s going to change global society, where the access to large language models may become as important as the Internet itself was – and we had, and still have, digital divides.

Is the question who will be left behind, or who will survive? We’ve propped our civilizations up with all manner of things that are not withstanding the previous changes in technology, and this is a definite leap beyond that.

How do you see the next generations going about their lives? They will be looking for direction, and presently, I don’t know that we have any advice. That means they won’t be prepared.

But then, neither were we, really.

Gaming The Medium

Even as we paint on society’s canvas, society paints on our individual canvases, and in this modern world of the Internet, social media and games, there’s a lot of paint being thrown around. Our world changes us, we change our world.

It’s not all as pretty as staged videos on Instagram, TikTok and Facebook reels, where ‘influencers’ do their best to find attractive red dots for people to chase. It’s in their interest. Before the Internet, it was broadcast media, but now with social media there is an increasingly large illusion of being able to interact when we might just be interacting with some algorithms attached to a dictionary.

Algorithms, though, carry dangers.

Via CuriosityGuide.

The video outlines some of what has been happening that isn’t good.

Algorithms, though, are important and can be used for good. We don’t see that as much as we should, largely because the wide swath of algorithms seem to be at the least questionable in whether they are good or not. That questionability comes from what we all want to see from the world and what cost we wish to pay for it – or, in the case of Internet trolls, the cost which we wish to have others pay for the world they want to see. I have more to write about trolls, but not yet.

What do we want? Before we figure out who we are, we seem to be told who we need to be. We mimic behaviors as children, and we grow within the framework supplied by our environments – rewards and punishments are set. We begin playing the game. In an environment, or, subjectively, an anti-environment.

Life In the Anti-Environment: Learning How To Play is an interesting paper by Adam Pugen in this regard – you can find the PDF of the paper here. It’s focused on video games, yet much of what is in there could apply to social media since the world is increasingly contrived and served through flat screens. This contrivance has been noted and mocked by more than one person. This German artist is a wonderful example, mocking instagram photos.

In any game, there are things that are possible and things that are less possible. One of the more common real world games, a lottery will sell us on the fact that there is a possibility to win despite there being a extremely low probability. The lottery has the distinction of being forced to be honest about the odds, but I have yet to see that honesty in the advertising for a lottery. What do you spend, what do you get? Most people see spending a few dollars every week over the course of their lifetime a worthwhile risk – otherwise there would be no lottery.

The game environment is simply defined. Enter the world of multiplayer games, which connect people through the internet and allow them to interact within certain guidelines. People, of course, find the loopholes and some enjoy the anonymous trolling aspect since they are faceless names and avatars. Others try to play the game by plodding through, others pay to get ahead, all depending on the game and how it is set up. If that doesn’t sound like a metaphor for modern social media, I don’t know what is.

All around the world, people are playing the social media game. How one ‘wins’ is dependent on how one views success, just like everyone else, but since social media is attached to real life more closely than other games there is the financial aspect that is quite real for the majority of the planet. How one loses, implicitly, is by not winning.

Now that we have large language models and the promises of artificial intelligence making things so much better, the game is more complicated.

If money is how we measure success, there are billions of people losing. We could change how we could measure success, or we could change the odds. Right now, the odds seem to be going the wrong way. There has to be some middle ground between tossing out participation trophies and a few winners taking all.


Broken Time.

This space was going to be intentionally left blank as I spend some time on Memorial Day, but then this I was reminded by a vibrating watch that I had to write something here – a reminder.

Reminders allow us to remember to do things, which is also a fitting thing to write about given that it is Memorial Day.

The day itself sits comfortably on American calendars, itself a technology from the Roman Empire era. It allowed scheduling and organization. In time, it enforced scheduling and organization and to some today, it is a tyranny. Deadlines make wooshing sounds as they rush by.

The technology that I was reminded by is voluntary, I set it up and of course it doesn’t have settings to take public holidays off – and if it did, it might not work because where I am located, Memorial Day is not a public holiday. The world outside of the United States trudges on.

Much of the reminders I get these days are involuntary. Some software company wants to update something just about every time I touch a different device. The poor woman at the optical center who wants to remind me of needing to check my eyesight this year calls while I’m in the middle of talking to someone.

Reminders can be interruptions, as the reminder was today for me.

When I was younger, I recall seeing those older than myself sit quiet for periods of time, lost in thought or memory – or both. It was an inordinate amount of time, I thought, to be so long without motion and observation. As I grew older, I learned the time is never enough, there’s always something that shakes us from the moments of deep thought, of reflection, of revisiting events, of studying problems and possible solutions, or simply taking a moment to be human.

We don’t talk about the time it takes to be ‘simply human’ that much, and we have neatly shoved it into the realm of the introverts that the extroverts scream outside of. It’s necessary, and while technology pushes the frontiers of productivity employers push the frontier of the clock, tapping their watches insistently as they look at us.

The difference between a reminder and an interruption is the importance of the what you are doing versus what you needed to be reminded of. If you’re rushing to get online to check for an email about a deathly sick relative, that interruption from Microsoft is likely a very negative experience.

“You’ll upgrade my operating system to the next version of Windows for free? That news on Aunt Samantha can wait! Screw that lady!”, simply doesn’t seem to be something would think in such a situation.

It does seem that in my lifetime, we get interrupted more than reminded. That could also simply be my anecdotal experience as I grow older, but it does seem to me that Pavlov might have a lot to write about these days.

You Ain’t Just the Medium.

There are some topics I’ve been writing about that people may not realize are connected, but they are. When I wrote about how we humans, we algorithms are doing bonsai on ourselves and artificial intelligences, it was not just happenstance.

We are a medium. Just one on the planet, but we are a medium, built upon a medium of a planet, and we’re building other mediums even while we interact in increasingly positive ways with other mediums as we grow to understand them.

The medium is the message.

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media : The Extensions of Man (1964)

This is important to understand. Regardless of how you believe this world came into being, we all should know by now about DNA and how we recognize that other living creatures also have DNA. Some of it is close to matching ours, but the results are different to us.

We’re a 96% match to chimpanzees, and I’m fairly certain chimpanzees know we’re very different from them in many ways.

Our DNA varies within our species as well, with what we call recessive and dominant genes and all their complexity of impacting everything from hair color to deciding whether our big toe is dominant on our feet or not.

We have social attributes, which could also be seen as mediums since they too are canvases upon we decorate our pieces of time. Language, culture, religion (or lack thereof) are some of the substrates upon which we grow our own mediums.

We aren’t just surrounded by information. We are information. We are history without words, a strand of our DNA tells us the path we traversed through time to get where we are.

It doesn’t tell us why we traversed the particular path we got here by. That’s for the archaeologists and others to piece together from fragments of physical history.

We are our own bonsai, where our trunk and branches show where we have grown from – the trail through time and the history of how we got where we are.

Each one of us, as an individual, has our own root system, our own trunk, our own branches. Each one of us is both medium and message, impacting our societal medium and message, all part of a planetary ecosystem of mediums and messages.

Everything we see has information, from the tree outside that has evolved over millions of years to that one specimen, to the street which follows a path dictated by many human variables.

If we stand back and look at our planet, allowing ourselves to fade into the background, we’re not too far of Douglas Adams‘ allegory of the Earth being a computer designed to figure out the meaning of life. In fact, many people who have read Douglas Adams don’t necessarily understand how true it is.

It’s sort of like the Gaia hypothesis, though there are issues with mixing metaphor with mechanism, among other things. Popular thought on evolution ascribes intentionality to evolution, as if there were some guide to it all, but adaptation to survive is quite possibly the only intention.

We tend to ascribe intention and look for intention where there may be none. Intention makes us feel more comfortable, but it isn’t necessarily true.

“This is rather as if you imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.”

Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt (2002)

We tend to think ourselves the center of our universe of existence, and we often treat ourselves as the North Star of the planet. This is likely natural; everything we know, every bit of information we process, comes to us through our senses.

Although the medium is the message, the controls go beyond programming. The restraints are always directed to the “content,” which is always another medium. The content of the press is literary statement, as the content of the book is speech, and the content of the movie is the novel. So the effects of radio are quite independent of its programming.

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media (1964)

This is why McLuhan balanced what he said in his over-used quote, “The medium is the message” with what was the technological equivalent of machine learning of his time: Radio.

Radio connected a world over distances previously daunting during that period, and while mostly a broadcast medium then, his focus needs to be understood.

Communication has evolved long beyond that in a little over half a century. ‘Programming’, now thanks to Web 2.0, is a matter of choosing people’s social media messages so they build their own narratives. Web 2.0 provided us the illusion of choice.

The medium was the message, the message became medium, the media became the message, and so on.

We forget that we, too, are medium, though we don’t altogether understand the message and maybe we’re in the process of finding out what that is.

It gets deeper, too, but I’ll leave you with one more quotation from McLuhan, who happened to say and write quite a few things that continue to make sense to this day.

Media are means of extending and enlarging our organic sense lives into our environment.

Marshall McLuhan, “The Care and Feeding of Communication Innovation”, Dinner Address to Conference on 8 mm Sound Film and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University, 8 November 1961.

Science Fiction in Latin America.

When I read the image to the left from over at Classics of Fiction about the New Prehistory, I was surprised that I didn’t know about the lack of science fiction roots in Hispanic countries. It opened a door. Science fiction fires the imagination for applying science and technology to issues, so this is important.

At the first CARDICIS, way back when, I thought I’d been invited by mistake. Suddenly I found myself in St. Lucia at a conference about ICT (or in Spanish, TIC) and culture. There was, for the first time as they said, real time translation allowing people from the Caribbean and South American region to speak to each other.

The core of this was wrapped around the metaphor of cooking, and food is certainly something that we all share around the world since we need to eat. It was a great conference, and I learned a lot about the region, barring US and UK territories and the Bahamas.

The Caribbean is poorly defined any way you look at it, and one can argue it’s by design. European territories were never designed to be independent, and it shows even now. CARICOM members include nations from the South American continent (Suriname, Guyana and Belize), and those nations all have something in common: They don’t speak Spanish. I don’t know how that happened, but it happened.

Geographically, the countries considered in the Caribbean are not the same, and within the Caribbean itself there are islands of isolation in language. By land mass or population, though, the majority of nations in the Caribbean speak Spanish, French, English and Dutch in descending order, and these islands come from the European influences which, to this day, define who does what with who.

After CARDICIS, I spent a lot of time in South America and the Caribbean in places where English was not the native language. I even became conversational in Spanish during that time, though I fear that part of my brain goes on vacation now and then. I enjoyed getting to understand how people lived throughout the region, and yet here’s this gaping hole in my knowledge that I knew nothing about.

It was never a question, so I never sought an answer. So I started digging in.

Science Fiction in Latin America

Science fiction (SF) is not a literary form native to the region, but many Latin American writers have utilized its creative freedom to reflect local settings and concerns. The definition of science fiction is particularly fluid in Latin America, where it overlaps considerably with horror, mystery, fantasy, and other genres…

Science Fiction in Latin America,, accessed on 26th May 2023.

I had no clue, but in the books I read in Spanish I never did read any science fiction. Thinking back to when I picked them up in my travels, availability could have been a factor, though my focus at the time was trying to understand how people lived.

La gente real” is a common enough phrase but one I picked up in Nicaragua. The real people. Not what you see in the tourist brochures, the news, or what your friend who visited that all inclusive hotel thinks about the people who made their stay comfortable.

So this was a new thing to research, and since I’m procrastinating about a particular part of what I’m writing, I drilled in this morning. The thing about science fiction is that there’s science involved. It’s not exactly a big secret with the name being stuck in the title of the genre, but science and technology are not that far apart. In fact, technology is best described as science practically applied. So science fiction would go hand in hand with ICT.

I recalled conversations I had over the years with many of my Spanish speaking friends, and not once did we really cover common ground in science fiction aside from stale Star Trek and Star Wars stuff. Those are so ubiquitous that a billion years from now errant signals will reach a planet with intelligent life who will think Yoda is a demi-god and that Captain Kirk is a reason to bolster their planetary defenses. They may eventually get here and find some plastic light sabers and phasers to help prop up that mythos in their culture. There’s a book idea.

And then I remembered using the word, “Grok” to one of my friends in Costa Rica, who was (and probably still is) an Argentinean Penguinista, steeped in the Linux command line. She didn’t know what it meant, and I attributed that to language. I do recall explaining the origin from Stranger in a Strange Land and Robert Heinlein, but she had not read that book and I thought little of it.

Latin America has it’s own science fiction, and I had somehow completely missed that.

“The man could feel his eyes filling with tears. Before him stood a spaceship, a gigantic metallic disk that seemed to be made of two immense plates joined at the edges.” These first words of Argentine Eduardo Goligorsky’s “The Last Refuge” could open any American or European science fiction story. However, the rest of the story largely deviates from Western models of sci-fi in its overt treatment of political themes, as “The Last Refuge” quite openly critiques authoritarianism. The story’s protagonist, Guillermo Maidana, must escape an authoritarian society that proclaims itself as the “the last refuge of Western civilization,” directly referencing Argentine dictator Juan Carlos Onganía’s paternalistic crusade against communism. Maidana’s crime? Possessing a photo album of historic technological and scientific achievements…

…Despite its clear relevance to political themes across the region, Latin American sci-fi does not receive the credit it is due inside or outside Latin America. Historically, the literary establishment across Latin American has not taken sci-fi seriously. In Mexico, literary contests and publications “did not think it was sufficiently literary, so it was frowned upon,” said Schaffler. Likewise, the Argentine cultural establishment looked down on Argentine scientists in general. “Scientists’ opinion has as much weight as that of rock stars or sports idols,” Capanna explained. Even when sci-fi did enter the mainstream, popular audiences often believed that imported sci-fi was somehow “purer.”…”

Looking to Las Estrellas: The Political Role of Latin American Science Fiction“, Kendrick Foster, Harvard Political Review, April 13th, 2020.

There’s a lot of text between the elipses in this last quote, and I encourage people to go read the article if they’re interested in this topic. I had no idea about all of this.

Science fiction in many ways drives technology. Technology today emulates science fiction of yesteryear. Many people won’t remember Dick Tracy’s watch where he could video chat with people. Many more people don’t even know who Dick Tracy is. Somewhere on this planet, right now, someone’s trying to build a light saber. Tricorders and tablets, artificial intelligences and those presented in science fiction…

The last article gives a big hint about the difference in focuses, and it likely has to do with the situations in Latin America itself, which are painfully political as we see here in Trinidad and Tobago. With an influx of Venezuelans taking the jobs nobody in Trinidad and Tobago seemed to want, Venezuelans are making their way into Trinidad and Tobago culture. It’s a drum that people beat every now and then about the Venezuelan influx, but Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela have a long standing relationship – enough so that 1920s calypsonian King Radio sang Matilda long before Belafonte recorded anything.

There’s certainly a lot of space to think about this, but I sadly have not read any Latin American science fiction. The intentionality, be it “make the world a better place through science” or “get rid of authoritarian society” all drives the imagination that drives technology… and is something maybe we should be paying a little more attention to.

I wonder now about French, Dutch…

Towel Day 2023.

It’s the 25th of May, 2023. If you froody people don’t know where your towels are, you’re not hip enough for your pelvis!

For those who don’t know what this is all about: Douglas Adams fans around the world celebrate Towel Day. It’s not really a holiday despite the great number of bureaucracies that have been created for no good reason, but we sort of do what we want.

Myself? Douglas Adams was one of the formative influences on me as a teenager. Aside from Douglas Adams being a great writer who can’t be supplanted by a large language model, I have found that there are stories within the stories that most people don’t figure out on their first read.

He was definitely ahead of his time, as a good science fiction writer is – but more, he was a satirist who is partly responsible for allowing challenge, and I hold him in the same regard as George Carlin, Richard Feynman and yes, of course, Monty Python’s mighty cast of writers and actors. Question things, point out if they don’t make sense.

I wish he had stuck around longer. We have good authors of their own style but no Douglas Adams, and he certainly shone a light on a world that doesn’t make sense.


Free Book Resources (Digital, Audio).

Often in conversation or on social media, I’ll end up pointing out places where you can get books legally and at no cost. Today’s as good a day as any to point people at them.

First and foremost, I have to point to Project Gutenberg, which has been around over 50 years (before the Internet), and provides books in the public domain. You can read the books online (HTML), or in readers (Kindle & EPUB versions). I’ve been using Project Gutenberg since the early 2000s, and have found some great books in there for research or fun (which admittedly are the same for me).

To get an idea of what Gutenberg has – it can be intimidating – take a look at what has been downloaded most in a day.

Next – Wikibooks! These are over 3500 open content textbooks available through the site. I’ll often head over there when I’m researching a topic. is exactly what it says, if you’re looking for online books related to many aspects of computing – I don’t use them too much, but I browse now and then.

Lastly for this post, I’ll point you at’s list of free audiobooks. I’m not someone who appreciated books in audio form too much (or podcasts for that matter), so I haven’t used them – but the list includes many genres. The science fiction genre popped out immediately for me.

Happy reading!

Finally: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

Yesterday, on an adventure that included accidentally finding the worst lamb gyro in Trinidad and Tobago, I found myself in a bookstore in a mall.

The selections are generally dismal in Trinidad for me, which is unfair since I have read much in my life and it’s hard to find things that appeal to me. Still, the name on that cover. Is it? Could it be?

I began thumbing through the pages when the clerk at the store asked me if I needed help, something that always boggles my mind, and I mentioned that I was wondering if this is the same woman who had cancer and whose cells continue to be used in research around the world.

To my surprise, the clerk said, “Yes, it is! One of our customers bought the book and when she came back she told me all about it!”. I was surprised that she knew. I’d been aware since Daniel J. Solove mentioned it in one of his books on Privacy, and this is a bit of a landmark.

More people should read Daniel J. Solove’s works on Privacy.

I have barely started the book, one that has been on my reading list for some time but I just never remembered to get in a world that comes at us so quickly. Keeping current on the world in many ways is important and impossible at the same time, and sometimes without the opportunity some things slip through the cracks. This was an opportunity.

The book is old by modern standards (2010; 13 years old) but Rebecca Skloot did a lot of ground research and took pains to quote people as they spoke to give us a window into the time period, which is before my own.

Henrietta Lacks even beyond her death continues to save lives – but she and her family never saw a penny (as far as I know right now). There is a lawsuit between her estate and Thermo Fischer Scientific Inc which I intend to follow up on as time permits.

Imagine someone publishing your grandparents DNA publicly. That seems like one of the more ultimate invasions of privacy.

It will be good to read the how in the when. Having barely made it into the book, I will say the author certainly has not stolen the time from this piece, which I think is an important thing for us to understand because without that, we can’t look at what’s happening now and understand some of the implications.