Category Archives: Technology

Never Say Never/Keeping the Old/Shouldn’t Be Surprised

OK, I changed my mind.  I’ll keep writing.

Whatever damage I may have done to myself from these posts is already done.  Beyond that, when the hammer drops, I’m sure the authorities will have far bigger fish to fry than me.

But it’s a beautiful summer morning here in NYC; I took an early-morning ride, so the endorphins are flowing; and my work has slacked off from its maniacally busy pace for the past few months, so that I have a few moments to write.

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I got my current cell phone, a Samsung Galaxy Note, when they first came out in early 2012.  It was the first phone with a screen over 5″ diagonal; some suggested that it was too large to comfortably handle.  But my big complaint with my previous phone was that the screen was too small.  So it was great to be able to read e-mails and their attachments without having to scroll, and with a minimum of squinting.  The camera is also good enough to be comparable to a point-and-shoot film camera: good for pictures among friends, and most of the pictures I need to take for work.

Now, the two-year contract has run out, and I can go back to AT&T and get a new phone relatively cheap.  But looking at what’s available, the only phones I like are incrementally newer versions of the Samsung Note.  Casting about further, among unlocked phones, there’s the Lenovo K900, which was never offered for sale in the United States.  It looks really cool, but it’s from 2012, and is functionally not too different from my Note.  Not worth the $450 or so it would cost.  (Lenovo has a newer model, again not marketed in the US, which has a slightly bigger screen, but looks nowhere as cool as the K900.)

So I’m keeping the Note.  The battery was getting old, and wouldn’t hold a charge for a full day.  But a new battery fixed that.

Meanwhile, my 2009 laptop remains in service as my work computer.  I could probably upgrade it to Windows 7 or 8, but as long as everything works, I have no compelling reason to change from Windows XP.  (Yeah, I know, Microsoft stopped supporting it in April.  But in all the years I’ve had computers with Microsoft software, how many times have I contacted them for support?  In a word, zero.)

Part of me wants to get a new battery for my laptop, like the phone.  But the other day I learned about a new peripheral device that reads gestures, which requires Windows 7 or 8.  I’d like to be able to give presentations without a clicker, being able to make a little swoopy gesture over the machine to make it change slides.  (I was able to do this in the 1990s, when we had presentations as overheads or 35mm slides, and for a big enough group, someone else was working the presentation.)

So maybe I won’t be able to resist the temptation of a new toy.

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At the beginning of 2013, I had to change health insurance.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the new Obamacare-compliant plan was a few ticks cheaper than the old insurance.  But then I wasn’t expecting a big change up or down because many of the features of Obamacare (no exclusion for pre-existing conditions, same rates for men and women, etc.) were already New York law.  The premium for my wife and me is currently about $1100/month.

Yesterday, I got a letter from the insurance company.  I received it in my office, as the employer, and at home, as the employee.  They’re petitioning the state for a 25% premium increase next year.  Part of the reason for the increase, they explained, was ‘the projected impact of the federal risk adjustment program that was put in place by the Affordable Care Act.’

So we in New York are still going to get whacked by Obamacare, it’s just taking a little longer.

Sharing is Scary

Edward Snowden, the man who made public and overt what we long tacitly understood about the government’s surveillance activities, issued a video last Christmas in which he remarked:

A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They’ll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves — an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought. And that’s a problem, because privacy matters. Privacy is what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be.

That’s perhaps a slight exaggeration, but only a very little one.  What’s worse is that we seem to be willing to do it for ourselves.

The other day, I noticed that a small Facebook logo had appeared on an update to the media player on my tablet.  I selected it to find a control to publish what I was currently listening to on my Facebook account.

I hit ‘cancel’ and shuddered:  I was glad, in that moment, that I do not have a Facebook account.  The thought of someone, outside my home, tracking my personal choices in music, gave me the creeps.  (Not that it might not happen anyway, given the state of government surveillance, but why would I volunteer what is intensely private for me?)

But there are doubtless people who are happy to post their current selections to the world.

The latest trend in managing education seems to be to give ‘high-stakes’ tests to children as young as 5.  I’m not sure of the wisdom of giving standardized tests to kindergarteners, but I had them from about the second grade, and nobody thought they were anything other than a part of the school experience.  (I actually liked test day better than the regular school day, as it was quiet and I could focus.)

But some of the reports of teachers who have to administer standardized tests to young children are telling: this is apparently the first time the children are asked to perform as individuals, and for the children, it’s not a comfortable experience.  Some of them, brought up with the notion that ‘sharing is caring,’ tried to help their classmates; some of them, realizing that they would have to work alone, got physically ill.

When I was a kid in school, there were things that we did collectively, and things we did as individuals, and that seemed the natural order of things.  There were things to share, and things not to share.  But now, the individual doesn’t matter, it seems.  Everything is to be shared.  The trend was there when I was growing up: the school’s biggest complaint about me as a youngster was that I ‘didn’t get along with the group.’  But the notion has apparently come to full fruition now.

To be sure, indiscriminate, overreaching government surveillance is evil.  But if the young are brought up to believe that the collective is everything, and their individuality is only relevant as it relates to the collective, then it doesn’t matter what the government does.

We will have surrendered our privacy ourselves, as much as the government took it from us.

Adios, Barnes and Noble

I’ve been reading ever since I was a little kid.  It feels almost as natural as eating.  A while back, while riding the subway, a little girl saw me reading something funny and laughing.

“He’s reading, and he’s laughing,” the little girl remarked to her mother.  Her mother shushed her, as if it were a remark not to be made in polite company.

I guess that for the people in the girl’s life, reading was a difficult chore, and not something to laugh about.

And for much of my life, I would go to a Barnes and Noble bookstore to pick up something to read.  In the 1990s, I would often spend a lazy Saturday at Tower Records followed by Barnes and Noble.  I would pick up something on computers, on how to meet women (not that the advice in those books ever worked), or a remaindered war novel.

There is a Barnes and Noble two blocks from my office.  I was last there two years ago, on a weekday.  I felt guilty for browsing when I should have been back at my desk, working.  On the main floor was a display of the Nook e-book reader that they were selling.

Shooting themselves in the foot, I thought.  An essential part of the joy of books is holding them in your hand, sampling, selecting.

And then I bought my tablet.  It doesn’t feel the same as a book, but it’s close enough.  The words go down good.  But the browsing experience is not the same.  I choose my books now by recommendations or comments that I read in the newspaper or a blog.

This morning, I got an e-mail from Barnes and Noble, offering me 20% off one item.  Alas, I will not take them up on it, although I’d love to.

I simply do not have the time.