2015: Personal Technology Review

How did my use of technology change during 2015? The short answer is that it increased. For example, I just deposited a check using my phone, and that’s something I never did in previous years.

That phone is a Droid Maxx, made by Motorola for Verizon. My iPhone turned in to a brick earlier this year. From among the phones available from or for Verizon Wireless, the Maxx seemed to me the best deal. This may be due to the particular wireless plan I was already in. The iPhones were by comparison overpriced.

I was happy with my new phone until, after a few months, it went into spiral of frantic uselessness, in which it would do nothing but restart until it ran out of power. Staff at the Verizon store agreed that it should be replaced, and replaced it was.

My second Maxx is behaving well so far. I like multiple things about it, especially the size of the screen. I’m not missing my iPhone. But I haven’t abandoned Apple: the two iPads in the house are in frequent use by the kids and by me. Continue reading “2015: Personal Technology Review”

Back To Firefox From Chrome

After my daughter’s school started using Chrome, it seemed that the browser wasn’t big enough for the both of us. So I switched back to Firefox.

In a way, my switch away from Chrome was prompted by the success of Google for Education, and of Chromebooks. At school, my daughter Maddie uses one of the over 50,000 Chromebooks purchased by Montgomery County, Maryland, for use in K-12 schools.

Maddie has to sign in to her school Chrome account to do some of her homework. She does so on the office computer, otherwise known as dad’s laptop. When she started doing this, strange things happened to my browser, to the extent that Chrome no longer seemed like home to me. At first I thought about coexisting in Chrome, and set up a Chrome account for myself.



Then I considered switching to a different browser, and came up with multiple reasons for switching back to Firefox. It would be simpler to use a different browser from the one Maddie uses. I’m still a little annoyed at Google for discontinuing Google Reader. I was curious about what had happened in Firefox while I was away. Some recent browser comparisons favor Firefox over Chrome and other browsers.

Firefox this time round? So far, not bad.

Google Music: Initially Underwhelmed, But…

Google Music launched to a rather lukewarm reception. Don’t Be Too Disappointed By Google Music’s Lackluster Debut was the advice from TechCrunch. Here’s How Google Music Plans to Compete So Late in the Game was the slightly-perkier reaction from RWW. GigaOm was rather more upbeat:

The service mirrors smilar offerings from Apple and Amazon, with a unique social twist: Users will be able to share their purchases on Google+, giving their friends and followers a chance to listen (one-time only) to singles and complete albums for free.

So essentially it’s a music locker linked to an MP3 store (i.e. Android Market). We can browse, sample, and purchase. The browsing works fine. The sampling, not so much, when I tried it on iPad: the browser-based player seemed to think it was playing, but there was no sound. Playing is fine on the Windows/Chrome setup I’m currently using. The Google Music/Android Market apps won’t work on my Android phone, but then, not many recent apps work on a G1…

I tried music purchasing in two ways. First, I compared Android Market MP3 prices with Amazon. Amazon was usually less expensive; for example, Laura Veirs’ Tumble Bee is $9.49 in the DroidMart, rather than $7.99 at Amazon.

But I did already make one purchase from Android Market: Los Campesinos!’ Hello Sadness for $5.99. I’ll get round to making a Google+ playlist including tracks from this, and other music I own, soon. Right now, I’m uploading a lot of music from disc, while barely making a dent in the 20,000-track Google Music allowance.

I feel rather overwhelmed, in a good way, by the options open to the web-based music listener. I’m not blown away by Google’s offering right now, but will keep on comparing it with Amazon’s – and with Apple’s, and Spotify’s, and with other – and plan to post as I compare. I’m interested in your comparisons also, so feel free to post them as comments here.

Facebook, Google, and Privacy

So, Facebook “hired Burson-Marsteller, a top public-relations firm, to pitch anti-Google stories to newspapers, urging them to investigate claims that Google was invading people’s privacy.” I am rather late to the party in using that quote from Dan Lyons at the Daily Beast.

But I can’t resist jumping on this rather lovely insight into how low Facebook will stoop. And I can’t resist adding further quotes, this time from Michael Arrington’s account of the story:

  • “it’s not an exaggeration to say they’re changing the world’s notions on what privacy is.” They are Facebook. I hope that they are not changing the world’s notion of privacy. But they are certainly demonstrating how much of it people are willing to trade for being part of a large online herd.
  • “secretly paying a PR firm to pitch bloggers on stories going after Google, even offering to help write those stories and then get them published elsewhere, is not just offensive, dishonest and cowardly. It’s also really, really dumb.” Yes, and that’s the feel-good aspect of the story: the stupidity of Facebook.
  • “Google is probably engaging in some somewhat borderline behavior by scraping Facebook content… But many people argue… that the key data, the social graph, really should belong to the users, not Facebook.” Yes it should. But Facebook users should by now understand that they are the product, not the customer.
  • “Does anyone not see the irony of having to sign in via Facebook to leave a comment on this Techcrunch article?” That’s the first comment on Michael’s article (as of right now), and several other comments make a similar point. If TechCrunch knows Facebook to be dishonest, cowardly, and dumb, why is it inflicting Facebook’s comment system on the TC community?

Offers, Offers, Everywhere: Google, Groupon – and Living Social

Three weeks into 2011, the most interesting series of stories about the business to consumer web is local offers. They are all over the place, in the (new and old) media as well as on the map.

Since an excellent summary and opinion piece by Ben Parr at Mashable is just a few hours old, I’ll build off that. Google attempted to acquire Groupon. Groupon decided it could command even more billions by IPO than by being acquired. Google decided to launch its own service, Google Offers.

Ben op-eds that “Google will be an instant player in this market,” but that it “has yet to prove that it can build a successful social product.” For its part, “Groupon is prepared for (and not scared of) Google’s entry in its market.”

The first point I’d like to add is that Google faces at least one more well-prepared local offers service, besides Groupon. LivingSocial was also prepared for this announcement, and made sure it was also in the news this week with its offer of a $20 Amazon certificate for $10. That deal, which turned out to be wildly popular, put LivingSocial in the news during “Google Offers in the offing” week.

That’s good for Amazon as an investor in LivingSocial. It’s probably not bad for Amazon as a retailer, since orders will tend to be for more than the $20 on the certificate.

The second point is that the prominence of the local offers services seems to undermine, yet again, arguments that the web leads to “the death of distance” and makes meatspace irrelevant. On the other hand, the three services I’ve mentioned are (or will be) national or international in scope, and the offer that got LivingSocial in the news this week features an international retailer/partner/investor.

Finally, this seems good for consumers, with Google providing an additional source of local offers. For local business, however, it may further increase the pressure to offer deals that are too good for consumers to miss, and too cheap for the business to come close to covering its costs.

Simplify Music the Android Way

Alternatives to Lala are much sought-after at the moment, if the search traffic arriving at my post with that title is any guide. One things I didn’t mention in that post, or in the follow-up about music lockers, is that I was disappointed when Lala was acquired by Apple, rather than by Google.

One of the many interesting pieces of news coming out of Google I/O is that Google did make a music-related acquisition recently: Simplify Media. According to MG at TechCrunch, Google will use the acquired technology to give your Android devices access to your music – including music you’ll soon be able to buy in the Android marketplace.

Farhad at Slate provides more detail and enthusiasm.

As [Google’s Vic] Gundotra explained, you’ll do this by installing a small app on your desktop that will send your music… to the Internet… Once the files are online, your phone will have access to your entire music library whenever you’ve got an Internet connection… Even though the music doesn’t live on your phone, it behaves exactly as if it does.

Count me interested, although not inclined to get as carried away as Farhad. Here’s where he goes further than I’m willing to.

In the future, not only will you not get a CD when you buy an album, you won’t even get a digital file. All you’ll have is an access flag tied to your account in a database in a server farm in some far-off land.

I know that land: it’s Lala land, which got taken over, and is about to shut down. That model counts has too many breakable components to be feasible in the forseeable future.

Job Hunting and Dogfood

I like the expression eating one’s own dogfood. I also like the encouragement it gives to organizations to use their own products and services.

I was reminded of dogfooding during my current job search. Google asked for my phone number and for my resume. Those two requests are reasonable, and usual, but I was surprised at how closely Google stuck to the usual (Web 1.0ish) script.

Google has the usual categories for phone number: home, work, mobile, if memory serves. Hey, wouldn’t it be great if you could have a number that you could map to whichever phone you happen to be next to? Yes there is, and it’s called Google Voice. I’m surprised that wasn’t an option for phone number on the job application.

I’m also surprised by the option for sending a resume: upload, or paste into a window. Why not ask for a link to an online resume. Perhaps one at Google Docs? Yes, I am aware that people sometimes want to keep their resume private, rather than putting it on the web, and that one could use the paste a resume space to paste a link, but still… I uploaded my resume in Word format. Guess I could have used PDF…

I’m surprised that the application process didn’t steer me toward the dogfood made by the firm to which I applied (Google). Instead, it steered me toward the firm where the dogfooding phrase originated (Microsoft).

Google Ate My Picnik

Google acquired Picnik. Liz at GigaOm leads with the fact that this is the latest in a series of deals by which ex-Googlers have been brought back into the fold.

I’ve yet to see an answer to my main question about the deal: how will this affect the relationship between Flickr and Picnik? It’s been posed in several places, including the comments on Picnik’s post about the acquisition.

Rainbow MinicardWhen I’m using my Flickr account and click to edit one of my photos, it’s Picnik that starts up. Apart from wishing that it would start up rather faster, I’m happy with Picnik.

Google Gears and Microsoft IE6 Ride Into the Sunset

Two cowboys ride off into the sunset. The younger of the two was brought in to do a specific job for a limited time, while the older has been around for what seems like forever.

I refer respectively to Google Gears and Microsoft Internet Explorer 6. We’ll start with the latter, the browser that would not die, but that seems to have got a lot closer to extinction this year.

The IE6 story is well told, mainly in comic strip form, by Brad Colbow at Smashing Magazine. (By the way, I like Smashing enough to suggest that you sign up for its newsletter and for a chance to win some of the cool giveaways.)

So, on to the story of the Mountain View Kid: Google Gears. Gears’ most striking feature is that it allows you to access the web without an internet connection. It is of course necessary that the browser and the sites you’re using are Gears-enabled.

So why can the Kid? Because offline access to the web belongs in web standards. So Google has shifted effort away from Gears itself and “towards bringing all of the Gears capabilities into web standards like HTML5” (quoting from the Gears API blog).

Reaction to the Gears news seems to have been positive. To some, it looks good because standards are good (and I think they are usually better than the alternative). To others, the news about Gears looks good because Gears itself wasn’t (and my own limited use of Gears did yield some rather weird results).

MG at TechCrunch thinks that Gears deserves to die because it is guilty of being a plugin, and plugins fragment the web. While I see what he means, I don’t think all plugins are equally guilty. For example, without Gears, I need an internet connection to access the web, but I’m used to that. Flash is far more guilty: without it, much of the web is unusable.

In sum, I’m glad that each of these two cowboys is taking a last ride. To mix metaphors, the web will be a less tangled place without them.

Thanks to German Vidal for making the photo available under Creative Commons.