The Washington Post

Switchback: Talking Tech (Nov. 7)

Nov 07, 2014

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

Good morning, and welcome to this week's Switchback! To fend off the chilly weather in D.C., we're dreaming today of beaches and sunshine:

So I'm curious to get a sense of where our readers stand on the elections this week. Are folks rejoicing? Depressed? Do you even care?

Is there some kind of gadget that is small so that I could record my thoughts as I think of them, say, while walking?

Interesting question. I use my smartphone and  Evernote's voice memo function for this, truth be told. But you could also look into a digital recorder, such as the kind reporters use. You could also look at something like the Livescribe Echo, which is a pen with recording capabilities. A pen that records audio may also have the added bonus of making you feel like a spy.

Any other suggestions?

Amazon's new standalone Siri. Anyone want to stand up for it being an awesome device?

Haven't used it, so no comments on if its cool or whatever. But I want to go ahead and raise some privacy questions: In order to process this stuff, does Amazon have access to every piece bit of audio in the device's vicinity? Does it store it all? If so, for how long? These aren't unique questions to this device -- if you have a Smart TV, read the privacy policy...

In this vein, I just got myself one of those Sonos speakers and am enjoying it a great deal. I talk to it but it doesn't answer.


I'm sure you guys have put some thought into what the election means for the tech world. What are your big takeaways so far? Is this better or worse for some of the issues that matter to us?

One of the interesting things about tech is that it often winds up bridging the partisan divide. In the most recent Congress, tech folks have been frustrated that seemingly bipartisan policy solutions get undermined simply because the Senate wants to score points against the House, or vice versa. So in terms of gridlock, the change in Senate control could be a good thing. But as I note in my morning-after coverage, it all depends on how serious Republicans are about governing. If they spend the next two years sending Obama poison-pill legislation that he's forced to veto, then the gridlock effectively just moves west by a few blocks.

Forgive the self promotion, but I had a look at this question a few weeks back. One thing to add there is that there are strong political reasons for Republicans to align themselves with tech -- to be gauche, they have to do with cash and cachet -- so that might be a motivator. But you never know. Tech indeed doesn't break down cleanly along party lines, so maybe we're at a point where people are tired enough of fighting to spend time considering some questions they might actually governing on. 

I plan on switching from an Android phone to an iPhone 6 soon. I like Google Voice. But I wonder about 3 things. First, how well does it work with iOS 8? Second, is it true Google is phasing out Google Voice? Third, is Apple's Messages app for iOS 8 an equivalent substitute? BTW, I'm switching primarily for ease of synching with my iMac desktop, my primary computer.

I use Google Voice on iOS 8 and it works fine for me. I don't have any solid facts for you on the question of phasing out -- it hasn't been supported and updated super well in the past few years as we all have moved away from making actual calls on our phones. Officially, I haven't heard anything about my questions on a phase-out. But they did recently integrate it with Hangouts, so you could certainly see things headed in that direction.

Messages is nice for Google Voice substitute in the "I can use my phone through my computer" sort of way. But it doesn't have what I think is the killer feature of Google Voice -- the ability to forward calls from multiple places  to a separate number.

Every morning, I walk to my Federal job from the Metro Center station across Freedom Plaza in downtown DC, while I listen to music from my iPhone on my wireless bluetooth headphones.. And many mornings, as I walk across the plaza, especially from the National Theater to the District Building--my bluetooth headphone cut out. The music comes back once I cross the street at 14th and Pennsylvania by the Commerce Dept. Explain that!

I honestly can't, though the conspiracy theory part of my brain has some ideas. 

Seriously, though: lots of things cause Bluetooth interference -- physical barriers, confounding signals, etc. -- but I can't think of anything super obvious in that area off the top of my head. Would love to know if other people have experienced the same thing.

This seems to call for a field test.

With the loss of Senator Mark Udall, is there anyone else in the Senate that might take up the cause of reforming the NSA data collection practices?

Sen. Ron Wyden has been one of the most vocal critics of the NSA to date. But I suspect the more time passes and the further we get from the revelations, the less appetite there'll be for doing something about it.

Wyden for sure, and Rand Paul has been vocal, too. It will be interesting to see if more folks take up the issue now that we're in that brief period between elections. There will be hearings, and politicians can quickly discover their interest in the issue as it starts rising in the public consciousness and on their hearing schedules. 


I kinda hate myself for even saying it, but I'm curious where to get to on this stuff when it comes to the 2016 presidential election. 


I already said I feel bad!

The privacy policy is the key for Amazon's Echo. I didn't see if on the website yet. Maybe Alexa will read it for you if you ask it to? As Bezos is your employer, ask for a copy?

When Jeff Bezos is around, I try to ask him real questions. And I, like you, haven't seen anything about Echo's privacy policy posted yet. I'm working on it. 

I'm rejoicing because by and large, we threw the bums out. I'm also mourning because we didn't throw *all* of them out.

I'm disappointed after the elections. Mark Udall has been one of the senators who has really pursued the NSA domestic spying case, and lost his bid for re-election. I think that the Republican majority will be even friendlier with the NSA and CIA than the Democratic majority was. Are there any Republican senate or house members who are as critical of NSA domestic spying as Mark Udall has been? I can't think of any. I wish we had a political party that would commit to greater privacy protections.

Which do you think is the better phone?

I haven't had as much time with the Note 4 as I have with the Plus, to be fair, so this is sort of a flash-review, and I don't have a definitive answer.

I'd say the Note 4 is most suited to people who like to use the stylus. If you're a phone note-taker or someone who likes to draw quick charts and diagrams, for example, then it's kind of a no-brainer. It also has that gorgeous Samsung screen.

The iPhone 6 Plus is thinner and a little easier on the pockets than the Note 4, and they've compared pretty well when it comes speed in my daily use. (I haven't actually done a speed test on them, though.)

The Note 4 also seems, to me, to be a little overpriced for what it is when compared to other big Android phones on the market. But, as I said, I haven't had as much time to play around with all of its features.


Anyone seen "Insterstellar" yet?

What's the deal with Amazon's little tv stick thingie? Worth it for Prime members? Will it work on my 6-year-old tv?

The deal is this: Amazon launched a Fire TV stick last week -- while I was on vacation, so excuse me if I miss a trick or two --  for $40. (Well, $39.) It supports Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, ESPN and, of course, Amazon Prime. Prime has been a major gap missing from the stick's biggest competitor, Google's $35 Chromecast.

It's probably more worth it for Prime members than anyone else, since you'll have access to all of the streaming shows that come with your Prime membership.

As for whether you can use it with your television, that depends. The stick plugs into the HDMI port on your television, so if you have one of those you *should* be good to go. It also has a micro USB charging port, so you'll need an outlet as well.

With the new Republican majority in the Senate, are any efforts by the FCC to create rules for Net Neutrality doomed to fail?

Nope, but I will. I don't care if it got mixed reviews and Anne Hathaway (I've never liked her, even in the Princess Diaries). The visuals look awesome and they're offering it in a real IMAX.

For what it's worth, Amazon does have an FAQ about the Echo that says you can delete individual voice recordings and turn off the mic if you want: 

But we'll keep asking for more specifics.

How do I delete individual voice recordings?

You can delete specific voice interactions with Amazon Echo by going to History in Settings in the Amazon Echo App, drilling down for a specific entry, and then tapping the delete button.

Can I delete all my voice recordings?

Yes, you can delete the Amazon Echo voice recordings. Doing so will delete related Home Screen cards, and may degrade your experience using Amazon Echo. To delete the recordings associated with your account, visit Manage Your Content and Devices at and select Amazon Echo, or contact customer service. You can delete specific voice interactions with Amazon Echo by going to History in Settings in the Amazon Echo App, drilling down for a specific entry, and then tapping the delete button.

What happens when I delete voice recordings?

When you choose to delete voice recordings, we will also delete Home Screen Cards related to those voice recordings.

Well, that's all we've got time for today. Hope your weekends go better than this guy's attempts to catch a wave: If you didn't get to ask a question you wanted, feel free to submit it to next week's chat, here:

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Brian Fung
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