Category Archives: Technology

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Sales are declining, which is dire for the market, considering the product niche is new and should be going through its explosive growth phase.

As for me, I’m very happy with my Pebble Time watch. I don’t necessarily think of it as a smartwatch. I think of it as a $100 wristwatch with a built-in timer and alarm clock. It receives iPhone notifications and I can read  those notifications without pulling out my iPhone. The Pebble allows me to keep my phone in silent mode 24×7, reducing annoyance to myself and the people around me. The watch tells me the weather, and when I travel I can use it to check my itinerary more easily than pulling out my phone. So, yeah, I guess it’s a smartwatch.

My blogging experiment: How I think about what and where to post

I’ve been blogging at my own self-hosted WordPress blog for a few months. Before that, I did it on Google+, and before that various other platforms. I simultaneously post to Facebook, Tumblr, Medium, Twitter, and Google+. Here’s how I think about what to post:

Almost all of my blog posts are links to external content, with comments of my own. They’re short, sometimes just a sentence or two. Many of my blog posts are just an embedded tweet, image, YouTube video, or Tumblr post.

This kind of thing used to be called “tumble blogging.” There used to be several services for tumble blogging. Tumblr is the last man standing there.

Tumble blogging means posting a lot of fast, frictionless, off-the-cuff posts. Just say what’s on your mind, no matter how long or short the post might be.

In the past few years, I’ve seen people say they don’t think they can blog because they don’t have the energy to write long, organized, coherent articles. That makes my teeth hurt. Long, organized coherent essays are not required for blogging. Those essays are called “articles,” and they go on “magazines” or “news sites.” Blogging can include long, coherent, thoughtful essays, but it’s meant to be fast and off the cuff.

Personal blogging has mostly moved to Facebook nowadays. Which is great, because it brings people together and opens up blogging to people who would not otherwise do it. But it’s not entirely great because it gives Facebook far too much control of the situation. Remember a short time ago when Facebook employees suggested the company should block a Donald Trump Presidency? And remember when Facebook said nope nope nope we don’t do that. What happens next time if Facebook says yes? And they do it to a candidate or issue you like?

Facebook isn’t the only blogging platform, of course. It’s not the only social media platform either. But Facebook has the vast majority of users. Everybody else is by comparison a niche.

Earlier:

My blogging experiment: The history (which some of you already know about) and a status report

I’m blogging again. Blogging is cool.

 

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Twitter is opening account verification to everyone. I suppose I will apply eventually. But for now my snobbery and anti-snobbery are holding me back.

My snobbery is saying, “Now that it’s open to ANYONE, I certainly don’t want it!”

My anti-snobbery (which is really just another species of snobbery) is saying, “I don’t want to sit at the cool kids’ table. They’re all a bunch of jerks. It’s better to eat lunch here by the restrooms.”

And the practical part of me is saying I don’t see much value to that blue checkmark, and I have other things to do with my time than apply.

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Pokemon Go takes money out of local communities and centralizes it to big corporations, and that’s what’s wrong with late capitalism, says Timothy B. Lee at Vox:

If you were looking to have fun with some friends 50 years ago, you might have gone to a bowling alley. Maybe you would have hung out at a diner or gone to the movies.

These were all activities that involved spending a certain amount of money in the local economy. That created opportunities for adults in your town to start and run small businesses. It also meant that a teenager who wanted to find a summer job could find one waiting tables or taking tickets at the movie theater.

You can spend money on Pokémon Go too. But the economics of the game are very different. When you spend money on items in the Pokémon Go world, it doesn’t go into the pocket of a local Pokémon entrepreneur — it goes into the pockets of the huge California- and Japan-based global companies that created Pokémon Go.

There are, of course, some good things about this. Pokémon Go can be a much more affordable hobby than going to a bowling alley or the movies. In fact, you don’t have to spend any money on it. And the explosion of options made possible by online platforms creates real value — the average teenager has vastly more options for games to play, movies to watch, and so forth than at any time in American history.

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“WebMD partnership: Cough-activated feature reads aloud a random diagnosis for ‘coughing.'”

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Word processing has transformed the way writers work, a transition from typewriters to electronic writing that happened in a  few short years, starting in the mid-70s and ending by 1984 and 1985. The transition has been largely overlooked by literary historians, but now Matthew Kirschenbaum, an English professor at the University of Maryland, has written a history, “Track Changes” (great title!). He talked with Robinson Meyer at The Atlantic: How to Write a History of Writing Software

Writers of genre fiction — particularly science fiction — adopted word processors long before literary writers. That’s not necessarily because science fiction writers are technology focused (I’ve been surprised myself by how Luddite science fiction fans can be in their real-life use of technology), but because genre writers need to work fast, and turn out a lot of work at high volume.

Robinson writes:

[Kirschenbaum’s] new history joins a much larger body of scholarship about other modern writing technologies—specifically, typewriters. For instance, scholars confidently believe that the first book ever written with a typewriter was Life on the Mississippi,by Mark Twain. They have conducted typographical forensics to identify precisely how T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland was composed—which typewriters were used, and when. And they have collected certain important machines for their archives.

One day, a similarly expansive body of work may exist for writing software—and Kirschenbaum will be one of its first builders.

In the interview, Kirschenbaum addresses the question of which author was the first to write a novel with a word processor.

We can’t know with absolute certainty, I don’t think, but there are a couple of different answers.

If we think of a word processor or a computer as something close to what we understand today—essentially a typewriter connected to a TV set—there are a couple of contenders from the mid- to late-1970s. Notably Jerry Pournelle, who was a science fiction author. He is probably the first person to sit and compose at a “typewriter” connected to a “TV screen”—to compose there, to edit, and revise there, and then to send copy to his publisher. That was probably a novella called Spirals.

But there are earlier examples. Len Deighton, a highly successful author of British high-tech espionage thrillers, bought an early IBM word processor in the late 1960s. It wasn’t recognizably related to the word processors of today; the user typed on an IBM Selectric MS/ST typewriter that simultaneously recorded text on magnetic tape and conventional paper.

Kirschenbaum notes that secretaries, usually women, were the first to use word processors. Indeed, I remember that in the 1980s and well into the 1990s, successful men couldn’t type — typing was clerical, menial work, something that most men simply did not do. The transition to personal computers led to a brief bloom of typing classes — although the word “typing” had girl-cooties, so these classes were called “keyboarding,” or even “executive keyboarding.”

Me, I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a writer, and even in the late 70s it was obvious to many of us that personal computing was the future. I taught myself to touch-type when I was about 12 years old, and I took a typing class in high school to brush up on those skills, along with a few male friends who were also active in the computer club.

Back to Kirschenbaum: Even though the MS/ST lacked a screen, he calls it the first word processor because it stored the text electronically.

Your “screen” was the sheet of paper you had in your Selectric typewriter. You did your typing on the Selectric—which is the same typewriter, for example, we see in Mad Men; it’s a famous ’60s-era electric typewriter—and if you made mistakes, you would backspace. You would get a mess on the sheet of paper that was currently on the Selectric, but the correct sequence of character strokes was being stored on the tape. Then you would put a clean sheet of paper into the typewriter and it would automatically print out, sort of player-piano fashion, the text stored on the tape’s storage.

This unit sold in the 1960s for $10,000. That’s obviously quite a lot of money, and IBM used the term word processing as a marketing device.

Deighton wrote on a conventional Selectric, then handed the typescript to his secretary, Ellenor Handey, to retype it using the MS/ST. Therefore, I call shenanigans on Kirschenbaum’s classifying Deighton as the first author to use a word processor, simply because he wasn’t the one using the MS/ST. Still, it’s an interesting anecdote — Deighton was on the edge between non-word-processor users and word-processor users.

And importantly, Kirschenbaum says the essential thing about the word processor isn’t the screen, it’s the fluid, electronic nature of the text.

Microsoft Word is still the gold standard for writing software; even people who write primarily for the Internet — including most of the technology journalists I know — use Word. That absolutely flummoxes me. Even today, Word  seems to me to be software designed primarily to produce printed hardcopy, often ornately formatted in ways that writers don’t care about. It’s not designed for articles, blog posts, or books; it’s designed for corporate annual reports.

Until recently, I preferred to write in text editors designed by and for software developers. Now, there’s a new generation of word processing software developed primarily for people who write electronically; Ulysses for Mac is one of those apps, which is the one I use. Scrivener is a more well-known example.

A lot of writing today gets done in email applications and web browsers — specifically the text entry box of Facebook, Twitter, etc. I’m writing this post in the composition window of WordPress. I’m writing on a plane (Kirschenbaum discusses how word processors have changed WHERE we write, as well as how), and I don’t currently have an Internet connection. I really, really hope I don’t lose my work, but WordPress is pretty good about that.

And of course, writing on mobile phones is hugely popular. Maybe the people who are toddlers today will never learn to keyboard; they’ll just thumb-type.

Kirschenbaum also talks about writers he calls “refuseniks,” who were adults in the 70s and 80s and who refused to use word processors. Harlan Ellison is possibly the most outspoken example, still pounding away at a typewriter. Cormac McCarthy is another example.

Another example, not mentioned by Kirschenbaum in this interview: Our friend the science fiction writer Joe Haldeman, author of “The Forever War” and a couple of dozen other, excellent novels. Joe is no refusenik; last time I talked tech with him he was a user of a Mac, iPad, and iPhone. But he likes writing his first drafts in fountain pen on bound, blank books. He says he just writes better that way.

I’ve added Kirschenbaum’s book to my Amazon Wishlist. And, hey, there’s another idea for a book: How digital technology changes the way we read. When I was a teen-ager back in the 70s, I could easily read two or three books every week. Now, I read a half-dozen books a year, if that. I have to make a conscious effort to set aside some time every day to read books. Most of my reading time is taken up reading articles.

 

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Matt Novak reports on Gizmodo about the awful plague:

Pokemon Go is the hottest game to hit the market in forever. People are currently trying to catch their Pikachus and Fitzybutts (honestly, I don’t know what they’re called) but they’re paying the price. And by paying the price, I mean they’re accidentally getting some exercise.

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Use of police robot to kill Dallas shooting suspect believed to be first in US history:

[Elizabeth Joh, law professor at the University of California, Davis] said she was worried that the decision by police to use robots to end lives had been arrived at far too casually. “Lethally armed police robots raise all sorts of new legal, ethical, and technical questions we haven’t decided upon in any systematic way,” she said. “Under federal constitutional law, excessive-force claims against the police are governed by the fourth amendment. But we typically examine deadly force by the police in terms of an immediate threat to the officer or others. It’s not clear how we should apply that if the threat is to a robot – and the police may be far away.” That, Joh added, is only one condition for the use of lethal force. “In other words, I don’t think we have a framework for deciding objectively reasonable robotic force. And we need to develop regulations and policies now, because this surely won’t be the last instance we see police robots.”

How is this situation ethically or legally different from taking out a criminal with a sniper?

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There’s potential prison time for every millennial who shares his Netflix password and employee who asks a coworker to log in to his email. You can thank the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, passed before the Web was even a thing.

Brian Feldman reports for New York Magazine:

Punishment under the CFAA can be severe. Threatened with the prospect of years in jail for downloading millions of articles from JSTOR, the nonprofit digital library, cyberactivist Aaron Swartz committed suicide in 2013. This past spring, journalist Matthew Keys was sentenced to two years in prison for providing his Tribune Media log-in credentials to vandals who changed a Los Angeles Times headline for less than an hour.

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Iain Morris reports on Light Reading:

The never-ending saga of net neutrality has taken a fresh twist with news that a number of Europe’s biggest telcos have essentially threatened to withhold investment in new 5G networks unless rules are relaxed.

In a “manifesto” issued Thursday, major communications service providers including BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), Deutsche Telekom AG(NYSE: DT), Orange (NYSE: FTE), Telecom Italia SpA (NYSE: TI), Telefónicaand Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) promised to launch a 5G network in a minimum of one major city per European Union (EU) country by 2020 and then invest further, but only if they get the net neutrality assurances they demand.

The manifesto was endorsed by 17 companies in total, including equipment vendors Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK).

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Google says Annette Hurst, who represents Oracle, was out of line disclosing that Google pays $1 billion to Apple to get Google search on the iPhone.