Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A list of the apps on my phone that can make calls

Doesn't require phone number:

  • FaceTime
  • Phone
  • Contacts
  • Facebook Messenger
  • Snapchat
  • Google Hangouts
  • Messages
  • Whatsapp
Can/does use your phone number:
  • Phone
  • FaceTime
  • Messages
  • Chrome
  • Safari
  • Mail
  • Notes
Announced, but hasn't shown up yet:
  • Slack
As it turns out, pretty much every remotely social company has a way that people can talk to one another in a phone call-type manner. Many of these apps also let you use video chat, but people have no idea. For instance, you've been able to make phone calls (and recently, video chats) with any of your Facebook contacts on your phone, for such a long time. But I can routinely blow people's minds by telling them that, because approximately nobody* knows about this feature.

Snapchat updated their app yesterday to revamp chat, and added the ability to send video clips or make voice calls to any of your Snapchat contacts who've added you back. But none of the features in the update are actually new capabilities your phone didn't have before, and I'm betting people aren't going to be making use of this feature any more than they did, no matter how good it is. 

If I were a gambling man, I'd put money on Snapchat continuing to grow at a rapid pace for quite some time. But people who already have a predefined way of communicating, like my generation and those older than me, won't use Snapchat for voice calls because to us, the way you make a phone call is by calling a phone number.

But the kids, they don't obey these rules. They do whatever their friends are doing, and their friends don't make phone calls to a phone number. That's not cool anymore, at least not until their parents stop doing it.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Podcasts Like 'Serial' Are Encouraging Literacy

[L]istening, unlike looking at a written page, is more active, since the brain has to process the information at the pace it is played.” My student Roberto offered similar insight: “I think it helps me out with my reading since I have to keep a pace up.”
Huh, turns out the best ways for kids to learn aren't determined by a group of adults telling them what's best, kids (like everybody) are going to learn best when given options and a choice. And just like I always say, podcasts are a great way to learn and take in new information, and listening isn't nearly as much work as reading.

And if learning is work, you're much less likely to want to keep doing it.

> Why Podcasts Like 'Serial' Are Helping English Teachers Encourage Literacy - The Atlantic

Monday, March 14, 2016

Driverless Cars Are Going To Be Here So Fast

[T]he ongoing conversation is good for those who wish to see self-driving cars enter use, a careful analysis of the facts, coupled with an understanding of how similar transitions have played out through history, indicates that the majority of the discussion occurring right now vastly underestimates the speed with which self-driving cars will become the norm and ignores the tectonic shifts the transition will bring to all corners of American life.

Self-driving cars will not only impact transportation, they will change how people feel about their homes, how cities are built, how families stay in touch, where we work and other facets of American life far removed from transportation.
Yes. A lot of people are seriously looking at how we can get self-driving technology into the hands of the masses. Once that starts happening, it's going to accelerate at an unbelievable pace. Think about smart phones. The iPhone was released in 2007, with Android coming soon after. That was less than 10 years ago and almost everybody in the first world has a smartphone now.

With the massive infrastructure changes that can be made with transportation overhauls that are enabled by self-driving vehicles, the entire world is going to change so quickly. I'm not entirely convinced its all for the best, but we'll be smack dab in the middle of it before you can honk your horn.

This whole TechCrunch piece is great and really detailed, and I'd strongly recommend reading it if you're looking for some hardcore data about how driving really drives our modern world.

> Driving the new American century | TechCrunch

Friday, March 11, 2016

Bacteria Is Evolving to Eat Plastic

PET was only invented about 70 years ago. That means the bacteria must have evolved the ability to consume the plastic over the intervening decades. The results are published in Science.
I don't want to say 'I told you so', but I kind of called this one.

As I keep saying, yes of course, plastic is a huge problem that we shouldn't necessarily ignore, but nature (and evolution) are fascinating, and work on dizzyingly short timescales. In the second case of finding 'fauna' capable of digesting plastics so far (a fungus being the first, as mentioned in the linked article), bacteria have proven themselves to be unbelievably adaptable in even a short amount of time (plastic was invented less than 100 years ago).

When humans first started domesticating cattle, and really began using their milk into adulthood for sustenance, humans in Western Europe quickly gained the ability to process lactose, to the point that pockets in much of the world have no problem eating milk and cheeses. Evolution is amazing!

> Scientists Have Discovered a Bacteria That's Evolved to Eat Plastic

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

How Much Should Free Tuition Cost?

I don’t think many people – other than say, the Canadian Federation of Students and their wilder-eyed allies – genuinely believe that tuition for children of wealthier families should be free. Most people agree that there should be some sort of net price slope, running from zero for students from poorer families and upwards as family income increases. There’s no consensus about where the threshold for going above zero is, and no consensus about what the grade of the slop should be. That’s mostly because we’ve never had data to look at the question properly before.
I hope people agree with this, if you make more money, you pay a little more, and if you barely make enough to survive, that shouldn't stop your kids getting a university education if they've earned it. I like this kind of argument because it moves us past the "should we do this" and on to the much more important "how much help do people need."

It's a step in the right direction!

> The Coming Cost Debate in Ontario | HESA

Looking into Ottawa's past

I'm not exactly sure how I came across this (I think I was seeing how streets lined up and wondering how Ottawa's streets might have changed), but this morning I discovered a really neat repository of old aerial maps of Ottawa, going back all the way to the 1920s. It's cool to see how cities change, and what Downtown, the Transitway, LeBreton Flats, City Hall, or Lansdowne all looked like over the years.

The maps allow you to overlap a modern street map over the old pictures, so you can clearly see how things have changed. The whole thing is viewable at!

> geoOttawa

Ed Snowden can say whatever he wants

“The FBI says Apple has the ‘exclusive technical means’ to unlock the phone,” Snowden said. “Respectfully, that’s bullshit.”
It must be really nice to be in a position where you can say something like this with confidence, having not a care in the world about repercussions. Not saying Snowden is in an enviable position overall, but he can say what he really thinks even better than the current American Republican front-runner (and he's much more likely to be telling the truth).

> Snowden: FBI's claim that it requires Apple's help to unlock iPhone is 'bullshit'

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Problem with Homelessness is Poverty

I attended college pay-as-you-go for a couple years while working, then left because I couldn't afford to continue and knew better than to take on student debt. My moderate savings was destroyed in my 30s by health care costs that insurance wouldn't cover. Within the past several years, full-time work that pays a subsistence wage has been hard to come by.
Another great reason why basic income would be super useful. There are plenty of jobs that don't pay that much but are vital to the world continuing to run. And with a basic income and solid universal health care, so many of the issues that put people on the streets just don't come up. This is a long piece but it's well worth your time.

> I’ve been homeless 3 times. The problem isn’t drugs or mental illness — it’s poverty. - Vox

Monday, March 7, 2016

Handoff for iTunes | iMore

I'd love to be able to start a playlist on my Mac and then walk away, pick up my iPhone, swipe, and keep right on listening.
So true. I (and Rene) have been saying this for a few years at least. This is the dream, and it's sooooo close with Handoff, just not for iTunes.

> Why I want to see Handoff for iTunes in iOS 10 so ludicrously much | iMore

Is group chat making you sweat?

10. Chat reminds you that you’re behind. Group chat feels like you’re chasing something all day long. What’s worse, group chat often causes “return anxiety” — a feeling of dread when you’re away for a while and you come back to dozens (hundreds?) of unread lines. Are you supposed to read each one? If you don’t, you might miss something important. So you read up or skip out at your own risk. All the while you’re trying to piece together interleaving conversations that may refer to other things you haven’t seen yet. And just when you’re caught up, you’re behind again. It’s like your working two jobs — the work you’re supposed to do, and the work of catching up on what you missed that probably didn’t matter (but you won’t know until you read back).
I write a lot about communication. It's something that is very important to me. There are a lot of good points about chatting in large groups of people (like in Slack). I totally agree with the points raised, but I think chat apps like Slack are doing well to actually cut down on noise in group chat, because not everything has to be sent to every person, but there's still a lot of transparency in what messages are being sent where.

Slack also offers 1 on 1 chat, and ad-hoc small groups for chat, so it's the best of all worlds when you want to communicate with a team or group of people.

> Is group chat making you sweat? — Signal v. Noise — Medium

A Diminishing Willingness to Do or Try New Things

The technological inertia of adulthood, signified by a diminishing willingness to do or try new things.

I have been trying, without a great deal of success, to get my friends interested in using Slack to communicate with one another. Slack is a great service with mobile apps, desktop apps, and a really slick web interface that makes communicating with bigger groups of people really simple and easy.

However, I've been trying to get people jazzed about better communication services for the better part of 10 years now, and I'm mostly thwarted at every turn. I honestly feel, deep in my heart, that this failing isn't because the services I'm advocating for (Google Wave, Facebook Messenger, Google+, Twitter, Google Hangouts, Slack) are objectively bad.

That being said, I also don't think my friends, the people I want to keep in touch with the most, are idiots for not being as excited in the next big thing as I am. I am always on the lookout for new technology, but I know I'm rare in being that way. But I also know that there is value in what I'm trying to do.

When I first got a cell phone, SMS was the only method of communication I used (aside from the very occasional phone call). When I first got an email address, I would occasionally use it to email friends, but its much more vital use was to get me logged in to MSN Messenger.

I've always subscribed to a vast number of different communications services (as I broke down in my last post about this stuff), and I use many of them to keep in touch with just a handful of people. The people I talk to on a regular basis interact with me in a startling number of ways:
  • Some people I know I can reach most easily with SMS
  • Some I know will only check Facebook sporadically
  • Some who keep data turned off unless it's an emergency
  • Some people I will only message through Google Hangouts
  • Some people answer messages during the day through one chat platform, but use another platform the rest of the time (even though both are available to them at all times).
In trying to make Slack a thing with my closest friends, what I'm really trying to do is make it really easy for those people to know exactly where and how they can reach me and each other, all the time. Maybe, for some people, that's actually a failed premise. It's just something that's never going to happen.

It might be that no matter how hard I try, some people are just going to send me a text message when they want to reach me. And perhaps, that won't change.

Liberal youth grow older and more conservative, even if their values never actually change in the process. I'm going to do my best to be adaptable, while advocating for new and better at every turn. We don't have to define ourselves by who we are now, we can choose to present ourselves as the best we can be in the future.

Communication is a social contract we all enter into, and having it formalized might be scary or uncomfortable to some people. I don't think it's too lofty a goal to aim for better than a 14 person group thread in Facebook Messenger as a way for people from all walks of life to interact and figure their lives out. We can do better, and while I'm suggesting one specific option, I'm just trying to do the best I can today.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

I'm probably not allergic to peanuts because I love them so much

The early introduction of peanut to the diets of infants at high-risk of developing peanut allergy significantly reduces the risk of peanut allergy until 6 years of age, even if they stop eating peanut around the age of five, according to a new study led by King's College London.
Let's all talk about something we've assumed for years. I'm going to be giving my kids peanut butter baths just in case.

> Eating peanut in early years helps reduce risk of allergy even with later abstinence, study suggests -- ScienceDaily

Post a proper linked Instagram photo to Twitter, like a Gentleman

When you used to post Instagram photos to Twitter, it would automatically expand the photo in Twitter, to show your beautiful shot in all its glory. However, when Twitter launched its own photo sharing natively, it started blocking the auto-expanding of photos from Instagram, so pictures looked ugly as heck when shared from Instagram to Twitter. Here's what I mean:
Sharing images the regular way (like I did above) leaves this text-based tweet, leaving users to guess what the picture is of, because neither Instagram nor Twitter wants to cede ground on letting users of both platforms see pictures from the others' social network.

However, I've come up with a fix, and it involves a great service called IFTTT. If you're not using it already, do yourself a favour and go sign up. Once you've done that, all you have to do is go to this link, and you'll be able to post directly from Instagram to Twitter, with a full resolution version of the photo, while still maintaining a link back to Instagram in case people want to go check out your other photos. That looks like this:
As you can see, that's way better, but you still get the link back to Instagram.

PS. If you're using this recipe from IFTTT, you shouldn't select the native Twitter sharing when posting in Instagram, or you'll end up with a double post, one with the image, and one without. And nobody wants that.

Post a proper linked Instagram photo to Twitter, like a gentleman. by robattrell - IFTTT

Friday, March 4, 2016

Why Basic Income is so Important

Canada's prior experiment with a BIG [(Basic Income Guarantee)], the Mincome experiment in Manitoba in the 1970s, found that a BIG did not cause people to stop working -- with two important exceptions. The first was women with infants at home, who effectively used the BIG to purchase maternity leave. We should expect a different response from women in modern-day Canada, where maternity leave benefits are much more extensive. But where child care and other supports for working parents are insufficient, we may see responses to a BIG that will show us those cracks in the system.

The other group whose employment levels decreased under Mincome was teenage boys. A closer look reveals that with a basic income guarantee, male high school students were more likely to make the decision to stay in school until graduation. Given the Ontario government's aim of increasing graduation rates and the need for a highly educated population, it will be important to understand how people's labour market decisions interact with other important decisions, like the decision to improve their skills and buy a better long-term future for themselves and their families.
> We Should Applaud Ontario's Plans To Pilot A Basic Income Guarantee | Laura Anderson