Aereo decision thoughts

The U. S. Supreme Court today ruled against Aereo in its fight with broadcasters over retransmission fees.

Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for a 6-3 majority, likened Aereo's service to a cable system, which is a public performance.

You may read the decision here. As I don't claim to be a legal scholar, my summary comes from Richard Wolf's USA Today article linked above. (Is Law & Order creator Dick Wolf doing freelance legal writing now?)

"Aereo is, for all practical purposes, identical to a cable system," Breyer said. "Both use their own equipment. Both receive broadcast television programs, many of which are copyrighted. Both enable subscribers to watch those programs virtually as they are being broadcast."          

I wonder how something can be a public performance if each person has their own antenna. If you have cable, one could argue each person has their own set-top box. In that case, I suppose the reasoning is that it all goes over the same wires.

I don't want to spend too much time pondering the individual arguments though. The decision has already been rendered and it could be a while before the Court takes up a case on this type of technology again.

Far more interesting to me is the potential opportunity this opens up for competitors. The reason Aereo lost was that the antennas that enabled you to sign in and watch TV on your computer, set top box or mobile device were stored outside the home. There's no reason (admittedly more expensive) competing options like Slingbox and TiVo can't say, "We hook up directly to your TV antenna and provide the same watch anywhere functionality legally."

This is a bit of a blow because Aereo was definitely the cheapest option, but I wouldn't be surprised to see one of its in-home competitors offer a deal in the coming days to fill the void.

Google security change breaks system for me (and a lot of others)

I installed a solid-state hard drive in my computer this weekend and lightning fast boot and application startup times mostly make up for any pain caused by having to reinstall my operating system and programs.

That being said, I wouldn't be writing this if there weren't a few hiccups. While I could write about my continual frustration with the way iTunes handles migration (I had issues despite taking every Apple recommended precaution), I feel like that's been written about 100 times and I'm not going to beat a dead horse.

It started after I installed Dragon NaturallySpeaking. One of the big features that prompted me to go to Nuance's 12th version of its speech recognition software was the promise of a browser extension which would enable the program to work better with Gmail's web interface. This is one less time I have to transfer text from a special dictation box into the text box on the web. It just works directly on the compose window.

I'm not going to claim it works perfectly. When I load a page with Flash, the extension crashes 60 percent of the time. This freezes the browser until a prompt comes up asking you to kill the process. I don't blame Nuance. Flash has a reputation for not playing nicely with anything, but this technical limitation makes YouTube an absolute nonstarter.

I reinstalled NaturallySpeaking and booted Chrome expecting it to ask me to enable the extension. (I've been through this process before. I know just enough about computers to end up breaking my own operating system a couple times.) Nothing. Curious, I open up Internet Explorer which immediately installs the extension. I return to Chrome which now has a message saying another program installed the extension, and because this was possibly without my knowledge, the extension has been disabled. Undeterred, I find the extension file in Dragon's program directory on my own and drag it over, thereby installing it myself. Chrome says the extension has been disabled because it is not from the Chrome Web Store. Now I'm a little peeved, but I decide to Google it.

That's when I came across this blog post from The Next Web. Google has decided to stop allowing third parties to install their own extensions on Windows because hackers have found a way to exploit systems through Chrome extensions installed outside the store.

While Google's intentions in this area are noble and I agree with the basic rationale behind the decision, there are a couple problems with the execution in this scenario. First, I wasn't notified and had to find out about the change through my own research. Although the switch was flipped on this change in late May, there was never any message explaining the policy. It would be easy to imagine a scenario where Google could have disabled the extensions, but offered a checkbox for users to keep using third-party extensions that they needed. This is a concept already implemented in Android.

There are also plenty of perfectly valid reasons why you might not want your extension in the Chrome Store. In this particular case, I view it as perfectly reasonable for Nuance to want to install the extension directly alongside its software. Because NaturallySpeaking is required for the extension to work, listing it alongside other extensions in the store could cause confusion for Chrome users who might be familiar with the NaturallySpeaking brand and technology, but think that it's a standalone application. You don't want your product badmouthed when they find that it doesn't work without the software.

I guess I will have to hope Nuance puts its extension in the Web Store or that Google changes its policy. I know I'm not the only one with a third-party extension affected by this issue. Google had several options in order to deal with this situation, but limiting consumer choice shouldn't have been one of them.

A note on the TweetDeck hack from one of the hacked

The initial tweet

The initial tweet

TweetDeck, a popular service which lets people separate out their Twitter stream to follow certain people and hashtag topics, has been hacked today, allowing unintended retweets to be posted on user streams.

In a quick response, Twitter said that its users should logout of the service and log back in so that a fix can be applied.

Numerous users, myself included, noticed the fix hadn't worked and unwanted tweets were still getting through.

This is all causing quite the hubbub amongst media outlets which frequently use TweetDeck to manage multiple accounts. From the amount of complaining I'm seeing, you would think this was #journogeddon.

Twitter took the service down and later said they verified their fix. Things seem to be working right now.

I guess I'm here to calm heads. The good news is based on the very nature of the tweets this looks like a simple script hack that didn't compromise passwords.

I'm as guilty as anyone, but I do find it interesting how much we are compromised when one service has a minor hiccup for under an hour. These are definitely problems of the first world variety, but perhaps we should develop backup plans.

TrueCrypt ending support? A possible alternative

Is this the end of the line for TrueCrypt?

Is this the end of the line for TrueCrypt?

The developers of TrueCrypt, open source encryption software capable of encrypting whole hard drives have posted a message on their site as of yesterday saying that the software is no longer supported and urging migration to other tools.

TrueCrypt is used by many people to strongly encrypt their data. This is useful in many fields including journalism for those working on sensitive stories. I've played around with the tool myself in case I should ever need to use it.

Theories as to the abrupt announcement vary, ranging from something being found in the well-publicized crowd funded security audit to questions of whether the site was hacked to security researcher Steve Gibson's assertion that the developers may just be tired.

Until someone knows what's actually going on, it's probably not constructive to comment on rampant speculation, but I can point you to an alternative.

I don't have the technical expertise to evaluate the security of any given encryption platform, but Steve Gibson recently stated on his Security Now! podcast that AxCrypt was a "perfect, clean, simple encryption tool."

I can say that I have used this in the past and in many ways, AxCrypt is easier to deal with than its TrueCrypt counterpart. After installation, the user gets a new AxCrypt entry in their right click context menu that allows them to encrypt files. Clicking the encrypt button, a user is prompted to enter a passphrase. The next time they open the file, they must put in the passphrase before gaining access. The encryption puts the file in a different format. This means if you encrypt a Word document, the document will no longer be accessible through the open menu in Word. You must open the file and input the passphrase from the folder the file was saved in.

Unlike TrueCrypt, AxCrypt doesn't offer full disk encryption, opting instead to encrypt files and folders you specifically select. Those looking for full disk encryption on Windows are pointed by the TrueCrypt website to Microsoft's BitLocker. Unfortunately, however, this is only available on the Ultimate and Enterprise editions of Windows 7 and Windows 8 Professional and above. Mac users can turn on FileVault. If you need encryption, I would recommend doing this because AxCrypt doesn't appear to have a Mac version. It's also free and saves you from having to find another solution.

For those looking for a deeper analysis of the TrueCrypt situation itself and the many possible theories, I would point you to this Forbes article.

As autonomous cars come closer, ethical issues

Google unveiled the second generation of its self driving car Tuesday night, interestingly taking a step toward cutting out the middleman and building the actual car this time.

The announcement, made at the opening night of the Code Conference hosted by Re/code editor's Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher, featured a car with no steering wheel that looks like a Volkswagen Beetle with the added touch of a face on the front that seems to personify the car.

Google's car only reaches 25 mph at this point and seems to be more of a proof of concept. Further along is Google's attempt to place the technology inside existing car models.

In a couple of videos featuring Lexus SUVs, the company demonstrated that it's system now makes appropriate lane change decisions based on road construction and can detect a bicyclist's hand signal.

I preface this next observation with the realization that my lack of real-world driving experience means I could be totally off base here. One odd portion of the safety video showed the car stopping at a railroad crossing. The arm was not down, but the car stops. The narrator explained that the car stops and waits for other traffic to clear the tracks. The crossing was clearly wide enough for at least two cars because you could see them passing on the left. If cars can pass you, traffic might not clear on the track for quite a while. If the aim here is to prevent train collision it would be better in my mind to either see or get the signal that the arm is down.

The cars still have a little ways to go before the public will be getting their hands on these. Google concedes that at this point the car does not do well in rain or snow. This is no easy challenge.

I covered the Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition  each June for three years at Oakland University. The international competition, partially funded by the Department of Defense and some local military contractors, had teams design and build robots which could handle a variety of tasks. Among these, the robot had to be able to learn and navigate its way around an obstacle course autonomously. There were varying approaches, but they commonly involved combinations of cameras, lasers and GPS.

I spoke with OU's team as they prepared their entry, "Replicant," for a run on the final day of competition. They had been having one of their most successful showings so far, but they were concerned with rainy conditions. The team members explained to me that the laser guidance system they were using could reflect off the raindrops causing improper navigation.

In addition to the remaining technical challenges, there are also legal and ethical concerns to be dealt with. If everyone had an autonomous car, the roads would undoubtedly be safer. It takes human error out of the equation. The reality, however, is a little more messy.

Not everyone is going to rush out and buy one of these things the instant they are legal. This mix with cars being driven by humans creates its own set of variables. Setting aside insurance issues of who is responsible in the event of a collision, there are going to be basic philosophical questions the programmers of the car's software will have to answer. Adrianne Jeffries of The Verge wrote a post on efforts to teach robots ethical decision-making skills.

Suppose that a human driver pulls out into oncoming traffic. Our hypothetical autonomous car does not have time to stop, but it can steer in such a way as to control the direction of the impact. If the Google car has one passenger and the car it is about to collide with has five, should it kill the driver to save the family or protect the owner at all cost?

If the programming team opted for consequentialist theory, the best thing to do would be to kill the driver and save the family as it does less harm. However, if we were in control of the car contemplating our impending end, how many of us can say what we might do in that moment? I wonder openly how many would sign a license agreement (there would have to be one) that said your car could sacrifice you for the greater good. That's a tough provision to swallow, no matter how rational.

There are hurdles, but it's certainly interesting to watch this unfold.

Source: The Verge

Google Analytics and my privacy policy

I'm looking to be a little more active on this blog. However, I want to put up content that you want to read. Up until this point, I haven't really looked at keeping track of user engagement. I generally write about things I'm passionate about on here. I want to start finding out what we are mutually interested in so I can keep you coming back for more.

To that end, I'm going to start using Google Analytics on this site. I was going over the license agreement yesterday and Google requires that I put up a privacy policy (this will also be linked at the bottom of every page on the site). However, I thought I would post an explanation here as well.

Google tracks each user on a participating site with a random non-personally identifiable tracking number. This allows me to see which posts are getting the most engagement (through user clicks, comments and sharing, for example.) I can also see when you access the content on here. As a matter of full disclosure, if for some reason I see that everyone is coming on here at 2 a.m., instead of posting at that time, I would write something up earlier in the day and set the timer for its release. I say this only because if I write a blog post that absolutely changes your life and you feel you need to call me and talk about it, I probably won't pick up the phone in the middle of the night unless I get a job that has me keeping different hours. Please email me instead and know I will have the smile on my face when I get it in the morning.

Google Analytics also gives me the ability to give buyers some hard metrics if I ever decide to sell ads on here in the future. This is not anything I see as imminent. If I find I'm delivering content people like and attracting readers, it would be nice to pay for the cost of the site and maybe make a little extra money. I promise to let you know if and when this happens. Any potential ads would not affect your enjoyment of the rest of the site. I promise no full-page takeover ads.

Google does offer an opt out option via an add-on for the major web browsers. Don't worry about bothering me if you use it. I'm just glad you like my writing.

The last paragraph of the privacy policy is an acknowledgment of the fact that this site, like any on the Internet, continues to evolve. If in the future I collect any user data (e.g. username and password system for comments), that information is between you and me. If I get a legal request to turnover user information, I will notify the user so that they may challenge the request unless prevented from doing so by law or when I get a good faith assertion of something I think presents immediate danger to the public. I take your personal privacy very seriously.

I want close by thanking you for reading this blog. I write this mostly because I'm interested, but I'm incredibly gratified anytime I get feedback that someone likes what I write. Getting someone to smile makes that endless writer's block worthwhile.

A case for Google Glass

Video from Google

Much of life is focused on images. We share photos and video with our friends on social networks. We print pictures on books and calendars to pass around the family at holiday gatherings, snapshots of our fathers at age 6 or 7 standing in front of a rocking horse. Our own memories work this way (or at least mine). I'll see a fleeting image of sitting in my grandma's kitchen at age 3 before I will ever remember what I said or did in the recollection.

These photographs are slices in time that may only be captured in a single moment. What if there had been no camera when Michael Jordan jumped from the free throw line, sticking his tongue out just before slamming the ball through the hoop? Suppose an Associated Press photographer wasn't present when the flag was raised at Iwo Jima? These images probably don't exist, or at the very least they are different from the iconic ones we've come to appreciate.

We've now reached an age where everyone has a camera. You don't have to be Joe Rosenthal (Iwo Jima) or Walter Iooss Jr. (Michael Jordan-The shot from the sideline is probably the basis for the Air Jordan logo created later on, but for my money, the photo from the baseline of Jordan facing the camera as he's about to dunk is better.) There's something democratizing about a world in which anyone can capture a moment.

It's against this backdrop that I begin to wonder why even the staunchest supporters of Google Glass wonder about its viability as a consumer product. Photographers are always saying the best camera is the one you have with you. This is why I would argue that we see just as many great pictures from point-and-shoot cameras as we do from expensive DSLRs.

Critics of Google Glass wonder why you wouldn't just use your phone or a Go Pro. Early Glass adopter and general gadget enthusiast Robert Scoble acknowledged privacy concerns last week in a Facebook post  stating that wearing Glass could feel "freaky."

Before I counter the first point of the above criticism, I feel the need to lay my cards on the table. I do own a camera (a 12 megapixel point-and-shoot; nothing fancy but it gets the job done). I can also take photos with my phone. The problem in my particular case is that they have to be attached to a mount that sits atop my chair. I very rarely use this because when I'm done taking photos, the mount must be unscrewed in order to move to a desk to work. I'm aware of this is not a problem most people deal with. I will admit to being a fan of any technology that makes my problems, however niche, easier to deal with.

However, imagine this scenario. Your child has just begun to take their first steps. Let's just say for the sake of argument that those first unsteady steps probably last for a maximum of about five seconds. How many of us could whip our phone out, start the camera app and hit record before the child stumbled and fell again? By contrast, we can say "take a picture" or "take a video" in a second. A wink (this also tells the device to take a picture) would take even less time.

I acknowledge obvious potential privacy issues. You have a camera on your face at all times. People feel like they can be constantly recorded and they are naturally somewhat leery. Privacy has been an issue since the invention of the Kodak camera.

I would argue that these issues are not rooted in any particular technology. New developments might bring these ethical dilemmas to the forefront, but ultimately these are problems we already have a code for. Among these basic principles of respect:

·         Don't record anyone without their permission (in several states, including Michigan, this is the law).

·         When out with someone, it's bad form to be constantly staring at a screen of any kind in the middle of a conversation.

I'm going to add a third point specifically for Glass. Become an ambassador. By this, I don't mean you have to extol the virtues of the product and encourage everyone to go run out and buy one. What you should do is take an active role in explaining how the technology works and why you are using it. In this way, you can make those around you feel more comfortable. I often do something similar with interview subjects in explaining why I record interviews on my computer.

I'm not saying Glass is a perfect product. I realize right now Google is pitching this as a beta for hardcore enthusiast developers, so $1,500 would probably not be a retail price tag. That being said, right now it's basically a camera with a few other functions. They need to upgrade the camera to at least 12 megapixels and come in at a price of not more than $500. I'm not telling Google anything it doesn't already know, but most people will probably have to add some sort of prescription so the cost of the frame cannot be too high. The battery life is also not great.

Glass has a few improvements to make before I think it can be a viable consumer product. Nevertheless, we should not dismiss such a technology because of concerns that can be handled with proper education and respect for boundaries.

Stand behind your work

I can't believe I'm writing two posts in a row on the subject of netiquette (neither NaturallySpeaking nor spell check are raising any red flags about that word so I guess I can roll with it), but another interesting situation came up this week that I thought I would write about it.

About a year ago now, I completed work on a wiki for The Oakland Post student newspaper.  There are portions of it that are a little (okay, a lot) out of date because there was a lot of administration changeover just as I finished and before I could figure out a plan for training the rest of the staff to update the resource. It started out as an individual class project in media design that I envisioned reporters could use to get up to speed on new beats, contribute analysis of public university documents and learn background on important university officials. (It could still be used this way with a little work.)

In determining which people to profile, I selected the top 50 highest salaried employees at Oakland University. If an individual was in that rarefied air, I reasoned they are probably doing some important work at the university.

If you are unaware, the great thing about a wiki is that anyone can edit it meaning you can gain a variety of perspectives on a subject. The bad thing about a wiki is that anyone can edit it. To be well executed, the wiki must be carefully policed for bad information.

One of the things I included in every profile template was a section on controversies. While not always bent on dredging up the past, a good journalist should know pertinent details regarding the backgrounds of those they cover. It is not unheard of for history to repeat itself.

I finished the project around this time a year ago and I haven't touched it in any significant fashion since August. Needless to say, I was a bit surprised when I got the email that someone had edited one of the pages.

Someone had deleted the controversy information on one of the profile pages. The action was undertaken by an anonymous OU IP address.

There are legitimate reasons for anonymity. These might include free speech concerns in countries with oppressive authoritarian regimes or maybe blowing the whistle on government wrongdoing.

However, in a database such as this that anyone can edit, it can be important to know who last edited information in order to better judge the likelihood of its accuracy.

During my time at The Post, we went to great lengths to verify our reporting. I have no reason to believe this practice has changed or will change anytime soon. For example, we had a rule (except in very rare breaking news and emergency circumstances) that every story must have two independent sources.

Given the time and verification work put into articles, information should not be removed lightly. I'm not saying errors of fact don't happen. We're human and probably every journalist who is worked in this profession for any length of time has found themselves the subject of the corrections corner. However, when a person deletes something without leaving an explanation or a name, it becomes very hard to judge their credibility.

I put the original version of the page back. I trust the reporter whose byline it was did their verification work.

It's possible that someone didn't want this information on the public Internet. The irony here is that nothing ever came of the incident for the faculty being discussed. It was probably minor office politics in the grand scheme. By trying to suppress it, they bring more attention to themselves.

If you're going to contribute, or remove information from a public database, put your name behind it. It's better for all involved.



Is sharing always caring?

A friend of mine sent me the above video the other night. After watching the video, I felt compelled to share it. It has the effect of bringing a smile to your face, might remind you of the beauty of the human race and just generally make you happy.

It wasn't until after I shared the post on Facebook with our collective connections that it dawned on me I may have broken a social contract. Should I have shared this? I realized this depended in large part on how the other person viewed this interaction. Was this supposed to be a fleeting exchange between friends, something to be broadcast to the public at large or somewhere in between?

I will save you the suspense. I consulted with my friend before writing this and they were fine with the fact that I shared. They even provided their own thoughts on sharing culture which I will discuss briefly a little later in this post.

In order to avoid saying "my friend" for the rest of this post, I will refer to them from now on by the gender-neutral name Sam.

Sam has been trying to rehabilitate my taste in music for several years. Although s/he  has never been able to cure me of my Taylor Swift fandom, I must say Sam's taste in music is impeccable. Whenever I receive a new music video, there's a 95 percent chance that $.99 will be debited for purchase from Amazon within six minutes. S/he always seems to find something off the beaten path that isn't receiving radio play but definitely should be.

Maybe it was because the song was not available for purchase (my first impulse for any good music), maybe it struck me as something different than you normally hear, or maybe because the emotional message of the song tugged at my heartstrings. Whatever the reason, I chose to share this particular song on Facebook, something I don't normally do.

I suppose I had a couple of different options at this point. I could have just posted the video and talked about how great it was, how it made me feel the innate goodness of the human spirit. After all, Sam did not make the video, but instead just shared it with me. There is no real obligation to give him/her credit for the find. I could have discovered it on my own on YouTube.

The other side of this argument is that it's sometimes nice to credit the original source. Maybe it's my journalistic training, but you source everything you do. I think as humans, there's something that feels very good about being recognized for the work you do and gems you dig up. Maybe journalism analogies aren't directly applicable to every situation, but I can tell you I would much rather have something attributed to my reporting or my media outlet rather than have someone say "reports" when I know they are using something that could have only come from me.

On the other hand, the argument can be made that perhaps journalists (or anyone remotely in the public eye) are an edge case. My phone number and e-mail are easily accessible in a number of places on the Internet because I have chosen to put them there. I can also be reached via a number of social networking profiles. It's a hazard of the profession that your hours don't necessarily end when you leave the office. I don't mind this because you get to tell the stories associated with people and issues from any number of angles. I have also been asked to share my perspective in some columns on disability related issues around Oakland University in the past. This was a great experience and I feel it's sometimes important to get your opinion across on these issues, especially when it comes from a point of view sometimes innocently overlooked. If in the process of reading that column you learn a little bit about me as a person, I don't mind trading a little bit of my privacy for awareness.

Still, most people are a lot more private than this and we wouldn't consider them a recluse. Every once in a while, I get someone that doesn't want to be interviewed. More often than not, you will not find someone's personal email or cell phone number on the web. It's not necessary that your average person tell you what he did at work today, let alone put his name on it.

Another factor is the issue that what may be appropriate and received a certain way in one situation might be received totally differently in another situation with a different audience. I think of Pitch Perfect as a relatively upbeat movie I watch with my little sister. When we watched with my grandmother today, I suddenly became aware of how much they actually pushed the line in that movie. Her reaction was, "How can you watch this crap?" I realized that maybe the line is different for everybody. My Facebook is intentionally tame, but if I were to post something that would potentially offend someone that might hire me, I wouldn't want to put the friend that shared it with me privately in the same boat.

When I told Sam I was planning to write this, s/he said this is just the way our generation shares culture. We see something we think is cool or that touches us emotionally and we pass it on.

I don't think there's any right answer. It's just something to ponder as we tweet, share and post in this social media age.

(Also, I'm apparently out of touch because Tom Fletcher's band McFly has been around since 2003 and recorded numerous albums.)

Oakland University email gate 2014

All hell broke loose at Oakland University sometime around 8:45 p.m. How it happened, we may never know. (Sure, we may hear something within 24 hours, but that might as well be a lifetime on the Internet.)

It started innocently enough. Someone sent out a survey for their Rhetoric 160 class. From then on, chaos reigned.

Most people that have dealt with email for any length of time knows the perils of the "Reply All" button. It's cemented in your head the first time you accidentally send an email to the larger thread for whom the message was not necessarily intended.

Apparently someone at OU missed the message. For the second time in my undergraduate career, someone has decided, intentionally or otherwise, to take part in a reply all social experiment.

Most will be annoyed by this, but the first instinct of some to tell people to stop responding will do no good. It just encourages those that take some sort of pleasure in blowing up a perfectly sanitary inbox into an experiment in chaos theory.

Rather than panic, I say we take this opportunity to institute rules of order for our little email community. Let's call ourselves "E-Campus" for the sake of argument. Here's what I propose:

  • Every email must begin with a picture of Greg Kampe. This will serve as a symbol sort of like the conch shell from Lord of the Flies. If the picture is there, you can talk.
  • To continue with the basketball theme, this next policy is the "Travis Bader rule." Each email must consist of at least three coherent, preferably related, sentences. This will keep people from sending things like "I like turtles." We are in college people. Let's bring up the level of discussion.
  • Just because you like chain emails doesn't mean everyone else does. They are banned.

We may not like this whole listserv email thing, but as long as we have it, we may as well enjoy insightful discussion.

Threes: a charming and addictive number puzzle game


Rarely does an app move me to blog. Even more rarely is that app a game. Ladies and gentlemen, the day has come.

I suppose I should add some context here before I get started. I don't play that many games, on my phone or otherwise. I don't have the reflexes for even the timing-based destruction of later levels of Angry Birds. It is extremely infrequent that I find a game that I like and that I can play. However, there is a game that has consumed several of my idle moments this weekend. I've been playing so much I figured I better share.

Threes, a game that I suppose is best described as Tetris with numbers, is simple enough. Ones are combined with twos to become threes. After that, each number only adds with its twin and you have to line them up. (The above GIF should help you visualize things.) The next tile is shown above the 4 x 4 grid so you can plan your moves. When the grid fills and there are no more possible combinations, the game is over.

A few really smart design decisions keep this from being just another Tetris clone. Starting when your numbers add to 24, each new number you unlock gets a charming little bio card. It's subtle, but it's a nice motivational device. The tiles are made to look like living beings and make charming little beeps and boops to complement a nice musical score. That being said, you'll probably turn this off relatively quickly and listen to music on your phone.

The reason I really like this game is that it shines from an accessibility standpoint. The game is completely untimed. Tiles only drop in after you've made your previous move. I still make a move I didn't mean to occasionally, but I chalk that up to clumsy fingers. It's an excellent game for anyone that wants a stress-free, reflex free puzzler. I especially can't recommend it highly enough for those in the disabled community. This game completely levels the playing field.

If I had to give this game one criticism, it seems to drain the battery on my iPhone 4S relatively quickly. This is true even in the game's battery conserving mode. I may be overstating the problem because as I stated before, I don't play that many games. I don't really have a point of comparison. However, there are no physics or high-speed graphical flourishes that should cause the battery to drain this quickly. Maybe someone can let me know if I'm off base.

The minor quibble above notwithstanding, this is an excellent little puzzler. The universal app for both iPhone and iPad (sorry Android folks, not yet) is available in the App Store at 33 percent off, $1.99, for a limited time. My Game Center tag is ffalcon2009 and my high score is 2,481. I have little doubt that will be easy for someone to beat.

Random musings

As I near the end of my college career (I will end up one credit short of officially graduating this semester, but that's another story), I'm coming to some realizations. In no particular order:

  • While doing a preliminary search for jobs earlier this month, I discovered there are (or were at the time) six reporting jobs listed in all of Michigan across the three boards I checked.
  • The job situation in public relations is not necessarily much better.
  • Nearly all of these jobs require two to four years experience in journalism, PR or a related field. This brings its own set of questions. Does experience on the college paper count? What about internship sites?
  • It's becoming clear that if I want to do anything with this degree, I may have to make my own job and make myself indispensable to an audience that can't get enough. In my view, that should be the goal of any journalist/writer. The challenge is figuring out what you can write about in order to appeal to an audience that is loyal, but also one that is not so niche that it doesn't attract ad dollars. (Yikes.) It's challenging, but with the slow death of mass media, I may have to give it a shot.
  • This really has nothing to do with anything else, but given the title of this post, why not? The Tigers just traded Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler. I'm really distracted suddenly.
  • If you're going to freelance, make sure you read the contract. Some of them include provisions that you can resell a story if it's outside a certain radius of a paper the publisher owns. Odds are it won't happen very often, but you never know when something you write might have appeal in more than one market.

Long story short, I think I have a lot I will be finding out over the next few months. I'm ready for adventure.

I'm looking through you

candid camera Today I begin a series of posts where song titles will serve as the inspiration. Today's song is "I'm Looking Through You" from The Beatles 1965 Rubber Soul album.

In the wake of yesterday's revelation in the Guardian that a blanket order was issued in April to obtain the phone records of all customers of Verizon's Business Network Services division, I definitely won't be using my Verizon cell phone to conduct interviews with potential government whistleblowers anytime soon.

Seriously though, I think it is time to come to grips as a society with the fact that we are constantly being surveilled, sometimes through actions of our own volition.

It is not my intention for this post to serve as an area for the discussion of whether these government actions are either politically, morally or legally justified. I will leave those decisions with the reader. We live in complicated times.

Rather, I think this is a good time to bring up this topic in light of several recent revelations in technology.

There has been much talk recently over potential privacy concerns about Google's hands-free Glass project.

For those unfamiliar, the Glass project is Google's attempt to create a heads up display atop faux eyewear. The project is still in beta form and will almost certainly be adapted to work with regular prescription lenses when the product goes commercial sometime next year.

Among the features of the product are the ability to take pictures and video. This has caused privacy concerns and Congress is debating legislative action on the issue.

However, at this point Glass requires you to give an audible cue to take a picture or start a video.

Google isn't even the first company to do this. There is a product on the market called Pivothead that does the same thing without an audible cue.

It also wouldn't take much for someone to surreptitiously record anyone with a cell phone camera.

It doesn't stop with cameras. On the Internet, advertisers are following us around.

I've noticed over the past few days that products I've searched on Amazon are finding their way into advertisements on other sites. I recently bought a product based on a Facebook advertisement. Facebook knowing what I like may be convenient, but I also couldn't help but feel it was a tad creepy.

The Internet enables us to consume and produce more information and media than ever. I can't help but feel that maybe some of the actions that have made the news lately on the part of the government are indicative of a society trying to reconcile old laws with the rapidly changing world. With great power comes great responsibility.

In the meantime, "Smile, you're on Candid Camera."

The iPhone experiment


A couple weeks ago, I accidentally blew away my entire computer. It wasn't my brightest moment, but thank goodness for online backup.

I was able to restore (most) of my data. The one thing I haven't been able to get working correctly since my reinstall is my word prediction program. Ordinarily, I don't use this very much as I normally rely on the speech recognition installed on my computer.

Its absence has caused one problem, however. When I'm listening to music and just talking to my friends, I prefer my earphones to my headset for audio quality. Without my word prediction program, I've been forced to resort to other means to listen to music and talk to my friends.

In the course of the past few days, I've discovered the dictation on the iPhone is good enough for Facebook conversations. However, my friends know me well enough to know that occasionally funny things are going to come up in the transcription.

Today, I'm taking things to the next level.

Over the next week (permanently if it works) I will be writing blog posts entirely from my iPhone. I will dictate, post as a draft and do any necessary minor editing on the computer before publishing.

My goal is to see just how long it takes me to write. If this goes well, I'm one step closer to really being able to file from the field. This device is capable of pictures, video and taking dictation.


Nothing worth learning is without a challenge. I anticipate several with this endeavor.

  1. There is no vocabulary training interface for the iPhone. This is one area where Dragon NaturallySpeaking on my laptop has Apple beat. I foresee having to hand type a lot of names.
  2. Anyone who has used the built-in dictation engine on the iPhone for even something as simple as a text message knows that it does some funky things with capitalization if you try to edit mid sentence.
  3. It has trouble with homonyms.

That said, I really wanted to give this a shot and see if it will work in an emergency situation. I want to be able to turn things around quicker than ever for The Oakland Post and future employers.

The preceding was dictated entirely on my iPhone.

Golden grizzlies have positive outlook going into the softball season

Oakland University’s softball program has seen its fair share of changes during the off-season, most notably the hiring of a new head coach, Connie Miner.

Miner replaces LaDonia Hughes, who left the program last year following a 10-38 season. The Grizzlies were just 27-67 in Hughes’ two years at the helm.

Miner has previous head coaching experience at Eastern Michigan, San Jose State and the University of California Riverside.

When assessing the team, Miner believes the area with the biggest room for improvement over last year is pitching.

“Our ERA last year was around 6.50 last season and it’s very tough to win games when you are giving up that many runs a game,” she said. “It puts a lot of pressure on the defense and the offense to score a lot of runs.”

Looking to improve play in the pitching circle are freshmen recruits Laura Pond, Erin Kownacki and Sarah Hartley. Each had a strong fall season for the team.

Junior catcher/outfielder Erika Polidori said she expects the freshmen newcomers should be able to contribute early on.

“We have two freshmen pitchers coming in who look like they’re going to play a lot of innings and games,” Polidori, a nursing major, said. “We have a lot of freshmen who are going to look to start and they’re going to bring something special to the team I think.”

Miner also said they need more of the team to hit .300 this year so as to not put the pressure on any one group of players to perform every game

Polidori said Miner has spent a lot of time on the mental aspect of the game with the team.

“She’s done a lot of team building things, a lot of confidence building things, worked a lot on our skills obviously,” said Polidori.

Polidori said she thought the team beat itself a lot last year by letting mistakes pile up until they couldn’t overcome them. She said this year the team has renewed confidence.

“This year it’s going to be having the confidence and knowing that we are good enough to win a lot more games and have a much better record and have the chance to make it to the Summit League conference tournament,” she said.

Being competitive in the Summit League was a goal both Polidori and her coach emphasized.

“Hopefully I can instill in the team to have faith and believe that at the end of the year they will be in a position to get into the tournament because you can do anything if you believe something and have faith in it,” Miner said.

Miner said she will have to hit the ground running on recruiting. The late timing of her hiring means she will have some catching up to do.

“In softball, people are already looking at recruits for the 2015 and 2016 recruiting classes, so coming here I know I am already behind in recruiting some of the best players in the state of Michigan,” she said. “Of course there are kids who will develop later or fall through the cracks but because of the experiences I do not panic about recruiting like a younger coach might.”

Assistant Athletic Director for Development Gordie Lindsay said Miner was hired in part because of her ability to build a program.

“She has built two programs that were similar to ours in Eastern Michigan and UC-Riverside and had tremendous success while coaching several all-conference and conference players of the year,” Lindsay said. “She has a true passion for the sport and has a lot of experience that will help guide this program for years to come.”

In terms of strategy, Miner’s approach is varied.

“I’m not one-dimensional, I like to have a fast team but you also need players who can hit them in so I use small ball and power ball,” she said. “I think you have to take advantage of what the defense gives you.”

In addition to the freshmen, Miner expects continued success for two-time All Summit League selections Polidori and senior second baseman/third baseman Erin Galloway.

Miner said sophomore Jackie Kisman should play well, coming off a strong freshman campaign.

Brittany Prior, a junior, hit the ball really well in the fall, Miner said.

She said junior Shannon Cleveland has taken her coaching tips well and is working to improve her game next season. Junior Chelsea Carena had a good fall season as well.

Oakland opens up the season down south after spring break.

Click here  for a rapidfire audio session with Erika Polidori.

Oakland Golden Grizzlies lose road opener to Louisiana Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns

A total of 20 turnoversand general sloppy play led to the Golden Grizzlies first loss on the road at the hands of the Louisiana Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns Sunday night. Oakland's Junior guard Duke Mondy led all scorers with 30 points shooting 67 percent from the floor. This turned out to be one of the night's only bright spots.

The Ragin' Cajuns meanwhile reaped the benefits of a balanced attack, getting 15 from Elridge Moore and Mbamalu Bryant. Elfrid Payton and Shawn Long each added 14 of their own.

A cold snap to start the second half really hurt the Grizzlies. There was a six minute stretch where it seemed like they couldn't hit a shot. Despite having 16 points, Oakland sharpshooting junior guard Travis Bader could not buy a bucket from Chick-Fil-A.  He did not hit a basket from beyond the arc until after the ten minute mark of the second half.

If the Grizzlies keep having periods like these it will be hard for them to compete with the daunting road schedule they have.  Boise State will be favored at home tonight and after this performance it is hard to see how they will match up with Pittsburgh on Saturday.

Drew Valentine also had 16 points but the Grizzlies will need him to step up more in order to have a shot in the Summit League this year.

Redshirt Sophomore Corey Petros will need to be more assertive on the glass.  With his size, five rebounds just isn't going to cut it.  That said, his baby hook seems to be effective, netting him 12 points on the night.

Still, I think there is cause for concern.  Mario Impemba and Neal Ruhl on the radio call made the comment that this was a very young Louisiana Lafayette team.  It will be interesting to see how they fare against clubs with more veteran leadership.

Why Pistorius Should Run

Recently sprinter Michael Johnson said that Oscar Pistorius should not be allowed to run at the 2012 London Olympic Games, citing what he believes to be an unfair advantage given by the South African sprinter's prosthetic leg blades. The problem is, Johnson's assertions simply have no basis in fact. According to his website, Pistorius underwent double amputation as a result of being born without fibulae in both legs. He competes in both single amputee and double amputee events as a Paralympian. He holds the Paralympic records in the 100, 200, and 400 m track events.

In July 2007, Pistorius began racing other able-bodied men at an International Association of Athletic Federations event finishing second in a 400 m race with a time of 46.90 seconds. Shortly thereafter, he underwent testing under the supervision of the IAAF which found that the blades Pistorius wore gave him an unfair advantage over other able-bodied runners by enabling him to expend less energy while running at the same speed over the course of a race.

Pistorius took his case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport following a series of tests done by researchers at Rice University. The CAS overturned the IAAF ruling saying the initial tests only considered Pistorius's speed over a straight line distance. They failed to consider problems getting out of the starting blocks and decreased acceleration ability which actually put Pistorius at a net disadvantage.

This is the backdrop surrounding Johnson's comments.

Now, before going any further, it is only fair for me to say that as someone in a wheelchair that has been able to achieve my goals and a high degree of workplace independence, I tend to view any claim that I can't do the same things anyone else can do on a level playing field with a certain degree of skepticism, no matter the reason. That being said, I would not want to compete if I had to be given an advantage in order to make it fair. However, there simply is no advantage here.

For one, Pistorius is running on blades, not human feet. This makes it very easy to trip if you step the wrong way, a fact pointed out by one of the athletes quoted in this San Francisco Chronicle article on amputee athletes.

Secondly, the numbers just don't reflect the advantage Johnson thinks Pistorius would have. Oscar Pistorius is the world record holder in all three events in which he competes. He is widely regarded as the fastest man ever with no legs. Yet, his fastest time in the 400 m for which he qualified is 45.07 seconds. By comparison, Johnson's world record-setting time for able-bodied athletes at the same distance is almost two seconds faster.

While we're at it, the argument that he already has the Paralympics to showcase his skills doesn't hold water with me. That's like saying the Major Leagues shouldn't be integrated because we have the Negro leagues or that women shouldn't play on the PGA Tour. Both of those things have come to pass. There is also nothing wrong with someone wanting to prove himself at the highest level.

Then there's the fact that I would probably be hard-pressed to find the Paralympics on TV anywhere, so clearly they are undervalued as compared to the main Olympic events, but I could likely do a whole separate post on that.

So when I tune into the Olympics, I will be keeping a close eye on the progress of Oscar Pistorius. There is simply no place in today's society for singling out those that could otherwise compete without advantage simply because they do it in a way we aren't used to.

Sports officiating not totally above board?

I've been saying for years that officiating in the NBA is a little suspect. I shouted vindication from the mountaintop when referee Tim Donaghy was found to be entangled in a betting scandal. Now I would never report something without substantiation of course, but what happens when a reporter knows they heard something and can't prove it. This exact situation happened to Associated Press reporter Jon Krawczynski last year.

Krawczynski was covering the Minnesota Timberwolves (I can't think of a worse basketball assignment) when he overheard referee Bill Spooner promise Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis

a makeup call. He tweeted it.

"Ref Bill Spooner told Rambis he'd 'get it back' after a bad call. Then he made an even worse call on Rockets. That's NBA officiating folks."

The problem was it became a case of he said, he said. Spooner filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming he made no such promise to Rambis.

This is a classic case where the reporter would've been saved had he only followed my cardinal rule: record everything.

Obviously you will have a hard time getting some subjects to agree to this, but most people will understand it is to their advantage to be recorded. You can certainly get more words down on a recording faster than you can in a reporter's notebook. This in turn leads to a much smaller chance of misquoting someone or writing a quote down in the wrong context.

This reminds me a bit of the Boy Scout rule. Always be prepared. Keep the mic hot at all times because you never know what might come up. It occurs to me you might have trouble getting an audio recorder in to the arena because of the broadcasting rules set up by sports leagues, but at the same time in this case he would only be recorded what was within earshot.

As a journalist, it's important to bring ammunition to back up your point.

The verdict is in: Databases (might be) useful

The Oakland Post is a good training ground for any Oakland University student majoring in journalism, and it's generally a fun paper to work for as well. This story I'm about to tell was not one of those fun instances.

Last July the New York Times and several others ran articles about a study saying that the practice of college grade inflation was on the rise. "A" grades were being given in 43% of cases.

I decided I wanted to get an Oakland angle on this story. The university publishes grade reports by semester.

The problem with Oakland's databases is that they are actually Excel spreadsheets. This does not make the data easily sortable and there's a lot of manually clicking on the numbers to do math.

Nevertheless, I pressed on with this one. Maybe I saw a portfolio piece (one of my six clips I need to graduate from the journalism program here). Maybe I'm just a journalism masochist.

Through a painstakingly long process, I was able to determine that for both winter 2005 and winter 2010, OU's numbers for A’s given was theoretically higher than the national average.

That's right. I just broke a cardinal rule in journalism. I used a bailout word. Why do I say "theoretically"?

None of the articles I saw on this actually listed the study authors’ definition of an A. Is it strictly 4.0? Is it anywhere between 3.6 and 4.0, the "A range." I actually attempted to look into this again for the purpose of this blog post, but it appears that the publishers of studies don't believe quite as strongly as journalists that information should be free.

Even if I had a solid definition of what was considered an A grade, at some point between 2005 and 2011 Oakland just started lumping all grades between 3.6-4.0 together for statistical tracking purposes. This means that if the authors had only tracked perfect GPAs it would have been impossible to make a fair comparison.

At some point, I would like to take another stab at this particular story if I can figure out how to do it. One of the interesting things I noticed was there were certain classes where 95 or 100 percent of the class got a grade in the A range. I noticed this a lot in some of the art classes, where one might think it would be very difficult to objectively grade something. In comparison, there were times when there was no one in the A range in the upper-level science classes. One could look into what makes those so hard.

Databases can be useful, but you have to make sure they actually tell you the information you're looking for.

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