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Best & Worst of Tech – 2011

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

‘Tis the season for “Best of” and “Worst of” lists, I guess, but I found these lists from CNET pretty thought provoking:

The Top 5 Tech Winners of 2011

5) The Amazon Kindle Fire
4) The MacBook Air
3) The iPad 2
2) The iPhone 4S
1) Motorola Droid Razr

The Top 5 Tech Disappointments of 2011

5) Electric Cars
4) iCloud
3) Chrome Books
2) 3D TV
1) Non-iPad tablets

Read beyond the break for my thoughts on these items, as well as the embedded CNET Videos…

Read the rest of this entry »

Categories: Tech Talk | 3 Comments »

The New York Times – Charging for Free Content

Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

In case you haven’t read about it yet, the New York Times changed their online access policy, by offering what they’re calling digital subscriptions. Here’s how it works:

If you are a home delivery subscriber of The Times, you will continue to have full and free access to our news, information, opinion and other features on your computer, smartphone and tablet. International Herald Tribune subscribers will also receive free access to NYTimes.com.

If you are not a home delivery subscriber, you will have free access to 20 articles (including slide shows, videos and other features) each month. If you exceed that limit, you will be asked to become a digital subscriber. On our smartphone and tablet apps, the Top News section will remain free of charge. For access to the other sections within the apps, we will ask you to become a digital subscriber.

So, twenty articles per month for free, after which you have to pay to read. But wait, there are a couple of small caveats:

• Readers who come to Times articles through links from search engines, blogs and social media will be able to read those articles, even if they have reached their monthly reading limit. This allows new and casual readers to continue to discover our content on the open Web. On all major search engines, users will have a daily limit on free links to Times articles.

• The home page at NYTimes.com and all section fronts will remain free to browse for all users at all times.

This is because the New York Times sells advertising on its web pages, and if people can’t link through to their articles, then they can’t charge as much for their advertising. And since the vast majority of people who read the news online link to individual articles, either through social media sites, news aggregators or search engine results (as opposed to clicking on every article on the Times’ homepage like it were a physical newspaper), preventing users from reading NYTimes articles when they click on those links would drastically reduce the articles’ pageviews.

So, why do I mention this? Well, as I did before when the Wall Street Journal tried this ridiculous scheme, I figured I’d offer, as a public service, a very quick and easy way to read New York Times articles online for free, even if you go over their prescribed monthly limit. To wit:

A couple of other points:

When I tested this just now, I noticed that the URL for the original article was:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/02/business/02obama.html?hp

and the URL provided by Google was:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/02/business/02obama.html

Can it be as simple as removing the “?hp” from the URL to get to the article in the first place? I doubt it, but since I haven’t passed my monthly limit on NYTimes articles this month yet, I can’t test it. If anyone out there can confirm or deny this, post it in the comments of this post, OK?

Also, the NYTimes’ FAQ site for digital subscriptions boasts that if you read the same article twice in a given month, it won’t count against your limit of twenty. That would suggest that the NYTimes is tracking your individual reading habits, so it knows which articles you’ve read on a monthly basis. This is probably not a new practice, and is probably not used for anything other than enforcing their subscription rules, but given how sensitive the NYTimes is about topics like online privacy, I’m surprised they buried this information so deep in their FAQ file.

Anyway, I hope this little tutorial helps you to continue enjoying NYTimes content, right up until the point where their desperate attempts to cling to the old world of “news via subscription” ends with their dramatic and ultimate demise.

Categories: News and/or Media, Tech Talk | 5 Comments »

Calling out the .com in familygreenberg.com

Friday, February 18th, 2011

My buddy Jeff Porten name checked me (domain-checked me?) in his TidBITS article yesterday, so I figured the least I can do is respond with some thoughts of my own.

First of all, if you’re here visiting from TidBITS, welcome! Have a look around. Stay awhile. I’ve got this really cool Photoshop celebrity contest going on called Brain Celebri-teasers which could always use some fresh faces. And while it hasn’t appeared that way lately, I do occasionally write, you know, WORDS.

Now that we’ve taken care of the formalities, on to Jeff’s topic about top-level domains (TLD’s). He speaks of the .nxt conference, at which various marketing people are trying to convince the world that hershey.candy would sell more chocolate bars than hershey.com. He then asserts that most people surf the web with Google these days anyway (even finding www.google.com using their Google search bar), making the TLD an anachronism of that ancient animal known as the “90′s Web.”

I don’t disagree with him. Owning familygreenberg.com instead of the more grammatically correct greenbergfamily.com or the more narcissistic briangreenberg.com has not hurt my web traffic in the least. There are roughly 10-20 people who check this site regularly because they know me, either personally or through online interactions over the years. The rest of my ~1,000 visits per month come from Google, Bing or Facebook, and are almost always focused on the <10 posts I’ve done over the years that have proven to be very Google friendly (sometimes for completely inexplicable reasons). None of this would be any different if I owned either of those other two domains, and people that aren’t coming through a search engine or social network have probably bookmarked me so long ago that they don’t even remember the actual URL anyway.

All of that said, I think the true value in new TLD’s is missing from Jeff’s article, as well as from the .nxt conference itself (and, by the way, how funny is it that the conference isn’t called .next? Clearly, these guys are still living in the three-character limited past, no? Maybe someone else should be owning this problem? Just sayin…).

Anyway, given, as Jeff rightly suggests, that most of the web runs on search engine traffic, I believe the real power in TLD’s is the extent to which they can improve search results. We don’t think about that much anymore, principally because Google thinks about it for us. If you’re looking for Britney Spears’ music (Jeff’s example, not mine!), as opposed to, say, pictures of Britney Spears, you just search for Britney Spears music, instead of Britney Spears pictures, and the Google search engine limits your result set. Granted, it does a pretty good job, but even so, the former query still includes “News about Britney Spears Music,” which isn’t what I (Jeff?) wanted. If Britney’s music was located at britneyspears.music, and her pictures/twitter feed/blog/rap sheet was at britneyspears.com, then search engines could be much more specific about the results you received.

Granted, this involves not only creating the TLD’s, but enforcing the proper categorization of content into them. To my thinking, that is not an ICANN responsibility, but rather the collective responsibility of the world’s Google users, who will not click on or link to sites that don’t follow the rules (much like a page with a misleading URL gets a lower PageRank and hence, less traffic today).

There are other technical advantages to more specific TLD’s as well. Take parental controls, for example. The same incentives that would drive the porn industry to put all of their content in the .sex TLD, would make it easier for parents, libraries and schools to filter out the .sex sites from their children’s web browsers. Of course, as Jeff correctly points out, this coin has two sides as well – if parents can filter out .sex sites to maintain their kids’ innocence, then governments can filter out .news sites to quell the latest protests.

On balance, though, I think more specific data-typing is better for everybody. Unfortunately for the .nxt crowd, they appear to be talking to the marketing department, not engineering, and so they’re hearing the weaker of the two arguments.

Categories: Tech Talk | 5 Comments »

Seriously, Apple? Daylight Saving Time?

Saturday, November 6th, 2010

You would think that by 2010, all of our smart phone manufacturers would have figured out Daylight Saving Time. I mean, maybe not the really old phones – the ones that were built back when sundials were still all the rage (i.e., the 1990′s), but the modern ones should be OK, right?

Turns out, a small, little-known phone manufacturer called “Apple” still hasn’t gotten it quite right:

Apple iPhone users in the United States must . . . remember to delete and then reset their phone’s alarm clock — otherwise they may be an hour late for work on Monday morning.

A glitch in the iPhone’s operating system will cause recurring weekday alarms not to ring on time on Monday morning because of the end of Daylight Saving Time, which occurs at 2 a.m. on Sunday in the United States. The phone’s alarm app doesn’t recognize the time change and will ring an hour late if users don’t go into the program and manually reset the alarms.

Users who depend on the iPhone to wake them up should create one-time alarms specifically for Monday morning, said Apple spokeswoman Natalie Harrison. “We suggest customers set non-repeating alarms for now and reset after November 7 to resolve the issue,” she told CNN.

Later this month, Apple will release an updated version of its mobile software, iOS 4.2, which will permanently fix the problem, Harrison said.

I’m not sure what’s more embarrassing – getting Daylight Saving Time wrong in your operating system, or releasing a fix for it a couple weeks after it’s needed.

Maybe the guy in charge of Daylight Saving Time was the same guy in charge of keeping the iPhone 4 prototype under wraps…

Categories: Tech Talk | 4 Comments »

Geek humor

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Here’s one for my more techie friends. If you don’t understand this, trust me – just move on…

The warning message that Microsoft PowerPoint gives you when you open a presentation from a SharePoint site:

Woah, dude…. Check out that PowerPoint deck. Like….totally awesome, man……

Categories: Tech Talk | 1 Comment »

ISBS Review: The Apple iPad

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

When Apple’s iPad first came out, I wrote this:

As things stand today, if someone were to buy me one as a gift, I’d gladly give it a permanent home in my laptop bag, where it would replace my (old and aging) iPod and probably also my Kindle.

I also linked to this nifty flow chart, which made the (rather satirical) point that while the device is super cool, there’s no real reason to own one, and that this sticking point, along with the high price tag, was going to keep all but the uber-fanboys away.

In the ensuing seven months, I found myself a good rationale reason to own one, bought it, and have been cataloging its pluses and minuses in anticipation of writing this review. For the ADHD crowd, I’ll start with the conclusion, and then we’ll get into the details below the fold.

Conclusion

Overall, I’ll give the iPad an A-. It lives up to the hype in almost every way that matters – coolness factor, ease of use, convenience, functionality, and its ability to integrate itself into one’s daily life. Like any device, it has its downsides, but most of them are relatively minor, and almost all of them are software based, which means they will likely be solved in the coming months. The “why do I need one?” problem still exists, and many people will reach the opposite conclusion that I reached, opting instead for a netbook, an iPhone/iPod Touch, a Kindle/Nook/Sony Reader, or some other combination of gadgetry that checks off the list of iPad enabled functionality. If you get past that question, though, I can almost guarantee that you’ll be satisfied with your purchase.

For those who would like to know more, proceed below with reckless abandon. For everyone else, here’s a video of a man with no arms who plays the piano with his feet.

Read the rest of this entry »

Categories: Tech Talk | 13 Comments »

How People Found Me – January-March, 2010

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

And now, another installment of the irrationally popular, “How People Found Me,” in which I highlight some of the Google queries that resulted in people clicking through to I Should Be Sleeping. In today’s epside, we begin with:

1) Bizarre Billy Joel Queries

I’ve written about Billy Joel a fair amount in these pages, so I attract an eclectic array of search strings. For example:

QueryComments
billy joel doesn’t like to clean kitchen Well, for a guy who doesn’t like to clean up, he sure has a knack for ensuring that he lives alone, huh? I guess he could always hire a cleaning service…
david rosenthal with his wife billy joel David Rosenthal obviously has poor taste in women (that or a rather bizarre crush on Billy Joel)
supreme macaroni billy joel Supreme Macaroni? I guess you get that at The Italian Restaurant?

From a famous New Yorker to queries about the city itself:

2) New York, New York

QueryComments
citi field singers They may look like singers, but they’re actually trying to play baseball. An easy mistake to make…
death of window washers since 1960 nyc Just goes to show – whatever topic you can dream up, someone’s researching it on the Internet.
rockefeller family tree This one’s funny because they were probably looking for Nelson and his ancestors, and what they got was pictures of the Christmas Tree in Rockefeller Center.

…and if you thought New York was big enough to generate some strange queries, wait ’till you see what happens when we expand to Life, The Universe, and Everything:

3) Seeking a Higher Power…

QueryComments
getgrogger.com A purim-related query? You don’t see that everyday…
ryan seacrest ordained OK, I realize he’s omnipresent these days, and that lots of (typically teenage) people worship him, but they didn’t go and ordain him, did they?
history.com/earth History of the earth? That oughta be a long download…
name some events Any events? Maybe this was the “history of the earth” guy again…
philosophical questions thoughts Attention, those seeking the ultimate truths of the universe: start with Google. That search engine has all the answers, dude….
ways to increase life expectancy url:gov Proof that we’ve come to depend on the government for entirely too much these days…

Bringing it down a few (hundred) notches now, let’s look at some more personal queries (as in, queries about me):

4) Getting Personal

QueryComments
brian greenberg died GAAAHHH!!!! I really think someone should have informed me…
book about the greenberg family I’m not sure my accomplishments warrant such an honor. Of course, the last guy who expressed that sentiment got the Nobel Peace Prize…

..and now, some fun with technology:

5) Technically Speaking…

QueryComments
mac osx 10.4.11 porn bugs Yes, hello? My pornography isn’t working. What’s that? Yes, I am running 10.4.11, why do you ask? Ah, the problem is fixed in 10.4.12? OK, I’ll go download the upgrade. Thanks…
webkinz world is getting to old Sounds like a kid who’s ready to move on to Club Penguin.

With a list like this, some items are just too bizarre to categorize. Enjoy…

6) Funny You Should Ask…

QueryComments
pet and celebrity look a like If you look like your pet and a celebrity, you better hope you’ve got an exceptionally handsome dog, or that the celebrity is Spuds MacKenzie.
does Ikea use slave labor? Well, given that the customers do most of the work, and they have to pay for the privilege, I’d say yes – yes, they do.
i need quarters for laundry …and you thought maybe Google would give them to you?
“uncle conan, you went to harvard?” I’m guessing this was unintentional social commentary during the NBC late-night debacle. No one in that story exhibited Harvard-level smarts…
how to know if your username or password is incorrect on webkinz.com Well, if the site doesn’t let you login, that’s a pretty good sign…
how to attract cows I seriously do not want to know why someone was Googling this…
imagine how weird phones would look if your mouth was nowhere near your ears I guess it depends where else your mouth would be….
ben franklin harvard endowment ice cream I can’t decide what’s funnier here – that Ben Franklin (founder of the University of Pennsylvania) would endow Harvard University, or that he would endow them with ice cream?
family guy look alikes OK, maybe the pet/celebrity from above was the Family Guy dog, Brian?

…and finally, what installment of How People Found Me would be complete without the “adults only” section (the faint of heart should stop reading here):

7) A Dirty Mind…

QueryComments
skimpy swimsuits This one’s not that dirty, but I chuckle when I think of someone Googling for skimpy swimsuits and winding up at my site. Sorry to disappoint!
nudecamps I’ve heard of baseball camps, soccer camps, even sleep-away camps, but this has got to be an (ahem) interesting way to spend a summer…
we’re the ones you should be sleeping with Brought to you by the OMOA (Overconfident Men of America).
letting someone f*** my sleeping wife No, the original queries did not have the asterisks. I’m not judging anyone, but if that’s what you’re into, why Google it? And again, sorry you wound up at my site – definitely not what you were looking for…

Well, folks, this concludes another edition of How People Found Me. I hope you had a good time. See you again in a few months. Until then, keep those queries coming!

Categories: Tech Talk | 3 Comments »

Should You Buy an iPad?

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

The folks over at GeekDad have a helpful flowchart to help you decide:

Now that’s some solid logic. ;-)

Categories: Tech Talk | 3 Comments »

If you’re going to do it, do it right…

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Dear spammer,

If you’re going to send me fake e-mail claiming to be from Citibank’s customer service department, you may want to note that Citibank doesn’t capitalize the “b” in their name. Also, you may want to spell words like “security” and “upon” correctly.

Sincerely,
Your Friendly Neighborhood Spam Recipient

It’s hard to imagine that people open these files at all (even though I know they do), but if you think your bank misspelled its own name and the word “security” in their security e-mail and you still open the file? Well, then, enjoy your virus. You are beyond help…

Categories: Tech Talk | 1 Comment »

Allright already, here’s my iPad post

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

I have been notified by the blogging authorities that I am in violation of Blog Law #865309, subsection 2, paragraph iii, which clearly states that anyone running an active blog on or about January 27, 2010 must post their thoughts on Apple’s new iPad product within 48 hours of Steve Jobs’ announcement or face severe ridicule in the tech-geek community. Because of my failure to do so, I have hereby been sentenced to provide tech support to my entire extended family at all hours of the day and night for the foreseeable future.

In posting this now, I am throwing myself on the mercy of the courts, in hopes of earning myself some time off for good behavior.


Now, where were we? Ah yes, the iPad. First of all: Wow. Wicked cool. Seriously. I mean, DAMN! You don’t get more Star Trek than that. Come on! Check out the picture to the right – those Personal Access Display Devices (or P.A.D.D.’s) they used on the show might as well have been iPads, and that was back in the early 90′s. As always, Apple gets props for turning science fiction into retail electronics. If the Blackberry was the Tricorder, than this thing is the P.A.D.D..

I suspect a lot of people will spend a lot of time (and a considerable amount of money) gawking at how cool it looks. But eventually, you need to turn it on and actually, you know, use it for something. On that score, at least for now, I’m still impressed. After all, who are we kidding? It’s a 10-inch iPhone/iPod Touch. All those people who insisted they were comfortable watching a full-length feature film on a 4.5″ x 2.5″ screen can finally admit that yes, a 9.6″ x 7.8″ is much, much nicer, thank you very much. Same goes for viewing pictures, playing video games and browsing the web. After all, that “pinch and spread” technology is very cool and all, but reading a content-rich web page would be much nicer if we didn’t have to do quite so much pinching.

There is a new wrinkle here in iBooks, and while the interface is Apple-style cool, there’s the little sticking point of eInk vs. LCD screen. As pretty as the iPad’s screen is, it can’t be as easy on the eyes as eInk, putting iPad at a disadvantage in the eReader category. I don’t think this is insurmountable, though. If people like what the iPad can do, they might accept a slightly inferior eBook reader to avoid buying (and carrying around) two devices. And, as I said in my review of the Amazon Kindle, the other eBook readers don’t even attempt to do what the iPad can do.

That said, if iBooks is the new wrinkle, then the new crease is the presence of content-entry apps, specifically the iWork suite and Mail. That keyboard that would pop up for texting/e-mailing on your iPhone is almost full-size now, and so Apple is placing a (small) bet that people will use the iPad to create content, not just to consume it. Here, I think they wade into dangerous territory. The “wow” factor will fade quickly when you have to get your presentation done, and if Keynote is much easier to use on the MacBook than it is on the iPad, people will revert back awfully quickly. Also, and I know I speak blasphemy here, there’s still the small problem of Microsoft Office’s 80% market share in this space. Those of us who haven’t entered Steve Jobs’ reality distortion field can still plug our iPods, iPod Touches, and iPhones into our Windows PC’s, but there’s no way we’re doing the budget spreadsheet in Numbers, and then sending it to our boss who expects Excel. If they want the iPad to truly replace the laptop, they’re going to need to reach out with the olive branch and get Microsoft to write iPad specific versions of those programs. (No, I’m not holding my breath).

Then there is the matter of what isn’t there. I’m surprised, for instance, that the iPad cannot function as a phone. If you’ve got 3G capability (optional), the iPhone OS, a microphone and speakers/a headphone jack, isn’t phone functionality just another app? Or is Apple suggesting that we buy (and carry around) an iPad and an iPhone? Dubious. Also, I’m reading where Safari for iPad doesn’t support Adobe Flash? Didn’t Steve Jobs tell us we’d have the “whole web in the palm of our hands?” This is kind of like the semi-secret “no, it doesn’t do cut & paste yet” thing with the original iPhones. I’m looking for a flash-enabled browser in the very near future. I’m sure other gotcha’s like this will dribble out once the iPad actually gets in the hands of users, but for now, those are the two that surprised me the most.

Conclusions?

As things stand today, if someone were to buy me one as a gift, I’d gladly give it a permanent home in my laptop bag, where it would replace my (old and aging) iPod and probably also my Kindle. It would provide me with a good portable photo frame, video player and web browser, none of which I have today. I don’t think I’d use it for e-mail (except maybe an occasional one-off, blackberry style) and I’m pretty sure I’d never use the iWork apps. For those reasons, if I’m spending my own money, I’d probably save the $300 and buy an iPod Touch, which does OK as a photo frame, video player and web browser, and doesn’t make me pay for all that extra stuff I’d never use.

But that’s today. In the near future, I fully expect someone (be it Apple or a competitor) to take the ball from here and run with it. And if a similar device were to become available for less money, running the apps I’m used to using, and making it just as easy to create on a tablet as it is on a laptop, then I am so there.

One last thing: the name. There are two problems with it. The first is somewhat localized in the American northeast (specifically, Boston) where the word “iPad” and the word “iPod” sound way too similar for everyone’s liking. More globally, though, I join pretty much everyone in the world in wondering if there are any women who work in Apple’s marketing department. Or at least any men who might have remembered this from back in 2006:

Categories: ISBS Reviews, Tech Talk | 9 Comments »

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