Weekly output: iPhone upgrades, iPhone 6 cases, safer retail payment options

Although I was out in the Pacific time zone this week, I didn’t go to Cupertino for Apple’s event Tuesday. I was in Las Vegas instead for CTIA’s Super Mobility Week trade show–but most of the writing I did there was not directly related to the show. It’s been a strange and tiring week, and made more so by the last piece I filed.

9/9/14: Don’t Be That Person Who Buys a New iPhone Every Year, Yahoo Tech

My contribution to Yahoo Tech’s new-iPhone coverage was this column questioning the financial wisdom and basic judgment of rushing to buy a new iPhone, at a real cost of $650 and up, every year. What I didn’t know when I wrote this Monday evening was just how confusing three of the four major wireless carriers could make their iPhone 6 deals–and you may see more about that from me soon.

Yahoo Tech iPhone-cases post9/12/2014: iPhone 6 Cases: The Best-Guess Editions, Yahoo Tech

This is the one story to emerge from all the notes I took in Vegas: a look at how case vendors found it so easy to get advance access to specifications about the size and shape of the iPhone 6 that they could promise to have compatible cases available when that device goes on sale Friday.

9/14/2014: Home Depot breach lesson: Safer payment options, USA Today

This was a worthy topic poorly executed. I didn’t take advantage of chances to quiz mobile-payment experts in person while I was at CTIA’s show, then latched on too readily to one source’s finding of fault in the Softcard NFC-payment service (until recently known by the terrorism-tarnished moniker “Isis”); another expert had made the same critique and it seemed to match Softcard’s public documentation, but Softcard says it ain’t so. And I managed to take my time getting this iffy column to my editor; I filed it after 6:30 on Friday, which even in her West Coast workday is way too late for a story not based on breaking news. Gah!

You know what would have been a better-grounded way to close out the column than a digression about this in-the-weeds issue? A simple reminder that paying with the device-independent, offline-enabled medium known as “cash” also leaves no traceable link to your bank or credit-card accounts.

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Halfway around the world in less than two weeks

I racked up 13,686 miles in the air over the last two weeks–with about 21 hours on the ground between each trip–and yet the experience didn’t physically destroy me as I expected. Color me pleasantly surprised.

Thinking of homeThe stage for this exercise in propping up the airline industry was set last January, when the wireless-industry group CTIA announced that it would consolidate its two annual conventions into one and run “Super Mobility Week” in Las Vegas right after IFA.

I tried not to think about the scheduling until this summer, and then I gulped and booked my tickets: Dulles to Berlin via Munich and returning through Heathrow, then National to Houston to Vegas and back.

The flying was actually pretty good. The perhaps embarrassing amount of time and money I’ve spent on United paid off when I could use an upgrade certificate to fly across the Atlantic in business class on a flight going as far east into Europe as feasible.

Not to sound like every other travel blogger, but the lie-flat seat really is one of commercial aviation’s better inventions. I slept sufficiently well on the way to Munich that on waking, I momentarily wondered where I was. That rest, followed by being able to shower and change out of slept-in clothes at Lufthansa’s lounge in Munich, helped me feel human again sooner than usual; instead of napping that afternoon in Berlin, I wrote an extra column for Yahoo about Apple’s iCloud security breach.

I almost fell asleep at dinner that evening and then had one obnoxious night when I woke up at 3 or 4 a.m. and couldn’t get back to sleep for another hour or two, but that was about the end of my adaptation to Central European Time. And then an exceedingly rare, free “operational upgrade” at the gate bumped me from an oversold economy section into business class for the return. (Thanks, United!)

Even with a great nap on the way home, I could barely type a sentence in one try by the time I fell asleep in my own bed after 11 p.m. that night–5 a.m. CET. But I zonked out for seven hours straight, woke up feeling fine, walked our daughter to her pre-school (a big reason why I didn’t book a direct but early flight to Vegas), did a few chores and then headed off to the airport.

I was a bit of a zombie on the first flight, but from then on the jet lag was only slightly worse than on any other trip to the West Coast.

Flying home on Sept. 11So apparently I can function on that kind of schedule.

But over the last two weeks, no amount of frequent-flyer travel hacking could stop a lot of things from slipping. Back at home, the lawn grew untidy and the vegetable garden became a mess. I couldn’t use my ticket to an exciting Nats game.

On my own screen, I gave up keeping up with my RSS feed after a week; it’s probably now groaning under the weight of 2,000 unread Apple-related items.

Even without companies committing any major news in Vegas, my ability to fulfill my regular obligations decayed to the point that I filed today’s USA Today column on Friday evening. That should never happen with a non-breaking story, especially not when that haste apparently results in an avoidable error in a piece.

This post, in turn, was something I’d meant to write Saturday.

And I missed my wife and my daughter something fierce when I had to say goodbye to them twice in six days.

Next year, CTIA’s show will again follow IFA by a day. Should I once again fly more than half the circumference of the Earth in less than two weeks? That will require some careful thought.

Weekly output: iCloud hack (x4), LG G Watch R, Intel Core M, IFA, TiVo apps

After a week in Berlin to cover the IFA trade show, I’m home, but not for long enough–late tomorrow morning, I start making my way to Vegas for the U.S. wireless industry’s own gathering. Ugh.

9/1/2014: How safe are your photos in the cloud?, Fox 5 DC

I did the first of a round of interviews about Apple’s iCloud hacking problem for the local Fox station. And now you know what my home office looks like.

9/2/2014: Security in the cloud, WTOP

I did this interview via Skype minutes after checking into my IFA hotel and getting set up on its WiFi.

9/2/2014: Rob Pegoraro On Apple Data Theft, Alice’s Coffee House With Johnny Molson

And this interview followed maybe 15 minutes after WTOP’s.

9/3/2014: Be Angry About the iCloud Hack, but Not Surprised, Yahoo Tech

I did not plan to spend most of my first afternoon in Berlin cooped up in my room writing a column, but that’s exactly what I did. One other issue with Apple’s account security that I should have addressed: the weird requirement that you wait three days before two-step verification kicks in on your account.

9/4/2014: LG’s G Watch R May Bring Smartwatches to Acceptable Dorkiness Levels, Yahoo Tech

After the quick hands-on inspection that led to this post, I’m cautiously optimistic about what LG can do with this second-generation Android Wear watch. But let’s see some battery testing first.

9/5/2014: Farewell to Noisy Computers? Intel’s Latest Chip May Make Your Laptop Way Quieter, Yahoo Tech

This is the first time I’ve written about an Intel processor launch in a long while–which may only be a consequence of which writing clients I’ve had at given times.

IFA 2014 slideshow9/5/2014: 10 Brand New Gadgets Not Coming to America, Yahoo Tech

I’m still waiting to get some sort of “why do you hate America?” feedback about this post.

9/7/2014:  Why TiVo’s app can’t play TV on TV, USA Today

I briefly mentioned this weird TiVo issue last summer and then, um, kind of forgot until somebody else asked about the same problem a few weeks ago. third-patico (9/15/14: That mysterious two-word phrase was most likely my attempt to write “third-party” in a jet-lagged haze. But I have no idea what third-party app or service I had in mind at the time.)

My not-so-simple prepaid SIM card

BERLIN–Having repeatedly endorsed using prepaid SIM cards in unlocked phones when traveling overseas (most recently at NowU), I owe it to you to note when this normally-simple transaction goes sideways.

Prepaid SIM cardThat was my story the first day and a half here. The afternoon I arrived, I went to the mall across the street from my hotel and discovered that the electronics store I’d used the last two years of covering IFA had closed. I went downstairs to a small Vodafone store and was told they were out of prepaid SIMs (no, really).

Then it was time for dinner, and by the time we got out all the stores were closed.

The next morning, I remembered I’d seen good reviews of some German wireless resellers at a crowdsourced wiki and another prepaid-data guide as well as on FlyerTalk. Meanwhile, a few of my dinner companions had suggested I check out two other telecom stores at the far end of the mall that I’d missed before.

The first had a decent deal but wanted cash when I only had €10 in my pocket–and the ATM, predictably located near the opposite end of the mall, refused to dispense cash for reasons I could not deduce from the German text. The T-Mobile store a few doors down, however, was happy to take plastic for a Congstar SIM with €9.99 credit.

First problem: After rebooting, the phone didn’t light up with the new signal, instead showing none at all. The shopkeeper pointed out that I had to set up the card online–which sent me back to the hotel to use its WiFi to configure the account. As Congstar’s site is entirely in German, I had to lean on Google to translate each page.

With my account set up and a data plan selected to use up that credit… I still had nothing. This was getting frustrating.

After a friendly but unproductive chat with Congstar’s Twitter account–they suggested trying the SIM in another phone, then referred me to a Web chat I couldn’t enter because the site couldn’t seem to deal with me posing an opening query in English–I gave up for the time being to attend Samsung’s “Unpacked” event.

Back at the hotel, a few other journalists sitting near me were fussing with phones. I asked if any of them had an unlocked phone with a micro-SIM slot. One did. He removed the SIM from his device, rebooted it and saw the phone immediately pick up a signal.

I put the SIM back in my phone, rebooted it, and finally had sweet, blessed mobile bandwidth. And I have absolutely no idea why that happened, or why it didn’t happen over the prior eight hours. Keep that in mind before you place too much trust in my tech advice.

Weekly output: NYC startup spaces, zero rating (x2), wireless carriers, Internet downtime

My name showed up at a couple of new places this week. FYI: The coming week won’t feature my work on a typical schedule, because Yahoo Tech and I agreed to push my weekly column back from Tuesday so I could offer my take later in the week on the European tech trade show IFA. That, in turn, may explain why I’m posting this so late: I still have to pack.

8/25/2014: Making Space for More Tech Firms in New York City, Urban Land

I combined old and new reporting to generate this piece on the real-estate market for New York-based startups. I dropped a letter out of one source’s last name; we’ve since corrected the mistake

8/26/2014: ‘Zero Rating’: The Pros and Cons of Free Online Access, Yahoo Tech

My thinking on this subject changed radically as I kept talking to people involved in this issue.

8/26/2014: A Recent History of Free ‘Zero Rated’ Online Access in the U.S., Yahoo Tech

This sidebar about domestic efforts by various companies to make mobile access to their services a no-surcharge proposition led me to an interesting, post-column chat with a CEO involved in this market.

Wirecutter wireless-carriers guide8/29/2014: The Best Wireless Carriers, The Wirecutter

I have been working on this project for months, meaning I’ve had the pleasure of redoing calculations of two-year costs at the major nationwide wireless carriers more than once, sometimes more than twice. I don’t know why nobody’s found a mathematical error in the piece yet. If you have a question about this lengthy piece, check the comments; I may have answered it already there.

8/31/2014:  How to check your Internet connection, USA Today 

This column topic has been locked inside “Break Glass In Case Of Journalistic Emergency” box for the last two years and change. A cramped schedule and Time Warner Cable’s system-wide outage led me to conclude that this week was the right time for a column about debugging an apparently faulty Internet account.

Hello, Twitter followers; hello, Facebook fans

On Wednesday, Twitter made itself less opaque and a little more understandable when it invited all its users to log into its analytics dashboard and get a detailed breakdown of who had been following them and reading their tweets.

I’ve had access to that feature for a while–I don’t know why, since my unverified account and unwillingness to buy Twitter ads left me outside of the two groups who were supposed to have access to it–but seeing this in the news got me to take a fresh look at my stats.

(To inspect yours, visit analytics.twitter.com when you’re logged in.)

Twitter and Facebook audience analyticsIt also led me to compare this data to the information Facebook provides about users who like my public page there. (People who only have personal profiles get no such report, one of the things I don’t like about Facebook.) Here’s what Twitter’s analytics and Facebook’s Page Insights tell me about my audiences at each social network.

Both are overwhelmingly male. Of my 14,088 Twitter followers, 74 percent are male; for the 2,472 people who like my Facebook page, that figure is 70 percent (while Facebook as a whole is 54 percent male). I don’t know why that is, and I’m not happy about it either. (9/1/14, 12:51 p.m.: If you were wondering how Twitter could determine its users’ gender when it doesn’t ask for that data point, see my friend Glenn Fleishman’s explainer at Boing Boing.)

Facebook seems more globally distributed. The top five cities for Twitter followers are all in the U.S. (Washington, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia), while at Facebook Cairo is in second place after D.C. India is the most popular country after the U.S. on both networks, but citizens of the world’s largest democracy constitute a larger share, about 4.5 percent, of my Facebook audience. Among those U.S. readers, Twitter says California is the most popular state for them while Facebook doesn’t show me state-level data.

Twitter followers are not quite as easy to attract than Facebook fans. From Aug. 3, 2012 to the present, my Facebook page went from 1,798 likes to 2,473, a 37.5 percent increase. From Aug. 1, 2012 to today, my Twitter follower count went from 10,376 to 14,088, a 35.8 percent increase. I didn’t expect that; on Twitter, your poor taste in technology columnists doesn’t get broadcast to your friends the way it does on Facebook.

Tweets can go unread just as easily as Facebook posts, maybe even more so. Over the last week, my most-read tweet was an item about Comcast reviving the hyperlocal news site EveryBlock that netted 4,514 impressions, or less than half of my follower count. At Facebook, my share of a Facebook blog post about clickbait headlines topped the list by reaching 1,783 users, almost three fourths of my page’s fan base.

Neither gives me an ethnic or racial breakdown. So I can only hope that those figures aren’t as unbalanced as the gender split of my social-media audience.

Twitter says you’re here for tech news. Twitter’s analytics include a list of the top 10 interests of your followers; “Technology” and “Tech news” top that list, each with a 79 percent share of my audience. (“Comedy [Movies and television]” appeals to 30 percent of my followers, so maybe I should quote from “Dr. Strangelove” more often.) Facebook doesn’t provide me with this category of insight.

Facebook says you’re probably older than 24. The 18-24 demographic is the largest slice of the Facebook population, but not on my page: men in that age bracket make up 17.9 percent of all of Facebook, but 10.2 percent of my page’s likes. For 18-24 women, the numbers are 14.4 percent and 2.27 percent. Instead, I’m doing best among women and men from 25 to 44. Twitter can’t display this kind of detail, since it doesn’t ask for birthdays.

Not all of this data may be true. Unsaid on either site’s analytics pages: Many users of each choose to provide incorrect data for reasons of privacy or creativity. And even if most of this self-reported information is correct, some of the sample sizes of subsets of my audiences are too small for my conclusions to stand up.

Weekly output: Facebook and Twitter transparency (x2), cord cutting, TV technology, Google Calendar and Microsoft Outlook

This week was looking super-productive until I had two fillings replaced during Wednesday’s visit to the dentist–and then the anesthetic and what looks like an adverse reaction to it had me out of commission for most of the rest of the day.

8/19/2014: Facebook, Twitter, and What a Social Network Owes Its Members, Yahoo Tech

This column followed up on extensive complaints about a perceived lack of visibility of news from Ferguson, Mo., on Facebook by suggesting how much Facebook and Twitter had to learn about being more transparent and accountable in how they filter and display information. The very day it ran, Twitter changed how it presents tweets to include those that had only been favorited by people you follow, plus others that it might deem interesting. And the sole announcement of this major shift was a revised tech-support note–not a blog post, not a tweet. Very funny, Twitter.

8/19/2014: How to Turn Off Facebook’s Algorithm … Temporarily, Yahoo Tech

This sidebar outlines a few ways to opt out of algorithmic filtering on Facebook and Twitter. With Twitter’s shift Tuesday, the post already looks out of date.

NowU cord-cutting post8/19/2014: How to untie yourself from cable TV, NowU

This long explainer is only about the 10th or 15th piece I’ve written about cord cutting, but it also benefits from a lot more experience with getting TV only via an antenna and various Internet sites, services and apps.

8/19/2014: The big picture: Choosing your next TV, NowU

The tl;dr version of this companion piece: Don’t worry too much, most TV sets are pretty good these days.

8/21/2014: Facebook and Twitter, Alice’s Coffee House With Johnny Molson

Listeners in the Springfield, Ill., market got to hear me talk about the transparency of these two social networks on Thursday morning with host Johnny Molson.

8/24/2014: How to get Google Calendar, Outlook to sync up, USA Today

This column–at least the third I’ve written about the changing state of sync between Google Calendar and third-party calendar apps–started with a message a reader sent to my Facebook page. See, I actually do read that stuff!