On Monday, Yahoo is holding a press conference, according to TechCrunch. This comes after the company's recent buying spree, and it closely follows rumors that Yahoo is considering spending a billion dollars to buy Tumblr:
On Monday, it seems that we may get a better sense of what Yahoo plans to do with all these new acquisitions, as CNBC is reporting that Yahoo will be holding a “product-related” news event on Monday in New York City. Marissa Mayer will reportedly be speaking at the press conference, but that’s all we know about the contents of the event at this point.
I do get the sense that Tumblr could be a bigger deal than it already is—it's about one-third of a social network and two-thirds of a blogging platform, which seems like a good position to be in—but I'm not sure that Yahoo is the company to bring it to its full potential. But new CEO Marissa Mayer has accomplished what seemed like the impossible a couple years ago: She's got people talking about Yahoo again.
"The head of Saudi Arabia's religious police has warned citizens against using Twitter, which is rising in popularity among Saudis," the BBC reports. "Sheikh Abdul Latif Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh said anyone using social media sites—and especially Twitter—'has lost this world and his afterlife.' " International Digital Times notes that: "The news rather reminds us of the imam of the Grand Mosque who last April used his sermon—seen by millions on TV—to label Twitter as a threat to national unity. The kingdom's grand mufti (religious head) earlier at several occasions attacked Twitter users calling them 'fools' and 'clowns.'"
One Twitter user looks on the bright side...
@fakedansavage So when I die, I won't go to the same place as Sheikh Abdul Latif Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh? Shame, he seems like a really fun guy
— Alexander Colgan (@alexcolgan) May 16, 2013
Well. It turns out the Slog drone and its kind are not allowed in Seattle's parks. So, while I did not violate Paul Constant's civil rights last month by spying on him with the Slog drone in Volunteer Park, I did violate park rules.
Specifically, Seattle Parks Department rule 18.12.265, which states:
It is unlawful to operate any motorized model aircraft or motorized model watercraft in any park except at places set apart by the Superintendent for such purposes or as authorized by a permit from the Superintendent.
At present, zero places have been set aside by the Superintendent for drone use. However, parks spokesperson Dewey Potter has kindly granted the Slog drone and its operator amnesty for the flights we took before we became aware of this situation.
What about a special "permit from the Superintendent" that would allow the Slog drone to fly in some section of some city park in the future? After some back of forth over the possibility of such a permit, Jeff Hodges, of the department's Event Management Office, has said no.
We have authorized permits for new and currently prohibited activities in cases where it is clear there is an emerging public desire for the activity, or in cases where there is a special reason for approving an exception...
After the review of your request, we feel it does not meet either of these criteria. I suggest that if you want to pursue it, you try to put together a group of other drone users and make a case for the need, or provide Parks with a compelling reason to approve an exception.
I wonder if this might count as evidence of "emerging public desire" to fly drones in Seattle parks:
But apparently I need to be part of a group if I want the Parks Department to relax its drone rules.
So, if you have a drone and want to be part of a group petitioning the Seattle Parks Department for space to fly drones legally, put "DRONES!" in the subject line and e-mail me.
Meanwhile, let's check in with the High Court of Slog.
My Twitter was a-hootin' and a-hollerin' about the fact that there's a newly released lifecasting app called Saga. Here's the description:
Saga records your real life story, as told by the places you visited, and what you did there, automatically.
We make it easy and fun to look back on where you’ve been, what you’ve done, what you’ve said, and photos you’ve snapped, with little to no manual input required. Saga keeps up with your daily activities, automatically checking-in, and cataloging your travels in a beautiful lifelog....Saga is for the seekers, the quantified selfers, and life-adventurers, but at the end of the day, Saga is for everyone, including you. We believe everyone has a story worth telling, and today we’re making it incredibly easy to do.
Saga also integrates with a variety of popular services you’re probably already using to enhance your lifelog even more. Saga doesn’t just record your travels, but also your photos, personal notes, status updates, workout data, and more. Connect Saga with apps like RunKeeper, BodyMedia, Fitbit, Withings and Tripit and watch your timeline flourish.
I understand the whole fitness tracking thing—I use a pedometer when I go out on long walks—but lifelogging feels to me like the ultimate I-don't-give-a-shit experience. Are people really going to go back through and relive every little thing they did for every day of their lives? Is anyone else (besides, you know, overreaching law enforcement officers) going to give a shit about your lifelog? And can your phone's battery support a tracking app that is always on in the background? It's entirely possible that this is just plain not for me—I've always considered Foursquare, for instance, to be way to trick people into becoming unpaid billboards for businesses and brands—and other people understand the appeal. What do you think, Slog?
It's been long rumored that Amazon is working on a phone, but according to a new Wall Street Journal report, that phone may have a 3D display...Some sources have said users would be able to navigate through content with their eyes, and eye tracking could also improve the 3D effect, allowing the phone to tell where users are looking and refocus in response, rather than having a single "correct" viewing angle.
Anyone seen any 3D phones in the wild around South Lake Union? This seems like a weird way for Amazon to jump into the smartphone business, unless that 3D tech is really something transformative. Of course, this kind of reporting often has a touch of truth to it, in the form of prototypes being handed around that never get released to the public. But evidence is mounting that Amazon is going to come out with its own smartphone this year. Whether that smartphone has a 3D display or not is something we might not know until we see the thing in Jeff Bezos's hand at the launch press conference.
Microsoft is offering to pay $1 billion to buy the digital assets of Nook Media LLC, the digital book and college book joint venture with Barnes & Noble and other investors, according to internal documents we’ve obtained. In this plan, Microsoft would redeem preferred units in Nook Media, which also includes a college book division, leaving it with the digital operation — e-books, as well as Nook e-readers and tablets.
The documents also reveal that Nook Media plans to discontinue its Android-based tablet business by the end of its 2014 fiscal year as it transitions to a model where Nook content is distributed through apps on “third-party partner” devices.
For a while now, Microsoft has been the only major tech player without its own e-book storefront. This looks like an attempt to buy into the market with an already-established brand. I'm not convinced that the Nook e-bookstore is worth a billion dollars, but this certainly would be the easiest way for Microsoft to play catch-up with Amazon, Apple, and Google.
So, over the weekend I rented The Hobbit from a Redbox. I thought is was pretty blah. All I'm saying is I hope that CGI technology improves a whole yardstick before the next installment comes out, because it blew on this one, and this one would have been approximately five minutes long if you cut out all the scenes involving the shitty CGI. WHY DON'T YOU JUST PUT A CGI BABY IN ANGELINA JOLIE'S ARMS?
Anyhow, I bring this up because I have encountered a major modern-world/first-world problem. After beginning The Hobbit and then falling asleep, and then finishing it the next morning, I realized that my DVD player had decided to shit the tub. The Hobbit is stuck inside. Naturally, the only place I can turn for advice is the Collective Wisdom of Slog™.
It's true! The official site for Day Against DRM has a handy list of things you can do to celebrate, including sharing links, buying from companies that don't use DRM, and links to places where you can complain publicly about DRM. If you don't know why this is such a big deal, you should visit the anti-DRM FAQ.
In a great post at Technology Review last week, John Pavlus explained that the future of technology like Google Glass—where instead of taking a picture by telling the glasses to take a picture, you simply wink—might get too close to the body for our comfort:
The assumption driving these kinds of design speculations is that if you embed the interface–the control surface for a technology–into our own bodily envelope, that interface will “disappear”: the technology will cease to be a separate “thing” and simply become part of that envelope. The trouble is that unlike technology, your body isn’t something you “interface” with in the first place. You’re not a little homunculus “in” your body, “driving” it around, looking out Terminator-style “through” your eyes. Your body isn’t a tool for delivering your experience: it is your experience. Merging the body with a technological control surface doesn’t magically transform the act of manipulating that surface into bodily experience. I’m not a cyborg (yet) so I can’t be sure, but I suspect the effect is more the opposite: alienating you from the direct bodily experiences you already have by turning them into technological interfaces to be manipulated.
The post is titled "Your Body Does Not Want to Be an Interface." Pavlus also quotes this terrifying article from Co.Design:
Think about this scenario: You see someone at a party you like; his social profile is immediately projected onto your retina–great, a 92% match. By staring at him for two seconds, you trigger a pairing protocol. He knows you want to pair, because you are now glowing slightly red in his retina screen. Then you slide your tongue over your left incisor and press gently. This makes his left incisor tingle slightly. He responds by touching it. The pairing protocol is completed.
I honestly don't know which future is more likely: The one where we recoil from wearable computers as a kind of sensation-based uncanny valley, or the one where we embrace wearable computers because they make everything more convenient. It seems that our bodies can become used to all kinds of modifications, but it also seems that we might appreciate our powerful computers better when they're at arm's length from us.
When T-Mobile announced its new "uncarrier" plans, a lot of mobile phone industry observers shrugged.
T-Mobile was eliminating the industry-standard two-year contract, but it was also eliminating the device subsidies to which US consumers have long grown accustomed. For example, an iPhone 5 that would cost you $199 with a 24-month commitment on AT&T or Verizon could now be had from T-Mobile for $579 with no contract. Or, T-Mobile would hand you the phone for a $99 downpayment plus $20 a month for 24 months—if you cancelled your service, you'd be responsible for a lump-sum payoff on the balance of your phone.
The new T-Mobile plans typically came out to be about $20 a month or so cheaper than AT&T or Verizon, so it was kind of a wash, with the $20 monthly phone payment largely offsetting the typical savings on the new "uncarrier" plans. And the lump-sum payment due on canceling your service was functionally no different from early termination fees the other carriers still charge.
That last detail apparently escaped the attention of a lot of new T-Mobile customers:
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson has ordered T-Mobile to correct deceptive advertising that promised consumers no annual contracts while carrying hidden charges for early termination of phone plans.
Today, the Attorney General's Office filed a court order signed by T-Mobile and effective nationwide that will ensure the company clearly communicates the limitations of its new “no-contract” wireless service plans and allows customers duped by the deceptive ads to exit their contracts with no penalty.
“As Attorney General, my job is to defend consumers, ensure truth in advertising, and make sure all businesses are playing by the rules,” Ferguson said. “My office identified that T-Mobile was failing to disclose a critical component of their new plan to consumers, and we acted quickly to stop this practice and protect consumers across the country from harm.”
T-Mobile has agreed to offer full refunds with no fee for canceling service to customers who purchased phones between March 26 and April 25. The company has also agreed to clarify its advertising so as not to deceive consumers about early termination, and to instruct its salespeople to properly inform customers. T-Mobile will also pay the state $26,046 in attorneys fees. And Ferguson makes an early mark as a pro-consumer attorney general.
All that said, there are some customers for whom T-Mobile's new plans offer significant savings: Those who routinely keep their phones for longer than two years, and those who prefer to buy unlocked phones. So while I'm with the AG that T-Mobile's claims were a bit deceptive, it's still nice to have T-Mobile's new plans as an option.
Via Gizmodo. The Slog done considers this to be a San Francisco people's problem.
I took the Slog drone down to yesterday's anti-drone protest at Westlake Plaza, and to answer your first question: No, I didn't fly it. Just carried it around in a cloth shopping bag, showed it to a few people, took it out for a moment and let it see the stage.
The first speaker was Peter Lumsdaine of the Alliance to Resist Robotic Warfare and Society. (He asked that I link to the group's e-mail address as they don't have a web page yet.) "We need to look very, very carefully at this idea that there are good drones and bad drones," Lumsdaine warned.
Lumsdaine sees drones ushering in a "new era of planetary history," perhaps "a Terminator future" in which drones will "autonomously enforce their own agendas and their own programming."
He said this prospect, as well as the way the U.S. government is already using drones for overseas strikes, tell him that "we need to move from education to action, and we need to move from protest to resistance."
If people don't start to push back against drones, Lumsdaine was saying, it may soon become too late to do anything. For inspiration, he cited the Luddite Uprising.
Another speaker, Bill Ditsler, referenced a statement President Obama made about the bombings in Boston. "Any time bombs are used to target innocent civilians," Obama said, "it is an act of terrorism."
Ditsler then said of Obama: "He must know he's talking about himself."
After that, a young woman read a list of names of children she said were killed by Obama's overseas drone strikes. Others mentioned last week's McClatchy expose. Lennon's "Imagine" was played. So was Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land."
The other day, I used the Slog drone to spy on Paul Constant while he was reading in Volunteer Park.
Afterward, Mr. Constant took the matter to the high court of Twitter and declared:
My civil rights have been violated. RT"@elijsanders Slog drone vs. @paulconstant: slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/… "
— Paul Constant (@paulconstant) April 8, 2013
Mr. Constant said later that he meant his "civil liberties." Either way, a ruling seemed necessary.
So, I took the case of Slog drone vs. Paul Constant to an expert on robotics and the law, the Seattle City Attorney's Office, and the local ACLU. None of them could come up with a specific law that I'd broken by using this off-the-shelf Parrot AR.Drone to read over Mr. Constant's shoulder in a public park.
If you're concerned about where personal drone technology is going, you should take a moment to hear why.
I began with the expert on robotics and the law, Ryan Calo, who used to be with the Stanford Center for Internet and Society and is now at the University of Washington.
In the US, e-book sales made up 22.55 percent of book sales in 2012, but Paid Content says that those numbers appear to be plateauing. At the very least, the days of huge increases in e-book adopters seem to be over. But what do you think?
You don't want to see headlines like this one, from the AP:
Research firm: PC sales plunge as Windows 8 flops
Apparently, PC shipments fell some fourteen percent in the first quarter of this year, which is the steepest they have ever dropped. The AP's Peter Svenssen analyzes the data like this: "Microsoft's Windows 8 software appears to be driving buyers away from PCs and toward smartphones and tablets..." Let's hope, for the good of the local economy, that Microsoft has something great up their sleeves.
The Verge just published a great scoop about Microsoft's next Xbox plans:
Microsoft is investing in TV in a big way with its next Xbox console as part of a fight for the living room. Multiple sources familiar with the company's Xbox plans have revealed to The Verge that Microsoft will introduce a feature that lets its next-generation console take over a TV and set-top box in a similar way to Google TV. We understand that the next Xbox will require an online connection to use the entertainment services, allowing them to be always-on for streaming and access to TV signals.
If it's true, this is a pretty ballsy move on Microsoft's part. Tech companies have been trying to find ways into consumers' television sets for years now, but none of the more grandiose plans, like Google TV, have yet succeeded. Unless there's an easy way to opt out of this television OS, I'm imagining that some consumers might opt out of the Xbox entirely. And then there's the fact that the recent Sim City debacle has proven that consumers aren't happy about products that require them to be online to play games. Meanwhile, other buyers will be pissed to discover that you still need a cable subscriptions to watch cable TV; the most giddy tech TV ideas—like Apple's much-speculated-about-but-never-materialized iTV, or Intel's upcoming project—involve cable replacements. It'll be interesting to see how this thing lands; it'll either be a crazy success or a crazy failure.
Because I am a completely unreasonable person, I'm constantly cursing at my computer for not knowing which application I want to be typing on. Or that it doesn't know that I want it to switch to whatever program I hover my cursor over when, say, I've got two monitors and I'm switching back and forth between multiple applications. Or that it can't just read my mind and then do all my work for me. Thanks to these hyper-nerds at Berkeley, computers are like three-quarters of one step closer to facilitating that stuff:
“Instead of typing your password, in the future you may only have to think your password,” explains a UC Berkeley School of Information press release about new research that utilizes brainwaves to authenticate users instead of passwords of numbers and letters. With a $100 consumer-friendly brainwave-reading headset, the Neurosky MindSet, Professor John Chuang found that the mere task of concentrating on one’s breath was enough to uniquely identify them.
Brainwave devices, or Electroencephalograms, are not at all a new technology, although this application is obviously in early development. TechCrunch, who also points out that these systems are not immune to hacking, has this video that demonstrates a totally practical use: the Necomimi, which, according to the marketing guy in the video, means "cat ears" in Japanese. It's, like, the future, man. Only with furries.
As mentioned, the Slog drone recently spotted Stranger books editor Paul Constant as he was reading in the park.
Some have been wondering what recreational uses this drone might be put to aside from going up and coming back down, and here is one: It can hover on over to Paul, flip from its nose camera to its bottom-mounted camera, and then peer down at Paul's filthy, filthy reading material.
What should the Slog drone do next?
At the time of this writing, exactly none of the nearly 400 Slog readers who participated in the Slog poll about the Facebook phone voted for the "Looking forward to it!" option. I've never seen anything like that in the long history of Slog polls. Maybe that's because everyone was thinking of the problems a Facebook-centric phone could present. Here's a video by Dartanion London that beautifully explains some of those problems:
There has been speculation for years about Facebook building its own phone, and at a press conference today, those rumors were proved to be kind of true: The First, a Facebook-centric phone, will soon be available from AT&T. But that wasn't the main reason Facebook was hosting the press conference: They were announcing Facebook Home, a suite of apps that will basically remake any Android phone into a Facebook-branded phone. David Pierce at The Verge explains:
Home is a family of Facebook apps that overhauls your entire device, turning it into a Facebook phone. An app called Coverfeed overhauls the homescreen and the lockscreen, giving you updates on what your friends are doing without you having to launch an app, or even unlock your phone. You can comment or like posts from your homescreen — it feels incredibly native. Everything is full-screen and incredibly visual, really looking nothing like Android...There are badges and notifications on every app that let you know when something new is happening, when someone is communicating with you. Notifications are sorted by friend, rather than app — it says when your friend is doing something, rather than letting you know that an app has something new for you. Instead of navigating through a list of apps, opening Photos to see photos and Calendar to see your events, Facebook wants to make your phone a lot more like your News Feed.
There's also a new chat feature that makes the phone more messaging-friendly. If you own an Android phone, your Facebook app will prompt you when Facebook Home is ready to be downloaded. Go read the full report at The Verge for all the details. And so?
It's a very good point. (And one that I tried to make here.) The abilities of today's personal drones are actually quite calming when you see them displayed, in the sense that they're so far from our worst fears.
The Parrot AR.Drone, for example, is easily pushed around by light breezes. That's one reason I kept the Slog drone—a Parrot—well away from the SPD waterfront camera and nearby power lines, and instead just sent the thing up above an empty patch of grass, turned it to look at the SPD camera from a distance, and then set it back down. (It's also a reason that the promise of newspaper delivery via Parrot is a joke, for now.)
On Friday morning, I asked: What should I do with this drone someone bought me?
A ton of great ideas came in, and one stood right out:
GlibReaper, I assumed, was talking about the Seattle Police Department's proposed waterfront camera network, funded by the Department of Homeland Security and presently on hold following public backlash.
So on Friday afternoon—which was beautiful, just like the weekend that followed—I headed out to Alki with the Slog drone and set up on a grassy knoll near one of the new waterfront cameras.
What was so perfect about GlibReaper's proposed mission was that it stood to demonstrate just how easy it has become to play the hovering camera eye game back against someone who is playing it against you. (As well as how uneventful it can be to watch one mechanical eye stare at another mechanical eye.)
The SPD's waterfront cameras are not turned on at the moment because they're under review, which meant the Slog drone didn't have to waste a lot of energy proving its supremacy. It lifted off from the knoll and headed up to power line height. Then it turned to look at the sad little SPD spy camera sitting there on a telephone poll doing nothing, and yawned. A police car rolled by on Alki Avenue.
The Slog drone declined to fly closer, into what appeared to be a Bermuda Triangle of power lines and intersecting streets. Instead it just stayed there above the empty knoll for a few seconds, pondering the exhausting amounts of visual data the SPD wants to collect about mundane afternoon moments like the ones that were passing before its eye. Then, a little exhausted itself, the Slog drone set down and examined the knoll grass.
What should the Slog drone spy on next?
Topics discussed in the article include:
• A trip to the "granddaddy of all drone-building competitions" in North Dakota.
• The fact that “You have to acknowledge in this day and age that stuff flies over your house.”
• Futuristic shooting sprees.
• A "university skybridge paid for by a potato farming magnate."
• What it is like to pilot a domestic drone. (Spoiler: It's fun.)
• The passionate argument against Seattle Police Department's drones, including the possibility that drones might record citizens “while [they're] naked, barbecuing!”
• The Terminator.
You should give The Magazine a try, and read Eli's thoughtful and funny article. I guarantee you'll come away with a ton of new information about a technology that is fundamentally reshaping our ideas of privacy and safety.
Nate Anderson set out to crack a single password in less than one day's work. By the end of that day, he had cracked 8,000 passwords. You should read his full report at Ars Technica.
T-Mobile has been struggling at the bottom of the Big Four cell phone companies for a while now. The company is planning the big announcement for today, and, in conjunction with the fact that they'll now be selling the iPhone, it could prove an interesting move. I'm not familiar with their quality of coverage, although I've not heard good things. Depending on the specifics of your phone situation, this could be a good choice. Or maybe I just like to root for the underdog.
For instance, someone who wants a Samsung Galaxy S III would pay $70 upfront and then $90 per month for unlimited calling, text and data. That monthly fee includes $20 to pay off the cost of the phone over two years.
By separating the cost of the phone from the service, T-Mobile is making its plans and upgrade options easier to understand. When the phone is paid off, the $20 fee in that example disappears.
T-Mobile is selling data per line in three tiers. The talk and text portion of the plan comes with 500 megabytes of data usage per month. Adding $10 bumps that to 2 gigabytes per month, while adding $20 provides unlimited data.
They've got the deals laid out pretty nicely on their site. It seems like it'd be pretty easy to give them a try without that sometimes hefty initial investment. And really, you're still on the hook for the phone, so you're still sort of on a contract, only you can pay it off and bail if you can't stand the service.
The latest gadget to prey on the myth that cooking an egg is complicated is the Rollie® Eggmaster, a cylindrical cooking device that cooks your egg onto a stick and then POPS UP WHEN IT'S FINISHED.
Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing sums it up: "...there is something weirdly compelling about a device that appears to get a boner while it cooks for you."
Slog tipper Greg sent along this ad. It's definitely cute...
...but I'm not entirely sure print media should embrace a toilet paper ad as a convincing argument that their industry is absolutely necessary.
I'm fairly competent at math, but I was initially baffled when I recently sat down to figure out the taxes and "fees" on my monthly wireless bill.
I'd received an email from an angry reader complaining about Washington's "second-highest in the nation" wireless taxes, and pointing me to a website that claimed we pay an astronomical 24.44 percent rate. That does sound high. But it didn't add up. A quick look at my latest AT&T bill showed that I paid $10.98 in taxes, surcharges, and fees on $74.29 in voice, data, and text charges. That comes to about 14.8 percent. Not inconsequential, but nothing like what the angry emailer claimed.
But for the life of me, I just couldn't get the numbers to add up, nor could I find useful online documentation. Finally, after a fair bit of algebra and some back and forth with the Department of Revenue, I think I've finally sussed it out, at least to within a penny or two. And it turns out that these various "taxes" aren't always what they first appear.
As a point of reference here's how my monthly AT&T Wireless bill breaks down (the tax and fee rates are not included on the bill; I had to figure that part out for myself):