The blog formerly known as The Dobbs Method

The End

Posted in The Dobbs Method by Taylor Dobbs on 07/14/2010

This will be the last post on this blog. It took me a long time to do this, as this was my first blog, and it taught me so much. The reality is that I tried to make it both a(nother) well-followed tech blog and a personal blog at the same time. It was a doomed effort, and while some of my posts did okay for hits, they were the ones I didn’t have much fun writing and didn’t care much about. I was having to choose between readers and enjoyment, and I’m not going to make myself miserable for a few clicks.

I have been blogging a lot on tumblr recently, it’s a more social blogging site with very few metrics to obsess over. I’m posting what I want to post when I want to post it and not paying attention to who cares about it. There is no sense – at this point in my life – to blogging for anything other than fun, so I’m calling it quits here on WordPress. Thanks to the people who read here and for all the support. The new version of The Dobbs Method can be found here.

Later.

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Back to WordPress…

Posted in Internet, The Dobbs Method by Taylor Dobbs on 02/25/2010

After a two-week hiatus, I’m back to blogging here on wordpress. For the last two weeks, I was checking out a free trial of Squarespace, a browser-based site management service. It was awesome, and definitely a superior product (more customization, hosting, etc.), but it lacked one thing wordpress has: the price tag of 0.

As much as I’d like to be able to justify spending $7 per month on a website, this blog draws in some readers, but no money. Maybe once I’ve got a journalism gig and I can call it self-promotion, I’ll make the upgrade, but for now wordpress has me won.

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Google Pushes Broadband Market, Offers 1 Gbps Fiber-Optic Service

Posted in Internet by Taylor Dobbs on 02/11/2010

Think big with a gig.I posted earlier about the problem the U.S. has with broadband internet. Despite the availability of technologies that can offer extremely fast internet, as is in Japan and parts of Europe, the U.S. has stayed firmly behind. Part of the problem here is that, as with any economic market, suppliers (Internet Service Providers) won’t increase their own costs and keep prices the same just for the convenience of the consumer. They will, however, do this if it’s their only means of survival.

It appears that we’ll see a dramatic increase in speed in the broadband market over the next few years, as Google has just announced that they are running a small, 50,000 – 500,000 household internet service at 1 Gigabyte per second.That’s more than twice as fast as you can transfer songs to your iPod with that handy USB cable. Three entire DVDs, uncompressed, in the time it takes you to watch this video. In other words, it’s really fast.

What’s in it for Google? They want to test some experimental apps that will only run with extrmely high internet speeds, but I’m sure the income won’t hurt either. Another thing this means is that if Google takes a competitive market share, they can use that sway to push the net neutrality issues that they profit from so much.

The experiment is extremely small, which is definitely a bummer (if you’ were hoping to download Avatar in 3D HD before it came out on Blu-ray). Gmail started small too, then slowly spread from there. The model seems to be start small, stabilize, grow, stabilize, repeat. If Google follows this model, maybe Americans will finally be getting what they pay for by 2020. As it is now, we pay significantly more per megabyte per second than any other developed nation, and we run “broadband” that could be outmatched by Japan’s mobile carriers. Looks like the joke’s over for American ISPs.

As our favorite bartender would say, “Well it’s about damn time!”

The State of the Internet

Posted in Economics, Internet by Taylor Dobbs on 02/10/2010

Mashable posted a simple but very informative infographic about the state of the internet. It had information on demographics of internet users, usage statistics, a quick summary of the blogosphere, and probably most upsetting: internet statistics by nation.

The United States has the slowest broadband internet speed by far of all developed nations. If this isn’t depressing enough, my wonderful state of Vermont is ranked 47th in the nation for internet speed.

Considering America is forfeiting its manufacturing sector and moving almost entirely to an information economy, this is an extremely dangerous reality. It’s like being a fossil-fuel based economy and not producing any-

…well anyways, it isn’t good.

I’m all for Obama’s $8 billion rail stimulus, but I think (for once) AT&T is investing its billions more wisely this year, with $2 billion going to network improvements. This is a situation that will hopefully be fixed as quickly as American consumers realize how far behind the curve we are as a country and demand faster and more widespread broadband connectivity. Unfortunately for me and other tech-friendly Vermonters, I don’t think the movement is going to start anywhere near here.

An Open Letter to The Watertower

Posted in College, Journalism, Politics by Taylor Dobbs on 02/09/2010

To The Watertower:,

I’m writing to share an interesting story with you about a piece of your paper that led to some interesting discussion.

A police officer knocked on my door this morning regarding something I had posted on my door. It was a comic strip of yours (the one in which a girl is talking to her grandmother, who leads her to conclude that because women give blowjobs, men should hold doors for them) which had been posted when it was published (sometime in the fall). The officer asked me to remove it, explaining to me that she personally had no issue, but that the UVM police get a lot of calls about things like that and it’s a pain to have to come all the way to the building to ask people to take it down. Since she was there on other business, she decided she’d stop to ask that I take it down right there and save her the trouble. I would have argued but I really wasn’t sure about the rules around such things, so I took it down.

Later today I approached to Brian Hooks, Residence Director of Trinity Campus (where I live) and explained the situation, hoping to get more clarity on the issue. He was extremely helpful and courteous. As most of us know, the hallways are considered “public space” and are therefore under the watchful eye of ResLife. You can’t post porn on your door same as you can’t put up Hitler posters in the lobby of Harris-Millis.

My main question in the whole issue was how something that The Watertower deemed appropriate to publish and put out in public spaces around UVM could possibly be disallowed in a University residence hall. Apparently, ResLife does not allow The Watertower to be distributed within residence halls for this very reason. They do not want to be responsible for material that could be deemed offensive to anyone. Since The Cynic has to be University-approved before it’s distributed, they’re able to distribute in the dorms.

I understand that UVM housing is a touchy issue, as it needs to be a place where people feel safe and accepted. I agree that these things are vital to the residence community, but I also think that it’s vital that these people are accepted for who they choose to be, not faceless, politically correct, machines. Sure, I’m offended by some of the things I see and hear in my hall (you’d have to be strange not to), but I’d rather stop someone and try to explain my point of view and then request that they stop rather than blindly silence them. As a straight, white, male of average height and weight, it’s obviously very hard for me to speak for any of the groups more marginalized by society. In my opinion, though, every inch of a University should be dedicated to the spread of knowledge through discussion, debate, and print.

While neither the officer involved (who was also very nice and professional) or Mr. Hooks forms this policy, I was disappointed at the small swipe at free expression at UVM. I understand not being allowed to say derogatory things about women on our whiteboards or throwing around racist slurs in the halls (which happens much more than anything offensive is posted on a door), but posting something that was deemed by The Watertower as publishable and – in my opinion – serves exactly the social purpose that a comic strip is supposed to serve, seems like it should be allowed. Cartoons are very often satire of the flaws of society and they call to the surface important issues that must be well-understood if this generation is to go on and do what the university hopes we will do: make change.

-Taylor Dobbs
Class of 2012

Update: The Watertower got my letter and asked me to write an article on the issue for them. PDF is available here.

Mashable’s “8 Must-Have Traits of Tomorrow’s Journalist” Plus One

Posted in Journalism by Taylor Dobbs on 02/08/2010

Social Media news site Mashable put out a post naming 8 traits that all journalists should have in tomorrow’s world of journalism. It was a great story, and is definitely on track to being right on, as journalists and organizations that have these traits are already seeing higher success than those who are slower to adapt. Most of the traits are essentially in reaction to a shrinking journalism workforce, but their 8th point is key, and often marginalized in discussion of journalism in the internet age. Click the link above for elaboration, but these are the eight traits listed:

  1. Entrepreneurial and Business Savvy
  2. Programmer
  3. Open-minded Experimenter
  4. Multimedia Storyteller
  5. The Social Journalist and Community Builder
  6. Blogger and Curator
  7. Multi-skilled
  8. Fundamental Journalism Skills

I’d say this list is very good, based on what I’ve seen. Another item that might be added, though, is specialization. While the media through which journalists give information is clearly becoming more dynamic with online video and audio, the road to credibility is increasingly hard to travel in the internet age. With the erosion of gatekeeping organizations, anyone, however qualified or deserving, can write about anything and be published for the same audience as the most qualified of professionals.

My #9: The Beat is Back! It’s going to be difficult to gauge someone’s credibility on a topic in an age when even the most credible of journalists are posting in personal blogs. The distinction will be made, I think, in a journalist’s focus. The more a journalist works a specific beat, the more connections they are able to keep (and maintain through social media tools), thus climbing the ladder in this field. Sure, the one-man show and  other small organizations are exempt here (and this a large portion of news orgs), but freelancers especially will need to develop a strong online portfolio in order to sell stories in a time when credibility is so central an issue.

Image Credit: reportr.net

Operation: UI

Posted in Technology by Taylor Dobbs on 02/02/2010
Sci-Fi computer interface shown in the movie Minority Report

Gesture-based interfacing as shown in the movie Minority Report. I wish...

My newest project, and one I will probably never complete, is to set up all of my technology (MacBook Pro, iPhone, PS3, displays) so that it works perfectly to my needs and I don’t have to think about interfacing. The goal is to never have a “How do I…?” moment.

So far, I haven’t done much beyond tweaking preferences on various devices and a little AppleScripting. The big letdown I’ve had is a program called AirLock, which should make it so that my MacBook and iPhone interact similarly to a Toyota Prius and its keyfob. When I’m in the room, my mac can tell based on my iPhone’s proximity and unlocks, opening any specified programs. When I leave the room, my computer loses touch with the phone and locks up, only to be unlocked by a password or reestablished iPhone contact. Cool right? I thought so too. Unfortunately, like most bluetooth interactions, it’s extremely glitchy. This is especially true when using a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse (as is my situation) with the computer. Airlock is currently switched off, but I have hope for an update.

Obviously, I’m stuck with classic forms of interface. I can’t reinvent language input or improve upon Apple’s mousing. I’ve looked into using the iPhone to interface with the Mac, and that may work as well (more later). Apple’s Remote app allows iTunes to be remotely controlled by the iPhone as long as my computer and iPhone are on the same Wifi network. That’s awesome for when I’m laying in bed and my ambient tunes are a bit too loud for shuteye or if I lock the door and realize I’ve forgotten to turn the music off.

Lastly, my two biggest time-savers: Quicksilver and Ejector. Quicksilver is well-known to most Mac enthusiasts & heavy users, and rightfully so. For those who don’t know, it’s Spotlight on steroids. It launches apps, can be programmed to run any Applescript off of any hotkeys you give it, and it can control iTunes; those are just the functions I use. Quicksilver is run completely from the keyboard (though you can mouse if you want) and does a great job of keeping you working your Mac as fast as you can think, which is generally the goal.

Ejector is simple. It’s a menu-bar icon that allows me to eject one or all mounted drives, digital or external, without having to go to the desktop and select a box then drag the icons to the trash. It’s a life-saver when I’m late to class and need to eject both my externals as quickly as possible. It’s not for everyone (I’m pretty sure that I’m the only kid on my floor with more than one external), but for those few who do need it, it’s a godsend.

That’s about all the progress I’ve made so far towards perfecting the interface, but there’s still much room for improvement.

To be continued…

Storage & Bandwidth: Media’s Best Friends

Posted in Internet, Technology by Taylor Dobbs on 01/28/2010

I grew up with Napster, Kazaa, Limewire, and all the rest. Back in the good old days when the government was more worried about Monica Lewinsky than how I got that copy of the new Backstreet Boys album. Legality aside, there is more media flying around the world than ever before. Sure, you could chalk it up to consumer culture and constant demand, but the real answer to the call came in the ability of technology to store and transmit all of this media.

A few months ago, Chris Anderson, author of Free: The Future of a Radical Price wrote an article in Wired titled “Waste is Good.” The premise of his idea is that in a world where the means are cheap and convenient, why not reach for ends that are a stretch?

With media, now more than ever, the means are cheap. Only three years ago my dad was telling me how shocked he was to find that external hard drives were selling at a dollar per gig of storage. Back then, I didn’t even know what a Terabyte was. Now I’m shopping around for a 1 TB drive under $150. With the access we have to storage devices that can hold so much for so cheap and computers that can create media for only $500 why not make that silly video you had an idea for? A few years ago, there was no point in making it because so few videos went viral. This was mostly the case because the idea of streaming a video was only out-dreaded by the idea of hosting one. YouTube changed all that. With the broadband technologies widely available and always speeding up and storage as cheap as we have, there are hardly any reasons left not to make that silly youtube video, check out that album you’ve been wondering about, download those pictures, or do any of the other things you can do with media.

It’s only going to get easier from here, so get to work on that viral video. You can’t afford not to.

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iPad

Posted in Technology by Taylor Dobbs on 01/28/2010

Apple iPadAs a blog with any sort of tech leanings at all, it’d be an oversight not to throw in my say about Apple’s big announcement today. The iPad. I must say, I was waiting for the bombshell for the entire presentation, and it didn’t come. Maybe the real “wow” moment with this product will come when a new OS is released (possibly iPhone OS 4.0 this summer), but I still would have expected to have a moment within that presentation that really sold me on it.

That said, I’d be kidding myself if I said I don’t want one. I just don’t want one yet. A widely-held disappointment with the iPad (aside from the name) was that it lacked a camera. When I first saw the device, all I could think of was how nice it would be to be able to curl up in bed with in bed with it and Skype. All the other things I long for in the iPad are attainable by software updates (multi-tasking, sexier home screen, etc.), but a built-in camera seems like a necessity to me. Personally, I’d like two. One back-mounted camera (as is on the iPhone) that could do live streaming, photo, etc. and another mounted on the face of the device for things like Skype or webcasting.

I’ve heard the argument already that the iPad is not as capable as PC tablets and as a result isn’t as cost effective. What I say to that is that the iPad, whether Apple likes it or not, is just not a primary device. It would not be able to replace my MacBook in my life. I don’t think they want it to – why sell me one device when you can make me want two? They want me to have both and love it. I think I would. I would love for getting in bed with my laptop to watch a movie to read an article or watch a video to feel natural for me, but it’s just not. The weight and awkwardness don’t make it easy. That’s not to say I wouldn’t get by without one; clearly I can function just fine without the iPad. It is not a necessity, but would be an incredible convenience. It’s a device that fills a gap in Apple’s continuum that goes from iPod shuffle to Mac Pro.

All in all, I’m excited about the iPad. It will definitely help steer the rest of the market and bring on some innovative and exciting products from other companies. It’s a device of convenience and leisure, which I don’t need, but would obviously be nice to have. Reading, watching, and listening may all shift over to the iPad, while laptops and desktops focus on more UI-intensive efforts such as composing, design, video editing, etc.

It’s the beginning of a new chapter of Apple’s history, and only time will tell if it’s a successful one. Based on Apple’s history with products that start with “i” it’s probably got a decent shot.

Image Credit: Apple

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Just Cause 2 + YouTube = Win

Posted in Gaming by Taylor Dobbs on 01/24/2010

Just Cause 2 ArtA Wired blog post recently covered an awesome new feature in Square Enix’s anticipated title, Just Cause 2. How many times have you had an amazing “Holy shit! Did you see that?” moment while gaming and had nobody to share it with? Well according to the Wired post, your days of lonesome awe are nearing an end.

Just Cause 2 will have a feature that allows users to record and upload video clips of their game directly to YouTube. The only catch here is that the feature won’t be available on the Xbox 360 version of the game. Hell yes, I say. It’s about time Sony was able to offer a feature that Microsoft couldn’t. The hardware on the PS3 is superior – that’s hard to argue against. The only gap then is the software features, and this feature inches them that much closer to an advantage in the market. The only thing we PS3 owners can hope for now is more of the same.

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