Skip to content

Category: technology

Whose Data Is It Anyway?

In a world coming to terms with the ideas of “Big Data”, one of the really interesting discussions in the area is around data possession.

Most people think that the data collected about them intrinsically belongs to them.  This is especially the case when it comes to health and biometrics data, like those collected by Fitbit, Garmin, Withings, or any number of step/heart rate/weight/activity trackers.  After all, it’s data about you and your body, right?  So we tend to believe that they are like our medical records, and we should be able to take them with us from one provider to another.

However, we don’t necessarily feel this way about other data gathering and tracking practices.  I mean, if you wanted to review if you’ve been eating better, you probably wouldn’t ask your local grocer to pull you a report of the shopping habits associated with your loyalty card.  That’s information they’ve tracked about you to bolster their offerings and they wouldn’t want it shared with another grocery chain.  Yet, we’d probably expect Fitbit to give us our data so we could transfer it over to Garmin if we changed devices.

You might think I’m comparing apples and oranges, so lets go with a more direct example involving biometrics.  Let’s say you got screened for TSA Pre-Check recently and had your fingerprints scanned.  Then you volunteered to chaperone an upcoming field trip at your kid’s elementary school, but need to complete a background check.  If you called up the TSA, would you expect them send your fingerprints over for the background?  Likely not, and fingerprints are one of the most unique personal identifiers we know of today.

It’s a fine line that many of these businesses and agencies end up walking, but it’s important to realize that much of the data that is tracked about us that we consider “ours” probably isn’t.  Much of that data likely wouldn’t be captured without the devices we use, and we voluntarily provide it to them, so we shouldn’t presume ownership.

And as devices start collecting more and more data about us, the water is going to get much murkier, and it will be interesting to see how the law progresses alongside those changes.

5 Reasons Google Music Drives Me Crazy…But I Use It Anyway

While Google Music Beta debuted almost six months ago, I played around with it initially and didn’t find many practical uses for it.  I had all of my music locally at home, had a solid MP3 player, and my employer didn’t allow for streaming video or music on a regular basis.  So, I pushed it over in a corner and left it alone for a while.

Recently, some of that changed.  My MP3 player died on me, and I changed jobs, and my new employer does allow for streaming music.  So, I started checking out several online services, which I will write about later.  At the moment I have come back to Google Music, mostly because it gives me access to my entire music collection.

That said, there are some things that drive me crazy when I try to use it:

  1. A Lack of Song Information – You’d think that a company like Google, whose entire business depends on amassing information, would provide you with plenty of song information.  Nope.  You just get Song Name, Artist, Album, Time, Plays (aka Playcount), and Rating. That’s it!  And Time is almost useless from my perspective.  In a large collection, that’s often not enough to satisfy picky listeners like myself.  If I want to groove to “90’s Alternative” music, I’ve got to dig through my library and add the songs to playlists individually.  That really doesn’t work for me.  At minimum, I’d expect the following fields to be included in order to sufficiently manage my collection:
    • Year
    • Genre
    • Track Number
    • Date/Time Added
    • Date/Time Last Played
  2. No Way To Exchange Playlists – If I have local playlists set up on my computer, there’s no way to import them into Google Music, or vice versa.  So, this means that if I want to recreate them, I have to spend my time doing it manually.  Is it that hard to import or export *.m3u playlists.
  3. A Lack of “Smart” Playlists – Part of this comes from the limited song information that is available on Google Music, but even with the information available, there is no way to create “smart” playlists where my music library can basically be searched for matching criteria (again, search is one of Google’s key businesses, so this should be relatively easy to implement).  So, even with the information available, I can’t create a playlist like “Top 10 Most Played”, “Unplayed Songs” or “Songs In Playlists A,B and C” to listen to.  As someone who likes to keep things mixed up (and I do thanks to the features of MediaMonkey on my local computer) and cycle through my collection on a regular basis, these kinds of playlists are a key part of my listening experience.
  4. Insufficient Rating System – “Thumbs Up” and “Thumbs Down” is pretty much the bare minimum for a ratings system. I’m not even sure that the “Thumbs Down” makes sense…would I really have the song in my collection if I didn’t like it?  It’s not like it’s playing me new music and trying to gauge my tastes, like Pandora.  I already own the song and had to upload my music, and if I didn’t like it I would have deleted it.  Anyway, the bare minimum I’d expect to see would be a 5-star system, so I can differentiate between my favorite songs and ones I like but are not at the same tier.  Even better would be the old Yahoo! Music system where for each song I could give the Song, Album and Artist a seperate 5-star rating.  That way, I could indicate if I liked a song but thought the rest of the album was garbage.  It’s simply more infomation that can be used to better create “smart” playlists or Instant Mixes and a better listening experience.
  5. A Lack of Queuing – This is a Spotify feature that I’d love to see carried over to Google Music, but since you can’t even see the upcoming song order when you’re on shuffle in Google Music, there’s no way you can simulate it either.  Basically, sometimes you’re listening to a playlist or shuffle, but you just want to listen to one or two songs that don’t fit that playlist, but you’d like to go back to your playlist.  Well, it would be great if you could queue up songs like this in Google Music instead of having to completely switch playlists and go back each time you wanted to do this, and only on an individual song basis.

Yes, there are some great things about having your entire music collection available online to listen to as needed on other computers or your cell phone, but that doesn’t mean that the player website needs to be crippled the way it currently is.  If Google could add these features to Google Music, they may actually have the killer app that music players like myself are looking for.  Until then, it’s little more than a remote storage drive with a basic media player built in.

The Buzz About Google Buzz

So, Google Buzz has arrived, seemingly out of nowhere.  And I have to say, it’s OK….

And just OK at that.  While it’s not the potentially revolutionary step that Google Wave could have been, it is Google’s best effort at tackling the “Social Web” so far.

The problem is that it comes across as a hackneyed attempt to compete with Twitter and Facebook.  First, it’s essentially a Twitter clone, without the character limits and plus links to outside sites (like Twitter itself), so there’s nothing really new in place.  It’s really hard to justify “buying in” on Buzz when you’re already invested elsewhere, and until Buzz can differentiate itself, I’m sure many others will view it in the same light.

Second, it’s basically just slapped into the gmail interface.  Let’s not understress this point, because if you have a track record of launching new tools seperately with possible ties to one another, then why make your first legitimate foray into the “Social Web”, then why just slap it into something already existing?  With gmail, which I’m sure many people simply access via POP or IMAP like I do at home, there are millions who may not even see the new service if they are not logging in through the gmail web interface.

It’s like the Google team said “Well, Wave didn’t take off as we had hoped, but we need to do something to compete with Twitter and Facebook…like clone  them and mash them together!”

While I’ll be playing on Buzz for a little while to see if the Google team can take it to the next level that it so desperately needs (yes, just two days after launch), if they can’t take it there, it will just be gathering dust in the near future…

Back to the drawing boards, Google team!

I Have To Admit, This Is Pretty Awesome!

As a software developer, desktop space is at a premium.  I strongly prefer dual monitor setups because I can usually code in one screen and test in the other.  For this reason, I've often shied away from doing any serious development on a laptop (at least one that isn't docked) because of the single-monitor constraint.

That is, until I saw the gScreen Spacebook:

Now that's the stuff of software developers dreams (even if it is in the neighborhood of $3000)!

Microsoft Songsmith: Good Intentions, Awful Execution

So, one of Microsoft's latest projects, Songsmith, has hit the wild, and let's say the reviews are less than spectacular.  The idea behind the product is that you sing a song that comes into your head, and it creates a basic music track to go along with that.  Sounds like a possibly useful tool, but then we see how it progresses from there.

From the get go, the advertising for the product is terrible.  However, on top of that, it produces terrible results.  For example, people have been taking vocal tracks from classic songs of all genres and feeding them into Songsmith, and getting results like these.  Talk about missing the boat…especially on Roxanne!

Seriously, it's like Microsoft Bob for Music, and that's an experience that will only produce a lot of geek jokes and wanting for something better.

Goodbye Microsoft Office

For many years, I've been a user of Microsoft Office.  I've been running Office 2003 for years now, as I've been unwilling to upgrade to the latest 2007 release because it simply costs more than I use the product now.  I'm no longer writing long reports and compiling spreadsheets of data and putting together presentations on my home computer (at work, that's a different matter).

So, this weekend I took the plunge and replaced Office with a combination of Mozilla Thunderbird and OpenOffice.  Like I said, I don't do a lot of “Office” tasks any more, but that doesn't mean I never need them.  Plus, Outlook had to be replaced by something, and I've had good experiences with Thunderbird in the past.

Now is the transition phase.  You know, the one where you figure out how to do everything you used to do with your old setup.  OpenOffice really isn't that much different from Microsoft Office in terms of function, so I expect that to be an easy transition.  However, it's probably going to take me a few weeks to get used to Thunderbird.  Thankfully, they've come a long way with the product (including creating Lightning, which is a nice calendar plug-in for Thundebird) and they make migration a breeze.  However, there are still the nuances of how things are done that I'll need to learn (and the Outlook things I'll have to unlearn), but I'm sure I'll get used to them in time.  After all, they're not deal-breakers so far.

Alas, a goodbye to Microsoft Office.  For many years you served me well, but it was time for me to move on.

Today Was iTool Day

Were you one of the hundreds, if not thousands, camped out at various AT&T stores today to get your hands on a new iPhone?  Ya, know…the one with the modestly enhanced features and overall price tag that justifies none of them.

Well, if you were, I feel sorry for you.

I'm so sick about hearing of iAnything that I'd ditch my four year old iPod Mini in favor of the vastly better designed Zune if I could justify the cost (since the Mini still works, even with zero battery life, it gets me by for now).  Heck, I've already abandoned iTunes in favor of the revitalized Winamp player, and don't plan on ever looking back.

Of course, many would rather just believe the Apple hype than view things objectively.

If I Were A Microsoft Employee, This Would Make Me Nervous

Thursday, Microsoft's Steve Ballmer came down with yet another case of foot-in-mouth disease:

“Google is not ahead of us” said Ballmer, “In the area of search specifically, Google would lead.”

I'm not sure where he's coming from, but if it has just about anything to do with the internet, then Goodle is ahead of Microsoft:

  • Advertising
  • Online Applications (Google Apps, Blogger, Google Analytics, etc.)
  • Video (YouTube)

It's not like Microsoft doesn't rule the roost with it's other moneymakers like Windows, Office and other PC-based application.  However, to think they are even coming close to competing with offerings like Windows Live is just ridiculous. 

It's one thing to be confident in your current strategy, but to not even be able to see things for what they are is what would make me nervous as a Microsoft employee.  This is the kind of attitude that leads to loss in market share and missing developing opportunities.  Whereas Google tends to purchase innovative companies and strengthen them by bringing them into the fold, Microsoft often seems to try to replicate the success of these innovators, leaving them behind the curve.

It's a dangerous road to travel, even with all that extra capital behind you…

O'Reilly Claims Technology Divorces Us From Reality

In case you missed it, Bill O'Reilly recently went on a rant about how technology divorces people from people from reality and causes anti-social behavior. Of course, this is coming from the guy who's "no spin zone" regularly demonstrates how out of touch with reality he is himself. We'll just add another tally mark to the board for this one.

But don't you love how these news show yammerers like to jump on the bandwagon of a small minority and then get out their biggest paintbrush to paint the general population with. When I have kids, remind me to block Fox News and CNN so that my kids don't become idiots themselves. Heck, Teletubbies are more educational!

Whither The Election

Well, election day has just wrapped up and the nation's leadership for the next few years has been chosen. Now, whether or not the Diebold machines got it right remains to be seen. But it brings me to a point, or set of points about elections, which I'll open with the following statement:

I didn't vote today.

Now, there are several reasons I didn't vote, including not having registered as a Pennsylvania citizen yet (still switching things from Ohio slowly). However, even if I was registered, I'm not certain I would have voted today. The primary reason is simple: there's nobody worth voting for.

I've heard it rumored that one people voted for the person who was most qualified/suited for the position or the person who they thought represented them best. I'm not sure how long ago that was, but in my lifetime the goal has usually been to elect the person who is least corrupt.

Some of this comes from the awful smear campaigns that have become standard fare for an election year. Some of this comes from the great ways that some politicians conduct themselves. Add to that the poor job that most politicians do (especially thanks to Lobbyist influences) and the minimal accountability that they have, and it's no wonder that politics has become so synonymous with corruption.

Then there's the growing frustrations with the current two-party system. While the two parties definitely have their lines drawn, people are beginning to see that the two behave amazingly similar in most cases. A lot of news is made when the House or Senate has a "power shift", but the average person typically sees few changes. It's amazingly frustrating to just watch the system perpetuate as is.

So, basically I've been told that by not voting, I'm not making my voice heard. Well, to me that's the point. I'm not willing to support a candidate that is not worthy of their elected office. In my opinion, it's time to reform the system, and it's not going to be done by playing within the system.