You can leave me voicemail

My phone’s been doing something weird over the past few weeks: It’s been ringing and buzzing with incoming calls.

Missed callsAnd not just any calls, but those in which the callers don’t leave a voicemail when I don’t pick up. I don’t pick up because it’s December and calls from tech-heavy area codes–206 and 415, I’m looking at you–usually mean CES PR pitches that, by virtue of referencing something happening weeks from now, do not require my immediate attention.

I keep wondering if one of these calls will break with the pattern and leave me with a voicemail summary. Instead, I only get Android’s after-the-fact identification of the PR agency behind the number. What happened? Was the caller on the verge of leaving a brilliant little soliloquy before he or she had the iPhone stolen. Did an attack by a bear interrupt things? I can only wonder.

I whined about this on Twitter, and one PR rep responded that he didn’t want to annoy journalists by adding yet another voicemail to their queue. I get where he’s coming from. But here’s the thing: A voice call without any here’s-what-you-missed followup (could be voicemail, could be e-mail, could be a tweet) basically reads as “my message is so important that I will not say it unless you drop everything to hear it in real-time.”

And that’s not something I want to do when I have this many to-do-list items to finish before CES.

Look, I have visual voicemail through Google Voice; playing messages is not that painful, and GV’s automatic transcription often makes it amusing too. Besides which, at the moment I can’t seem to get anybody to leave me voicemail. So if you do, PR friends, you can tell your client how this one weird trick made your message stand out from everybody else’s.

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Weekly output: police body cameras, mobile battery life, online publishing, DSL modems

It’s not Christmas yet, but I can see it before me. Which is another way of saying that I need to finalize my CES schedule, book my Mobile World Congress flights, and figure out where I’m staying for SXSW.

12/9/2014: 3 Questions to Ask Before Putting Cameras on Cops, Yahoo Tech

This column got a spot on the Yahoo home page, resulting in a flood of comments and a round of e-mails I wish I’d answered already.

Kojo Nnamdi Show mobile battery life12/9/2014: Powering Our Mobile Devices: How to Boost Battery Life, Kojo Nnamdi Show

I talked about what can prolong the time before your phone’s next meeting with a power outlet. My interlocutors: host Kojo Nnamdi and C|Net executive editor Ian Sherr,

12/11/2014: Mistakes made in online publishing, HHS Digital Council

News organizations have often chosen poorly when picking online publishing systems, so I had to accept a friend’s invitation to discuss that history before a group of digital-media managers for various branches of the Department of Health and Human Services.

12/14/2014: Weak Wi-Fi drags down DSL? Try moving the modem, USA Today

This column, like others, started with a call from a friend who had a technical question (in this case, about being able to replace an aging Verizon DSL modem with one that might get a WiFi signal to all of a house). That’s why I’m glad I write a Q&A column: It lets me monetize the inevitable tech-support queries from pals.

Why yes, I did get your CES PR pitch.

I’ve gotten seriously behind in my e-mail, even by my usual pathetic standards. To save time, I will use this post to answer an entire category of messages: e-mailed requests for my time during CES in Las Vegas next month.

CES 2014 tablet manAre you still going to CES?

Yes. Why should this January be any different from the last 16?

Will we see you at our press conference?

Good question! On one hand, the waits to get into big-ticket press conferences (that are more like lectures, what with the lack of time for Q&R or even hands-on inspection of these products) often preclude going to earlier events. On the other hand, I don’t know what my various editors will want me to do. Sorry, it’s complicated.

Would you like to schedule a show-floor meeting with [giant electronics company]?

Yes, probably. When one company’s exhibit space is a large fraction of an acre, getting a guided tour of the premises can be a real time-saver. If I haven’t gotten back to you yet, I will soon. Probably.

Can we schedule a show-floor meeting with [small gadget firm]?

Most likely not. The point of vendors paying exorbitant amounts of money for show-floor exhibit space is to provide a fixed target for interested attendees. So as long as you’ll have somebody there who can answer questions, I’ll get to you when I can. Hint: Telling me where to find your client in your first e-mail helps make that happen.

This general outline of my CES schedule may also be of use:

  • Tuesday, the first full day of the show, I probably won’t go further than the Central Hall of the LVCC.
  • Wednesday will find me there and then in the North Hall.
  • Thursday will probably be the soonest I can get to the South Hall’s two levels and to the Sands exhibit space.

We’re scheduling meetings at [someplace not at the convention center or walkable distance from it]. 

You do know how much CES logistics suck, right? The odds are not in your favor, not unless some attendance-required event pulls me off the show floor and near your event.

Can we set up a meeting at [ShowStoppers/Pepcom]?

Those two evening events, in which an outside PR firm books a hotel ballroom, rents tables to various gadget vendors and caters food and beverages so journalists can have dinner on their feet, constitute an efficient use of my time because I don’t have to find these companies and find time for them. Can we please not then get all OCD by booking a meeting inside an event at a spot inside a location?

Any interest?

I’d make fun of this follow-up, but I’ve used the same lame line when checking up on freelance pitches to potential clients.

Weekly output: EU vs. Google, Tech Night Owl, Sprint WiMax resellers

This has been a rotten week for journalism, courtesy of Rolling Stone’s failure to follow the newsroom mantra “if your mother says she loves you, check it out” when reporting a gruesome allegation of gang rape at the University of Virginia. My own week in journalism was better, but I’m not going to say it represented my best work.

12/2/2014: The European Union Wants to Regulate Google —Some More, Yahoo Tech

The EU’s increasingly shrill attacks on Google led to a column in which I sound suspiciously like a Republican (maybe even more than when I’m discussing San Francisco’s screwed-up housing policy). But in retrospect, I should have ended the column on a different note: By acting like the confiscatory villains in an Ayn Rand novel, the EU invites us to dismiss all of its critiques of Google, even the ones that might have a grounding in the facts.

12/6/2014: December 6, 2014 — John Martellaro and Rob Pegoraro, Tech Night Owl

Host Gene Steinberg and I talked about the present and possible future of the Apple TV, net-neutrality politics, Windows 10, 4K TV and a few other things.

USAT column on Sprint Wimax resellers12/7/2014: 4G me not: WiMax isn’t LTE and is going away at Sprint resellers, USA Today

I don’t always get to write my own headlines, but my editor at USAT appreciates the help and I don’t mind making the effort–especially when this kind of wordplay pops into my head. The research involved in this  piece about companies reselling Sprint service will also play into an upcoming story about wireless broadband.

Technology from a toddler’s perspective: “What’s an iPod?”

As I was working in my office earlier today, our almost four-and-a-half-year-old walked over  and picked up a worn old pair of white headphones from my desk drawer. “These are for travel,” she said. “They’re for my iPod,” I corrected.

Old iPodI should have predicted my daughter’s response: “What’s an iPod?”

Of course she wouldn’t know what one was. My iPod nano stopped working before she arrived, and my wife’s did not survive a trip through the washing machine a few months after our daughter’s birth (see also, parent brain).

My iPod was still collecting dust on my desk (don’t ask), so I handed it to my daughter. She picked it up, spun the click wheel a few times and said she’d written me a note. Somewhere, an Apple engineer reading this is laughing, because that was an interface possibility the company considered when it was designing the iPhone.

Seeing my daughter’s expectations of technology play out amounts to a constant source of amusement. While I’ve yet to see her swiping a printed page as if it were an iPad’s screen, she does assume that any computer’s display will respond to touch–resulting in a Microsoft-commercial moment when she tapped my MacBook Air’s screen and nothing happened.

My digital kid also treats streaming video as a given, which led to some upset moments on a plane when we had to explain that no, the Netflix app on mommy’s iPad wouldn’t be able to play Thomas the Tank Engine videos. I imagine that having to wait for a Christmas special to air on broadcast TV can be confusing for her as well: why can’t we just watch now?

And because our daughter has never known our living room to have a stereo system separate from the TV, I should have expected her to insist on playing her CDs through my mom’s DVD player and TV over Thanksgiving. The CD player and the better speakers one room away? No interest.

It all takes me back to the wonderful essay Berkeley economics professor Brad DeLong wrote for TidBITS in 1995 about how his five-year-old had internalized the day’s computing possibilities well enough to pretend to be a help system: “If you want to play with dinosaur toys, click over here.” For all I know, DeLong’s son now writes some of the code that has been programming my daughter’s perspective on technology.

And yet: I must admit that our little one also knows what VHS is like. We had neglected to rid of one old VCR collecting dust under a TV upstairs–because who wants one these days?–and then a friend of my wife’s offered a set of kid-friendly movies on videotape. That’s how in 2014, I have become reacquainted with the joys of rewinding and fast-forwarding.

Weekly output: startups and privacy, iPhoto passwords

I’m thankful for readers who look for my work, and for clients who pay well and on time. You?

11/25/2014: Is the Uber Problem Changing How Startups Treat Privacy? Not Much., Yahoo Tech

Halfway through the Demo conference two weeks ago, I worried that I wouldn’t have anything to write about. Then I remembered that the founders of most new startups actually say what they think, unlike their more seasoned, better-media-trained counterparts at older tech companies.

USAT iPhoto-passwords post11/30/2014: Warning: iPhoto won’t know if you change a password in OS X, USA Today

I feel a tiny bit dumb for writing this more than two years after getting religion about two-step verification. In my defense, I almost never use iPhoto’s shortcut to e-mail photos from that app, so it fell to my wife to run into and ask me about a password-management glitch in that soon-to-be-retired app that Apple probably won’t fix.

The holiday season, as seen by a tech journalist

To those of you with normal jobs, this time of year means things like eating and spending too much, long travel to see far-flung relatives, having to remember where you stashed the ornaments, and wrestling with wrapping paper.

WreathIn my line of work, however, the holiday season includes all of those things and then a few extras:

  • Gift guidance: We’re expected to reel off lists of what computers, phones, tablets, other gadgets and games to buy, even if knowing that CES will offer us a peek at the next year’s crop of consumer electronics discourages gadget purchases at this time of the year. (I have escaped that particular obligation so far this year, but my Yahoo Tech colleagues have been busy offering tech-procurement advice; won’t you please check it out?)
  • Watching people make purchases they’ll regret: You will inevitably see somebody you care for buy the wrong device or app–perhaps because they read somebody else’s misinformed gadget-gift guide–and you can’t get too bent out of shape over that.
  • Holiday tech support: Taking a look at issues on the computers, phones, tablets and other gadgets of the people we see over the holidays is part of the deal. I can’t say I mind, since I can count on getting at least a couple of ideas for my USA Today Q&A column every holiday season.
  • A break from business travel: December is second only to August for its paucity of tech events likely to land on my travel schedule. I’m okay with that!
  • CES is coming: My enjoyment of quality time with friends and family always gets eaten away by the realization that only a few days after New Year’s, I’ll have to leave all that behind and spend five or so hours in a pressurized metal tube on my way to Vegas for this annual gadget gathering. CES is a good and useful event, but I sure would like to see it happen later in January.