Posts by Virginia Heffernan, Yahoo News

  • The new device that could have saved George Costanza’s wallet

    Virginia Heffernan, Yahoo News at Yahoo News 3 yrs ago

    Objects comfort the human hand. A fishing weight. A cigarette hard pack. Lipstick.

    And credit cards. The unlimp but not unyielding plastic; the braille surface alive with take-charge symbols; the smart edges that are just shy of sharp. The touch of a credit card supplies a shot of short-term confidence, well-being and authority.

    I can’t wait, then, to get my hands on Coin, the charge card to end all charge cards.

    Coin looks like a building ID card — a cryptic white or black mystery item with a flat-iPod vibe. It runs on a lithium battery and — get this — has a magnetic strip that can be custom-programmed to become any swipeable card: a credit card, or a debit, gift, metro, flexible health and transit accounts, CVS, Sephora, Topless Teddy’s. Even National Security Agency top clearance. You name it.

    OK, maybe not NSA. Or not yet! But everything else.

    That’s right: Coin — the magnum opus of mobile developer Kanishk Parashar and handsomely capitalized by Y Combinator — is a device that looks and feels like a credit card and yet can morph into as many as eight cards.


  • This Thanksgiving, order on Black Friday, get it on Black Sabbath

    Virginia Heffernan, Yahoo News at Yahoo News 3 yrs ago

    It’s hard to imagine living in America and not being a member of Amazon Prime. If you can do it, hat’s off to you. You’ve resisted a lot of pressure. Because even if you shop online only for Thanksgiving napkins, Hanes T-shirts or the occasional Wii U, you can’t avoid Amazon, which tops Google’s unpaid search results for just about every retail object.

    And if you lazily follow those links to Amazon, you have to move heaven and earth to resist joining Amazon Prime, for which traps are set at every turn. Agree to hand over $79 annually and you get white-glove right-this-way-sir service and, above all, free two-day shipping. It seems irresistible; the graphic design alone makes it hard to say no.

    And “two-day shipping” doesn’t mean just two business days. It means Saturdays and Sundays, too. Amazon Prime members no longer just ride first class on the Internet. The fix is in for Amazonians with the U.S. Postal Service, that is the government .

    The postal service, which has not delivered on Sunday since 1912 and has been aiming to drop Saturday, shores up its rocky balance book with this patronage — sorry, partnership — deal. But can it shore up its reliability?

  • Twitter becomes TWTR

    Virginia Heffernan, Yahoo News at Yahoo News 3 yrs ago

    Just as market-watchers like to know how the market opens—up or down—so heavy Twitter users like to know how Twitter opens. Today, as of 9 a.m., it was flat. #Obamacare, #Thanksgiving. Snooze. The only flicker of real action was around a new trending topic: #TwitterIPO.

    Of course, unlike the market, Twitter never closes. But Twitter does have quieter hours when most American smartphones, across timezones, snooze.

    And in that hush Twitter’s compelling character emerges: late-night comedy, lonely poetry and the odd after-hours crime, accident, weather disaster or actual global news event, not yet framed for Twitter by ideologues or wags.

    By the time the east coast Twitter crowd, not to mention New Orleans, Des Moines and San Diego, clock into Twitter, the rawness of the overnight tweets is beginning to get cooked.

    This morning as for most of the last few weeks, “#Obamacare” was a trending topic, heavily in use by those with doubts about it, including especially the #tcot—”top conservatives on Twitter,” who tag their tweets like that to make their presence known.

  • Aereo is all the TV you don't want, whenever you want it

    Virginia Heffernan, Yahoo News at Yahoo News 3 yrs ago

    The weirdest thing about using Aereo — the fast-growing TV-anywhere service, available now in Boston, New York, Miami, Salt Lake City, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and Detroit — is watching only over-the-air television.

    Tune into Aereo and you’ll find that “General Hospital” shows Luke dying of polonium poisoning. TMZ’s TV show jabbers on about some white woman’s blackface Halloween costume. And up-dial in New York, at CUNY TV, big questions like “does free will exist?” are addressed in a charisma vacuum.

    Aereo is a controversial service that allows you to watch regional over-the-air television shows (what our grandparents would have called “TV”), on your own time, from anywhere, on Windows PCs, Mac PCs, Linux PCs, Roku and iOS devices like iPhones and iPads.

    Aereo is controversial because last year ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox alleged that by showing their programs, Aereo was infringing their copyrights. But in April, a federal court — upholding a lower court’s decision — said nah, nope, Aereo is legal. Showing something on your computer or tablet is not the same as hosting a “public performance” of it.

  • The paper chase

    Virginia Heffernan, Yahoo News at Yahoo News 3 yrs ago

    People get near-erotically excited about chargers, stopwatches, calendars, phone cases. No object in digital life seems too humble to be overdesigned, overhyped, and made cuter, smarter, more revolutionary. No object, that is, except the printer.

    Don't pretend you don’t need one. I’ve tried that. Every time I swear them off like landlines or cable—claim I’m done forever with paper jams and the notorious ink racket—there’s a tax waiver to print, a ticket, a W-2 form, a school permission slip.

    "Please print this for your records" is mostly a nonsense sentence. (“Records”?) Except when it isn’t, and you’re expected to have a signed, inky, foldable, paper-cut-giving copy of something.

    So this week, I intended, once and for all, to find a home printer that works to print oh say a one-page document in black and white. Given all we can do with a Pop Tart-sized device in the digital realm—start wars, sink ships—it seemed a modest enough ambition. But I should have aimed much, much lower.

    Two hours later on the Apple support boards I discovered I was just going to have to wait for the new driver to be available for my operating system.

  • Device 6, the mind-blowing mobile game that's much more than flinging birds and cutting ropes

    Virginia Heffernan, Yahoo News at Yahoo News 3 yrs ago

    When gamer evangelists insist that video games can be as absorbing as novels and movies, they’re usually talking about console fare like “L.A. Noire,” “BioShock” or “Assassin’s Creed.” These narrative games are indeed captivating. Even a reluctant gamer can lose days to them.

    But that heady experience is rare on a mobile device. Mobile games feature about as much story as a cigarette. You play them nervously and in urgent drags. The biggest story in mobile games right now is a metastory: a national thriller about how the diabolical English developer King snatched hundreds of millions of innocent brains with its infernal hit, “Candy Crush Saga.”

    (Ugh. Let’s never speak of that game again.)

    But now there’s a popular game app that features a chic, cerebral, refined story. Device 6 is a multisensory mystery game that sticks to the ribs.

    The best thing about Device 6 may be that it’s exactly just not too hard . Victory is elusive, but in reach. After five hours of play, I am just over halfway through.

    A Device 6 player is, at heart, a reader. The game is an interactive book, with prose that branches off like a cross between e.e. cummings and “Choose Your Own Adventure."

  • Square Cash: So brilliant you'll forget you're giving money to your friends

    Virginia Heffernan, Yahoo News at Yahoo News 3 yrs ago

    Square, the three-year-old mobile payments company—recognizable by a cute plastic quadrilateral that some vendors put on their phones so they can swipe credit cards—has come up with a brilliant new way for me to send cash to my friends. It's so adorable and simple that it entirely hides the cynicism of friend-paying.

    Indeed, Square Cash is alarmingly simple. Download the app and instantly you’re asked how much money you're looking to send to someone.Enter your dollar figure and it comes up in a prefab email, return address “Square”; address it to someone and send. Then and only then do you enter your debit-card number, as if as an afterthought; so you’ve agreed to pay before you’ve chosen a stash to draw from. Your payee is alerted that he’s got $2 or $2000 if he’s willing to give up his debit-card number. If and when he does, the money slides into his account. From your debit card—formerly known as a “checking account”—to his.

    Square Cash: an easy new way to buy friends. Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

  • T-Mobile's foreign policy

    Virginia Heffernan, Yahoo News at Yahoo News 3 yrs ago

    “Mom!!! Uncle Mike is calling from Greece !!!!” I remember hysterically shrieking to my mother in the garden in 1983 as though, as the clock ticked on that Athens-to-New Hampshire call, we were all out of oxygen in “Gravity.”

    The same terror can be found in digital times around the dread International Roaming Charges . The last time I was in Canada I called Verizon about getting some email on my phone and was treated to a chilling disquisition on how International Roaming Charges could land me in Chapter 11 and mandatory Debtors Anonymous before the day was out unless I bought my way out of purgatory with set of incomprehensible packages.

    I ended up thanking Verizon profusely for looking out for me, as I gratefully paid hefty protection against those International Roaming Charges . The word for this ancient con game — extortion — never crossed my mind.

    Extortion still didn’t cross my mind, in fact, until I read David Pogue’s article in the New York Times about T-Mobile turning cell-world reformer.

  • The upscale binge

    Virginia Heffernan, Yahoo News at Yahoo News 3 yrs ago

    From the minute on January 10, 1999, that Tony revealed his mob-life crisis on the pilot episode of “The Sopranos,” viewers marveled that television had become as good as cinema. That now seems like a strange response. “The Sopranos” was virtuoso work, and it looked lush, but it was considerably more than a mere movie. Movies run for, what, 100 minutes? “The Sopranos” lasted for almost 90 hours. It takes years of devotion to savor a mille-feuille show like “The Sopranos.”

    Either that or, as we do it in 2013, a demented binge. You watch three episodes back to back. Or seven. A season. Three seasons. Soon you’ve eaten the whole bag.

    In the last 15 years, TV viewers have fallen hard for the genre that Vincent Canby once dubbed the “megamovie.” Season after season, we get captivating, slow-burning, intellectually dense visual entertainment on cable and the Internet: “Justified,” “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men,” “Homeland,” “House of Cards,” “Orange Is the New Black.”

    Trained by “The Sopranos” in cable fandom, viewers now turn each of these shows into its own “Star Trek," with a galaxy of detail-delirious fans. Megamovies are supersized entertainment watched with a magnifying glass.