Weekly output: Who has your back, robots, CE Week, Washington Apple Pi, travel WiFi blacklists

Beyond a trip to New York for CE Week, the last seven days also brought me back to 1150 15th Street NW for a Washington Post alumni reunion Thursday night. That will be the last such gathering at that address, because the paper is moving to rented space in a much better-looking building on K Street.

6/23/2015: Tech Firms Trust Our Government Even Less Than You Do, Yahoo Tech

I though the fifth release of the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s annual “Who Has Your Back?” report on how tech companies stand up to government requests for data about their customers was a newsworthy moment. I did not realize until starting to write this piece how much the tech industry has moved since just 2013, as I realized when I re-read some of my first Disruptive Competition Project posts.

CE Week panel description6/24/2015: The March of the Robots, CE Week

I enjoyed talking about the progress and continued problems of the consumer robotics business–from floor-cleaning robots and toys for kids to driverless cars and drones–at this CE Week panel with Engadget editor Devindra Hardawar, Spin Master designer Andres Garza, Ozobot CEO Nader Hamda, and WowWee CTO Davin Sufer. As the screengrab shows, I was checking my phone pretty often to consult my notes and look for any Twitter feedback; I don’t know how annoying that looked from the seats.

6/24/2015: CE Week TV: Rob Pegoraro, CE Week

Later that afternoon, I did a quick interview about our robotics discussion with Judie Stanford.

6/27/2015: Rob Pegoraro on personal technology, Washington Apple Pi

I returned to this Apple user group for the first time since 2013 and talked about the increasing amount of convergent evolution between iOS and Android and how that doesn’t seem to have cooled down the usual mobile-OS bigotry. Most of the questions I got from the audience afterward were not about those issues; instead, people wanted to know about their choices in broadband Internet access and what they could do to get away from traditional pay-TV subscriptions.

6/28/2015: Wi-Fi wrongly blocking sites? Blame humans, USA Today

I enjoyed the irony of using my column to unpack a problem that a longtime competitor (re/Code’s outstanding Walt Mossberg) had complained about on Twitter.

History moves fast sometimes

I spent four years studying history in college, and the big takeaway was that progress is a slow game that requires the ability to get up after getting knocked down, over and over.

A slightly worn American flag flutters in a spring breeze.

The exceptions to that rule are rare and delightful. My freshman year, we watched Communism crumble across Eastern Europe so fast that one professor told us to put aside the assigned textbooks and instead read the paper each morning and come prepared to discuss the latest news from Berlin, Warsaw, Prague, Budapest and beyond.

The past week in America has felt like that. Within a few days, the vile cruelty of the Charleston shootings finally awakened many Southern whites to the reality that the Confederate battle flag is far too stained by hate to deserve a place of honor on the people’s property. It and other salutes to the Confederacy’s war against the United States now look set to vanish from government facilities as fast as statues of Lenin in the Warsaw Pact’s client states.

(Note to Virginia: Now would be a swell time to rename the Jefferson Davis Highway. I’ve already e-mailed my state senator and delegate to say as much.)

And then on Friday, less than two years after throwing out the insultingly ill-named “Defense of Marriage Act,” the Supreme Court ruled that marriage equality was the law. This case of justice arriving like a thunderbolt, as President Obama said, could not have happened without decades of effort.

And yet: It came less than 11 years after Karl Rove made ballot initiatives against gay marriage part of a winning Republican strategy. It was nine years since a Virginia constitutional amendment banning any state recognition of same-sex unions passed the commonwealth by a large margin. It happened seven years after Obama stated his opposition to gay marriage during the 2008 campaign, and people like me didn’t think that was a huge problem. Not even a year and a half ago, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (who refused to defend the gay-marriage ban he’d voted for in 2006) defeated his opponent Mark Obenshain (who had not changed his mind about that now-defunct law) by only 907 votes.

Thinking about all that, I sent a celebratory e-mail to my wife with a single-character subject line: “=”

Weekly output: LastPass, wireless bridges

At the start of this week, I had different topics in mind for each of these two columns, and then things happened. I also made a quick run up to New York Thursday for a few tech events, then wrapped up the visit with a pilgrimage to the top of One World Trade Center. I’ll repeat the D.C.-NYC trip tomorrow but will stick around longer–CE Week runs Tuesday through Thursday.

6/16/2015: My Password-Manager Service Got Hacked. Things Could Be Much Worse., Yahoo Tech

I had filed a different column by the time my editor and I separately decided: Hey, this news about a password-manager service’s security breach is column-worthy. After this piece went up, LastPass updated its original blog post with a clearer explanation that’s worth reading.

USA Today wireless-bridge post6/21/2015: Wonky Wi-Fi on one device? Take it to the bridge, USA Today

In this case, I hadn’t filed anything–I couldn’t, because I was waiting for an answer to a reasonably simple technical query from a company that had already exhibited… let’s say, a slow PR metabolism. Fortunately, a reader had e-mailed a question that I could answer without needing any spokespeople to chime in first. It didn’t hurt that the headline came to mind almost instantly.

Dealing with your work disappearing

If you were going to look up any of the tech-guide stories I wrote for Gannett’s NowU last year, don’t. NowU has become more like NotForU: Gannett stopped updating the site in the spring and shut it down a few weeks ago.

NowU closing noticeThis wasn’t the first time I’ve had my work vanish from the Web. My blog posts for the Consumer Electronics Association evaporated after a CMS switch, and all of the short updates I wrote for Sulia disappeared when that site closed. This time around, however, was better in one important way: My editor e-mailed me in late April to give me a heads-up about the impending closure of the site.

That note gave me more than enough time to save my stories as PDFs. At CEA, I had to rely on Internet Archive copies when management there let me repost some of those pieces here. At Sulia, I had neither a backup elsewhere on the Web nor advance notice of its demise, not that I was going to try to reproduce a few hundred microblog entries.

(The Internet Archive couldn’t preserve my stories at Gannett’s would-be hub for 45-and-over empty-nesters because NowU’s site was apparently coded to block it. That’s not how I would have run things, but there’s nothing I can do about it now.)

What I’m left with, then, is the enjoyment I derived from researching and writing those stories, the new sources I discovered in the process, the (generous!) payments that arrived on time–and, not least, the chance to sell stories about those topics all over again. If you’ve got a freelance budget and could use a how-to about WiFi and travel, international smartphone roaming, TV technology, or cutting the cord, please get in touch.

Weekly output: Apple Music (x2), Fios battery-backup beep

In addition to the items below, I probably tweeted out an article’s worth of copy at the Techonomy Policy conference in D.C. on Tuesday. After that, this week’s other highlights were two only-in-D.C. events: the NOAA Fish Fry, an annual event that sees the Commerce Department’s courtyard turned into an open-air seafood buffet, and a reception at the National Archives hosted by nine different wine/beer/booze-industry lobbies. The catch is that both happened Wednesday night, a first-world problem that made the whole evening that much more like something out of Christopher Buckley’s brilliant novel “Thank You For Smoking.”

Yahoo Tech Apple Music post6/9/2015: Apple Music: The Song Sort of Remains the Same, Yahoo Tech

I covered Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference much as any of you could have: by watching the live video of the keynote at Apple’s site. I was sure the comments on this post would instantly degenerate into the usual Apple-versus-Android flame war, but that did not happen, and I feel like I did something wrong.

6/9/2015: Apple Music, WTOP

I spoke about Apple’s music news with WTOP’s anchors the morning my story ran. It was flattering to hear myself described as the news station’s “favorite geek.”

6/14/2015: How to stop Verizon Fios ‘battery beep’, USA Today

Most of my story research doesn’t require going into my home’s basement, but this item about how Verizon delivers phone service over its Fios fiber-optic broadband did. The column also offers some advice about a service-finding site, Go2Broadband, run by the cable industry.

How to survive walking around in D.C. during the summer

There are a lot of things I love about living in the D.C. area, but weather like today’s is not among them. It’s only just now dipped below 90 degrees and the humidity’s been stuck at about 50 percent–and neither number is even that bad compared to how things can get in July and August.

Seersucker fabricBut I have to venture out of the house eventually, and most of the time that does not involve walking a few feet to the air-conditioned confines of my car. These are how I try to make the experience a little less ghastly.

Walk slowly. There is no point to running to catch a bus, a train or a taxi when you’ll wind up sweating through your shirt. Because I am habitually late to everything, this has been hard advice for me to follow.

Or don’t walk and take Bikeshare. Capital Bikeshare is better than walking for many short trips in the summer heat, because even lazy cycling generates a slight breeze.

Nix no-iron shirts. I usually pack no-iron shirts when I’ve traveling to someplace where the summer weather is actually nice, like San Francisco. At home, they stay in the closet most days between Memorial Day and Labor Day, because that fabric breathes so poorly. Until they start making business-casual long-sleeve shirts out of Dri-Fit, I’m going to be wearing a lot of seersucker and (when I let myself forget about all the required ironing) linen.

Carry a handkerchief. As if walking slowly and wearing seersucker shirts doesn’t make me look like enough of a fake Southern gentleman, I’ve also taken to carrying around a handkerchief to wipe the sweat off my face.

Stash the phone in a pocket screen-side out. I don’t quite know how this works–maybe it’s just my phone’s age showing?–but when it’s humid and I drop my phone in a pants pocket with its screen facing in, the touchscreen sensors seem more likely to think my leg is my fingertip, then register random bumps of the phone as me drawing the unlock pattern. Only my dumb luck can explain why that has not resulted in me posting complete gibberish on Facebook or Twitter, so I have to remember to stow the phone with the screen facing out until it cools off.

Weekly output: Android app permissions, Google Photos and lifetime service, Rovi’s vanishing TV guide

After last week’s travel and travel-induced delays, I enjoyed going no further for work than Capitol Hill.

Yahoo Tech Android M permissions post6/1/2015: Six Things to Know About Android’s Apple-esque App Permissions, Yahoo Tech

I could have written this post right after the Google I/O session that provided me with these details, but that Friday-afternoon talk didn’t wrap up until after 6 p.m. Eastern–and the delay allowed me to inspect the new permissions interface in a developer-prevue build of Android M on a loaner Nexus 9 tablet I picked up at I/O.

6/2/2015: Will Google Really Store All Your Photos Forever?, Yahoo Tech

Instead of trying to do a full review of this service based on only a day or two of playing around with it, I opted to use my Yahoo Tech column to unpack the long-term deal Google is offering with its new Photos service. One thing I didn’t mention in the column: I have near-zero hope of using any online service to back up all of my pictures, because I have about 20 years’ worth that exist only as negatives or prints, and I have nowhere near enough time to scan all of those.

6/7/2015: How software, service shifts disconnect smart TVs, USA Today

Not for the first time, my 2009 HDTV served as review hardware for a story. This time around, it involved the unexpected and unexplained shutdown of Rovi’s onscreen TV guide on some older Sony sets.