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Online reviews can get people in trouble. In a case reported by The Washington Post, an angry bride and groom accused a wedding photographer of being a con artist for holding their photos “hostage” until they selected a cover photo and paid $125 to complete the album.

After the “scammer” reviews went viral online, the photographer went to court, saying her business had been ruined. She 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, or you could be facing a libel lawsuit.

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.


In September, Joy invested in bitcoin, the virtual currency. It’s had its ups and downs, and once, in the middle of the night, she came close to selling all. Bob persuaded 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.

Bitcoin and other virtual currencies are built on block-chains, which involve 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 can do more 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 it contains.

Here are some examples of how the blockchain is being used today, one frivolous, three 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 CryptoKitty 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 dentists’ interest to focus on prevention, since, just like insurance companies, they do better if they limit costs. There are 13 clinics currently using Dentacoin.


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, Minn., 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 9-year-old boy, but for $8 on Amazon we could buy another one. If you put your smartphone inside the boxlike 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. 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 calls to places like a hair salon and a restaurant. The people on the other end will 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 absolute monarchy, you can’t vote.

Bob and Joy Schwabach can be reached by email at bobschwa@ and


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