Category Archives: Products

A(nother) tale of two phones

When I first entered the realm of smartphone existence in June of 2009, I went with the Palm Pre. I made a really bad decision for a few good reasons:

1) One of my very close friends works as a mobile technology analyst for a very large bank. He anticipated that, based on the initial reviews the Pre was getting, it could be the phone to finally break the iPhone’s choke hold on the smartphone market. I am a fan of dark horses.

2) Being one of the first-wave adopters was a risk, and I am a risk-taking sort of person.

3) My contract with Verizon was up and the Pre was just about to be released.

When I first got it, I was ecstatic. I still appreciate many of its features: Its Linux-based Web OS operating system is sleek and intuitive, its universal address book flawlessly syncs information between your online and mobile contacts, and its battery life is pretty good once you learn that searching for signal and the GPS are what drains it (putting it in airplane mode when you’re out of range and disabling the GPS fixes this).

But it didn’t take long before I started to encounter some deal-breaking problems. On multiple occasions (including right now), it would seemingly arbitrarily decide to stop syncing my email. The first time this happened, hours on the phone with tech support and two trips to the Sprint store could not remedy the problem, and I ended up getting a replacement phone. Sprint’s tech support is so abysmal that the next five times this happened, instead of stressing myself out by dealing with those people, I simply went without email on my phone until the problem seemingly arbitrarily fixed itself after a few days/weeks. It’s gotten extremely sluggish over time, with the touch-screen commands executing a good 5 seconds after they were initiated, sometimes more. The camera phone app now takes minutes to open, if it does at all. And finally, the PHONE APP broke, so I haven’t been able to make or receive calls for about two months.

It soon became clear the Pre was not the dark horse some had hoped it would be. Aside from the hardware problems, or maybe because of them, mobile application builders stopped investing time and resources on WebOS aps. And the app catalog was a mess to begin with, and nobody ever cleaned it up. I could get by for a while, but then even the facebook app stopped working and I couldn’t post photos to the web anywhere with my phone. After Twitter changed its authentication method to OAuth, none of the Twitter apps for the Pre worked anymore, and still nobody has bothered to fix them or make new ones.

Me = Fed up.

Thankfully, my friend Dave Winer, after seeing me suffer in a state of smartphone limbo for quite some time, gave me a spare phone he had as an early birthday present. Thank you X a million, Dave!!!

Continue reading

Gendered Color Dichotomies-R-Us

A Toys-R-Us advertisement made its way around the Internet yesterday followed by a trail of outrage and discussion regarding gender and science education. The offending ad, blogged yesterday by Lisa Wade from Sociological Images, features side-by-side sets of three microscopes and three telescopes of various colors and magnifications, with the lowest strength equipment corresponding to the pink instrument, AKA the girl’s instrument.

The image is a bit blurry so to clarify, the maximum magnification of the microscopes are black -1200x, red-900x, pink-600x; the two black telescopes featured reach 525x and 250x, while the pink one is labeled at 90x.

As Dr. Isis, who has blogged about the ad over at On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess, noted, nobody would dare deny that pink is the color most positively associated with the female gender. I also wouldn’t expect to hear any arguments that it is also the color most negatively associated with masculinity (unless you happen to be a Jewish frat boy from New Jersey). The ad gives the impression that the girl version of the science toys are the weakest in functionality, making Toys-R-Us seem to be promoting the idea that science is a man’s activity.

Well, yeah. Men far outnumber women in scientific areas of study and professions, most notably in the top hierarchical tiers. But they shouldn’t (Larry Summers you can eat me). So why not give the girlies crutches like these pink toys to get them involved in science and equalize the discrepancy?

Dr. Isis put it nicely:

I get the alleged altruistic intent, even though it only very thinly veils a heap of patriarchal baloney — we’re showing the girls that they can do boy stuff and still be “girly” too, even if the work they are able to do with the tools will be, by design, subpar… I worry about needing to send the message that science must be fashionable to attract girls, because I fear that fashion is deeply rooted in the patriarchy — rooted in a culture that teaches girls to be subservient, demure, and open to the sexual whims of their male counterparts… Creating a separate but equal dichotomy for children has the potential to be the biggest science FAIL in the history of the universe.

OK. So there’s a few different things going on here, so let’s examine this issue more closely. First, I want to address the question: Is it is correct to assume that the science toys manufactured for girls are less powerful? If so, what are the implications of that? Could Toys-R-Us, a corporation that has the power to majorly influence the perceptions of children, be either intentionally or unintentionally using this gendered color dichotomy to reinforce the idea that science is for boys?

I wanted to give them the benefit of doubt. So I went to the Toys-R-Us website and looked at their entire selection of microscopes and telescopes. They are all part of a Toys-R-Us exclusive line called “Edu-Science” which is listed under the categories of “Learning” and “Science and Discovery”. Using screen shots from the website, I put together these image clusters so you can get a better idea of where the pink products fall in the line-up.

Here we see that while the pink telescope has the lowest magnification offered, it has a black counterpart. It’s not like the lowest-end model ONLY comes in pink. That would would have looked really bad for Toys-R-Us — as bad as it did in their advertisement.

With the microscopes, the pink item is placed at a mid-ranged level and has a black counterpart, so it’s not the case here either that the girls’ instrument is the weakest. So it seems Toys-R-Us is not SO bad after all, although they definitely have a shitty coupon book-making team. They’re a business and their goal is to sell more products, and either they’re testing if pink science tools can do that, or they’ve established that they can and are riding the wave. So with this in mind, I would like to pose these questions to those put-off by the ad: Would you rather see the pink telescope eliminated completely from the product line, or have a pink telescope offered as an alternative to the high-end models? Is the fact that a pink microscope exists offensive? Given that its functionality is the same as the other $34.99 model, would it be inappropriate to give that to a girl?

Not to taint your opinions, but I know what my choice would be, and I’m sure you will be able to guess after I say that I personally despise pink and all it stands for. It’s like the Communist red of Capitalism, inextricable from its associations. What I would prefer is to see the pink=girl association shattered forEVER and have kids’ toys and clothing offered in a range of colors. I really don’t like Apple products because they are all too god damn cute for me, but I’m going to use it as an example and point out that when the first colored iPod line, the iPod mini, was released in 2004, there wasn’t a silver one and a pink one, there was silver, orange, pink, blue and green. Choices, they’re the spice of life.

There’s something else that’s bothering me about this whole thing, and I don’t know if I’ve quite nailed it down. But it’s two-part and one has to do with the answer to this question: Given that the functionalities of the pink telescope and microscope are the same as their black counterparts, would it be inappropriate to give the pink instruments to a boy? Imagine your son or nephew ripping off your wrapping paper to find a pink microscope, or a pink anything, and I think you know the answer.

While the pink items might be marketed towards the girls, who are inclined to pick them because it is aligned with their gender role identity, girls more-or-less have a choice if they want the pink or the black one. But boys can’t choose. If a male chooses something feminine, he is emasculated and ridiculed for his selection, sometimes automatically labeled as gay. And I find this to be very sad.

The second part has to do with all the shit that I get for wearing Dr. Marten combat boots on the regular. I love them, yet a certain Laboratory Goddess who will remain nameless, despises them. She has said that I am far too lovely to be wearing those grungy boots, and I adore her for that because I knew she says it with love, the criticism mostly in jest, but still. But I don’t want to be just a pretty girl all the time. I want to be MORE than a pretty girl. My ability to wear combat boots in the face of criticism comes from the same place that allowed me to excel in math and science my whole life — it’s a place of defiance against norms. And I know some people love high heels and shoes that are girly, and I do too sometimes. (Especially the ones she got me for Christmas last year!) But if we are going to criticize a toy store for pushing pink science toys on girls to keep them aligned with their gender roles, we can’t criticize those girls when they break out of those roles. Then they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t, and that only leads to neurosis.

To conclude, If we want to stop producing adult women with notions of intellectual and societal inferiority that keep them from pursuing and advancing in scientific fields, we need to stop ingraining these notions in our kids by segregating them with “boy” and “girl” versions of goods based on the notions of gender that create the dynamics we’re trying to change. And then if those kids grow up with the freedom and confidence to break societal modes, we need to support them, not punish them.

OK, that’s all I’ve got for now. One of these days I’ll tell you about my black ballet shoes.

Palm Pre + me = Love

Te quiero mi amor.

Te quiero mi amor.

From the instant I heard of you, through the murmured musings on my favorite tech blog, I knew I had to know you. They said you could be the one to finally put the iPhone to shame after all these years of its boasting… that arrogant device. You piqued my interest, dark horse. I had to know more.

I went to your website and that was the first time I laid eyes on you… your sleek frame, your compact numerical keypad, your large, wide screen. You made my heart race, Pre. I knew I had to have you. I surrendered my email address to your makers with confidence, something I am usually reluctant to do. I don’t trust so easily, Pre. I’ve been spammed in the past, and those wounds take time to heal. I don’t just give away access to my inbox anymore.

But you…. you were different. I didn’t know if I could afford you or if you were really as good as they said you were. I have high standards, Pre. But I also have intuition, and it was telling me with forceful persistence that I just had to know when you would be ready. Ready for me to hold you.

The media reviewers started to buzz about you, making me giddy with excitement. They loved you, Pre! Though some were weary to pick a favorite between you and your Apple enemy. I know it is no small feat to convert an iPhone user. They are comfortable in their mediocrity, and to question only makes them defensive. To convince them of your superiority, or even to have them rate you as merely an equal — to me that indicates you have already won the competition.

And you won my heart, Pre. When I saw the novice Gizmodo review of you, I felt a rage wash over me. How could he submerge you in soft cheese?? How could he defile you like that?? I took a stand for you, Pre. Because reading the empty criticisms of an Apple lover in that review, I knew. I knew that you were the one for me.

And then the very next day, I saw it. Waiting for me in my inbox. The alert from your makers:

Today’s the day. The new Palm® Pre phone on the all-new Palm webOS platform is here.

I knew you wouldn’t let me down, Pre. And it was destiny, you see. Did you know, my precious? Did you know that my Verizon contract had ended June 3rd? Did you know that my other beloved phone was dying? That it struggled to connect the audio when it was open in its primary position, forcing me to talk through speaker phone in the texting form, like it was some kind of Nextel 2-way? Shhh you don’t have to tell me if you knew, Pre. It won’t change how I feel about you.

Continue reading

Why Palm Pre is the phone for me (even if it isn’t the one for Gizmodo)

Alternate title: Why “Mac people” shouldn’t review tech gadgets. In this Gizmodo review of the new Palm Pre, Jason Chen loses much credibility as soon as he gives himself away as a Mac Person by criticizing the Pre’s address book system: “I was able to pull my contacts from Facebook and Google into the phone quite easily, despite the Pre not supporting syncing to OS X Address Book, so it was a near-seamless transition.” The fact that this software is only available for iPhones, is the first clue of Chen’s bias. But in my humble opinion, simply using a Mac product does not make one a “Mac person”. I use a MacBook primarily, but I also appreciate PCs and operating systems oriented towards PC users, and can adapt to virtually any piece of technology if necessary. To me a “Mac person” is someone who values “user friendliness” above all else — even above the ability to use the technology to its full potential and craft it to her own specifications. Mac people generally want everything pre-packaged and don’t care if they don’t have the option to customize or modify specific features. Being a Mac person isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does limit one’s ability to analyze new technologies, much like Chen’s perspective is in his review. Though he gives it pretty good ratings overall, he is obviously iPhone-centric and has several petty complaints about features that sound like they would be a plus for someone like me:

Design

The first thing you’ll notice as you slide open the Pre is the absurdly sharp ridge digging against your palm. Nowhere—not on the iPhone, the G1, the G2 or any of HTC’s other smartphones—has a phone been so threatening to the integrity of my skin.

Cry me a river, Mac Boy. I like my phones like I like my analyses: sharp. If you cut your finger, it’s your own fault for making a classic Mac person mistake: NOT READING THE DIRECTIONS until after the fact. At least you learned the error of your ways and realized that you’re supposed to push up from the screen to open. I may be a rarity in that I enjoy reading instruction manuals cover-to-cover, but IMO it’s like voting: If you don’t do it, STFU and stop complaining.

Continue reading