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how to do technology in ten moves. (or less.) A Loose Wire production

Why we hate video calls

Mary Evans/Everett Collection

Good piece in the New Scientist about why we’ve always hated video calls:

When another New York Times reporter went to Pittsburgh in mid-1971, however, he found only 33 Picturephones in operation, with just 12 able to dial outside their own buildings. Aside from impracticalities such as cost, it seemed that, against all predictions, no one actually wanted video calling. Users were more interested in seeing graphics than face-to-face video conversation. At Bell Labs, Lucky recalls that the only person who called his Picturephone was his boss, Arno Penzias. “I found it very awkward because I had to stare at him,” he says.

More than that, I think the enduring non-appeal of video is that it doesn’t start to replace talking face to face. Face to face talking is not about seeing the other person, or looking them in the eyes — it’s about non-verbal communication — gestures, body language, touching, etc. It’s also about allowing other things to intervene — movement, distraction, interaction with objects.

Video calls are exhausting, because you are trying to replace all that with just maintaining eye contact, or at least giving the appearance of remaining engaged. It’s a new form of communication, and we’ve tried and rejected it. Whenever Cisco drag me over to their HQ for some elaborate video conference I always feel it’s a waste of time, and a major overengineering of a flawed medium.

Talking on the phone, meanwhile, suits us perfectly (although I’ve come to hate it almost as much as video calling.) As George Costanza once said, after going through a phone conversation with a blind date:

George: She had to be impressed by that conversation, had to! It was a great performance. I am unbelievable on the phone. On the date they should just have two phones on the table at the restaurant, done.

Phone calls have become useful because we are able to transfer a lot of the body language and non-verbal cues into speech (and silence). We’re still working on text chat, but we’re getting there. It works — it’s not exhausting. It’s communicating what we want to communicate, and filtering out what we don’t — and not reading, at least for the most part, anything into anything else.

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Filed under: Uncategorized

Fixing Gmail and Sparrow Connection Timeouts

If you’re a user of the Sparrow app for OS X and iOS recently purchased by Google, you may have encountered problems with your Gmail account. You may experience long delays in both Gmail’s web interface and the Sparrow app, with messages going unsent and connection timeouts. 
 
I’ve not seen this addressed elsewhere so I’m describing the fix that worked for me. 
 
The slowness is called by lots of IMAP calls which overwhelm your Gmail and/or Sparrow app.
 
This only seems to happen if you’re using IMAP and if you have a lot of labels/folders in Gmail. 
 
For at least the desktop version of Sparrow, the number of IMAP pings depend on how many IMAP ‘folders’ you have in Gmail. The folders, in Gmail, are labels. I’m not sure what the default is, but I noticed that in my Label settings all Labels were checked to show up in IMAP.
 
Given I have around 50 labels, that’s a lot of IMAP folders.
Unchecking all but the five most used labels seems reduce the traffic significantly. 
 
Given that Google now owns Sparrow, but was unable to diagnose this problem despite the kind intervention of Google’s PR folk, I’d suggest they need to address this issue, or make it easier for users to tweak the number of calls made on IMAP folders within Sparrow. 
 
(Yes, I know this all rather moot since Sparrow is now unsupported, but I’m assuming that Google is going to reincarnate it in some way. Now it’s working again, I remember why I love it so much. The Gmail interface is good for an overview, but Sparrow is great for writing emails and keepin an eye on stuff.) 

Filed under: medium, , , ,

Fixing a Mac Typing Lag

    My MacBook Air 2010, running OSX Lion, has been very sluggish of late, with typing in a new window often lagging by a second or so. I’ve had plenty of other problems with the unit too, but I think I’ve fixed the lag through a process suggested here:

    • Shut down your computer.

    • Hold the Option key while turning it on (hold the Option key down for a little longer than the power key.)

    • From the top options, select Recovery HD.

    • Select Disk Utility.

    • Select your hard drive.

    • You can try all the repair and verify options, but the one that seemed to be the problem for me (and the author of the solution) was Repair Disk Permissions. It found a number of issues.

    • Once it’s finished—assuming it’s found and repaired something—restart your computer.

    Thanks xraydoug.

    Filed under: medium, , , , ,

    Disabling Skype Home Window

    Skype is a dog’s dinner of an app and has been for a while, and I feel slightly guilty I may have contributed to the rot when I suggested that Skype was a social network, not a telephone service.

    But one of the most annoying features of the software for Windows users is the ridiculous Skype Home popup window that can’t be disabled when running in compact view. There are workarounds but they’re ugly.

    Thanks to a guy called Andrew Worcester it is not possible to kill Skype Home through a small system tray app he’s written called, logically enough, Kill Skype Home, or KSH for short.

    It does exactly what it’s supposed to:

    Download the app.

    Install it.

    You’ll see a little circle in the system tray.

    Right click on it and select "Start with Windows" (assuming you want the app to run automatically on startup.

    Restart Windows.

    Check Skype Home doesn’t appear.

    Make donation to Andrew for his excellent work.

    Filed under: easy, , ,

    Freeing up Space on Your Android Phone

    Android phones may be great but they’re not kind to anyone wanting to install more than a few apps or more than a hundred or so contacts. Here are some tips to freeing up space.

    Install DiskUsage to see what’s taking up most space (or go to Settings/Applications/Manage applications/Running and then Menu/Sort by size)

    Install App 2 SD to move any app that will work off your phone’s memory to the SD card.

    If contacts seem to be taking up the bulk of your space, try the following:

    • Go to Settings/Applications/Manage applications/Running
    • Open Contacts Storage
    • Clear data
    • Go to Contacts/Menu/Display options/Choose contacts to display
    • Select only those groups to sync that you need on your phone (go to google.com/contacts on your PC to manage your groups. It’s easier)

    To keep an eye on how much memory and SD card space you have, install Mini Info

    Filed under: medium, , ,

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