Map blogger. Science fiction and fantasy critic and writer. Snake whisperer.

Category: Tech Page 1 of 2

‘Instagram Is Dead’

Om Malik on what Instagram has become: “What’s left is a constantly mutating product that copies features from ‘whomever is popular now’ service—Snapchat, TikTok, or whatever. It is all about marketing and selling substandard products and mediocre services by influencers with less depth than a sheet of paper. ¶ It has become QVC 2.0.” The online world is run by people who actually think that what we really want to do is watch marketing videos interrupted by commercials.

Mechanical Watches

Bartosz Ciechanowski writes long, detailed explanatory articles about physics, math and engineering that are full of interactive, animated diagrams. His latest is about mechanical watches, which I found profoundly interesting (not least because the fundamentals of watches—mainsprings, escapements—also apply to manual typewriters, which are basically heavily modified clocks) and engrossing: there is a lot of material here.

‘Twitter Is the Worst Reader’

Having been on the receiving end of Twitter vitriol half a dozen times, sf writer Fonda Lee has some thoughts about being in the crosshairs of the rage machine. “Twitter removes the trust between writer and reader by flattening meaning to the single most offensive understanding and proliferating that version alone. […] For the most part, we authors write for a receptive, open-minded audience, an audience that has paid money for our work and wants to trust us. Twitter is the opposite of that, a twisted looking-glass version of reality in which the readership beyond our immediate circle is poised with hostile scrutiny.”

iPhone Migration Notes (for Future Reference)

It’s about to be new iPhone time for us, but in the five-plus years since we last bought phones—Jen’s still using a first-generation iPhone SE, I’m on an iPhone 7—the migration process seems to have changed somewhat, especially now that iPhones have been disentangled from syncing and backing up to a computer. We could set up our new phones from an iCloud backup, but that won’t copy over all our media files; for that there is now the Quick Start method, which transfers data directly from the old device to the new one. It’s done wirelessly; Apple used to describe a faster wired method involving a Lightning cable and a camera adapter, but they removed that from the support page when they updated it last month, so who knows if it still works. Another critical-but-not-straightforward task is moving over all my Google Authenticator two-step verification codes. There’s a process for that, too, and it involves using the app to scan, with the new phone, a QR code generated by the app on the old phone.

Goodreads Is a Cesspool

Time sheds light on the toxic cesspool that Goodreads has become: “Scammers and cyberstalkers are increasingly using the Goodreads platform to extort authors with threats of ‘review bombing’ their work–and they are frequently targeting authors from marginalized communities who have spoken out on topics ranging from controversies within the industry to larger social issues on social media.” Social spaces need moderation, in which Goodreads is woefully deficient. Platforms become vectors for bad behaviour not because they’re popular, but because they’re vulnerable.1 Combine that with authors feeling that they have no choice but to have a Goodreads presence (or a social media presence in general), and this is what you get.

TimeMachineEditor

TimeMachineEditor is a small Mac app that enables you to schedule Time Machine backups at intervals of your choosing. This solves a very particular problem: your choices with Time Machine are hourly backups or initiating them manually, and hourly can be a problem when Time Machine backups take the better part of an hour to complete. Because of this I’ve been backing up at the end of each evening, which actually works well for me, but it’s good to know that an automated option still exists.

Surprise! FeedBurner Is Not Being Shut Down

Those of us who use FeedBurner—Google’s RSS feed management service—have been expecting Google to close it down at any moment for about a decade now: in 2012 they shut down the APIs and terminated in-feed advertising; since then it’s lain fallow with next to no news and zero changes. Today FeedBurner announced that rather than being closed down, it’s being moved to new infrastructure, where fewer features will be available. “Core feed management functionality will continue to be supported, such as the ability to change the URL, source feed, title, and podcast metadata of your feed. Basic analytics on feed requests and the ability to create enclosure tags for MP3 files will also continue to be supported.” But email subscriptions in particular are being discontinued. Which is a bummer: FeedBurner was one of the few ways to auto-generate a daily email digest of blog posts, and possibly the only free one. (The Map Room uses it; I’ll have to switch to another service.)

The Controversy Over Upscaling Old Films to 4K

Wired UK on the controversial process of upscaling old films to 4K resolution: “Digital upscalers and the millions who’ve watched their work on YouTube say they’re making the past relatable for viewers in 2020, but for some historians of art and image-making, modernising century-old archives brings a host of problems.” The process involves machine learning and readily available algorithms that clean and stabilize old film, colourize it, and upscale it to 4K and 60 fps. It adds material that isn’t in the original, which is what these historians object to. I’d argue that these videos operate in the same space as historical fiction: they make the past feel more real to the audience, but the audience can’t always separate fact from fiction. Somehow I doubt historians want to stop novels set in the past, though. [MetaFilter]

How Mission Control’s Giant Displays Worked

In a 19-minute YouTube video, Fran Blanche explains how those big screens at Mission Control worked during the Apollo era. Stop and think about it: they were displaying information in ways that computers wouldn’t be able to do for decades. The displays were produced mechanically, by multiple projectors using glass slides to project images on the screen. The projectors could move spaceship icons across the screen like a graphical sprite, or use plotters to scratch a flight path across a slide to represent a flight path, using telemetry data processed in real time by mainframe computers. [Boing Boing]

Does the Exposure Notification System Work?

“I didn’t intentionally get infected with COVID-19 just to figure out whether Apple’s exposure notification system was working, but it ended up that my experience might offer some additional insight to the situation.” Daniel Eran Dilger’s long and discursive piece for AppleInsider on whether Apple’s COVID-19 exposure tracking is working kind of buries the lede: he got the dubious opportunity to try it out, as implemented in Germany and Switzerland. It wasn’t as flawless or as seamless as you might have hoped. “Over a week later, neither Germany nor Switzerland has used my positive test result to send warnings through the system Apple created. That’s important because the timing of exposure notifications have a very limited useful window. By the time I got a positive result, I likely wasn’t even contagious any more.”

Looking for Carbon Dioxide Sensors

I’ve been looking for smart carbon dioxide sensors, particularly sensors compatible with Apple’s HomeKit, but they seem to be fairly scarce on the ground (at least compared to carbon monoxide sensors). So far what I’ve been able to find is bundled with a lot of other sensors. Netatmo’s Weather Station has an outdoor module and up to three indoor modules: the indoor module includes a CO2 sensor. The Airthings Wave Plus includes CO2 as one of a half-dozen things it detects (it’s primarily a radon detector: the rest are kind of thrown in). It’s only HomeKit-compatible via a Homebridge plugin, but that’s a viable option: I’ve got a Raspberry Pi I can install Homebridge on. Problem is, neither is particularly cheap, nor remotely as cheap as a standalone sensor would have been.

The COVID Alert App and Privacy Panic

COVID Alert app

We’ve both installed the COVID Alert app, even though it’s not fully functional in our province (so far it’s just Ontario). We can’t report a COVID diagnosis, but we can get notified if someone from Ontario we’ve come into contact with does report a positive COVID test result. Since we live near the Ontario-Quebec border, and sometimes have to cross into Ontario for errands and such, there’s already some value in installing it.

The app is available on the Apple App Store and on Google Play.

It can’t run on older phones (on the Apple side, older than an iPhone 6S or first-gen SE) because of hardware limitations, I believe. It makes use of the Apple/Google API, which has strong privacy protections: the only things it shares with the server or with other phones are anonymous tokens. The privacy protections are such that Michael Geist is comfortable installing it, which is something.

It’s in that context that I have to look really sideways at a CBC article that suggests that some people could be identified by the COVID Alert app.

About the iOS Family Sharing Bug

On Friday Jennifer discovered that she could no longer run Facebook on her iPhone; the app gave an error message telling her that “This app is no longer shared with you.” This bug appears to be widespread if not ragingly common; the working theory (given the error message) is that a bug in Family Sharing is to blame. Deleting and reinstalling the misbehaving app solves the problem, but as AppleInsider points out, that might lose you your data: offloading the app (under Settings > General > iPhone Storage), rather than deleting it, is the better option. Update: TechCrunch reports that Apple has fixed the bug.

Taking Facebook Quizzes Is a Bad Idea

From January, but all the more relevant now that more people are at home, bored and wasting time on social media: Why taking Facebook quizzes are a bad idea. The quizzes ask questions—like the name of your first pet, the city of your birth or the month of your birth—that are often used as security questions for bank accounts. No single quiz asks for enough information to do it, but you might be giving criminals enough information across multiple quizzes to hack your account. After all, you don’t know who’s behind these quizzes, but they know who you are—because you’re using your Facebook account!

The CRA Has Not Forgotten Us Luddites

About 90 percent of Canadian taxpayers file their income tax returns electronically, but the Canada Revenue Agency would like to remind the remaining holdouts that filing your taxes by paper is just fine by them. Though it’s a bit harder to lay hands on a paper tax package: they’re available at fewer locations (i.e., no longer at the post office), or you can order one, or print one out. People who filed by paper last year will get their tax packages mailed to them, which I can confirm: despite living on the technological edge most of the time, I still do ours by paper for reasons I can’t quite explain or justify.

Page 1 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén