Switchback: Talking Tech (August 15)

Aug 15, 2014

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

Alright. It's been quite a week, so let's kick off with something super happy before we get down to business.

(Best viewed with the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back.")

Baby Groot groovin'

What is the appropriate number of times to see Guardians of the Galaxy before it becomes medically unsafe?

Embarrassingly, I haven't seen it yet. But my mom tells me it's the new Star Wars, so I'm guessing the correct answer here is "infinity." 

I assume at some point you overdose on serotonin and adrenaline, but as long as you take reasonable breaks and stay hydrated, you should be fine.

Reading a lot of stories on WaPo and other outlets about the militarization of police forces around the country, what do you make of them using LRAD (developed for military purposes and used in Iraq and Afghanistan) which can cause permanent and irreversible damage to hearing among other health effects, say compared to low tech stuff like tear gas and rubber bullets?

Even what you might consider "low-tech" non-lethal weaponry has actually been proven pretty dangerous. Tear gas has been banned from war under an international treaty on chemical weapons. Rubber bullets have been shown to cause severe trauma requiring hospital admission and multiple surgeries. This stuff is not to be trifled with, either.

Other technologies like the LRAD and the Active Denial System — a non-lethal laser that makes it feel like you've been burned — give police more options. In principle, this is good if you're trying to tailor your response to the circumstances. But as we've seen this week, military hardware can easily be abused.

I want to play video games on the go. Does that mean I need to purchase a Nintendo 3DS? Or are there any good games (ideally RPGs) for Android phones?

If you are open to questionable ethics, find a Super Nintendo emulator and some roms and you can have access just a huge amount of excellent old school content. But it's definitely not legal in most circumstances, so I am OFFICIALLY NOT ENDORSING THIS PATH.

However, a lot of the good old games are now being ported for mobile like some of the Final Fantasy games, for instance -- including Final Fantasy VI, which is my vote for the best in the series. So no, you don't need a 3DS. 

You guys, check out this new stormtrooper helmet design, reportedly from Star Wars Episode VII. Awesome, no?

It is sweet, but maybe not sweet enough for me to stop worrying that the new Star Wars will make my heart cry and stuff. THEY ALREADY INJURED HAN. 

Whatever, Andrea. My heart will go Han.


…I'll see myself out.

Yeah, I love puns, Brian but....yeah.

I, as you both know, have mixed feelings on the new Star Wars, since I am not a JJ Abrams fan. He's broken my heart too many times.

Do you have any suggestions for buying a couple of Smartphone's and a very limited data plan for not a lot of money, relatively speaking? My wife and I would never need to stream video or music on the phone, and would only really use it for e-mail access and occasionally reading a website.

You may want to start by looking at month-to-month or prepaid  plans, which can be more expensive over the long run but might be good for these early days when you're figuring out exactly how much data you want to use. Smartphone data can be an addictive thing -- you can start with e-mails and a couple of Web sites and then find you need a lot more. Having something flexible and easy to adjust is best.

All the major four carriers -- Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile -- have their own month-to-month options. I'm sorry to say I haven't done a definitive breakdown chart myself, (it's on the to-do list) but Time has a good one from February here.

Call for feedback: What do you guys think about Anonymous and its involvement in Ferguson

Well, since y'all are shy, I'm going to say that I think their involvement is yet another point of proof that Anonymous is a powerful but unwieldy force and that it's never good to take them at face value. It can take a lot of sifting to get to the gold nuggets of information.

Internet sleuthing is often done by well-intentioned if occasionally careless human beings. I'd like to think that the more experienced we become at it, the better off we'll all be. But in practice, that'll often mean hurting perfectly innocent people who've been roped in by mistake. Just… be cautious, is all I'd urge.

I'm a fan of the Google Nexus line and the T-Mobile.com/T-Mobile and Walmart $30/100 minutes and 5 gb data plan. Like you say, data gets addictive quickly. If you need more minutes, you can always have your account topped up with additional amounts (I usually keep an extra $10 on my account, for an extra 100 minutes if I need it). If you need more than that, this plan probably isn't for you, but for me it's a great bargain. Oh, and T-Mobile service in town is great, but can be crummy out in the sticks (West Virginia, or South Carolina). Not a salesman for them, just a mostly satisfied customer.

Thanks for the feedback!

And another thought to throw out there: I've been doing a lot of reporting on Twitter and abuse, and have been fielding a lot of stories from people -- mostly women, I admit -- who get really horrible messages every single day. Does anyone out there have thoughts on whether Twitter is worse for that sort of thing? And, if so, why that may be?

Hayley, I'm fascinated by this whole thing and I find myself wondering what, exactly, Twitter is being called on to do? Some cases are going to be obvious, but others are going to be closer calls. It reminds me of the "right to be forgotten" question -- it's a great deal of power to put in the hands of one tech company. At the same time, so of the examples you see out there of abusive tweets are just terrible.

Exactly the heart of the question. I personally have come to believe that Twitter seems like a particularly bad place for abuse because it moves so fast, has so much content, and is so committed to free expression that it thinks the MOST before doing any kind of censoring.

Some people want them to really pull out the big guns, like introduce IP blocking for abusers -- which is obviously problematic if multiple people use the same computer, for example. But other suggestions have been to give users the individual options to filter their own feeds more aggressively. So basically, asking Twitter to offer options to filter out replies with certain words, or from new accounts -- and then letting users decide when to put those filters in place.

But even if those filters are in place, those tweets are still out there, no? How much of a solution is that?

Also a really good point. I think right now the focus for Twitter's critics is on at least making the user experience feel more safe for individuals, since -- basically -- people are always going to be horrible. 

At least to start, that may come with filters and maybe easier reporting tools. But there's no doubt that it's a really difficult problem for all social media companies to solve, since you really can't pre-screen every tweet.

I don't know if I should open this can of sarlaccs, but would Hayley care to elaborate on her dislike of JJ Abrams? Is she not a fan of lense flares or McGuffins?

McGuffins, mostly.  I really think that Abrams has great ideas, and does great conceptual, up-front work but then doesn't seem to want to end things. I'm all for a misdirection or two, but come on. 

Also, all those big, red spheres. 

Oh, and I'm also a little upset with the bad science in the latest Star Wars movie. I've said it in sort of a broken record fashion, but "cold fusion" doesn't mean "bomb that makes things cold." It just doesn't. You could make up technobabble to describe an ice bomb so easily, why misuse a term like that?


Cold power (Star Wars): 

Cold fusion (Star Trek): 

Sorry, sorry. I'll write "I will not mix up Star Wars and Star Trek" fifty times on The Switch's whiteboard as penance.

I don't think they were much of a factor, although I think their attempts at outing the officer who shot Michael Brown did push the authorities to release info on their own investigation, including the name of the officer. I think twitter, video uploads from smartphones, and the arrest of the Washington Post and Huffington Post reporters did much more to encourage the change in police response for good than Anonymous did.

What do other folks think? (You can file your answers by submitting a new question.)

Did you guys read the latest Snowden profile in Wired? What's your take? He seems to have mellowed out in his rhetoric, at least to me. I'm also very intrigued by this idea that the NSA operates a program that can hack back against sources of enemy malware. Do we really think that the United States has solved the problem of finding out the real culprits behind cyberattacks?

Again, totally intriguing to see how his rhetoric has evolved over time, for example saying that he'd "volunteer for prison as long as it served the right purpose." 

As for the hack back, I think it is super interesting, but I do wonder about how long anyone can really keep an upperhand in cybersecurity. Isn't it always going to be an arms race? 

One of my takeaways was that James Bamford is a heck of a writer.

He should just drop the "-ord" from his name.

Look, we absolutely have freedom OF speech but we should not have freedom FROM consequences of it. I understand the value of anonymity on a service like Twitter, but it feels to me like we have crossed the line with the abuse of it by clearly pathological individuals. We need to have some way to link the abuse tweets to the people sending them.

But following that logic leads to the question of real identity. That's becoming the online norm, thanks in large part to Facebook, but are we comfortable with that being imposed? For one thing, if you like anything about what Anonymous has been doing in Ferguson...

As you have pointed out, I found that he sounded much more reasonable and aware in this profile. I have always been a supporter of what he has done but sometimes he has seemed either naive or silly in the things he didn't seem to realize. He did come off as much more mature in this piece.

That's all we have time for today — thanks for joining us, guys. What a week. Here, have some puppies.

In This Chat
Brian Fung
Andrea Peterson
Hayley Tsukayama
Nancy Scola
Recent Chats
  • Next: