Friday, 30 September 2011

Undervalued privacy


Great piece along the same theme as my prior post about Facebook not being free: Cory Doctorow - Tech Companies Exploit the Way We Undervalue Privacy - NYTimes.com 

Doctorow is a specialist in this field, and his view are more developed and rigorous than mine.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Parenthood

Since my wife has been at a conference overseas for a week, and I've been left in charge of the offspring (girl, 5 and boy, 2), it's been a good time to focus and reflect on parenthood.  I'd best capture my thoughts here while they're fresh and before the comfortably numb family routine dissipates them like whispers in a strong breeze.

Parenthood is the greatest thing that can happen to a person.  Not only from the biological imperative perspective (continuing the genes etc.), but from the self-discovery and self-fulfillment perspective.  Nothing makes you reflect on the value of your life like the responsibility of raising children. Nothing gives you the full gamut of emotion, from elation to tears, of watching your offspring navigate their way through life.  There is no greater love, even though it is seldom as well expressed, as inspirational, as romantic love.

The thing that surprised me about parenthood, as a single person, was how much it influenced my attitude and actions.  I recall many times, as an uncle to my brothers' kids, thinking that there's no way I'd do this or that for someone else.  Yet when they are your own offspring not only do you do it willingly, it doesn't even occur to you to do otherwise.  Selflessness is not really a choice for a parent: we all have to do it to a lesser or greater extent.  That lack of choice is scary for some and underestimated by many (particularly those without kids).

Yet parenthood is so common it's trivial. Naff even. Although I think the naffness is really to do with schmaltzy films trying to cash in on the phenomenon, rather than treat it as it really is: a background plot of incidental, often poignant moments in the lives of most adult humans on the planet.  It's an experience, like the best and worst experiences, that can be described and compared, but never truly shared with anyone but your partner.

Right, back to cottage pie and Wallace & Gromit...

Monday, 12 September 2011

Impressive social media stats


 Report Details Rise of Social Media - NYTimes.com 

So social media is 22.5% of peoples' time online, with Facebook being the bulk of that. What would really interest me is how that compares to other leisure activities. I still think that social media is more leisure than business/production, although I'm happy to be convinced otherwise.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Tablet v smartphone


I'm always intrigued at how technology blends together in real life. "The street has its own use for technology," as William Gibson said.

My cheapo LG smartphone died. Battery was getting tired anyway, so I switched to the backup: a bog standard Nokia X2 17-button phone. Sure it has data (GPRS, here in the Caribbean), but the screen's tiny and these days I'm about as good at typing on a numeric keypad as I am at sharpening a quill.

Luckily I have a 7" Samsung Galaxy Tab (yes, the one that is now illegal in Germany - all offers around the price of a 7.7" Tab considered!). It has a waterproof wallet (living on an island it's best to have every portable electronic device waterproofed) with a shoulder strap. I didn't realise it came with a shoulder strap when I ordered the Beachbouy wallet, but am now glad it does because it is effectively my briefcase. I'm typing this blog entry on it now. No, it doesn't replace a laptop, but if I need to sit down and do some proper work I'll use my laptop because I'll work faster with a 15" screen and a keyboard. You see, with a 7" Galaxy Tab you can type fast standing up, unlike bigger tablets. Just try it with an iPad - preferably someone else's, just in case you drop it.

But you can type fast on a smartphone standing up too, right?  Especially one with a keyboard.  Yes you can, but the screen is too small for seriously productive correspondence because the keyboard takes up too much of the screen, or, in the case of blackberries, the screen is a bit too small. And the apps are crap, but that's another post.

Since switching to the small dumb phone and the tablet I have realised a few things:-

1. Fewer distractions: instant email is distracting. If I need to check email, I'll pull out my tablet. Otherwise I'm instantly reachable by phone if its urgent. "Urgent" emails are usually simply a reflection of the sender's self-importance or poor communication skills, unless the sender is willing to follow them up with a phone call - the real urgent bit.

2. Better organisation: the power feature of Android is actually the 'Share' menu option. Unlike other mobile OSes this is not app-specific, but an OS service that exposes apps that subscribe to it. So when I download a new app it automatically can share to any other apps on my phone that support sharing. This means I can share the Blogaway post with my Twitter app, my Facebook app and, say, Evernote. I can add webpages and emails directly to my Gtask list or my calendar for dealing with later. I could do this on my smartphone but the trouble with that is that I would, wherever I happened to be, as soon as I got that distracting email or other beep. With my tablet I can still do the organising anywhere but at a time that suits me.

3. Media: just because you can watch TV on your smartphone doesn't mean you want to. Same with ebooks. I've actually read several books on my smartphone, and switching to a Tab was a revelation: its paperback book size and after dark readability was lovely. Similar for movies: holding the 7" screen at book distance is as good as a wide screen TV.

In summary, there's only one important interruption in life: somebody calling you, either in person or via phone. The rest should be received whenever and wherever you're ready to process it.  Basic phone + book sized tablet is the perfect combination. 

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Google+ and identity: a pseudo-controversy


When you're a ubiquitous internet company, and your very name is a dictionary noun, it's inevitable that any actions you take that impact privacy/security will be closely scrutinised - at best.

The bruhaha about online identity verification being a pre-requisite for membership of Google+ is, to my mind, a non-argument. Cynics and even sceptics try to buff up the tired old arguments about Google helping oppressors oppress, about them abusing our privacy, about them wanting to take over the world. Frankly, they're living in the old, amateur internet, where commerce was still basically offline (although transactions might be online, your identity was typically proven, initially, offline) and identity didn't matter. The internet is no longer a simple playground for self-expression. 

These days, Technology, the god of amplification, is completely inter-twined with people's sense of identity, be it financial or socio-political. It can amplify and mobilise mass-sentiment: one man's insurrection is another man's riot. It can record an increasing amount of your life's interactions: your family and friends' lives, your preferences, hobbies, opinions.

These are precious things, worth protecting. My identity is mine, not yours. Oh yeah? Prove it! "On the internet nobody knows you're a dog". Nobody knows you're you, yet you (or your identity thief) are increasingly asking people to vouch for you on the internet. To establish a trustworthy, creditable (yes, and commerce-able) ecosystem you have to be able to establish credentials. Is that REALLY @stephenfry you're following on Twitter? Or one if his web flunkies? Or an imposter? Twitter has attempted to establish a trustmark, to validate some Twitter accounts, so why not Google?

Nobody is saying you MUST identify yourself on the internet. They're saying "if you want to enter our network, please verify your identity". If you don't want to join, don't fill out the form. In this age of identity theft, social hacking and spam I welcome any such initiative.  Woof!