Motorola, Adoptable Storage, Capitalism, and Disappointment

I made sure the first Android device I got had an SD card slot. It came with limited "internal" memory, but an SD slot seemed to offer plenty of space for expansion. Ha. As it turned out, most apps couldn't be moved to the external storage. Or keep their data there. It the end, it turned out to be nearly useless and I realized I'd been sold a pig in a poke.

About a year ago, I got low-end Motorola E4 and discovered that it supported "adoptable storage" by which the SD card was integrated into the device's filesystem. I was skeptical, having gotten burned before. But I bought a card and plugged it in. It warned me that it might be slow. But it was fine. It worked great. Seamless. I helped my son set it up on his Moto Z Play and it worked fine.

I liked the Moto E4, except for the camera. So I decided to step up and get a Moto X4. I moved my SIM card and SD card over. Except the X4 doesn't support adoptable storage. The option isn't available.

There aren't any convincing explanations for why Motorola chose to not implement adoptable storage for this model, except as a business decision to drive people to more expensive phones. Sigh... I hate that aspect of capitalism that makes companies create intentionally inferior products to maximize revenue, rather than just making products with the features that people really want.

Unfortunately, it's probably a showstopper for me: I use syncthing to manage my music, photos, and working documents and it can't write to SD cards due to the same vagaries of Android that made my first SD card so useless. So I'm planning to return the phone. What a huge disappointment.

Not Creepy At All

This is a story that Phil and I have been trying to tell, but have been reluctant because it sounds kind of creepy. But my goal is to persuade you that it isn't creepy at all. Well, not very creepy anyway.

When Phil and I attended the Esperanto "Landa Kongreso" in St. Louis, Darcy Ross also attended. She brought with her a whole contingent of other students she had organized from the student Esperanto club at the University of Illinois. A bunch of us other (older) folks were hanging out in the hotel lobby when Darcy breezed in chattered with us for a few minutes in Esperanto and then breezed out. All the men sighed as she left and a grandmotherly Maria Murphy said, "Ŝi estas tre ĉarma, ĉu ne?" ("She's very charming, isn't she?") And all the men agreed, "Jes, jes. Tre ĉarma!"

Dr. Robert Read, one of the other esperantists, upon hearing that there was suddenly an Esperanto club in Champaign with 14 or 15 such active learners, wanted very much to meet with them -- to see whether there was some factor or technique that could be replicated to initiate an Esperanto revolution all across the country. So we all had lunch together.

d-ro Robert Read

After lunch, I asked Dr. Read what he had learned. He thought for a moment and said (in the penetrating way he does), "Well, I understand it now. To produce this kind of fantastic change in any community, all you need is Darcy." And we mused for a few minutes about how it was just too bad you couldn't clone people.

And for a day or two, Phil and I were wistful about how every club couldn't have their own Darcy. And at some point one of us had the insight that, not only Esperanto clubs could use a Darcy: that EVERYONE needed a Darcy. A Darcy of their very own.

So for 10 years, Phil and I have quietly mused about the idea of everyone having a Darcy of their very own. See? It's not creepy. Not creepy at all.

And what would you do with your very own Darcy? Whatever she tells you to.

Attending a Hearing

On Friday, I attended a hearing at Hampshire Superior Court. It may be the first time I've attended a judicial hearing. I've seen them on television, of course: hearing the bailiff call "All rise!" is an iconic part of crime dramas. One thing I'd never heard before was that the lawyers referred to each other as "my brother". Maybe that's a Massachusetts thing. In any event, to see it in real life was an interesting cultural experience.

The hearing was about a lawsuit filed on behalf of two students arguing that the selection of the date of the preliminary election for Amherst Town Council disenfranchised them. The students themselves weren't there. Indeed there were no students in attendance. Several elderly women were there in support of their side, including one who periodically would say, "Mm-HMM!" when their lawyer made a point. Their lawyer was quite effective, in spite of the fact that he had little or nothing to work with: the Charter Commission reported that the preliminary election would be on same date as the statewide primary more than a year in advance. And the date was approved by the Charter Commission, the Select Board, Town Meeting, the State legislature, and signed by the Governor. If there was a problem with the date, students could have raised this issue at any of these previous points. To come in at the very end -- barely a month before the election -- to seek an injunction, seems pretty unreasonable.

When the lawyers for the Town were able to speak, they began their presentation, but the judge stopped them and asked them to address the last question raised by the other lawyer. This seemed to throw their presentation off track -- that was evidently one of the last points they were going to make -- and so their presentation was not as polished. But I think the Town is on solid ground with the election and I would be very surprised if the election were derailed now. Still, you never really know with the courts. Much of legal argumentation is about the applicability of previous cases and there are always a boat load of weird precedents.

UPDATE: Court finds for the Town of Amherst and the election will proceed.

Alisa for Amherst Again

Alisa is running for town-wide office in Amherst again. I'm pleased to support her candidacy. There is no one more qualified or who has a better understanding of town issues and politics than Alisa. Especially for the first Town Council, I hope voters have the wisdom to select her to help shape the policies and practices that will make the Council effective.

During my time off this summer, I spent some of it to help her set up her new campaign website: alisaforamherst.com. It gave me an opportunity to play with using the Bootstrap templates. They're pretty easy to use for a brochure-ware kind of site. Ten years ago, I thought a CMS was clearly the way to go, since the trend seemed to be toward multiple authorship, public engagement, and continuous updates. Instead, people have farmed out most of that to Facebook. But also still see the value of having a brochure-ware site to have an independent presence on the web. It's sad, although the ongoing effort to maintain a content management system has turned out to be much higher than most of us expected. Much higher than I expected anyway.

On September 4th, Amherst will have a preliminary election, timed to the same date as the state-wide primary election. And then the general election will be on Nov 6. To vote, you need to register at least 20 days prior to the election. To vote in the preliminary election, you need to register by Aug 15. Please vote!

Weird Volume Icon Behavior

This afternoon, I was puzzled when I discovered that every time I lifted my mouse off the desk, the volume indicator would flash on the screen for a moment. It was pretty irritating. I wondered if i had turned on some accessibility feature. Or if some app had gone haywire. Or if I had malware. I googled and found a number of pages reporting similar behavior, but nothing diagnostic.

I spent some little time trying to diagnose the behavior. It seemed perfectly repeatable. Lift mouse, icon appears. I checked System Preferences for the mouse and accessibility without finding anything. I tried quitting apps. I tried rebooting. But the behavior persisted. It was perfectly reliable: lift the mouse and the volume icon appears.

I finally went to talk to the IT staff to see if they'd seen anything like that. George said he'd seen a computer doing something like that yesterday. But he hadn't figured it out.

I sat back down at my computer and looked at the screen. When I lifted the mouse, there was the volume indicator looking like it was thinking about changing. But what could be changing it? Then I remembered that I'm using one of the Matias keyboards and they have a dial for the volume on the back. And the dial was pressed up against the base of my monitor. Doh! When I moved the keyboard so that the dial wasn't touching the base, the behavior vanished.

Maybe this post will help someone else figure it out when it happens to them.

Non-Responsibility

This summer, for the first time ever, I decided I would take seriously the idea that, as an employee on a 9-month contract, I have a period of non-responsibility. In the past, I've simply gone into my office and worked all summer (with exception of holidays and occasional research trips or family vacations).

It didn't help that within two days of starting, I got another flu-like virus that progressed to viral pneumonia and had everyone threatening to take me to the emergency room. Nor that the following week, my dear colleague had organized a science education workshop that had me going in for 8 hours a day. But after that, I began to actually shift into another gear.

I stayed home. I worked in the yard, doing battle with the weeds. I did some repairs around the house that, previously, I would have simply given up on.

I let my son convince me to start playing Pokémon Go. I started walking more.

And finally, after two or three weeks, I realized I had reached a different baseline for stress. I wasn't constantly feeling punchy. I was able to sit back and consider things from a different perspective. It's been good.

I also was able to start getting caught up with my Global Voices editorial responsibilities. I had fallen behind in March and hadn't been able to pick them up again. Now I'm almost caught up.

This week, the on-line class I'm teaching becomes available to students, tho doesn't formally start until next week. I've been spending some time during the past couple of weeks getting ready.

Of course, the email never ends. I've still been spending a couple of hours every day keeping on top of email. I also have made time to meet with the technical staff, have an exit interview with our outgoing CIO, write letters of recommendation for students, etc.

I've also been enjoying the chance to take a nap now and again. And on a hot day like today, I'll think that's what I'll do now.

The Long Arc

It's painful watching reactionaries and morons impede progress on important long-term projects (e.g. the Paris Agreement or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.) And, while it is cold comfort, it's worth recalling the victories we've won in the past.

I remember as a kid when unleaded gasoline was introduced. Previously, tetraethyl-lead was used, almost universally, to allow higher compression ratios in gasoline engines. Scientists fought a battle for years against powerful corporate interests to discontinue the use of lead which is a neurotoxin that causes profound damage during human growth and development. Eventually, they won. We won! Lead was phased out over a twenty-year period. During this time, when you went to the gas station both were available as "regular" or "unleaded". Finally, it was discontinued entirely and unleaded had become "regular". Since then, it's been proposed that leaded gasoline was a cause of a huge spike in violent crime. And soil near busy roadways is still heavily contaminated by lead. But we won! Science won! Trump and his corporate cronies won't be bringing back leaded gasoline.

I also remember ozone depletion. Scientists discovered that chemicals used in refrigeration and aerosols were causing ozone to break down in the upper atmosphere. Again, the corporate interests fought tooth-and-nail to obfuscate and undermine the science. But in the face of growing evidence about the seriousness of the threat, an international consensus lead to the banning of the ozone depleting substances. Trump isn't going to reverse that either.

These are both examples of victories won during a time when science wasn't under threat the way it is today. Now, the enemies of progress are trying to make it impossible to collect evidence about the effects of climate change. And to undermine education and defund basic science altogether. While it's painful to watch their moronic antics, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

Flickr: Still the best image-sharing site

Lifto slovaka

I've always been suspicious of "cloud" services. But I started using Flickr in 2004 (The first image I posted is at the left) because it was convenient. You could post an image and easily grab a lower-resolution version to reference in HTML from a webpage. And I could create "badges" on websites that would show thumbnails of recent photos in a feed. And their early support of Creative Commons was nothing short of ground-breaking.

Eventually, I came to use Flickr in my teaching. Each semester, I still do an activity where I introduce the students to copyright, creative commons (CC), and scientific figures. Few of my students (juniors in college) have the first idea of copyright or have heard of the Creative Commons. Left to their own devices, students will go to Google Images, download any old picture, and use it uncited. (This is somewhat less true now than it was in the past: Google now lets you filter for CC-licensed imagery and makes it harder to just grab images. But Flickr makes it easy to find and use CC-licensed imagery.) Next, I have the students work in pairs to find a CC-licensed image that each student can write a different legend for. A figure needs to play a meaningful role in a paper: you don't just include a figure as decoration: you need to use it to make a point. By having the students recognize that you can use a figure to make multiple points, I hope they get the idea that the legend needs to explain why the author included the figure. In addition, we discuss how to construct a correctly-structured legend including a citation for a CC-licensed image.

Early on, I mostly used their "free" service and only posted a very small subset of the photos I took, but eventually start using the paid service so I could post high resolution images without worrying about going over monthly limit. I renewed my "pro" account just weeks before they announced their purchase and adoption of a "free-only" model.

It was crushing when Flickr was sold to Yahoo. Others have written about how they wasted their engineering effort trying to turn it into a Yahoo property, rather than allowing it to continue at the forefront of image sharing. They could have been *the* photosharing service and, instead, were merely defaced with the ugly purple Yahoo navigation bar while Facebook, Instagram, and others went into to dominate in photo sharing.

Another side effect of the Yahoo acquisition was the decision to implement various national censoring policies, which resulted in photos being unavailable, particularly in France and Germany, that could be seen from elsewhere. This caused the Esperanto community to leave Flickr for Ipernity. (Ipernity was nearly a feature-complete copy of Flickr with a bunch of additional social-media add-ons. It looked like they were going to shut down a year or two ago, but they seem to have resuscitated a bit. I never totally liked it, at least in part, because it would only allow you to download full-quality images if you were logged in.)

But while other services surged ahead, Flickr continued along on their own path with their diehard fans. It seems like lots of serious photographers use Flickr. But I have to admit that I really haven't paid much attention to the community aspects of Flickr: I use it mainly as a back-end piece of infrastructure, and don't pay attention to the groups and followers as I used to.

As Yahoo dwindled, I was really concerned for what might happen to Flickr. I was encouraged to hear that they'd been purchased by SmugMug which has committed to continuing to support it. I'm hopeful that it will continue and grow, because it really is the best at what it does: let you easily share and repurpose images.

Digital Signage Technology Expo

I attended a "digital signage technology expo" by a technology integrator, on May 3, 2018 which was rather disappointing. The flacks running the event were pleasant enough, but the presentation was a grainy live video feed with choppy audio from a vendor someplace far away. There was an opportunity to ask questions of the vendor, but the integrator basically didn't speak at all and never did introductions or facilitated conversation among the audience.

The product that was demonstrated had a number of features that might seem attractive to someone ticking boxes on an RFP, but left me cold. For example, there was the centralized control for administrators to take over everyone's displays and dole out permissions on a by-user basis. On the plus side, the solution presented was "flexible" from a content manager's standpoint: the demo made it look reasonably easy to integrate materials from a wide array of sources to show on displays. The interface to their system is a web-application. In terms of overall ease-of-use, I would rate it somewhere between Spire and Moodle. The output, however, could easily be a chaos of poor quality materials cobbled together on the screen. Yes, it's easy to throw up a lot of garbage, but you still need a designer to build something that looks nice.

The vendor showed some examples, where they had built interactive displays and kiosks, but those seemed to be one-off items -- not part of the regular package. With everyone having cell phones now, I think those kinds of things are mostly going away.

Their pricing is contracted by year and so, if you quit paying, all your displays go dark. The MSRP pricing quoted was $750/display/year, plus hardware cost, plus $2k for a local server that proxies the connections back to their company servers that serve everything. (Although the vendor indicated that the technology integrator would be able to give us a "break on pricing" because they were "such a good partner.")

Currently, the BCRC is supporting about 25 displays (=$18,750/year). If the campus chose this vendor and we wanted to participate, our devices would not integrate with the system without purchasing new players and probably some new displays. (The vendor said their software doesn't work on Raspberry Pis because they "burn out after a week", although we've been using Raspberry Pis for digital signage for years, including the very first one we got in 2012, and they're basically all still going strong.)

One feature we don't currently have is any kind of "emergency notification system." The vendor activated the one on the display behind him which then showed a vibrating exclamation point and announced something like "Please exit through the lobby!" It continued to show this behind him for the rest of his presentation. It's an interesting challenge to me to think how to organize and structure the control of emergency notifications. It seems like it would need to be on a case-by-case and sign-by-sign basis. Or maybe you could have pre-programmed messages for different circumstances (for fire, for tornado, for active shooter). At least if the message is going to be at all appropriate, it would need to be like that, I think.

Speaking only for myself, this is the only vendor I've seen so far, but it doesn't look like a good for for our needs at either the department or college level.

State funding of public higher education is a Massachusetts problem

You can never entirely trust the media to report things correctly, but in a recent Valley Advocate article, Stan Rosenberg is quoted saying something pretty disingenuous. Regarding the decline in funding for Public Higher Education, he says, “Massachusetts may be kind of in an exaggerated position, but this is not a Massachusetts problem, this is a national problem.” I beg your pardon?

I can sort of understand that kind of statement with respect to, say, ecological problems. Climate change is a global problem with huge implications for the state, yet the state, whether it wants to or not, can't solve a global problem. But we're talking about our state university. And we're talking about the decline in state funding. Yes, it's a problem in many other states too—but I don't think it's meaningful to describe the problem as "not a Massachusetts problem". Is Stan suggesting that the Feds are supposed to fix the refusal of states to fund higher education? I don't buy it. This *IS* a Massachusetts problem. And Massachusetts can fix it.

Public Higher Education is a huge economic driver in the state. Most of the graduates stay in-state and provide a highly skilled workforce attractive to employers. Every dollar spent on Public Higher Education creates additional economic activity because the workers all live in Massachusetts. The debt our students are assuming to complete their educations is a huge economic drag on the future. We can and should fix this.

C'mon Stan. The ball's in your court.

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