Google Home Mini: A Review

100417-google-home-mini7347Anyone who knows me knows I’m an Apply loyalist. From the MacBook Pro to the iPhones I’ve been using since 2011. I’m firmly in the walled-garden that is iOS and MacOS. But still, a good Black Friday deal is a good Black Friday deal, and $20 for a smart home accessory is something I was willing to try.

The Google Home Mini has always been a curious device for me, seemingly with more potential than Alexa with less fanfare. Google’s control on the internet seems perfect fodder for a smart assistant in the home, and as I’ve replaced my alarm clock with the Google Home Mini, there are some things I’ve learned its good at, and some things it still needs a lot of work.

As an alarm clock, the mini can’t be beat. A simple alarm in the morning, then a playlist of the latest news podcasts from NPR, CNN, and the NY Times. It’s great for playing music, with a decent speaker and the ability to access Spotify, Google Play Music, and Apple Music through bluetooth streaming

It’s great at answering general questions too, from simple questions about the weather or the time to more complex questions that only a google search could really answer (because Siri definitely isn’t there yet)

But google lacks in actual smart home features that would make it so much nicer. Control over more TVs, like the one in my living room would be nice, more easy control with Phillips Hue would be even better, and a more natural way of asking questions is almost the first thing the engineers should take care of.

Overall, it’s a wonderful little device I think will only get better. We’ll just see if I’ll keep it long enough to see how good it gets.

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The FCC is wrong to do away with net neutrality

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I grew up in the age of the internet. I remember getting on the computer from a very young age, and having my first email when I was 11 years old. I would send emails to family members like letters to a penal, hoping to get something back (sometimes, they’d indulge me and respond).

Having spent so much time on the internet, having created such a presence for the platform in my life, to me it’s always been a free platform.

So the idea that someone could let others facilitate what’s important on the internet seems ridiculous.

It doesn’t matter who is going to control it, Democrat or Republican, Giving someone control over when and how someone sees information only allows them to manipulate what’s getting seen. People should have open access to something that is as integral as the internet, and the information it has.

Apple seems to have learned from their diversity misstep

23261-29170-171013-Smith-lFew weeks ago, I wrote a post about Apple’s need to rethink its diversity policy. In my mind, diversity isn’t just about who can think creatively, as they seemed to think it was. Diversity is about lived experiences, and how one applies those lived experiences going forward.

A diverse group of employees come in with multiple lived experiences, and in turn can make a better product. They know how to think differently, as apple so loves to tout as their slogan, and they can provide innovation to people who never knew they could have it.

Diversity can open doors to products that are tailored to people who never had someone create a product for them.

The news that Apple’s Diversity Chief is out is welcome news. Denise Young Smith made a mistake in speaking about diversity in terms of intelligence. Hopefully their new hire for diversity chief will have a better understanding on what the company should need.

Is what the Justice Department is doing to AT&T legal?

 

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There are a lot of things that frustrate me about AT&T, most of them being related to my phone bill (and perhaps that’s why my family and I switched to Verizon a long, long time ago). In fact, I had similar problems that led me to switch internet provider many years ago too.

It’s not often I find myself siding with corporations either, not when the controversy revolves around them being treated unfairly.

But I think AT&T is being treated unfairly.

It’s no secret that Donald Trump has a strong distaste for CNN. In fact, he seems to take pride in it:

So it makes sense that he would order the Justice Department to file suit against AT&T to make them drop CNN. It’s just the type of thing the president seems likely to do, and The Verge seems to agree.

I hardly think this will stop AT&T and Time Warner from merging in the end, but this snag does more to show just how much influence the Trump administration could have if he wanted to.

Russia’s social media effectiveness is insane

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I don’t think many people, at least on the left, were shocked to find out that Russia had been meddling in the 2016 election. The nation has become increasingly willing to stretch its social media presence to influence global politics for some time now.

Facebook’s findings that posts from Russia reached 126 million people over the last two years is shocking not because of Russia’s influence, but people’s willingness to spread the information online and believe it on such a large scale.

The Washington Post explored the structure of a Russian political ad and found that they’re often sponsored ads with divisive language to reach to the far-right, along with a meme-like picture that can be shared easily.

Facebook and Twitter have both said that it’s hard to track these kinds of posts, but according to The Verge, Facebook nearly 170 accounts and 120,000 posts related to Russian influencers.

The problem seems not only to be with these kinds of posts, but the public’s willingness to believe unfounded and inflammatory posts. That’s not something that can easily be fixed.

image source: The Washington Post

Diversity is more than intelligence, Apple

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Diversity is one of those things that I have yet to find the perfect answer for. On the one hand, I seem like a good example of diversity: a biracial man with an upper-middle-class upbringing and a career path that requires me to have at least a modicum of compassion for others.

But on the other hand, I recognize that my worldview is fairly narrow, not from a lack of awareness, but the inherent fact that I have lived only one life and carry only one experience. I can’t pretend to be an expert on every issue, every line of controversy, because I only know my experience. A dozen people who had the same upbringing as me would probably think the same way.

I think that’s the problem with the opinion shared by Apple and discussed in the New York Times a few days ago.

Intelligence isn’t about how much you know. I like to think I’m a pretty smart person, I have a good head on my shoulders. But that doesn’t make diversity. It’s how you apply that knowledge to your experiences, and if all your experiences are the same, how is that knowledge going to be applied to solve a wide range of issues?

That’s the problem with Apple’s thinking. White men can be smart, as men of color, women of color, and anyone else. But those people of color may use their intelligence to solve problems and make breakthroughs that those white men may have never even thought of. If those people aren’t given an opportunity to work in these fields, how will these problems get solved?

Mobile Me & You: A review

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This weekend’s Mobile Me & You conference at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, was a first for me in a number of ways. First, I had never really been to a conference before. I had considered it a few times, I even had offers to go in the past, but something, whether it was my own anxieties or my own busy schedule, kept me from going. So I didn’t really know what to expect going into this event, but here’s what I learned:

First, the drive from Columbia into Illinois is some of the worst traveling I’ve done in a long time, and I spent 4 hours weaving through the desolate towns of rural West Virginia this summer. Two lane roads served as a bottle-neck between me and my destination, and maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if I wasn’t so excited to get there, but I doubt that.

Then Saturday morning came, and having missed the first day of the event, I didn’t really know what to expect out of the experience. I thought I would have to pick between speaker– something I’m notoriously bad at, decision making–and I thought I’d have to have a breadth of knowledge about mobile storytelling that I simply didn’t have.

None of this was the case though. I was able to sit down in the main auditorium, I heard speeches on public opinion polling on mobile use, I learned how Spanish news outlets are using mobile tech to tell a story to a wider audience, and I was taught how mobile apps could be used to circumvent government censorship that leaves citizens uninformed. In the end, I walked away from the event feeling not only more informed, but also more comfortable with my job.

I realized I enjoy mobile tech, that I enjoy the use of mobile media to tell journalistic stories in a compelling way, but I also realized that it wasn’t just excitement that made the trip from Missouri to Illinois so unbearable.

That drive just sucks.

Twitter finally promises to manage its website

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I’m not a heavy social media user, not consistently. I prefer to look through social media rather than post myself, but Twitter is definitely the platform I most consistently view and examine the most often. And one thing is for sure: A lot of the tweets are awful. One example? The tweets that led Chrissy Teigen to join the #WomenBoycottTwitter movement:

Splinter also covered the way Leslie Jones was treated by other users back during 2016, which ultimately led her to leave the website temporarily.

This problem isn’t hard to miss, even for someone like me, who doesn’t spend much time interacting with others on social media. My time at KOMU, moderating comments, has also shed light on just how toxic these social media trolls can be too.

Twitter’s seems to have noticed the problem finally, and is trying to do something about it. They’ve announced they’ll change their rules to address this growing problem.

It’s unknown how Twitter will actually create real change in their social media service though. They have the opportunity, but resources that the company can allocate toward these new rules will ultimately determine its success.

 

Google’s translating earbuds are amazing

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As much as I’m an Apple fan, and I’m deep within their ecosystem, I’ve always had an interest in Google’s products. I first dabbled in tablets with an Android, back when software designed for tablets was scarce, when I grabbed an Asus Transformer on Black Friday 2011. It was a bulky, unwieldy slab of glass and plastic, but it was one of my favorite devices I’ve ever owned.

There was very little the Transformer couldn’t do. It had a keyboard and trackpad to turn it into a laptop, it had a word processor, remote desktop application, and of course, Angry Birds (all groundbreaking apps for the time). And it was the “smartest” device I had until my iPhone 5S in 2013, which felt like another leap in innovation from my aging tablet.

Since my first iPhone purchase, I haven’t involved myself in Android’s ecosystem. I’ve watched the news stories and announcements from a distance, but never dipped my toes back in the devices that were coming out. Over time, Android quietly matured, gained more features, employed more innovation, and Apple seemed to stagnate in its own bubble of technology.

These new headphones from Google are just the latest addition to the Android ecosystem that exudes innovation to me. Real-time translation, through in-ear headphones, is one of those sci-fi movie fantasies that seems too good to be true. But Google’s done it, and seemingly with minimal fanfare.

I can only hope these headphones work with iPhones, because that iPhone X is still getting ordered at the end of the month.

I liked Google News’ old policy

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Today, after about a year of pushback from news organizations, Google relaxed some of its rules on paywall news sites.

Before, Google had instituted a policy that required paywall news sites like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and others to allow readers a certain number of unpaid views before they stopped them at the paywall. This, of course limited the news organizations reach with new subscribers, but in my opinion it made more people read the news in the first place.

I know I personally don’t subscribe to news organizations, but I do enjoy reading their news. With the old policy of allowing a certain number of stories before a paywall, they got me to read their stories and generate ad revenue, but I can say I’d choose to go to a free site before a subscription based sight, and I have a feeling a lot of other people would do the same.

It’s not that I don’t think news organizations shouldn’t have paywalls, I think they’re a great way to mitigate some of the losses newspapers are seeing. But removing the option for a free allotment of stories means they’re going to lose ad revenue from people who would never pay for a subscription in the first place, but would read stories with ads on the side.