Weblog on the Internet and public policy, journalism, virtual community, and more from David Brake, a Canadian academic, consultant and journalist

Archive for the 'problems with technology' Category | back to home

13 October 2010

Alas I have not yet got a copy of Kevin Kelly’s latest book. I am looking forward to seeing it but not perhaps for reasons he would appreciate. Cory Doctorow says that Kevin Kelly suggests in his new book “humans cannot direct or prevent technology’s course, at least not in the long run”. If this is an accurate summary, then a) it makes a mockery of the subtitle of his book “how technology changes us and vice-versa” (emphasis mine) and b) it makes me want to get ahold of the book and maybe add it to a future course just in order to provide evidence that popular and well-respected thinkers take this point of view, which has been widely criticised in academic circles. In fact “technological determinist” is something of a dirty word (phrase?) in academic discourse. That’s not to say that technologies don’t have their own logics in my view, but they are expressed in different ways in different societies. Mind you I find the opposite, hard social constructivist line controversially laid out by Grint and Woolgar in, for example, “What’s Social about Being Shot?” is equally unpersuasive.

Here’s a brief example of why KK is wrong – why have we taken so long to put wheels on suitcases? Not because the technology to do so did not exist, nor because it would not have been useful. I wager it’s because it took the disappearance of servants and the increase in all forms of travel to make the difficulties in lugging around luggage socially important enough to make people start thinking of alternatives.

If you don’t want to buy “What Technology Wants”, there’s a blog posting by KK that seems to cover this part of his argument here.

via a review of the book by Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing

8 September 2010

There has been much concern about people selecting only news and information they already know they are interested in and that agrees with their point of view via the internet. I have found that increasingly the “omnivore” blog from bookforum.com has been fulfilling that role for me, bringing me articles every week on the future of books, of journalism or of academia. Unfortunately, I am starting to suffer from punditry fatigue. Read too much on the same subject from newspapers and magazines – even if the subject is important to you – and it all starts to blur together after a while. In truth, it shows up the problems even with good journalism as compared to academic work. There is copious opinion but often little reference or only selective reference to new data or even to new arguments or approaches to the issues. Yet I feel I still need to read or at least skim it all in case I miss some new piece of information. Perhaps I would be better off just relying on the stuff that my peers circulate via the blogosphere and twittersphere?

29 June 2009

I replaced my five year old PowerPC-based iBook G4 with a practically identical MacBook last week and I know at least one other reader is contemplating the same thing so here are some impressions and a few problems/requests for help.

Good:

  • As you might expect, I got more storage – 500Gb instead of 80 – which means I can now have all my music and all my pictures and all my movies on one machine instead of having them distributed on different ones.
  • My battery life has gone back up from c. 1hr to supposedly nearly five (as yet untested).
  • Having a built in webcam is pretty entertaining.
  • Making the transition was very easy even though it involved a change of processor architecture as well as a change of machine. Only a few applications broke and almost all the application settings remained intact. I was working on the new machine within a half day of connecting it to the old one.
  • Thanks to a “back to school” offer the new macbook came with a (nearly) free iPod Touch which was significantly better than the first generation one I had in that it includes a volume control and can accept a microphone.

Bad:

  • The down arrow already seems to be coming loose though the machine has not been subjected to any physical stress I can think of.
  • Even with nearly double the RAM (2Gb) and I would have thought several times the raw processing power, the new machine feels very little faster. Moore’s law suggests I should see a 4x speed increase – where is it? One can’t blame The Great Moore’s Law Compensator – the tendency for software to get more and more bloated as processors improve – because I am running the same software I was last week. Are there a lot of non-native applications still on my machine running in emulation? Will I see a dramatic boost if I “top up” to 4Gb of RAM?
  • It’s not noticeably lighter either though I believe it is supposed to be slightly lighter and it is just different enough in shape that I had to buy a new case for it.

Help, please?

  • Adobe AIR seems not to work despite uninstalling and reinstalling it twice so BBC iPlayer and Tweetdeck don’t work either. Any ideas?
  • I installed Windows 7 RC via Bootcamp but none of the games I have installed to date via Steam run – in the case of TF2 I get the “splash screen” and the icon briefly appears in the dock but then it disappears without even an error message. Should I try installing parallels, fusion or one of the other multiple-OS enabling apps and try that? Any other ideas?
  • Any ideas about how I can get my Macbook to recognise the existence of an external monitor when it is running Windows 7? If I do get it to play games I would prefer to play them on my 19″ monitor.
9 March 2009

By way of background, I have been thinking seriously about switching to Freesat (our house can’t receive Freeview). In addition our DVD recorder appears to be dying, and our TV set is at least 22 years old so it surely has to die soon, which would mean going HD. Knowing that HD is the future it seems silly to buy a new device that only played and recorded at standard definition. So logically a box which offers Blu-ray recording and built-in Freesat recording would be a sensible purchase, since both functions would be useful now or in the future. Imagine my delight when I heard that just such a device was about to arrive here – the Panasonic DMR-BS850. So what would I expect to pay for that? Well the Humax Freesat DVR is £300 and a Panasonic Blu-Ray player starts at £180 or so. I’d expect to pay another £100 or so to be able to record onto Blu-Ray as well but I’d also expect a little cost saving for buying everything in a single box. So maybe they’ll charge £550? Nope – it seems Panasonic plans to charge nearly double that sum for their new gadget. Bah!

I guess what I’ll do is buy a Humax box, possibly a cheap replacement DVD recorder (£130) when this one flakes out and wait for my TV to die and for Blu Ray pricing to become rational…

28 February 2009

I’ve been going through my thesis and checking all my chapter and sub-section references so they point to the right section after edits. A friend (thanks Bruce!)  just pointed out that there’s a feature in Word that – if I had known about it – would have saved me the trouble.

“If you did your section and chapter headings with a suitable heading style, and put in the references with insert cross-reference -> numbered item, it should indeed renumber them automatically.”

I can’t believe I have been using Word for over 20 years (!) and never discovered that feature.  I am also a little put out that nobody told me about it. So I hope this helps someone else (though I fear it may be a little late for me).

20 January 2009

I must tune in to Obama’s speech so I’ll be able to tell my grandchildren about it. I’ll catch the stream on the BBC.

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed…

Hey the text of the speech isn’t being provided live as well – only highlights. But it must be around somewhere… google google… Nope. Hey I should microblog about that… tap tap tap… Hm. I don’t feel like the speech is really moving me as I’d hoped. I’ll blog about that too.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with the sturdy alliances and enduring convictions.

Ah that’s a good bit – I’ll blog about that. As soon as the BBC feed catches up. Tap tap tap…

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.

Oh – over already? Well that was historic… but I don’t know that I’ll be able to give much of an account of what it was like to be watching! I guess the habits of reporting over experiencing I developed in my stint at BBC News Online haven’t left me…

15 November 2008

I was curious to try out Google’s new voice and video chat (though Skype works just fine for me). I was pleased to hear that they had both a Mac and a PC version but when I went to install on my iBook G4 I was told the application doesn’t support PPC Macs. That’s the first time I’ve come across an Intel-only Mac application, though I guess it probably isn’t the last! It’s probably not enough to persuade my wife I need to get a new Mac though…

12 May 2008

The default notes app for the iPhone, Notes, does not get backed up and doesn’t allow you to enter notes on your desktop and sync them across. There are a couple of free apps that sort this out (RemoteNote or iphonenotes) but require you to “jailbreak” your device (which I have not done just in case this voids the warranty or breaks the device). I was using Noter until recently but found it a little clumsy and then discovered the developer was going to start charging a monthly fee to use their apps. No thanks! Fortunately, the User Interface Design blog features an extended discussion of this issue and points out two work-arounds – neither is ideal but creating dummy contacts containing my todos in the notes field will do until Apple sorts the problem out properly…

8 February 2008

I bought a freeview box (UK digital TV across the airwaves) a few years ago to act as a backup to my cable TV. Within a year it had broken. Since then I moved house and thought I would try again. I bought a pretty cheap set top box (the Philips DTR 220) and an even cheaper antenna but I didn’t anticipate any problems. We’re close to the centre of London and on top of a hill, 87m above sea level. By sheer coincidence we are also just over 2Km away from Alexandra Palace where the first British TV signals were broadcast from (the antenna is there still but it doesn’t broadcast TV any more I don’t think). However, when I plugged everything in I could barely get any channels at all (and that by wandering around the room clutching the antenna).

I’m kind of stuck with Sky in any case as I get my broadband cheap from them as well, but it would have been nice to have had an alternative. I might be able to get Freeview properly with a roof antenna but I don’t much feel like spending significant sums on something that is just meant as a way of watching one channel while recording another without investing in Sky+ (another £100-£150).

Will things get any better once we go digital TV-only in 2012? Guess I’ll have to wait and find out…

7 January 2008

I recently got five free tracks from iTunes (Londoners with Oystercards see here) and thought I would buy Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. Unfortunately, on some CDs it is divided into lots of tracks < 1 minute long, each costing £.79, while on other discs it is on a single track... but because of its length you can only download it if you buy the whole album (£7.99). Bah!

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