Fogey Friday
26th January
Aaron Swartz, Hapi Fork
Google Glasses
The Dish Network Hopper

Jan 24, 2013 No Comments by


Tech Fogey had never heard of Aaron Swartz (left) until he died.  His is the final story in today’s selection.



No News is Good News

At CES in early Jan a stand-flunky for an app developer asked, ‘Does your phone run Android or iOS?’  ‘Neither,’ we replied.  He was momentarily flummoxed. He could have suggested Windows as an operating system but his not having done so only goes to show how far away from everyday consciousness the Nokia/Microsoft alliance is.  But we don’t use a Windows phone either.  We think our Sony Ericsson runs on a Symbian platform but wouldn’t swear to it.  Something called Opera facilitates extremely basic web-browsing on the phone but it’s so ponderously slow we only ever use it to check footie scores.

Whatever you want. Whatever.

That little anecdote is just to illustrate the assumptions people make in certain circumstances.  It stands to reason that attendees at CES would be using the latest tech, both in terms of hardware and software.  Tech Fogey isn’t on Facebook or Linkedin or any of that palaver but editors at The Times must assume most of us are because they gave Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg half their front page on 16th January.  Mark was sort-of launching a Facebook search engine.  The basic premise seems to be that when you use Facebook’s ‘graph search’, information gleaned from your Facebook profile and that of all your Facebook ‘friends’ will be used to provide answers.  We’re not sure about you but if Tech Fogey was going to ask friends’ advice on a specific topic we wouldn’t poll all of them.  Doubtless Facebook will have accommodated such prejudice but the whole thing still seems like a big, fat ‘so what?’ And the new search function isn’t out there yet, it’s still testing.

It’s easy to be sniffy about supposed advancements and improvements to our online experience and it’s not so much that TF is underwhelmed in this instance but we are fairly perplexed that the mass media seems astounded and impressed by ‘news’ that barely qualifies as such.


Fork Off

The offending flatware

Since CES you will have found it difficult to have picked up a newspaper or current affairs publication that didn’t feature a loathsome product called The Hapi Fork.  Eating is one of the few regular, consistent pleasures left to the average Fogey, so to be chided by cutlery into eating more slowly or eating less (the Hapi Fork vibrates and lights flash in the handle if you’re scarfing your lunch) seems purely evil.  We have Gaviscon and we know how to swig it. TF saw this product being demonstrated at CES, thought ‘ridiculous gimmick’ and ignored it like any sane person would.  But after we got home there it was, all over the media, although we were quite pleased that Kevin Maher in The Times thought it symptomatic of the end of personal responsibility and rational thought.  He hated the Hapi Fork, but more than that he hated the idea of the Hapi Fork and the egregious fuckwits who created it.  Go Kevin!  We’d link to his diatribe but we can’t because The Times online is subscription-only.


All Seeing.  All Knowing.

Should have gone to…

In other news, one of the principal Googlers, Sergey Brin, was spotted on the New York subway (that’s their underground, not a wee-drenched pedestrian underpass) wearing Google glasses.  Apparently this will be like having a smartphone screen in your mind’s eye.  Add voice recognition (which is the coming thing, inasmuch as it will actually begin to work…) and there will be no jabbing away at your handset’s screen, you’ll just say, ‘Where the hell is Bob?’ and the combo of Google Glasses and the smartphone in your pocket will pinpoint the location of your friend Robert, show where he is in relation to you, posit an ETA and stop you getting cross that you’re always on time and everyone else is always late.  Since Google ‘owns’ the Android mobile operating system and is at mutually antipathetic ‘war’ with Apple, don’t expect Google Glasses to have anything to do with an iPhone.  That Google Glasses might also tell you stuff that is bleedin’ obvious to any sentient being (whether it’s cold out, for example) also got Kevin Maher’s goat and became an addition to his rant against the Hapi Fork.  Tech Fogey now likes Kevin even more.  There’s an article about Google Glasses and Brin being ‘made’ from The Independent here


Dishing the Dirt

The naughty box and sibling

Another CES-related story concerned Greg Sandoval, a writer for which is probably the biggest, most influential tech website in the world.  Cnet is owned by CBS, itself no media minnow.  The editors of Cnet had nominated the Dish Network’s Hopper as one of their ‘best in show’ products from CES. There is on-going litigation between CBS and The Dish Network and parent told sibling to remove its rival’s product from their best-of list.  “I no longer have confidence that CBS is committed to editorial independence,” said Sandoval, who took a hike along with his conscience.  Good for him. Read more here. The Dish Network then took out a whole-page ad in the New York Times to crow about this occurrence.  Maybe, quietly, they offered Sandoval a job but let’s not bet on it.  All of this happened in the US, so you might think it has no bearing on goings-on in the UK.  And you’d be right, unfortunately, because the Dish Network’s Hopper is a set-top receiver-recorder cable TV box that allows you to make recordings that skip all the ads.  Genius.  We want one.  There’s more info here, although it will only make you jealous.  One day Tech Fogey will be a huge media monolith but for now, while we’re not in the advertising game, we can afford to be impartial.  Odd that Cnet/CBS can’t.


 Real Gone Kid

And finally, the case of Aaron Swartz (pictured at the top of the page), an American tech whizz-kid who hanged himself at the age of 26 just prior to a court case that could have seen him spend the next 50-or-so years in jail.  Swartz’s ‘crime’ was to appropriate many thousands of academic documents with a view to making them freely available on-line.  The repository of these papers was JSTOR, part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which is where Matt Damon’s character swept floors in Good Will Hunting.  JSTOR, which kept all the papers behind a pay-wall, didn’t want to prosecute Swartz but MIT and the US district attorney Carmen Ortiz were determined to do so.  The gist of her argument was that stealing is stealing, no matter what it is or whether anyone got hurt etc.  Follow this unimpeachable logic to its natural conclusion and every avaricious banker in the state of Mass. would be looking at a lengthy stretch as well, but somehow their thieving (that did hurt people – millions of them) is ok and what Swartz was trying to do wasn’t.  It all smacks of self-aggrandisement on the part of Ortiz and her side-kick Stephen Heymann.  If Ortiz wanted to get herself in newspapers worldwide Swartz’s suicide has certainly done it.  Tragically, as some commentators have pointed out, Swartz’s biggest failing was impatience – many academic institutions are in the process of liberating their research documents and making online access to them free and easy.  Another silver lining, though, is that all the hard-working, noble legal eagles and US secret service agents who would have worked the Swartz case will now be twiddling their thumbs for a few weeks.  Maybe they’ll go visit his grave.  Read more from Rolling Stone here and read the comments too.