Category Archives: Tech

Arbitrary Value Assignment

Today I would like to write about arbitrary value assignment and how it relates to adoption or rejection of technology and culture.

When I say technology I am not merely talking about iPads, apps and laptops; but all objects which have been developed in conjunction with application of knowledge of scientific principles. In other words, a broader definition.

First, lets talk about physical books. Printed, bound and inky books. These were developed through application of science and technology. Compared to an eReader they look downright shabby – possessing no batteries, LCD screen or even speakers. They are technology, however, and thus can be compared directly to an eReader in the same paradigm.

It is important to note that the word “book” simultaneously (and I would argue equally) describes both a physical bound and printed written work and the contents thereof. A good example is the books of the Bible. We are well aware that they are separate, individual works despite being bound together, and so we retain the designation, rather than lumping them all together. The medium is not the message. If the text of Moby Dick were written on a giant cave wall in charcoal, would people still call it a book? I think so. Regardless what people call it, would it be any less profound, thrilling or educational? Of course not.

“Stop!” a critic might exclaim, “the tedium of reading off a cave wall would distract the reader, and thus might make the story less effective!” That would be an astute observation, and it leads me to my first point. A medium or any “thing” for that matter, should be judged according to its merits, and not upon arbitrary value assignments.

How this applies to books is that many individuals feel it is important to champion paper books over eReaders beyond a pro/con analysis. They take the argument into a realm of ethereal ideas of quality based upon something, something that makes paper books more… well just better. That something is an arbitrary value assignment.

What is a value assignment, and what makes one arbitrary? A value assignment is labeling something as “good” or “bad.” This can be meant in a moralistic sense or a simply practical one, with “bad” being informally substituted in the place of “unsatisfactory.” People do this by collecting evidence and then making a decision. If evidence is not taken into account, then that judgement is arbitrary, or baseless. Assuming one wants to live a life guided by rational decisions (many don’t mind omitting logic from the source of their beliefs, hence the designation) then arbitrary value assignments are… well, bad.

How does this relate to technology and culture adoption? People commonly assign arbitrary value when evaluating new things. In my observation, the most common way this is accomplished is to view old or previously established things, ways of behaving, doing, etc, as better than the new way, thing, or idea. To put it differently, people are used to the way things have been, and thus push against the new. This is not a unique idea I am presenting here, but I do feel it is an original spin on what has previously been said. What I want to point out, however, is that this behavior, of automatically judging things in one lump established=good/unproven=bad is not rational, as it could prevent people from obtaining potential benefit.

People often scoff at new ideas only because they are new. Not because they have evaluated and judged them, but because they are unfamiliar. Sometimes people believe they are making a rational judgement, when in fact they are merely filtering ideas through their previous understanding of the thing. A good example is the argument of whether children should be given cell phones. Younger and younger children are being given cell phones because of decrease in prices for basic calling plans and the phones themselves. The parents do this for added child safety. Many people deride the parents of these children, like they are somehow soiling their youth because… well… um… it just seems like kids shouldn’t have cell phones. Kids didn’t use to have cell phones (actually no-one did, but that is beside the point), so why do they suddenly need them now? Despite the obvious flaw in this argument (we didn’t previously have antibiotics either) people defer to it in a vain attempt to express what they are feeling. It is my argument that the disdain they feel for this possibility of kids having cell phones is not based upon logic or reasoning, but simply because previously kids just didn’t have them, so that just seems right. 

It seems like kids should be reared having to call from a landline, memorizing phone numbers while being careful to plan departure and arrival times so as not to worry parents. But that is only because it is the way that adults today had to do it when they were young. Sure, certain skills may have been learned by doing it that way, but those specific skills, if not taught through the new way of owning a cell phone, probably aren’t needed anymore.

For instance, I can only imagine what kind of skills are developed through computer programming on punchcards. Make sure you don’t make a mistake because once those holes are in the paper, they will remain! However, that isn’t how computers are programmed anymore. So while there were probably a few graduating computer scientists who learned the punchcard method while their college updated the curriculum, the industry quickly moved on, forgetting the outdated method. There were, no doubt, old curmudgeonly programmers who scoffed at the new young programmers who hadn’t even seen a punchcard. They must have judged them as lacking an integral skill or important experience that, although unquantifiable, must be important because it was experienced by someone. 

It is this appeal to feeling that I believe is absolutely useless. If one is unable to articulate why something should or shouldn’t be used/adopted/completed/etc and are relying on a sort of instinctual gut feeling, it is likely that the underlying reasoning is based upon an irrational line of reasoning. This is not to be confused with split decision making and fight or flight response, wherein a person makes a “gut” decision and acts quickly.

It is important to identify our own internal reference material. In academic studies one is required to verify sources of information to ensure validity. So too should individuals when making decisions, since it is absolutely possible that the seed of any one particular bit of information began as a half-formed thought, based in bias or misinformation. To use a historical example, designers of the RMS Titanic believed the design to be unsinkable. They based other decisions, such as how many lifeboats to place on the ship, upon this flawed premise. How many other decisions were poisoned by the faulty reasoning on this principal portion of the design?

Again, I feel that one of the most common elemental erroneous judgements is that things that have been around for a while are better than those that are new. It is common to look back at past decades as simpler, happier times. Who hasn’t gazed at a 1950s marketing image for Coca-Cola and thought “It sure would have been nice to live back then”? What many fail to remember is that at this time blacks were marginalized in the United States to a significantly greater degree than today, as were women discriminated against in the workplace, while various diseases remained yet uncured. You won’t see that intentionally in an ad for dyed and carbonated sugar water.

In summation, it is important that we don’t confuse feelings of comfort with perceived merit. It is irrational to make value assignments based purely upon how established something already is. People should study their preconceived notions, and judge all incoming data upon valid information, and not merely an inclination or feeling.

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My Prediction

I have had a vision. In around 5 years time (the time it will take for everyone’s computer to slow to a crawl) everyone will have an iPad(like) device. This is my reasoning:

First of all, everyone knows that there are many complaints with the device. I am not going to rehash those here. They have been covered ad nauseam, and if you really would like to find them, search any gadget blog for a list of gripes.

The epiphany that I had was this: the iPad is for content consumption, while traditional computers are for content creation. You have heard the first part before. It is no secret that the iPad has a great form factor (like that of a magazine) for reading, browsing the web and watching movies/videos. The latter just occured to me. The things that I will not be able to use the iPad for that I use regularly: Photoshop, and Lightroom 2. To a lesser degree: Garageband, iMovie, Logic, Final Cut etc. Most people have no idea how to use these programs.

Within the tech community, photoshop skills are essential like a sidearm in the old West. Most people, however, use the jpegs straight from their camera, and think editing video requires godlike powers (just try showing an edited video to your mom, she will think you belong in Hollywood).

As I work in my computer dealer, people often tell me about how they have 250GB of RAM on their computer back home. They don’t know the difference between an iPhone and an iPod Touch. As soon as people start seeing them around, and watch people browse the web, read magazines and books, and use whatever apps are made specifically for it, it will become an object of desire. It already is. I have been walking around the school with a Barnes & Noble Nook e-reader for the past month, and have been asked literally 3 times a day if it is the iPad.

When people go to buy a computer, they will ask the prices (as they always do) and when they find out that the sexy slab-of-glass one is $500, they will buy it. Kids will sync it with their parent’s computers, even if they are away at college (yes, this is risky, but people do this. They don’t backup, they sync their iPods with friends they met in South America on study abroad, etc). There will be one computer in the home that can be used for content creation like Word docs (primarily, with some using the attachable keyboard with the iPad), photos, etc.

What about those people who do program, edit movies and music, blog heavily, design? They will have one too. Instead of heaving their MacBook Pros around on trips, to school, the plane, they will use their ____ (not necessarily an iPad) except for when they need to produce content.

Picture a Dell laptop. Why, are we so stuck on the idea that this is what a computer looks like? Browsers, applications and interfaces have all been molding and changing to become more ergonomic, why not explore a little? I absolutely love the way an iPhone is used. Why am a still using a computer that operates like a big Blackberry?

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A How-To Guide for the Good of Peoplekind

3250_1166037391141_1234097888_465653_6799890_nHaving spent many an hour immersed in Facebook’s flickering glow, I feel that I have become an authority on the nuances of the network. As someone who dabbles in obsessive compulsivity and making up words I feel inclined to set those of you straight who have wandered from proper usage of this Internet tool.

In no particular order:

1. “What’s on your mind?” is the question now asked by the status update text box. If I were to come up to you and ask you what you were thinking and you said “is having a bad day” I just might slap you. Sadly, the option to slap people was removed while FB was still in beta, and changed to “poke” which although mildly entertaining, does not inflict physical harm, thereby not encouraging proper use of the status update.

2. The teaser. Today we have a variety of ways to communicate. Many are limited to a certain amount of characters i.e. SMS, Twitter, etc. However, having a limited amount of characters is not an excuse for only saying “I am still sad, but feeling better” when you could say “I am sad that my dog died, but feeling better.” Now, I am not one for public declarations of personal moments, but if you are, at least do us the courtesy of not having to ask “What happened?” in order to adequately console you.

Feel free to distribute this guide as needed. I am sure that many of you feel the same pain as I.

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iPhone 3.0 Wrap-Up

Image courtesy Gizmodo

Image courtesy Gizmodo

Apple has announced their iPhone 3.0 software. Their last major update brought downloadable applications to the phone, and their aim with this next release is to bring more features that people want. So what are some things that they have added?

Well first off, Cut, Copy and Paste. Using a double tap you can select text to cut or copy, and double tap later to paste. Simple enough implementation. You can even shake to undo, neat.

Complete device search, or spotlight, and landscape typing are also included, as well as sending and receiving MMS messages. Spotlight is a utility that allows you to search your entire device, including music files and applications. A couple of the other things they are adding include, stereo bluetooth support, notes syncing, shake to shuffle, anti-phishing, auto-fill and YouTube accounts. You can now forward SMS messages as well. I know a lot of people will be happy with these updates alone.

Apple has opened up more options for charging for apps. Devs can now choose to sell subscriptions to their content, or even levels for games in a buffet type manner. The new options for different business models is great for developers, but not as great for users. Basically it enables the devs to squeeze a little bit more money out of app store patrons. I think this is a good thing, however, as it will continue to add more apps to the store, and possibly ones with increased functionality.

The iPhone will be enabled with P2P access that is automatic and simple. With peer to peer access easier, apps will be able to transfer information quickly and easily, broadening the functionality of the phone. We will see how open Apple is with this, but potentially it could be used to transfer photos etc.

SDK

Accessory makers will be able to develop applications to use specifically with their accessory, which means that your next Bose speaker dock may have the equalizer controls within an iPhone app, rather than not having them at all. They are even allowing more niche applications like a blood pressure monitor that could be plugged directly into the iPhone to record it and utilize it the information. Also people with diabetes will be able to monitor their glucose levels directly on the phone, with their insulin meter talking directly to their phone via bluetooth. I know one medical professional specifically who would like to use only one device, and is looking for the ideal. This could bump the iPhone up there in the running.

One thing that I would like to see is an attachment for gameboy-like buttons. This would really allow for more in depth gaming on the iPhone. It seems like this now would be possible, though it would probably require support from Apple to work correctly.

Background notifications will be enabled. According to Apple, applications running in the background cause an 80% decrease in battery life, opposed to 23% when the app is merely checking for notifications. One thing they fail to mention is that apps like Pandora will still not be able to run in the background, and have no need for push applications. This will be disappointing for some thought the battery life would be absolutely pitiful if you were listening to Pandora and playing a game. The battery is bad enough already, so I think that Apple was between a rock and a hard place but made the smart decision, though it may not be the popular one.

They are opening up new APIs to developers. What this means is that app makers will be able to use more of the iPhone’s features in their apps. Things like access to the music library, proximity sensor and full use of the GPS (Turn by turn directions anyone?). Another example would be that within a game, you could access your music library as a character, select a song and play the song. EA demonstrated this with their game, The Sims.

One thing notably absent from the official announcements is bluetooth tethering. In a question and answer session, Apple said that they were working with carriers to get this function up and running. They also said that they have no hardware announcements at this time. Bluetooth keyboards will not be supported, and P2P will be limited to devices running bonjour, Apple’s personal flavor.

The update will be available to all iPhone owners for free this summer, probably when the next iPhone comes out. For iPod Touch users, it will be  $9.99. I am surprised that they didn’t try to sell the update as part of the next iPhone. That means that whatever they come out with will have to have some serious hardware updates to sell (faster processor anyone?). I don’t believe that anyone has the right to complain anymore about Apple intentionally nuetering the phone, though due to human nature, we will probably start demanding satallite TV on the iPhone around July.

Pictures Courtesy Gizmodo and Engadget Liveblogs and their creative commons license.

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The Beta Meister!

So there is a trend that has been pointed out by others prior to me, and I wanted to throw in my two cents.

I installed the Windows 7 beta on my HP mini, and am lovin’ it (except the more whiteboy way: “loving it”). It is a beta version, but seems quite good so far. I have one driver issue that has yet to be resolved (Windows OS with a driver problem? Well I never… kidding!) But overall it has a beautiful UI and they truly did improve upon the taskbar that was one of the things that drove me into Steve Job’s turtlenecked arms in the first place. The preview function is awesome.

But this is all besides the point, which is not aimed directly at Microsoft, but beta culture in general. For those not familiar, the beta culture is where software developers release their product initially in beta (or as a preliminary release) so that basically regular ‘joe warcrafts’ do the testing and report the bugs. This is all well and good, except, an OS? Seriously? This is what I think happened:

Vista was a failure. Whether it truly deserved to be is another discussion (I don’t think it deserved what punishment it got). But I think that Ballmer’s boys are tricking us a little. After using this OS, it seems pretty stable. So I think that they are basically releasing Windows 7 now, though under the Beta guise so that if everyone complains they can fix it before the official release? Very, very smart, though tricky. I don’t blame them, I just think that is what they are doing.

Do you think this could be possible?

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I am a Hypocrite

I would like to take this time to say that I am going to eat my words. A couple of months ago, I wrote a post entitled “Why I hate PCs” or something like that. Well to say that I have grown tired of that debate is an understatement. They all have their good points. After using all of them, I have come to the conclusion that I enjoy using OSX as my primary OS. However, on my HP Mini 1000 I am running windows, and enjoy using it as well. There are things that I don’t like about it, but there are things I don’t like about OSX as well.

The reason that I wrote that post is that I was extremely frustrated with my little Eee PC which lacked the processor and storage to run Windows adequately. I read an article that pointed out that we have a good set of options. Windows is closed software on open hardware. Macs have closed software on closed hardware (virtualization doesn’t count), and Linux is open software on open hardware. We have all the options, and you can pick the one that works for you.

Although I don’t disagree with a lively discussion about the merits of each, and the neat things you can do with each, it upsets me when I see any blind rage towards any of them (usually on a tech blog). I realize that we are just talking about computer operating systems, but the universal issue of blind discrimination is applicable to much larger issues.

As I am writing this, I am on my little HP Mini 1000, and loving it. I am using Firefox with a bunch of add-ons (yes I ditched Chrome, thereby completing my Firefox experiment) and enjoying it. However, I have yet to find a music management program that I like better than iTunes, and wish that I had iCal on here, but it is definately great.

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The Digital Revolution

Some news from the UK piqued my interest recently, MINI is dropping CD changer preparation from their cars due to the fact that only 50 cars of the 50,000 cars produced last year actually had a CD changer installed. Why is this? The fact that you can just as easily have your MP3 player play through your car as you can have a CD deck installed, and most new cars come with AUX jacks pre-installed. The thought of having to physically change a CD every time I want to stop listening to the same 12 songs seems archaic and dangerous. Lets be honest, no-one pulls over every time they want to change a CD. Hopefully you at least do it at a red light, but either way, reaching for a booklet and searching for your disk of choice is not the best thing to do in a vehicle. Due to the shuffle feature of most MP3 players, or the ‘Genius’ playlist maker on the newer iPods, you don’t ever have to change the song, and if you want a specific song, it takes but 5 seconds to get to it. But what can you do if your car doesn’t have an AUX input already? Here are a couple ways you can join the party:

Normal CD deck with and AUX Input
I found one for twenty bucks, and there are numerous others that will allow you to play your iPod through your car’s speakers. Though you will have to charge the player with your cigarette lighter jack, this is an easy solution that is $20 and up.

In Dash iPod Dock
Will allow you to place your iPod into your dash like you would a CD, and control it from the face of the player. Very convenient, though you will pay for that convenience (as always).

FM Transmitter
Use one of these if you don’t enjoy music at all. They are around $30 dollars which is more than the deck I found with an AUX input and gives you the clarity of a beautiful sunset through a screen door. Yes, your music is there, but it is one dimensional. You have to find a truly dead channel to use it on, and even if you do, when you are next to a bus you will get interference from their radio (communication radio, that is). In short, DON’T DO IT.

Tape Adapter
My knowledge on these is very limited, so this will be short. I am not sure of the quality of the signal with these, though it is for sure better than an FM transmitter. I know it isn’t digital quality because you are going through the magnetic receivers used for cassette tapes, a technology that was invented in the 60’s.

There are many factors that go into how your music sounds including your speakers, amp, connection, and how compressed your digital music is. There are many people that give sound systems a bad name (i.e. those monkeys who try to get as much bass as possible to rattle their car to bits), but true audio fidelity can enrich your audio experience and allow you to hear the music the way it was truly meant to sound.

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