Since the advent of broadband internet, and even a bit before, “piracy” has been a problem. I use quotes because there is probably a better term that evokes illicit copying rather than Captain Hook. It is one of those problems that is supposed to get the same reaction from anyone. Asking a congressman to justify almost anything they do yields the response “because ______.” Only one of the following reasons is acceptable to fill in that blank:

  •  Terrorists
  •  The children
  •  Piracy

Why is our defense budget so high? Because terrorists. Why do we need to take away all the guns/arm all the teachers? Because the children. Why can’t we unlock our cell phones? Because Nazis… I mean, because piracy.

No one is learning how wrong-headed that is right now more than EA. They bought and resurrected one of the most beloved and storied game franchises of all time, Sim City. It released this week, and was purported to be fantastic. The majority of the people who bought it, though, apparently would not know. EA designed this game to require a constant connection to their servers, even though it is essentially a single player experience. They claim it is for a social aspect, so people can share cities or something, but let’s be honest: it is for piracy. EA wants your $50-60, and wants to make damn sure that you can’t play if you didn’t pay. (Also hilarious: they are not offering refunds.)

In an ironic twist, many who did pay still can’t play. EA has been working on adding servers all week to support demand, to no avail. Rather than updating the game to remove the requirement of connectivity, they have decided to save their precious game-breaking DRM by disabling the actual game features that require the internet, like leaderboards. Kotaku has billed this fiasco “Sim City Disaster Watch.” Polygon, who initally gave the game a review score of 9.5/10, has lowered its score to a 4. I can’t say it better than Chris Kluwe:

 

The other end of the spectrum is Game of Thrones (or it is a different spectrum, not sure). HBO could care less that it is the most pirated TV show for a couple years running, because it gets people talking about Game of Thrones. However, in their case, it is more about necessity than stealing. They offer no other avenues of purchase besides subscribing to their network (on top of a cable subscription, in the age of cable cutting).

Really, there has to be some middle ground here somewhere. A way for a company to take my money in exchange for a good product. Capitalism, maybe?

via Tumblr http://craigpilcher.tumblr.com/post/44865233867

Tweetdeck Android

Tweetdeck Android

Twitter dug itself into a deeper hole with its power users last night when it axed the non-web versions of Tweetdeck. It is somehow both totally uncalled for and long overdue. Twitter purchased Tweetdeck in mid-2011, when it was easily the best mobile Twitter client and arguably the best Facebook client at the time as well. As the picture illustrates, Twitter updated Tweetdeck only once, to remove its native picture sharing service, and it has languished in the Google Play Store ever since. In that time, Twitter has moved to a newer, locked-down API and has a new official app on most platforms. However, Tweetdeck arguably still has a better interface, as well as far more features.

I cannot make sense of this. I don’t think I would be mad if they integrated Tweetdeck’s columns into the default app’s interface, because it would greatly improve tracking conversations. Twitter has list functionality, but on mobile they are buried so far down they are practically useless. And why did Twitter sit on this app for a year and a half if they were just going to shut it down? They could have updated it, or just removed Facebook from it if that was the issue. Pushing an inferior version of your own product just to get people to look at ads is not the way to win the tech crowd.

Anyway, they already pushed me over to app.net, where I am hoping that someone will resurrect the Tweetdeck client in spirit.

I finally uninstalled the Facebook app on my phone about two weeks ago, mostly because it sucks. I checked back a few nights ago via the browser, and I had not missed much of anything (except an old friend getting engaged – congrats!). The next logical step is to stop sharing things on Facebook. For the better part of a year, I have prided myself on doing my sharing almost exclusively through third-party avenues (because I want control over my data, and I am a social network hipster), and the only step left is to stop.

Why do I go back, even to share? Because everyone else is there. Facebook has been around for eons in Internet Time. In the beginning, it functioned more like an actual “face book”, which people did not update daily. However, it was still people you actually knew and wanted to keep up with. Those roots continue to reinforce themselves over time as you build a digital archive of yourself, but what is left is a gargantuan filter bubble. It is much harder to break out of a filter bubble of people you know IRL, which Facebook knows. That is why the point of the site was lost somewhere between the immediate, actual, meaningful connections and “Your friends like Diet Coke, you should too!” (Of course, this could all change in a week.)

The laundry list of things Facebook actually does is pretty impressive until you consider that several other places offer the same service, usually better. General status updates work very well on Twitter; if it is longer than 140 characters, get a blog. Dropbox, Flickr, and Picasa all offer picture storage and sharing, with the added bonus of export. Instant messaging can be done with GTalk, iMessage, or the mother of all internet communique: email. Link sharing and other content curation are Tumblr’s forte. Foursquare has check-ins locked down. Personal moments meant to be shared with only close friends and family can be set up easily in Path or Google+. In fact, G+ does pretty much all of this, and shares it more intuitively than Facebook.

Lifehacker beat me to it, but the way Facebook has adapted their advertising is annoying, albeit nefariously intuitive. Ads themselves are not all that bad. The service has to make money somehow. Google is basically an advertising company, but aside from the search results page it is generally unobtrusive, and the service is good enough that it warrants forgiveness. Almost all the services mentioned are ad-supported, and the alternative to that is paying your own way with something like App.net.

So, for those visiting from my Facebook link, welcome to my page. You may see it pop up occasionally on my FB feed in the future, but independence has to start somewhere. One last cleanup of various outdated likes and other personal details, and I will be on my way. This is a break, not a full-on deletion (because how else will I occasionally use Spotify?). And if they change and improve somehow, I will gladly eat these words.

I keep wrestling with when and how to leave Facebook (and actually have a long draft in progress for when I finally do). But where does one go now? What are the other options?

Well, Twitter was my first thought. But I have almost always used third-party clients to access Twitter, and they have been dicks about that lately. In fact, the developers of my favorite Twitter clients (Falcon Pro and Carbon for Android) held a G+ hangout just yesterday to discuss the token limit situation. I hardly ever tweet from the desktop, but even that is better with third-party apps like Tweetbot (I’m not counting Tweetdeck, which was awesome until Twitter bought it and then totally neglected the Android client).

Google+ is another possible outlet. It manages to have all the features of Facebook (and does a few of them better) without the squicky feeling that they will always step on my privacy. That is an implicit issue with Google, but that has always been their modus operandi: fantastic services in exchange for advertisement. However, Google+ also feels like an endpoint. It is a place where items I share can end up, but I can’t take them and move them elsewhere, like WordPress.  Twitter and FB suffer from this as well (I haven’t investigated Tumblr as much, but I fear the same).

But then yesterday’s App.net news came, and it is starting to sound better and better. Smaller community, great global stream, built-in storage, developer friendly, and user-first. It hits all the right buttons. I may have to give this a try.

There will come a time when we all host our own data and are able to share it however we choose. Until then, I will continue being a social network hipster.

I am getting sick of driving. I have to commute for an hour at the beginning and end of each work day. That means, if you don’t live on the eastern seaboard or in a major metropolis, a lot of time behind the wheel. I realize there are ways to avoid this. Carpooling is always an option, or I could move or switch jobs. But, because I am lazy and introverted, I tried to imagine other ways to get to work, like public transportation. Northern Indiana is not quite a bastion of public anything, which makes this strictly imaginary. But why is this still imaginary?

Countries in Europe and Asia benefit greatly from high speed rail. According to the NYT (via Gawker), “in many countries with good public transportation, driving is a pleasure rather than a necessity.” The cynic in me thinks it hasn’t caught on here because of our automotive industry (which there is plenty of in north central Indiana). How can they sell cars if there are other viable transport options? Competition should force these car companies to produce better cars, in theory. Of course, it also means change, which is scary.

I was a little bewildered to find out that the idea had been proposed and soundly rejected. This rejection was probably for all the wrong reasons, but I don’t want to try to sort out the politics of it. California has recently decided to fund its own high speed rail, after several rejections of its own. So it is catching on somewhere, but it is not catching on fast enough, for all the wrong reasons (as mentioned above).

Monopolies, from the automobile in America (it’s a stretch, but not much) down to local cable companies, have a horrible effect on innovation. From a consumer standpoint, they are like an economic cancer to the development of new ideas. However, from a business standpoint (which is pretty much its own religion in this country), profit is your endgame. Building a monopoly should bring on a zen-like state of enlightenment. It is a place where the goals of capitalism fall out of sync with those of the common person, and having the free market try to overthrow a monopoly is a task of Herculean proportions.

The inspiration for this line of thought was this Verge piece about wireless carriers. I didn’t want to write another post about phones, but it makes a fantastic point. Apple completely reinvented the concept of a phone, and it still was not enough to disrupt the amount of sway US carriers have over device manufacturers.  This would be like, instead of purchasing an SUV to drive on steep mountain roads, the road saying it only accepts Jeep™ vehicles.

In the meantime, I will keep paying exorbitant prices for fuel, and keep passing the SUVs with a single passenger on my 2-lane-highway commute, and think about moving to California.

The amount of people that do not (or even choose not to) understand modern technology and the internet is bewildering. I see it day to day at work (my company thinks it is a “tech” company! Cute) and from the people elected to make laws. I remember a TA in a software engineering course tell us about an internship he had in which he automated all his work in the first couple days using a few Python scripts. This gave him a free summer to goof around. Menial tasks can generally be avoided these days.

I guess that is why CISPA bothers me. It seems like a step in the right direction from SOPA, but that step mostly benefits the intermediaries handling user information, not end users themselves. Internet communication is (generally) free speech, and expecting to know who can see your data seems reasonable enough. But the people writing the laws do not see this perspective; they see terrorists and scofflaws (always wanted to use that term) that must be stopped at all costs, and the internet as a readily governable entity. If you can’t obtain a warrant for that information, then why do you need it?

The bottom line is just understanding what you are getting into when you are sharing data online. Microsoft keeps calling out Google for this, and the only reason it gains any traction is from the personification of Google reading your email. Putting any rational thought into that renders it absurd (how many people would they have to hire to read every Gmail account?). Part of the reason I started this blog, besides having a place for longform thoughts, is that I don’t really trust Facebook with my data that much to begin with. Ever since they went public, they have seemed a little desperate about finding new ways to monetize my data. I would like to use that data to interact with people instead of with more computers. And if I would like it to be private, it should be private.

As an Android user, I am sick of developers picking iOS over Android as their initial mobile launch. It may be that I don’t understand the difficulty of porting between OS’es, or that about half of Android users are running a nearly 3-year-old version of it. But when something like Vine, which has the engineering power of Twitter behind it, forgoes the majority of the smartphone market by making an iOS-only application, it irks me. Remember, it was only after Instagram released on Android that it sold for $1 billion.

That is why I am starting this list. It is all the applications that I have seen or tried that don’t bother to cater to my sector of the market. I will try to update it frequently, as I find out about new ones (and there are always new ones).

The Master List

This is the list of apps that have yet to come to Android, for any number of reasons.

And now we have the Hall of Fame for apps that did finally make it to Android, and did fantastically well there.

Last update: 10/23 – moved Vine

2/20 – added Mailbox