Switchback: Talking Tech

May 09, 2014

The Switch team talked about gadgets, tech and tech policy in their weekly chat. Brian Fung and Matt McFarland took questions about the gadgets you have, the ones you want and the ones that aren't even out yet, as well as how the biggest tech stories affect you.

Aaaand we're live! Hit us with your questions by clicking the link above.

1) Are you video game players? 2) Are you libertarians?

I assume you're referring to this.

The answer is 1) Yes and 2) No.

As to whether video game players are naturally more libertarian — I'm not sure I buy the premise. Some video game players happen to share some qualities with libertarian ideology, but that doesn't make them "libertarian" any more than being an overweight, middle-aged, unhappy man automatically makes you a gamer. 

My friends are so obsessed with the new Snapchat. I totally don't get it. Help me be hip. Why is it awesome?

It's awesome because older generations aren't on it. It's much different than the prevailing social media platform -- Facebook -- and kids naturally like to rebel.

Plus there's the ephemeral aspect of it. For the most part, your photos/videos/chat disappear so it can be used in a carefree manner. Kids want to relax, have fun and not worry over whether what they're doing will come back to haunt them.

Except that sometimes it DOES come back to haunt them! The FTC and Snapchat just announced that they'd reached a settlement over the company's misrepresentations about just how permanent the deletions would be.

Artificial intelligence is often portrayed as this wonderful innovation that is also frighteningly advance--maybe even too advanced. What's your take per Stephen Hawking's recent statement? -David Johnson-Igra

Like all technology, it's a double-edged sword. Can be used for great things and for terrible things.  Let's look at flight and the Wright Brothers, for example. They made getting across the country possible in a few hours, but it also made 9/11 possible. The key is good regulation and understanding the hazards of new technologies.There are reasons to fear AI, but ultimately I think it's best to be an optimist on technology. We should learn to manage it. Lives have gotten longer and healthier thanks to technology. So I'm not as worried as Hawking.

For those of you who aren't familiar with what Hawking said, here's a quote:

"It's tempting to dismiss the notion of highly intelligent machines as mere science fiction. But this would be a mistake, and potentially our worst mistake in history."

In the grand scheme of things that could have been the worst mistake in human history, AI ranks probably in the middle. The invention of fire could have killed us all. Or the atom bomb. Or a failure to grapple with climate change. 

I think we'll find a way to live with artificial intelligence, one way or another. 

Oh, so it's awesome because I don't get it. Good, then the pressure's off. Kids, have it all to yourself. I am old and proud.

Right, I'm going to recommend against ever feeling any pressure to join a social media platform! There are lots of options, so just find one you like and understand.

Net neutrality lost me this week. There were protests, right? Why? Did something change since the last time we were talking about this (2-3 weeks ago)?

We're a week out from the FCC's meeting to consider the new net neutrality rules. So a bunch of tech companies and investors got together to protest the idea. Then, a bunch of FCC commissioners decided to break ranks and challenge the FCC's chairman.

Basically, we're getting down to the wire, and that's gotten everyone more worked up than usual.

How upset should people be/are people over the revelation that Snapchat didn't delete their photos as much as they thought? On the one hand, a promise wasn't being delivered on. On the other hand, I don't know. Having things not completely delete is just the norm these days and doesn't even cause me to blink anymore.

It's up to each user to decide how much they care about privacy. Can you accept apps that aren't totally erasable? If so, don't sweat it.

But I think it's very reasonable to be upset and expect  companies to deliver as promised. If users don't care about their own privacy, companies have little incentive to care themselves. 

It's like like that saying, you need to be the change you want to see in the world.

In 30 years, what are people going to say is the most important development in tech people in 2014 missed?

This is a tremendous question. Brian and I are mulling it over right now. Curious what everyone else thinks! 

Yeah, I'm pro- opening this up to the crowd. Submit your thoughts and we'll post 'em!

Children, children children. You do realize you did not invent computers. You do realize that computers have been around since the 40s. You do realize that people in their 60s have been writing computer programs since before you were born, There is really nothing new in computer science. Slapping a new interface does not make something new.

Okay, a follow-up here to our Snapchat discussion.

Even if computer science isn't new, I'll argue Snapchat definitely is new because the community and experience are so much different than the social media platforms that came before it.

What do others think?

Out of curiosity: What do you guys think about the Apple buying Beats news?

I give up on keeping track of my passwords, both work and personal - any good password manager recommendations?

We've gotten a few questions today about this — it's a really good one. 

I'm a big fan of 1 Password, which is made by a company called AgileBits. It costs some money, but there are often sales and I think it's completely worth it. 

If you're not familiar, 1 Password basically sets up a digital locker for your passwords. It even comes with a password generator so that you don't have to keep using weak passwords. Then, when you log into a site, you can tell 1 Password to automatically fill the fields with what's in your locker. 

The big advantage here is that you no longer need to use the same, weak, easily-recalled password across multiple sites, which dramatically reduces your risk of online identity theft. The drawback is that you have just one master password so if a hacker finds that out, you're sunk. But having to remember one really obscure master password is probably a better situation than remembering many weak ones. 

I'm thinking about apps that require intrusive & unnecessary "permissions." When downloading an app, who looks at the permissions? Well, I do, but nobody else I know does. I've backed away from a few downloads that want full access to stuff they truly don't need. I think we need a lot more general awareness of this. What's your take?

Yes, definitely.

The average Internet user has an insufficient understanding of the importance of security and privacy.

I'm guessing we'll have some really troubling data breaches in the years ahead that will wake everyone up.

I think businesses are getting a little smarter about this. Mozilla, for instance, is designing its mobile operating system so that app developers request permission for specific things at specific times (i.e., only when the app needs access to that thing). 

Here's a thorough blog post about that (a little technical, but a good overview).

How come it's taking so long to get Amazon Prime on Chromecast? Should I be switching to a Roku?

Unfortunately, the person who's best equipped to answer this question — Hayley — is out on vacation this week. But I'll give it my best shot.

Amazon just came out with its own TV set-top box. That means it has an incentive to try and force you to consume Amazon content on Amazon hardware. A deal could still be in the works with the Chromecast, you never know. But the incentives don't really align.

Forget Snapchat Day ... this is clearly #oldandproud day. Get off my lawn! (and out of my internets)

Hah, but if you're old and proud, should you really be using newfangled things such as  hashtags?

BOOM. Matt drops the mic.

Given the anonymous nature of Bitcoin transactions and the fluctuating value of bitcoins themselves, how can the FEC possibly be expected to enforce the $100 limit?

You can buy and sell fractions of a bitcoin — I think down to a hundredth or a thousandth of one. So technologically, I imagine the systems that handle the donation would perform the currency conversion automatically so you're not going over the limit.

That said, if the FEC's way of regulating this is anything like how the IRS is treating bitcoin, then everything will be reported by the political groups as dollars anyway and they wouldn't be able to distinguish a dollar-based donation from a bitcoin-based one. 

Caitlin Dewey wrote a story last week on We Heart It. Do you use it? What's with teens these days?

I haven't used We Heart It! Caitlin is always really great at keeping up with the latest trends. Be sure to read her blog.

I'm planning to test We Heart It this week to counteract the old feeling I've gotten from recently having a birthday.

Anyone here tried out We Heart It?

How much does being a company that many customers hate hurt their chances of winning the net neutrality battles?

The net neutrality battle is probably secondary on Comcast's mind right now — although it's relevant, the bigger obsession has to do with its Time Warner Cable merger. Regulators seem at least open to the idea, which also suggests that current customers' concerns about service quality don't figure all that highly. The worry is about future harms, not current ones.

Cant you just cast to your TV through the Chrome web browser?

This sounds plausible to me, but I don't have a Chromecast. Anyone else have an answer here?

Didn't you hear? Twitter is dead. #longlivetwitter #neverforget

Right, it's dead, as in, it's not growing as fast as people would like. Talk about the bar being set high!

One of the things I've been thinking about this week: Who should be to blame when driverless cars get involved in a crash?

I have a post coming on this, but I'd put the question to the crowd: When a company is building a self-driving car, should they design for the passenger's safety or for the safety of those around her?

Old does not mean ignorant. Old people who have been working with technology for over 40 years have no problem with newfangled things. They just realize how much they are not really new.

Interesting thought.

So Snapchat isn't new? What was the equivalent service 20-30 years ago?

I think it's not that Snapchat isn't new, rather that as we get older we realize that there's always something new (especially people who grew up in the tech generation, so 30ish peeps). So we're more selective about jumping on the bandwagon. I see the younger kids at my job are little eager rabbits, getting excited about everything. I now wait things out a lot longer and don't get excited as easily (about anything - maybe this is more a comment for the psychologist's couch than this chat, but you see what I'm getting at, right?)

Totally. You've got a service or two you really like; why switch? I can see the argument. Over time, the threshold just keeps going up.

The really interesting question, I think, is what makes people stop using a certain service? 

Yeah, interesting point. Part of it I think is that young people have a lot more free time, so it's easier for them to test things. The older I get the busier I seem to be.

Hi, is there a generally accepted rule of thumb with regard to the quality of camera maker JPEG processing engines - ie Olympus > Canon > NIkon > Fuji > Panasonic etc? Most digicam reviews focus on RAW image quality which is, frankly, not useful information for most consumers.

I'm checking with our photo experts at The Post on this one. Will post a response once I hear from them!

We're coming up on the end of our time. Thanks for joining, everyone! See you next week.

Thanks for joining us everyone!

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Brian Fung
Matt McFarland
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