Weekly Tech Views – 11


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Real tech stories. Really Shaky Analysis.

Welcome to early fall, that magical time of year when many of us get to both rake leaves and mow the lawn! Take a well-deserved break with a few minutes of pseudo-technology nonsense.

For the week of September 21 – September 25, 2015


It’s All About That Face, ‘Bout That Face, New Pebble
Pebble announced the Pebble Time Round, its first smartwatch with a round face. This is how I hope the press conference went:

[A round stage is designed to mimic a watch face and at each hour sits a two-year-old dressed like Fred and Wilma Flintstone’s kid. Center stage, Pebble CEO Eric Migicovsky takes questions]

“Why does the new watch have a shorter battery life than previous versions?”

“It’s round.”

“Do you think the smaller display will hinder it’s functionality?”

“It’s round!”

“What’s that smell?”

“Three o’clock Pebbles peed.”

“Why wasn’t the $249 price rounded to $250?”

“We’re done here.”

Starbucks Makes it Easier Than Ever to Spend Seven Bucks on a 900-Calorie, Nutrition-Free Breakfast
The Starbucks app is now available for Android, providing the ability to order and pay with your mobile device. This will work in 7,000 U.S. locations, which, according to the most recent census, covers nearly three-quarters of the stores in eastern Connecticut. The next update to the app is expected to include the Digital Barista, a feature that lets you speak your order into your phone–“a Venti Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino and a Pumpkin Scone, for Charles”–and then, at the very moment your order is ready, you will get a voice message stating “Your order is ready, Caramels.”

And While You’re At It, Tattoo Your Bank Account Info on Your Forehead
The Indian government had proposed a law requiring smartphone users to keep any encrypted information stored on their phone, in plain text, for ninety days, so the government could have a little look-see if they felt like it. Thankfully, this provision was removed in a later draft, along with the less-publicized requirement that citizens keep all web site passwords written on a piece of paper and kept in their sock drawer.

At Least There Was No Vomit Involved
When Amazon Web Services went down over the weekend, writer David Gerwitz reported that his Echo–Amazon’s personal assistant device–didn’t take it well. When he spoke requests such as “turn on the lights” or “turn off the alarm,” the only response from Alexa–the Echo’s “brain”–was to initiate a spinning red light (a light that is normally blue) and slowly speak a series of meaningless words. Analysts expect Mr. Gerwitz to add some levitation and a swarm of flies and get cracking on a first draft of The Alexorcist.

Yeah, But How About the Fun We Had With Fahrvergnugen?
The Environmental Protection Agency sent a notice of violation (known in official government parlance as “calling shenanigans”) to Volkswagen after discovering that some of their diesel vehicles were cheating emissions tests. The German auto manufacturer had installed software to determine if testing was being done, and only under those conditions would emissions be scaled back.

No question, Volkswagen (motto: “If the car doesn’t emit, you must issue a permit“) did a lousy thing. They duped the EPA and screwed their customers by taking an axe to their car’s resale value. But I think we can all agree the big picture takeaway is this: machines continue to become more like us every day.

As anthropologists have said for centuries, the ability to control when we emit gasses is what separates us from the animals.* Which of us hasn’t, when being “tested”–at a job interview, on a date, sitting through the third hour of a play you didn’t want to go to in the first place and has you questioning whether it was really worth promising this to be able to go to the Browns game with your friends last week–altered our natural tendencies and contained emissions that would put us in a bad light in the eyes of others, and then, once free of the testing scenario, emitted something not only harmful to the immediate environment, but capable of jiggling the needle on a nearby seismograph?

Fingerprints Are Like Snowflakes–Neither Is Safe Inside a Federal Government Building
Previously, The U.S. Office of Personnel Management stated that the fingerprints of 1.1 million government employees were accessed during a data breach this summer. That number has now been updated to 5.6 million. Demoralized by the extent of this hack, officials performed an extensive cost/benefit analysis and decided they could save taxpayers millions of dollars and be nearly as secure by uninstalling all computer security software and asking the world to go on the honor system.

If It Wasn’t Important, It Wouldn’t Be On Twitter
On this episode of Priorities Playhouse, we eavesdrop on a technology conversation taking place in thousands of homes, workplaces, dorms, and coffeeshops between two web surfers:

Web Surfer A: “Wow, listen to this–a paraplegic was able to walk by wearing a cap that sent signals from his brain–bypassing his severed spinal cord!–to his leg muscles via electrodes around his kn–”

Web Surfer B: “Hey–you can get your selfie printed on a pancake!”**

There Ought to Be a Law
A U.S. District Judge ruled that the Fifth Amendment prevents someone from having to divulge their mobile phone passcode to provide authorities access to the contents. It turns out, however, that it does nothing to prevent your fantasy football leaguemates, after listening to you brag all off-season about going 12-1-1 and winning the league championship, from guessing that your passcode is 1211 and leaving images on your camera roll of the trophy you bought to commemorate your accomplishment being subjected to contact with parts of their bodies that only the most intimate of medical specialists would normally see.


* Journal of Obnoxious Smells (June, 1981)

** Yes, it’s true: http://laist.com/2015/09/24/pancake_selfies_are_the_future.php


Thanks for spending some of your non-yard work time with the Weekly Tech Views. If you know someone else who needs an excuse to put the rake down for a few minutes, send them by.

Mike Range

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