How Political “Red Meat” Works (and Isn’t Necessarily Bad)

October 17th, 2015

[Sorry I wrote this back at the end of July but didn't post it then. Silly me. Maybe I never finished it. Does it look complete to you?]

I am sure political scientists have fancy names for this and organize conferences about it, but it is new to me, I just figured it out: how “red meat” works, and how it is made.

A freaky part of living in these times is that someone like Donald Trump can toss ridiculous “red meat” to the Republican base, and millions fall for it! How does that work? Today I spotted a rare attempt at left-wing “red meat” (What do we call left-wing “red meat”?) and it got me thinking in a little more depth.

It seems to be a three-part recipe:

1. Select a complicated problem, a problem that we must solve.

This needs to be something controversial–we can’t have a bipartisan solution or the result won’t be ideological red meat. And if you want traction with your public, it should be a familiar and topical problem.

2. Select a tenet of ideological dogma.

Something that is obviously true to anyone who looks at it, yet something that your political opponents inexplicably won’t see. How can anyone be so blind!? Some things are obvious!

3. Apply the dogma to the problem for a simple solution.

Simple solutions are naturally better than complicated and red meat needs to be simple. And if you want to really juicy, dripping red meat, it is better if it outrages your opponents, that helps solidify the distinction between good and evil. The solution doesn’t have to be practical nor make sense, it doesn’t have to actually address the original problem, but it does have to fit with the dogma chosen above.

If anyone argues against it, the true believer can easily dismiss any logic or facts, and see the complaint as a rejection of the dogma. It doesn’t matter if the objection is from the opposition or from the same side, the very fact that there is an objection is all one needs to know, only a non-believer could think such a thing. A valuable litmus test can be built this way.

A little marketing savvy helps in selecting and packaging the solution, but if done right the result is emotionally satisfying to the core of your ideological group and they won’t be able to resist it.

Right Wing Examples

Taxes. To the political right taxes are bad by definition. This dogma has been used to cut taxes. The slight detail that Republican presidents like Reagan or George W. Bush who put in big tax cuts had enormous deficits is a bit of reality that doesn’t need to be worried about, at least not on the Federal level where we have good credit and can run deficits. States don’t have this flexibility. Consider Kansas, the enormous GOP tax cuts have been a big problem, but as it is a red state, the Democrats can’t take over and take the heat, instead the GOP needs to fix it, so they make a point of not saying what they are doing is taxing. It is okay to defy reality, but never defy dogma.

Regulations. Regulations are almost the same as taxes, bad by definition to the political right. It doesn’t matter if the world is coming to an end, dogma can prompt one to deny it. In fact the more extreme the situation, the greater importance to preserve the dogma, for the dogma will save you.

Military might, we can’ be weak. More is better, we need to support our military. Even if this means starting wars that kill and maim our own and leaves us weaker, any argument against belligerence must be an argument for weakness.

Left Wing Examples

These are harder to come up with in 2015. Ronald Reagan did such a good job of changing the very agenda questions from not whether to cut socail programs or taxes, but how much to cut. He crushed the left and the Democrats have been marching to the right ever since. It it hard to throw read meat to the left when the crowd is constantly ambling to the right.

What’s left of the right today?

There’s Bernie Sanders! But he’s blast from a distant past. He has been a refugee who years ago found asylum in a distant and mythical place called “Vermont”. Pinko world he grew up in doesn’t exist anymore. He is one of the last isolated individuals of a species that looks as good as extinct. Maybe he can “breed” more political socialists, but it would be a dodo-back-from-the-dead miracle.

Isn’t there something newer available? Something with a glint of new?

There is (was?) the occupy movement. It had a lot of buzz and support and momentum…but I don’t remember those crowds getting any good red meat thrown to them. Why not?

What would it have taken?

Step 1: choose a complicated problem. That’s easy, we hate the big banks and WTO, get rid of them!

Good start! Almost there, now hit that over the head with an appropriate tenet of your dogma, see what pops our, and you’ll be done. There’s no right answer, pick any core article of your dogma and it can probably be applied. I can wait while you think it over. If you don’t like the word “dogma” think “philosophy” or “principles”; just pick one…

Silence.

The occupy movement had no overarching principles to guide it. No pocket-sized crib sheet to remind the followers what they were there for. People have said that the occupy movement didn’t have any leaders, but had they had some coherent doctrine, leaders would have naturally arisen as the ones who could select some nice red meat and organize around it.

Left Wing Attempt I Saw

Today there was news of Obama visiting Kenya, and it seems he was railing against corruption as a way to address Africa’s chronic poverty. Someone I follow on Twitter said that African poverty has “more to do with global trade structure than misbehavior”. And in in another tweet said: “If you’d sunk 1/5 of what went towards bailing out U.S. Banks to infrastructure in Africa it would change the continent, corruption or not.”

Sounds like the complaints from occupy, but then what? Where’s the meat?

I compare this to red meat because this person is not objecting to fighting corruption but, if I may put words into his mouth, he seems to be longing for something bigger and better–though international development is tricky, it is never clear whether any specific bigger and better project by outsiders helps more than it might unintentionally hurt. And this person knows more about foolish development projects in Africa than I do.

But I think a good piece of red meat is longed for by much of the left: some satisfying, simple solution, to a real problem, a solution that grows from guiding principles.

When Making Political Movements: Red Meat, Not All Bad

You can’t have a political movement without someone articulating some direction, something to organize how the movement should move. Present a problem, apply a dogma/principle/philosophy, and let your follows see the inexorable logic in your solution. Let them go forth and repeat the argument to others, throw your followers some red meat.

When Red Meat Goes Bad

Why does “red meat” have such bad connotations? Because in recent years it has been a cynical way rally the right wing base with extremism that (1) isn’t practical or even based in reality, and (2) leaves the party estranged with some important voting blocks.

The Republicans have so alienated blacks and Hispanics that they can’t win the White House any time soon. Not unless the Democrats throw a presidential election: say, nominate someone clunky, lacking in charisma, with her own accumulated negatives (plausible?), who then has a big stumble and fall, letting even the lamest Republican nominee to win.

Political Predictions, Red Meat or Not

The GOP is in trouble and will stay that way until the last of the gone-rabid Greatest Generation dies off, and the GOP drops the race-bating, and quits with the culture wars which they have lost. Then they can maybe drift back to something my grandfathers would have recognized.

What of the other side? The left is maybe terribly disorganized, but it might find focus by simply drawing on Democratic principles. Bernie Sanders might look like a longshot for being elected president, but he is drawing crowds with his consistent old message. And, though not running for president, Elizabeth Warren is making pretty good hay doing a “Democratic-wing of the Democratic party”-thing, and doing something pretty occupy-compatible in the process.

-kb
©2015 Kent Borg

Which Gadgets Do I Need, Again

October 17th, 2015

Four-years ago I asked the question “What gadgets do I need?”, and it seemed time to revisit the question.

First, what gadgets do I have?

Pebble Watch

This is my most-present gadget these days. I like that it is limited, it is too small a screen to offer a rich experience, and it is too small a case to have a large battery. So it is limited in its ambition and achieves that goal beautifully. It is an accessory to my phone.

Smart Phone

My Android phone (Nexus 4, soon to be Nexus 5x) is my next most present gadget, it is pretty much always on me (I am not a “set it down”, user, I have it on my belt). I am paranoid about keeping it charged, so not only do I charge it at night, I charge it in the car, I charge it at my desk at work.

But I don’t use it as much as I used to. I do not obsessively check it a hundred times a day, I let my Pebble let me know if something notable has happened, the battery life has gone up since I got the Pebble. I also use it less because of my next gadget, my tablet.

Nexus 7 Tablet

I now have the “2013″ version of the Nexus 7, which was a nice improvement on the first one (that I broke), and it is a shame they don’t sell something like it anymore.

It took me a while to figure out what it is good for, but I finally realized it is good for everything. I have it in my “purse” which is always close at hand, or I have it in my hand. It is also small enough to fit in most of my back pockets, I don’t sit down with it there, but I can free up my hands. I don’t have cellular data service for it, but wifi is common, and I can turn my phone into a wifi hotspot when I need to.

Notebook Computer

I don’t use it as much as I once did. I don’t carry it around as much as I did. But if I need to do “computing” or writing or real web surfing, it is critical. A real keyboard, a lot of capacity and power, and–notably to me–a computer that I largely control. I run Linux on my notebook and I can do what I want with it. On my other devices someone else is pretty much in control and I am just a user.

It is also a nice way to read the replica version of the New York Times. A big enough screen to handle the current physical layout of the real paper.

The old Thinkpad X230 I bought shortly after my earlier gadget post is getting physically tattered, but it is still a nice machine. The addition of an SSD and more RAM have kept it very useful. And the “Displayport” jack that I didn’t appreciate at first (“What’s that?”) is useful now. And the two USB jacks that are the newer “super speed” flavor (“What’s that?”) are even more useful now. The PCMCIA slot has been useless and the missing modem I might have once wondered over has not been missed–it has been a very nice computer.

I carry it in a bag to and from work everyday, I always bring that bag with me if I travel, and even on a day trip I usually bring it, but I don’t just carry the computer alone with me anymore, I have other toys, the computer has been displaced somewhat.

E-Book Reader

I have a Kindle “Paperwhite”, the second version of that. And it fits nicely in my purse. I can use the Kindle software on my phone or tablet, but they have disadvantages:

  • Distractions, the Paperwhite is limited in a good way (see Pebble Watch);
  • Battery life, my Android gizmos can’t touch the battery life of the e-reader;
  • Better display, easier on the eyes, good in bright light;
  • Better user interface, the builtin dictionary works better.

One shortcoming: The Kindle is slow and has a more limited display. If I am reading something that is not just linear text, something that has layout and pictures and charts that don’t reflow well for the Kindle screen, it doesn’t work so well. So where a given recipe might work well on a Kindle, cookbooks do not. And anything much like a textbook that is more than just text also does not work well.

I do sometimes jump from device to device, and having my reading synchronized is nice. I will read the bulk of a book on the Kindle but read bits here and there while waiting for the washing machine to finish, maybe–because I have my phone on me when I don’t have the Kindle.

I wish I made more time to read.

Ipod

Poor Ipod, I still carry it around (in the same bag as my notebook computer) but I don’t use it so much anymore. Why? Two reasons: Streaming radio stations on my Android devices (not streaming services, I actually like real radio stations from around the world) are my more common choice for music.

The second reason is the rather limited user interface on the Ipod. It has a lot of capacity and battery life, but it is hard to find things. One of my pet peeves is it is nearly impossible to listen to anything that came on more than one CD, because the persons who did the data entry were not consistent, and it is really hard to find the other discs of the opera, say. Further frustrations come from Apple neglecting their Itunes program on the Mac, they have made a ton of stupid changes that make it really hard to use.

Camera, Little

I no longer carry a little camera. My Android devices have pretty good cameras in them.

Camera, Big

Still photographs aren’t going away, but “still photography” is. That is, a conventional exposure, with a specific shutter speed, lens opening, focal length, focus distance, “film” speed–these are going away. There is a lot of much richer data collection that can produce a still picture with much more power–but that is another post I might get to later. In the mean time, I do have a big, old fashioned-ish, DSLR that I  needed for a specific project (35-mm slide digitizing, but that’s another post, too), and I sometimes get exercise by also carrying this camera.

This is not well resolved territory. It weighs a ton, but it has marvelous resolution and can see in the dark better than I can.

Hiking GPS

My old Garmin is feeling lonely, who buys a hiking GPS anymore? For about a year there I couldn’t even find it and feared I had left it on an airplane (I hadn’t). The point is it is at risk of being pointless. But it is not obsolete yet.

It works offline, when I am without cell coverage, where Google Maps becomes worthless. But I also have on offline map program that works well on my Android devices. Recently on a hike I pulled out my Nexus 7 several times for a good map of where I was, and finding where the trail we wanted branched off. No cell coverage, but it worked anyway.

I still carried the Garmin on that hike, it is much tougher, much better battery life (replaceable batteries!), and has a screen that works in sunlight. And it is small enough to have out and recording where I have gone, willing to help me retrace my way back to civilization. I also still use it in the car, knowing I can leave the main road and explore and it will show me a dotted line of where I have been.

But I also lost it for about a year and got along quite well without it.

I haven’t quite resolved where I keep it, hence my ability to lose it. Interesting how this will turn out.

I do worry that Garmin will lose interest in this model and quit selling maps, I should update my current North America maps if I can, my current data is starting to get obsolete. But I think Garmin isn’t interested in this business model, I think they want to sell me an expiring subscription, they want me more online. At that point they will lose me, maybe a find some armored “phone” with long battery life and use it as my new hiking GPS.

Extra Ipod Nano

It is the larger model Nano, not the really tiny square one. I won it in a drawing at some seminar. It has a fair amount of capacity–many, many hours of music. And it has an FM radio. And it is tiny enough to keep in my purse. But I seldom use it.

It does not have great battery life, but it is a different battery from my phone, I can wear it down without worry. I just have to remember to recharge it occasionally. I forget I have it.

Smart phones should have FM radios in them. Some have the hardware but the software is missing. For me it is worth carrying, but I don’t know that this device really has a niche that will last, I suspect not.

Missing Item: Big Tablet?

There is one thing I fear I need to add to my load: a large tablet computer. I want a big and very detailed screen for looking at detailed information: Maps and pictures and other graphics. Google announced one for later this year that might be tempting. I think this would go in my heavy bag with my notebook computer. I seriously doubt I would carry it around as I do with my Nexus 7, but I think it would be nice for specific purposes.

Hey! New York Times: I want the replica edition for Android!

Radio

Something I didn’t really talk about in my previous gadget post is a radio. I listen to the radio a lot and I think 4-years ago I was still carrying around a portable radio, listening to NPR. Now I use my Androids for that. It worries me that I can’t easily listen to local radio if something goes wrong with larger technical infrastructure, and that is the real reason I try to keep that Ipod Nano charged.

Other

In the bag with my computer (a bag that is seldom far), I have a dual USB charger, and a reasonable collection of cables, including a short AC extension cord with three outlets on the end–very hand in airports when I would like to share a rare outlet. And an external USB battery pack so I can revive a phone, or run that Ipod Nano for hours on end if I need to. In my purse I have tiny car and AC to USB power adapters, and a couple USB cables. Oh, and don’t forget a little flashlight on my keyring, so much better than using my phone as a light.

Conclusions

Though my Android devices fill a lot of functions, they haven’t completely displaced that many gadgets: the Ipod, hiking GPS, and radio are endangered, but not yet banished. Good thing I am still young enough to haul around so much crap.

Something this technology has displaced: a lot of paper. We still buy travel books but we don’t carry them around much. We very seldom buy paper maps. (And when I do get a paper map I sometimes photograph it with my Nexus 7 and use it that way. I also photograph the big maps at the trail head instead of trying to just remember them.) Highway maps are long gone from our routine. And I miss them, spreading out a big map is still nice. That is why I want a big tablet, I think it will fill that desire.

There is still a lot happening in the gadget department. I wonder whether 4-years from now a followup posting would show more or less change? Will my load finally start to shrink?

-kb
©2015 Kent Borg

Pebble Battery Life

March 10th, 2015

I decided that, cool as the shake-to-light feature is on the Pebble watch, I turned it off. Saves battery life. And, frankly, it can be annoying if one sleeps with a watch or is in a movie theater.

But I don’t know how long my year-plus-old watch lasts in this setting because I have taken to setting it to charge when I get up in the morning, before I take a shower. I put it back on when I get dressed. Yes, I know the watch can go in the shower, but it still gets in the way of, say , washing my wrist.

-kb

©2015 Kent Borg

Net Neutrality: An Objective Definition (with Technical Gotchas)

February 27th, 2015

I saw someone on Twitter looking for a definition of net neutrality that was objective, and doubting it was possible.

Here is my attempt, and I am going to maybe cheat a little by trying to give two perspectives. Disclaimer: I am for net neutrality.

The Case For

Everything seems to run over the internet these days. Let me focus on one that captures most of it: Television. Hip young folks are “cord cutters” by not having cable TV, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t addicted to TV, they watch it over the internet instead. They aren’t stuck with what their local cable company offers, they can go to Net Flix or Hulu or Amazon or some new outfits I haven’t heard of. Cool, competition. Except we have a near monopoly in how we get internet access. We can get it from the local cable company or maybe the local telephone company, and both of them are also selling TV channels and don’t want to be their own competition, or at least they want to make more money for that; so Net Flix might have a great connection to the internet and you might have a great connection to the internet, but when the packets are nearly at your door, and they hit Comcast’s wires, Comcast might intentionally slow down Net Flix’ data packets unless Net Flix pays Comcast a little something extra. Maybe a future Timewarnercomcast is powerful enough they simply refuse any TV streaming over internet connections they sell, and you would have to buy their TV offerings.

Net neutrality wants to prevent that and say that if Comcast wants to charge you for your internet connection, fine, but they can’t then charge others for your connection and slow them down (or block them) if they don’t pay. In the past cable companies have been caught blocking and slowing various kinds of data, even though they had denied doing so. By making internet service providers “common carriers” (a bit like phone companies back when the telephone was new and important), the FCC can regulate this behavior.

The Case Against

Cable companies and telephone companies have spent a lot of money building their networks and they want a free hand in how they make money off that investment. They want the freedom to partner with this company or that for offer new products with this or that cool feature. This regulation means they can’t make those deals if they discriminate against other companies that aren’t part of the deal. This regulation puts them in a boring business of offering a commodity service. Also, this regulation is regulation. They have an ideological objection to regulation.

Technical Gotchas

Net neutrality is hard to precisely define. Really hard. The internet is a whole series of protocols that define how different computers talk to each other. How is an e-mail sent vs. how is an HD movie streamed vs. how is a video chat handled. Very different services and the documents that just define the technical details of how they work are plenty long and complicated. It is hard enough to craft these protocols so they will work in the first place, do they also have to be net neutral? And what does that mean, down in the nittygritty details of some protocol only a few people really understand?

The internet is quite open and if you want to define a new protocol for your new wizbang product, go ahead! It is possible it can be defined in terms of lower-level protocols and run on the internet as-is, or you might need to convince others to cooperate with your new protocol. Does the rest of the internet have to add support for your new protocol? What is neutral?

Here is a concrete example: e-mail. Spam is a big problem, and one of the ways to fight it is to limit which computers are allowed to send e-mail messages to other computers. The logic being that Joe Average isn’t sending e-mail directly from his computer to my computer, but rather he is sending the e-mail to, say, gmail and Google will send the message on to, say, Yahoo, and I will have my computer collect the message from Yahoo. A problem arises when some piece of malware infects Joe Average’s computer it is starts sending vast amounts of spam directly to thousands of accounts at gmail and Yahoo and Company XYZ and everyone gets annoyed and says that Something Must be Done. Okay, a common thing is to have Joe’s internet provider block that direct e-mail traffic. It will still let Joe talk to gmail, so legitimate e-mail will go through, just not the bulk spam. Except I run my own e-mail server. When I send an e-mail it doesn’t go first to Yahoo, instead it first goes to my basement and from there goes to the final destination at gmail or Yahoo or Company XYZ. If my internet provider blocks that I’ll be pissed! Should internet providers block this kind of traffic or not? It is a legitimate question with more than one answer. And it is not obvious what the “neutral” answer is. Probably it is to block those messages from Joe’s computer (he doesn’t mind) but not from mine (I do mind). That is how it mostly is at the moment. How complicated! And should it be allowed? Is it net neutral? Will the FCC continue to let me run my own e-mail server?

Another example: video streaming vs. video conferencing. These are different kinds of traffic and they should be handled differently–for important technical reasons. In the case of video streaming I am probably watching something recorded anyway, so it doesn’t really matter if I see a given frame of the movie at one moment or another–a three-second delay isn’t important, what is important is I want it to flow smoothly without breakup or stopping, and if three-seconds of buffering makes it work better, please buffer. If I am in a video conference, however, the circumstance is quite different: I want what I say to get to the other end quickly and I want whatever is said on the other end to get back to me quickly, I don’t want a three-second delay! If this means sometimes the picture deteriorates or the audio cuts out for a fraction of a second, then that’s the price I pay for wanting a live conversation. Should the routing protocols on the internet be allowed to differentiate between these different kinds of traffic? Can they try to schedule when different kinds of packets are sent down their wires to try to keep everyone happy?

No commercial considerations here, but solid technical issues complicating what “neutral” means.

So maybe net neutrality just kicks in when someone wants to pay for special treatment?

Okay, what about teleconferencing companies, they want their products to be better than the competition. Currently they send representatives to the standards committees that define the protocols, and they try to push the standard definition in a direction so their products will be better. Annoying, but it does get us some kind of standard that might work, and if the standard is too broken with company-specific garbage others won’t adopt it. Under net neutrality are they not allowed to participate in those standard committees? Are people free to not adopt a badly written standard? Does the FCC write all the standards? (Oh, that will put a stop to innovation.)

Another case might be CNN doing a remote feed, but wanting to do it over the internet–everything goes over the internet these days right? In this case they want it both ways: they want a good quality signal and they want a conversation without delays. Should they be able to pay for that priority treatment? Or are they forever cursed to use satellites and all the delays involved there? In oldendays television networks were allowed to buy from regulated phone companies special services that could handle their video, seems that something like that should still be allowed. But it is complicated.

Or what about Net Flix? When the new season of House of Cards comes out, millions of people might all be watching the same program at about the same time. Net Flix’ network needs to have capacity for all of that to flow at once, and the next network they connect to also has to have all the capacity. Were I designing such a distribution system I would think about caching popular content near the edges of the network. Send Season 3 once to a bunch of file servers scattered all around the country, and them let those file servers send it on to all those binge watchers. The total load on Net Flix’ hardware and the internet as a whole would be reduced. Should net neutrality permit that? Who is allowed to pay whom what to rent what space to place those file servers connected to what network?

Airplanes don’t allow people to make phone calls over their wifi services. At first it might have been to protect their expensive telephone service. Is that neutral? And now that airlines have mostly lost interest in these phone services because no one uses them, they still block voice calls over their wifi service because other passengers don’t want to have to listen to all that gabbing for hours at a time. (Thank goodness! It would drive me crazy.) Is that neutral? Airlines also don’t allow streaming video over their wifi because they don’t have enough bandwidth for more than a couple streams and they have a plane full of passengers who might want to stream and if more than a couple tried no one would get good airborne wifi for anything. Is that neutral? Airlines also sell movies, is that still neutral? And the airlines aren’t streaming those for-sale movies directly from the studios who made then, no they have cached them on file servers on the planes when they are on the ground and can just plug in a new disk. Is it neutral for the airlines to do that? (Was it neutral for Net Flix?)

I present a lot of questions here, and there are at least partial answers to many of these questions, and my point is that net neutrality is a technical mess and the technical details are not obvious to anyone. Still I am in favor of trying to sort it out anyway, because as bad as that result will be, letting the timewarnercomcastverizon monopoly decide will be worse.

-kb

©2015 Kent Borg

New “Pebble Time” Watch Announced

February 24th, 2015

It looks good.

They still seem to understand what a watch is, that it is not a smartphone. They added color, but a low-power version of color. The competition has set themselves up to compete with the brightness of the sun if we were ever to venture outside. Pebble is still avoiding that losing battle. Bravo!

I am worried by the microphone. I fear that is a distraction, that isn’t as useful as we might imagine. Yes, when commuting alone in our cars it might be nice to talk to our watches, maybe while washing dishes, but mostly watches should be seen and not heard and not talked to either. It also might be a battery drain. Be wary, Pebble.

They are claiming the same battery life as before, I would have liked better. Maybe the screen won’t have to be refreshed once-a-second to try to fix display problems, and that will save batteries, but the microphone needs to be listened to to be useful and that takes power.

They did not come up with a self-winding feature, alas.

Price went up, but still well under the competition and I don’t mind Pebble making money. But I won’t be “Oh, sure.” buying one on spec. I’ll have to wait and see. My old Pebble is still a nice watch.

It is not a beautiful watch. Better looking than the first model, but not much.

-kb

©2015 Kent Borg

Android Car Radio?

February 23rd, 2015

They don’t seem to quite exist yet, but it looks like we are getting close to having nice Android car radios available.

There are car radios with slide out screens, but the ones available domestically are proprietary software that I assume won’t be as good as Android and will cost a lot more for less. I already use my Android tablet kind of hanging from the dash of my car, so any installed unit needs to be as good.

What would I like?

  • A single-din unit, not one of those big double jobs. Single will look less obvious to anyone looking in the window.
  • The radio to be a real radio with a real volume control that will work even when the computer part is, er, being a computer. So the Android part is add-on, let it be a fancy remote control for the radio.
  • FM HD radio, RDS.
  • Radio needs to be good, I want selectivity so I can be parked next to a powerful transmitter and listen to something else. I want it to be sensitive to I can pull in a distant station while near the middle of no where. If the radio wants to be frequency agile and let me see if there is anything on shortwave anymore, that’s okay with me.
  • AM, too.
  • Android. Let me use Google’s maps, or let me choose OsmAnd, or let me buy a Tom Tom product. Let me use other Android software.
  • SIM slot if I want to buy data service from a cell company.
  • Wifi, let it connect through my phone’s wifi, let it connect to my house wifi when I am parked at home if I need to download something big. Let it be a wifi hot spot if I do buy cell data.
  • Bluetooth, let it be a speakerphone for my cellphone, let me stream music from my cellphone through the car speakers.

Sound cool?

-kb

Battling ISIL: For the Hearts and Minds of our own Citizens

September 11th, 2014

Last night President Obama said we will attack ISIL (or ISIS or IS…). Yes, they are extremely nasty, it makes sense to attack people who massacre religious minorities and behead US reporters. Even the Pope agrees that in this case violence must be met with violence. That is the easy part.

But the scariest aspect of ISIL is that they are attractive to citizens from western Europe and the United States. Sure, this is scary because they have our passports, but what should really unnerve us is what it says about our society. We have citizens who are so disaffected that they want to join in on beheadings!?

How is it that we offer these citizens so little that ISIL’s fanaticism is more attractive than what they have at home? Home for them must be pretty horrible.

What we doing about this side of the problem? We need to struggle for the hearts and minds of our own citizens. Instead I fear we will treat them as criminals and further drive them into the welcoming arms of this hateful movement.

-kb

©2015 Kent Borg

“Digital Quality” and “No Moving Parts”: We Were Tricked!

August 10th, 2014

It used to be that “digital quality” meant “high quality” because going digital was a way to do better what could be done with analog. Consider CDs, they often had very high quality sound. But we were tricked. Now a days “digital quality” is as crappy as the engineers and MBAs decide to make it. Consider Sirius Satellite Radio. Originally it was going to be called CD Radio, because it was “digital quality”, but they quickly realized their mistake. By doing more extreme data compression on the music streams they can fit in many more channels. The result is far, far short of “CD quality”. And God forbid you listen to their all-talk streams. The quality is horrible, makes me want to listen over a telephone circa 1965.

This morning, while doing some laundry I realized I was fooled by “no moving parts” in exactly the same way! I was waiting for a 40-year-old washer to advance to the rinse cycle, watching the old mechanical synchronous motor sequencer, listening to all its noises, wondering how much longer it will last. By reflex I thought “Moving parts! They will wear out faster.”

Ah, how I was tricked. Once upon a time “no moving parts” meant more reliable because it was a way to make something more reliable. But now it means as perishable as engineers and MBAs decide to make it. Our “no moving parts” electronics are made of ephemeral components that have calendar lives independent of whether they are used or abused. Lithium ion batteries are the nastiest examples of this today: they expire in time, no matter how you use them, they are custom molded into our telephones and computers, and they set the end of life for these devices–no matter how well we treat them–forcing us to land-fill our old model and buy a new one. Not just batteries, but flash memory, capacitors, LCD panels, and even LEDs–they all are being used in ways that will fail. Even the plastic cases we put everything in gets brittle and shrinks and discolors and will die.

I have a phone that is around 70-years old, and it could last another 70-years, though there won’t still be a wired phone system to connect it to by then. I have other phones that are just a few years old and are non-functional. From components that expire to wireless standards that have been retired.

My phone that has lasted all these years? It has tons of moving parts and is all analog.

-kb, the Kent who is clearly an old fogy to even ask the question.

©2014 Kent Borg

Late Show, with Stephen Colbert

April 11th, 2014

I couldn’t be more pleased for Stephen Colbert’s being hired to follow David Letterman on the Late Show. Congratulations, sir.

However some people are sad that Stephen Colbert’s character from The Colbert Report will not continue in his new job. I suggest they not worry. Colbert was plenty good on The Daily Show, when he was not playing this character. I think Jon Stewart was telling us the truth when he said Colbert has a lot more “gears” than we have seen. This will be his chance to explore a bunch of them.

But mostly, I think Colbert deserves better. Unlike the very early years on The Colbert Report, he now has a lot of help writing the show, but I still think the man is getting exhausted and needs a break. Maintaining this character all the time has to drain him, and it denies him the refreshment of ever doing anything different.

There is a lot of wonder over what the Late Show will be like “with Stephen Colbert”. I think this is a work-in-progress, but I have some predictions (or, advice):

  • More ensemble. He has already had the ego trip as the headliner of The Colbert Report, he can have more fun (and have less work) if he shares the stage with more talent. Not having to be such an ego-maniac will be a relief for him.
  • More elaborate production values. I admit I am not a regular viewer of the Late Show with David Letterman, but I am under the impression mostly he interviews people. Occasionally they walk outside in Manhattan with a camera, but much beyond that is rare. Colbert’s production budget will go up with this move, and I expect him to produce bigger stuff with it.
  • Stay in New York. I think he likes it there. But that doesn’t mean he won’t travel and take the show with him. His shows from Iraq were a lot of fun. He could travel to more cushy places and make good TV, too.
  • Continue to take plenty of time off. I wish I had his Comedy Central vacation schedule, I suspect he will want to keep it, too. With a bigger ensemble and more elaborate productions, I don’t think the show will fall apart during his absences.

The result will please those of us who wish TV had more Dick Cavett and more Sid Caesar. Luckily we will have move Stephen Colbert.

Stephen: I wish you the best. I hope you enjoy these final months as “Stephen Colbert”, and good luck planning your next gig.

-kb, the Kent who doesn’t even watch much TV.

©2014 Kent Borg

Pebble Watch’s Limitations: They are Key

February 18th, 2014

Maybe it is supposed to be click-bait, or maybe Jared Newman (@OneJaredNewman) is sincerely confused. In his posting on time.com (http://techland.time.com/2014/02/17/my-problem-with-pebble-its-still-too-much-work/) he complains that the Pebble watch is too much work, and “Pebble’s new apps are no easier to reach than the phone in your pocket.”.

He misses the point.

The Pebble watch is not a replacement for his phone, it is an accessory. In fact without a Bluetooth link to a phone it loses most of its value. For anything that your phone is good at, your phone is good at it, and your phone wins!  Use your phone to play games, answer e-mail, read, take pictures, etc.

But there are some things that phones are not so good at. Telling the time, for example. Reaching into my pocket for that is silly. And the temperature: before I had my Pebble watch I found myself looking at my analog watch because I thought the temperature should be there. That was my hint that I should buy one finally.

It is somewhat ironic that phones are not good at telling us who is calling. When I am washing dishes and my Pebble vibrates I and can easily see whether it is my wife calling (dry off my hands and take the call) or not (keep washing dishes).

I mostly don’t like my phone to actually “ring”…you know, make noise when someone is calling. I bring my phone with me when I go places and don’t feel like I have the right to add my ringing to stores, offices, nor movies. I can have the phone vibrate, but I sometimes miss that. A smart watch vibrating, however, is a great way to be alerted that there is a call. Again, ironically, it is better at this than is a phone. Also text messages, breaking news alerts, and the other little alerty things a phone can do, are better suited to a smart watch. It gives me enough information so I know whether it is worth pulling my phone out of my pocket.

Vibrating and caller ID are big features all by themselves. But the phone is still the point. The watch is merely the accessory.

Yes, there are apps for the Pebble, but apply some sense when deciding how to use them!

The Pebblebucks app will let me pay for my coffee, I can pull up the app while waiting in line, and when I get my coffee I can pay with my wrist and use my hands to take my coffee and not be fumbling with my phone or Starbucks card.

I have a stopwatch app that I have used while swimming and I have used it while cooking (“How long have those steaks been on?”). In both cases it is worthwhile to push a few buttons to get to the stopwatch, and then leave it there while I am busy swimming or cooking. These are cases where being on my wrist is key.

There is a nifty looking biking app. I have not tried yet becuase my watch is new and it is winter in Boston, but I expect next summer it will be worth pushing a few buttons to get to it, and then leaving it there as I peddle off. And when I want details about my bike ride at the end of the day? I will pull out my phone, because it is better for focused use, when I have the time, when I have free hands.

Next big election I expect there will be a Pebble app that will give me vote returns. Yes, it will be some effort to find a good app, and some effort to get it working, but then I expect to just leave it there, glancing at it now and then.

For sports fans who can’t watch a big game, putting a sports app on the face–and just leaving it there to sneak peeks at–makes sense. If you can steal a few minutes to get details of the game, don’t use your watch! Grab your phone, or find a TV. (I know a bartender who loves sports, but works at a place with no TV. He might be able to sneak glances if he had a Pebble.)

In each case, the Pebble is good for when I am doing something else. It is a limited little thing that sits on my wrist. That is handy location when I am doing something else and want to be alerted or want to glance at some status, but for anything more involved, it is a cumbersome spot. Better to grab a smartphone.

This is very much like earlier incarnations of a wristwatch, they showed the time. Maybe they had a couple more functions, maybe they could alarm. But that’s it. They occupied very privileged real estate (I have only two wrists), but had limited function suited to that space.

The Pebble watch should be thought of like a traditional watch: it shows status (but many more choices than just time) and can alert (but with many more choices than just an alarm clock). But it is still a wristwatch. It is on my wrist, and it does wrist-suitable stuff. It is not a phone, tablet, nor desktop computer.

The Pebble is a really cool wristwatch. But it is a wristwatch!

-kb

P.S. It is also new, has some rough edges that need improvements, and it is getting improvements. Stay tuned.

©2014 Kent Borg.