Switchback: Talking Tech (Feb. 6)

Feb 06, 2015

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

The time is now. Give us your questions. 

How are ordinary folks responding to the net neutrality news? I think I may be too up close to judge.

I've generally thought of 3D printers printing out small items, like model figurines or a wrench on the ISS, but I get a little skeptical at the idea of living and working in a 3-D printed house.

My experience with 3D printing is admitted pretty limited, so I figured I'd ask you guys. So, are we all going to be living in 3D printed homes in the future?

Depends on how far into the future you're talking. But pre-fabricated homes aren't some sort of weird science fiction fantasy... Have you heard of mobile homes? 

To answer Brian's question: I think ordinary people are generally in favor of the FCC proposal, even if they don't get all the details about interconnection. Most people don't like their ISP, and anything that gives them more options, or curtails their power, will be viewed favorably. The nuance of any loopholes is probably lost on the general public.

I think what has surprised me the most is how many ordinary readers actually take the opposite view — that this is an FCC power grab, how Netflix customers should pay for Netflix traffic, etc. it's a much bigger universe, really. 

Anyone from the Post heading to SXSW?

Great question -- but above our paygrade to make the call on...

The 3-D printing seems like the coolest tech we'll see, but what material do you use for the "paper"? I mean, the printable chocolate can't be the same base material as the printable gun, can it?

The materials are the most interesting part! You can print in metals, plastics of various kinds, etc. current tech can't really print in more than one material but that'll change someday. 

Like everything the government does, it's usually done with "best intentions," but then the loopholes that I can't figure out will overtake them or it'll be implemented weirdly. I'm sure my internet bill will still go up, the mobile phone companies will figure out a way to convince me that I need more data, and I'll still complain about my slow speeds. Although I remember AOL and Netscape, and it's so much faster now. Maybe I'm spoiled? Ha.

There's a world of difference between the extruded plastic 3D printers that sell for $250 and the industrial ones that use a mix of rock, steel, and epoxy. Also, prefab houses have been a thing for years now, especially in Canada where it's cold, dark, and generally miserable. The house pieces are built in a giant warehouse and then trucked to the site and bolted together. You get uniform quality in construction and the workers can stay busy during the winter.

We will soon be eligible to get a new phone through Verizon Wireless at the 2-year-contract-extension rate. We each have an iPhone 4, and we're wondering about whether to upgrade to a 6 ($$$), a 5S ($$) or a 5C (no cost). Our phones have served us well and have done pretty much everything we need. Do you see a major difference between the 5S and 5C? And is it worth the upgrade to a 6 level phone?

This would be a great question for our resident gadget guru Hayley -- who is unfortunately away from the office today. I get by on an iPhone 4 now, so I may not be the best person to advise you, but my guess is that a 5c would probably be fine. Only thing you might want to consider is the amount of digital storage space... 

So now Hulu, NetFlix, and Amazon get to clog up my internet for free? And I can't read TWP online because it can't find its way through all the movies streaming? How is this a good thing? People should be careful what they ask for.

Well… maybe. I think you may be mixing together a few things. The whole point of the proposed rules is that nothing should get "clogged" — everything ought to be delivered at the same speed.

In practical terms, Internet providers blame Netflix for dumping way too much traffic onto their networks for them to handle — hence the drop in service quality. Here's the question: Should the solution to this be that the Internet provider pay to upgrade its pipes, or should Netflix have to pay? In theory, everyone benefits when the Internet provider upgrades its pipes, but not that many people benefit when Netflix has to pay a toll (mainly the benefits accrue to the Internet provider and the Netflix subscribers who finally can get decent service again).

Wait, I can print in chocolate? Where do I buy printer cartridges... Godiva? Wegman's?

What would y'all 3D-print if you could 3D-print anything?

3-D printers! I could make a printer army like that one in China.

This is clearly the best possible answer. AND ALSO POSSIBLE. 

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Only personal experience here, I went from a 4 to a 6. I thought that I would do fine on a 5c too since I didn't want to pay for a phone, but I sat down and thought about what I do on my phone: call/facetime parents, text friends, play free games, surf the internet. I ponied up for the 6 because it seemed like the 5 were slower with load times for games, and the screen was easier on the eyes (especially when you use the larger icons). And with the newest model and assuming Apple still updates every year, you only have 2 generations to upgrade to after your next 2 year upgrade instead of the 4 generations like this time. If you like the phone, then you can keep it for another year (3 generations) before upgrading again?

My take on the iPhone question: There's not much difference between a 5S and a 5C. If cost is a major issue, go with the latter. 

The big question if you're considering an upgrade to a 6 is whether a larger screen would suit your needs. I wouldn't be so concerned about the power of the phone's innards. Is a larger screen worth the extra money to you? If you don't really care about that (or if you think it would actually hurt your experience) opt for the 5S or 5C.

You jest with this, but it's not far from the truth. In my university lab I have a measuring arm that can make extremely precise relative measurements (<10 microns) over about a meter. When the sales tech was demoing it for us, he noted that several Chinese factories had ordered multiple arms. They had disassembled several, and were using functioning arms to "measure the disassembled ones", essentially reverse engineering the product. This is why nice things are so dam**ed expensive.

Humanity is doomed.

What's your take on China apparently blocking VPNs? Would they ever go nuclear on VPNs? WOuldn't blocking western websites be a huge blow to international business in the country.

It's certainly not a good time to be an Internet user in China. And there's rumblings that it IS affecting the Chinese start up community and International business.

From a recent NYT story:  

Jing Yuechen, the founder of an Internet start-up here in the Chinese capital, has no interest in overthrowing the Communist Party. But these days she finds herself cursing the nation’s smothering cyberpolice as she tries — and fails — to browse photo-sharing websites like Flickr and struggles to stay in touch with the Facebook friends she has made during trips to France, India and Singapore.

Gmail has become almost impossible to use here, and in recent weeks the authorities have gummed up Astrill, the software Ms. Jing and countless others depended on to circumvent the Internet restrictions that Western security analysts refer to as the Great Firewall.

Lu Wei  has ratcheted up  China’s sophisticated system of online censorship.Gregarious and Direct: China’s Web DoorkeeperDEC. 1, 2014


By interfering with Astrill and several other popular virtual private networks, or V.P.N.s, the government has complicated the lives of Chinese astronomers seeking the latest scientific data from abroad, graphic designers shopping for clip art on Shutterstock and students submitting online applications to American universities.

Do you ever find it a good idea to upgrade an operating system on a PC or laptop? I have an older MacBook Pro and currently that shipped with 10.5 on it and could upgrade to 10.6. Is it a good idea? I've had performance problems with Windows PCs when upgrading, even when the specs on the PC far exceeded the minimum required for the upgrade.

In my experience upgrading a Mac OS isn't nearly the crapshoot that upgrading a Windows OS is — in part because the hardware in Windows machines differs so greatly from PC to PC. 

It'd also be very different if you were upgrading to 10.10 rather than 10.6. I say go for it.

In case you're looking for weekend reading, I just posted a story for this week's Sunday Business section about how Google stands to upend the whole telecom industry:


I need to upgrade my phone, but most of them have screen sizes that are too big. I'd prefer 4.7" or less. I won't buy Apple (the 5 is a great size and has a good feel). Is there anything forthcoming I should look out for? Samsung J series?

That's a great question. I, too, prefer the size of the iPhone 5 over the iPhone 6. I'm not sure about what's next, though. Come back next week to ask Hayley!

That's it for this week. But here's a picture of the newest member of the Switch family to tide you over until next time.

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Brian Fung
Andrea Peterson
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