Skip to content

Category: Tech

The iPad in Therapy

One of my relatives, a speech therapist, mentioned to me recently how enthusiastic her students were about the iPad. It turns out she’s not alone.

In a Wall Street Journal article in October, I wrote about how the rise of mainstream tablet computers is having unforeseen benefits for children with speech and communication problems — and how it has the potential to disrupt a business where specialized devices can cost thousands of dollars.

The story involves a subject that I find fascinating — the way kids use technology. They seem to take to new gadgets more quickly than adults and are less afraid to experiment. But during the course of researching this article, I also found that there are seemingly simple things they have particular trouble understanding — like volume controls, or the proper use of the “home” button on the iPhone.

If you’re looking for more information on software and devices for speech therapy, I’m afraid I’m not an expert. (I’ve been getting a lot of requests along these lines.) But a good place to start is the American Speech Language Hearing Association.

What They Know

Note: Several years after publication of this post, the Journal’s graphics server was hacked. Portions of the online graphics related to this series may not be available.

For the past few months, my editor, Julia Angwin, has been leading a team looking into the use of information gleaned online and through other technology to compile dossiers of people and their preferences. The screen shot above provides a visualization of the primary database in this project — a look at the “trackers” on the 50 top websites, and the companies to which they send data about visitors’ browsing habits.

The full graphic, available here, gives a good snapshot of what’s going on in the burgeoning field of behavioral advertising, a complex and rapidly expanding field that is coming to rely on “big data.” And it raises plenty of questions for consumers; it’s not always clear what is done with the data or how long it is kept. Much of the data collected on browsing habits does not contain what’s known as “personally identifiable information,” such as name and Social Security number. But as dossiers become more comprehensive, researchers say such precautions don’t mean the profiles are actually anonymous.

As part of this series, which the Journal is calling “What They Know,” I wrote up some instructions for maintaining privacy online. And we’re working on some other exciting things. So stay tuned.

Episode IV: A New Job

For most of my time at The Wall Street Journal, I’ve been a “Web producer,” laying out stories on the website’s home page, editing headlines and descriptions, that sort of thing. Recently I moved into a new role with the Journal’s Digits technology blog.

You can check out my work there. The blog looks at start-ups as well as major technology companies, but I’ve found that some of my favorite pieces involve tech research and technology policy. Recently I’ve looked at things like government use of technology in Manor, Texas, and whether doctors should Google their patients. If you work with these kinds of topics and have a tip for me, feel free to drop me a line at jennifer[dot]valentino[at]wsj[dot]com.

My Name Is Too Long for Twitter

When I got married a couple of years ago, I spent a fair amount of time deciding whether to change my name. “Valentino” isn’t a bad name, and I’d never really thought I’d want to change it. But I happen to kind of like my husband, and I thought taking his name in some way was a nice thing to do. It made both of us happy. I’m aware that my name is long and annoying — 24 letters (four of them capitalized) plus a hyphen — but it’s my name.

Unfortunately, it’s not my name on Twitter. It’s too long.

Now, I can understand why my username on Twitter can’t be more than 15 characters. Usernames are added to outgoing messages, and they’re used within messages in retweets and so forth. You don’t want your entire 140-character limit on messages being taken up by a username. But what gets me is that real names on Twitter also have character limits. The restriction is raised to 20 characters (including spaces) to allow for people with longer names, but my name goes beyond even that. I’d imagine that many of Twitter’s female users might be known by two surnames as well. Plus, there are several nationalities with names that would easily test Twitter’s limits.

There’s a practical issue here — the ease of finding people in the Twitterverse. On Facebook, I can search for friends whether I use their married names, maiden names or even nicknames. On Twitter’s people search, which is notoriously problematic, I can be easily found with a query for “jenvalentino” or “Jennifer Valentino,” and that’s about it. If you search for anything involving “DeVries,” or even for “Jen Valentino,” you don’t find me, even though I list my full name in Twitter’s little “bio” section. It’s not that I think I have legions of fans who are dying to follow my anemic Twitter feed. But for a social-media service, this is a user-experience problem. Shouldn’t Twitter be facilitating my search for relevant people to follow?