All right, so the big news is, Virgin Mobile USA will soon carry the Apple iPhone 4S. Which is to say, my pre-paid, Sprint-owned cellular telephone carrier may have cut a deal with Apple to make all their Android devices suddenly look unattractive.
Why do I think that? Oh, no reason, just the plan prices. As my long-time Web contact Zoli Erdos asked of Virgin Mobile's Twitter customer service account, and got an interesting (but not entirely clear) answer:
@ZoliErdos You can only get the $30 plan if you sign up with Auto top-up. ^Ernest R.
— VirginMobileUSA Care (@VMUcare) June 8, 2012
Wait, "Auto top-up" just means letting them charge for monthly service automatically. I let them do that for my Motorola Triumph.1 Can I get that discount, too? Zoli already got an answer to that question, too:
@ZoliErdos No it is only for iPhone. ^Ernest R.
— VirginMobileUSA Care (@VMUcare) June 8, 2012
Huh? Yep, exclusively for iPhone customers, Virgin Mobile USA will take $5/month off of your service plan if you let them charge you automatically every month. Want Android instead? Sucks to be you, you get to pay more.
This story gets even better. I asked, specifically, if there was some kind of deal going on between Virgin Mobile USA and Apple. The answer was surprising, but I'm not entirely sure the responding CSR actually read and understood what I asked:
@hidgw Yes! Everyones thrilled and shocked by the big announcement. Please be advised there tons of Android customers out there. ^teareney f
— VirginMobileUSA Care (@VMUcare) June 8, 2012
Let me get this straight. I asked if Virgin Mobile and Apple decided to make Android less appealing, and the answer was "Yes!"? With an exclamation mark?
Needless to say, I've been less than amused by the changes to Virgin Mobile's policies over the last year. First they jacked up prices for new customers right before launching the Motorola Triumph in June 2011.23 Virgin Mobile then started throttling 3G data after a 2.5GB monthly usage threshold.4 Then they ended grandfathered plan rates for users who upgrade their devices, meaning that if (when) I eventually upgrade away from the Triumph, my monthly fee will jump from $25/month to $35/month, just because I'm changing phones.5
What started as a great deal for cell phone service is still a good deal compared with contract carriers, to be sure, but the policy changes and new competitors like republic wireless entering the market make it much less sweet. ($19/month for unlimited everything? Tanj, republic, launch something newer than the LG Optimus already!) Ting and NET10 also offer lower-cost smartphone service compared to contract plans, but for my level of usage both are more expensive even than Virgin Mobile's current pricing.
I really don't like this iPhone policy. The one change over the past year that I was actually happy to see Virgin Mobile make was dropping their $10 monthly surcharge for Blackberry devices. Though RIM and its Blackberry devices are all but dead, it was nice to see Virgin Mobile start treating all smartphones equally, pricing-wise. Now, we're back to favoring one platform over the others, and I really don't like that. All smartphone platforms have roughly equal potential for using network capacity, so charging less for one of them makes absolutely no logical sense.
— Daniel W (@hidgw) June 8, 2012
Whether or not there's some behind-the-scenes deal between Virgin Mobile — actually, let's be honest, if it exists the deal is with Sprint — and Apple that's responsible for this price discrepancy, it sure seems like a very anti-Android thing to do. Virgin Mobile, please treat all smartphone plans equally — no platform favoritism. It's the customer-friendly thing to do. Extend the $5/month "Auto top-up" discount to all Beyond Talk plan subscribers (you don't have to include grandfathered users, that's totally understandable) and maybe I won't jump ship to republic wireless as soon as they launch a more powerful device.
- I've had it since December, but haven't felt the need to review it as I did the LG Optimus V. Pretty much all the bug reports and battery life problems are absolutely true. If I feel like a writing project, though, I'll do a full review of my own, just for completeness. [↩]
- Virgin Mobile have since remained unwilling to push Motorola to fix the software problems with said Triumph. Motorola, for its part, pretty much ignores/dismisses all bug reports. They keep offering "Factory Data Reset" as the solution to everything, and haven't said a peep about whether or not there will be a software update. As far as I'm concerned, Motorola's reputation as a phone maker is completely shot. [↩]
- Again, I should do a full review of this phone. It's been out almost a year. I also have a really, really ridiculous story about how I got mine. Plus, I need to rant about the whole "Motorola isn't supporting its devices" thing. [↩]
- At least there aren't any overage fees. It's slower, but it's still "unlimited". [↩]
- As I understand it, this new policy would also affect an emergency switch back to my LG Optimus V, if my Triumph fails someday. That's one of the major reasons that I don't like the policy change. [↩]
Wednesday, Seesmic sent all Ping.fm users an email with "important information". Dated May 31 (Seesmic's timezone is well ahead of mine), the letter included some basic information that we all pretty much knew. But one sentence actually made me happy:
To further support development and upcoming features, we will offer Seesmic Ping as both a free and paid service.
(emphasis added). Back in February, I wrote "Why I Will Not Use Seesmic, Ever", a post expressing my dismay at the shutdown of Ping.fm and the apparent paid-only nature of Seesmic Ping. I begged the company to consider a "freemium" model and not make all users pay for the service. My post got the attention of a Seesmic employee, who commented, inviting me to share further feedback via email. I never emailed Yama — perhaps I used a feedback form instead, I don't recall — but anyway… I'm glad to see this announcement of tiered pricing and a free base service.
A March 14 blog post from Seesmic gives the pricing tiers:
There will be three plans for Seesmic Ping: a free plan, so that everyone gets a chance to enjoy it, a $4.99/month plan for the ones who want to get more, and a $49.99 for the ones who just want it all.
Before reading the blog post, I posted this suggestion in Seesmic's UserVoice feedback forum, asking that they maintain a free service tier. The response was pretty swift, and positive:
We will have a free version with limited accounts and posts per day. We’ll continue to add features and services which we’ll make paid. — jyamasaki, Seesmic admin, on UserVoice
Limiting the number of accounts makes sense. It's something HootSuite has done for a while now, requiring a paid plan to add more than five networks. Since I presently post to four networks I care about, and would make Google+ a fifth if Ping.fm supported it, I hope that Seesmic Ping's free plan service limit is also five accounts.
I'm leery, however, of the posts-per-day limit. It has the potential to be unreasonable and oppressive if set too low. Personally, I'd like to see a number between 25 and 50 as the daily posting limit, and enforcement in a rolling 24-hour window (no "resets at 00:00 GMT" or some such). I think it's legitimate for a personal user to average two posts an hour. Posting during a regular 14-hour day, a limit of 50 posts would allow a user to share their thoughts about every 15 minutes or so. For people I follow on Twitter who work office jobs, that seems like a common average sharing rate. (Sorry, no scientific study here, just guesstimating.)
All in all, I'm a lot less down on Seesmic Ping than I was three months ago. The final pricing & limitation details will ultimately set my opinion when they're released within the next few weeks, but for now I've rescinded my personal ban on using anything Seesmic makes in light of the "free plan" announcement.
If Seemic closes Ping.fm before I can auto-publish my blog posts to Seesmic Ping with a WordPress plugin, though, I'll get mad again. Fortunately there's already an API for the new service in private testing.
Update (06/01): Seesmic eventually killed the green bar overlay. They announced a time-frame (by the middle of June) for closing Ping.fm, and also confirmed that the new Ping service will have a free service level. I commend this outcome, with reservations.
Update (03/03): This post garnered a response from a Seesmic employee, Yama, in the comments. From "figure out the best pricing model", I gather that pricing remains undecided, so I maintain my hope for a HootSuite-like freemium model. I'm also glad to hear that the green bar will be reviewed for possible improvements. Thank you, Yama; if I have more thoughts I will certainly email you.
Earlier this month, no doubt on or soon after February 6, 2012, I went to Ping.fm to find a green bar on top of the area where I usually clicked to log in and get on with posting things to my social networks. Seesmic, apparently, had other plans. They really wanted to make sure I heard about their new product, Seesmic Ping. They covered the login link with a green bar to make sure I'd notice it.
All right, fine, I went to have a look. I didn't feel like signing up for the new service, though. Instead, I dug up the blog post announcing Seesmic Ping, from February 6. Near the end, there was a very telling paragraph:1
For Ping.fm users – With the release of Seesmic Ping, we’ll look to maintain Ping.fm for some time. In the meantime, we encourage you to sign up for a Seesmic Profile and give Seesmic Ping a ride through our mobile applications or the web.
I wasn't the only one made uneasy by those two sentences. "for some time" really doesn't mean "indefinitely", and sure sounds like Seesmic will eventually kill Ping.fm entirely.
I've had complaints over the years with Ping.fm, occasionally with performance. But most of them came from decisions made by Seesmic, explicitly or not, after they acquired Ping.fm. They were things like:
- No new API keys for applications
- Disabling API keys for applications like the Shorten2Ping WordPress plugin, instead of blocking the users who were spamming
- No new services for years
- Issues with existing services, like Jaiku (which Google later shut down completely about a month ago)2
- Broken post-by-email3
Despite all the issues following the Seesmic acquisition, Ping.fm has remained solidly usable. But Seesmic has now announced a successor to Ping.fm — and what's more, they intend to charge for it (emphasis mine):4
We’ll look to have more features and services when Seesmic Ping comes out of beta as a paid service.
No pricing came with the announcement, just a notice that the new service would eventually cost money. I know we've all been spoiled by free Web services, and the money has to come from somewhere, but somehow I have my doubts that Seesmic will take an approach that is consumer-friendly. HootSuite has a great pricing model: Features that consumers will use (a few profiles, with one user who can manage them) are free; business-level features (more profiles, multiple-user collaboration) cost money. I don't think Seesmic Ping will follow that structure; if I had to guess, everyone will have to pay for it.
I mean, really, Seesmic could have made the green bar push the entire page down, instead of floating it over the four tabs at the top. Look at what it covers:
It floated on top of the page for a reason, I'm sure. Putting it there made me click on it to make it go away (it didn't). Then I read it, and followed the link. No doubt I followed the expected sequence of actions precisely. And that irritates me, because the green bar should have just looked like this:
I imagine that the reasoning went something like, "If it doesn't cover the login link, users will ignore it. No, displacing the login link by 40 pixels isn't enough; it has to actually be inaccessible. We will force users to read this bar on every single page." Oh yeah, it pops up on every single page view. Home, login, Dashboard, settings, you-name-it — green bar ALL the pages… for lack of a better X all the Y idea.
There was also an email newsletter sent out on February 15, announcing Seesmic Ping, which I read after going through the whole "green bar" thing. It too addressed the future of Ping.fm… sort of:5
Like many of you, we appreciate the passion that Ping.fm brings, and made sure to carry over its core value of the simplicity in posting. With the launch of Seesmic Ping, we continue to enhance this service with reliability and robustness, while offering key features such as scheduling and the ability to post to multiple Twitter accounts and Facebook pages.
Eventually, Seesmic Ping will be a paid service. While in beta, Seesmic Ping is free to access. If you have any feedback, please tell us what you think: feedback.seesmic.com.
The email announcement carefully avoided any mention of shutting down Ping.fm. The original blog post never changed, though, so the plans are certainly still in place.
This state of affairs is really disappointing, because I've used Ping.fm as a staple of my online life for, literally, years. According to TweetStats, I've posted from Ping.fm more than I have from Twitter.com. (twhirl is still on top because I used to have it open all the time back in high school.) I post from the Web, from a third-party app on my Android phone, via SMS, and I used to use email posting from my mother's cell phone back before I had my own. In short, I use Ping.fm a lot. It still is the best option I've found on the market for cross-posting to different social networks.
If Ping.fm goes away, I'll probably end up switching to Hellotxt. Hellotxt has its own share of issues at the moment, including a lot of services that are disabled and a significant slowness to the site, but it's still the best alternative to Ping.fm. I can also just roll up my sleeves and build my own personal system, since all of the sites I use provide free API access, but I'd rather not take the time to do that. It would also load my (very) shared server and lack a lot of features like posting via SMS6 and scheduled posting.7 Could I implement them? Sure. Would I take the time? Questionable. Additional features also mean additional server load, and so on.
The point is, I have only one practical alternative — Hellotxt — because building my own is hard, time-consuming, and unlikely to happen any time soon. I dream that Seesmic will change plans and decide not to kill Ping.fm, but the reality is that it's almost certain to happen and the only question is when. Hopefully Hellotxt will have its issues worked out by then and will be ready to take over as king of the cross-posting niche. It would certainly serve Seesmic right if Ping never went anywhere, and that might be worth losing Ping.fm.
As for never using Seesmic, ever, well, let's just say I oppose the way they do things. I don't like it when a company buys another company, takes the ideas and technology from existing products, and then shuts down the old company's services. Google does that a lot, and those are the times when I come closest to hating Google. The difference is, Google almost always creates awesome things out of the remains of old companies and services. Seesmic hasn't really done anything but allow a useful product to stagnate, and now they're going to kill it at some unspecified future date, replacing it with something that can never be a true replacement. You can't replace a free service with a paid service; it doesn't work that way.
If Seesmic takes their pricing structure in the same direction as HootSuite, though, and they only charge for certain features, I might actually give Ping a try. I have a hard time imagining a situation that would make me actually like Seesmic as a company, though.
- The paragraph was riddled with links to Seesmic.com, which I didn't copy. There was no point. [↩]
- Unlike other social networks that died, Jaiku had a dedicated following willing to preserve its contents, if not the functionality. Apparently, my "presences" are archived. [↩]
- Added later on publish date (23:20 or so) when I discovered that Shorten2Ping had failed to post this article via Ping.fm. My server's emails are working. The problem is with Ping.fm. Grr. [↩]
- Yes, I skipped copying another link to Seesmic.com. All occurrences of "Seesmic Ping" were linked except for one. I guess somebody missed it. [↩]
- And just like in the blog post, every occurrence of the phrase "Seesmic Ping" was linked to Seesmic.com. Talk about carpet-bombing links. [↩]
- If I'm not paying for Seesmic Ping, I'm certainly not shelling out for an SMS gateway to serve my one-user app. [↩]
- Ping.fm only has scheduled posting because HootSuite supports Ping.fm. It's not native. Hellotxt has native scheduling, but I haven't tested it yet. [↩]
This is my fourth (and final) blog post assignment for my Journalism course. It's kind of an op-ed in its own right, though not something I was likely to bother writing about if not for the assignment.
Back in September, at its f8 conference, Facebook announced a new kind of app, with the ability to use "frictionless sharing" — basically a fancy way of saying that users' activity can be shared without users specifically clicking a "Share" button.
The first reaction to this announcement was lukewarm at best. As users began to notice just how much activity was being shared, they complained about both ends of the process. Some users were upset about how much of their activity was being shared (Spotify, in particular, started out by sharing every single track listened to); others felt overwhelmed by the new activity ticker in the upper right corner of their Facebook home pages (which was flooded by Spotify posts in the beginning).
News organizations jumped on board with their own apps for auto-sharing every article read by a Facebook user. Some, like Washington Post Social Reader, live entirely in Facebook, allowing (and encouraging) users to read articles without even leaving Facebook.com. Others, like Yahoo News, share activity from the organization's site via code that pushes activity to Facebook.
The Yahoo News model of frictionless sharing is actually more disturbing, because there's little to no indication to the user that sharing is taking place. Activity on Facebook can be reasonably expected to be shared, but activity on a third-party site seems outside Facebook's influence.
There are other considerations as well, around the meaning of sharing. As Farhad Manjoo wrote in a now-archived Slate article, "You experience a huge number of things every day, but you choose to tell your friends about only a fraction of them, because most of what you do isn’t worth mentioning." Nicki Porter, blogging for CopyPress.com (which provides content development services), made a very relevant point based on that: "If we only share about 10% of what we see online, we’re sharing the best 10%."
Philosophy and user opinion aside, the last two months have seen massive growth in news app usage. Poynter's Jeff Sonderman wrote this morning that news organizations are reaching millions of users through these new auto-sharing apps. In particular, Open Graph statistics released by Facebook yesterday show:
- Yahoo News: 600% increase in traffic from Facebook; 10 million users connected, who read more articles than the average
- The Independent: 1 million monthly active connected users; articles from the late 1990s taken viral
- The Guardian: 4 million users installed their app, more than half of them under age 24; averaging nearly 1 million extra pageviews per day
- Washington Post: 3.5 million monthly active users of Social Reader app; 83% of readers under age 35
Facebook is helping news organizations with a box at the top of the homepage News Feed that shows a small selection of stories that friends have read recently.
The lesson from all this is that a platform like Facebook, which has over 800 million active users (as self-reported on its statistics page), can be a real boon to news outlets. Traffic equals eyeballs, and more eyeballs can generate more advertising revenue.
What's especially interesting to me is how similar the new sharing (which is officially part of the Open Graph API) seems to Beacon, a "mistake" (said Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook) that launched in late 2007 but was shut down in 2009.
Beacon also shared user activity on third-party sites back to Facebook, at first without permission. The class-action lawsuit Lane v. Facebook, Inc. resulted in Beacon being modified to require user confirmation before any sharing occurred. Open Graph sharing as it is today resembles the original Beacon, sending data to Facebook and publishing activity without any user intervention or even consent.
I, for one, stubbornly refuse to install any of those new auto-sharing Facebook apps. (Fortunately, it's pretty easy to bypass the request for permissions that pops up when I click an article featured at the top of my own News Feed.) I agree with Farhad Manjoo and Nicki Porter: Sharing is about choice. If I want to share something, I'll take the three minutes to post it myself.
This is my third blog post assignment for my Journalism class. I went for the reflection option this time instead of the news topic option because I had something to say about my experiences with the class in the last two weeks.
As I've worked to find people I can interview for my feature article, I've found that it can be really difficult to actually connect with even one person who can address the topic in question. Many people will simply ignore interview requests.
I'm sure part of the problem is my choice of subject. Not that many people know about Bitcoin, after all. What's more, privacy and anonymity are cornerstones of Bitcoin's design. That makes them part of the user culture…or maybe that just means Bitcoin attracts privacy fanatics.
In any case, I've successfully found only one source, an assistant professor of economics here on campus. I found him through the head of the economics department, and even that wasn't in time for me to include in my first draft anything he said. (He's only on campus on Fridays, and I didn't get his name until the Saturday before the Thursday my draft was due.) I also couldn't take the time to properly write my first draft. It was probably the roughest piece of writing I've ever submitted to a teacher, whether graded or not. (Well, there were those bits of writing I did in elementary school, but I won't count those because I don't count those years as part of my real education.)
On the social media front, I've had a nibble or two, but no real responses. I got a really good referral on Twitter from someone I interact with pretty often, who told me about a Bitcoin fanatic he knows, but this fanatic 1) has a private Twitter stream and 2) ignored my attempts to get in touch. What I said about privacy before definitely applies to this guy.
Actually, a follow-up message to the economics department chair here at Brandeis fell through the cracks when I asked about another source within the department who might be available for interview sooner — in time for my first draft. (I hope it fell through the cracks; the alternative is being ignored, and I don't like being ignored when I'm trying to do an assignment. No, Brandeis' email system doesn't lose messages. Google Apps has higher reliability than that. I use it for my personal domain, so I have some experience there.) I guess that can't be blamed on the Bitcoin culture.
Having failed to find any more sources in the week since turning in my draft, I plan to launch something of a guerilla campaign on Friday. (The rest of Wednesday and all of Thursday will be dedicated to making sure I finish my Java programming assignment by the deadline, and to studying for my Hebrew midterm on Friday morning.) My current campaign hit list includes the economics and computer science departments of several colleges, a few friends of mine who must either know about or know someone who knows about Bitcoin, and a couple of legal firms with which I have connections. This last item is important, as I need to understand the legal environment surrounding Bitcoins competing with the United States Dollar (and with every other nation's currency).
May my campaign result in a deluge of responses. If it doesn't work, I guess I'll be asking my professor for help on or around Tuesday afternoon.
As an aside, Bitcoin is also hard to research. In looking for material online (for not much has been said about it in physical media), I followed many dead links. The system is somewhat unstable, as shown by what happened when the Mt. Gox exchange was compromised (a part of my research); the information resources about it are even more so.
Thanks to my source-finding campaign plans and my need for better research, I foresee that my weekend will be full of work for my journalism class. Well, the part of it that is not taken up by tech week for The Last Night of Ballyhoo, for which I am the sound designer.
Perhaps I should just say that I will be having a busy week(end).
I wrote this for my Journalism class at college, but figured I might as well share it here too.
Plaintiffs in the suit include three major authors' groups: the Authors Guild, the Australian Society of Authors, and the Québec Union of Writers. Eight individual authors are also party to the filing, among them Pat Cummings, Roxana Robinson, and T.J. Stiles.
The objections raised in the suit center around the HathiTrust collection itself. "[S]even million copyright-protected books" (according to Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, as quoted by the NYT) are available without any consent from the authors. The Authors Guild and its fellow plaintiffs say that the collection violates copyright law.
HathiTrust's collection consists of books digitized by Google, Inc. as part of the Google Books project, which has been steadily scanning books from participating university libraries across the United States.
The Google Books project has been the subject of many lawsuits over the years since work on it was begun in 2002. A few examples will help provide context:
- 2005: The Authors Guild sues Google for "plain and brazen violation of copyright law" (archived press release from AG via Archive.org)
- 2009: French court halts Google Books in France: the ruling applies only to books published in France under copyright (Los Angeles Times article)
- 2010: Several professional photographers' organizations bring a class-action suit regarding the reproduction of copyrighted images within the books scanned by Google (Mashable.com article)
The Authors Guild has been involved with this issue before. This time, the fight has been brought to an organization with a bit less might than Google.
But never mind who sued whom, for what, and when. The issue is really quite simple, and most of the lawsuits against Google Books have had little to no merit.
United States copyright law (the laws under which most Google Books lawsuits have been filed) contains a doctrine known as Fair Use. It was originally intended to protect commentary, critique, and parody of copyrighted works. However, the principles of Fair Use (Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute):
- "the purpose and character of the use" — e.g. for commentary, critique, parody, scholarship, etc.
- "the nature of the copyrighted work" — published/unpublished, fact/fiction
- "the amount and substantiality of the portion used" — how much of the work was used, and how significant the used portion is to the work as a whole
- "the effect of the use upon the potential market" — if the use of that portion will negatively affect demand for or the value of the original work
(Thanks to Stanford University's Copyright & Fair Use information center for helping me refresh my own memory of these concepts.)
The way Google Books works is carefully designed to fit within existing copyright laws. Books in the public domain are fully accessible, with no restrictions. Copyrighted, in-print books allow whatever access the publisher has specified. For in-copyright books that do not have a publisher, Google restricts access to "snippets", which show just a few words surrounding the user's search term.
So: Whenever Google Books shows a significant portion of a book, it has permission from the publisher to do so. Without permission, Google Books displays tiny fractions of the full work in an immensely transformative manner.
Google Books falls well within Fair Use doctrine, at the very least. Displaying card catalog – type information about the book plus at most a sentence or so for each search result (I'll go down the Fair Use list):
- Is for scholarly reasons
- Uses published works
- Displays at most a few percent of the whole book
- May actually increase demand for the books featured in the results
So why are publishers and authors suing Google and HathiTrust?
As far as I can tell,[original research?] HathiTrust follows the same rules as Google Books. This makes sense, as the content is from the Google Books program.
HathiTrust's entire archive is intended for academic use. It's unclear why the various plaintiffs in this new lawsuit are suing for the removal of their books from the archive, rather than suing for better access controls. If the concern is that anyone can access the books (which they can), then restricting access to verified researchers would clear up the problem.
It's like big music, film, and television. The music industry figured out that it could simply adapt to the Internet and start offering content over the new medium, giving people an alternative to pirated copies shared through services like Napster, LimeWire, and BitTorrent. Film and television haven't yet figured that out, and I guess the book industry is still working on it too.
I recently read a headline in the Minneapolis Star Tribune featuring an unfortunate wolf at the Minnesota Zoo.
The story went that this 8-year-old male Mexican gray wolf — an endangered species — escaped from his1 enclosure through a gap in the fencing of the keeper's area. He proceeded halfway around the grounds before being tracked to the Northern Trail area and shot.
Tranquilizers would not have acted soon enough, Minnesota Zoo officials said, forcing them to destroy the 8-year-old male.
I beg to differ. There was nothing forcing these people to shoot an innocent animal — an intelligent being. Wolves belong to the canine family, and do we not use dogs every day to help track criminals, find explosives, and guide the blind (to name a few)?
We do. Canines are intelligent beings. The fact that they are used in so many different parts of human society prove that. They wouldn't be useful in their jobs without intelligence.
So what "forced" the zoo officials to have the wolf shot? Tranquilizers would have taken 8 – 10 minutes to take effect, and that delay was deemed too long.
Never mind that the wolf hadn't approached anyone.
Ignore the fact that he was probably a very freaked-out wolf, more concerned with getting away from people than with attacking them.
In fact, the paper ran a follow-up story the very next day. They quote a wolf researcher:
"That animal wouldn't have been dangerous, period," countered David Mech, a wolf researcher and vice chairman of the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minn.
Sure, anyone would get a little pissed after being stuck with a tranquilizer dart. But tranquilizers and guns weren't the only choices. Could not keepers go out with nets to catch the wolf? They already evacuated visitors, so there was no immediate danger to anyone who might sue the zoo.
Why didn't the animal "experts" come up with a better solution than a gun? Doesn't the Minnesota Zoo — a considerably large zoological institution — maintain contingency plans for escaped animals? Don't they have equipment for containing said escapees?
I am reminded, in a somewhat macabre firing of synapses, of the "death by misadventure" scenarios of many role-playing games. Choose to enter the wrong cavern, and die; or pick up the wrong item, and die. Go through the wrong hole, and die.
If the story had included any mention of the wolf going after visitors, my views might be different (but then, there are many non-lethal ways of neutralizing a threatening animal). But it didn't. Nobody reported being threatened by the wolf. He was just exploring.
That's all he did: He chose to explore the wrong hole.
Zoo officials got scared, panicked, and had an intelligent being killed.
Nobody forced them to do it. Their own fears of potential litigation pushed them into the easy solution.
Killing is never the only option. There is always a choice.
- I will use personal pronouns. Referring to the wolf in question as "it" would put me uncomfortably close to the level of consideration displayed by Zoo officials. [↩]
I've been using NET10 as my cellular carrier for nearly two years. I got their most basic phone (the LG 300G) at a Wal-Mart in Colorado Springs, CO, in June 2009 and have been paying $15/month ever since for 150 – 200 minutes (10¢ each, or 5¢ per text message).
I got tired of that phone's slowness and tiny keypad rather quickly, as I tired of NET10's baseline service. I got a number and access to the network, but that was all. They also gave me a number that was prone to receiving calls from collection agencies and spam text messages. (Finding a way to block such junk proved to be impossible, as I detailed in my pseudo-review of NET10 from February 2010.)
Getting a new phone was only a matter of finding the right one. It took a while, but it did happen.
This February, I passed by a Radio Shack store and saw an Android phone with a decent price tag on a poster in the front window. I stopped in for a few minutes to see what it was all about. It was there that I met the LG Optimus V, a $150 Android phone with a minimum $25/month contract-free service plan from Virgin Mobile U.S. (including 300 minutes and unlimited texting & data).
I had to run to a show that evening (the life of a stage manager is never simple), but the seed had been planted.
Over the coming weeks, I kept thinking about that phone. I researched it a bit and found that it was a recent release, only a month out of the gate. I found that Virgin Mobile had put out one other Android phone, the Samsung Intercept, that had a physical keyboard but (as kept coming up in the reviews I read) horrible performance. Nearly every Optimus V review I read was positive. Score!
I even dreamed about having the Optimus V one night. Despite drooling over the iPod Touch, iPad, and so on with all the other geeks of the world, not once did I dream about having any of them. I took that to be a sign. When I saw it on sale at BestBuy.com for $130 a few days later, that clinched it.
But BestBuy.com was sold out of the phone, and so were all the nearby stores. Nobody else had it on sale, so I wasn't about to just go out and find it elsewhere. I waited and hoped that it would be back in stock before the sale ended.
Another few days went by. Then I checked again and, lo, the Optimus V was back in stock! I pounced. All told, the total sale price including tax and shipping was less than the regular product-only cost. I called it a good deal, and began my plans to test it. Best Buy has a pretty good return policy, after all.
I placed my order on a Wednesday, and so didn't get the phone until the following Monday. Those five days were frustrating! But when I did get it, I took pleasure in carrying it to the local library to set it up.
My new phone was shiny, and awesome. Navarr, the awesome dude who hosts this site right now, saw my posts on Facebook and said he'd just gotten an Intercept and that it couldn't play Angry Birds, the immensely popular game. So what was the first app I downloaded? Angry Birds. The Optimus V ran it perfectly.1 Score!
Did I mention that it was a steal at $130? (Current price: $200. Virgin Mobile and/or LGE must have decided they needed a bigger profit margin.) All my comments will use that price for value assessments.
Two Months Later
It still is awesome, and shiny too, but I've taken to carrying a microfiber cloth with me so I can periodically wipe the screen and casing. Both of them do collect significant quantities of finger oils and grime in the course of a day's use (especially if it's a tech set-up day). That's one of the few issues I've had with the device. (The other issue is an incompatibility between the stock Music app and the Last.fm app. It wouldn't be a big deal if Music didn't open automatically, both when I select a media file from the File Expert browser and sometimes when I unplug the headset. I'm working on replacing it completely with Songbird for Android, a mobile version of my favorite desktop media player.) I'm sorry to say, I never started carrying a microfiber cloth for any other purchase. A new phone was just so long in coming, I guess.
As yet I have not activated the service plan. That is on hold until I can offload my old NET10 phone, which has about 1400 minutes (or about $140 worth) of airtime on it. The Optimus V is currently my pocket computer, subsisting on Wi-Fi until I get the data service turned on. It's already been very useful for finding bus routes, thanks to Minneapolis Public Wi-Fi. It will be twenty times as useful once I get rid of my old phone and sign up for Virgin Mobile's service.
Battery life was reported to be pretty bad, but overall I haven't had any issues with it. Granted, I don't have the cellular radio active (why bother, if I have no service plan yet), but I can get in several hours of Wi-Fi or 10+ hours of reading in ReadItLater2 without having to plug in. I'm hoping the forthcoming software update from Android 2.2 to 2.3 will include even higher efficiency.
Generally, the phone is very responsive to inputs. It unlocks quickly (using the Draw Pattern option), and seems to only slow down if an application is misbehaving. As mentioned, Angry Birds (both the standard and Rio variants) performs well, and listening to music or watching even standard-definition video clips is stutter-free.
YouTube videos, of course, work well as long as I have a good connection. Streaming audio, such as TuneIn world radio, works also.3 I haven't tested Pandora yet, but I have a feeling that as far as the phone is concerned it will work well. (Some reviews on the Market indicate issues with the app, but that's not the phone's problem.)
On occasion, it would slow down to a crawl and seem to freeze just after connecting to a Wi-Fi network if it hadn't been synced in a while. I now turn off the auto-sync unless I want apps to sync, and that problem has more or less disappeared.
Every so often, I do get the phone to crash. Usually it just hangs, ignoring all button presses until I remove the battery and reboot it. Occasionally it's rebooted itself in the middle of a stuck app uninstall. But those occurrences are pretty rare; I've gone upwards of a week without ever rebooting the system.
I'm still using the 2GB microSD card that came with the phone. Its current contents include 1.09GB of music, every SD-enabled app I have (to free up internal space), one chapter of an OverDrive MP3 audiobook (30 or 40 MB), an EPUB ebook or two (1 – 2 MB each), and several dozen articles downloaded for offline reading in ReadItLater.
I plan to get a larger card in the next few months, as 2GB isn't nearly enough for all the content I want to carry around. I'll price 16GB and 32GB microSD cards and hopefully find a good deal on the latter, the largest the Optimus V supports.
I have issues with the internal storage memory. It's not that it's bad memory or anything; there just isn't enough of it. The total internal storage available to the user is 178MB, but only about 160MB is usable; past that, the phone will start complaining that it is "Low on space" and refusing to sync until space is cleared.
Apps to Watch
Some apps are worth noting for their strange or annoying storage habits.
The Android Browser app appears to store its cache in internal memory, and doesn't provide a setting to change that. If you get a low space warning and have been browsing recently, check the Browser's cache through Settings->Applications->Manage Applications->Browser and clear it if it's more than a few hundred KB. Sometimes it's not so intelligent about throwing away cached items that aren't needed any more.
Facebook / Twitter
Both Facebook4 and Twitter must reside in the phone's memory, and can't be moved to SD. They both consume 2 – 4MB of "Data" storage on top of the 3 – 5MB they use for code, a usage level that pretty much hovers.
Neither can be moved to the SD card. I haven't figured out if they really can't be moved, or if moving is somehow broken because there are (outdated) factory-installed versions in the phone's ROM.
Anything from Google…
Also note that Google's applications (including Maps, Gmail, Reader, and most other offerings) generally can't be moved to the SD card. This means that Maps uses over 10MB of my internal memory, and Gmail another several megabytes.
Goggles can be moved, but it's an exception in Google-land. As a heavy user of Google services, I grudgingly allow space for those apps; but I would very much prefer that they allow themselves to be moved to the SD card.
Ditto to my comments on Facebook & Twitter about moving being possibly broken by outdated factory-installed versions of Google apps in the phone's ROM.
…But Especially Books
Google's Books app has a huge storage appetite. I currently can't use it, because when I allow it to sync and download my books, even with no books stored locally, it uses 8MB of "Data" storage for — as far as I can tell — nothing. The latest update (1.3.4, released in mid-May 2011) improved on the 9+MB use of the previous version, but it's still an issue.
I did report the issue in the forums, but I will be pushing again as I think the app team considers the issue resolved by the update. It's not.
Sorry for ranting. I really enjoyed reading the free books from Google's store until I needed the internal memory consumed by Books for more apps.
In a word, readable. Even in full sunlight, I can crank up the brightness and have a usable phone. The higher brightness settings do suck the battery a bit, but they're handy when I need to check on a bus from a stop during the day.
The only thing I might wish for, display-wise, is an ambient lighting sensor to automatically adjust the brightness in different lighting environments. But that's not something I'd expect to find on a low-end phone.
I tried Swype, and disabled it. As far as I can tell, the stock Android 2.2 keyboard is plenty good. Apps that disable its correction features aside5, Android Keyboard's auto-correct, –complete, and –capitalization functions make typing a breeze. It's much easier than a T9-style keypad.
In general, audio is good. Decent fidelity all around, though not always loud enough.
Oh, and it accepts standard stereo headphones. Don't be put off by the four-conductor earbud set that comes with the phone; typical three-conductor, 3.5" plugs will work just as well for listening (obviously without the button control).
Be aware, though, that if you're trying to plug into an external audio system, the phone's output signal is pretty weak. It's good for driving earbuds and headphones, but you'll have to crank up the gain on (for example) a performance sound system.6
The speaker could be louder. It can be hard to hear music playing from it in a noisy setting, such as while walking along a busy street.7
Kidding aside, I usually don't need to crank the volume up all the way. 75% is sufficient for most situations.
One small detail: Sometimes the speaker sounds a bit tinny when playing music, but that could be the quality of my down-converted music8 as much as the speaker.
It's really hard to hear music in earbuds or headphones when a car or truck drives by…
Seriously, the output jack emits a good-quality signal. There is one caveat, however.
There seems to be a background hiss whenever I'm using the headphone jack, maybe due to a cheap audio system. (Uh, duh, it's a cheap phone.) It's only annoying in silence or quiet moments in the audio, though.
Otherwise, it's quite satisfactory.
It was unexpected, but not surprising, when I saw the price go up soon after I bought the phone. $150 was a great deal for everything the phone could do, and I'll bet it was selling like hotcakes. Matching the price point of the Samsung Intercept, Virgin Mobile's other Android phone, makes business sense.
At $200, it's a slightly worse deal, but it's still a fully featured Android phone with no contract. (Compare to T-Mobile's $40-with-two-year-contract price for the nearly-identical Optimus T.)
Bottom line: I like the Optimus V. I recommend it to anyone who wants to try out Android without spending $60+ per month. I even recommend it at the $200 price point of today, though don't get it if you don't plan to use it as a phone some day.
Oh, and thanks to Ringtone Maker I now have one awesome alarm clock. That right there is a great reason to get an Android phone.
Did I miss any facet of the Optimus V that you'd like to know about? Get something completely wrong? Sound off in the comments and I'll update the post accordingly.
- OK, so it occasionally gets slow. I haven't come across a single other Android device, especially at this price point, that didn't have an issue here and there. I've even witnessed Angry Birds hanging on a Nook Color. [↩]
- ReadItLater is the only paid app on my phone; I got it for 99¢ in April, thanks to a launch sale. Everything else I use at present is free. [↩]
- I sometimes like to tune in to Israeli radio stations. [↩]
- Oddly enough, the package name is com.facebook.katana. Some unofficial app stole the package ID com.facebook, but I don't know why Facebook didn't just use com.facebook.android… [↩]
- I tried several note-taking apps before discovering Catch, a great app that takes photos & audio as well as text, and also syncs notes to the Web. Other options offered no advanced text-entry features, but Catch did. Aside from a few weeks between the 3.0 and 3.0.1 updates when an oversight in the new version disabled the auto-completion features, Catch is a rock-solid app that I recommend for any Android—or iOS —device. [↩]
- This tidbit came from trying to use the phone as a source of work music in the theatre. I initially thought there was something wrong with it, until I remembered that I had a gain control on the board I could crank up. [↩]
- Of course, I only know one person who even tries to do this. He complains that the Optimus is horrible at it, but his phone ain't any louder. [↩]
- All the music on my phone is 96kbps MP3, converted using fre:ac Portable from originals as high-quality as FLAC and as bad as — yes — 96kbps MP3. [↩]
I've done some playing around with the citywide Wi-Fi here in Minneapolis, and I must say that the range of information accessible through the Civic Garden feature (which allows even non-subscribers access to City-related sites) is impressive.
However, while I understand that the whitelist of "free" domains is limited to noncommercial properties, there are a few exceptions that should be made. Or at least, some resources should be hosted by the City or proxied for Civic Garden users.
Metro Transit's site
Because of the missing code, features that normally hide away in compact accordion stacks or appear when the mouse is moved over them are left in the open. One of them even steals focus when the page has loaded, making the view jump most of the way down the page. It took me a while to figure out why the page was scrolling by itself.
The navigation is broken for all but the top-level sections, because the missing code runs the drop-down menus that allow deeper browsing into the site. On the front page, a series of five images depicting the various Metro Transit services1 that is normally an automatic slideshow with mouse interaction expands to five panes stacked down the page — and the links embedded in them don't work.
Glancing at the page's source, I notice immediately which files must be the problem. Two
Two solutions present themselves, and they are both simple.
Ideally, Metro Transit would pass a request up the chain for ajax.googleapis.com to be whitelisted. Not only would doing so solve the problem for their site, but it would also allow any other Civic Garden website to take advantage of Google-hosted libraries without any further work from either Civic Garden administrators or individual site maintainers.
This first solution also has the potential to save bandwidth usage, since Google sends aggressive caching instructions along with the files hosted on its CDN. More Civic Garden sites using libraries hosted by Google would result in negligible increases in data transfer, because the same files would be downloaded once and then cached for use by any site requesting them. Saving bandwidth on the free Civic Garden would open up more of the pipe for paying subscribers — an outcome with which U.S. Internet would no doubt be pleased.
Alternatively, Metro Transit could add the core jQuery and jQuery UI files to the pre-existing /ClientScript/ directory, which I can see already contains plugins to those libraries, the Cufón library,3 and a font file for Cufón to use, among other things.
This alternate solution is a good fallback if the higher powers in control of the whitelist refuse a request to allow access to ajax.googleapis.com. It only solves the problem for Metro Transit's website, but it would fix the issues discussed above.
A third, much more complicated, option is described below. Obviously, if it were applied to the Metro Transit problem, ajax.googleapis.com would be used where www.google.com is in those examples. While it would also work, it is unnecessarily complicated for the scope of the problem facing Metro Transit's website, and that is why I don't count it as a solution here.
Way to go, Metro Transit! You've beaten me to the punch. Not that it's hard to do these days, what with my posting frequency and all…
The City's site
Located at www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us, the Official Website of the City of Minneapolis has a wealth of information on everything from regulations to recycling and more. It allows access to City Council agendas, a list of what can and cannot be left for the recycling program, and countless other unexciting but eminently useful bits of information.
The main problem with the City's site as viewed through the Civic Garden access is that it is impossible to search. Submitting a query through the search box at the top of any page leads the user to a page that says "Search the Minneapolis Web Site" above another (empty) search box. And pretty much ends there.
It's great to see that the City (or at least its Web developers) is embracing modern Web services like Google's Custom Search Engine, but all the resources required to fetch and display results come from www.google.com, a domain blocked when using Civic Garden access.
Not an Easy Problem
Implementing some sort of proxy would seem to be a solution, but there's still the matter of hard-coded resource locations. Nothing returned by Google would request files via a City-controlled proxy, no matter how sophisticated the proxy.
There's also the matter of load. Obviously any solution involving the use of City hosting services should be restricted to those users who need it — that is, Civic Garden users — to avoid unnecessary load on the servers. But there might not be a way of separating the "needs" from the rest of the crowd in a way that would allow the server to send different pages to those who need them.
Best Idea Forward
Without knowing more about the network architecture, I can come up with only one possible solution.
The flow would go something like this:
- User loads search page, and browser requests resources from Google
- U.S. Internet network5 receives and recognizes requests destined for www.google.com
- Network scans a list of allowed request patterns to www.google.com; such a list allows only the resources needed for Google Custom Search
- User's browser receives the needed resources
- Google's Custom Search code sends its requests to retrieve results, which are filtered through the same mechanism at the network level and allowed to return data to the user, completing the search
It's a rough description, but generally all that's needed is an extension of the domain-based filtering to enable filtering on request patterns — that is, the contents of the GET line in the request headers.
If the requested hostname matches www.google.com, that request is sent to a second filtering routine that performs pattern analysis (via regular expressions or what-have-you) on the requested path. /jsapi and /coop/cse/* can get through and return those resources to the user; /reader/view/ and /webhp?q=denied can't, and redirect to the subscription login page (the current behavior for all non – Civic Garden sites).
Implementing this solution would require analysis of all the possible requests generated by Google Custom Search, though Google might have available (or be willing to provide) a reference of how Custom Search works. Once put in place the filtering expansion would enable any site in the Civic Garden to use the service and have it work for everyone, without changing anything else. It might also require changes to the network equipment that runs the citywide wireless service, but such upgrades would prove useful in short order as more City services were made available to Civic Garden users thanks to the accessibility of search. (See next section)
While the main problem with the City's site as accessed via the Civic Garden is the lack of search, there are other issues.
Forms, for instance, seem to mostly be hosted on external sites that are not included in the Garden whitelist. Much information is given about the services these forms can be used to obtain (such as snow emergency notifications by telephone or email), but filling out the forms is impossible.
A complete audit of all external resources called by the City's site (and in general, all Civic Garden sites) could provide a list of domain names and resource paths for whitelisting. The above-described filtering system could be extended with the contents of such a list so specific pages from commercial sites used on City properties could be made available, while still blocking effectively all commercial traffic from the Civic Garden.
Enabling access to third-party resources that are currently blocked, despite being included in Civic Garden properties, would provide an even greater return on the investments of time and (possibly) money in the upgrades of network hardware and firmware that would likely be necessary to support such a filtering system.
I emailed the City about this and was notified several days later that my message had been forwarded to their IT department. At that time I hadn't come up with this new filtering idea, so I've contacted them again with a link to this post. Maybe they'll read it, maybe not; but it's been a nice thought experiment.
- Which are: Bus, light rail, Northstar commuter train, bicycle accommodations, and Rideshare (car or van pools). [↩]
- caret: the blinking line or box often used to enter text on a computer [↩]
- Cufón replaces specified text elements with graphics rendered dynamically by the browser to provide more control over typography than the current lowest-common-denominator browser-native technologies. [↩]
- I for one would love it if the City had Google services whitelisted so I could check my email and calendar from pretty much anywhere for free, but I can understand the need to block commercial sites on a publicly funded network. [↩]
- U.S. Internet is the local ISP that was awarded the contract to build and run the citywide wireless service. [↩]
A while back, I complained about an annoyance in update scheduling on the computers at St. Catherine University. While my experience was disrupted for that one night, I don't think I made it clear enough that overall, the St. Kate's IT department runs things very well. Because of when that incident occurred — during tech week for Guys and Dolls—I wasn't in the best of moods, and I think my writing the following day reflected that.
Compared to other institutions at which I've had the privilege of computing, St. Kate's actually leads the pack in most areas. Augsburg College provides an especially good contrast to St. Kate's:
- Operating System: Windows Vista (Augsburg)1 vs. Windows XP (St. Kate's)
- Time To Internet:2 3 min. (at least, Augsburg) vs. < 2 min. (St. Kate's)
- Startup Annoyances: Novell iPrint demands a second login, ZENworks and Novell run slow scripts before the user can do anything, Internet Explorer and PaperCut NG automatically open (Augsburg) vs. Internet Explorer and PaperCut automatically open (St. Kate's)
Of course there are little annoyances. Auto-startup of Internet Explorer and PaperCut is common to both institutions, as is Firefox's demand to be restarted to fully disable the unstable MetaStream 3 plugin. (In true Murphy's Law style, the prompt always pops up right when I'm in the middle of something. And restarting FF logs me out of most websites. Of course, I could ignore the prompt, but experience has shown that all I'll accomplish is a Firefox crash. At least it isn't lying that the plugin is unstable.)3 However, once one gets past these start-of-session annoyances, the experience is very smooth and pleasant. The configuration stays out of the way for the rest of the session, and that's exactly how computers intended for work unrelated to computing should behave: Pipe down and let users get things done.
When St. Kate's is held up to institutions like Hamline University and Concordia University, the others pale in comparison. Neither Concordia nor Hamline offers a browser alternative to Internet Explorer. Fortunately it's relatively easy to run Google Chrome from my flash drive or temporarily install it on the local machine, or computing at such locations would be unbearable.
Starting Internet Explorer at Concordia, even just to get a copy of Chrome downloaded, is an adventure in frustration. So many browser add-ins load on startup that IE loads frozen and takes 30 to 60 seconds just to initialize and begin loading the homepage. Concordia's computers also have an annoying tendency to pop up notifications about all sorts of things. InstallShield constantly wants to update something, and Adobe's Flash and Reader products run updaters every chance they get.
In this mess of different experiences, only St. Kate's truly stays out of one's way most of the time. For that reason, I consider it a great pleasure to have the privilege of sometimes using their systems, and I applaud Computing Services for creating such a uniquely user-friendly experience.
As a side note, I'd like to mention that I prepped this post for publication using a workstation at Augsburg College. I spent a lot of time waiting for Windows Vista to stop screwing around long enough to do what I needed it to do. Just to illustrate my point…
- It should be noted that Augsburg's use of Windows Vista is unmatched in all the institutional computer facilities I have visited in the past two years. St. Catherine University, Colorado College, Hamline University, Concordia University, Emerson College, Normandale Community College, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, and the University of Minnesota all (to my most recent knowledge) continue to use Windows XP. The performance advantages held over Augsburg's workstations by all of the aforementioned institutions is amazing. Windows Vista at Augsburg College is run on machines designed for XP, and is abysmally slow when doing just about anything, even logging in/out. [↩]
- I define this as the shortest possible time between entering login credentials and convincing the computer to cough up a Firefox window ready to browse the Web [↩]
- Also, the public libraries in my area have begun having this issue too, much to my dismay. [↩]