web analytics

PressPatron

You may have spotted the PressPatron banner at the top of this page. It invites you to be a supporter. There’s also a button to the right of this text.

They are both part of my PressPatron campaign. It’s a new way of crowd-funding websites.

I’m one of the first journalist-bloggers in New Zealand to use PressPatron. That puts me in good company. Russell Brown at Public Address got there first. Brown’s campaign has been running for about a month.

PressPatron is new, so there may be bugs in the system. Please be patient.

Soon you’ll see PressPatron banners in a lot more places.

Newsroom and Scoop are onboard. So is Sciblogs, E-Tangeta and TheatreReview. We’re all small, independent New Zealand online publishers.

What is PressPatron?

PressPatron is a way for readers like you to support the media you use. It is voluntary and painless. You get to set the amount you contribute. You can make a one-off payment or commit to a series of payments over time.

Most of all, PressPatron is not a pay wall. The stories on this site will stay free. You don’t have to pay a cent. The idea is that you’re supporting a website, not buying anything.

For now PressPatron is a New Zealand service. The founder, Alex Clark in Wellington, plans to offer it to overseas publishers. I’ve been talking to Alex about the idea for some time now and feel like I’m on the ground floor of something important.

One of the things I like most is that PressPatron doesn’t get in the way. If you don’t like seeing the banner, you can click it off. The sidebar button will stay, but it’s not offensive or distracting.

What will I do with the PressPatron money?

This site was never designed to by a source of income. It’s not my job. But it does cost money to run and it costs money to cover New Zealand technology.

So my first goal is to collect enough money so this site pays for itself.

Running this site isn’t expensive. There are managed web host fees and a handful of licences and subscriptions for services.

I’m a strong believer in paying people for work. That means paying for things like WordPress plug-ins, even when contributions are voluntary.

Around $500 will cover all my costs.

More, better local technology reporting

Any money I collect over that amount will go towards my journalism expenses. Among other things that means covering conferences and getting to industry events that might not otherwise get the attention they deserve.

InternetNZ’s NetHui is one example.

Open Source Open Society is another candidate. It would be good to get to Multicore World, ITX and the Linux AU conference when it is in New Zealand.

Some Commerce Commission conferences could do with a reporter watching what goes on. I’d also like to get to some out-of-town press conferences.

Tuanz events are useful. In my experience other smaller, narrow focus trade events can be valuable. I learned much from going to ISPANZ a year or so ago.

I’ll use any money raised money to pay for travel, accommodation and meals. Nothing fancy. At this stage PressPatron is not going to provide my income. That will continue to come from paying journalism and writing jobs.

PressPatron goals

  • First I want to make $500 to cover site costs.
  • If I reach a total $1500 I’ll be able to attend two out-of-town conferences that I wouldn’t otherwise get to.
  • A further $1500 means I’ll be able to attend all the big local scheduled events without needing to pick favourites1.
  • Any money raised over $3500 will be spent traveling outside of Auckland to get a wider perspective on technology. It means driving or flying out-of-town to chat to more people, more often.
  • If PressPatron takes off I’d like to spend some money on better photography.

  1. Although that depends on my availability and the amount of paid work I’ve got at the time. Sometimes conferences clash with publishing projects. ↩︎

deathtostock_modernworkshop-04At The Register Shaun Nichols writes:

“The tech press has dared to lean away from its core mission of making technology companies more profitable, says tech advocacy house ITIF.”

The ITIF or Information Technology and Innovation Foundation is an industry think-tank. It issued a report looking at “a change of tone in technology reporting” between the 1980s and this decade.

Long story short, it says the media moved from a positive attitude towards the industry to confrontation.

This, according to the ITIF, is because being tough on the industry makes it easier for tech media to turn a profit.

It goes on to talk about the media being ‘biased’ and distorts the public view of technology.

Yes, it’s all stuff and nonsense. There’s a lot to unpack, but here are a couple of ideas to think about.

Advertising

In the past publishers made money selling advertising to technology companies. They were a great sales conduit. It worked.

The technology industry was the tech media’s most important customer. Rivers of gold poured in.

While there are publishers who publish nice stories in return for advertising dollars, that was never a great business model. Reader are not fooled. They don’t stick around for blatant propaganda.

The advertising money didn’t buy favourable coverage, at least in the better publications. It did foster a favourable attitude towards the industry. The coverage reflected this.

The partnership also meant journalists and publishers spent time in the company of tech industry people. That too is good for creating a positive attitude.

One conclusion of the ITIF report is more advertising would repair media relations.

Readers and journalists

In the old model, advertisers paid for journalism, but journalists serve readers. Few understood this then. They still don’t.

As Nichols says, we’re not industry cheerleaders. We don’t earn cheerleader, public relations or marketing-type salaries.

Our job is to inform readers. If there is more cynicism in technology media (see the next point) then that is what readers want.

Modern reporting tools mean we know what stories rate from the minute they go online. Guess what? Readers are less likely to click on happy-slappy, isn’t everything wonderful darling stories.

In other words, journalists and publishers respond to reader demands.

Don’t shoot the messenger if they now have a darker view of the tech industry. Get your own house in order.

It’s all nonsense anyway

To argue tech media is meaner than it ways, say, thirty years ago is bonkers. The big newspapers and media sites are full of thin press release rewrites. It is common for blatant propaganda to appear as factual news.

Take, for the sake of argument, Computerworld New Zealand. Thirty years ago, even a decade ago, it was breaking news stories. It was quoted in Parliament. Today, it runs nothing that didn’t start life in a public relations office.

That’s not to say all the tech media is soft. It isn’t. But the ratio of soft stories to more hard hitting news is off the scale. You have to wonder if the ITIF is paying attention.

cyber

Stick the words computer-, net-,  web-, online- or digital- directly in front of other words and you won’t scare the population half to death:

  • Computer-gaming
  • Net-gaming
  • Web-gaming
  • Online-gaming
  • Digital-gaming.

This is also true when whatever being discussed has negative, or less than positive implications. You know these things aren’t necessarily good, but they’re not going to terrify anyone:

  • Computer-surveillance
  • Net-neutrality
  • Web-porn
  • Online-privacy
  • Digital-disruption

But when cyber is used as a prefix it is almost always viewed as something bad:

  • Cyber-bullying
  • Cyber-crime
  • Cyber-sex
  • Cyber-war
  • Cyber-terrorism

Although it was big in the 1990s, the term cyberpunk is out of fashion. There may be pockets of geekdom where it is still celebrated, but as far as techno-muggles are concerned, it is faintly threatening.

Even the innocent and, now anachronistic, cyberspace now sometimes carries faint negative connotations. At least in some circles.

This is because we’ve become used to newspapers and TV reports using cyber as their favoured technology-bogeyman word.

That’s not always a bad thing. It’s a form of shorthand that flags what’s coming next. Getting the attention of the great unwashed then warning them to take appropriate care with passwords, privacy and security is often difficult.

Those cliched clip art images of  burglars in striped shirts and balaclavas is another useful form of shorthand. People get the message that something’s afoot even if they switch off to the main story being told.

Samsung Galaxy Note 7Technology publications and daily newspapers are full of gushing Samsung Galaxy Note 7 reviews.

Samsung deserves much of the praise. It’s an impressive phone. Expect a review here in the next few days.

Where reviewers give stars, the Galaxy Note 7 either gets five or 4.5. When they give a percent the scores are often north of 90 percent.

Glowing praise

Many of the words reviewers use to describe the phone are glowing. One phrase that pops up a lot, is best ever. Some call it the best ever Android phone. Others are more general. You might also see best phone period.

Which means reviewers like it. But best ever?

On one level the phrase is meaningless.

Few Apple product launches pass without an executive saying a product is the best ever.

Of course an iPad launched in 2016 is the best ever iPad. Apple would be in a sorry state if this year’s model was worse than last year’s.

Language inflation

It’s not just Apple that talks about products this way. Everyone talks up their business. We’ve become immune to inflated marketing language.

Yet reviewers should be dispassionate observers. At least the ones working for respectable publications are.

When they say a phone is the best ever, they are passing an objective judgement. The implication is that they have seen lots of phones and of all they have seen to date, the one in question is the best.

Which it might well be.

That Apple logic applies to reviews. Most of the time this year’s phones are better than last year’s phones.

When they are not, that happens sometimes, it’s a big story.

Looked at that way, saying best ever is the same as saying new or improved.

iPad Pro Smart Keyboard Cover
iPad Pro Smart Keyboard Cover

Apple’s Smart Keyboard Cover feels like an essential partner for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. That’s not the case with the 9.7-inch iPad Pro.

Both Smart Keyboard Covers are compact, light and made from a nylon fabric. On the larger 12.9-inch iPad Pro the Smart Keyboard Cover adds what amounts to a full keyboard.

It turns the larger iPad into something more like, but the not the same as, a hybrid PC.

While it’s not a perfect keyboard, it doesn’t fall far short of ideal on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

Smart Keyboard Cover misses

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro Smart Keyboard Cover misses ideal by a larger margin. You may think that it is only a matter of size. That’s true up to a point.

Yet the different, smaller size changes the nature of the beast more than you’d expect.

There are two main reasons for this. First, the reduced size of the 9.7-inch Smart Keyboard Cover means it is harder to type on. It’s harder still for touch typists.

Because the smaller keyboard harder to work with, you’re less inclined to use it. It’s not the first port of call when you need to get words into the iPad Pro.

This gets you into a vicious circle. Because the small keys aren’t always where your fingers expect, you are less productive. This means you use it less. Which in turns mean your fingers have less opportunity to learn where the keys are.

On screen typing easier

Second, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is smaller and lighter. This makes it easier to pick up and use in the portrait orientation. Smart Keyboard Covers only use the landscape orientation.

Typing on the glass from the portrait orientation is easy and comfortable. At least it is in my hands. I found myself doing this all the time.

In the end I took the Smart Keyboard Cover off the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, swapping it for a Silicon case and a Smart Cover without a keyboard.

The plan was to see how long I’d go before I needed to go back to the Smart Keyboard Cover. That was six weeks ago. Today I packed the Smart Keyboard Cover back in its case ready to return to Apple.

If you need a keyboard to go with the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, this is a good choice. For some people it will be an occasional option. For others it will be a permanent fixture, in effect turning the iPad Pro into a small light laptop or hybrid.

It’s worth remembering the 9.7-inch iPad Pro can also work with many of the third party Bluetooth keyboards on the market. But for me, I’m sticking with the screen keyboard. I find it suits how I work.

myscript stylus

MyScript Stylus is a free handwriting recognition app for the iPad Pro.

The app is a keyboard extension. It replaces the normal on-screen qwerty keyboard with a space where you can write.

While the app will work if you write with your finger or any kind of stylus, you’ll get the best results if you spend NZ$189 on the Apple Pencil.

Clever

As handwriting recognition apps go, MyScript Stylus is clever, even impressive. As you fill up the line across the screen the writable area scrolls left. When you pause the whole screen shifts left giving you more writing room.

Handwriting is automatically converted to text. The app inserts into the open iOS app. It works well with apps like Mail and even Twitter, but it comes into its own when you use a text editor, iOS Notes or an iPad writing app.

MyScript Stylus stores the handwriting ink that has scrolled off the screen. This means you can use two fingers to scroll back to edit earlier mistakes. It has a number of gestures to insert, delete and otherwise edit text.

Even scruffy handwriting

The handwriting recognition is good. Far better than the first generation Apple Newton MessagePad. Both devices coped well with my scruffy handwriting. There are errors, but with practice you can tear through words at a typewriter-like pace.

If you prefer handwriting to typing this could be the right app for you. Likewise if you’re comfortable with the Apple Pencil for sketching on an iPad Pro screen, this would feel almost as natural as writing on paper.

Flaw

There is a flaw. The screen zone at the bottom of the writing area is used for some commands — there’s a delete button among others. I found I would often hit these buttons with my fingers by mistake when writing. With time you can develop a technique to avoid this.

While there’s something satisfying and elegant about MyScript Stylus, it’s hardly a breakthrough. Windows tablets have had similar handwriting recognition software since the early 1990s.

So did Apple. In 1993 the original Apple Newton MessagePad debuted with a stylus and erratic handwriting recognition. That was 23 years ago.

Moreover, the Windows and Apple Newton handwriting recognition are built-in at a low level. Going instead to a third-party software company for a free app seems an odd move.