Switchback: Talking Tech

May 30, 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.

Let's do this. 

please ignore


How long until I can take a trip into space? How much is it going to cost me?

At current rates, it costs about $10,000 for every pound of stuff you're trying to loft into orbit, according to space experts. So, suppose you weigh 150 pounds. That's already $1.5 million. Just for you, the meatbag, not counting all the food and water and other supplies you'll need once you're in space.

Thanks for suggesting that last week when I asked about ways to retrieve a blog that's disappeared. I tried it, and it didn't work. Any other suggestions?

Hmm, that was my top strategy. Anybody else have any bright ideas? 

What do YOU think of the HTC One M8's controversial camera?

I assume you're referring to its dual-lens construction, and criticism that, despite HTC touting it as one of the key features of the phone, it doesn't take pictures that are all that great.

Personally, I think that, for most people, it's still a fine camera. I wouldn't use it if I were a professional photographer, but I think it lays some promising groundwork.

I also think that the phone, overall, is good enough that it makes up for whatever weaknesses the camera may bring. 

So what are you WaPo Tech guys and gals doing now as far as OSs? Clinging to Win7, letting Microsoft teach you to like Win8 or joining the Mac cult or are some of you giving Linux a shot? Or maybe you write your articles in WordStar 4 in DOS like George Martin?

I am the Microsoft junkie of the group. Remember this guy?

I have a Windows 7 Desktop and a Windows 8 laptop/tablet hybrid plus some older netbooks with various exotically named flavors of Ubuntu at home. 

Windows 7 in the office. 

I mix and match. Before I started covering tech, I was an Apple gal all the way, and still have a 2010 MacBook Pro that serves as my workhorse computer for any work I do out of the office. It's also, basically, my stereo system, since all of my files are on it.

That said, my SO also built me a pretty sweet Windows 8 PC for gaming two years ago that dual-boots Windows 7. And that's what I do most of my actual computing on at home -- and by computing, I mean gaming. I started using Windows 8 regularly to make sure that I had some balance in my reporting, but now I pretty much never boot into Win 7 -- I've gotten used to Windows 8, in other words. 

I've dabbled in Ubuntu, but not enough to claim any sort of allegiance. 

I run a mid-2012, 15-inch MacBook Pro with a 500 GB SSD, which lets me dual-boot Mac OS X and Windows 7. I do all my work on Mavericks and all my gaming on Windows -- it's a nice way to keep work and play separate. 


What should we fear most about the future?

Just kidding. I don't know -- honestly, to be a tech reporter kind of means you have to be optimistic about the future. As a child, I grew up thinking all the cool inventions had been created already and that life was going to be so dull. Boy, was I wrong. And I can't wait to find out how we'll live 50 years from now.

To actually answer your question, though -- I think one scary thing is that companies building Web-capable devices for the Internet of Things (fridges, toasters, what have you) have very little experience working with software or security. So I'd expect many of these companies will just build things that don't have many protections out of the box.

Why does it seem like all the tech reporters are left wing?

I'm not sure I agree with your premise there -- I know tech reporters who personally identify across the political spectrum. For instance, I would describe The Switch's first editor, Timothy B. Lee, as more libertarian than liberal. And remember when Reason did that entire issue on video games

Hi all, more of a comment than a question. I work in a startup in the area, and because we are near the capitol, I find that the local press cover national issues and regulations more than local tech businesses.

Well, the Switch was launched to specifically discuss tech policy. But Brian has actually done some really excellent reporting on the local start up scene, and all three of us are always up for hearing about the interesting things the local tech companies are doing. 

Our colleagues over at Capital Business also do a lot of good work in this area. Check 'em out!

In general, I totally agree -- startups are often far more affected by local regulations than national legislative efforts surrounding, say, immigration.

Hey guys -- My iPhone 5 broke so I'm using an iPhone 3. The last iPhone 3 update Apple released slows the phone down to make it almost unusable, and there's no way to go back (I've done a lot of research online about this). Can you talk about deliberate obsolesce in tech? People focus so much on new tech, but I think there might be a story here.

Yikes. Sorry to hear about your problems. 

There's definitely an issue in tech relating to how quickly the hot, new thing you bought becomes old and -- as you note -- unusable.  From a company perspective, it's about meeting the pressure to come out with new stuff, and also to keep their software products as streamlined as possible. And making money doesn't hurt, either.

None of that, of course, helps from consumer perspective, when you're told that you must update for security or other reasons and then find that same update all but bricks your phone. But, short of just throwing up your hands and giving into the short product cycle, I don't have much advice for you.

It will be interesting to see if the market for more modular, fixable phones will change that standard -- so you could just swap out a processor or whatever on your own with buying a whole new phone. 

Do others have thoughts on this?

Brian, In your May 20th Article you wrote "The cable guys may have a point: A Title II approach would allow the FCC to ban all ISPs from speeding up or slowing down traffic, but only to a point. Under the law, Title II can only be used to ban "unreasonable" or "unjust" discrimination. If the broadband providers can successfully argue that creating an Internet fast lane falls within this loophole, then they would be free to set up a tiered Internet just like the one allowed by the current plan being considered by the FCC." What do you think about the idea that neutrality should be consumer focused rather than network focused? As in all emails, high definition video, video games, web searches etc would be delivered to the consumer with the same efficiency. Thanks for your comments on this!

The FCC's approach has so far been to take just this tack, arguing that net neutrality is necessary for consumer protection. So I'm not sure I follow. Are you saying maybe the rules should simply say "Consumers must receive services XYZ" as opposed to "ISPs can't do XYZ?" 

I'm assuming all the nerds here have seen "Days of Future Past" already. Expectations for the next installment?

I haven't yet, because I've been sick, but I welcome others to spoil away. It'll be my penance.

Oh no -- I'm failing you too. I've been doing some traveling and generally trying to do outdoors stuff before DC's summer heat becomes unbearable, so haven't made it out to a theater. My spy network tells me Brian hasn't seen it either. 

But surely some of you have seen it -- any thoughts? 

I loaded up my iPhone 5 with 13 gigs of music and a couple dozen necessary apps. The result is that I don't have enough memory to accept the forced iOS7 update, so my phone doesn't look like a child's cartoon.

You can try looking for a cached version? http://www.cachedpages.com/ OR http://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/directly-access-google-cached-pages/#!Sp4jr

My dad is a bit of a conspiracy theorist and he reckons companies do this on purpose to force you into buying more often (see also, deliberately make products that only last a year or two before they break). I don't know if he's right or not, but are there other types of products that are a model for this? Where you just keep swapping in and out parts? I feel like most everything in my life just needs to get replaced and there's no modular upgrade option.

I'd argue PCs, to an extent, let you do that. Though it definitely requires some guts on your part. There are parts of my computer that I'd be willing to upgrade on my own, and parts that I definitely wouldn't. 

This is somewhere between a question and a rant. My iPod is on its last legs. I have a smartphone, but I still use it because I listen to a lot of podcasts and I'd rather drain out the batteries on a separate device than on my phone, which I need for so many other things that I don't want to get caught without juice. Anyhow, I went to look at how much it would cost to replace my iPod (shuffle! outdated tech, right?), thinking it would be cheap - like if I wanted a walkman or something. It is not. It's still over $100. Well over, I think. I was annoyed. That's the rant part. The question part is, would I be an idiot to shell out for that? Am I missing a better option? Requirements: Cheap, simple to organize music and podcasts on, and maybe upgrading from the iPod's need to plug in to update?

If the battery use on your smartphone is the only issue -- rather than space -- maybe investing in an extra battery or case with some built-in extra juice? It should set you back less than a new Shuffle, and end up giving you extra time with your podcasts AND your other smartphone features. 

But honestly, I'm not in a great position to advise on a dedicated music player. I use either a now six year old iPod classic or stream Spotify and podcasts from my smartphone. 

Has SpaceX set a new standard for re-usability, and do you think other other companies will follow suit?

It's trying to. The old space shuttle, before it was retired, was reusable. But SpaceX would like to expand on that capacity dramatically, particularly by reducing the amount of turnaround time needed to put the spacecraft back into orbit. The hope is to be able to simply refuel the ship and that'll be that.

I was disappointed with the HTC M8 and S5 only having a 801 to power them. Do you think the S5 Prime with the 805 will be released in the states? Thoughts on the M8 prime?

Rumor has it that the HTC M8 Prime has been suspended indefinitely, though I haven't had any time yet to check into that myself. 

As for the S5 Prime, it kind of sounds like they're looking at a pretty limited release -- shades of the Galaxy Round -- so they may be scarce.

Doesn't the Internet need prioritization in order to deliver good quality video streaming and other services to consumers? Why is that seen as such a bad thing.

Not necessarily. This is the core of the debate between Netflix and ISPs. Netflix says that the ISPs can avoid having to prioritize if they would just host their content inside the ISP's own networks. The ISPs say, "Why would we do that? Where would it end?" 

So prioritization isn't the only solution. It's just one solution favored by some. 

I think your iPod solution is a good one, Andrea. Seems to be the best way to meet all of the poster's requirements.

I'm doing some onboarding paperwork to join a new company, and the forms are supposedly optimized for IE 9 and Safari 5. I try to make them work on, in this order: Chrome for Mac, Safari for Mac, Chrome on Chromebook, and IE on Surface. None of them work. I called the help desk and they said "Well, you better come on into the office and use one of our machines." This from a company that has more than 10,000 locations in the US. Awesome.

Another yikes.

Companies lag behind in a lot of tech areas, which is understandable, but also pretty dangerous given how many browser updates are made for security fixes. 

My Old Dell Studio Laptop is on Life Support. I've resurrected it a few times by pushing F12 and putting it through diagnostics. When it's done with that, I reboot and it magically works again. So I want a new laptop. My techy relative says to say NO to Win 8. All I know is Microsoft and some apps (FLASH) does not work on Android or Mobile Platforms. Soooooo. What do I get. Don't want to spend too much. I was hoping no more than $600. I don't do gaming. Email, Facebook, Video, Excel, and Word.

While it's not available everywhere, you can still buy Windows 7 on a fair number of machines. It sounds like you just need a moderate priced laptop with Microsoft Office. Dell actually has some models within your price range that come with Windows 7 on their Web site, if you were happy with your last choice there. 

Am I missing something? I seem to be able to drive around all day listening to my music or podcasts on the headset, and there's still plenty of battery left. The only thing I can put a finger on is that I close any unused apps, but I assume everyone does this.

Not missing something per se -- just that not everyone is going to have the same exact ezperience. Battery life varies from device to device depending on user behavior and environmental factors, plus the ability to keep a charge does degrade over time -- so no, you're not imagining it when it seems like your laptop battery doesn't last as long as it used to. 

So some CEO, at whatever that recent conference was, bemoaned the state of internet speeds in the US. Basically said we were no better than a third-world country. Is this true? 'Cause my internet at home is pretty darn fast.

I believe you're referring to comments from Masayoshi Son, founder and president of Softbank and chairman of Sprint, made at the recent Code conference.

First, we should make clear that Son was talking about wireless Internet speeds, not wired ones. He has motive in raising this point, for sure, since he's trying to buy T-Mobile by arguing a deal like that would improve broadband speeds.

But it is true that some parts of the U.S., mostly rural areas,  have really abysmal Internet speeds. We're a big country and our population distribution is pretty unique, in the world.

Son's picture -- he cited stats saying that they reach 700 mbps in parts of Japan on Softbank's LTE vs. the 2.6 mpbs in the U.S. (stats there are from 2012) --is likely more dire and dramatic than the reality, but there's definitely more the U.S. could do if it wants to get every American connected to high-speed broadband.

This was a topic on reddit recently (http://www.reddit.com/r/funny/comments/1egnrr/i_officially_have_lost_all_hope_in_my_hospitals/ ) in response to an image that was mindboggling outside of this context of how the software used by some companies is lagging behind in terms of browser support. The pic: http://i.imgur.com/vOakVSj.jpg

I have a Surface, and use it much in the way that you described during your Surface 3 Pro review. It's a great machine to write on and perform simple tasks that are most easily completed on an actual computer. However, something that was missing, and an item that has continually bugged me about the Surface, is that the Windows App Store is severely lacking. If you do not have a Pro model that allows virtually any plugin to run on IE, the machine is severely hamstrung against its Android and Apple competitors in available content.

I definitely agree with that, and probably should have discussed it more in the review. Microsoft really does need to get more developers (developers, developers) on building out what they offer on the Win 8 store.

Thanks for hanging out -- see you next week!

In This Chat
Brian Fung
Andrea Peterson
Hayley Tsukayama
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