The event was much smaller than the one they hold each year at the Consumer Electronics Show, but then so is MWC.
A few weeks back, what was once known as Mobile World Congress and is now MWC, much like when Kentucky Fried Chicken changed its name to KFC, I suppose, held its exhibition in Los Angeles. I didn't go to the full show but did head to the Showstoppers event that featured a roomful of companies showing of their latest products. I wrote this month's "The Writers Workbench" column for the Writers Guild of America about a few items that caught my eye, and you can read about it all here. I've also embedded a couple of videos that demonstrate things nicely, as well.
The event was much smaller than the one they hold each year at the Consumer Electronics Show, but then so is MWC.
Mr., Speaker, a point of personal privilege!. I have a small, admittedly-POINTLESS but personal bugaboo. Thank you for the time:
I regularly see the media talking about people waiting for hours to get a "selfie" with Elizabeth Warren, and people on social media posting pictures of their "selfies" with her. I love that she's willing t stay that long to interact with everyone, and admire their patience, as well. But -- to be clear -- almost NONE of these are "selfies." A "selfie" is very specifically when you yourself take a photo with yourself in it. When someone else takes a photo of you (most-especially when posing with another person), it's simply...a "photograph."
And referring to me as a member of the Grammar Police doesn't change that.
(I'm actually fine when people knowingly play around with language, or even screw up with words by mistake, as I and everyone does. But not only is accuracy generally considered a positive thing, but there are some words that have a cultural meaning -- in this case, making oneself the active participant in the action, thanks largely to a change in technology ("I took this photo of me!") -- and I think it's good not to lose such valuable things. And that's pointed as much at the media calling them "selfies" as anyone. By the way, to be fair, as well, I'm sure this likely began when early on people actually did take real selfies with Sen. Warren. And after it adapted to a more formalized practice, the word stuck, when it shouldn't have. Because...well, it's taking credit for what someone else did.)
Earlier this week, Apple had their latest product launch. I thought you might like to see an inside look at what went on and what the company has in store. A special thanks to the good folks at Bad Lip Reading who got a jump on the competition and released this (okay, a year ago.).
This is slightly different from all their others, which rely solely on the bad lip reading and nothing added. This , however, (being a product launch) has had to make up graphics of the new "products" that their bad lip reading efforts have come up with it.
I've decided to have another Trump-Free morning. And also catch up on another of my "The Writers Workbench" columns.
This one considers a technology called "mesh networking," but don't worry it's something that's very basic and might be of use to a lot of people. It's very similar to what a lot of people call signal boosting though works a little different -- and in this particular case, really wonderfully.
If your home is set-up in a way that you have a difficult time getting a good, clear, strong Wi-Fi signal throughout the place and have some dead spots, then this is for you. Google Wi-Fi is a mesh networking product that is surprisingly extremely easy to set up (among other things, its app walks you through it step-by step) and even better, works wonderfully well.
As always, rather than reformat the original article, here it is all ready at its home on the WGA website.
On this week's podcast from Al Franken, he begins in his monologue talking about the recent appointment of Pat Pizzella as the acting Secretary of Labor, who Franken says the House should hold hearings on Pizzella’s past. As for the rest of the show, author and Atlantic Monthly staff writer, Franklin Foer joins Al for an interesting conversation about Big Tech.
As Al notes -- The questions asked include "'re filter bubbles dividing us? Is Facebook deliberately keeping us angry and upset? Is everyone's attention span dwindling? Is Google selling records of all your searches? Is the Big One coming? You know – the day everyone who’s ever watched pornography will be revealed to everyone else who’s ever watched pornography?'"
On this week's podcast, Will Ferrell again returns as Ron Burgundy, and he and Carolina get advice about how to navigate the dark web from cybersecuity expert RIchard Greenberg. Cybersecurity is a serious issue of hacking and misinformation, so this episode is a particularly good thing given how much Ron gets very, very, very wrong. Happily, Richard Greenberg knows what he's talking about, so he helps make it pretty interesting. And Ron at least does his best, making sure that listeners understand that when he refers to "passwords" he doesn't mean the old TV game show.
I realized that I've fallen a couple of months behind on posting links to my tech review column The Writers Workbench, so let's start making up for that.
Today I have a couple of products for those of you who hit the road and travel for work. One is an extremely small and light keyboard that can connect by Bluetooth to your iPad or tablet (or mobile phone, for that matter), the Logitech Keys-to-Go. It has much to recommend it for, though a drawback or two.
And there's also a bit of an oddity -- not something you think of as "tech" (because it really isn't), but something I came across at a recent trade show that deals impressively well with wrinkles in your clothes.
As always, it's much easier to point to you to column on the WGA website, for which it's written, than reformat the whole thing on these pages. So, you can read about them here.
When I moved recently, I had to cancel my Spectrum cable account and then get the new Spectrum system for my new address. There are many good things about the new system -- which is cloud-based -- though some options take far-too many extra clicks to accomplish which is a bit annoying. But that's not the point here: bottomline, some things better, some worse, fine.
The larger issue is that, being a new, cloud-based system, all the hiccups haven't been worked out yet. Like often getting an error message, "We're sorry, the program guide can't be accessed right now." Or the screen image gets all pixilated and becomes unwatchable. And other cloud-glitches.
By the way, lest you get the wrong idea, this isn't a rant about Big Cable, or technical support, or any of the normal complaints available to make about cable. It's about idiocy. I'll get to that.
So, to be clear, the problem here isn't that there are hiccups in a new system. I write about technology and understand that new versions of software do have bugs that need to get worked out. But -- what I also understand is that generally they get "worked out" during the beta testing program and before the product is released to the public to pay for. And though that's not the issue here either, being a beta tester AND paying a lot of money each month for the honor is not a good standard, and is the foundation of the point at hand.
Yes, there are annoyances, but I do get it. Life is full of annoyances, and I don't expect cable to be any different. I do have other expectations, though, and we're about to get to that.
A few nights ago, there was a bigger problem than usual. Again, not The Worst Problem in the World at all -- -- they took the system down in the late evening, rather than a more sensible 3 AM morning -- but a big enough deep sigh "final straw" to call Spectrum the next day to discuss my beta tester status.
I knew it wasn't the tech person's fault, and I was thoroughly polite. In fact, I explained all the things I liked about the new system, as well as a few of the bigger problems. Actually, I wasn't even going to mention the specifics, but the customer support fellow kept asking me, because he wanted to make a record of it. Good for him. In fact he did a good job. Mainly, I just wanted to make the point that Spectrum should never have released the system until it was ready and instead make subscribers the beta testers who pay for the honor. He understood all the problems, he'd heard of them from others, and understood too the issue of releasing the software before it was ready.
Now, when I make calls like this in the past, I tend to leave it there to see how customer service handles things. When I'm had problem with Spectrum in the past, for instance, they've always said they'd rebate the cost of service for that day of the problem. No, it's not much but they make the effort. Fine. Good for them.
This fellow was very polite, but clearly wasn't authorized to do more than ask questions and be polite. Finally, realizing this, I did what I almost never do. I said that having to pay A LOT to be a tester of a system screwing up A LOT, is not how things should be, and I thought it would be proper to get some sort of rebate for all the times the software isn't working.
And that gets us to the point. Yes, I know, it took a while to get here, but hopefully the ride was comfortable.
The short version (oh, now, I hear you cry, he inserts a "short version"...) is that the fellow had to go check with his supervisors what he could do. After about 10 minutes -- coming back on line every once in a while to thank me for my patience -- he said with great pride that he could offer me...a whole $10 rebate! Although (and this is the good part), he made clear very pointedly to make sure I understand that this is a One-Time Only Offer for the year. Yes, they would rebate that $10, but wouldn't be able to do so again until next year. "How was that?" he asked.
All I could do was laugh. Literally. I said I knew it wasn't his policy, and I appreciated all the time he'd spent on the line, and I thanked him for diligently checking to get that answer -- "But," I added, "You do know that that is ridiculous."
And it was ridiculous. It's not just that the amount is paltry -- honestly, I wasn't looking for a big pay day -- but the "one-time only" limitation was insulting. It's as if they're doing you a favor. Worse, it means when the system keeps screwing up, as it will, and already has, they're off the hook. And it doesn't take much effort to now that there is a wide range of things they could have done instead, including for just one example, offer a premium service for a month. It would cost them absolutely zero, and it could even make them money if you end up liking it and subscribing. But no, $10 one-time only rebate for the year. On a bill, for some people -- if they have lots of add-on premium extras, get their phone service and also mobile service -- of $4,000 to a year, I would imagine.
I knew that that was the resolution, and let the matter dropped. There was no need to continue the conversation, and I said goodbye and thanks, and then hung up.
Again, I understand software problems. I even understand using subscribers to test your software while telling them they're getting The Latest technology. And I understand that the tech glitches are only occasional, albeit steady. I have no huge issue with that. The benefits of cable are worth it to me. And I've pleased well-enough with Spectrum tech support.
But then I also understand dealing with tech companies, which I have done professionally for the past 20 years, writing my tech review column for the Writers Guild of America, and at one point the TV Academy. And $10 for a one-time only yearly rebate -- from a corporate monopoly -- is...ridiculous. Indeed, more to the point, it's foolishly short-sighted. And counter-productive, since it risks driving customers away who might be paying for ALL of Spectrum's services, not just having a TV hiccup.
Yes, I know, it's cable. Many people have far-worse cable problems. But this really isn't about "problems." It's that I'm still laughing at the "We can give you $10!! Once." And if we screw up again, it's on you.
But what makes me most annoyed it that I didn't reply, "That's okay -- you keep the 10 bucks. Spectrum clearly needs it more than I do."
This coming September 9, legendary opera soprano Maria Callas will be giving a concert on stage at the Chicago Lyric Opera, performing some of her most famous arias written by Verdi, Puccini and others. She will be accompanied by the Chicago Lyric orchestra, under the baton of Elmar Noone. This is a really big deal because Madama Callas has not performed in Chicago in many decades.
I should also note that Maria Callas died on September 16, 1977.
But yes, it's still true. And bizarre. It's part of what is know as the Maria Callas Hologram Tour. The company BASE Hologram created the technology for this event. And it's both a bit creepy (needless-to-say) and absolutely remarkable. Needless-to-say.
Side note: I'm told that technically this is not precisely a hologram. Whatever it precisely is, it's still creepy and remarkable.)
Here's a sample video.
Yes, this is a tech story. But stick with it because it's not "techie" at all, but just a demonstration. And I think you're find it utterly remarkable.
This is a demonstration video from C/NET about a new service that Google introduced last year, called Duplex, but it's been running under the radar in limited form. You access it as part of the Google Assistant that's built into Android phones or can be downloaded to an iPhone.
To fully appreciate the video it's best not to know anything about the service beforehand, -- the version of the video in the original C/NET article had a title on it at the bottom of the screen which (if it appears here) you should do your best to avoid reading. However, when I've tested the embedded version they provide, I didn't see the title, so all should be well. Just click the Start arrow, and you're on your way.
(Alas, there's an ad that runs first, but it's quite short.)
I'll have a bit more about Duplex afterwards. But for now, click away --
Okay, that's Duplex. As C/NET says in it's article, when Google introduced the feature, its "way-too-human voice and mannerisms kind of freaked people out." In an attempt to respond to some of the concerns of possible abuse and its future development, C/NET noted a few answers from Google to issues that were raised.
When a call begins, "Duplex will identify itself as a Google assistant and state the reason for the call. The call will also originate from a Google number, either (650) 203-0000 or (650) 206-5555."
Google says that, yes, Duplex phone calls are recorded, and "will disclose that information during the call in states that require disclosing that a call is being recorded."
Also, for businesses that don't want to received any Duplex calls, A company "can either call Google or change its Google My Business settings to not receive automated calls from the Google Assistant."
And yes, it is absolutely remarkable technology already in its earliest stages -- and creepy.
Robert J. Elisberg is a two-time recipient of the Lucille Ball Award for comedy screenwriting. He's written for film, TV, the stage, and two best-selling novels, is a regular columnist for the Writers Guild of America and was for the Huffington Post. Among his other writing, he has a long-time column on technology (which he sometimes understands), and co-wrote a book on world travel. As a lyricist, he is a member of ASCAP, and has contributed to numerous publications.
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