Switchback: Talking Tech (August 29)

Aug 29, 2014

The team from The Switch discussed everything from the latest political tech news to the gadgets you’re eyeing.

Hi everyone, here is a gif Hayley hates!

The hazing on this chat is getting out of hand.

I was going to say "it's not hazing if you were here before the rest of us," but then Andrea put up that gif of me, so now I'm rethinking my position…

Redshirt means something COMPLETELY different to most people. I had a bit of a doubletake this morning seeing an article about whether parents should redshirt their kindergarteners. I don't think kindergarteners should be allowed on away missions at all.

Agreed, remember what happened to Wesley in the episode Justice

Kindergarteners are so much shorter and nimbler than your average redshirts, though. All those plasma rounds would miss.

This is one of those times where I really have no idea what you people are talking about. Redshirting to me is when you skip playing a year of college sports. 

Is Amazon's acquisition of Twitch.tv a big deal? Are the gamers there worried about whether this will change the nature of their community?

I get the sense that people are less worried about the culture shift under Amazon than they were about it under Google. Hearing the comments from Twitch's CEO, he didn't directly say that Google wanted more control, but he did say they "went with Amazon" because they offered Twitch its complete independence.

Though mainstreaming, in general, I think changes the nature of all communities. Actually, I'd love to hear from goodreads users to find out if they've noticed any community changes post-acquisition.

I think the whole Twitch thing says a lot more about Google than it does about Twitch or Amazon. The fact that the Google deal fell through because of antitrust concerns says a lot about how well-positioned Google already is in this market.

Semi-related: 

We're thinking about this too. 

This bit is fascinating to me, too. During the long wait for the appointment of the first CTO, there was, as Brian would say, "a great deal of debate" over where that person might come from -- government, 'Silicon Valley'? But we seem to be shifting to a normal where those jobs are being filled by people deeply experienced as commercial technologists. 

There's even one other SV-related name circulating for the CTO slot that's super interesting to me because of the background of the person. But it's too gossipy at this point to mention. So instead I'll link

Now that we're catching glimpses of the newest smartwatches that are about to hit the market, have any of you changed your mind to be more bullish on their potential? I feel like in this chat we've all been generally meh on whether this is going to become a thing.

Maybe just a little? I have to say that, for the first time, I was really intrigued by a smartwatch's look -- the LG, which essentially looks exactly like an analog watch. 

I'm still not totally sold on the function -- at least not at the same price as a standard smartphone, but at least the form is getting better, and fast. 

I'd love to hear some other readers weigh in on this. Are wearables just a fad? And if you think they are, I challenge you with another question: Do you think wearables are inherently faddish, or is it simply the way we've envisioned them to date that's the fad?

Amazon is buying twitch for roughly $1 billion. Jeff Bezos bough the Post last year for $250 million. Discuss.

In a word, "platforms." 

In a few more words, digital platforms like Twitch have really ridiculous scalability -- your users are creating your content, and that's a tremendous place for a business to be. But it is an interesting reflection of where money and power are pooling these days. 

So rememeber real player? Like back in the day that was THE media player online. But I think I saw a twitter ad yesterday that said something like: "Real Player works with your Chromecast!" and was like - that's still a thing? What is Real Player up to these days and is it really back?

I HAVE NO IDEA, AND NOW I REALLY WANT TO KNOW. 

Okay, Google found out the answer for me: Apparently "RealPlayer Cloud" is a thing? And it's essentially exactly what it sounds like like -- a cloud where you can upload videos to share them with your friends. People seem to generally like it

I've actually spoken with RealPlayer several times in the past couple of years, and they have a pretty interesting story. 

For a while they were mostly a ringback tone company (right?). Maybe last year or the year before, they did launch a cloud-based media storage site that works across multiple platforms, which works pretty well. They've also brought back their founder, Rob Glaser, to be CEO and really get the employees excited about the brand. They're an underdog, but it's kind of a neat story.

Do you guys ever watch Twitch streams? In your opinion, what's the best spectator video game?

Any guess on the Apple iwatch price point?

My guess is $200 or $300, but maybe that's just because I can't imagine paying more than that for a smartwatch. 

The standard price for a smartwatch -- to the extend that it exists -- is between $200 and $300. Apple's not known for undercutting on price, so I agree we'd see something in that range.

Something I've been thinking about this morning: There's been a sharp decline in the amount of money companies are spending on technology. Harvard Business Review's Justin Fox points out that may be because the cost of technology has declined. He deflects this chart:

With this revised chart:

What else do people find interesting about this trend?

Yes, more awesome/terrifying robot videos please! 

I don't see it. It sounds like just a fad to me. But, to be fair, when cameraphones first came out I was one of the last to get the point. "But I already have a camera that takes better pictures." <-- Me in 2003.

I, too, am a wearables skeptic. But I do think there might be some specific cameraphone parallels -- the best camera is the one you have with you, right? Having one on your face rather than one you need to fish out of your pocket could be helpful, if only it didn't make everyone treat you like a leper

And yes, it took a lot of self restraint not to include the Hayley gif here again. 

Let's take a break from tech for a second. What are everyone's Labor Day plans?

I'm headed for a nice trip with some non-Switch co-workers to NOLA. So recommendations are welcome, everyone.

Via the Twitters:

Alright: Hello Kitty is obviously a cat, right? With whiskers? But that goes against my general attitude of "the people who make things get to define them" -- see: our .gif pronunciation debates -- so I'm a little torn.

On 3DS I'm on slightly more solid ground. I have to say that, in handhelds, I'm actually pretty impressed with Nintendo today. The Vita has sort of been the best handheld by default for a while now, but the graphics on the New 3DS and New 3DS LL look really good. Plus, they've added some smart browsing and media sharing capabilities. 

That said, I just got word from Nintendo that they're not planning to release either in the U.S. this year. So any pressure isn't happening before Christmas, when it would really need to jump in and compete.

I am also on team "Hello Kitty is a cat" regardless of what Sanrio actually thinks, and my own thoughts on gif pronunciation. 

Yes, Hello Kitty is a cat. Obviously. Or else she's one of those freak people who get plastic surgery to look like an animal. Which option is less disturbing?

Does anyone other than Sanrio actually disagree with this assessment? 

I can't imagine wanting to use any sort of wearables unless they are functional enough to replace my phone. That being said, I wouldn't object to a Pip-Boy.

Nor would I, dear reader. Nor would I. 

Giving an entire day over to sitting in the sun, reading the last book in the Magicians trilogy, and forgetting that there is such thing as a job. Can. Not. Wait.

Assuming tht there are new iPhones on the horizon, will the price of the iPhone 5 fall? I'm talking outright purchase here, since I want to keep my grandfathered unlimited data plan.

Prices do normally fall, yes. I think you can plan on that.

I'm a little less sure this year because of the iPhone 5c wildcard Apple threw into the mix, but I will say that they'd be dumb not to take the price down on the 5s. They always do a nice business on the discounted previous models -- especially overseas, where they need the growth.

Not that Apple cares about what I think is or is not dumb.

I think that it is hard for us to opine on wearables in general and on Apple's rumored watch in particular, because we are all thinking of the watch we already have with electronics shoved in. That would be like deciding how the iPhone was going to do based on a flip phone with more electronics. What Apple can bring to the party is the sublime design chops of Jony Ive along with the engineering team. I hope what they will give us is something we have not even imagined yet, because most of what we have seen and imagined just does not work.

we are all thinking of the watch we already have with electronics shoved in.

YES. THIS.

The Henry Ford "faster horse" argument. I'm inclined to agree.

I'm doing a staycation where I have challenged myself to detach from Twitter and FB for three days. We'll see how it goes.

Ooh, good luck. That does not sound easy.

Actually -- something I've been mulling. Do Facebook users even enjoy using Facebook now? Sometimes I feel like I"m just hate-using it; even as I'm tapping on the app, I'm thinking, "I really don't want to do this. Why am I checking this right now?"

But then I find myself checking it multiple times per day.

I'm also a Facebook hate-user. But I've actually gotten pretty good at disconnecting from at least professional use of Facebook and Twitter on the weekends....

It's weird that I have held jobs that involve professional use of those platforms for maybe 3 years now. Whatever. Offline this weekend, I hope. 

That's what I do every weekend. Maybe it's just that I'm lazy, but I find it a little stressful to go on when I'm not at work, where I'm on it all the time.

I've found myself wondering how "sticky" Facebook would be if birthdays didn't exist. The goodwill generated by folks celebrating you that day helps carry people through the many no-fun Facebook days, I suspect. 

So who else is a huge fan of the Oryx and Crake trilogy? And is excited that it's being turned into an HBO miniseries with Darren Aronofsky involved? And worried about how they will handle the HUGE AMOUNT OF BIZARRE NUDITY required for that? 

This is kind of how I feel about most social media now. Or maybe obligation-using. There are few that I get real pleasure out of using. The signal-to-noise is too high. The pressure to be witty and clever is too high. The FOMO and jealousy is too high. The ones I enjoy now are the ones where I feel like I'm engaging in something real. Reddit can feel that way sometimes. Whisper has had some fun, validating interactions for me. I think we're nearing some sort of tipping point on all this stuff though where we course correct for the social media bubble that's been happening.

"Obligation-using." I love that.

In response to Brian's charts, at my company (large enterprise software company) there has been a real move to cloud consumption of services. This means the HUGE implementation projects are going away as customers just sign up for an externally hosted service. No idea if this is a factor in driving down tech spending in the HBR article, but its definitely something I see on the ground. Off topic, but does The Switch have any new / good sci-fi they would recommend for Labor Day reading?

To clarify — do you mean that your customers are turning to third-party cloud-based solutions and hurting your revenue? Or are you saying that this means your company enjoys lower costs? 

As for the sci-fi reading — I've gotten really into a series by Joel Shepherd that's about an android supersoldier who finds herself on the wrong side of an interstellar war (hooray for strong female leads!). I started mid-way through the series but I don't feel lost at all; then there's an added bonus that the books are incredibly smart and politically oriented. It's like House of Cards meets Star Wars. Check it out.

Well, obviously the Oryx and Crake trilogy. Also enjoyed Wind Up Girl, although think its ending tied up everything together almost too neatly... which is  a weird criticism to levy after recommending Oryx and Crake.

My book club is about to do Peter Watts' "Blindsight," but I haven't started reading yet. 

HBO's pretty much got that figured out. It's the main reason they stay in business.

Yeah, but the nudity required for Oryx and Crake SHOULDN'T be titillating. I'm talking about a lot of sexual violence, and giant, blue, nigh alien-looking male genitalia. 

On disconnecting from social media. I think it's like people who work at a coffee shop and end up hating the smell of coffee. Or whatever. No matter how interested you are in these things, when it's what you're focused on for 8+ hours every workday, you don't want it to invade your personal life as well.

To be honest, it's also made it hard to read for pleasure on the weekends, too. But as I note in my answer to another question above, I'm slowly recovering from that.

A little bit old now, but I finally cracked "Rogues," the short-story anthology edited by GRRM, with contributions from an all-star sci-fi/fantasy roster of authors. It came out in May, but I just got around to it.

I'm a fan of short stories on long weekends, myself. 

And by May, I may mean June. Whatever Wikipedia says.

Kotaku had the best take on the Hello Kitty controversy, which they chalk up to poor Japanese translation. Sure, Hello Kitty not a cat, in the sense that she's not an animal. But she's also not *human*. This should be obvious. Yes, Sanrio called Hello Kitty a girl, but in the same sense that Minnie Mouse is a girl. These are neither animals, nor humans. They are cartoon characters, and that's what the Sanrio spokesperson was trying to express.

Seems very reasonable. 

With multiple companies such as Amazon and Google looking to expand drone use for things such as package delivery, would the existing Air Traffic Control infrastructure be sufficient to track the drones? Assuming this becomes more common, what sort of infrastructure would need to be built to make sure drones aren't smashing into each other over my house?

This is what the six drone test sites around the country are meant to test. Before drones can safely fly in U.S. airspace, the government says we need more research on sense-and-avoid technologies that will help drones identify and avoid airborne and ground-based obstacles. But this isn't an insurmountable problem. 

I do know the Google drones, at least for testing and probably for whatever final product they may produce, have pre-programmed flight paths. It's honestly something I hadn't thought of before, but it makes total sense.

I heard a report on the JP Morgan hacking incident last night that basically indicated that JPMC has been hacked even though it invests huge resources in security. This comes on top of all the other big hacking episodes recently like Target. Just curious, but in five years what is going to happen? Should we all get used to having our identities stolen; are companies going to be forced to disconnect anything sensitive from the net; or is security going to get a lot better.

I don't have a very feel good answer for you. I think things are pretty bad, and all too often customers are the last to know when there are major breaches so they aren't able to even take timely precautionary measures to reduce the chance of fraud.

Even though it's amazing,  the Internet is also dark and full of terrors. 

And to throw more cold water on wearables -- I swear, I don't really hate them! -- I do worry about what happens when even more devices we carry around will be able to make payments and give us bank balance information....

Yeah. I think it's likely to get even worse before it gets better, if it gets better. 

What a lot of security experts do seem to agree on is that there is no magic list of checkboxes you can tick off to be considered truly safe. Security is a process, not a result. To that end, companies need to be held accountable for what they do and don't do. The Federal Trade Commission has been very active on this front, to the dismay of some who fear government overreach. In the case of consumers, though, a generalized fear of centralized power will probably take a backseat to the concrete fear of having identities stolen, financial information compromised, etc.

To clarify, I'm saying that customers who previously might have purchased on-premise software and the corresponding implementation services are now buying a cloud solution (from us or a cloud competitor). This is hurting our consulting revenue. The overall cost of ownership for cloud is often lower, and some of that cost savings is taken straight out of services. On sci-fi, I'll check add those to my reading list. If you like space-opera with a strong female lead I'd check out Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. I believe it just won a Hugo.

My book club read Ancillary Justice earlier this year but I didn't get around to it and couldn't make the meeting!

You're making me reconsider my life choices. 

Exactly -- It's already a hassle to put your cards into an anti-RFID wallet. What are you supposed to do for your wrist? Walk around looking like a cornerback with a big wrap on your arm?

You mean other than the iPad, which everyone expected to run at least $799 and maybe up to $999...then came in at $499.

I didn't say they never undercut on price, I just said they're not known for it. 

Especially ahead of a holiday weekend. Have an epic one.

And if you already have questions for next week, we congratulate you on your preparation and kindly ask that you submit them here.

In This Chat
Brian Fung
Andrea Peterson
Hayley Tsukayama
Nancy Scola
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