Google, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?

userpic=socialmediaIf you ever wonder how I find all my news chum, I’ll tell you: there are three primary sources. First, I skim online news sites as a palate cleanser when switching tasks or when my brain needs a little clearing. Second, I have a large collection of RSS feeds that I monitor. Lastly, some of the people and sites I read (such as Andrew Ducker and Mental Floss) often posts lists of interesting links.

For years, to monitor the RSS Feeds, I’ve been using Google Reader. I moved to reader after Bloglines changed ownership; I moved more RSS feeds over as Livejournal declined (I used the syndication feature in LJ). Alas, yesterday, Google announced their intention to abandon me and leave me out in the cold, as they are closing Google Reader on July 1, 2013. They blame declining readership; however, the general concensus is that (a) they want to push Google+, and (b) they couldn’t sell ads on Google Reader. The closure is big news and is affecting a lot of people — it’s even made the LA Times! There are even some who believe this is Google’s attempt to kill off RSS.

So I’m looking into alternatives (see also this article). Although I guess I could move back to Bloglines, I don’t recall liking their new interface enough to do so.* Currently, I’ve switched over to netvibes, because they were responsive enough last night to move stuff over. They were a bit of a pain: they liked to create an initial dashboard with loads of stuff in it I had to delete; I also needed to go through the Google Reader Takeout process to get a zip of your feed info, extract the subscriptions.xml from the resulting zip, and import that into Netvibes. I looked into Newsblur, but their site was so hammered last night I couldn’t import anything. I’ll try them again if I end up not liking netvibes. Other sites mentioned that I haven’t tried are Feedly, and The Old Reader. There are also local clients, but I wanted a reader where I could see the same reading list from multiple machines; additionally, many of the local readers coordinate with Google Reader.
[* ETA: It turns out Bloglines still exists… but is using Netvibes under the hood, with the same login and a different dashboard.]

Still, Google, this Spring Cleaning has gotten ridiculous. You keep abandoning things people use, just because you cannot monetize them. This makes people distrust cloud applications. What’s next? Google Calendar? I used to think Google was a force for good, but their behavior of late is making me realize that they are just like other companies.

Music: Girl Crazy (1990 Studio Cast): “Overture”


Interesting Uses of Technology

userpic=cyborgAs indicated in my previous post, staring at the collected links while eating my lunch identified two distinct themes. One was entertainment. The other (which is the subject of this post)  has to do with some interesting uses of technology:

  • Rack Em Stack Em. Parking your car can be a pain. If you are in a structure, you need to hunt for a space or pay an outrageous fee to a valet. Further, there is lots of wasted space in a parking structure to handle all those ramps. What if you could do away with that? Enter AutoParkit executive Christopher Alan. He has a plan for a fully automated valet parking structure: You pull into a garage. There, a television screen shows you pulling in and directs you into a loading bay. Once you are in the proper position it instructs you to shut off and exit your car. You then walk over to a HID (Human Interface Device) card reader where you “check in” electronically and answer questions like “did you leave a pet in the car?” or “did you close your doors?” Then you’re done. The system will go ahead and scan the loading bay to make sure you did not leave anyone in the car or leave any doors open. It will also turn you car 180 degrees so that when you retrieve your car you never have to reverse. The loading bar will park your car in a stall that no one has access to. When you are ready to leave, there is a little HID reader outside your complex or on your iPhone, so while you are waiting for the elevator it is retrieving your car. By the time you get down from the elevator your car is either there or almost there with no more than a 10 second wait. Cool.
  • Automated Tech Support. When you hear about automated tech support, you think endless phone menus that drive you crazy. Facebook has taken automated tech support for their employees in a different direction. Facebook has implemented a series of custom-made vending machines that dispense computer accessories instead of snacks and sodas. If a Facebook engineer spills coffee on their keyboard (a common mishap) they head to a nearby vending machine instead of hitting up their IT guy or just grabbing a replacement from a nearby cabinet. They swipe their badge, key in their selection and voila—a brand new keyboard drops down for them to take. This new system reduced the cost of managing replacement accessories by about 35%. While products found in the vending machines are free, items are clearly marked with price tags so employees can see the retail value of each accessory they take. The new vending machines also require all employees to swipe their badge before making a selection. That means each and every power cord, keyboard and screen wipe they take can be traced back to their name, ensuring that the system won’t be abused (at least not as much as the previous cabinet system was).
  • Starting Your Car. According to AAA, the car key will soon disappear… as will the electronic car fob… to be replaced by the smartphone. The auto club said Chevrolet and Nissan already have special mobile apps that can be used to monitor and control car functions. They anticipate more manufacturers will be moving to this model. I see many problems with this, but they potentially could be overcome. Of course, the biggest issue is — how do you handle valet parking?

One last tangentially related technological problem… Death. The question here is not how one uses technology to prevent death, but what do you do with social media accounts after someone dies. In Nevada, there’s a debate going on regarding the very subject. Legislators in Carson City have introduced a bill to give next of kin access to the deceased social media accounts, allowing the accounts to be shut down or remain functioning based on what the family wants. This way, people needn’t be reminded of dead friend’s birthdays, have them suggested for friending, or other equally creepy things. It also allows access to photo albums — increasingly important in this digital photo age.

Music: Sammy Davis Jr. Greatest Hits Volume 2 (Sammy Davis Jr.): “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone”


Impacts of Technology: Movies, Radio, Lectures, and Powerstrips

userpic=frebergEarlier this week, I wrote about the negative impacts of the Internet on society. Today’s news chum deals with a similar subject: the impacts of the Internet and technologies on industry and academia:



Digital Impacts

userpic=moviesMovies were movies when you paid a dime to escape… and when you paid that dime, the movie was presented in a traditional way: a very bright light was shone through a film print of the movie provided by the distributor, and projected onto the “silver screen” (which actually was a little silver so as to reflect more light). Nowadays, we pay two orders of magnitude more (approx $10) to see a digital projection of the movie, which is delivered on a DRM-protected hard disk. Hollywood is expected to stop distributing traditional 35-millimeter film prints to all U.S. theaters later in 2013. Conversion costs to the new system are expensive, on the order of $70,000 or more per screen. These costs are impacting different types of theatres in many ways. Today’s lunchtime news chum looks at just a few of the impacts:

  • Drive In Theatres. Whereas most chain multiplexes have converted to digital with support of the studios, one segment that hasn’t is the drive-in theatre. These theatres typically bring in less revenue per admission, and haven’t been supported by the film industry in their conversion. As a result, it looks like many drive-ins will close rather than convert. According to an industry trade group, 90% of drive-ins have not converted. At the peak of the drive-in, there were more than 4,000 drive-ins, accounting for 25% of the nation’s movie screens. Today, that’s down to 1.5%. Successful drive-ins survive on cost-conscious families who can see double features or first-run movies at half the price of the hardtops.  Drive-ins also have unique needs. The booth typically sits more than a football field away from the screen, so the projector needs a much more powerful bulb to carry the image. Booths with a digital projector also need to be retrofitted with special glass, more vents, stronger air-conditioning and an Internet connection. Projectionists who used to put film onto reels will instead insert a jump-drive into a server the size of a refrigerator. Patronize your local drive-in while you can.
  • Base Theatres. Another class of theatre that cannot afford the cost of conversion are those on military bases, such as the one at Ellsworth AFB. They also aren’t supported by the film industry, show films at a lower admission cost, and are opting to close instead of converting.
  • Art Houses. Art houses are also being impacted by the conversion to digital. The biggest challenges for these houses are fundraising, attracting younger audiences, marketing their films, and converting theaters to digital projection. One operator noted that the audience will pay for new seats before they pay for digital projectors. Only the threat of closure will open the pockets. As noted above, this is complicated by the fact that some movie distributors are no longer shipping out bulky 35mm prints – opting instead for digital copies of their films. For example, last Halloween, 20th Century Fox indicated they would send only digital copies of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” to theaters aiming to screen the midnight cult classic. However, I will note that digital projectors are not the reason behind the closure of the Laemmle 7 at the Fallbrook Mall in West Hills. The reason there is simple greed from the landlord, who wants more rent than the art house can support. Laemmle has indicated they are considering other opportunities in the area… especially those where they can own the facility instead of renting.

Music: Rock of Ages (2009 Original Broadway Cast): “Heaven/More Than Words/To Be With You”


Technological Innovations and its Impact on Digital Music

userpic=white-ipodA number of articles over the last few days have gotten me thinking about how technological innovations are going to affect my favorite music player, the iPod Classic, and digital music in general. I’m not the only one thinking about the future of the ‘Classic; Stuff magazine says that now is the time to buy the iPod Classic before it goes away.  So I figured I’d ruminate a bit over lunch.

What got my mind awhirl were two announcements from this week’s shindig in Vegas. In the first, Kingston has announced 512GB and 1TB flash drives, with a very small size. In the second announcement, Crucial has come out with a 960GB SSD for just $600. This is probably the handwriting on the wall for the current hard-drive based iPod Classic. Its hallmark was storage, and a max of 160GB. I can now envision an iPod Touch-like device, with a range of sizes (probably 256GB and 512GB, but perhaps 128GB), at price points similar to an iPad or iPad Mini. I’d expect something this year or next. The iPod Classic is a dead-MP3 player playing.

Another interesting digital music announcement came from Amazon. They have announced an AutoRip service that delivers digital copies of CDs along with the physical copies.Supposedly, they are going to offer free MP3 versions of your Amazon CD purchases including any discs you’ve bought since 1998. The free MP3s will be stored in Amazon Cloud Player after you purchase a new CD and are available for playback or immediate download. Past purchases that are eligible should automatically show up in Cloud Player. The free digital tracks do not count against your Cloud Player storage limits as with purchases from Amazon’s MP3 store. Supposedly, more than 50,000 CDs are AutoRip eligible. You can find the list here.

This is an interesting announcement, as I buy most of my music from Amazon. It also raises a question: If you purchase an album through Amazon Marketplace (that is a used or new album from a 3rd party retailer, potentially fulfilled by Amazon), shouldn’t you be able to download it as well if Amazon has that version digitized? After all, just as with a new CD, you have the physical possession of the media. If that’s the case, it will be, as Arte Johnson once said, very very interesting.

ETA: I just got an email from Amazon that said “Songs from these 107 CDs you purchased from Amazon in the past are now available for you in Cloud Player for FREE…” Followed the links, and loads of songs are now there. In fact, I’ve noticed a number of albums purchased for my daughter (and perhaps others) as gifts are also in that list. Given that the Amazon Cloud Drive then permits (from the Cloud Player view, not the media library) me to re-download those albums, it appears I can get a copy of anything I purchase as a gift (not that I ever would 😉 ). Seems like that’s a flaw in the system that does not exist for iTunes; it will be interesting to see if the Music Publishing companies realize this potential abuse of the rules.


The Digital Divide, Part II: The Computer Befuddled

A few days ago, I wrote about two forms of digital divide: how our dependence on computers effectively disenfranchises those that can’t afford modern technology, and how the movement towards touch interfaces is disenfranchising a segment of the disabled community. Today, I’ve run into an example of another disenfranchised group: the seniors/computer illiterates.

Recently, I’ve been running into more and more people who have trouble interacting with computers. In some ways, this goes beyond Picnic or Idi0t errors (see this great NY Times article: “Make Sure the Problem is Not In Your Chair“) to people who don’t even understand the concepts. You know these folks: I’m sure they’ve called you clueless. They’re the ones who feel the way to turn off the computer is to turn off the power bar. They’re the ones who don’t even know where a start button is or what the windows logo is. They’re the ones who don’t understand the differences between browsers, what a location bar is, or what it means to right click something. Now, I tend to call this group “the seniors”, but I want to be clear I don’t mean all seniors, just the ones to whom computers are completely foreign. Translation: If you’re able to figure out how to read this, I don’t mean you!. Perhaps a better name for this group would be the computer befuddled.

We all know this group exists. The problem is: with our rush into digital services, we’re disenfranchising this group. This is the group that wouldn’t know how to do ebanking or get insurance quotes by phone (let alone use a smart phone). This is the group that needs physical objects to listen to music; they would have no idea how to stream or download music. This is the group for whom having government services available on the Internet means nothing.

As we attempt to save more and more money by moving services to the electronic side, we are cutting off “the seniors”. We are either forcing them to pay more, use services they don’t understand… or forcing them to torture their computer-literate children.

In many ways, this is a failure we can place squarely on our major operating system and application vendors, who have their interfaces designed by the computer literate. Perhaps they should be offering simplified but secure interfaces (so no “Microsoft Bob“) designed by those not computer literate for those not computer literate. Just like there is the senior cellphone that has limited options, we need the senior operating system and browser.


Using Technology to Disenfranchise Groups: Ruminations on E-Book Readers and the iPod Classic

Some articles I’ve seen recently got me thinking (while I ate my lunch) about the “digital divide” and our love of devices. So let me take a few minutes to ramble on this subject to you, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The first relates to the “digital divide”. kay_gmd alerted me to an excellent post by Seanan McGuire about the problem with ebooks, and the supposed “death of traditional publishing”. The behavior of Congress has gotten us all thinking about the inequity between the rich and the poor, especially in financial areas, but we fail to look at the technological implications. The increasing push to “e-books” (and the corresponding death of the paper bookstore), the presence of URLs everywhere and the push to do everything over the web, and the increasing use of Q-code readable by smartphones has a hidden disenfranchisng effect: it cuts off those that cannot afford all the nifty devices, or the supporting services (cough, data plans, cough) that are required to use them. Thus we further isolate the poor and the non-technical, relegating them to out-dated print media or less effective paper procedures. What is worse is that while we do this, we don’t even realize we are doing it. This divide isnt’ new: I’m sure it occurred when cars were first introduced—and didn’t go away until every family, at any level, could afford them or have an alternative. But we need be aware of it.

The other aspect of our love of devices is the desire for the latest and greatest. Amazon announced the Kindle Fire today. Samsung has new Galaxy players coming out. But what worries me most is Apple’s introduction of the iPhone 5, for the rumor mill is heavy with word that the introduction of the iPhone 5 is going to mean the death of the iPod shuffle and the iPod classic (see here, here, here, and here). I really don’t want to lose what the original iPod line gives.

The original iPod line is more than a dedicated music player. If the music player were integrated into a more multifunction device, I wouldn’t have a problem with that. But there are things that the original iPods give that aren’t in the newer lines. The first and foremost, for me, is storage. I’ve got over 25,000 songs on my iPod and adding more daily. This is over 90GB of music. None, and I mean none, of the newer “touch” players come close to that storage. I know I’m not alone in wanting the larger storage devices; professionals depend on this larger storage every day. Second, these devices don’t require you to look at the screen to manage the controls. Just as with a cassette player, a CD player, or my car radio, I don’t have to move my eyes to adjust my music or the volume. That’s not the case for the “touch” devices—and is significant for the disabled community who either don’t have the vision or the dexterity to work the “touch” devices. Again, the movement to touchscreens is disenfranchising a large portion of our community from being able to use them. Lastly, these devices don’t require a network connection (WiFi, 3G, 4G). I don’t need a data plan to listen to my music. I may need to sync occasionally, but that’s a loading action. All the proposals for the “touch” devices I have seen depend on wireless access: smart applications, etc. I’m sure that Apple will say that larger storage is not required because you can store your music in the cloud, but that conveniently forgets that you have no access to your music when the cloud is inaccessible (such as on an airplane, underground, or in protected installations). WiFi is neither ubiquitiously available nor ubiquitiously free. This is why I really want Apple to retain the iPod Classic (in fact, I’m unsure whether I should stock up and buy an extra one before they go away).

My daughter has recently been pushing to get a smartphone and/or an iPad. She sees them being used more and more to provide the web on demand, in schools, and with all her friends. I’m not sure she realizes why these devices are bad things. I wonder how long I can hold out before we break down and get one.

I’d really like to know your thoughts on the subject?


The Changing of the Times

I’ve been quiet the last few days due to a combination of factors: I’ve been felled by a cold (again), combined with houseguests and being pretty busy. Still a few articles captured my attention, all related to how the times are a changing:

Need more entertainment after those posts? Visit this list of the best places with the worst public art.