Switchback: Talking Tech

May 02, 2014

The Switch team talked about gadgets, tech and tech policy in their weekly chat. Hayley Tsukayama, Brian Fung and Andrea Peterson 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.

Hi guys! Let's do this. 

Poll request: how do Switch staffers pronounce "doge" and "gif." There is only one correct answer to each; do not disappoint us.

This is a topic of fierce internal debate at the Switch. Hayley and I are both originalists. We pronounce gif like the peanut butter choosy mom's choose...

... the same way the creator of the format pronounces it. And doge like the historical leaders of Venice...

Brian, as we understand it, disagrees. (He is wrong.)


Hayley and Andrea are both wrong. Here's why.

The argument for pronouncing "gif" with a soft G is based on a presumption that originalism is always best. But there's no reason why something should be considered better or correct just because it came first. Hayley and Andrea should appreciate this most of all, as they cover technology — which is continually improving. Who would argue that the Apple II is in any way more correct than the MacBook Pro? Only someone with a profound emotional attachment (bordering on worship) of The Original. And that's fine if that describes you, but you have to acknowledge that when you interpret the word "gif" like that, you're no better than a Biblical literalist.


How are you planning to celebrate Star Wars day? Are you more excited for that, or the first Cinco de Cuatro?

Well, now I'm planning to celebrate them by making an elaborate gif (PRONOUNCED LIKE JIF) battle between Arrested Development and Star Wars. Just kidding. Probably. But, no seriously, have any gif suggestions for my new passion project? 

Hayley level with us - what do you think the likelihood that Google Glass - or products like it - will really take off in the coming years?

Good question. I think thaey have a chance at taking off.

Without a doubt,  I was pretty critical of Glass in my writeup this week. But I actually do think that products like it have a decent chance of taking off at some point down the line.

I think the form of computing as we know it is going to change, and that there's potential for the heads-up display. It is nice, really, not to have to pull your phone out of your pocket every time you feel a vibration, phantom or otherwise. And it's nice to actually be able to look up when you're getting turn-by-turn directions.

But as blunt as I was about Glass, I think I was also pretty upfront that most of what I didn't like about Glass was the way people reacted to the way it looked.

If someone could figure out how not to make them look alienating -- like Google's already trying to do with fancy frames -- they have a much better chance. And, of course, there will have to be some etiquette things we work out as a society.

Will it be Google that cracks the code? I'm not sure. But they've definitely stumbled on something interesting.

Which one of you is a) coolest, b) types the fastest, c) capable of programming a VCR?

As the oldest person on The Switch -- at the ripe old age of 28 -- I'm probably the best person to program a VCR. In fact, I do it every time I go home to Minnesota, because that's still how my parents record things. (It's a cable-less, DVR-less household.)

Hey now, Hayley — I can program a VCR just fine, thank you. Although maybe you still win considering I don't currently have any VCRs to program.

I am somewhere in between you both on the VCR issue: At one point, I knew how to program one, although I probably can't now. But there is a VCR in my apartment!

Oh, and we're all equally uncool. And we like it that way. 

I'm really just not that into Star Trek OR Star Wars. Am I still welcome here?

Yes, but you might not get invited to our team outting to watch the midnight release of Episode VII. 

We're a big tent, here. But out of curiosity, what are you into?

Will you please make a "deal with it" gif of Hayley wearing Google Glass?

I'd be on board with that. But it's sort of conceited to do a .gif selfie, isn't it? Someone else will have to oblige.

Go, Internet go!

Oh, look. Our awesome chat producer, Jessica Stahl, just did:

Can humans and drones find true love? Will society ever accept it? Was HER a turning point for us all?

Well, there are a lot of people who would probably prefer drone love to drone war. 

But it sounds like there's a personal story going on here, would you care to elaborate? 

So, I accidentally deleted a great question about board games to play that aren't Settlers of Catan. Sorry about that -- but I'm still answering it.

Obviously, there's Star Trek Catan. 

But the Switch collective also recommends 7 Wonders (it's like Civilization, the board game!), Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, Fluxx, Munckin, and -- if anyone is committed enough to actually be a dungeon master -- good ol' D&D. 

I'm also super into cooperative games because my partner and I are hyper competitive (and nearly broke up over a game of traditional Settlers once.) Forbidden Island, Pandemic, and a bunch of Lovecraft themed games like Mansions of Madness and Elder Sign in this genre are great. Another personal favorite is Betrayal at House on the Hill which starts out cooperative, but after, well, a betrayal one player is pitted against the rest of the group in a battle for survival. 

Anyone have other suggestions? 

I'm sorry, Brian, I pronounce words the way they're pronounced.  That's really all I have to say on the matter.

The Atlantic just came out with an article "A Eulogy for Twitter" with some compelling stats and figures on why Twitter's stagnation may mean an AOL-like future. What say you folks? http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/04/a-eulogy-for-twitter/361339/

I think Quartz had a really great chart the other day about this.

That captures Twitter's challenge pretty simply. There are some clear business problems ahead for the company and its attempt to try all sorts of different things (TV, Whisper, etc.) strikes me as a bit like flailing around. That said, I think the sense that Twitter has changed, culturally, is probably okay. It's not as close or intimate as it used to be for many power users (myself included) but I also think power users need to accept that. Twitter won't be useful anymore if it stops growing, and that's true no matter whether you have 10 followers or 10,000.

I also think it's worth remembering that people really like declaring the death of things, as our colleague Caitlin Dewey wrote.

Twitter's definitely got a growth problem, there's no denying that. And it is changing, to try and become more mainstream -- those efforts may or may not work. But it's too soon to pass judgement on those and definitely too soon declare that it's totally dead.

But all the games are larded with ads. How do I get rid of them? I don't mind paying money for Angry Birds or Minion Madness, just stop asking the kids to buy something every other minute!

There are ad-blocking programs for Android -- I've only used AdBlock Plus myself -- that you can download. It works pretty well.

 I would say that -- as the significant other of a game developer -- that ads are a necessary evil of sorts, so that people can actually make money doing the things they like to do.

Though, of course, I do understand how annoying it can be.

How can the FCC say with a straight face that they are not destroying it or creating a slow and fast lane? As people cut cords and move to an Internet only house, comcast et al have a very biased reason to not allow faster internet. It hurts their business. Its already why we have to have a pointless land line phone even though its not even plugged in for many people. What would it take for the government to determine that the Internet is basically a utility ? Our Internet is already very slow for a modern country and this shouldn't be the case.

Actually taking the step to reclassify would be really easy. The FCC would simply have to say "here's why we originally classified it this way, and now here's why we think differently." This would be completely within the bounds of the FCC's authority, and would likely withstand any legal challenge.

But folks also say that the move would create a firestorm on Capitol Hill and among industry, which makes it really unlikely that the FCC will take that route until it has exhausted all its other options.

What will be the next job to be replaced by robots? How long before robots take over journalism?

I don't think journalists are necessarily next in line to be replaced by robots. But I do think it's really valuable to consider the ways that robots and coders can help reporters use their time more efficiently already -- take the Post's Truthteller app which can provide real time fact checking for political speeches or the earthquake bot an LA Time's reporter coded. These are valuable tools that can give reporters time flesh out other areas of their stories -- like narrative elements. 

I think we can take a useful cue here from the dialogue about drones, which is that they're typically used to perform tasks that are dirty, dangerous or dull. 

Maybe at some level that means replacing humans. But in a different light, maybe it also means freeing up humans to do more fruitful tasks.

I do have cable/DVR at home, but on the downside, I am still using my iPad original even though it freezes up at random times. How old in dog years is a 3 1/2 year old iPad?

An original iPad? It's getting up there -- in tech years, I sort of think of two years equaling five -- so it doesn't surprise me that you're seeing some freezing problems.

That said, I think the iPads have held up relatively well, and people are still passing their used ones onto relatives/kids/etc. (Which may be part of the reason Apple's not selling as many new ones.)

In any case, you've probably got at least another year out of it, so you can start saving for a new tablet now!

I read this argument this week here: http://theumlaut.com/2014/04/30/how-net-neutrality-hurts-the-poor/ This seem like dubious logic. No?

I agree with you. The low-quality Scotch Eli is referring to currently doesn't exist today when it comes to the Internet. By allowing a tiered Internet, we would be creating a new brand of low-quality Scotch from scratch just so that we could give it to poor people. The net neutrality rules being floated now wouldn't be taking away people's low-quality Scotch; they would be creating the market for low-quality Scotch.

Can you say more about what makes Ticket to Ride a fun game? We got it on a recommendation from a friend, played it about 6 times, but never "got" it.

Well, this makes me sound like a jerk, but I kind of like trying to block other people's attempts at laying down routes. Maybe that's just because I play with competitive people and there's a lot of ...let's call it cross-talk.... when we play.

It's all good, clean competition.


To the parent with the Android tablet, try putting the tablet into airplane mode while the kids play games. Angry Birds games still work IIRC, and most of them will simply not show ads if they can't download them. (This will usually work for games that sell ad space to third parties, as those are rotated frequently, and will often not work for ads for in-game content or for other products by the same company.)

One thing I've been thinking about this week: Whether socially oriented nonprofits can teach Silicon Valley to be more empathetic and less elitist. What do you guys think? Drop me a comment by submitting a new question. 

I know that Pebble Watches vibrate on your wrist when there is a notification; however, can the Pebble Watch make an alert sound when there is a notification?

The watch itself can't because it doesn't have a speaker, sadly. But the vibrations are much stealthier!

Answers, please.

This is an easy way to start fights -- and possibly existential crises. So I'm going to pretend this question is "what is your favorite board game?"  

Would it be weird if I went with Clue? Not because it's the best board game, but because my family played it a lot when I was growing up (both the meat world version and the Super Nintendo adaptation) and it gets me all nostalgic. 

Yeah, I was also having a tough time with this one. There are so many that I like but picking a best of all time is tough!

I am a Catan fan, because it's complex but actually fairly accessible once you get through the initial explanation process. I'm also a fan of Life, though that could be good associations from my childhood -- I haven't actually played it in a really long time.

As a kid, I used to play a lot of this game called Labyrinth — every time you set up the board, it would look different and change over time. Check it out.

I've been trying to spend more time on the site. What are the best subreddits I should be following?

My very favorite subreddits are Explain Like I'm 5 and Today I Learned. Oldies, but goodies, I suppose. But I always find something interesting.

I'm also a fan of r/ludology, which is all about serious discussion and analysis of interactive media, but that's probably not as good an answer for most people. If you're interested in game design, though, it's an A+ subreddit.

Wait, did you say you're trying to spend more time on there? 

One of my favorite things about reddit is there is a place for your interests -- even if you haven't found it yet. I've definitely spent a good amount of time lurking around r/campingandhiking and r/ultralight when I'm outdoorsy kicks. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, I also appreciate a good r/earthporn post -- don't worry, it's safe for work.) 


Monopoly. First, nobody ever wins. Second, you argue over the rules.

I don't think I've ever finished a game of Monopoly. How is it even supposed to end?

Monolpoly is only fun if you cheat. I mean, have you ever actually read those rules?

(Man, I am not coming off well here as a board game player.)

I don't think the socially-aware startups are going to make Silicon Valley more empathetic. They start by assuming, "There are millions of people who've poured their lives into nonprofits...and those people are doing it wrong. I know nothing about nonprofits but I can do it better than them." Silicon Valley's obsession with scale is a good example. Bill Gates thought, "All I need to do to improve lives in Africa is buy enough mosquito nets." But it turns out the hard part isn't buying the nets; it's distribution, education, support, etc. This can't be done through a website or smartphone app.

Of course, Silicon Valley's answer would be that coming at the problem with a fresh eye is exactly what it can offer. I'm not saying they're right, but that's a plausible argument. 

I have a first-gen iPad that still works great -- except that many of the third-party apps will no longer run. Many of the network video streaming apps and a lot of games no longer support versions that run on the older iOS, and the first iPads can't be upgraded to the latest iOS. So the machine itself still works great (even the battery), but software developers are removing many of the functions.

People talk about Apple engaging in forced hardware obsolescence, but I think you've hit on an actual issue: Software obsolescence. 

Sorry a vinyl LP played on a turntable through a tube pre amp and tube power amp still sound the best. Havent heard anything ye that sounds as good or even close with the latest version of Maggie IIIs as speakers. Digital sucks.

Besides, CDs aren't nearly as good of wall decor as records...

This is a (blurry) picture of the hallway in my apartment: 

Don't worry, I listen to them too. 

I always loaded up my car with pink and blue children. This is not a good real-life strategy. Time to buy some more life insurance!

I want to cut the cable cord and am interested in purchasing a streaming device (basically I'm looking at Fire TV, Roku and Chromecast). What are the pros and cons of each? By the way, I have a Netflix account. Not interested in getting Hulu just yet.

Okay, we're in the lightning round mode now, so here you go. Netflix works on everything, so you're all good there.

Fire TV: Still a little unpolished for its $100 price, but it will expand its catalog -- it moved pretty fast on announcing that HBO deal, for example.

Roku: Great content, but you pay for it. The $50 streaming stick is a good value, though.

Chromecast: It's cheap -- like impulse buy cheap -- which offsets a lamentable lack of content. Best for watching YouTube videos in a group, and for screencasting, if you're into that.



Here's how I feel about Hulu including ads even if you are a Hulu Plus user: 

On that note: we're out of here for another week. Thanks all for joining us!

Next week Andrea and I will be out and about, but Brian will be here with our guest chatter, Innovations editor Matt McFarland.

In This Chat
Brian Fung
Andrea Peterson
Hayley Tsukayama
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