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Data Doctors Advice Columns

Computer Advice and Answers to Reader Questions


Can you help me understand all the numbers on SD camera cards?

Thu, 15 Feb 2018 00:00:00 +0700

(image) Today’s memory cards are a confusing batch of geek speak, but once you understand some of the basics, it might make it easier to digest.

Physical Size

Most of today’s devices use either SD or microSD cards, which you can determine by looking at the card slot on your camera.

Storage Capacity

The easiest specification to digest is the storage capacity, which is represented in gigabytes (GB). It’s easy to assume that the bigger the number, the better – in reality, this is not necessarily the case.

Not only can it be cheaper to use multiple smaller cards, you won’t live and die with just one card because they do degrade, get lost or experience data corruption.


A memory card’s capacity is determined by the file system being used to store data designated by the type of card.

SD (Secure Digital) cards are the oldest, least used and limited to 2GB of storage.

SDHC (High Capacity) cards can store up to 32 GB of data, while SDXC (eXtended Capacity) cards can store up to 2 Terabytes (2000 GB).

Older devices may not be able to use the SDXC format, so make sure your device does support these larger cards before buying one.

Rated Speed

This is where things can get a bit confusing, as there can be various designations referring to the card’s speed. It’s represented in MB/s (megabytes per second) or a large number followed by an ‘x’ or sometimes both.

The ‘x’ designation is a marketing term - 1x represents 150 kb/s, so 600x is the same as a 90 MB/s rating (600 x 150 = 90,000). This number typically represent the ‘read’ speed, which is generally higher than the ‘write’ speed.

Speed Class

This specification is represented on the card as a number inside of the letter ‘C‘ to represent the minimum write speed and is most important to those shooting video or very large images in succession (burst mode).

There are four classes: 2, 4, 6 and 10 which represents the minimum sustained megabytes per second (MB/s) write speed – the higher the number, the faster the sustained speed.

UHS Speed Class

Faster SDXC memory cards will have the UHS or Ultra High Speed rating represented by a number inside the letter ‘U’. U1 means it’s 10 MB/s while U3 means it’s rated at 30 MB/s.

UHS Bus Class

Different from the UHS Speed Class, this rating refers to the ‘bus interface’ and is represented by a roman numeral. Think of the ‘bus interface’ as the number of lanes on a freeway vs the UHS Speed Class, which represents the speed of individual cars.

Video Speed Class

If you’re trying to shoot extremely high-resolution video (4 or 8K), this class of cards designated by the letter V and a number that ranges from 6 to 90 offers the fastest sustained write speeds (

Overkill vs Future Proofing

If you have older equipment that you plan on upgrading soon, getting a faster card then you currently need may make sense, otherwise don’t spend more money then you need to as there’s no performance benefit.

To help you figure out what you actually need, checkout SanDisk’s web tool:  Once you figure out the specs for your desired card, you can easily comparison shop around the Internet.

What filter are you using on the pictures you've recently posted on Instagram?

Thu, 8 Feb 2018 00:00:00 +0700

(image) I’ve been road testing a Verizon Google Pixel 2 XL ( which has some pretty spectacular lens and camera technology built-in.

Features such as the automatic HDR+ and HDR+ enhanced help with images that have various levels of light, while the portrait mode creates images where your subject is in focus while the background is slightly blurred – like DSLRs can take.

One of the options that makes it simple to create some very interesting images like the one of my dog ( and the one with the group toast ( is the ‘Pop’ filter.

This effect is a preset combination of light, contrast, highlights, shadows and other settings that are available separately in the camera that instantly creates some ‘pop’. 

What’s Already There

If you’re not interested in getting a new phone, I’d suggest making sure that you’ve explored all the built-in features you may already have.  I commonly find that most smartphone users use a small fraction of the photo options that their phone offers.

You can find lots of information on your phone’s camera features by doing a search for ‘best camera features of xxx’.

Suggested Apps

If you’re looking for a lot of control both while you are taking the picture and after you take it, checkout the free Adobe Lightroom CC App in your app store.

Taking a better picture to begin with, improves your chances of better results with any of the filters or adjustments afterwards. If you use the app as your camera, you will have three modes to choose from: Automatic, Professional and HDR.

In Automatic mode, the majority of the settings are decided automatically by the app, but you can slide your finger across the screen to adjust the exposure setting before you take the picture.

In Professional mode, you’ll get a variety of manually adjustable settings like shutter speed, ISO and white balance before you snap your picture.

HDR (High Dynamic Range) mode is best used when there are significant differences in bright and dark areas in your shot, like the sun setting behind your subject.

The number of options for adjusting your image, whether it was taken through the Lightroom app or is already on your camera roll are impressive. While there are a large number of presets from 4 different categories, learning how to use the various manual options in the Light, Color and Effects menus will give you a lot more control over the final image.

If you want to add the blurred background effect, checkout the After Focus app (iPhone or Android -

If you shoot a lot of outdoor images in bright light, one of the best apps I’ve used is from EyeApps called Pro HDR (Android - and Pro HDR X (iPhone -

If you’re ready take on a really powerful tool, checkout Google’s Snapseed (Android or iPhone), which will come the closest to recreating the ‘pop’ effect that I referred to earlier.

Is the NUC an adequate desktop replacement computer?

Thu, 1 Feb 2018 00:00:00 +0700

(image) Intel’s Next Unit of Computing (NUC) was originally developed in 2013 as an alternative to netbooks and other small computing devices that mostly lacked in capability.

At its core, it’s a development platform that allows anyone to customize how it’s used or available as a traditional PC running Windows 10.  Its small size and portability even have some referring to it as a ‘laptop alternative’.

Intel saw a need for a more powerful computing device that could be used in situations where a small form-factor was important, such as digital signage, point-of-sale terminals, ATMs, etc.

Most of the focus in the early days was on business uses, but the NUC is now in its 8th generation of development and has proven to be a very powerful computing device for businesses and consumers.

Small Size, Big Performance

Measuring in at roughly 4”x4”, the various NUC models are fully-capable computers that can do just about everything the average PC user could ever need to do.

Traditionally, computing devices that were focused on reducing the footprint were very limited in expansion options, which limited their usefulness.

The NUC is small enough and light enough (@ 2lbs) that it can be mounted on the back of a display screen, which is why it works so well in the digital signage world.

This small size also makes it the perfect home theater PC or for use in an RV as a portable computing device that can plug into just about any TV.

Standard Features

If you’re going to purchase a pre-built system, a base model is likely going to come with Windows 10, 8GBs of RAM and a speedy Solid State Drive (SSD) ranging from 250 to 500 GBs and start around $800, so the small size does not mean it’s cheaper than larger computers.

Wired (Ethernet), Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity are also standard features on most upper-line models.


Because the NUC can be used for so many different things, it comes in a variety of processor options, but if you plan on using it as your primary PC, I’d recommend sticking to an i3, i5 or i7 based model (lower cost units use Intel’s older Pentium or Celeron processors).

If you plan on doing more processor intensive tasks, such as photo or video editing or PC gaming, going with an i7-based model would be best.  If you primarily use it as an Internet terminal, an i3 or i5-based unit will work just fine.

Many models come standard with dual-display capabilities and you can add up to 32 GB of RAM. Their are a variety of external accessories ranging from powerful video cards that allow you to connect three or more displays, DVD drives and backup drives.

What’s Not Included

The NUC is just the computing device, so you’ll need to add a display and a USB or wireless mouse and keyboard, which you probably already have.

There are so many options for setting up a NUC, that it can get confusing for the non-enthusiast crowd, but many companies can help you wade through the maze on these awesome little computers! 

I'm hearing conflicting stories on processor firmware updates; should I try doing it now or wait?

Thu, 25 Jan 2018 00:00:00 +0700

(image) The Meltdown/Spectre processor flaws have created a considerable mess for the tech industry with most companies scrambling to push out updates and patches.

This ‘rush to fix’ has created a variety of issues ranging from Blue Screen errors to random rebooting problems.

Not Yet Available

In our review of machines that we have in for service across our stores, the vast majority of them have no patch available with some that have pending publication dates in the near future.

At this point in time, it appears the attempts to fix the flaw is causing more headaches then it’s worth, especially in light of the fact that no known exploits ‘in the wild’ have been discovered as of yet

Most Recent Recommendations

Intel recently published the following based on the various problems that have been reported:

We recommend that OEMs, cloud service providers, system manufacturers, software vendors and end users stop deployment of current versions, as they may introduce higher than expected reboots and other unpredictable system behavior. (

HP and Dell followed suit by pulling updates from their websites and advised their customers not to deploy the update if they have already downloaded it.

This seems to underscore the general opinion across the tech industry: at this point, it’s safer to go with your processor unpatched than it is to risk installing a rushed firmware update that hasn’t gone through the normal testing cycles.

Businesses should be especially careful about how and when they choose to attempt to patch their hardware, as the resulting fallout could be disruptive.  Selectively testing on non-essential systems is highly recommended.

The Road to Recovery

Part of the challenge both the industry and end-users face is that it’s not clear who’s responsible for creating and distributing the firmware updates.

In some cases, you can go directly to Intel’s resources ( as long as you know exactly what type of motherboard/CPU combination you’re using.

In other cases, you’ll have to go to the support website for the specific manufacturer of your computer keeping in mind that this flaw is not limited to only Intel’s processors.

Older systems may never get a patch while many with obscure systems could be waiting for months or even a year before they’ll see an update.

In the Meantime

The best thing you can do right now is figure out who will be responsible for providing a firmware update for your computer(s)  so you can monitor that resource or sign up for an alert if they offer it.

You should also make sure you have the latest updates for your browsers and operating systems on all your devices as all three will need to be patched in order to be protected.

Windows Performance Issues

Microsoft says older Windows systems like 7 or 8 will most likely suffer a noticeable decrease in system performance after the update: “Older versions of Windows have a larger performance impact because Windows 7 and Windows 8 have more user-kernel transitions because of legacy design decisions, such as all font rendering taking place in the kernel.”

Microsoft is recommending users upgrade to Windows 10 to reduce the performance degradation.

My computer is locked up with the dreaded Blue Screen Of Death after it installed a Windows 10 update, so what do I do to get my computer running again?

Wed, 17 Jan 2018 00:00:00 +0700

(image) This scenario, also known as the ‘BSOD’ is among the most frustrating and potentially complicated issues that a Windows user can ever face and even for seasoned technical experts, it can be very time consuming to resolve.

When you experience a BSOD, it’s essentially Windows telling you that it’s detected a serious problem that makes using the operating system too unstable, which is why you get stopped in your tracks until it’s resolved.

BSOD Causes

The causes for a BSOD are extremely numerous and can range from a faulty hardware component such as RAM or hard drive to driver conflicts in older programs to major corruption to the OS from malware among dozens of other possibilities.

One of the reasons that resolving BSOD issues can be so complicated is that just about every computer on the planet has a unique combination of hardware, software and program settings that comes into play.

Generally speaking, you should see some type of stop code that helps narrow down the problem as Microsoft has over 350 stop codes that could come up on either a blue or black error screen.

The complete list of Microsoft’s stop codes can be found at:

Troubleshooting Options

Microsoft attempts to help users with an interactive troubleshooting guide (, but if things are really a mess, their generalized suggestions may get you nowhere.

If you can decipher the meaning of the stop code through Microsoft’s list, you may be able to find a path for troubleshooting, but in some cases, the stop code is pointing at the results not necessarily the cause.

You can also try doing an Internet search for your specific stop code as many thousands of resources exist for this all-to-common problem.

Widespread Increase

We’ve seen a significant uptick in the number of computers being brought to us stuck in a BSOD loop and we suspect that in Microsoft’s rush to patch the recent Meltdown and Spectre flaws, their normal process of testing the update was compressed.

They’re also now pushing out the Fall Creators Update to all machines on a staggered basis automatically.

We do know that if your anti-virus program has not confirmed that it’s compatible with the January 3rd ‘flaw’ update or if your computer has one of the AMD processors that has a known issue, Microsoft won’t offer you the update.

If you don’t see the update being available, you should not try to manually install any updates as that could certainly lead to a nightmare BSOD situation.

Preventative Measures

Since we know that both the flaw patch update and the Fall Creators Update are being automatically installed, the possibility for anyone to experience this problem goes up.

With this in mind, if you haven’t performed a complete backup recently, now is the time to do it as in some severe BSOD cases, reloading everything from scratch is the only reliable solution.

You’d be wise to gather all your software product keys as well in the event reinstallation is necessary, which can be done with the Belarc Advisor:

What do I need to do to protect my computer from the microprocessor flaws?

Thu, 11 Jan 2018 00:00:00 +0700

(image) The Meltdown and Spectre processor security flaws, which many are calling the worst processor bug ever, should be of concern for all computer users.

Virtually every computer made since 1995 is considered to be vulnerable because of what has come to light as a design flaw in the way processors work.

Tech companies are scrambling to patch this serious hole, with lots of issues of who needs to do what first creating lots of confusion.

There  are three main things that need to be updated in order to ensure you are protected: operating system, browsers and BIOS/Firmware

Operating System Updates

In most cases, operating system updates are pretty straightforward and often times automatic for Windows users, but not in this case.

The available Windows update that patches the OS hole will only install properly if your anti-virus provider has created a provision in their protection that allows this critical update to install.

Without this ‘registry key’ in place, users that try to install the update can experience system problems including the dreaded Blue Screen Of Death (BSOD).

Making sure your anti-virus program has updated your system is a critical first step (check the support website for your program). The full technical explanation from Microsoft is available here:

Apple users need to update their computers, mobile devices and even Apple TVs with MacOS 10.13.2, iOS 11.2 and tvOS 11.2 respectively.

Android users need to check their devices regularly to see if there is an available update as there is no one update for all Android-based phones.


Every browser you use on every device needs be updated to the latest version, but this is the easiest and most straightforward process of the three. All of the major browsers have already created updates to patch this flaw, so there is nothing to wait for here.

BIOS/Firmware Updates

This is by far the most complicated and least clarified part of the update.  Intel announced that they plan to have firmware updates for 90% of processors made in the past 5 years by Jan 13th and older processors by the end of the month.

Think of firmware as a software update with operating instructions for a piece of hardware.

What makes this layer of protection so complicated is that figuring out where to get the patch depends on who made your computer’s motherboard and installing it requires some technical knowledge.  It’s also a bit risky because if something unexpected happens, like a power outage, you can render your computer’s motherboard useless.

Intel has published a detection tool for Windows and Linux users that can help you determine if you are vulnerable to these flaws at: but it won’t necessarily tell you exactly where you’ll need to go to get the update.

We’re also not clear at this point on what AMD or Mac users should do as it pertains to firmware updates, so we’re monitoring press releases to see if clarity comes soon.

As this is a dynamic situation with lots of unanswered questions, we’re compiling the information and will be emailing anyone that wants our suggestions once all of the updates have been clearly articulated:

What's to be expected at this year's CES?

Thu, 4 Jan 2018 00:00:00 +0700

(image) CES – the show formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show – is set to kickoff on January 9th with various sneak peek events in the days before.

The days of the significant ‘revolutionary’ product launches are long gone as many of the large tech firms like Apple, Samsung, Microsoft and Google have their own launch events separate from CES.

As has been the case for many years, we can expect a lot of ‘evolution’ in familiar product categories along with lots of quirky products that seem to be ‘solutions searching for a problem’.

Automotive Tech

The race for the truly autonomous car has been heating up and we can expect to see just about every major car manufacturer showing off where they are in their development.

Driver assist technology that automatically parks, brakes, warns you when you’re drifting as well as accident avoidance tech is already commonplace in many new cars and is the gateway to the fully autonomous car so we’ll see how close the line has become.

One interesting new twist will come from the partnership of Aptiv and Lyft which will provide a self-driving taxi service to 20 pre-programmed locations around Las Vegas.

The city of Las Vegas is also scheduled to have a fleet of self-driving shuttles taking to the streets, so many of us will get our first real taste of the driverless experience in the real world.

Health Tech

A large section of one of the buildings will is devoted to health related technology that should take general tracking from devices like the Fitbit to wearables that address specific health issues that will come in the form of clothing, jewelry and other commonly worn items.

TVs and Entertainment Tech

As most consumers have yet to catch up to TV technology introduced years ago, we can expect incremental improvements in resolution on thinner displays that do more than just display video.

With the increase in switching from traditional cable/satellite to streaming services for watching content, expect more companies to include streaming capabilities in the TV along with more affordable 8K and HDR using both OLED and QLED displays.

Smart Home

Amazon’s Alexa dominated the show last year, despite not being an exhibitor, because of their integration deals with everything from car manufacturers to home security and smart home devices from a wide variety of companies.

Expect to see the Google Assistant make a push to narrow the gap, which means you’ll see lots of devices that you can control with your voice, whether it makes sense or not.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning will make an appearance in various smart home platforms so cameras can distinguish between your family and a stranger and various devices can interact with each other to make better decisions about how and when they should turn on or off.

Other Tech

We should see a little more clarity on what 5G cellular service might look like in 2019 and I’m expecting to see improvements on wireless charging, quirky robots, new ways to use Virtual and Augmented Reality, electric cars, personal care gadgets like smart mirrors and small powerful computers with unique form factors.

What can I do if my iPhone 6 is getting really slow because of the update?

Thu, 28 Dec 2017 00:00:00 +0700

(image) The recent admission from Apple that they have been intentionally slowing down older iPhones since the release of iOS 10.2.1 in January of 2017 has many users upset.

Conspiracy theories have been floating around for years claiming that Apple intentionally makes older iPhones slower to encourage people to upgrade to a newer model, but this wasn’t what they admitted to doing.

The iOS update that started slowing older devices down was in response to an issue users were having with phones that would suddenly shut down.

Apple determined phones with weaker batteries were incapable of operating properly under a full load, which was causing them to suddenly shut down.

The 10.2.1 update was designed to examine the condition of the battery on iPhone 6 or older and when it detected an aging battery, it slowed the processing down to prevent the battery from becoming overloaded and shutting down.

With the release of iOS 11.2, users of iPhone 7 models with aging batteries will be subject to this same slow.

An aging battery turns out to be one of the most common causes of a slow iPhone, so I’d start there.

How Many Charging Cycles?

All Lithium Ion batteries suffer from loss of capacity as the number of charging cycles increase. Apple estimates that after 500 charging cycles, your battery can lose up to 20% of its capacity.

A charging cycle is considered a complete discharge and recharge of the battery equivalent to 100% of the batteries capacity, even if it’s done over several charging sessions.  For instance, if you recharge your battery when it’s at 50% twice, that equals one charge cycle.

There is nothing built-in to your iPhone that allows you to see the number of charging cycles, but knowing what the number is can be very helpful.

If you have a Mac-based computer, you can install an excellent free program called coconutBattery ( that not only provides excellent info on your iPhone battery, it can do the same for your MacBook battery.

The ‘Loadcycles’ reading tells you how many charge cycles have been performed while the ‘Design capacity’ reading is an indication of the percentage of the original capacity left in your battery.

If you have a Windows-based computer, you can use a program called iMazing ( to check your iPhone’s battery details.

Free Battery Replacements

If you have an iPhone 6s that was manufactured between September and October of 2015, you may be eligible for a free battery replacement.

Apple has created a web resource ( that allows you to check your iPhone 6s by entering the serial number of your device. To find your device serial number, go to Settings > General > About.

Battery Replacement Options

If your iPhone is covered by AppleCare+, Apple will replace your battery at no charge when it falls below 80% capacity.

If you’re not sure if you have coverage, you can check here:

If it’s not covered, Apple usually charges $79 to replace it, but recently announced that it will be offering $29 battery replacements for iPhone 6 or later in the near future:

Which DNA test is better, 23andMe or Ancestry DNA?

Wed, 20 Dec 2017 00:00:00 +0700

(image) The popularity of genealogical DNA testing is growing and there are a variety of reasons that so many people are interested making use of them.

What Do You Want To Know?

Starting with this question is the best way to evaluate the various tests available because they all have their own proprietary datasets they provide in their analysis.

There are many companies other than the two that you’re asking about, but these two are the most popular services and I recently used both myself to see the differences.


23andMe offers two types of tests: ancestry only or ancestry + health related reports.

If you’re interested in learning about genetic variants that you have that may increase your risk of developing certain health conditions, then paying for the extra health report may make sense.

In my case, I had extensive knowledge of the health issues on my maternal side, but very little on my paternal side, so I opted for the additional health information.

What I got back was information on 7 different health conditions: Macular Degeneration, Late-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s disease, AAT Deficiency (lung and liver disease), Celiac Disease, Hereditary Hemochromatosis (iron related) and Hereditary Thrombophilia (blood Clots).

The report included information on whether variants were detected and whether or not there is an increased risk if they were.  They are quick to point out that this is far from a medical diagnoses and that your lifestyle, environment and family history have as much to do with your specific risk whether variants were detected or not.

They also supplied a ‘Carrier Status Report’, which looks for variants that may not affect your health, but could affect the health of your future family members.

In all, I received 84 reports that included ancestry, carrier status, genetic health risks, traits and wellness.

Ancestry DNA

The Ancestry DNA test was much cheaper, because it didn’t include the health reporting. Anyone specifically interested in extensively researching his or her family tree will find Ancestry’s DNA test very helpful.

Because of Ancestry’s extensive database of family trees combined with genetic matching, they were able to provide much more detail about the paternal side of my DNA.

23andMe generally pointed to my paternal DNA being Northwestern European, with the highest likely hood to be British or Irish, but Ancestry was able to link my shared DNA to a specific region in Ireland that gave me a much better sense of place.

They also provided information that it was likely my ancestors migrating to the Ohio River Valley or other mid-west states during the 1700s, again based on DNA matches in the area.

If you’re trying to connect your family tree to others that have taken the test, you can find users in the database that are likely 2nd, 3rd and 4th cousins and if they have started their own family tree.

Privacy Concerns

There have been many privacy advocates voicing their concerns about DNA testing, including the Federal Trade Commission ( No one knows how DNA samples will be used in the future, so make sure you understand what you’re giving up in order to get your test results.

What should we expect now that Net Neutrality is dead?

Thu, 14 Dec 2017 00:00:00 +0700

(image) It’s a little premature to proclaim Net Neutrality ‘dead’ as many parties are likely to challenge the overturning of this 2015 ruling, including the New York State Attorney General, Common Cause, Free Press and others.

Party Politics 

This very important issue is as much about party politics as it is about regulating the Internet and as expected, the 3-2 vote went right along party lines.  

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that any regulation put in place by the previous administration has a bulls-eye on it from the current administration, not to mention the general Republican stance of less regulation is better.

Like many other complex technology issues, this is far from black and white, so stepping away from party politics is helpful in truly understanding things.

The Title II Repeal

At the root of this action was a change made in 2015 being repealed that classified Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as “common carriers”, that included a specific provision limiting ISPs ability to block, or throttle websites and apps or offer paid prioritization of specific Internet content.

Is the Internet Really Neutral?

Prior to the 2015 reclassification, the Internet was actually free to engage in many of the practices that are feared if this classification change holds up.

Anyone that’s ever loved AOL was actually embracing the world that everyone now fears.  AOL decided what you saw when you signed in and presented you with content that loaded quicker from their ‘partners’ instead of sending you off to the actual world wide web –we always referred to AOL as ‘Almost On Line’.

One of the many concerns is that ISPs will get to choose winners and losers by creating partnerships with large content providers, but that's already happening. 

T-Mobile was one of the first wireless carriers to allow unlimited streaming of video and music from specific partners, like YouTube, Netflix, Pandora and Spotify without it impacting their data plan.

Is this good for consumers or is this an ISP picking winners and losers?  How can a small, unknown music service startup that can’t afford to partner with a wireless carrier stand a chance?

With the growth of streaming video and our collective lack of patience for anything that constantly ‘buffers’, it’s easy to understand the concerns about the future, but even with Title II, priority access already exists.

Internet giants like Netflix, Google and Amazon have had special deals in place with large ISPs to ensure users can get to their online properties quickly that no startup could ever afford.

The Past and Future

Repeal advocates point to the pre-2015 Internet to say that we did just fine without the restrictions under Title II, while pundits proclaim it’s “the end of the Internet as we know it” - both sides are overstating their positions.

Since most large ISPs are now in the content business, much of what happened in the past doesn’t reflect concerns about how they’ll act in the future, but proclaiming “the Internet is dead” isn’t helpful either – stay tuned!