Technology

I “Quant” Believe I’m Monitoring My Sleep, and It’s Working

One unanticipated consequence of upgrading to an Apple Watch Series 3 is that I’ve been monitoring my sleep. That’s right: I am the same data grouch who bemoaned the quantified life, and here I am, tracking the amount of time I sleep, measuring the “quality” of my sleep, and comparing my sleeping heart rate from one day to the next. What’s wrong with me?!?

Part of this new regiment started when I upgraded to a new Apple Watch. The Series 3 offers a much improved battery compared to my old Series 0. However, I also started monitoring my sleep because, a year ago, I had downloaded a sleep-tracking app called Auto Sleep. The app wasn’t useful on my Series 0 because the battery would die in the middle of the night, and ironically, the watch itself would wake me up when I would toss and turn in bed. There were several occasions where the watch strap or the chassis itself would rub against my face, interrupt my sleep.

I was also curious of whether my sleeping habits were in need of some help. Like most people, it is not unusual for me to become tired in the middle of the day. Fortunately, my working conditions allow me to often remedy that with a quick coffee nap. I think that’s the only part of owning a car I miss: lunchtime naps in the parking lot.

Although I have had the speedy Series 3 with its capacious battery for over a month, I’ve only regularly started tracking my sleep over the last few weeks. Here’s what I’ve learned:

The first thing that I noticed that I don’t get anywhere nearly as much sleep as I thought I did. I discovered that I spend about an hour in bed awake each night, oftentimes much more than that. Prior to this sleep-tracking experiment, I would reason that if I go to bed around midnight and wake up about 7:00, I got a respectable seven hours of sleep. Wrong! The Auto Sleep app reports that I get closer to five hours of sleep on such nights. This is because I wake up multiple times in the middle of night: a bathroom break here, a neighbor or roommate making a sharp noise, a pesky cat asking for a predawn snack. The time I lie awake in bed likely explains why I get drowsy in the middle of the day.

Since then, I started to budget over eight hours in bed to get a respectable amount of sleep—about seven hours—each night. I can now appreciate the wisdom of Max Richter’s Sleep album, a collection of 204 songs that together last 8 hours and 23 minutes. The notes guarantee eight hours of sleep, and clearly count on some degree of sleeplessness during that stretch. I tried it but, as I tossed and turned, I kept bumping into my iPad that I had foolishly propped on a pillow next to my head.

A second discovery I made was that my average heart rate while sleeping is noticeably affected by two factors: whether I’ve been getting enough restful sleep over the past several days and whether I drank even a moderate amount of alcohol.

Observing the first factor was a revelation. I saw my sleeping heart rate drop from as high 78 bpm at the beginning of a restful-night streak to something in the low 60s.

However, last Wednesday, March 21, during what appears to have been the final Nor’easter of March 2018, I walked to the local brewery to stave off cabin fever and to taste some new IPAs. I nursed four pints over a four-hour period, but that was enough to wreck my sleep. Auto Sleep rated that night’s sleep with a 58% recharge rating, whereas I had scored something closer to 90% over the past three days. My average heart rate on that stormy, intemperate night was 79 bpm, which is similar to my heart rate while I sit at this desk and type, whereas my heart rate was 12-13 beats slower during the previous three nights. Finally, it had a lingering effect over the next two nights: my recharge rating was closer to 80%. It wouldn’t be until two more nights that I again scored a recharge rating of at least 90%.

The effects of nursing four pints of IPA over four hours on my sleep were pretty hard and lingered for a couple of days.

A third revelation from this whole sleep-monitoring exercise is that I have to work harder to get enough sleep. That defies my own sense of logic. But working hard to sleep more is something I can get behind.

Finally, I have been noticing an overall positive effect on my energy. I haven’t needed my customary coffee nap after getting a few consecutive nights of quality sleep. I don’t know if it’s a placebo effect, but just the other day, I tried to take a quick lunchtime nap. I couldn’t do it. I was wide awake, and instead, I started composing a draft for this post.

A Month with my New, Refurbished Apple Watch Series 3, or Series 3 > Series 0

When Apple introduced the fourth version of Apple Watch, which they called Series 3, I was excited about upgrading my first-generation Apple Watch, but I wanted to wait until either Apple began to sell certified refurbished watches or I received one as a gift.

Since late February, I have been using a Series 3 GPS (the non-LTE) model that replaced my nearly three year-old, first-generation Apple Watch, which we nerds derisively call “Series 0” because it did almost nothing. As for how I got this shiny new watch, I was able to scoop up a refurbished 42mm, Series 3 in Space Black when Apple began stocking them in late February.

The new (refurbished) watch is a significant upgrade over my first-generation Apple Watch for three key reasons:

  1. It is much faster. As friends and strangers alike asked me whether I would recommend an Apple Watch, I usually said no. Its best feature, I noted, was that it could tell time. But I was hoping for something like an iPhone for my writst. The Series 0 did not offer that, but the Series 3 works like I wish Apple Watch did back in 2015.

  2. It is much more useful. The faster processor and the dual-core architecture of the Series 3 offers much more utility over the single-core processor of the Series 0. Most of it is because of speed. I can use my Apple Watch almost like I can use my iPhone. Even Siri has become useful. Not only does it talk, when I bark the command “start a cycling workout,” it will really start a launch the Activity app and start a Cycling Workout. And it will actually start recording my bike ride before I’ve ridden at least two miles, as used to happen with my Series 0.

  3. The battery lasts a lot longer. Nearly three years of daily charging cycles had taken its toll on my Series 0 battery. Whereas the Series 0 would get through about a day and a half between charge cycles when it was new, the aging battery had noticeably degraded. I could barely get through my waking day between charges.

    The new battery on my Series 3, on the other hand (pun alert!), has gone as long as two full days between charges. And the battery also appears to charge a lot faster. The new battery allows me to wear my watch to sleep, and despite my skepticism of the quantified life, I have been enjoying monitoring my sleep.

  4. The display is noticeably brighter and with better color. It’s funny how Apple continually ups the ante with displays, even when the previous ones were more than adequate. I didn’t think the display on my iPhone 3G was deficient, but when iPhone 4 introduced us to Retina displays in 2010, there was no going back. The same has been true for iPad Pro’s ProMotion, True Tone display over whatever display my previous iPad, the 2013 iPad Air, was sporting.

    The display on the Apple Watch Series 3 is much clearer and peering at it is a significantly nicer experience. Who knew?

Overall, I’m happy to have upgraded. The Series 3 is significantly more useful than my first-generation Series 0, and the Watch has become a bigger part of my day-to-day activities. The only downside I noticed is that the Series 3 is thicker than a Series 0. MacTracker reports that indeed the newer Apple Watch is 0.45 inches thick compared to 0.41 inches thick for the older one. But it doesn’t feel any heavier so who cares?

If my cousin, who once came to this site to gauge my opinion of the then-new iPhone 7, is reading this, I say this: Apple Watch Series 3 is the Apple Watch I’ve been expecting since they were announced in 2014. It’s about time!

Et Tu, Manjoo

It’s the Ides of March (BEWARE!), and over the last week, it’s come out that Farhad Manjoo’s two-months of only getting his news from print, which I discussed last week on this site, might not have quite the digital diet he led us to believe. In his column, Manjoo indicates that he “unplugged from Twitter,” but as Dan Mitchell and Joshua Benton reported since the column’s publishing, he was very active on Twitter.

Mitchell writing in the Columbia Journalism Review more or less deems Manjoo as a Twitter addict-in-denial:

It seems likely that Manjoo isn’t lying, and that he really believes he had unplugged, and really believes that his weak-sauce explanations don’t belie the point of his column. It could be that Manjoo’s column really does serve as a warning about the pernicious effects of social media. Just not in the way he meant it.

The Neiman Lab’s Joshua Benton digs into Manjoo’s activity on Twitter, using the Twitter API and with some hacky data visualization, as Benton himself admits, learns a few things:

  1. Manjoo did use Twitter less during his “diet” period, beginning in mid-January.
  2. During Manjoo’s two-month print news diet, Manjoo posts from Nuzzel, a news curation tool for Twitter. Nuzzel might have allowed Manjoo to “slow jam the news,” as he describes the purpose of his experiment. However, Benton describes Nuzzel as “a nicotine patch,” reinforcing the notion that Manjoo acts like an addict-in-denial.
  3. Benton notes that Manjoo didn’t just post and repost article from Twitter, but he also liked a lot of other people’s posts. This suggests that Manjoo was spending a lot of time scrolling through his Twitter feed.

In all, Benton concludes that “to say Manjoo ‘unplugged from Twitter’ really isn’t accurate.”

Bob Garfield, on WNYC’s On the Media, called out Manjoo’s claim that he “unplugged from Twitter.” In a special episode podcast episode released this week, Garfield says, “Farhad spent most of his 48-day diet sneaking into the fridge. In the time that he was supposedly “unplugged” from Twitter news, he had tweeted hundreds and hundreds of times. Not the crime of the century — but still, oops.”

Garfield interviews Manjoo, and it’s certainly awkward hearing Manjoo offer qualifications and exceptions to what he meant by being “unplugged.” Garfield appears unmoved, unconvinced, and even disappointed in Manjoo.

Of course, while using Twitter is not a crime and from what we know, he did really “slow jam the news” by subscribing to print newspapers and magazines, reading books, listening to podcasts and subscribing to newsletters, Manjoo undercut his credibility by continuing to use Twitter during this period. There was one line that really spoke to me and respect his noble experiment. At the end of his column, Manjoo reassures his readers that “you don’t have to read a print newspaper to get a better relationship with the news. But, for goodness’ sake, please stop getting your news mainly from Twitter and Facebook.”

Manjoo, who is well-educated and an experienced journalist, should have heeded his own advice… for at least for a couple of months.

Comcast Might Have Blocked an Encrypted Email Service, but Not Knowing Whether It Did or Not is Why We Need Net Neutrality

On March 1, 2018, Comcast customers could not reach the Germany-based encrypted email service, Tutanota, using their Comcast broadband connections. According to Zack Whittaker, writing for Zero Day at ZDNet

Starting in the afternoon on March 1, people weren’t sure if the site was offline or if it had been attacked. Reddit threads speculated about the outage. Some said that Comcast was actively blocking the site, while others dismissed the claims altogether. Several tweets alerted the Hanover, Germany-based encrypted messaging provider to the alleged blockade, which showed a “connection timed out” message to Comcast users.

It was as if to hundreds of Comcast customers, Tutanota didn’t exist.

But as soon as users switched to another non-Comcast internet connection, the site appeared as normal

The outage is activating advocates for net neutrality because it seems like Comcast was blocking a website that it didn’t like. Or it could be a technical glitch between Comcast and Tutanota. This happened in 2015 when HBO launched HBO Now, the standalone service that does not require a multichannel video (“cable-TV”) subscription. (Comcast is the largest multichannel video provider and distributor in the United States.) The outage prompted an outrage from Comcast customers who could not access HBO Now’s and accused Comcast of acting in bad faith. It turned out to be a technical glitch involving DNS.

That 2014 HBO Now incident and this recent Tutanota outage underscores the reasons why we need net neutrality. Without it, the Internet can’t operate as a bona fide communications network and can block whatever site they see unfit. In the United States, broadband Internet is monopolized by a small number of companies, and the broadband oligopoly creates distrust between consumers and Internet service providers. Net neutrality is not just good for the broadband customers but also the companies who run these networks.

Farhad Manjoo’s Junk-Free, Two-Month Print-News Cleanse

The tech columnist at the New York Times, Farhad Manjoo, spent the first two months of 2018 only getting his news from print sources. The experiment seems a bit counter intuitive to what a technology reporter should do. Why would someone surrounded by high-tech gadgets want to get his news in this low-tech, antiquated way?

The experiment seems to have yielded two conclusions. The first, which he readily acknowledges, is that it allowed him to get news at a slower rate, or “slow jam the news,” as he calls it. This allowed him to spend his time doing other things, rather than react to each news alert and post on social media. The results, he admits were quite dramatic: “I’m embarrassed about how much free time I have — in two months, I managed to read half a dozen books, took up pottery and (I think) became a more attentive husband and father.”

This is a common theme in the discourse of “being disconnected” from our digital devices. Disconnecting, the thinking goes, will allow us to live life at a more human (and humane?) pace, one more naturally attuned to our physiology and our psychology. Perhaps, there is a truth to that, but we humans are quite adaptable. These same arguments were made when newspapers were around: “how can anyone process so much news that fast?” Today, we make those same arguments to digital news.

The second conclusion he reaches is that he now gets higher-quality news. His new print-only news diet directed him to “looking to formats that prized depth and accuracy over speed.” He lists New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The San Francisco Chronicle, and the weekly newsmagazine, The Economist as the ones he chose to subscribe to and read regularly. The result was that he felt better informed.

I don’t doubt that Manjoo is getting better news through these sources, but it’s not their print-first format that makes them so reputable: it’s the professional journalists who write for them. Being a journalist is like being a physician in that both professions train intensively and are both committed to the truth. A journalist learns methods for investigating and adheres to practices to present information in a responsible way, not unlike the physician’s long program of study prepares her to follow a proper course of treatment and adhere to a patient’s well-being.

Perhaps, it’s no coincidence that the Internet and born-digital “news” outlets have brought us so much junk news (or “fake news,” in the parlance of our times) over the years, as well as the junk science that feeds the anti-vaxxers and the anti-medicine crowd. The barriers of entry to start propagandistic and fraudulent websites are pretty low. In a way, this is why digital news is so polluted. Those who start and write for these junk news and junk science sites are usually the same know-nothings that rail against professional journalism (derisively calling it “fake news” or the “mainstream media”) and also against medicine. And don’t get me started on the anti-scientific bozos who drink “raw water,” or where Louis Pasteur meets Charles Darwin.

Social media has only amplified and expanded the reach of these junk dealers. Manjoo concludes, “you don’t have to read a print newspaper to get a better relationship with the news. But, for goodness’ sake, please stop getting your news mainly from Twitter and Facebook.” That is because, as we have seen, social media treats all “news” the same, and that has helped spark the disinformation that we’ve seen over the last twenty years. But that is not to say that the news a print journalist reports can’t be shared responsibly online.

And vice-versa: print is not immune to disinformation. As early as the nineteenth century, we had all kinds of salacious news, hoaxes, and outright frauds printed in newspapers. It took newspaper publishers a lot of soul searching and the field of journalism to establish professional training programs to make print the gold-standard of news and information.

Update: Apparently Manjoo couldn’t lay off the Twitter, much in the same way I can’t lay off those buttery Tate’s cookies.

There’s No Accounting for Taste

Longtime readers of this site know that I am almost universally appreciative of everything that Apple does. But over the last few years, there was one thing about Apple that has bugged me: their taste in music—and now TV shows—is pretty lame. I think this casts a shadow over their otherwise nifty products, which reflect a refined sense of taste in their hardware and software design that is unmatched. And now that they’re getting involved in TV and movie production, I worry about what they’ll produce.

iTunes Podcast Directory

Back in the summer of 2005, Apple first entered the podcasting game by integrating it into iTunes. Up until that point, listening to podcasts was an exclusive domain for nerds. It required third-party software: I used iPodder. It required some understanding of RSS and how it worked, and it required expertise in knowing where to find podcasts in the first place. I vaguely remember listening to a subscribing to a few podcasts back then. Some related to “budget rock” music, some to news and politics, and a bunch other nerdy fare. Suffice to say, these reflected my own personal tastes.

Apple's Podcast Directory, July 2005

Apple's Podcast Directory, July 2005

Apple sought to introduce podcasts to the masses when it integrated podcasts into iTunes 4.9, making it easier to add podcasts to your IPod. They also added Podcasts Directory to the iTunes Store, a feature that remains to this day. However, I disliked the store because it highlighted the podcasts of the big media companies, especially Disney, a media conglomerate that Apple has had a close relationship by virtue of Steve Jobs and Pixar. I wrote as much on the old, Moveable Type version of this site:

But what is most significantly different from all the various podcasting directories and the new iTunes is that its podcast directory spotlights the podcasts from large content producers. When you first open the directory, you’ll note the presence of the big media companies. When I opened the directory this afternoon, I got a podcast for ABC News and one for ESPN. Clearly, there’s an arrangement with Disney. But the other partnerships seem a bit more tailored for the iPod crowd’s tastes, according to Madison Avenue. There’s NPR affiliates (KCRW, WGBH), CBC, and Bravo’s Queer Eye. If you dig a little deeper, you can find a large number of independent podcasts, but it’s like finding that rare imported beer at your supermarket. You’re going to have to dig past all the Bud, Miller, and Coors to find it.

The popularity and variety of podcasts has exploded since 2005, although its rise has been uneven. While there have been podcasting stars, such as Adam Carolla and Serial and now Bill Simmons and The Daily, podcasting remains a relatively open platform with an wide variety of choices for every possible taste. Podcasting in 2018 is not wholly determined by the Podcast Directory of 2005.

Keep Music Personal

Another example of my distaste for Apple’s taste is the live musical performances integrated into many keynotes.1 I relish each and every keynote address and product launch Apple does. These are not just well-produced media events; they’re often studies in great theater. But I cringed, for example, when John Mayer came on at the end of the iPhone’s introduction at the 2007 Macworld Expo.

John Mayer playing at the Macworld 2007 keynote where the iPhone was announced / Photo by Derrick Story

It’s understandable if no one remembers Mayer playing this keynote. After all, he followed the introduction of what would become the most influential computing device in a generation, and no one can really tell you what else Apple also announced that day. I don’t have anything against John Mayer. I hear he’s a fine musician, and I feel bad that he had to follow the iPhone in the same way I feel bad that the Rolling Stones followed James Brown in The T.A.M.I. Show. But having these performances felt like Apple was trying to shove some middle-of-the-road rock music into our iPods and, later, our iPhones. Apple has continued this tradition with having Coldplay’s Chris Martin perform in 2010 and Sia take the stage in 2016. Neither is music that I would ever listen to on my own. And when these performances start, I always stop watching the keynote.

The public seemed most upset about Apple’s middle-of-the-road tastes in 2014 when they “bought” U2’s new album, Songs of Experience, and added it to everyone’s iTunes account. Undoubtedly there must have been some U2 fans who appreciated getting this album on their iPhones, but I think Apple overestimated the breadth of U2’s appeal. A lot of people were angry about this unwanted gift. Even if U2 was the most popular living rock band in the world, which they arguably were, I understand the backlash because, for years, Apple has marketed their devices as personal and adding U2 to everyone’s device seemed invasive.

I initially feared that Apple Music would turn out to be a disaster because they focused so heavily on the Beats Music aspect of it. I watched the June 2015 WWDC keynote with great interest, and the Apple Music introduction was by far the least impressive of all their announcements that day. Not only that, the Beats Radio stations and programs reminded me a lot of what we saw featured in the iTunes Podcasts Directory: a bunch of middle-of-the-road offerings that betrayed why I liked podcasts and streaming music versus terrestrial and satellite radio, and why I liked buying CDs online instead of the limited selection at the local music store.

If you watch the video of the Apple Music introduction, there’s something off-putting about watching Eddy Cue make playlists. His personal, eclectic taste isn’t mine. Did you just tell me to listen to Loren Kramar? Kramar, by the way, hasn’t released anything since the 2015 single that Cue demos.

There’s no way for me to prove this, but I think that Apple Music is succeeding despite Beats Radio not because of it. Apple Music is doing well because it lets users stream music in much the same way Spotify does, although I suspect Spotify’s recommendation algorithm is better than Apple Music because Apple kinda sucks at AI.

All Apple Music had to do to succeed was flawlessly allow subscribers to find and play whatever music they want, reflecting each user’s personal taste, not the middle-of-the-road taste that Apple seems to espouse.

Now, We Add Pictures to Sound

On a recent episode of the Upgrade podcast, Jason Snell and Myke Hurley reported that Bryan Fuller had left the Apple’s revival of the 1980s anthology TV series Amazing Stories. They speculated that Fuller left because he wanted the license to produce adult, dystopian programming, something like a Black Mirror on Netflix, but that Apple wants programming that is safe to show on a big screen in Apple Stores. They reason that this caused some creative friction between Fuller’s and Apple’s goals, and that led to Fuller’s exit.

Of course, nobody except Fuller really knows the exact “creative differences” that led him to leave the series, and Snell and Hurley indicate as much. But their reasonable speculative explanation shows that Apple has established a specific taste for content, and it’s not necessarily as groundbreaking as they might think it is.


  1. There’s also the comedic bits at the beginning of recent keynotes. While I normally like James Corden, I’d much rather listen to Craig Federighi tell some dad jokes about macOS than watch Carpool Karaoke with Tim Cook and Pharrell

Net Neutrality, but with Hamburgers

Burger King produced an online video advertisement using the delivery of their signature Whopper sandwich to explain how an Internet service provider can discriminate against a non-preferred website or Internet service. You can watch the nearly three-minute video on YouTube.

In this ad, a Burger King location implements a tiered delivery system. One can buy a “premium” Whopper that comes with a higher Mbps, which of course for broadband means “megabits per second” but at this Burger King location means “making burgers per second.” When an irate customer questions the delay, a Burger King counter employee explains that Burger King prefers to sell chicken sandwiches and Chicken Fries (which are way less gross than I expected, by the way) so it offers those at a standard rate. However, if you want a Whopper, as many customers in this video want, you will either have to wait for it to come through the slow pipeline or have to pay an additional fee to have it prioritized.

The sandwich offerings at Burger King offer a clear, yet imperfect metaphor for the websites and Internet services that can be blocked or throttled by an Internet service provider. The chicken sandwich and Chicken Fries presumably represent the video content and websites owned by the ISPs or their parent companies. I previously explained that this is why AT&T is looking to acquire Time Warner’s vast media holdings and why Verizon and Comcast have already acquired content companies—Oath and NBC-Universal, respectively—over the last decade.

The metaphor falls apart somewhat because Burger King “owns” the Whopper as well as Chicken Fries, and, of course, they block access to other options. It’s not like you can walk into a Burger King and order a Diet Coke or a Big Mac. However, it’s not like there are places in the world where you’re stuck only ever going to Burger King or McDonald’s but never the other. You have a choice in fast food establishments (and other ways to procure calories), but you almost certainly don’t have a choice in your Internet service provider.

After a while, the customers in the video understandably get impatient, angry, and frustrated.

And some even get physical. A couple of customers grab and tug at the bag from the counter employee. As per Burger King policy, he is waiting until the arbitrarily imposed latency period on the Whopper has elapsed.

Basing a fast-food ad on a wonky communications policy, albeit one with significant real world consequences, seems counterintuitive and even unbelievable. Would anyone understand this? Would anyone get the jokes? Yes, of course. Burger King wouldn’t have bothered making this video if a lot of people wouldn’t understand it and wouldn’t get the jokes. Free Press’s Craig Aaron notes that the ad demonstrates just popular and widely know net neutrality is among young people. He writes, “right now Net Neutrality ranks high on the list of concerns of millennial voters — right up there with marijuana legalization. If nothing else, BK knows its target demo.”

A few months ago, I wrote about how Coca-Cola introduced OK Soda to expands it reach to customers who were presumably too jaded to drink Coke. In that post, I referenced a video and describes it as “postmodern.” While I preferred the term “self-referential” to “postmodern,” this ad uses the same technique. At the end of the video, there’s a self-referrential wink-and-a-nod to those in-the-know with when the King appears in the store’s parking lot and takes a drink from an oversized Reese’s coffee mug.

That’s a reference to Chairman Pai’s stupid oversized Reese’s coffee mug, which was featured in Last Week Tonight with John Oliver last year. Most people likely know about the mug as do about the impact of Title I versus Title II classification: that is to say, a lot of people know.

He often appears with this mug as a bit of “dad humor,” making himself seem jovial and self-deprecating, much like he did when he danced with a “wannabe Pizzagater” in a video published on a right-wing, junk news website. It is also an attempt to distract from his corporate friendly policies that threaten the public interest.

However, as I’ve regularly warned on this site, Chairman Pai’s regulatory actions, such as repealing net neutrality, eliminating broadcast ownership caps, and allowing right-wing ideologues to reach virtually every American household, are no laughing matter.

Apple, Lithium-Ion Batteries, and the Slowdown Conspiracy

I have few friends and family members that marvel at how I always seem to have the newest iPhone. That’s not actually true. I only get a new phone, usually on launch day, every two years, and I certainly didn’t get an iPhone X this year. I suspect that they think I’m always going to get a new phone because some of those friends keep their trusty iPhones around for a while. Case in point: I have a friend with an iPhone 5s, a phone released in 2013. Four years is a couple of epochs in the history of smartphones.

That same friend who carries a four-year old iPhone is constantly searching for a free power outlet to charge her phone or using a portable battery pack to keep it going throughout the day. She reports that the battery level will quickly go from 50% to 40% to 20% to dead in a short amount of time. She insists that she will buy a new phone soon so she can stop worrying about this. However, I insist that if she’s never replaced the battery inside her phone, her phone powers off because the battery is four years old and can’t hold a charge like it did when a year ago, much less like it did when it was new.

The lithium-ion batteries in our devices offer the best mass-produced, battery technology around, but it is often the first thing to fail on our devices. A lithium-ion battery will last between 500-1000 charge cycles. If you run down your battery every day and charge it at night, that is one charge cycle. Many of us do this multiple times per day. That means that we’re likely running our phone batteries through 500 charge cycles in a single year. Replacing a battery—something that costs between $40 and $80 and takes about an hour of time—will give the device a whole new life.

Earlier this month, Apple publicly admitted that it slows down the processor in older phones with aging batteries to prevent the sudden shutdowns that my friend—and many others—experience every day, especially in cold weather. The processor slow down, I suspect, is like what happens when a user turns on Power Save mode. Operations on the phone get slower but not so much so that the phone becomes unusable. In fact, I’ve seen many users keep their phones on Power Save mode almost all of the time, ostensibly to run their phones longer without needing to charge it throughout the day.

Conspiracy theorists believe that Apple slows down older iPhones to get people to buy a new iPhone. There are many reasons why this is not a credible theory, including:

  • it’s unlikely that Apple software engineers are adding code to slow down iPhones when they reach a certain age because it seems antithetical to what Apple as a company does.
  • a lot of these older phones are still for sale as new phones, including the 2015 iPhone 6s and presumably will still support for another two years.
  • if people feel their iPhones get prematurely slow, why would they buy another iPhone instead of ditching Apple altogether?

The irony of this conspiracy theory is that Apple slowing down the phones was an attempt to get people to use their phones longer, not to buy new ones. The slowdown was designed to stop this very process:

  1. Aging iPhone either suddenly shuts down or runs down in battery level, e.g., from 20% to dead, in a short amount of time.
  2. User gets frustrated and begins to consider buying a new phone.
  3. User buys a new phone.

Yes, this solves the battery problem, but if your got a flat tire on a bike or a dead car battery, you wouldn’t buy a new bike or a new car, would you?

Instead, if a user updated her iPhone 5s to 10.2.1 or iPhone 7 to 11.2, her phone with a depleted battery would slow down to maintain a charge longer and prevent those sudden shutdowns or rundowns. And given how most smartphone users under-utilize their phones, it’s likely this decrease in performance would go unnoticed. The benchmarking scores, which show a 50% decrease in performance, push the iPhones much harder than ordinary users do.

Anecdotally, I ran my iPhone battery down to 20% yesterday in less than six hours, which is likely the topic for another post. But during its last twenty percent charge, while in Power Save mode, the phone lasted for another three hours. I was still able to use the phone without it performing significantly slower.

It wouldn’t surprise me that people were using a perceived slowdown as a reason to buy a new phone, not because it actually was any slower but because they simply want a new phone. Or, they wanted to buy a new phone because, like a sell-by date on a packaged food item, they felt it had gone bad, even if it still passed the smell test and was still safe to eat.

Apple’s fault here was in not telling its users that this was how they fixed the sudden shutdown problem in iPhone 6s earlier this year by not showing the battery’s health and the number of charge cycles it has undergone in iOS. I hope the promised software update in 2018 will do just that: allow the user to determine whether their battery health is low and know that replacing the battery will bring the phone back to life.

And Then They Repealed Net Neutrality

Today, as expected, the Federal Communications Commission has voted to repeal its own net neutrality rules along partisan lines, by a vote of 3-2. And that wasn’t even the biggest news story in US media industries. Earlier today, Disney agreed to buy the movie and television assets of 21st Century Fox for over $66 billion in cash and stock. This deal has now pared down Rupert Murdoch’s one labyrinthine News Corp. media empire to a bunch of broadcast TV stations, the broadcast television network, and several cable TV networks. These moves have emerged in a climate of technological change but also of deregulatory moves ushered by Donald Trump’s FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

Net Neutrality Rules Repealed

As I’ve mentioned before in a series of posts on this site, this is one of several deregulatory measures that this FCC, led by Chairman Pai, to give broadcasters and Internet service providers more power at the expense of consumer protections and the interest of the public.

Repealing the FCC’s net neutrality rules will make it possible for Internet service providers—your “beloved” cable and telephone company—to turn the Internet to something that could look like what we had with AOL in the 1990s: a closed network with curated content with limited access to the open Internet. The latter is what doomed AOL and its 2000 merger with Time Warner.

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that AT&T is attempting to acquire Time Warner and its vast library of media properties and content. With net neutrality rules out of the way, a provider like AT&T can realize its vision to dominate the Internet. Tim Wu, who coined the term “net neutrality” predicted as much in his 2010 book The Master Switch. Wu writes:

it doesn’t take a genius to realize that if AT&T and the cable companies exercised broad discretion to speed up the business of some firms and slow down that of others, they would gain the power of life and death over the Internet.

The telecommunications companies can do this because repealing net neutrality rules reclassifies broadband Internet service providers from common carriers to information services. The days of Internet-as-we-know-it might be numbered. At worst, it will be something like AOL in the 1990s. Or it will be something like cable TV and its curated 500-channel universe. Both were information services.

Centralize All Broadcast Activities

But it’s not just the Internet that Chairman Pai’s FCC has given over to the major corporate interests; he’s also cleared the way for broadcast station owners to expand their reach through out the United States.

Back in April, Chairman Pai led the FCC to restore the UHF discount rule, allowing owners of all-UHF stations to reach as much as 78% of all US households. As I wrote earlier, the UHF discount rule was developed in an era when US TV households mostly watched VHF channels 2-13 over UHF channels 14-69. The Obama-era FCC eliminated that discount on the grounds that the rule was deprecated. There is no difference in terms of VHF and UHF stations in today’s multichannel TV environment.

Also today, at the same Commissioners meeting to vote down the net neutrality rules, the FCC voted to review eliminating the 39% TV station ownership cap rule. This rule, designed to keep one station owner from reaching too many people through broadcasting, was already a relaxed version of the FCC’s original seven-station rule. But Chairman Pai apparently wants to allow broadcast station owners to reach even more American households and further reduce the diversity of voices using the public airwaves.

Both the UHF discount and the give Sinclair Broadcasting and the “New Fox” the opportunity to grow the number of broadcast TV stations they can own and expand their reach to US households. Not only could this have some competitive implications, it also forebodes some chilling ideological consequences. It’s not unlike what the Nazi’s chief propagandist Joseph Goebbels wrote in 1933:

Above all, it is necessary to centralize all radio activities to place spiritual tasks ahead of technical ones, to introduce the leadership principle, to provide a clear worldview, and to present this worldview in flexible ways.

Both Sinclair’s and Fox’s owners are both staunch conservatives and supporters of Chairman Pat’s boss Donald Trump and their news coverage has consistently supported Trump’s policies.

Take Action on Net Neutrality

Although I realize that the tone of this post is downright dreary, we the public can still take action to restore net neutrality rules. Basically, it comes down to fighting Chairman Pai on two fronts:

  1. We can lobby Congress to pass “net neutrality” legislation. Any action the FCC takes on classifying Internet service providers—as common carriers or information services—can be rendered moot through legislation. It might take until after the 2018 midterm elections to get this done, but legislation is the only way to guarantee an open Internet for the long term.
  2. Take the FCC to court. This is less than ideal because it must protect net neutrality rules within the current legal framework, which is not very specific about net neutrality. Nonetheless, Free Press plans to file a lawsuit against the FCC. I don’t know their legal strategy, but it might be on the grounds that the FCC has unlawfully abdicated its authority over the Internet. A lawsuit would likely lead to an injunction to keep the current net-neutrality rules in place. After that, prevailing in court could keep the Internet open, but as I wrote above, legislation is the best way to do it.

Now get going! It is only our freedom of speech and a robust marketplace of ideas that is at stake. Otherwise, we might as well be China.

When Google Calendar’s Appointment Slots Displays the Wrong Timezone

I’ve been a reluctant user of G Suite for Education—or Google Apps for Education, as it used to be known—for a few years. There have been a few headaches teaching classes with Google over the years, but because I so despise full-service learning management systems, such as Moodle and Blackboard, I’ve integrated G Suite and Google Classroom with my own vanilla HTML website to manage my courses.

About a year ago, I learned that Google Calendar supports self-scheduling appointment slots. It basically works like this:

  1. I create blocks of time in my Google Calendar where I’m available to meet with my students, either in person or through Google Hangouts. For regularly scheduled office hours, I make those slots a repeating event.
  2. I share the appointment slots event page link with my students, both on the course syllabus and on my own website.
  3. Students book an appointment through the link, after signing in with a valid Google account.
  4. I get notified of the appointment date and time, and I see who booked the appointment. Because I configured the appointment slots to alert me in advance of the appointment, I get an alarm at five and ten minutes before the appointment starts.

Yesterday, I learned about a bug in the system. Some students see the wrong appointment time. In one instance, Google Calendar showed a student the available appointment slots in UTC, not New York time. She booked an appointment for 3:00 PM on the appointment slots event page, but inadvertently scheduled it for UTC time. When she showed up for our appointment at 3:00 PM New York time, she had missed it. My calendar app saw that the appointment was made for 3:00 PM UTC and correctly displayed and notified me that it was at 10:00 AM Eastern Time.

Reading through the Google Calendar support forums, it seems to happen to a lot of other users. The conventional wisdom about this problem is that I have my Google Calendar set to GMT-5 (America/New York) while my student may have her Google Calendar set to UTC. However, many people insist that the college, university, or organization sets everyone’s calendar to their local time ( GMT-5 in my case). However, my students will often use their personal Gmail accounts instead of their university issued G Suite for Education account. There’s no guarantee that their calendar is set to their own local time. It might be set to UTC. My intuition says this is what likely causes the timezone display bug and why it’s not consistent.

Good news, though! I did find a workaround that worked for me. I had to override the timezone Google Calendar displays by appending my own timezone to the appointment slot URL. Here’s how I did that:

  1. I created appointment slots in Google Calendar as I normally would.
  2. I copied the appointment page URL that Google Calendar provides to share with my constituents. It should look something like this:
    https://calendar.google.com/calendar/selfsched?sstoken=2AHtwhQ0cknZcpXB1vwH (except perhaps a bit longer).
  3. I pasted that URL to where I could share it with my students.
  4. I added the following text: &ctz= and my timezone. In my case, it’s America/New_York. You can find out your own timezone, organized by country, by browsing this list. Be sure you include the underscore if your location includes a compound name.

This will force the appointment slots event page to display in the timezone you indicated. If you and your students are in the same time zone, then both of you should be scheduling appointment as you would without anyone seeing a timezone in UTC time.

I do however foresee one potential limitation for my workaround: online classes where teachers and students might be scattered across different time zones. In those cases, I might want to indicate that the appointment will be in the timezone of our home institution, regardless of whether the student or I is actually in that particular timezone.