Category: technology

Productivity 2019

For a number of years I was in the habit of writing posts on my productivity tools and habits every January, but then I fell off the wagon and missed a few years. This year I decided to write one again, but it’s taken me until March to put fingers to keyboard. Part of the reason is probably that I haven’t changed many things over the last couple of years. I bought one medium-priced and one inexpensive fountain pen in 2017/18, I’m using the same planner I have for the last three years, I use the same color scheme in my planner to make looking at teaching-related stuff easier, and I’ve generally been happy with my tools. My issue is not the tools but making sure I use them.

Nevertheless, it’s worthwhile having a record. I do go back and read previous years’ posts, marveling at how many different things I tried and how much seems to remain the same across time. So many notebooks! A range of planners! Pens, pens, pens. And of course computers and files and all the odds and ends that go in an everyday carry bag. I’ll do a “what’s in my bag” post at some point, but here I’ll talk about the actual tools and what I do with them.

Planners

I’m still using the Hobonichi Techo planner (the English-language version). It’s worked well for me over the last few years and I love having the full day-per-page format and the thin but fountain-pen friendly Tomoe River Paper. I’m also still using the compact leather cover I picked up a couple of years ago. I couldn’t resist the Alaska cover in this year’s collection, but I switch back and forth between the two. My pen is a Sailor Profit fountain pen with a 14k EF nib. It’s perfect for the Hobo because it lays down a smooth line and dries quickly. I also keep a small notebook in the inside back of the cover, and it stores my IDs and a couple of credit cards so I don’t have to carry a separate wallet.

This year I also started using the Hobonichi 5-year planner in the A6 size. I looked at it last year but didn’t get one. But it’s nice to be able to see past years’ activities quickly, or it will be after the first year. We do a lot of the same travelling every year, and I wind up digging out the previous years’ planners to remember where we went, what route we took, restaurants, etc.

(more…)
Advertisements

Harlequin reminds us we don’t own our purchased ebooks

Last week I saw a discussion about a change Harlequin Books is making at its website with respect to how ebooks will be delivered to buyers. Until now they have used Adobe DRM and if you wanted to download your books you had to do it through Adobe Digital Editions. This was a pain, given how awful ADE is, but it meant the files were resident on your computer and could be transferred to any compatible ereader, i.e., one that read epub files and played nice with ADE. I’ve used it for my Sony, Nook, and Kobo ereaders over the years. I’ve also stripped the DRM and put the files on a Kindle. This was handy because Harlequin.com would occasionally have sales and it was worth buying from the site. Also, I found when checking my account that I bought my first Harlequin ebook back in June 2007, before Kindles or Nooks existed (I read it on my Palm phone, as I recall).

Anyway, at this point I have 620 books on the Harlequin site. I’m pretty sure I’ve downloaded most of them, since I long ago stopped trusting ebook retailers to stay in business. But Harlequin isn’t shutting down. Instead, they’re changing their DRM system from ADE to Overdrive. This seems like not a big deal, except that Overdrive system requires you to read the books in its app. In other words, you can’t put it on an ereader unless you can figure out a way to get it off the app (which may be straightforward, but I haven’t seen discussion of it). You can still buy the books at Kobo, Amazon, and other major retailers, of course, and maybe they will have sales and promotions there that are comparable to the ones Harlequin has had at their site in the past.

The biggest inconvenience for me is that I have to decide whether I want to download/re-download hundreds of books, or spend almost as much time checking to see if I have them already. The changeover date is November 12, so I have a week to decide. It’s not that big a deal; I have most of the books, I know, and it’s probably only the oldest ones that are likely to have gotten lost in a computer/ereader/platform transfer. Still, it’s a hassle I don’t really have time for now.

In addition, for me at least it’s a reminder of two things:

  • Ebooks are licensed, not bought in the same way as print books. As long as the DRM is applied, you are subject to the terms of the license. If ADE goes away, you can’t read ADE-DRM’d books anymore. In the future, if you don’t have an Overdrive app, or you don’t want to put it on your phone or tablet, you have to read Harlequins on a computer with a data connection. This is what I don’t like about Hoopla, by the way; I don’t like their app interface at all and it’s frequently glitchy.
  • Today’s Harlequin is not the Harlequin I bought from in 2007, or the Harlequin whose books I reviewed at Dear Author for years. It’s owned by HarperCollins and it’s a shadow of its former self. Some of my favorite authors still publish there, but a lot don’t. It’s less reader-focused and reader-friendly. It’s a Big 5 imprint and it feels like one.

(more…)

Et tu, PBS?

I’ve written regularly about online privacy issues, and readers of this blog know that I teach a course on the politics of privacy. I’ve more or less made my peace with where I leave my data trails and who is harvesting my personal information for material gain. But somehow I did not expect to have to make this kind of calculation for PBS.

I know PBS is a shadow of its former public self; it gets less and less funding from government agencies and more and more from corporations. “PBS” as a national broadcast network is really an aggregation of local stations, and those stations range from tiny and poor to large and influential. Even at the big, well-known stations, money is always tight and they are always looking for ways to get more.

[An aside: PBS is sometimes compared to the BBC. It shouldn’t be, because they are totally different in funding, organization, and cultural context. PBS has always, from its inception, been dependent on federal funding, and its shows are produced by private companies, by tieups between local stations and production companies, or both. It is not-for-profit and it has a stable of well-known public affairs shows, but it also has terrible infomercials and endless fundraising drives.]

In the olden days of online availability, some shows would be available for a brief period of time after their airdates (two weeks to a month), while other shows, mostly the “public affairs” shows like NewsHour, Frontline, etc., were available for much longer. All of them were free, and while you were strongly encouraged to identify your local PBS station, you didn’t have to set up an account or pay anything to stream what was available.

(more…)

Life without apps and other musings on productivity

It is no secret that I have a love-hate relationship with smartphones and always-connected technology. I developed and regularly teach a course on the politics of privacy in the digital age, and every year there is something new to add to the syllabus. Last year it was the Internet of Things (which continues to grow in importance). This year it’s backdoors for national security agencies, with the current Apple-FBI legal battle illustrating the larger problem. Although it’s impossible to use online resources and not sell your soul to one of the Big 5, I try to minimize my digital trail and encrypt communications where I can.

An aside: there is a story making the rounds about a USA Today reporter who supposedly had his email “hacked” (sniffed, actually, but everything is called hacking nowadays) when he was using inflight wifi. Aside from the fact that the guy who “hacked” his email was sitting right behind him (so he may have snooped the old-fashioned way, over his shoulder), this reporter was working on the Apple-FBI story using unencrypted email on an open wifi network. People, do not do this. Use a VPN if you use open wifi connections a lot, and for heaven’s sake, use email that comes with https at a minimum. Why a USA Today reporter is still using Earthlink.net is beyond me. But I digress.

A couple of years ago I switched from a high-end smartphone to a feature phone, in part to understand the online opportunities for people who don’t have high-speed mobile broadband or can’t afford fancy smartphones, and in part to control my social media habit. I eventually went back to a smartphone, but I’ve regularly switched it out for a feature phone. (A feature phone is a phone which has data access for email and browsing, but doesn’t have the range of apps and mobile access that iOS, Android, and even WindowsPhone provide). Not only is life more peaceful, because your notifications go way, way down, but feature phones tend to be smaller and easier to carry around.

One result of my feature phone use is that I use very few apps, and I really don’t miss them. Aside from Twitter I’m not on any social media, I never played games much (Free Cell and Sudoku are about it in terms of video or phone games), and while I love to take photographs, I don’t get the allure of Instagram.

(more…)

Windows 10, Chicken Little, and the Digital Divide

Windows 10 released last week, to more hoopla and good press than Microsoft usually gets these days. I downloaded and installed my free upgrade on Thursday and have been tweaking it and getting used to it slowly. I only have it on a tablet at the moment, but I’m liking it enough that I will probably install it on my MacBook Pro (my work machine) via BootCamp.

In addition to the laudatory articles, there have been a series of articles about various aspects of the new release, especially those having to do with integrating different functions: Cortana, which draws on email, browsing, and calendar (among others) to optimize its efficiency, and WiFi Sense, which allows the sharing of hotspots and personal WiFi networks among socially connected users.

The toplining of “smart” software has been met with considerable apprehension, some of which tips over into breathless headlines such as “Windows 10 is spying on almost everything you do.” Microsoft’s security settings are long and detailed, and their explanations offer more transparency about data collection and recording than we’re used to. For example, telemetry has been around for years, but now people are noticing that it can’t be turned off.

Unlike the two big mobile systems (iOS and Android), Windows is overwhelmingly identified with computers. Not tablets, not phones, just computers. Something like 90 percent of the world’s computers run Windows, while only tiny fraction of tablets and phones run Windows or Windows Mobile. So shrinking the gap between mobile and computer has different ramifications, both practically and symbolically. In the case of Windows 10, some of the most talked-about changes are features that people take for granted in mobile but haven’t thought about as being part of their computer use.

(more…)

Commodity fetishism

I was having dinner with a friend this past weekend in a trendy Palo Alto restaurant, and we were talking about Adam Smith and Karl Marx, as you do (well, you do if you’re political scientists). I looked around the room at one point and when he asked me why, I told him I was looking for somewhere wearing an Apple Watch. I figured I was in was a highly likely place to see one. Sadly, I didn’t, but I couldn’t see every diner’s wrist, so I retain hope that the Watch was there, lurking, out of my view.

"White AppleWatch with Screen" by Justin14 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:White_AppleWatch_with_Screen.png#/media/File:White_AppleWatch_with_Screen.png

I wonder if we’ve reached Peak Commodity Fetishism with the Apple Watch. I hope so, because it would be depressing to think we could go further. Commodity fetishism is a term coined by Marx to describe the condition in which objects are valued for something other than what they are used for and the labor that inheres in their production. The first paragraph of this overview is a good, succinct summary of the concept.

Many people are aware that Apple makes most of its vast profits on its hardware (although I would argue that its software is increasingly important, even if indirectly, because of the way it ties people into its ecosystem and the way each software/app purchase fuels other purchases). But unlike many other makers of things, Apple’s things are esteemed not just for the usefulness of the products and their ease of use, but also for the way they look. Design is enormously important to Apple because its customers value it so highly. One might argue that Steve Jobs valued design for its own sake, but at this point it can’t be disentangled from Apple’s marketing strategy.

(more…)

What I’ve been teaching: Privacy

This spring I’ve been teaching a course on the politics of privacy. I first taught it as a summer school course two years ago, when I had half a dozen students and ran it as a seminar. It was a lot of fun, and I got to try out unfamiliar readings and unusual assignments. The following spring TheHusband taught it as a lecture course, and now this year it was my turn again (we plan to alternate).

It’s a pretty interdisciplinary syllabus. We start with sociological readings from the 1960s on the social construction of the self and the self in public, because you can’t understand the private sphere without thinking about the public sphere. The reading list includes everything from law articles and legal cases (including Romanceland’s own Carolyn Jewel) to economics articles to current EU, Canadian, and US statutes on privacy. And also Gawker and Reddit (yes, your tuition dollars are being spent on teachers who send their students off to read stories on Reddit. I’m sorry). We finish up by watching a couple of recent documentaries, 2014’s The Internet’s Own Boy (about Aaron Swartz) and CitizenFour (the 2015 Oscar winner about Eric Snowden, now on HBO, GO WATCH IT EVERYBODY).

I tell the students at the beginning of the class that teaching this class is in many ways a selfish act on my part. Those of you who followed my VM blog know that I’m very interested in the digital divide and uneven access to technology. My more than two decades online, especially the last decade and the explosion of social media, has made me think a lot about the intersection of technology and privacy. But as a certified member of The Olds, my take on these issues is very different from that of my students. Policies and laws are passed and implemented by people who are closer to my age than theirs, but they are the ones who have grown up in a connected world and will never have the option to leave it.

One of the truisms I see a lot in online discussions is that millenials “don’t worry about privacy.” That is not my experience at all. Some of them are blasé but many are not. Granted, I have a self-selected sample of millenials who are more likely to care about these issues. But even within this group, while attitudes vary about how much privacy they want or expect, they’re not ignorant about the benefits and drawbacks.

That said, they’re not always fully aware of how many ways privacy is not in their control, and one of the things I try to get across to them is an understanding of what kind of data are out there. They do an assignment they call “internet self-stalking,” in which they go to computers that they don’t usually use and surf via a variety of browsers to see how much information there is about them online, and where that information might have come from. Some of what they discover is expected, but other results are not. The students are often surprised by how much information is put online by other people. If they have commonplace names or share names with more famous people then they are safer, because their results will be lost among the rest. But if they have even slightly unusual names, they’ll show up.

(more…)