Weekly output: iPhone leases, smartphone-car connectivity, cable-box alternatives

I didn’t set out to vanish from Twitter this week, but I became all but invisible anyway. First I decided that free-but-slow T-Mobile roaming in Israel was good enough, then I had a round of meetings and visits in places with little to no cell signal and no free WiFi, then my phone spent a couple of days not getting a signal at all until I gave in and rebooted it. Meanwhile, the seven-hour time gap between Israel and the East Coast left a minimal audience for anything tweeted before mid afternoon, which further discouraged me from jumping into Twitter.

1/25/2016: Sprint and T-Mobile Backtrack on Crazy iPhone Lease Deals — and Why That’s Good for You, Yahoo Tech

This story came out of fact-checking for an imminent revision to my Wirecutter guide to the wireless carriers. My “huh” realization that Sprint and T-Mobile’s lease options no longer saved any significant money compared to buying a phone outright was followed by my surprise at seeing that nobody had covered this shift in the market.

Yahoo Tech 2016 car-connectivity update1/28/2016: When It Comes to Car Tech, the Cars Are Having a Hard Time Keeping Up With the Tech, Yahoo Tech

This sequel to last year’s assessment of car-smartphone connectivity doesn’t find me much more optimistic about where the auto industry’s heading. If you’d like to cheer yourself up by looking at a picture of a crash-test dummy or a Toyota Mirai fuel-cell vehicle paying homage to Back to the Future, see my Flickr album from the Washington Auto Show.

1/31/2016: Ways to ditch some — but not all — of your cable boxes, USA Today

A reader’s question about whether she really had to rent a cable box for every TV in her home arrived only hours after Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler pledged action to open up the cable-box market. My answer to this reader: You do have fee-free options for your secondary TVs at home, but they depend on your cable or satellite provider and are often not that good.

I regret missing the blizzard–well, kind of

The roads were clear in D.C. when I left two Thursdays ago and mostly clear when I returned Friday morning. I’m a little sad about what I missed.

Snow bank and stop signLast weekend’s blizzard was the first epic snowstorm I’ve been out of town for since… college? I not only don’t mind being around for a foot or more of snow, I enjoy it. I take pride in my snow-shoveling and snowman-building skills, I’ve got a decent set of snowbound-comfort-food recipes, and getting over six inches of snow has been a great excuse to dust off my cross-country skis.

Alas, I couldn’t do any of that because of travel I’d already arranged. I could only check Facebook and Twitter from afar to see everybody else’s updates, pictures and videos as inches of snow turned into feet.

But even if I’d been in town, I couldn’t have enjoyed any cross-country skiing. One of the aging skis I’d gotten for free at a friend’s yard sale long ago suffered a complete delamination last year, and I’d held off on buying a replacement pair because I was afraid that would ensure we’d never see any snow this year. Yes, you can go ahead and blame me for Snowzilla.

Fortunately, there was still some snow shoveling left for me when I returned: Friday morning, I cleared a path to the grill and the compost bin, and this morning I dug out the two closest bus stops and our kid’s school-bus stop. My next snow-related move will be buying some x-country skis, which I hope won’t stop us from getting a little more snow before spring arrives and I must return my attention to gardening.

Weekly output: saved WiFi networks, cord cutting, smartphones in snowstorms

TEL AVIV–Instead of typing this post in a snowbound home, I’m writing it from almost 6,000 miles east. I came here not to flee the snow drifts, but for an introduction to Israel’s cybersecurity sector–meetings with a variety of people in industry and government, plus a security conference here Tuesday and Wednesday–arranged for a group of U.S. journalists and analysts by the America-Israel Friendship League, a non-profit based in New York and here.

Like other sponsored trips I’ve taken, this is not the sort of thing I could have done at the Post. Like them, it provides an opportunity to learn outside the usual scope of my work about a topic I would like to know better. Look for a post or two about this at Yahoo Tech… with a disclosure of who covered most of my travel costs.

1/20/2016: How to ‘Forget’ Old Saved Wi-Fi Networks, Yahoo Tech

This week’s tip at Yahoo was inspired by the many time at CES that my phone tried to connect to old saved networks with Web logins that it couldn’t automatically handle as it would a standard WiFi password.

Yahoo Tech 2016 cord-cutting post1/20/2016: The Time to Cut the Cord and Switch to Streaming TV is Now, Yahoo Tech

The text of this column isn’t as gung-ho about dumping cable or satellite TV as this headline suggests–remember, a third of it covers the continued unavailability online of local stations and home-team sports. But that hed seems to have worked at some level, because the link I shared on my Facebook page was seen by more than 51,000 people. Thanks, undocumented and unaccountable News Feed algorithm!

1/23/2016: How to prolong your phone’s life in a power outage, USA Today

You may remember reading something like this at CEA’s blog in 2012; that post, however, went down the bit bucket a long time ago. Meanwhile, smartphones have changed quite a bit, meaning I could write a cheat sheet about phone battery life that could include some details many readers wouldn’t already know.

2015 gardening report card: parsley FTW

Every earlier version of this annual post has come in November or December, but this time around winter forgot to start on schedule. Until a few days ago, I could still step outside and grab some cilantro, parsley, oregano or mint.

With temperatures that fell into the teens yesterday and a snowstorm forecast for the weekend, that’s no longer an option. So it’s once again time to grade my attempts at growing my own food in our tiny backyard.

(See my reports from 201120122013 and 2014.)

Herbs: A

This grade is almost entirely parsley-driven. I had so much of this stuff growing that I started making tabbouleh just to make it go away (and was then flattered to have a friend with Lebanese ancestry approve the results). Parsley-walnut pesto is another good way to deal with a surplus of that herb; it keeps forever in the fridge and is a good addition to sandwiches. I also had good results with mint, oregano, rosemary and chives, leaving basil as this year’s one notable disappointment.

lettuce

Green beans: A- 

Once again, I had more of these than I knew what to do with, and too many rotted on the vine. I should have blanched and frozen them, right?

Arugula: B+

Like last year, this did fantastic in the spring, but my attempts at a fall crop didn’t pan out. I’m blaming the crush of conferences that kept me out of town for much of September.

Lettuce: B

Getting this to grow always makes me happy, because lettuce is one of the more expensive items per pound in a store. This outperformed in the spring, but nothing came of the seeds I planted in September.

Spinach: B

I got a decent yield in the spring, and then it was starting to show signs of a second crop in the fall when the weather got a little too cold for a vegetable that fragile.

Tomatoes: C-

I finally stopped trying to grow them on the shady side of the house and instead set up a planter on the sunnier end of the back patio, but the local squirrels kept snacking on my still-green tomatoes until I finally enclosed the whole thing in netting. One last, sad, little plum tomato has now almost ripened in my kitchen.

Cucumbers: D-

I harvested two or three, tops. But since I’d only bought one packet of seeds, that’s not an awful return on investment when you compare what buying those cukes would have cost.

Bell peppers: F

I assure you that I planted some seeds for them, but I cannot tell you what happened to them afterward.

Weekly output: LTE hotspots, Techdirt, SOTU, password managers, Washington Apple Pi, Tech Night Owl, old IE versions

I had a relaxing week after CES… no, that’s not right.

Wirecutter LTE hotspot guide1/11/2016: Best Wi-Fi Hotspot, The Wirecutter

My overdue update to this guide to LTE hotspots endorsed a Verizon model and gave a secondary endorsement to an AT&T hotspot with lesser battery life. We then revised the update after it posted to note that the Sprint reseller Karma had downgraded an initially-promising unlimited-data option.

1/12/2016: Techdirt Podcast Episode 56: The CES Post-Mortem, Techdirt

I ran into Techdirt’s Mike Masnick at CES, and on our respective ways out of town he suggested I appear on his podcast. I said that would be a great idea.

1/13/2016: State of the Union’s Technology? What Obama Didn’t Say, Yahoo Tech

The tech-policy story about this SOTU address is how little attention tech policy got. I’d still like to know what led Reuters to think that self-driving cars would get a mention in the speech.

1/14/2016: Tip: How to Make Sure Someone Can Access Your Passwords in an Emergency, Yahoo Tech

The 4.0 update LastPass rolled out right before CES added an emergency-access feature, so I used this tip to tell readers about that and Dashlane’s comparable emergency-contacts option.

1/14/2016: Afternoon Learners SIG, Washington Apple Pi

I stopped by a meeting of this Apple users’ group to share my thoughts about CES–and to hand out some PR swag and USB flash drives.

1/16/2016: January 16 2016 — John Martellaro and Rob Pegoraro, Tech Night Owl

I talked to Gene Steinberg about what I saw at CES, from UHD TVs to the Internet of Insecure Things.

1/17/2016: What to do after Microsoft ends support for older browsers, USA Today

The easy answer to Microsoft’s end of support for older Internet Explorer versions is “install IE 11.” But that browser isn’t the same app in Windows 7 as it is in Win 8 and 10, and updating your browser doesn’t end your Web-security chores.

CES 2016 travel-tech report: Where did the battery anxiety go?

Something bizarre happened at this year’s CES, my 19th in a row: Neither my laptop nor my phone ever got into the red-line zone that leads me to start frantically searching for a power outlet.

My phone is only a few months old and so offers much better battery life than its predecessor, but my laptop is the same old MacBook Air I’ve had since 2012. Maybe I’ve learned something about power discipline; maybe the butt-in-chair time required to write all the stories I owed to various clients ensured sufficient opportunity to keep my devices topped off.

CES 2016 gadgetsI’m going to go with the second explanation.

Also strange: I never needed to break out the travel power strip I always bring to CES.

I did have one lesser power scare: I left my phone’s charger in a restaurant, and it’s not like I can count on random passerby having a USB-C charger. Fortunately, I’m not a complete idiot and had an extra USB-C adapter cable on me, and the restaurant’s staff found the charger and had it waiting at the hostess stand when I stopped by the next evening.

But while the electrons may have been obliging for once, other tech annoyances persisted. OS X’s curiously inept multitasking left my laptop locked up by runaway browser processes more than once (does the phrase “Safari Web Content” make your blood boil too?), while my phone twice showed a no-SIM-present error that I elected to dispel with a reboot.

Bandwidth was mostly fine except for Thursday, when neither my phone nor the two LTE hotspots I’d been testing as part of an update to a Wirecutter guide could get any useful bandwidth in the Sands. I had to camp out on a chair next to a loading dock to get back online.

The Nexus 5X’s camera was a massive upgrade over the Nexus 4 imaging hardware I carried last year, but I still took the bulk of my photos with my aging Canon 330 HS. I’m pretty sure that this is my last CES with this camera–although it still takes better photos overall than my phone, its lack of a built-in panorama mode is annoying, and I’m sick of invoking its photo-plus-video “Hybrid Auto” mode by mistake.

While I’m figuring out what camera will replace this Canon, I also need to think seriously about the software I use on my computer to edit and share pictures taken with a “real” camera. Apple’s Photos is a good image editor, but as an organizer it’s awful. Because its broken sharing feature ignores photo titles and descriptions when uploading images to Flickr–and because you can’t right-click a photo in the app to jump to its Finder folder–I had to export all 74 shots in my CES album to the Finder, then drag and drop them into Flickr from there.

If Apple doesn’t fix this app, I need to use something else. But what? Please share your own suggestions–and no, I’m not going to buy Photoshop for this–in the comments.

 

Weekly output: CES (x2), T-Mobile BingeOn, OLED TVs, Samsung Family Hub fridge, FAA and drones, UHD TV, patent trolls

As the following inventory of stories should suggest, I was pretty busy at CES. If you need further proof: My notes from the show exceed 8,000 words. I had delusions that I’d have the energy today to go through my photos from the show and caption, edit and upload the best of them, but that’s just not happening this evening.

1/5/2016: What Is CES, Anyway? A Quick Guide for the Perplexed, Yahoo Tech

This was the one post out of all these that I filed before making my journey to Vegas.

1/6/2016: Tip: How to Quit T-Mobile’s BingeOn Service, Yahoo Tech

And this is the post that I should have also written in advance. Instead, I finished it in the Mandalay Bay press room Tuesday afternoon.

CES 2016 OLED report1/6/2016: LG’s See-Through, Rollable OLED Screens: Here, But Not Cheap (Yet), Yahoo Tech

This wasn’t on my original story budgets, but LG’s presentation–and the broader issue of OLED’s long-term relevance–was interesting enough for my editors to accept my suggestion that I file an extra post about this.

1/7/2016: Samsung’s Family Hub Smart Fridge: Would You Believe It Keeps Beer Cold, Too?, Yahoo Tech

The headline came to mind almost right away, and the rest of the post (for once) mostly wrote itself. In the interest of full disclosure, we own a 2014-model Samsung fridge that has no connected apps onboard but which also does a fine job of keeping beer cold.

Make drone-registration post1/8/2016: FAA: Over 181,000 Of You Have Registered Your Drones So Far, Make:

This is the first thing I’ve written for Maker Media’s site. It went up later than I wanted because a) I took my time writing it and b) the newsroom got hit with a round of layoffs. Ugh.

1/8/2016: The State of Ultrahigh-Definition Television: Will This Be the Year It Makes Sense to Upgrade?, Yahoo Tech

My annual state-of-the-TV report from CES had me feeling more charitable about UHD’s prospects than before–but still not interested in upgrading until at least next year.

1/8/2016: Consumer Electronics Industry to Government: Do Something About Patent Trolls, Yahoo Tech

This panel Friday morning had a great lineup (hint: anytime you can hear NewEgg’s Lee Cheng rant about patent trolls, show up), and then I had the chance to quiz U.S. Patent and Trademark Office director Michelle Lee afterwards.

1/8/2016: CE-NO thank you: 5 things I could do without from CES, USA Today

My thanks to my editor for suggesting a CES angle that hadn’t already been completely picked over; my apologies to the guy whose name I misspelled in the piece for reasons I completely don’t understand (see my comment on the story for the details).