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.)

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.

“Damn you OS X autocorrect,” corporate-brands edition

I know, I know: Making fun of autocorrect fails is not new. But the automatic spelling correction in OS X is something else, courtesy of its apparent inability to figure out that my starting a word with a capital letter suggests I might be typing a proper name–say, a reasonably well-known online brand’s name–and that a little more deference would therefore be in order.

OS X autocorrect preferenceYou can argue that autocorrecting “Glympse” to “Glimpse” is fair game. But what about the following replacements I’ve seen OS X make?

“Etsy” to “Easy”

“Roku” to “Rook”

“Waze” to “Was”

“Ooma” to “Roma”

Meanwhile, it took a long time for Apple’s desktop operating system to stop auto-correcting Dulles Airport’s “IAD” code to “iAd,” as in the advertisement-serving system in iOS.

People’s names are, of course, just as much fair game to OS X’s autocorrect. When I was live-tweeting the Federal Communications Commission’s net-neutrality vote, OS X kept trying to change FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn’s last name to “Cleburne.” Perhaps it has an undocumented fetish for that Texas town of 29,377.

I have to ask: Isn’t this the sort of bossy intrusiveness that an earlier Apple justifiably mocked during Microsoft Word’s Clippy era? And then I must wonder: Why haven’t I shut off autocorrect already–in System Preferences’ Keyboard category, click “Text” and uncheck the “Correct spelling automatically” box–instead of whining about it yet again?

Weekly output: financial and tax insecurity, Solo drone, future of radio, lost location apps

My trip to the NAB Show ended with a red-eye flight home to the East Coast, something I don’t think I’ve done for business travel since 1996. Let’s just say I can’t rally from the experience as well as I did back then.

Yahoo Tech tax-return fraud post4/14/2015: The Other Reason Tax Prep Should Make You Nervous, Yahoo Tech

I had meant to file this piece about financial-account security and tax-refund fraud before heading out to National Airport for the first of two flights to Vegas but instead pretty much wrote the whole thing on the ORD-LAS segment.

After reading it, please look over last year’s tax-time column: a recount of how Intuit, the company whose weak security helped grease the skids for a fair amount of identity-theft refund fraud, has worked to ensure it won’t face competition from federal or state governments when it comes to online tax prep.

4/15/2015: 3D Robotics’ Solo Drone Can Fly Circles Around You, Yahoo Tech

I’m still not sure what possessed 3D Robotics to debut this drone at a convention for the broadcast media, but I thought the product fascinating enough that it was worth writing up the experience. My one disappointment: Nobody besides my editor seems to have picked up on my “a Solo can shoot first” line.

4/15/2015: The Journalists Panel, NAB Show

My primary reason for going to the NAB Show was to participate on this panel, in which longtime radio exec Jeff Simpson quizzed Radio World editor Paul McLane and I about the competition AM and FM stations face from online alternatives. I emphasized locality: Stations should try to sound like where they are, something a worldwide app like Pandora can’t do. If only more commercial FM stations would follow my advice when it comes to music programming.

4/19/2015: How location-aware app can get lost on WiFi, USA Today

I’ve touched on this topic before, but this time I had the benefit of talking to some smart mobile-app developers who clued me into some important differences in how location-based apps work in iOS and Android.

I survived doing our own taxes (I think)

Over the last few weeks, I did the one thing I was sure I’d never do after leaving the Post: prepare my own taxes instead of paying a tax professional to do the work.

I’d outsourced my tax prep over the last three years with generally satisfactory results. But this time around my tax guy had raised his rates while my own financial situation had not gotten more complex; I felt like I had finally disciplined my once moronic, then merely slovenly accounting; it seemed wrong to go four years without even looking at a category of software millions of Americans do battle with every spring.

1099s and TurboTaxAnd so I renewed my acquaintance with Intuit’s TurboTax for the first time since 2011–not as a reviewer, but as a paying customer. It went better than I’d feared.

The biggest upgrade from my earlier agonies was effective record-keeping: I’d entered every cash expense last year into a Google spreadsheet on my phone within hours or, at worst, days, then imported business credit-card transactions into the same sheet every quarter. Between that and being able to consult last year’s return for guidance on what should go where, I had the outlines of my Schedule C knocked out in shockingly little time.

That’s a great reason to go to a tax pro in the first place: If you don’t know to do this stuff, you need somebody who can coach you. The results don’t just help at tax time, but throughout the year.

TurboTax’s ability to import tax forms for all of our mutual funds–something I’ve complimented in earlier reviews–was a great time-saver. And seeing each investment firm’s numbers flow into our return meant I got a direct look at the tax hit inflicted by some actively-traded mutual funds versus index funds. Ouch.

I was relieved to see that the stupid date-validation bugs I’d complained about in 2011 were gone–well, in most of the app.

Did I play this unnecessary game of tax-code-optimization as well as I could? I believe I did, but I won’t know for sure until after we actually file. Yes, although the 1040 and our assorted alphabetical schedules are done, I opted to file an extension. I will be dropping a sizable chunk of money into my SEP IRA to chisel down our tax bill, and I’d rather not completely clean out my account in the process.

I also did our Virginia taxes in TurboTax. Then I deleted that return after writing down the total it had calculated and the two numbers I’d need to put down on my state return. Intuit may have convinced a gullible General Assembly to scrap the state’s free iFile site in 2010, but that doesn’t mean I need to reward its successful regulatory capture with my own business when state taxes aren’t that hard and I can always file on paper.

 

 

Weekly output: fearing AI and robots, PULS, Time Machine

After a weekend dominated by gardening and laundry, I’m off to Vegas tomorrow–I’m speaking on a panel at the National Association of Broadcasters’ conference there. (They are covering my airfare and one night’s lodging, something my regular editors okayed and which will be noted on my disclosure page.)

4/7/2015: Robots Just Need a Hug — and Your Car Keys, Yahoo Tech

I wasn’t sure I had time in my schedule for a screening of the movie Ex Machina days after SXSW, but I went, enjoyed the flick and let it get some gears turning in my head about how we perceive and sometimes fear artificial intelligence and robots in general.

Boing Boing PULS review4/9/2015: will.i.am’s first smartwatch winds down, Boing Boing

I came home from my semi-chance CES meeting with will.i.am with a loaner unit of his PULS smart watch/cuff. I had meant to get that review done before MWC, then let that show and SXSW eat up my free time. On the upside, I’m pretty sure that all of those delays allowed this review to be the first to report that this problematic device won’t see retail availability–according to their PR firm, will.i.am and company will pour their lessons learned into a successor model.

4/12/2015: Tips to trim a Mac’s Time Machine backup, USA Today

Credit for getting me to write a column I’ve had on the story-ideas list for at least a year, maybe two, goes to my old Post pal John Kelly, who kvetched about a Time Machine snafu in his column a few weeks ago titled “Your computer is lying.”

Apple Watch coverage as a spectator sport

I didn’t see or touch an Apple Watch until yesterday–when I played with a couple in an Apple Store, just like anybody else could.

Apple Watch close-upThat was a somewhat unavoidable consequence of my freelancer status intersecting with Apple PR’s choosy habits (as seen in 9to5mac’s fascinating chart of which places did and did not get review hardware before earlier iOS device launches): An outlet big enough to merit early Apple Watch access will already have a full-time staffer ready to review the thing.

It happens and doesn’t really bother me, although it did when I was at the Post and felt that One of America’s Most Important Newspapers was being snubbed. To the Apple reps I yelled at over decisions made by their bosses: I’m sorry.

Anyway, it’s been positively relaxing to sit out this round of the new-Apple-gadget media circus and instead read everybody else’s reviews at my leisure. I started with those from my regular clients–David Pogue’s at Yahoo Tech, Ed Baig’s at USA Today–and then proceeded to check out John Gruber’s reviewJoanna Stern’s critique at the Wall Street Journal, Nilay Patel’s lengthy assessment for The Verge, and Farhad Manjoo’s evaluation in the New York Times.

Apple Watch reviewsAs ever, it was fascinating to see what issues each reviewer focused on and which ones didn’t merit a mention. Fun fact: None cited the watch’s thickness (at 10.5 mm, or .413 inches, it’s thinner than the Moto 360 I did not like enough to buy). Maybe I’m an oddball to be so persnickety about smartwatch thickness?

I also enjoyed seeing the Verge’s designers get to play with the layout of that piece, and I thought the day-in-the-life-of construction of that review and the WSJ’s was a good way to unpack the Apple Watch’s utility–and the limits of its battery life.

So now that I’ve played with the Apple Watch up close, am I tempted to buy it? Of course not: I have an Android phone. And even if I’d broken my streak of never owning an iPhone, this entire category of product still looks at least one update cycle away from earning a spot on my shopping list.

 

Weekly output: the RIAA’s changing mood about digital music, tech journalism, opting out of Verizon’s supercookie

Starting tomorrow, I’m going to have a little less time each week to get my work done, courtesy of the Nats’ 10th season in D.C. beginning with Monday’s home opener. (If I stop responding to e-mail, phone calls and social-media interactions shortly before 4:05 p.m., that won’t be a coincidence.) Welcome back, baseball.

3/31/2015: Now That It’s Growing, the Music Industry Finally Forgives the Internet, Yahoo Tech

Writing this recap of how the Recording Industry Association of America has become bullish on the digital-music market after years of pessimism and pining away for DRM and tighter copyright laws to solve business-model problems provided me with a fun stroll down memory lane.

4/3/2015: ICYMI: Meet The Washington D.C. Tech Media, BusinessWired

BusinessWire’s Simon Ogus wrote this recap of the tech-journalism panel I participated in the previous week.

USAT VzW supercookie post4/5/2015: How to turn off Verizon’s ‘supercookie’ tracking, USA Today

This was an obvious topic to cover. I borrowed my brother’s Verizon account to verify that this opt-out procedure works as advertised–and, of course, to make sure he and his wife’s phones were opted out. I did that Friday morning; as of Sunday evening, the Am I Being Tracked? site shows that the Verizon ad-tracking header is still in place on his phone’s Web traffic, which squares with Verizon PR’s statement that it takes several days for this change to go through.