2013 is turning out to be a shockingly news-filled year, with fatal tragedies ranging from the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting (technically 2012), The Boston Marathon bombing, and now the deadly explosion in West, Texas. Add to that a series of homicides and jail escapes in my hometown, and you might start to draw the conclusion that we live in a scary, tragic world. And you’d be right.
If there’s one thing to take note of amidst all this suffering, it’s that news travels fast—and with social media, it travels even faster. But why are we drawn to such tragedies? Why is the same sad story so compelling to watch or read again and again?
We’re all familiar with the “adrenaline rush” of doing something dangerous or thrilling. Its caffeine-like jolt can be addictive. With more and more sources of news, from “man on the street” tweets to first-person video from a smartphone, the illusion of “feeling like you’re there” is getting stronger and stronger. The fear of a fire or explosion is intense, and the virtual reality of the news allows us to feel the adrenaline rush of such events without the danger of actually being there. It’s where the news junkie meets the adrenaline junkie.
You may think all of this bad news would just leave you feeling sad and disheartened, but that’s where another hormone comes into play. Oxytocin is a powerful hormone that causes us to feel compassion for others. Our bodies release it naturally as a response to the sadness we experience when seeing others in pain. Oxytocin has some interesting side effects though—it creates intense feelings of bonding and closeness (hint: it’s also released during childbirth and orgasm) that drive us to help out our fellow man however we can. This is all capped off by the fact that we also release a waterfall of endorphins when we donate money or help out, in a phenomenon so strong psychologists call it the “helper’s high.”
Between the rush of adrenaline and the endorphin high of oxytocin, it’s no wonder we have such mixed yet intense feelings about tragic events. It unites us when we’re divided and ignites the fire of activism in each of us. It seems, sad as it may be, that our brains are simply wired to experience—and respond to—the tragedies of everyday life.
There’s no denying that the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary re-ignited the civil discourse on gun control. And after such a tragic event, especially so soon after a similarly shocking shooting in Colorado, it’s hard to blame anyone for wanting to fix a gun violence problem that seems to have gotten out of hand. President Obama, Congress, the NRA, and various lobbying and activist groups all jumped on the bandwagon to console the grieving families in Newtown—and maybe gain a few polling points at the same time. Public opinion on gun control spiked tremendously, with 85% of Americans saying they would support stricter background checks and 80% saying that gun sales to the mentally ill should be prevented.
Months after Sandy Hook, however, support for gun control reform seems to be fading away, falling to nearly the same levels as before the shooting. Support for stricter gun control laws has fallen to 47% since the shooting, and a number of lawmakers are ratcheting back on the ambitious gun control promises they made immediately after the shooting.
Do we forget so quickly?
The current opinion on gun control is not representative of the actual opinion on the subject.Many have criticized what appears to be very slow action on behalf of Congress, and President Obama even said “shame on us” if Newtown becomes forgotten in time. For long-time gun control activists, the Sandy Hook shooting was in many ways a blessing in disguise to wake up America and convince lawmakers to finally improve the country’s seemingly ineffective gun control laws. Just as outspoken after the shooting were the country’s staunch gun rights supporters, who rather courageously (or foolishly, depending on your perspective) said that nothing should change about the culture of gun ownership in America. There is clearly no single, unanimous opinion about the issue, nor is there a clear way to fix the problem, should we seek a way to fix it at all. The modus operandi in local governments and Congress alike, however, seems to be to do something, and do it now.
Is it right to act so soon after such a traumatic event? Are our minds clouded with revenge and the need for closure? Are our lawmakers—and we ourselves as a country—ready to make the best decisions for the future of our society?
The problem is that we are currently outliers to ourselves—the current opinion on gun control is not representative of the actual opinion on gun control, when unaffected by significant external events. Before the Newtown incident, Americans seemed pretty happy to live in a country full of assault weapons and the occasional mass shooting—it just comes with the territory, right? It’s a classic knee-jerk reaction, and we would be taking advantage of an almost unavoidable emotional reaction to accomplish a long-standing political agenda.
I’m not saying whether that political agenda is wrong or right, but perhaps we should wait until we’re all in a “normal” state of mind before deciding what to do about things.
In a relatively rare move, Apple launched a new advertising campaign for the iPhone 5 over the weekend, about halfway through their traditional release cycle. This comes just days after Samsung launched their newest flagship phone, the Galaxy S4. While years ago, Samsung might have been expected to fumble the launch of potentially game-changing phone, they’ve been at their advertising finest, with great (albeit poorly translated) ads and videos, promoting the Galaxy S4 as a “Life Companion” and a fun device to bring you closer to your loved ones. This kind of maudlin emotional appeal kind of reminds you of the sickeningly-sweet TV spots Apple did for FaceTime when it launched.
Apple’s course correction is certainly warranted. A number of high profile iPhone users have been seen switching to Android lately, citing the platform’s rapidly-advancing set of features and the bevy of phones with all-star hardware specs, although some maintain that the extensive “features” in Android phones are more gimmicky than useful, like a built-in kickstand or the ability to chest bump your phone with somebody else, as long as they have the exact same phone that you do. With the launch of Samsung’s newest phone though,round after round of sexy Android phones like the HTC One and the Galaxy S4 have begun a sea change in customers’ opinions.
Now the seemingly unstoppable technology and marketing juggernaut known as Apple is playing a little bit of catch-up. This is something new for the company that has led the smartphone race for the past several years, despite being obviously behind the bleeding edge of technology.
Unless Apple makes a drastic change in its production pace, we won’t be seeing a new iPhone until late in the summer. With several phones on the market capable of blowing the iPhone 5 and the stale iOS out of the water, Apple stands to lose lots of ground while the Galaxy S4 wins hearts and minds. And here we see Apple, which tends to coast on its products’ popularity and let them speak for themselves, giving the iPhone 5 a mid-cycle boost to focus consumers away from the Galaxy S4.
Advertising battles are nothing new, but Apple’s new campaign marks the beginning of a fundamental shift in the smartphone market. Apple has long characterized the playing field as: “There’s iPhone. Then there’s everything else.”
Now it seems that things may be slowly shifting towards: “There’s a lot of options, and one of them’s an iPhone.”
If not for name recognition alone, WordPress is without a doubt one of the most popular publishing platforms on the Internet today. Developers are familiar with it, designers love the simplicity of creating themes, and users love the point-and-click ease of use. But can WordPress really work in the enterprise? I mean, flexibility is one thing, but large companies have a whole spread of other issues to contend with, such as compliance, support, not to mention the need to manage tons of websites with a limited staff.
Making WordPress and the enterprise work together is by no means impossible
At TCU, we’ve been hard at work for months getting WordPress fit for the enterprise. I have to admit, I was skeptical at first. Necessity is the mother of invention though, and after weeks of research and trial and error and inspiration and more trial and error, we’ve finally come up with a WordPress system that’s actually scalable and manageable in an enterprise environment. Here are some tips if you find yourself trying to make WordPress in the enterprise actually work:
Making WordPress and the enterprise work together is by no means impossible, but it definitely takes a little ingenuity and a lot of elbow grease. And as with any project on the web, it’s a perpetual work-in-progress. Don’t be afraid to tweak things as you go along, and never stop learning!
About 100% of this blog’s content revolves around computers, phones, web design, and the other various minutiae of nerdery that occupy my working life. Even the “About me” sidebar of this blog is a professional mask, a facade of myself with the motivation of self-promotion. I’m a huge fan of behind-the-scenes specials about movies and TV shows, so here’s a behind-the-scenes special of my own, even if does harken back to the Xanga days of yore.
I love my wife. As if the ring on my finger and the wedding ceremony weren’t enough to prove it, it’s something that’s important to remember and all too easy to forget. We’ve had a long day of explaining love to teenagers who are ill-equipped to understand it. I spoke to the guys, she spoke to the girls…and even though we were apart, we’ve been brought closer together because of it.
Discussing love with the youth brought us to discussing love with one another, which led to frenzied conversations about money, politics, kids, money again, and love again. And at the end of it, we both realized how much we love each other, if not for the very reason that we’re able to talk about all of these complicated things so very openly. We don’t always agree with each others’ opinions, and at times we seem to be polar opposites. But it’s never an opposition of agression or anger—it’s an opposition of completion.
We’re like the random components of an analog wave that harmonize at just the right points, or the magical happenstance of stars that create our beautiful constellations—different in so many ways, yet perfect in so many more. Where she is weak, I am strong. Where I am foolish, she is wise. We often look back to the way that we met, and the good times we’ve had since then. We’re just old enough now to reminisce about the times that were…and still young enough to dream about what’s to come.
Several years ago, some lyrics came to my mind that I immediately realized were ahead of their time, but still poignant and valuable. Although I’ve never gotten around to writing the entire song, the chorus that came to me in a burst of inspiration before I had even met the future love of my life has been stuck in my head ever since, and only now does it make perfect sense:
You are the wind in my sails,
but I’m the keel that keeps us floating upright
And I am the navigator, but you’re the star
That’s guiding my life tonight.
Google recently announced the newest addition to their Chromebook lineup, the Chromebook Pixel. The Pixel goes against Google’s initial pitch for the Chromebook series, which was to produce inexpensive—almost disposable—laptops with internet access via their Chrome OS.
It seems that Google, just like the rest of the computer-buying public, is starting to realize that cheap, crappy laptops are just that—cheap and crappy. Go figure.
The Chromebook Pixel is an interesting device. It has quality construction at every turn, including a touchscreen “Retina” display, built-in 4G LTE, and a more-than-capable Intel Core i5 processor. It’s nice to see that Google hasn’t lost its whimsical side, however: they decided to include some colored lights on the top, because who doesn’t love some colored lights?
Your tweets are free! Well, your tweets have always been free to post, but now they’re free as in “the slaves are free” or “Free Willy is free” or in more precise terms, ”your tweets have been liberated.” Twitter recently announced that they are rolling out the ability to download an archive of all of your past tweets. This is a boon for privacy and intellectual property nerds who have agonized over who really owns your tweets and what rights you have surrounding them. Google has long offered “data liberation” via its Google Takeout service, which allows you to see and download a manifest of just about every bit of data Google collects from you (which can be quite a lot). Facebook also offers the ability to download your data.
In this regard, Twitter’s recent decision to liberate your tweets is really trailing the rest of the pack. Prior to this move, only 3500 of your most recent tweets were visible from Twitter’s website, which seems like enough to me—but I guess it bothered some people. Now that all of these historical tweets are free for the taking, it begs the question: do you really want old tweets?
Perhaps tweets are like fine liquors that ripen with age, or maybe they’re like peeled avocados that get gross with age. Regardless, it seems like there is very little real value in old tweets, at least from an end-user perspective. Most people use tweets as a way to share links to timely content, as a medium for informal banter, or as #an #abominationofhashtags. Tweets derive most of their value from being timely, but just as newspapers depreciate at light speed, so do tweets. On a recent episode of This Week in Tech, one panelist commented that reading old tweets is akin to recording and listening to random conversations you’ve had with strangers in a bar. Useless. With the notable exception of Big Data applications (which already have access to all tweets, ever) there is not likely to be some breathtaking revelation to be achieved by remembering which LOLcat you found interesting in 2009. Tweets exist for the time in which they were posted. They are heard for a few fleeting moments, and then—at the behest of our all-you-can-eat media appetites—shoved to the bottom of the stack as more newer, more relevant, more valuable tweets pile on top.
How much are your tweets worth to you? Are they a priceless bit of kitsch and nostalgia, or just noise? And considering how much time you may or may not have spent on Twitter…was it worth it?
Apple has just announced the iPad Mini, a direct competitor to the 7-inch tablets being sold by competitors like Google, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and others. The device itself has many of the same benefits as its larger predecessor, but it makes a variety of compromises on speed and screen resolution. Can Apple compete with the cutthroat pricing of the 7-inch tablet market, or will the Second Great Tablet War go to Android or Windows RT? One thing’s for sure, Apple has returned fire and “Tablet War 2” has begun!
The first battle over tablets—which was started back in the early days of 2010 when Apple announced the first iPad and tech companies everywhere scrambled to compete—has largely ended. In the “First Great Tablet War,” Apple’s iPad had a pronounced first-mover advantage, and so proceeded to trounce just about every similar tablet that competitors like Motorola, Samsung, and RIM released. The iPad caught pretty much everyone, from consumers to competitors, on their heels. Not only were tech manufacturers years behind in the process of designing and producing a viable, modern tablet, but even consumers were at a loss as to just why they needed a tablet in the first place.
Eventually, with credit cards in hand, many of us began to decide that whether or not we needed a tablet, we certainly wanted one. It took a full year for Google to release a tablet-optimized version of their Android operating system, which meant that for anybody looking to buy a tablet within that first year the iPad was the only viable option.
The dust has settled on all that, and the result was pretty clear: round one goes to the iPad.
It was fairly obvious that trying to go toe-to-toe against the iPad was right up there with other such foolish challenges as climbing Mount Everest alone, without oxygen, and wearing flip-flops. Call it strategy or cowardice, but the route that most everyone else has been taking is to produce a tablet that is distinctively different from the iPad. The most obvious way to solve that problem, was by addressing one of the most common complaints that iPad users have—it’s big and heavy. And so, the 7-inch tablet was born.
Apple had long denounced the 7-inch form factor, at one point having Steve Jobs speak on a conference call to undermine their legitimacy. Granted, Apple’s been known to outright lie about what they’re doing and what’s good and what’s not. In just one speech in 2003, Apple (via Steve Jobs) said that video on an iPod was a bad idea, that cell phones could never be very interactive, and that tablets wouldn’t work. At the time, and with the technology available, all these things were true, but Apple played to the misdirection and proved each of those predictions wrong with time.
The assumption by most of us, then, was that by condemning 7-inch tablets Apple was actually providing a tacit guarantee that a 7-incher was in their future. Sure enough, Apple has now entered the fray of the 7-inch tablet, and only time will tell what will happen.
A key fixture of the 7-inch tablet space has centered around pricing the device itself very low, and building an ecosystem that will recoup that cost over time. Amazon sells their Kindle Fire HD for $199—clearly at minmal profit—with the strategy that its users’ heavy use of paid-for Amazon services will net them more money in the long run. Google’s Nexus 7 also sells for $199, and rumor has it that the price may get dropped even lower. Again, the strategy is to recoup the cost by having you spend money on music, videos, and apps in the Google Play store.
At $329, the iPad Mini barely competes with these “bargain” 7-inch tablets. If you want to take advantage of the iPad Mini’s LTE capabilities, the price goes up to $459 and it becomes clear that Apple is really out of the game. Because it lacks the speed and Retina display of the larger iPad (now 4th generation), the iPad Mini sits in an odd place. It’s a little larger and a lot more expensive than most 7-inch tablets, while being a lot slower and just a little less expensive than the larger tablets.
Apple’s also telegraphed one of the most significant next moves for the iPad Mini. Nearly every product with a screen (especially their mobile devices) is being made with a Retina display, except for the aging iPad 2 and iPad Mini. It almost seems like a guarantee that the next refresh of the iPad Mini will bring the first retina display to the 7-inch tablet scene, which is sure to spice things up. Is the hope of a Retina display cause to hold out until next year?
Apple has returned fire in “Tablet War 2” with a puzzling decision that only time can explain. Will Apple’s high price point still entice budget tablet shoppers? Is the 7-inch form factor even viable? Dig yourself a foxhole and pull out your MRE’s…the battle’s just getting started.
We’ve long been plagued by the “Mac-vs-PC Wars” in the computer world. Fanboys in both camps lined up with an arsenal of unintelligible arguments, most of which culminated in “teh PC is BE$t!!1”. In a cloud of paranoia that harkened back to the days of McCarthyism, tech writers and friends everywhere made a conscious effort to avoid implying allegiance to either side, for fear of drawing blood from tribal warfare.
As our attention has turned from desktops and laptops to tablets and smartphones, the ire of the fanboy has also shifted from the products themselves to the platform as a whole. We now find ourselves in an all-new fanboy war, although the picket lines now defend iOS or Android…and there’s a few strangers in the distance hanging on to Windows Phone until Microsoft officially gives it the Kin. But here we are, with the newly-released iPhone 5 and iOS 6 fresh in our minds, and it’s joyfully clear: the decline of the Fanboy has begun.
It’s hard to get a lot of people to completely ignore a product’s flaws. You may attribute it to Steve Jobs’ Reality Distortion Field, or Jony Ive’s I-love-this-phone-so-much-I’m-about-to-cry testimonies, but the fact of the matter is that for a period of time right after the launch of the first iPhone in 2007, many of Apple’s products were pretty much impeccable. The iPhone did what customers wanted, and did it well. The MacBook Pros were fast, rugged, and stylish all at the same time. Some might say that OS X itself was even better back then (that would be me). As many of the tech pundits will tell you, Apple tends to do this with their products: they have some growing pains as a new product is introduced, but they eventually hit a sweet spot and experience a “Golden Era” of products that change very little, but continue to be compelling.
Now, with the iPhone 5 and iOS 6, Apple has made the bold (foolish?) decision to part ways with the industry leader in online maps and replace all navigation in their phones with a homegrown solution. iOS 6 has now had plenty of time in consumers’ hands, and the verdict is in: Apple’s maps suck. The ongoing outcry against Apple’s new mapping platform has shattered many people’s confidence in the iOS platform as a whole, as the once-blemish-free operating system now has some noticeable faults (including Siri’s spotty performance). In the meantime, Google’s Android team has been in full swing to ensure that Google Now, their Siri competitor, and Google Maps on Android excel in every way to build a solid case against the iOS platform.
Although the most loyal of fanboys will still be steadfast in their adoration, many long-time Apple customers (and former fanboys) are starting to take off the blinders and realize: nobody’s perfect.
I’m not sure what compelled me to check in to CNN.com today, but it happened. Maybe I was just in need of a “reality check” after basking in the relatively advertising-free goodness of public radio and independent podcasts. That aside, I was quite surprised to see a little widget on the CNN website, measuring which of their stories are “popular” right now. (I say “popular,” because this could very well just be a measure of which stories their advertisers would prefer that you read)
Anyways, I was a little surprised to see the disparity in their top two stories:
As you can see, the Tony Scott death story (in which just one person is dead) is about 4 times as popular as one in which 4 people were shot. Might there be an imbalance here? Perhaps the lives of famous people are more valuable than the lives of peons at Walmart? Or maybe there are confidential charts tacked to the walls of cubicles at CNN with guidelines for competing death stories, kind of like those ranking cards for poker hands.
And I can’t help but wonder if Mr. Scott was singing “Highway to the Danger Zone” as he jumped from the bridge…too soon?