Switchback: Talking Tech

May 23, 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.

Hit us with your best shot!

Where are we in rural USA in obtaining internet? Are we going to be left out totally if all available space is used by few in "their" fact lanes?

This map, courtesy of NTIA, paints a good picture of which areas have wireline broadband coverage. Most places have one or two providers. But three or more? Fugghedaboutit.


The difficulty is that it's expensive to build broadband out to rural areas. This can be overcome somewhat by wireless carriers using what's called "low-band spectrum" -- airwaves that because of their physical properties, can travel over long distances without being interrupted. This is an expensive business too, but you can imagine someday connecting to the Web via mobile broadband primarily if you don't have access to cable or fiber.

Is there a way of doing that?

If you mean the blog is no longer online, I have some good news: The Internet Archive has this super magic thing called the "Wayback Machine." It's almost exactly what it sounds like -- a way to travel through Internet space and time to retrieve that long lost LiveJournal. As long as you have the URL of the site, there's a decent chance they've archived a previous version. Some things, like graphics, might not be available -- but they really do have an awful lot of the Internet backed up there: 411 billion pages, to be more precise. 

We had a little back-end issue with this question in the chat, so I'm just reposting it:

Is it really a laptop killer? Anyone tried it yet? Is the idea that it can replace a laptop for all use cases, or just for the standard word processing + streaming video user?

I am, in fact using it right now, to answer this question.

The promise from Microsoft is that, yes, you can use it as a total laptop replacement for all use cases, especially since it runs a full version of Windows.

I've been using it as my main machine for two days now -- everything I;ve written for  the site yesterday and today was written on the Surface -- and I have to say that I'm pretty convinced that it could be a laptop killer.

I'll have a full review up next week, but I would definitely say that Microsoft has fixed nearly all the problems I had with previous models such as the heat issues and portability. (Even though this is a 12-inch device, it's super portable.)

It's definitely good to use for more than typing and video, though.


What video games will you be playing this weekend?

I'm actually working remotely from my hometown today (Hi, mom!) which means I'm away from normal gaming set up. Luckily, I think I have some of my old favorites and at least one original Playstation packed in a box here somewhere, so I might try to get in some nostalgia time with Spyro. 

And like most weekends, I will end up losing a ridiculous amount of time to Civ V -- which my laptop mostly handle. It is an addiction. 

I will be reviewing a pretty big game this weekend. But I can't tell you what that is.


I'll be stuck in a car for a while this afternoon, so I'm looking forward to getting further in Monument Valley. Most puzzle games are really frustrating until you solve the problem; with this Escher-esque one, the process of solving the puzzle is the most enjoyable part. It makes you feel smart.

What's the Switch doing to the holiday? Can I hang out with you? Not trying to be creepy or anything.

Well, in a few hours I'll be headed to a beach in Delaware. If you're there, make sure to say hi!

But you asked what I'm doing to the holiday. I intend to smash it. With a beach trowel.

I am deep in the heartland right now, working remotely through the magic of the Internet. So unless you want to run around with me through some prairie, probably not.

I'm visiting family in Kansas specifically -- it's my home state and where my Twitter handle comes from. Rock Chalk!

P.S. Hayley is a Mizzou grad, but we still get along.

Do you guys think tablets are on the decline? If so, why? Do you guys use yours much?

I think that tablets are in a lull because they've sort of played-out their obvious market. People who want to use them for video-streaming and other consumption purposes have bought them, and they're super excited about them. To other people, the uses aren't so obvious, especially since smartphones are getting bigger screens.

But I also think that companies are getting smarter about making good touch interfaces for their applications, and so maybe tablets are going to become better for content creation, aka doing stuff.

As to the second part of your question, I do use my tablet a lot, because I watch a lot of video and I like to use it for video-chatting with my family and friends, and it's easier to prop up than my phone.


I had an iPad for a while, and liked it when I had it. Now I have a convertible laptop/tablet hybrid that I really like -- although, honestly, it's probably a little TOO bulky to be used in the same way as an iPad or a Surface. I end up using it as a laptop roughly 90% of the time, but that may also be because I'm an old fogey* and really like having a physical keyboard. 

*I am technically the youngest member of the team... But my lifestyle is pretty old womanish besides the constant tech use. 

I don't use my iPad nearly as often as I'd like. Mainly because I'm creating content, and my laptop is just the better tool for that. 

More broadly, though, I think size has a lot to do with why tablets have kind of reached a plateau. They're not as versatile as many people imagined, in part because we treat them as fragile objects. This essay on tablet tossability is really important. For tablets to be truly ubiquitous and useful, they need to be cheap, and they need to be small enough that you can imagine them not as computers but almost as little index cards. Kinda like the actual PADDs they had on Star Trek. (I've written about this before.) 

What is your high score in 2048

Only 36,060, at least on this machine? I haven't made it to a 4096 square yet, but I know people who have. And am jealous of them. 

We've already established that if Andrea were a meme, she'd be Doge. Which memes would Brian and Hayley be, respectively?

I think we should open this one up to the crowd. What do you guys think?

I think if I had to guess, people might say I bear a resemblance to Conspiracy Keanu.

Ok, so which one of you three is the biggest nerd?

I know this is going to be hard to hear, but I think we are all equally geeky in our own special little ways. 

Basically getting to work with these nerds is like this, every single day: 

I like this answer so, so much. 

Which pairs better with Super Mario 3D World: Red wine or scotch?

Good question. We should definitely think about booze pairing in future reviews.

I think the answer to that question, though, depends mainly on two things: how well you handle your booze and how competitively you play Super Mario 3D World.

I'd just say that if you're super-competitive, then red wine stains are much worse than scotch stains.

As a fan of whiskey, I think it'd be a waste to have to split your attention between an amazing game and an amazing beverage. Red wine.

Why is Brian Fung so handsome?


Having just recently read this Sunday NYT piece on the science of attraction, I'm curious to know whether you're thinking in terms of consensus or uniqueness.

Brian bathes in the blood of innocents on a nightly basis to keep that youthful look going. He's actually immortal, and I'm hoping he will one day pass on the gift to me. 

But seriously, he's also a really snazzy dresser. 

So is Airbnnb going to have to start giving its user data to lots of governments, now that it has created the precedent with the New York attorney general?

That's certainly the New York attorney general's hope. In announcing the deal this week, Eric Schneiderman said he hoped it would become a model for other states that are skeptical of Airbnb's business. This story isn't over.

did something get lost in translation for that question? It sounds like you're probably talking about the Surface Pro 3? Are you?

Ah, yes. Sorry about that. We are, in fact, talking about the Surface Pro 3.

And while we're doing so, I'd really like to hear from you all about the things you want to see in my review of it next week.

Andrea, Hayley -- I want to know how you guys feel about this whole Star Wars spinoff thing. Episode VII isn't even out yet and they're already thinking about expanding the franchise? How is this a good idea?

I don't feel great about it. Just like I don't feel great about there being a new trilogy set in the Harry Potter universe based on a book that is a 54 page long mock text book. 

I heard in the news that people have been beaten and mugged recently while trying to buy iPhones through Craigslist. What are your preferred ways of buying and selling used gadgets?

I honestly don't do a lot of buying and selling in used gadgets -- my cast offs end up in an ever expanding drawer of "electronics I used to use." But I think police stations offering up their lobbies and parking lots as swap locations for Craigslist deals seems pretty smart. 

A journalist friend of mine recently sold his old iPhone on Facebook. You've already got an in-built social network there, so why not tap into it?

In the past few days we've heard stories about Facebook tracking you more heavily, Facebook upping privacy settings and Facebook letting other users ask you to fill in missing profile information. What's their endgame here? Do they want us to have more privacy or less? What do you think Zuckerberg's ideal Facebook ecosystem looks like at this point?

I think Facebook's endgame is, basically, to have people trust them enough to get them to give it information.

Information is the currency on which Facebook operates, and they've had a difficult time really getting people to trust them. So the changes they've made to their privacy settings address a lot of the more common-sense criticisms that people have about Facebook, such as the recent decision to make new users' posts default to their friends rather than to the general public.

So it's not really a question of how much privacy Facebook wants you have, it's a question of wanting to clear about what data it has, how it uses it and what benefits its users get when they share information. If all that's clear, then people can make their own decisions about how much stuff they want to hand over.

Zuckerberg has said that he wants Facebook to be a platform -- which means that it has to have the users and data to be valuable to a lot of different companies in order to strike partnerships.


Brian, re: spinoffs, I think that they definitely run the risk of diluting the brand, which runs counter to the ambition to really re-launch the brand to a new generation of folks.

I understand the desire to get a lot of points of entry into the franchise, but you have to make sure the new reboot is strong enough on its own before you fragment it.


Totally agree. Exploring a universe as large as the Star Wars universe takes time.

I could go outside and enjoy the weather this weekend. Or I could stay on my couch for 12 hours without moving. What's a great sci-fi Netflix binge show? I've done BSG, Buffy, DW, Torchwood, Orphan Black (not Netflix but whatev)

Firefly. Always Firefly.


A friend of mine keeps trying to convince me to watch Farscape. I got 15 minutes into the first episode and had to stop watching because it was so campy. But you might have better luck.

To pile onto this Joss Whedon lovefest, I'd say Doll House. Once it goes from monster of the week to longterm narrative, it's amazing.

 But there are a few other good options too: Tin Man is up, and I believe our team's Star Trek obsession is well documented -- although we have some disagreements about which series is the best, I think they're all on there? (I personally suggest TNG) 

Re: yesterday's FB rant—is there anyone in Silicon Valley whose head isn't stuck in the cloud?

My colleague Chris Cilizza had a great post on this yesterday. The only thing I'd add would be that this seems like the Green Lantern Theory of Politics -- the mistaken idea that "if only Obama would try harder to LEAD!" -- but for journalism. It's easy to call for the media to cover the things that matter. But Mike Hudack might reconsider his position if he'd read Ta-Nehisi Coates' excellent piece on the legacy of racism in America.

I accidentally broke another question in the livechat because I'm apparently terrible. So here you go:


I gotta say, I'm dying in this apparent innovation lull. There's nothing in stores or that's coming out that I really, really want to get right now. IPhone 6? Eh. Galaxy-whatsis that you can drop in water? Dude, that's really dumb. Tablet? Who cares. It's making me itchy -- I really want to give money to somebody to feel cool and awesome and techy again. But I can't find anything right now. Please help!

To which I answer:

a) The Washington Post is cool and will always take your money. Subscribe to us!

b) Have you thought about trolling around on Kickstarter? There are lots of cool ideas, and then you can feel like you helped a teensy bit in bringing something you really really like to market.

Just remember that cool Kickstarters also occasionally get acquired by ginormous companies. *cough* Oculus *cough*

Silicon Valley investor Marc Andreessen dropped in this week. He thinks that in 20 years, we'll talk about Bitcoin like we talk about the Internet today. What do you guys think? 

Ha! We are of one mind. 

I think that we definitely need a payments system to fix everything, because he's right that the current system is stupid. I'm not totally sold that on the promise that the solution is Bitcoin, but I'm not ruling it out.

Sorry, I"m wishy-washy.

What do you enjoy most about reporting on lobbying for Politico?




Look forward to next week's review. But...how important is getting the Pro (which costs as much as a laptop), vs the Surface or the Pro with an Atom processor, if all I want is MS Office and access to Dropbox? Or do I have to spend $900?

Note from Hayley: Edited to make sense

Another good question. Anyone looking at the Surface Pro 3 certainly has to think about price, because it is about as much as a normal laptop. It starts at $799 for the i3 processor.

I mean, ultimately, you should get the device that fits your needs -- don't feel guiltly about not getting upsold.

To Microsoft's credit, they've been pretty upfront about saying the Surface Pro line is not for people who aren't willing to put up the cash for a full laptop replacement because they want something super-portable that does all the laptop-like things they want.

Now I have a question for the group: What do you think about the super-optimistic things Marc Andreessen predicted for the future of Bitcoin in our chat earlier this week? 

It's obviously going through some stuff right now, but do you think it will be as vital to society in 20 years as the Internet is now, as he said?

How many pixels are there?

If you're asking specifically about the Surface Pro 3, the answer is that it has a 2160 x 1440 12-inch display, which is about 50 percent more than previous models.

But if you're asking just...like...in the world? I have no idea.


The pixels are infinite -- the only limit is your own mind. 

As a parting gift, I leave to you this story on how OMG science is dying and it's all thanks to Obamaz.

Thanks to all you folks who came to chat, even ahead of a long weekend! We'll see you next week!

In This Chat
Brian Fung
Andrea Peterson
Hayley Tsukayama
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