Weekly output: Web-radio royalties, Nexus 7 bricked

This week had me wearing badges for four different events: 1776’s Challenge Festival, the Ashoka Future Forum, Mashable’s Digital Beltway, and Smithsonian Magazine’s “The Future Is Here” festival (the last of which gave me the chance to see a hoverboard in action). Is “conferenceful” a word? Maybe it should be.

5/12/2015: Why Pandora Pays Much More for the Music You Hear Than Radio Stations, Yahoo Tech

I returned to the subject of Web-radio royalties for the first time in a few years. It’s maddening that I’ve been writing about this situation since 2002–as in, about half of my post-college life–and the basic unfairness of shafting Webcasters with much higher royalty rates than other forms of radio hasn’t changed in all that time.

USAT Nexus 7 bricked column5/17/2015: Sour Lollipop update bricks some Nexus 7 tablets, USA Today

A journalist pal of mine e-mailed me last month to ask if I’d heard anything about 2013-model Nexus 7 tablets getting bricked by Google’s Lollipop update to Android. I had not, but a little research revealed that my friend was not alone in running into this issue–and that Google and Asus were being remarkably vague and unhelpful about fixing this problem.

Event-space review (first in a series): the Newseum’s Knight Conference Center

I just spent three days in a row at the same event venue–at two different conferences, which strikes me as a particularly pathological level of Washingtonality.

That also made me think: Why not review the Newseum’s Knight Conference Center? I’ve spent enough time there over the years–much like some of the news organizations chronicled in its exhibits, this museum seems increasingly reliant on the events business–so sharing the accumulated knowledge I’ve picked up along with an assortment of event badges seems the least I can do.

(The two conferences: the Ashoka Future Forum and Mashable’s Digital Beltway.)

Newseum conference center interiorLocation

The worst I can say about the Newseum’s 555 Pennsylvania Avenue NW address is that it’s a tad inconvenient for people coming in on Metro’s Orange, Blue or Silver Lines. In that situation, you’re looking at either a 10- to 12-minute hike from Metro Center or Federal Triangle (if you’re coming from Virginia, exit at Metro Center to avoid a long wait to cross Pennsylvania) or changing trains twice to get to the closest stop, Archives.

Otherwise, it’s an easy walk from Capitol Hill and a reasonable stroll from much of downtown. The closest Capital Bikeshare station is at 6th and Indiana, barely two blocks away.

The real payoff awaits upstairs, the $450 million view from the outdoor terraces on the seventh and eighth floors. I like that scenery so much I used it as a backdrop for my Twitter profile pic. (My thanks to Boing Boing’s Xeni Jardin for taking the photo.)

Bandwidth and Power

The “Newseum Guest” WiFi is routinely swamped by demand (and has a history of not providing a working IP address to my phone), and yet T-Mobile’s signal fades out once I get too far from the windows. It’s depressing. Bonus feature Friday: I couldn’t get the Newseum’s own site to show up over its WiFi, even as my phone was able to display it.

Outlets are also pretty scarce around here. Tip: In the main auditorium, get a seat all the way at the back and look for the outlets in the floor concealed by metal flip-up panels. If you’re going to a breakout session in one of the smaller conference rooms on the eighth floor, they’re harder to find. I’m not sure any exist in rooms 806 and 807 except behind the speakers’ table.

(You’ll note that I’m using some of the same criteria that I use to judge airport lounges, another specialized space in which I spend a fair amount of time.)

Newseum city view with beverageCatering

I have yet to get a bad meal here. Breakfast usually isn’t hot but always features a good variety of pastries, the boxed lunches show some creativity (though like most, they include far too much food), and the hors d’oeuvres are world-class. If an event includes dinner, you should be in luck–especially if it’s at The Source restaurant on the ground floor.

Plus, you can usually count on mid-afternoon snacks that include such shelf-stable fare as Kind bars and little packages of trail mix. Stash them in your bag for future travel sustenance.

Extras

The restrooms are not only spotless but feature a form of decor that could only exist in a museum of journalism: flubbed headlines and captions from the Columbia Journalism Review’s archives such as this April 24, 2000 gem from the San Francisco Chronicle, “State Governments Are Sold on EBay for Surplus Auctions.”

The check-in swag has included a free Newseum ticket at least half the time I’m here. That’s nice, given that I’d rather not pay to attend a museum devoted to my profession–and which still has a 2010 interview of me about the publishing possibilities of tablets playing on a screen on the second or third floor. And on the way out, there’s the chance that scanning the newspaper front pages on display at street level will reveal the byline of a high-school-newspaper colleague.

Weekly output: KnowRoaming, Apple Watch app rules, wireless spectrum, Comcast (x2), cable unbundling, wireless broadband

I didn’t decide to attend the cable industry’s INTX trade show until late March. But seeing that convention would take place in one of my favorite cities, Chicago, made it an easy call. And I’m glad I went to the cable confab for the first time since 2012. I picked up a lot and wrote a lot, as you can see below. For more about the event, see my Flickr album.

All this work did catch up with me on Friday, in the form of my filing my USAT column ridiculously late. A contributing factor to that tardiness: I stepped out for an hour or so to watch the WW2 flyover down the Potomac. There’s a Flickr album for that, too.

5/4/2015: Hands-on with the KnowRoaming Sticker that Cuts Smarphone Costs for International Travelers, Yahoo Tech

This review concludes my coverage of Mobile World Congress–yes, I probably could have written it weeks earlier. Speaking of overdue tasks, I only just now noticed the typo in the headline; I’ll ping the editors to get that fixed.

5/5/2015: Apple’s Rules Tell Developers Precisely Whose Time It Is, Yahoo Tech

It had been a while since I’d last written about Apple’s App Store rules. As you can see, I still don’t like them but can no longer pretend the company hasn’t made them scale in a way that I thought impossible five years ago.

5/52015: Across the Spectrum: Strategies for a Changing Wireless Marketplace, INTX 2015

At this panel, I discussed the coming arrival of higher-performing wireless spectrum with Liberty Global’s Timothy Burke, Arris’s Charles Cheevers, Comcast’s Evan Koch, and T-Mobile’s Tony Silveira. I’d like to see cable companies use some of this to reach new customers–maybe people who find themselves a couple of thousand feet from the closest Comcast line?–but I don’t know that cable’s ready to take that step.

Yahoo Tech Comcast-service post5/6/2015: Comcast Really, Really Wants You to Like It, Yahoo Tech

Most reader reactions to this description of Comcast’s moves to upgrade its customer service ranged from “yeah right” to “screw them.” The company has its work cut out for it.

5/7/2015: Big Cable CEOs Insist Viewers Like Their Bundles, but the Tide Is Turning, Yahoo Tech

When I started writing this answer to a question many friends asked after learning I was headed to the cable industry’s annual gathering, I was a little more pessimistic about the future than I was by the time I’d finished it.

5/8/2015: Comcast customer service, WBAL

I talked about Comcast’s customer-service initiative with the Baltimore news station’s Mary Beth Marsden. I did not get to hear the story but assume they used some part of my interview; if you did, please let me know in the comments if I sounded coherent.

5/10/2015: Unlimited wireless broadband possible, just not beyond phone, USA Today

A reader’s question about replacing her Clear unlimited residential wireless broadband gave me an invitation to update readers about the impending retirement of Sprint’s WiMax broadband (it’s kind of awful that some WiMax resellers still offer WiMax devices that will go defunct in six months without clearly warning potential customers of the network’s coming demise) and note the continued inability of wireless broadband to compete with the wired kind for residential use.

Nexus 4 update: a little more life with Lollipop

One of the key reasons why I bought my Nexus 4 a little over two years ago was knowing that I wouldn’t have to wait for Google’s software updates. And then I waited weeks to install Google’s Android 5.0 Lollipop update after its first appearance on my phone in late November–the slight risk of the update bricking my phone was not something I wished to run during the combined insanity of the holidays and CES.

Nexus 4 with LollipopI should have waited longer. That 5.0 release and the subsequent 5.0.1 update exhibited a freakish and annoying bug: I could hear the other person in a phone call, but they couldn’t hear me.

The workaround suggested in a reddit thread about changing a developer-level setting made the problem go away most of the time, and it’s yet to resurface in Android 5.1. But I’m still completely puzzled as to how a flaw this widespread could have escaped QA testing

I don’t regret installing this update overall, though–not least since Google does appear to have fixed the problem it created.

The best feature so far has been battery life that seems notably longer than under Android 4.4. And seeing a current estimate of how many more hours the phone’s good for–combined with having its Battery Saver option prolong its runtime for a good hour or so–leaves me feeling a little more in control of this Nexus 4’s useful time away from a charger.

After that I’d rank the updated Quick Settings panel you access by swiping down from the top of the screen. This puts my phone’s hotspot feature one tap away–before, it was multiple levels deep in the Settings app–and finally adds the flashlight feature that previously required adding somebody else’s app.

Android Lollipop Quick SettingsThe rest of the Material Design interface Google made so much of a big deal about at last year’s I/O developer conference hasn’t made as much of a difference as I expected. I’ve quickly gotten used to the idea that different apps will turn the menu bar different colors–except when some of these hues get a little too close to Battery Saver’s bright orange.

And I feel like I can zip through open apps much faster in Lollipop’s recent-apps list, or at least I do since telling Android to show Chrome only once in this list instead of including a preview of every page open in that browser.

I wish I could be more enthusiastic about Smart Lock, the option to bypass the lock screen based on your phone’s proximity to a trusted component of one sort or another. But so far, I’ve only set it to trust my desktop computer via Bluetooth–and because that iMac can be iffy about connecting automatically to the phone, I can’t count on this working.

I should explore the other unlock options available. For instance, I happen to have a spare NFC tag or two around that I could stick in our car’s dashboard for an automatic unlock when I tap the phone to it. But haven’t gotten around to that yet.

The important bit about this update is this: Lollipop has breathed a little more life into a two-year-old phone. And that, in turn, means I don’t yet have to choose between continuing with the Nexus line in the form of the unacceptably huge Nexus 6 or going with another Android phone or even (it could happen…) switching to an iPhone.

Weekly output: post-TWC Comcast, airport lounges, Windows 7 PCs

I’m off to Chicago Tuesday morning for the cable-industry conference formerly known as just the Cable Show and now branded as the Internet & Television Expo, “INTX” for short. It’ll be my first visit to this gathering since the 2012 edition in Boston, and recent news developments in the pay-TV business should make it an interesting event.

4/28/2015: What Comcast Giving Up on Time Warner Cable Could Mean for You, Yahoo Tech

Comcast giving up on its ambitions of buying Time Warner Cable gave me an excuse to suggest a few things it might want to do now that it won’t spend the next year in a post-merger food coma.

redesign Amex lounge post4/29/2015: redesign | travel: Amex tries to reinvent the airport lounge, redesign | mobile

My pal Rocky Agrawal launched this site this week as a marketplace to connect professionals with potential clients (see VentureBeat’s writeup). A few months back, he’d asked if I’d like to write about American Express’s attempt to get into the airport-lounge business; as a fan of making travel more comfortable, I had no problem taking on that gig and cashing that check. And if, in keeping with redesign’s ambitions, this post connects me to more travel writing, that would be okay.

I had meant to do my usual social-media marketing for this post when it appeared, but Wednesday ran away from me as the days sometimes do, and Thursday and Friday were just as bad.

5/3/2015: Windows 7 still a safe alternative to Windows 8, USA Today

It had been two years and change since I’d answered about the same question in my USAT column. But since then, Windows 7 has exited “mainstream support,” which gave me a chance to explain Microsoft’s support-lifecycle policy. Big surprise: How many commenters have testified that they’d rather use Windows 8 than Win 7.

One less car

The total weight of my worldly possessions dropped by about 2,557 pounds a week and a half ago: I gave away the 1992 Acura Integra that had become a driveway-bound monument to how getting around D.C. has changed for me.

Integra mileageI should have done that long ago: November of 2007, to be exact, when the Washington Area Bicyclist Association had a promotion running with Zipcar that would have yielded $500 in driving credit on the car-sharing service.

Instead, what finally pushed me to research my options (I was the “Rob” who sought Greater Greater Washington’s advice) and choose WABA’s current, less generous offer of a year’s free membership was seeing the oil-pressure light come on.

Two mechanics told me that probably would require dropping $1,000 or so on a new oil pump, and that the diagnosis alone would cost over $100, and that was enough to end an automotive relationship that began in the spring of 1997.

Transportation in Washington was much worse back then. There was no ZipCar, no car2go, no Capital Bikeshare. Bike lanes were vanishingly scarce, protected “cycle tracks” unimagined. No signs or mobile apps counted down the minutes before the next train or bus arrival. The city’s taxis ran on the idiotic and unfair zone system, as interpreted by cabbies who rarely missed a chance to rip me off. App-driven, ride-hailing services like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar were a decade from being possible.

What would it take to get somebody with no off-street parking and no need to drive to work to write a check for $9,294.60 to buy a used car? All of those things.

Integra gearshiftAnd I really did love that car, so much that it took this long for me to accept that I ought to give it up. This Integra RS must have been the least luxurious Acura ever made, lacking power windows, power locks or even power side-view mirrors, but it handled great, the stick shift was a joy to work, and that little four-cylinder engine roared delightfully as it neared its 6800 RPM redline.

(One memorable drive: On New Year’s Day of 1998, I made it from Greenwich Village to Clarendon in three hours and 45 minutes by not stopping for anything and generously interpreting the speed limits. That’s not a record I plan on breaking–as if I-95 these days would let me.)

And for a car bought basically for fun, this was amazingly practical. I often beat the EPA highway estimate of 28 MPG and once notched 36 MPG on a particularly blessed tank of gas. And with the rear seats folded down, the Integra could haul almost anything–a full-sized bed frame, a Christmas tree of any size, not one but two bicycles.

(Another memorable drive: In May of 2000, I went to Manhattan with my friend Doug for Bike New York, with said two bikes in the back. We somehow found an open parking spot outside my cousin’s apartment on Carmine Street–at which we had to pay for less than an hour before it went unmetered for the weekend. That’s probably the greatest street-parking job I’ll ever accomplish.)

Acura Integra in 1997I babied that car for years, regularly washing and even waxing it, as the photo at right reveals. But then in late 2001 I scratched the passenger side by taking a turn too tightly on the way out of my condo’s garage and decided that I did not need to spend almost $800 to fix the damage.

Getting married didn’t really put a dent in my driving habits, but my wife’s problem-plagued Dodge Intrepid blowing a gasket in the summer of 2005 did: The Toyota Prius we bought to replace that snakebit vehicle could carry almost as much stuff as mine, fit into the same parking spaces and got better mileage. And then my wife got a job within easy walking and biking distance, leaving the Prius free for me to use almost all the time.

My annual mileage totals went from four digits to three digits–I’d put over 33,000 miles on the Integra by then–to the low three digits. The biggest problem on this incredibly reliable vehicle became having its battery run down from a lack of use.

And so after 38,478 miles together, it was time to say goodbye to what is almost certainly the last solely gas-powered car I’ll ever own. A week and a half after I last saw my car–behind the tow truck hauling it down the street–I can’t say I miss the old girl. But I do have one small regret: I forgot to check the coin box when I cleaned out the inside, and I suspect I left a quarter or two there.

Weekly output: wearables and privacy, Verizon Custom TV, Tech Titans, EMV credit cards

My streak of never getting an invitation to the White House Correspondents Dinner continued, although I once again partook of Yahoo’s hospitality at their pre-dinner reception. I am okay with that streak; I look at it as one of my few remaining bits of indie cred.

4/20/2015: A Conversation on Wearables, State of the Net Wireless 2015

At the end of this half-day policy conference, I quizzed Center for Democracy and Technology president Nuala O’Connor about the privacy issues posed by wearable gadgets like the Apple Watch.

4/21/2015: Verizon’s ‘Custom TV’ Fixes Overpriced Channel Bundles — or Does It?, Yahoo Tech

I applauded Verizon for finally taking a step I’d suggested back in 2004: letting viewers buy packs of related channels instead of making them buy up to a higher tier of service. I was a lot less excited to see equipment fees and other surcharges inflate the advertised $54.99 price by over a third.

Washingtonian Tech Titans page4/23/2015: Tech Titans, Washingtonian

Every two years, the magazine puts together this list of “the most important people in digital Washington,” and this time around enough D.C.-tech types apparently spoke well of me to get me included in this list. I am honored and flattered by that. (The story’s not online yet, but I’ll add a link once it is. 5/4: Link added.)

4/26/2015: Chip-card security remains scarce in wallets, USA Today

A half-day conference I attended Thursday gave me some useful material for this update on the “EMV” chips that remain absent from all but one of our credit cards–and which have yet to see any retail use on that Amex. There’s also a tip about a new Sprint international-roaming offer with a nasty surprise in its fine print, something I first covered in an April 13 update to my Wirecutter guide to wireless carriers that was too small to mention here.