Switchback (Friday, July 11)

Jul 11, 2014

The team from The Switch discussed everything from the latest political tech news to the gadgets you’re eyeing.

Hi everyone! 

Let's get this show on the road.

Any thoughts on using smartphone apps to crowdsource noise pollution in our everyday environment - restaurants, subways, airports, traffic, etc..

That's honestly something I've never thought about before. Newest Switch member Nancy Scola -- she'll join us for chat next week -- notes that there are places such as Public Lab that have found ways to turn smartphones in instruments to measure air pollution.

Using phones to measure noise pollution would be a great idea.


I'm not an Aereo customer, but I was really interested in it. What kind of shot does the company have at actually offering its service?

Brian's really your man on the ins and outs of Aereo -- see his latest here.

Thanks, Hayley!

Aereo has a shot, but it's a very long one. The company is arguing that it's just enough of a cable company to be a legal operator, but not a cable company in the eyes of the FCC. It's a very thin line that Aereo's trying to walk, and I don't know that it'll convince all that many people why the distinction is justified.

Hey gang — I'm sitting at the FCC right now, where the commissioners are about to vote on how much money to give schools and libraries for WiFi upgrades. This is both a message to a) bear with me while I try and multitask and b) stay tuned for some big education news. Billions of dollars are at stake.

I'm rockin' a Pebble on my wrist. Clean, simple, not cluttered. What might be better?

Sounds like you're really happy with your Pebble! I personally think that they've come closest to cracking the whole smartwatch thing, though I'd personally like to see richer options for editing what kinds of notifications you get on your wrist. 

In general, I think the most successful wearables out on the market now are the ones that focus on doing one thing really well -- fitness trackers, especially -- because it's easy to get overwhelmed by a buzzing, beeping thing that you're wearing.

There are a lot of apps that claim to measure ambient sound - this would actually not be that hard to do, I don't think, and would be really interesting http://blogs.cdc.gov/niosh-science-blog/2014/04/09/sound-apps/

That is super cool. I think noise pollution is a pretty big, but often overlooked, problem.

For example, I'm really happy that The Post's restaurant critic, Tom Sietsema, has a decibel level reading in his reviews. It'd be nice to see something similar on Yelp or other review sites as well.

Amazon's drones. Are you guys feeling yay or nay on the idea of delivery drones? Either way, do you think it's going to be the future?

Amazon aside, my suspicion is that the most dramatic changes in drone delivery will happen first in places that aren't very visible to the general public. UPS and other shipping services will start using automated aircraft to move packages between facilities, for instance. Or self-driving trucks will hop on the highways before self-driving cars start appearing in dealerships, because highways are easier to design AI for. So yes, I think automation is the future, but it won't look like what sci-fi geeks think, anytime soon.

I agree, Brian. There are a lot of scenarios in which you'd imagine having drones going down the public streets would invite problems, like people trying to mess with them. But having them buzz around inside or between warehouses? That seems totally reasonable.

Check noisetube app: http://www.fastcoexist.com/3031038/with-noisetube-citizens-can-now-map-noise-pollution-in-their-cities .

Oh! Thanks. Of course it's already an idea out there. Looks like the NoiseTube app has been around at least since 2012:

By the way, if you're interested in getting caught up on the WiFi issues Brian's covering today, he and Nancy have both written pieces on it.

What do folks think about Larry Lessig's super PAC, Mayday.us? Have you donated? What are his chances?

Who yall got in TI4? The young guns from EG are looking dangerous, but my money's still on the old geezers (24 year olds) from DK, IG, or Navi. Vici fades this afternoon after a white hot start.

First, a little translation may be in order. TI4 reference The International 4, the Dota 2 video game championships. I'm ashamed to say that I haven't been following at all, so I'm not qualified to predict anything. 


*references. Sorry.

I'm not trying to be smart a**, but why is noise sourcing useful? Learn what places to avoid? Make changes in something so noise is less? Wear noise reducing earmuffs to avoid hearing damage when in certain places?

Maybe I'm just ornery. But I'd definitely like to know, for example, how noisy a neighborhood generally is before I move into it; you know, like if that fire station down the street is really going to be a problem. 

What do you all think?

Here we go: The FCC has just taken up the E-Rate item. More to come shortly…

There's a piece of it that's just interesting. It's a piece of information about the place we live, like where all the Starbucks are ... or, less frivolously, the demographics. I know Chinatown in DC is loud and overwhelming, but how loud and how different compared to other places? Plus Hayley's suggestion about it being an important consideration when looking at neighborhoods - the same way you might look at a crime rate map before you move somewhere.

already done. I have a phone ap that measures decibles...

But does it map? If so, tell us what that is!

Over the weekend of the 4th an amazing video surfaced of a drone flying through a fireworks display. Do you think we'll see more of this type of thing in the future? Are people who fret over the safety of this kind of thing just freedom-hating killjoys, or do they have a point?

That's quite the spectrum you've set up there. There are obviously some safety issues we have  to think about, like avoiding collisions and making sure people who fly drones know how to do it safely. But I also think that as people get more exposed to them and grow comfortable with them, that we'll also find some more cool uses for ways we can use drones.

Also, if you haven't seen the video, you should:

Where is Andrea?

Still on vacation, sadly. 

"like if that fire station down the street is really going to be a problem" Back in the good old days, pre-computer, wise house-buyers were advised to check the neighbourhood out a couple of times, at different times of day, to check out noise pollution, traffic, etc. Seems to me a sensible thing to sill do before putting down big bucks. You don't need an app for this!

I'm certainly not saying that apps have to supplant common sense, I'm just saying it would be a good tool!

Also, I love how interested you all are in noise pollution.

As Hayley said, it'll be great to know if a neighborhood is noisy before you move in, what restaurant to go to if you like a quiet or romantic dinner, if you're in an airport flying path, if It can help city planners, schools and workplaces reduce noise levels, it empowers citizens in general ...Noise can cause hearing loss, stress, hypertension, etc.

I recently moved to DC from New York City and I found myself getting agitated while taking the bus in a way I hadn't experienced in New York. Then it occurred to me that I was finding that *inside* the bus it was really, really loud. Either I've aged a million years since moving or DC buses are built noisier. Imagine a world where noise ratings were added to, say, Google Maps directions...

Exactly! It'd be a smart addition.

Would you rather fight 1 horse-sized Jeff Bezos, or 100 duck-sized Sergey Brins?

All of them. 

I'm a peaceful person. I'd just try to reason with them.

If I am building a computer but I don't want to reinstall all of my programs can I just transfer my old hard drive into the build without any problems? Will the operating system stay installed?

So, I'm no DIY computer expert, but I think if you have a lot of fresh components in a build it's normally best to do a clean install, and then transfer files over. (Someone, please correct me if that's not right.)

But I don't see why you couldn't try it. Just remember that, whatever you decide to do, that you really ought to back up your hard drive first. 

Yes, you should be able to take your old hard drive and put it in the new machine, provided that the interfaces are compatible.

We're getting into lightning round territory. 5 minutes and counting. GO!

My father is very hard of hearing and knowing how loud a place is makes a difference whether we go or not. He can hear what we're saying in a quiet environment, but if the ambient noise is high, he can't hear or understand. Plus, knowing that restaurants have studied this and found that louder places make people order more and eat quicker means the noise can be used to manipulate our behavior. Sadly, I'm heading that way as well, so this isn't without self interest.

If most of the components are from the same manufacturer, you can move it over sometimes. But frequently you'll have to reactivate Windows and other software, which can be a pain.

Thanks! Very helpful.

What do you think of Amazon's refusal to settle with the FTC over kids apps?

For those who don't know, the Federal Trade Commission sued Amazon Thursday, saying it makes it too easy for kids to buy things from apps without their parents' permission. Cecilia Kang has the story here.

Amazon says that it's improved its controls on that front-- it requires passwords for purchases over $20, or when 

I think it's a sign of how tech companies are learning other ways to engage with Washington other than by lobbying. 

Huh. I had a whole second part of answer here. Well, let's try again:

...or when it's been more than 15 minutes since a password has been entered.

I don't know what I think of Amazon's argument yet, but it will definitely be interesting to watch as they launch the Fire Phone, which promises to make it even easier to buy all sorts of things -- not just digital goods --  with just a couple of taps.

Like, all the pressure to come up with an awesome last question. Instead I'm going to tell you that that cloud gif made me think of a sci-fi prop brain in a jar that lights up when it talks.

Sorry!  We don't mean to make you nervous. It's just that there are lots of cool lightning gifs, TBH.

And we're done! Join us next week -- Andrea will be back, and Nancy will make her chat debut!

If you have questions already, submit them here.


In This Chat
Brian Fung
Hayley Tsukayama
Recent Chats
  • Next: