Switchback: Talking Tech (July 18)

Jul 18, 2014

The Switch team talked about gadgets, tech and tech policy in their weekly chat. The Switch team 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.

Here we go! Welcome — now hit us with your best shot.

On second thought… that looks painful. 

Did someone forget to push the start button?

Sorry! We had some technical difficulties. In the meantime, catch up with these "bear with us" puns on Twitter.

Are we at all surprised that the NSA people shared this stuff? I mean, really.

No.

Sometimes I think it's good to take a step back and remember that members of the intelligence community are people, and people sometimes do bad things. That's why oversight is important, some might argue. 

So...explain how Aereo's goose is NOT cooked to me. Because it doesn't seem like this is good.

Aereo's only hope is for the FCC to decide that as an online video distributor, Aereo is not subject to paying content fees directly to the broadcasters. The FCC currently has an open docket about this, where it's asking people to weigh in on how to clarify the definition of "channels" and "multichannel video provider." But that docket hasn't really been touched for about two years.

Thoughts on the Kindle Unlimited launch? Specifically - what will Amazon pricing look like in three years, with Prime = Video + Shipping, Kindle Unlimited = e-books + audiobooks, will one borrow from the other?

As I wrote this morning, it seems as though Amazon is trying to get the drop on other e-book subscription businesses, probably so that it can more effectively negotiate with publishers on this new opened front. Over the long term, it's likely we'll see Amazon apply the same model to other retail sectors. Video is the most obvious place to look now, but I can see it extending even to things like apps or shipping. 

Hey folks — while it seems like I can publish responses just fine, Hayley is still locked out. We're trying to get that resolved but until then, you're stuck with me. 

Edit: She's back! 

Hi, My pay-as-you-go cell phone carrier, T Mobile, does not offer usage reports. So I can't see a list of the calls and text messages that are depleting my balance (which seems to be running out faster in recent months than before, despite the same or less usage.) When I wrote to complain, a T Mobile representative replied that it was clear in my terms and conditions. Is this typical of all cell phone companies? It doesn't seem right.

You really, really need to read this

I'm back in!

In 2009 or before, I had to quickly replace my laptop. I bought a netbook Asus Eee for $400 and it lasted for quite some time. However, for the past 6 months I've been using an iPad with a bluetooth keyboard, because the laptop essentially does not work. In August, I'm starting an online masters program and will have to bite the bullet and buy a functioning laptop again. The requirements they've given are: PC, at least 1.6 Ghz processor speed, 128 mb graphics memory, and Windows XP, Vista or 7. We must use Internet Explorer or Firefox to access the online class system, and we need a camera, DVD drive, USB ports, etc. I've done some online research, but most of the computers out there for back to school are for college kids, not a 35 year old doing online school at night while working during the day. I need something that will let me save files (not Google Drive), do the online school, and I would love it if I could bring it to work with me if necessary. Any ideas? I'm worried because the requirements asking for Windows XP seem really out of date. Thanks for your help.

The Wirecutter is a great place to start your search; if you're not familiar with them, they make one top recommendation for each category (budget laptop, monster machine, ultrabook, etc.) and their reviews read like plain English. Sounds like your needs are very straightforward; perhaps consider a budget notebook or an ultrabook if you can get away without using a DVD drive.

With the Google-Novartis agreement announced this week, do you see wearable as the next frontier in the mobile tech world? If so, what form do you see wearable taking (watches, glasses, contacts, all of the above)?

I think there are a lot of forms that the wearables trend can take, and the Google-Novartis deal to start really working to produce those glucose-reading contact lenses shows how many applications there are for it. I think it's likely that we'll see a good chunk of accessories get networked at some point -- jewelry, medical devices, clothing, etc.

That Verizon/Netflix/VPN throttling thing is blowing up Twitter. Your thoughts?

For those of you who haven't read it yet, check it out. TL;DR: A guy decided to compare his Netflix speeds when watching normally versus when routing traffic through a virtual private network, adding in an extra step that directs the traffic over a different path. He found that using a VPN was much faster.

To be honest, I don't really know what to think. It's further evidence of congestion at the edges of Verizon's network that touch Netflix or one of the third-party content delivery networks they use, but we knew that was a problem already.

As before, the question is who should be responsible for resolving the congestion. Should the ISP do it and spread its costs across all its customers (even those who don't watch Netflix)? Should Netflix do it and set a precedent where every company that sends a lot of traffic to the ISP winds up paying for the ISP's upgrades?

The third thing to think about is Netflix' OpenConnect program, which has ISPs host Netflix content inside their own networks so you don't have congestion at the edges. This is free to the ISP, but providers like Comcast reject it on principle because they don't want to give Netflix special treatment and allow them inside the network.

Why would I pay $10/month when I can borrow Kindle books for free from my library? If I'm just borrowing the book, I'd rather not pay for it. Movies are a different story because the library doesn't have the movie catalog that Netflix does. But it does have almost as good of a selection of eBooks as Amazon does.

I agree that if you are already a Prime member -- and therefore have access to the Kindle Lending Library -- that this is not the world's greatest value proposition.

Basically, the argument for Unlimited to a Prime member would be the "unlimited" part. Libraries let you borrow e-books, but they often are limited in how many copies they have rights to, so you can still end up on waiting lists for books.

 Also, Unlimited has some audiobooks, or rather "narration" that you can download along with your e-books. I like having both copies, basically because it still lets me make headway in books while I'm doing not-book friendly activities like exercising. 

That said, I personally don't think either of those points offer  enough of a perk to make Kindle Unlimited an absolute must-have for everyone.

The same logic holds for today's book market. Why buy a book from Barnes and Noble when you can borrow it from the library? Kindle Unlimited doesn't really change that fundamental debate at all, in my view.

Is there anyone at the Washington Post to whom we can address technology questions regarding the website? They have tampered with it so much it's almost unreadable. The comments are written in a small font in light grey ink, and the size cannot be adjusted. It's almost like they don't want us to read the comments. Then recently, those annoying article headlines flying in from the side have now apparently been replaced by huge articles seemingly pasted over the comments of an article I'm actually reading. Yikes - even worse than the fly-ins! Please, please, please - I would like to enjoy reading the Post, as in physically enjoy it, but it's getting to have more and more nuisance features that attempt to distract me from what I actually want to read. So where can we write to warn the technological powers that be that their fooling around with this stuff is ruining the reading experience?

We're sorry you're having a bad experience reading our work! If it helps, our IT team has been working to upgrade our article templates to be more streamlined and less cluttered. Ideally we're hoping to get to the point where everything loads in just a few seconds. Pardon our dust!

Reading my answer again, I realize it was a bit confusing.

The part about waiting lists relates to real libraries. I also think that Kindle Unlimited isn't the greatest value proposition for people with Amazon Prime, and therefore access to the Kindle Lending Library -- which also limits how many books you can get per month. My apologies!

What do folks think about the Malaysia Airlines crash? Should carriers that fly over contested territory be expected to load electronic countermeasures or redirect their flight paths? Or is it all too expensive and troublesome to be realistic?

I'd like to add my complaint about the tech changes at WaPo. I have LOADS of problems accessing comments, and get weird error messages instead of comments. I sent in a request for help from your IT support desk back on July 3, but I haven't gotten anything back. It's very annoying.

We're sorry! I'll try and find someone to yell at around here.

This is a really basic question, but I'm stumped. I bought a charger that was touted as being able to charge an iPad 1.5 times. Fully charged, it will only charge my iPad to 50% - the same as my tiny purse charger. I need to get a portable charger for travel where I'll be away from a power source for a couple days and may want to recharge my camera or iPad. How do you evaluate how much charge the portable chargers will give? THanks!

That's really odd. I've generally found with portable chargers -- particularly ones from good brands, such as Belkin and the like -- that things have been as advertised. Have others had similar problems?

That's all the time we have for today, guys. Once again, we're sorry for all the technical difficulties (both with the chat and generally when it comes to reading the Post). Thanks for sticking with us, though — we'll do better next time. Promise!

In This Chat
Brian Fung
Andrea Peterson
Hayley Tsukayama
Nancy Scola
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