Switchback: Talking Tech

Jun 06, 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.

We're bringing in an extra special guest to get help get everyone pumped up this week: 

Steve Ballmer, who we assume is excited about his likely purchase of the Los Angeles Clippers.

I am interested in upgrading from my e-reader, but the array of tablets is dizzying. I just want one for reading, but it must have at least an SD card slot, wifi, and be somewhat rugged for my klutzy self and traveling. help please? thanks

Oh, your requirements seem so simple on paper, but it is a little tricky to recommend something that has all of those qualifications.

The SD card requirement is particularly hard to meet, since many tablets forego expandable memory because people tend not to store  much on their tablets. 

If you're looking for something immediately, my recommendation would be the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3, which meets most of your qualifications, though I wouldn't be too rough with it.

If you can wait a bit, you might want to see what the just-announced Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK (yeah, I know, that name) will offer you -- namely, if the Barnes & Noble co-branded tablet preserves the GTab's SD card slot.

Any suggestions out there for our tablet hunter?

So the Switch got together and played video games like we sometimes do last night -- and while goofing around in Watch Dogs we got sort of wrapped up in talking about morality systems in games. Like, how Hayley won't steal from the dude with a $24,000 salary and cancer in the game, but will from the dude making a few hundred grand whose secret is something like "donates to hate groups." But often, we thought that games pull a lot of punches when it comes to making those sort of choices have in game impact. What do you guys think? Have some favorite in game morality systems? 

I just moved and am casting off my pay TV shackles. What's the best device(s) I should get to make the transition?

Are you a gamer? As a fellow cord-cutter, I find that gaming consoles are among the best devices for video consumption, because  I can get pretty much every service that I want. 

If you're not a gamer -- we'll still love you -- you can think about other options such as the $35 Chromecast or the $99 Roku streaming stick.

The Chromecast is best if you're mostly a  YouTube/Netflix kind of watcher, though it's adding other partners. Roku's streaming stick has the company's whole catalog. 

Hayley knows a lot more about the various streaming boxes than I do, but I always want to recommend my set up: Connect a desktop to your TV. Or an laptop. Basically, just a computer that can manage streaming video and web browsing with a wireless mouse and keyboard can completely change your living room game. And if you're a PC gamer, it can literally move your gaming to the living room -- potentially to the irritation of less accommodating significant others/ 

Everyone seems to think Amazon is going to announce a smartphone with 3D capabilities next week. But why would I want his feature? It just seems like a useless extravagance.

Great question. 

I'm inclined to agree with you for the most part, but I can think of a couple of applications that I'd like.

That aren't this:

I, personally, am a spatial idiot, and so the thought of a 3D-projected map is actually a pretty compelling one for me. If I could pop open a map and get a good sense of my bearing in that map, that would be good for me. (While walking. Bad for driving.)

I also think it could be pretty fun for smartphone gaming, and given Amazon's growing interest in video games, that also makes a lot of sense to me. They have their own in-game studio now.

That said, I'm not looking forward to a future of folks walking around with holograms in hand, really *really* not paying attention to the people around them as they walk. 


I recently got a Kindle Fire HD, 7" model, for my Mom to replace her old Kindle e-reader (my Dad somehow managed to close the car trunk on it - don't ask). I have to say that, for the discounted price of $119, I was AMAZED at how well it functions and looks. Yes, it's heavier than my iPad mini and most Samsung tablets, but it is a great value for the price, and has everything that my Mom needs (Kindle, email, a browser). So, I can definitely say that if you're looking for a good deal on a tablet for a kid or your parents, go with the Kindle Fire HD. (And I don't work for Kindle or Amazon, I swear!)

I don't dispute that Kindles are a good option -- and I'm not saying that because Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos owns the Post -- but they don't have an expandable SD card slot, if I'm not mistaken. 

Okay, Andrea, I have a question for you:

On a scale of "don't worry" to "Heartbleed," where does this latest OpenSSL bug fall?

Thanks for the softball, Hayley. So I'm actually writing about this right now with a full post to come -- but the long and short of it is that the man in the middle attack made possible by one of the bugs described is potentially really nasty, but requires a pretty specific set of circumstances to be exploits: Both the server and the end user need to be using a a version of the encryption library to be vulnerable -- and the bad guy has to be somewhere between the both of them, be it sniffing on an open coffee shop wireless or somewhere with access at the Internet Service Provider level. The bug also doesn't seem to affect most of the mainstream browsers, although Google updated Chrome for Android apparently in response. Most experts say it's really not as serious as Heartbleed.

But on a macrolevel, I think it is quite important because the new bugs are the latest in a series of pretty significant security situations involving potentially under-resourced open source tools that lots of people around the world rely upon for very sensitive purposes. Heartbleed is one example, as is the mysterious situation with TrueCrypt last week. 

The bad news is that a lot of these volunteer projects don't get the same type of resources committed to auditing and penetration testing that private products often do. (Some would argue the open nature of open source projects leads to early discover of problems, but there are clearly some gaps going on -- otherwise this latest OpenSSL issue wouldn't have been hanging around in the codebase since 1998ish) But the good news is that there are some interesting things going on aimed at bringing resources from big tech companies that often rely on these projects in some capacity to support the development and maintenance of these open source security tools. 

I'd like to streamline my TV setup but am stymied by my wants and the available options. Currently using DishNet, loaded with premium channels but thinking about returning to cable. My must-see-TV includes individual shows on HBO, Showtime, Starz, and Cinemax, along with Orphan Black on BBCA and Comedy Central. Is there one device that makes sense for me? And do all options operate in concert with some kind of cable or satellite? Not interested in games despite making them for 20 years. Or maybe because of that.

Again, your desires make it a little hard to do exactly what you want -- those are some premium channels that you want access to, and those content providers know it. You're kind of out of luck, especially if you want to see all that programming live -- various shows and channels you mention have streaming options in various places, but I can't think of an all-in-one.

Plus, none of those channels are going to let you see much without a subscription.

For all the growth in the cord-cutting trend, we're consumers still pretty tightly tied to the bundled cable model. 

Watch, Dogs!  

Thank you, this was a valuable contribution to my life. 

I recently upgraded my iphone to OS7 and now the battery dies like twice as fast. Ideas? I often wonder (but apparently not enough to google to figure it out) how to turn OFF apps. Maybe that's why? Like when I exit something like Waze it doesn't turn off, right?

Well, if you double-tap the home button, you can fully exit apps by swiping up on them. 

But probably your best bet to conserve battery life you lose from apps like Waze is to shut off their location capabilities when you're not using them. It's cumbersome, but effective.

Other iOS 7 tips to conserve battery life, just off the top of my head, include turning off the motion graphics, killing the WiFi when you don't need it, and that old standby, turning down the brightness.

I have an iPhone 4 which is in perfect condition, so I don't have any need to buy a newer version. But I know that it won't handle the next version of iOS (8, I think). Do you happen to know if that means that my mail, Calendar, etc. won't synch anymore? I'd hate to be essentially blackmailed into a new iPhone by Apple. Thanks.

Indeed, you're right that iPhone 4 has been left off of the support list for iOS 8 -- the 4S is the oldest device that supports it.

That said, you shouldn't have problems syncing to the services you mention, though you will likely be unable to access new versions of some apps on your phone. 

Andrea: To your morality question, I do think that it's a difficult thing to build into a game, so I don't really blame them for not building that too deeply into the game.

Like, I think Fable did a pretty good -- if heavy-handed --  job of dealing with morality, and I think Mass Effect handled it well throughout the series. But what I wanted from Watch Dogs was just some more discussion about morality, since you spend your entire time in the game hacking into people's lives. 

I didn't need a good-evil scale, per se, but I wanted the game to at least say, hey, this is a thing you're doing. Think about that.

So do they do what they were bred to do? Have they ever herded sheep? They are way cute but need to get out and work sheep. I know a great herding instructor just down the road in Goldvein, VA. herding is more addictive than shoes and gaming!

I am really excited about us transitioning into the adorable pet coverage arena. And not just because I am a dead ringer for Doge. 

To prove my enthusiasm, I just googled "Corgi in Lobster costume" and I suggest you do the same. 

Any reactions to this recent article?: http://spectrum.ieee.org/transportation/advanced-cars/driverless-cars-optional-by-2024-mandatory-by-2044

So, the TL;DR of this excellent article is that driverless cars have the potential to be much safer than driver...ered cars. (You should go read it. But not right now.)

I certainly think that could be true, but I have a harder time imagining that it would be anywhere near compulsory in the near future to have cars that drive themselves in any capacity. Lawmakers are moving pretty carefully on this issue, and one thing that's been built into every serious driverless car bill that I've seen is that there will always have to be some measure of manual control. 

I guess they ar not kool. But mine is great as a reader (I get most of my books from the library so I don't deal with Barnes and Nobles). Can browse the web and has a memory slot. I don't know how rugged it is. The downside is the browser is chrome and I can't borrow emagazines from the library and read them on the Nook.

How would you broker a peace agreement between Verizon and Netflix? Who would mediate this?

I'd say a duel. Ooh, they can each pick their champions. 

Frank Underwood vs. the "Can You Hear Me Now?" guy. Fight of the year.

So, Google annouced last week that they are working on a end-to-end encryption pluging for Gmail on Chrome. It seems to me requiring both parties to run a particular browser with the same plugin minimizes the useful of the tool. Additionally, won't this cut into Gmail's ad revenue, since Google can't scan my messages for (encrypted) cat gifs? Any additional deets?

Well, the thing about end-to-end encryption is that you basically do need both users to be on board to set it up. Since you're basically trying to set a up a digital tunnel between people, if one person is in place on their end it doesn't quite work. As for the potential impact on ad revenue, my guess would be that Google doesn't expect the feature to be picked up en masse, or for all communications by all users due to that same limitation. 

Do your Pems herd? They should. Herding is way better than gaming. More challenging since the sheep and your dog have brains and arent controlled by a game controller. Real intelligence! Come on you break away from your urban chains and try herding. Channel you best Green Acres!

I'm all about the outdoors, but I must confess I do not currently own any of those adorable dogs -- it's possible original poster does, but seems just as likely they were sharing a cute video. 

Its only the fight of the year if, in a surprise ending, Frank Underwood crushes the "Can You Hear Me Now" guy's skull with his bare hands.

I would watch that fight. But I would watch most things involving Frank Underwood. 

I like the dragon age system where you can do almost whatever you want in terms of stealing and other choices, but your choices have an affect on your companions and will leave the party if they do not agree with the choices.

Good example. 

Are only for little nerds who would rather be on the phones than driving. Give me a Lotus Super 7 w/o any driving aids like traction control or stability control and ABS is for twenty somethings who dont have a clue. I want to chase apexes and contribute to climate change

Well, you're certainly entitled to your opinion. I do think about how much time I could usefully spend doing things other than driving -- on the rare occasions where I do drive. 

That said, I do like and miss driving now that I don't have a car anymore. Sometimes, Forza just doesn't cover it.

Is 3D TV dead? What about UHDTV, is that for real?

So I have a 3DTV at home that we picked up on a Black Friday sale. It's a nice TV and was cheaper than comparable HDTVs at the time. But we usually show it off to people for about half an hour the first time they come over and that's about as much use as we get out of that particular feature.

On UHDTV, I defer to Hayley. 

In my neighborhood, those most interested in buying an electric car are those who live in condos and townhouse and who don't have garages. What can you update us on public charging stations or any nifty new idea that will allow us small home dwellers to charge an electric car? Thanks.

You know, I'm ashamed to say that  I don't know a whole lot about plans for electric cars in this area, but I do know that sites such as PlugShare have crowd-sourced maps of charging stations. 

That doesn't really answer your question, I know, but it might put you in touch with some folks who can!

Alright, Andrea, I have another one for you. I promised we'd talk about Snowden in my tweets, so let's talk about him.

In your excellent anniversary piece, Kevin Bankston notes that, pre-Snowden, you'd be called a "crazy conspiracy theorist" for thinking that a program like the NSA's was real. How do you think the past year has changed us on that front?

So as a technology reporter, I'm prone to a little bit of paranoia -- especially when it comes to cybersecurity. That's just what happens when you report day in and day out about how scary the Internet can be. But there are people, like Bankston, who have been literally trying to expose government surveillance for years upon years. 

For instance, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has been fighting a case related to online surveillance called Jewel v. NSA based on testimony and documents from a former AT&T technician who claims intelligence officials installed a switch that allowed them to collect traffic directly from the infrastructure that makes up the backbone of the Internet. 

And, in fact, there were news stories that hinted at trends towards this kind of data collection and surveillance during the Bush years. But until the Snowden documents came out, the government could --- and did -- hide behind a claimed need to protect state secrets. Now that many of these programs are out in the open, I think it has been a bit of a wake up call for American consumers about just how much surveillance capabilities have changed even in the past two decade -- and how much faith they put in the safety and security of their online activities. 

We have to go now...

But we'll talk to you next week!

In This Chat
Brian Fung
Andrea Peterson
Hayley Tsukayama
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