Switchback: Talking Tech

Jun 13, 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.

Hey everybody, happy Friday!

Let's do this. 

What do you guys think Cantor's team did wrong when it comes to technology, if anything?

Ooh! A political technology question.

A cursory inspection of Cantor's expenditures shows that he spent on the order of $125,000 on a strategy firm this cycle. But only 2.5 percent of his overall budget went into strategy and analytics. Is that a lot? I'm not sure. 

Either way, political scientists believe that while online campaigning matters, it mostly matters on the margins — it's not likely to change the basic fundamentals of a race or account for an upset. Based on Dave Brat's wide margin of victory, it's hard to see technology having much to do with the outcome.

How much longer before they are replaced by music downloads?

I think there's a strong argument to be made that they already have been. 

The Recording Industry Association of America said in its latest report that shipments in "physical formats" only make up $2.8 billion of its $7 billion in sales. 

In fact, CDs are continuing to crater and lose growth. Vinyl, on the other hand, is up. 

My understanding is also that music downloads have been tanking as streaming media services have taken off. 

All of you, quick: what did you think was the most exciting announced out of E3 this year?

Hayley's the authority here, but my top three include 1) The Division; 2) Rainbow Six: Siege; 3) Assassin's Creed: Unity. 


Would it be a cop out if I said new Zelda? But I'm also super interested in Assassin's Creed: Unity even if female player characters are just too hard for Ubisoft...

Oh! Also, new announcements about Mass Effect and Mirror's Edge, of course.

Oh so, so many things. 

But you said one thing. So, I think No Man's Sky looks aMAZing, and I'm super excited to see what it turns into, and that's the main reason that I'm sad I didn't get out to LA this year.

Is this another <= 128kb service, or can you get better?

Lots of Amazon Prime Music questions today.

They're a little fuzzy on this, because Amazon users a variable bit rate based on connectivity. They say that they'll stream at an average of 256 kilobits per second, but your mileage may vary.

This seems like a service that is easily available from numerous providers for free. This will increase the cost of a Prime membership (to Amazon) and yet seems to provide nothing of real value to Amazon Prime members? So I am asking as a shareholder, why is this a good idea?

Well, I'm not really in the position to give stock advice.

(At this point, we should remind you that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, you know, owns The Post.)

But making Prime a one-stop shop for all media makes sense for Amazon to keep people in the Prime program and paying for Prime. And over time, they may be able to build it into a competitive streaming services as they did with Prime Video. 

Yes, it costs them money, but I wouldn't say its of no value to Prime members, exactly.

Hayley, I'm curious: Do you think Prime is still a good deal for people? I don't have it, mainly because research shows people spend more on Amazon when they have Prime than when they don't. I'm not interested in blowing my budget on the boss-man's other company every month, so is it wise for me to continue avoiding Prime?

Good question, Brian. I admit that  I am a Prime member because I already shopped at Amazon a ton. In fact, when I break down my budget numbers each month, it's far and away the company at which I spend the most money.

So for me, yes. I save at least $99 on shipping each year -- that's a no brainer. If you're not a big Amazon shopper, though, I'd say the outside benefits don't yet tip the scale.

While you guys are waiting for us to catch up (sorry!) here's some news about AT&T getting hacked — and not for the reason you think.

...was hilarious. Although I guess we're super lucky it was benign, huh? For anyone who wants a really easy to understand explanation of how the hack worked, I stumbled on this video and thought it was interesting:

A potentially more risky thing about the situation is that experts say a savvy scripter could have used the bug to instruct a browser to run much more complex code hosted elsewhere on the web -- and that it's unclear how long the issue was out in the wild and potentially exploitable for more than funny messages. 

Please help me understand this Amazon v. everyone else war. What are they fighting over? Is one side right?

Brian has you covered on this -- he actually did a whole post -- but I'll let him explain...

Great question. Basically, suppliers want to charge Amazon more for the goods that Amazon sells to you and me. Meanwhile, Amazon wants to pay less. That's the dispute in a nutshell.

To get into a little more detail, Amazon can play hardball because it's such a large distributor. So there are potentially questions here concerning antitrust and competition. 

At the same time, certain suppliers, like the publishing industry are also large and powerful — a little less so than Amazon, but when you consider how academic publishers in particular keep jacking up textbook prices or taking profits away from authors, which some have alleged, it's hard to feel very sorry for them. 

In short, there's no good guy/bad guy dichotomy here, which is partly why it's such a weird and interesting case.

Is prime video competitive with Netflix or Hulu? Is the expectation that their music service becomes competitive with iTunes? Or Spotify?

I wouldn't say Prime Video is there yet, no. But they do have some good exclusives -- okay, just HBO -- and they're building fast. 

The music service is definitely more Spotify-like than anything else. 

I don't know that Amazon really has to compete with iTunes, though. As analyst Mark Mulligan has said, the two companies have totally opposite approaches to the relationship between content and devices.  Apple wants the content to bundle with its devices to sell devices. Amazon wants the content bundle to sell more of its other stuff. Any hook into that Amazon-buying system is probably worth it to them. 

magnets, how do they work?

Don't ask the Insane Clown Posse. But seriously, here's how magnets work. 


What's the weirdest targeted Facebook ad you've ever been shown? I keep getting ads for meggings.

Meggings. Wow. I can't wait for the new tool to roll out so you can find out what got you on that list.

I get a lot of ads for Christian dating sites. Which is weird because there's nothing on my profile to indicate that I'm either Christian or single.  (In fact, I'm neither.)

Okay. Explain this to me. Are they stepping up because they think they have to do this in order to be relevant? Are they frustrated with how things are being handled? The network thing makes sense, but on the broader scene of cybersecurity, is anyone going to take a firm run by a telecom lobbyist seriously?

Part of this seems like a jurisdictional play. As our communications move away from the plain old telephone system — where the FCC enjoys the most regulatory power — and toward data networks, it makes sense why the FCC would want to create a role for itself in broadband and security. These are sexy issues with not a little bit of money at stake, either.

As for the lobbying thing: Yes, Wheeler is a former lobbyist. But I just don't see the evidence that he's been bought and paid for by industry. Creating a voluntary cybersecurity process is consistent with the White House's broader approach on the issue; NIST did it, DHS did it. I wouldn't point to Wheeler's background as a wireless and cable lobbyist to explain why the new FCC cybersecurity process is voluntary.

I'm curious what you guys think Elon Musk's announcement allowing other companies to use Tesla's patents means for the future of the automotive industry. Will it cause more widespread manufacture of electric vehicles? Will this undercut the development efforts of other alternative fuels, like Hydrogen Fuel Cells?

I have a lot of thoughts about the move, but my gut tells me that part of this was about spurring more electronic car competition in an effort to get some assistance building out the charging infrastructure really needed to make electric vehicles seem viable to a larger audience. 

I think the key here is that you can imagine all sorts of new technologies coming out of Tesla's patents, many of which may have nothing to do with cars.

Take Tesla's work on batteries, for example. New breakthroughs in long-lasting batteries would be huge for things like spaceflight. With the proper miniaturization techniques, those developments might even extend to mobile devices. Who knows? The point is that, much like what AT&T did by sharing the transistor, hundreds of companies might now be free to build on top of Tesla's technology — with amazing effects.

So we told you what we are excited about from E3, but what about you guys? 

So. How much info can a store get from your cell phone while shopping? Just your locations or is there any other data that can be intercepted?

Here's an example of some store insights from a story I did on this a few months ago:

The average wait time at the back register is two minutes. Half of your customers have been in your store twice in a week. Ten percent of the people who come in your store never come near a register, meaning they don't buy anything. There are a lot of people not finding what they want. The big promotion on the east side entrance of your store was more successful at bringing people to purchase than the promotion on the west side of your store. Here's the hotspot in your store that draws the most users. The typical user comes in and purchases one thing. Ten percent of your users have been at more than one of your stores.

Location information isn't trivial — in context, it can reveal a lot about your behavior.

Has anyone actually taken an inventory of Tesla's patents? Are any of them actually, well, essential? I thought they were just savvy car designers using off-the-shelf technology who got lucky twice: first, by buying a factory in a firesale, and then again by discovering a niche market among rich and guilty liberals

Tesla told me that they have over 200 patents, although I haven't personally taken a look at all of them. 

What are your thoughts about why Amazon won't release a list of electronic purchases, like ebooks, to individuals who have purchased them?

This is an issue I revisit every year or so - it sure would be nice to be able to have access to this information about me that Amazon keeps to itself, or makes it really hard to get.

A recent response from an Amazon rep said it wasn't possible because sensitive information like account numbers and pricing would be revealed. Come on. Amazon, a computer programming giant can't filter that stuff out? The issue is, Amazon does things on their own terms, and once you're in the door, it's pretty hard to get out again. Thoughts?

I'm not 100 percent clear on what you're asking about here, but you can look at your order history on the Web site. You can also get a "report" on your order history, that gives you the order numbers and information on where and when things were shipped, etc. It's all on your account settings page under "Order History."

No love for Uncharted 4?

I am a big Uncharted fan, but Naughty Dog's had a lot of departures lately. Makes me a little nervous about why...

When will Amazon offer 3D on tablets?

Hold your horses there -- we haven't even totally confirmed that it will be on smartphones yet. 

But that raises a really interesting point, I think. I was pretty skeptical about the 3D thing when the rumors started.

Tell me: what do you all think would be a good application for it.

Vinyl sales are up because vinyl still sounds the best. Even a $100k worth of processors cant make a CD or download sound as good as vinyl. Heck tubes still sound better than transitors and chips.

I love that there's a resurgence in vinyl for exactly that reason. And it makes me think that people are getting together just to listen to music, which is a happy thought.

Real thing I just heard from Brian: "Oh...WiFi...Y u no?"

Are you guys as excited about this possibility as I am? Hypothetically, if this thing was built, would you go if given the opportunity? 

I'm pretty new to the gaming scene. I'm thinking about getting "Watch Dogs" because 1) it looks cool and 2) a lot of people have been talking about it. Is a game like that good for a beginner? Also, have you written a review about it?

Edited  to fix link.

I have such conflicted feelings about Watch Dogs.  And we do have some thoughts on it here.

Watch Dogs is really fun to play, and it's pretty awesome to run around in that open world and get into trouble. I wanted a little more out of the story, though.

As to your questions about beginners, I  think it's a perfectly fine game for you to get into, since you can choose whether you want to sneak or shoot. I'm really bad at shooters myself, so I always appreciate that option.

Actually, I had Brian and Andrea over the other day to play it, so  you two should have thoughts as well...

I'm more pro-Watch Dogs than opposed, but don't just limit yourself to the big brands -- there are a lot of really fantastic experiences outside of the big genres. Gaming can mean shoot 'em ups, or it can mean experiences like the Stanley Parable... Or pretty much anything in between. 

You all played outside? Instead of being tied to some silly nerdy computer game. Get a dog and go out and try agility or better yet a herding dog adn try herding sheep. The fresh air and sheep poop will do you all good.

Yesterday, later today, tomorrow -- I go outside a lot.

Besides,  haven't you heard? Gamers are pretty awesome.

1) Brian, heard you on Mktplace Tech. Nice radio voice! 2) I heard bits and pieces about a "Heartbleed 2" - another (separate, unrelated) security hole yet to be plugged, and the warning was to stay off of public WiFi for a while. Which presents a problem for those of us who work independently. Could the gang point me in the right direction as to what "bug" this might be? 3) With Mac's becoming more and more common, is the old adage "Mac's don't need virus/malware protection" still true? If not, what do I need? Thanks!

Thanks for listening! The new Heartbleed looks like this. While it allows a hacker to listen in on encrypted traffic in a public Wi-Fi setting, it doesn't change the fact that users should be very wary of using public Wi-Fi regardless of the circumstances. As for your Mac — the old adage was based on the fact that Apple lacked marketshare. Now that it's become a popular platform, it's worth being more cautious, sure.

Can we have a special edition of Switchback called Switchblade in which we only discuss weapons technology — futuristic, fictional, and/or of mass destruction?

Yes! We could definitely do that. Thanks for the suggestion!


Now go watch your 10 inch b&w tely

I want to see Hayley and this commenter get into a hipster fight. 

Ah, but sadly, we're out of time....

Well, this has been...

But we have to go. See you next week!

In This Chat
Brian Fung
Andrea Peterson
Hayley Tsukayama
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