Author Archives: Michael Froomkin

The Curious Case of Al Jazeera’s Absence From HTC Blinkfeed

TL/DR: Why is al Jazeera’s feed absent from HTC’s Blinkfeed? It’s a mystery.

After writing up my review of the HTC One (M8) the other day, I thought maybe I ought to give Blinkfeed a try.

For those of you who don’t have an HTC phone — and it’s a somewhat specialist taste if reports of declining market share are to believed — Blinkfeed is an HTC-curated/controlled news feed (now available to all Android users). It provides an elegant magazine-like interface made up of user-selected content from among the news sources provided by HTC, and also from one’s social media. Most of the major social media choices you would expect seem to be on the available list, but the provision of news sources is somewhat erratic. There is something from just about every part of the globe, but often not much; there are two wire services, and Huffington Post but no US newspapers. If the US choices are rather spotty in news, they are somewhat heavier in sports and entertainment and various other web-based frills. Many of the news feeds on offer seem rather heavy on gorgeous photos, particularly of landscapes and animals, which I think skews the content of the feed somewhat…although as my test is only a couple of days old it might also reflect that August is the silly season for many news media.

The good news is that Blinkfeed’s options include news from many regions in their home language, so I can get the French news is in French, which I like. And even though you get other languages by changing your “edition,” which isn’t totally intuitive, it’s possible to meld feeds from different languages, so I don’t have to have my US news in French just to get the French news in French.

The bad news is that Blinkfeed is a closed system: I can’t add an RSS feed of my choice, an option that would have made Blinkfeed actually useful.

But, at least, though I, there’s Al Jazeera. Given all the turmoil in the Middle East at present, I thought it would be useful part of my media diet. Except, at least for the last three days, there isn’t any Al Jazeera in my feed. And when I go to the al Jazeera button all it says is “NO CONTENT Pull down to refresh.” Swiping down just repeats the update/nothing-happens cycle.

A Google search got me nowhere. There are plenty of links in which HTC brags about all the content deals it has signed. (I’m guessing people pay HTC for the privilege of being in their sandbox, which is why it’s such an anemic little sandbox.) And even some about HTC adding al Jazeera. But there’s nothing I can find in which HTC says it has dropped al Jazeera.

So I called it in to HTC customer support. I’d had a very good experience with them the last time I called, and no good deed goes unpunished. The support guy I got was understandably skeptical at first. He had me remove everything else from my feed. He had me reboot the phone. No change. Finally he put me on hold for a long static-filled wait. When he came back he explained he’d “gone to the lab” and gotten one of their HTC One (M8) test models, and replicated my problem.

The good news: he now totally believed me.

The bad news: he didn’t have any better ideas than I did about what to do about it.

Apparently, there’s nothing on the HTC internal system about them dropping al Jazeera. No one on the floor at the help center had heard anything like that. So all he could suggest is that I call back tomorrow during regular business hours and ask to be escalated — apparently the escalation team doesn’t work late at night.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll find out if this is a case of broken RSS (or whatever) feed, or a case of political censorship. Right now it’s just a bug report.

Posted in Politics: International, Sufficiently Advanced Technology | 7 Comments

Don’t Just Get Mad: Do Something

My brother has a good strong item up about what should happen in light of yesterday’s revelations that CIA Director John O. Brennan lied to Congress about his agency’s spying on Senate investigators:

So if you’re the president, you fire everyone who lies. Starting with John Brennan.

I agree Brennan should go. But it rankles that we’re still stuck in a world where the coverup is punished more than the crime — and that the underlying war crime here, torture, has not been punished at all.

Posted in Torture | 1 Comment

HTC One (M8) Review

Tl/dr: I like this phone. I’ve had this phone for about two months and it has met or exceeded my expectations in just about every respect.

I got the HTC One (M8) instead of the Samsung S5 primarily because my carrier — which I didn’t particularly want to change — offered a 32GB version of the phone, and only a 16GB version of the S5. Having hit the 2GB limit of my previous phone early and often, I didn’t want that to happen again. Also the S5 was reputed to have more phone junk on it; not that the M8 has none, but it’s easy to ignore. The other major advantage of the S5, a superior camera, wasn’t as important to me, although it might be to some people.

Here’s what I wanted from the phone:

First, it has to be a world phone (check).

Second, it has to be a good at making phone calls, with decent range (no problem so far, although I probably haven’t stressed it), and very good sound quality. The M8′s sound quality as a phone is good, certainly good enough, but I wouldn’t call it excellent. Oddly, the speakerphone is substantially better than the regular phone: it is excellent. Indeed its ability to play music and videos (neither of which is or was a requirement for me) is amazing. In fact, however, I mostly use earphones when I listen to podcasts.

Third, my phone has to have an SD card slot (very check: this one takes up to 128G cards!) so I can store my podcasts on it.

Fourth, I want lots of memory so I can download lots of apps. I haven’t historically played games on my phone, but I like calendaring and note-taking apps in particular, and productivity apps and weather and travel-related apps in general. Travel is the main time I’m likely to be far from a proper computer, so I need good substitutes.

Fifth, I’d like it to be fast, because I’m impatient. This phone feels fast.

Sixth, I wanted enough battery to get me through the day. On wifi the battery does great and on days when I’m primarily in areas with wifi I can end the day with over 50% of the charge left. Days that involve a lot of moving around off wifi chew more juice. How much varies. I have yet to actually run out of battery in a day, but I did come close once. The battery is not removable, which is not ideal. It does charge quickly though. Keep in mind that while I might use the phone’s apps a fair amount, I’m not playing videos which perhaps might drain battery on a different pattern.

Seventh, I don’t want a bad camera, but I don’t need state of the art. Check.

Lastly, I don’t have a Mac, and am used to Androids, so I pretty much ignored the iPhone options.

That’s it. Everything else is bonus.

For example, the phone’s voice recognition is dog-on-hind-legs good, which is to say a bit erratic. But the android ecosystem is coming up with interesting apps to take advantage of it, notably Commandr.

Google Now has promise, although I don’t make use of most of it’s features because I turned off most of the tracking and personalization.

Skype over wifi is of surprisingly good voice and image quality – much better than my old phone which basically couldn’t do it.

I do have two small complaints. First, the headphone jack is on the bottom of the phone, which I find awkward when I carry it in my shirt pocket, and at other times too. Second, due to a bug in the Android operating system, I can only connect to secure wireless when the lock screen is on. Neither of these is major.

I did have a temporary problem that I thought might be a deal killer: for a while I had a flashing bar at the bottom of my screen. It turned out to be caused by a misbehaving alternate keyboard app I had downloaded. HTC customer support helped me diagnose the problem by telling that I had to reboot the phone after erasing suspect apps, just deleting them would not be enough. (In contrast, the folks at Verizon gave me only bad advice as to how to solve the problem, suggesting I should do a factory reset as my first option.)

And, the phone’s generous screen size (although it is thinnish and light for its size) is a mixed blessing, although one it shares with its close competitors. The screen is very vivid and the real estate is nice to have. But it’s a handful, and so for most things that require interaction the phone can’t be operated with just one hand. Plus it sticks out of my shirt pocket a bit, which I was told is not an ideal fashion statement — advice I admit I ignored.

I killed the Blinkfeed screen within minutes of turning on the phone. This much-touted method of combining news, social media and updates never had any appeal for me. It seemed like a great way to run down the battery, though.

And of course the phone, like most modern smart phones, is a privacy disaster and a security issue waiting to happen. I would never put any banking or financial app or info on it. And it’s appalling how many apps feel entitled to trawl my address book, or record my location. Maybe my next phone will be a Blackphone.

Still, it’s useful, it’s fast, the screen is pretty, if you get the 32GB version it has a ton of memory plus the ability to expand a lot more with a micro SD card, and it works well as a phone. Plus I got a deal. So I like it.

Posted in Sufficiently Advanced Technology | 2 Comments

Smarmy Duck and Weave Deposition by Rick Scott (Updated)

Fl. Governor Rick Scott doges questions in a 1995 deposition. It sort of encapsulizes a good bit of what is so awful about the guy.

And he hasn’t changed: Scott is still dodging basic questions in 2014. Throw in the content of his policies, and it makes the case for Nan Rich. Pity that the establishment Dems are lining up for the less-odious-by-comparison quondam Republican Charlie Crist. At least Crist picked a great running mate for Lt. Governor: Annette Taddeo. The primary is in about a month.

(The video is from a Democratic Party web commercial. Like Adam C. Smith of the Tampa Bay Times said, they should put it on TV.)

Update: Here he is again, avoiding questions on gay marriage.

Posted in 2014 Election, Florida | 2 Comments

More than 1.3 Million Spams

That’s what I got this past year. That’s more than triple the previous year, and more than ten times what I got four years ago.

The level has gotten so great that the blog crashes about once a day; it’s practically a DDOS attack. Something will have to be done — but short of paying for very much more expensive hosting, I’m not at all clear what would be. I use Akismet and a javascript-based test too.

This combination worked fine for a decade. Now I’m getting overwhelmed. Over the past decade, 99.67% of my comments have been spam. I could turn off comments — it’s not like I’m overwhelmed with real ones these days — but I’d hate to do that.

Posted in Discourse.net | 1 Comment

Strategic Planning Made Easy

Weird Al to the rescue:

Easy to adapt for any law school.

Bonus points if you can identify the band whose music this plays off.

Mega-bonus points for anyone spotting the first firm to use this at a meeting without irony.

Posted in Completely Different | 1 Comment

Social Cost of Fighting Face Recognition

dazzle1It’s large:

Because here is the essence of CV dazzle’s strangeness: The very thing that makes you invisible to computers makes you glaringly obvious to other humans.

via Anti-Surveillance Camouflage for Your Face – The Atlantic.

Posted in Surveillance | Leave a comment