About robpegoraro

Freelance journalist who covers (and is often vexed by) computers, gadgets and other things that beep.

Weekly output: net neutrality (x2), Nexus 6, connected-car privacy, Nexus lineup, Comcast fees

If only I could look this productive every week… note that all this happened with two travel days and a conference eating up my schedule, and that I filed another piece on Friday that hasn’t run yet.

11/11/2014: 5 Things to Know About Obama’s Net-Neutrality Push, Yahoo Tech

I enjoyed taking the close-up photo of an Ethernet cable that illustrates this post, and then I was pleasantly relieved not to see the comments immediately overrun with denunciations of net neutrality based on it being something President Obama supports.

11/11/2014: Beyond Email: 3 Innovative Communication Tools for Your Team, CyberCoders

My friend Andrea Smith quoted me a few times in this piece about collaborative apps used by geographically distributed workers to coordinate their work; appropriately enough, HipChat is one tab away from her story in my browser as I type this.

11/12/2014: Net neutrality, The Bill Press Show

An 8:30 am. East Coast radio interview was no problem the day after I flew to San Francisco, since jet lag had me awake around 4:30 a.m. local time. (Time-zone disruption was a bigger problem than usual on this trip; even Saturday morning, when I was thoroughly worn down from the week, I still found myself awake before 7 a.m. Ugh.)

11/12/2014: Nexus 6 review: Stop the screen-specs madness, VentureBeat

This phone bothered me more than I thought it would. Both the enormous screen and its beyond-human-vision pixel density strike me as the tech industry at its worst, chasing specs with inadequate attention to their real-world benefits.

11/12/2014: Privacy on the Road: A Conversation about Connected Cars, Privacy Identity Innovation

My interview with Catherine McCullough, executive director of the Intelligent Car Coalition, was scheduled for one of the trickier timeslots at a conference: immediately before the reception. I think we did okay; when they post video of this, you can judge for yourself.

Boing Boing Nexus 2014 review11/13/2014: The new Nexus lineup is weak, Boing Boing

I enjoyed getting a chance to review the same devices for a different site and a different audience. Check out the comments for some detailed back-and-forth about this year’s crop of Nexus devices.

11/16/2014: Comcast changes tune on ‘change of service’ fee, USA Today

I was scrounging around for a suitable column topic when a reader’s tweet about getting hit with a fee by Comcast for the privilege of canceling his service solved that problem for me. I hope, in turn, that my spotlighting this issue helps solve my reader’s problem.

Updated 11:57 p.m. to include Andrea Smith’s piece about collaboration tools. I knew I was leaving something out the first time around…

About these ads

Transit is my travel hack

PALO ALTO–I spent most of the last three days here in the middle of Silicon Valley at the Privacy Identity Innovation conference, with a side trip to San Francisco for a press dinner last night. And a car never figured into my plans.

Auto-awesomed Caltrain photoInstead, I took Caltrain up and down the peninsula, with one connection via a VTA bus and reasonable amount of walking. What do you think I was going to do, drop $100 and change on a rental car that would sit idle except for when it would have me sitting in the loathsome traffic of U.S. 101?

For the most part, that worked fine. My travel times were sometimes longer, but I could get work done on my laptop and then get some exercise on foot at either end. The one huge exception: Missing one southbound train from San Francisco meant I had to spend almost an extra hour in the city when I was dead tired and just wanted to get back to my hotel.

Even when the alternative is not renting a car but taking a taxi, the local rail or bus service has often been a better idea. Take Las Vegas–please. Between Vegas cabbies’ documented habit of “long hauling” passengers to run up the fare, the deliberate inefficiency of the one-person-per-car taxi line at McCarran, the ripoff $3 surcharge for paying with a credit card, and the militant opposition to Uber and other potential competitors, I’ve had more than enough reasons besides the non-trivial cost savings to begin acquainting myself with bus service there.

Vegas bus guidancePlus, there’s the perverse pride to be had in getting around car-free in a place not known for its transit service. (See also: taking the VTA light rail around Santa Clara County and taking Capital Metro’s Red Line in Austin.)

Yet I keep hearing things like “I don’t know how to take the bus” from other out-of-town types at these events when I mention my mode of transportation.

I understand: It can be intimidating getting on a large vehicle full of strangers when you’re not sure exactly where it’s going or how you’ll know when to get off. I remember the anxiety of trying to figure out Metro buses from a tiny map at a stop or on a brochure.

Fortunately, it’s the year 2014 and you no longer need to rely on printed documentation. Google Maps and Bing Maps both include transit directions, and Google’s even offer turn-by-turn navigation. As long as your phone has a charge and a signal, you cannot get lost. You can, however, win the satisfaction of unlocking the workings of a new and somewhat complex system–which is, as a tech journalist, is the kind of thing I’m supposed to be doing anyway.

Weekly output: Nexus Player, Nexus 9, Verizon Wireless and AT&T’s user tracking, exposed images, Facebook and Flash video

It’s been 11 whole days since I last ventured beyond the Beltway, but Tuesday morning I get back on a plane: I’m headed to the Bay Area for the Privacy Identity Innovation conference, where I’ll be conducting an onstage interview about connected cars.

11/3/2014: Google’s Nexus Player is no Apple TV; it’s not even a Chromecast, VentureBeat

Where exactly is Google going with this streaming-media player that costs almost three times a Chromecast but doesn’t do all that much more? I’m confused. (To the commenters saying “Apple fanboy”: I gladly paid my own money for a Chromecast but have never done so for an Apple TV. Also, try to show some originality in your insults.)

VentureBeat Nexus 9 review11/3/2014: Nexus 9 tablet shows Google is thinking bigger — but not big enough (review), VentureBeat

I was more conflicted about this device. If it had shipped with more memory, sold for a lower price or not retreated on the feature set of last year’s Nexus 7, I probably would have been kinder to it in this review.

11/4/2014: How Verizon Wireless Is Tracking You All Around the Web, Yahoo Tech

It’s amazing to me that VzW executives seriously think they can tamper with their subscribers’ online activity to insert a personally-identifiable tracking header and not let anybody opt out. In what universe does that not lead to a class-action lawsuit, an FTC investigation, a hostile Congressional hearing or all of the above?

11/6/2014: Jennifer Lawrence’s Hacked Photos: A “Sex Crime?” The Legal Underpinnings of Digitally Exposed Private Images and What Congress Needs to Know, Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee

I discussed the hacking of many celebrities’ iCloud photo backups, plus the broader problem of “revenge porn,” with University of Miami law professor Mary Anne Franks, the Center for Democracy and Technology’s Emma Llansó, recently-retired law prof David Post and Politico cybersecurity reporter Tal Kopan. You can watch the proceedings on C-SPAN.

11/9/2014: Facebook won’t unfriend Flash, but it should, USA Today

Months after I uninstalled Adobe Flash from this Mac’s copy of Safari, the only time I really notice its absence as a problem is when I click on a video some friend has posted to Facebook and can’t watch it. This column sheds some light on this needless compatibility problem and offers a tip about watching Amazon instant video without Microsoft’s even-less-useful Silverlight plug-in.

The fable of the one-handed phablet

For most of the last three years, I have been fighting a battle against “phablets” and losing it badly. Not only have people flocked to buy supersized phones after each negative review I hand down, the dimensions of these displays have steadily crept up.

Phone size inflationThe 5.3-inch screen of the first Samsung Galaxy Note, the one that I mocked at the time for its enormousness, now ranks as just a bit over medium-sized. And that 2012-vintage hardware seems positively compact next to the 5.5-in. LCD of the iPhone 6 Plus, the 5.7-in. screen of the Galaxy Note 4 and the 5.96-in. display on Google’s upcoming Nexus 6.

Minimum sizes have gone up too. The 4.7-in. touchscreen on my Nexus 4 once seemed quite the expanse of glass but is now approaching minimum-viable-product material.

All along, my core complaint against enormophones hasn’t changed: How do you use these things single-handed? Here are some common situations where it’s difficult or impossible to wield a phone with both hands:

  • Holding a shopping basket at a store
  • Pushing a stroller
  • Wheeling your luggage through an airport
  • Standing in a train or bus and holding on to a handrail or stanchion
  • Eating a slice of pizza or other no-utensils-needed food
  • Standing in a coffee shop, bar or restaurant with a beverage in one hand
  • Holding your child’s hand
  • Walking a pet

And no, wearing a smartwatch doesn’t help unless you’re willing to annoy everybody around you by issuing voice commands to your computer of a chronograph.

But with millions of people choosing to pay what’s often a non-trivial price premium for plus-sized phones, I have to allow for me being the person who doesn’t get it.

So I’ll ask this: If you have a phone with screen that exceeds five inches across, how do you work its touchscreen when you don’t have both hands free? Has the act of tilting the phone in your hand to let your thumb reach a corner become so natural that you no longer notice, do you put down or let go whatever has your other hand occupied, or is there some other trick I’ve been missing?

Weekly output: MCX vs. NFC, wireless carriers, OS X Yosemite

I completely spaced on writing this earlier tonight, so this post comes to you early Monday morning instead of in my usual Sunday afternoon/evening timeframe.

10/28/2014: Why Some Stores Won’t Take Apple Pay, and How to Punish Them, Yahoo Tech

Did I mention all the clueless anti-Apple rage directed at this post covering the blocking of NFC mobile payments at CVS and Rite Aid? Yes, I did. I’m still shaking my head about all that. I mean, it’s quite the stretch to say that a story illustrated with a photo of my own Android phone is all about Apple; my own brain is incapable of such gymnastics.

10/30/2014: The Best Wireless Carriers, The Wirecutter

I updated this guide to account for a round of changes in Verizon’s pricing, some price cuts in some of AT&T’s shared-use plans and a few other shifts in the industry.

USAT Yosemite-tips column11/2/2014: Yosemite tips: Turn off translucency, tune up notifications, USA Today

The story I wrote this week that actually was all about Apple wasn’t too complimentary either, since it led off with a suggestion that you undo one of OS X Yosemite’s key visual features. (So far, I am pleased overall with this release, but check back in a month.)

Updated 11/5/14 to add the Wirecutter update that I had missed earlier.

Apple Derangement Syndrome

I thought Tuesday’s Yahoo Tech column about stores blocking Apple Pay and other NFC-payment apps would provoke some emotional reactions from angry iPhone users. I was wrong.

IScratched Apple logonstead, the comments thread, Twitter and my inbox lit up with denunciations of me for being an Apple shill. One typical tweet: “Pathetic apple fanboy. You’re not fooling anyone. How much did apple pay you for that trash?” Another Twitter interlocutor suggested I get Ebola, providing me an overdue opportunity to try Twitter’s block function.

In e-mail, where you don’t have to worry about what onlookers think of your foaming at the mouth, things were even less civil. One fellow whose e-mail signature identified him as a technology consultant decried my enabling “Apple Octopus pot culture,” whatever that is. A particularly incensed reader managed to drop seven f-bombs into the first four sentences.

And all of this was about a column that explained how blocking NFC inconveniences Android and Windows Phone users as well as anybody with an iPhone 6 to 6 Plus, and which led off with a photo of my own Android phone getting rejected at a CVS.

But no, basic logic or reading comprehension isn’t necessary when one is in the grip of Apple Derangement Syndrome. And expecting readers to take a minute to learn that I’ve never owned an iPhone and am responsible for gracing the Washington Post’s site with the sarcastic query “why does Steve Jobs hate America?”… man, that’s just crazy talk.

Yahoo Tech Apple Pay comments countApple has always had people who dislike its products and its attitude, but this full-on, frothing hate seems a more recent development. I can only guess that’s because if you think this phenomenally successful company really will take over the world, it must be stopped by any means necessary and you can’t wait a second longer to act.

I’ve seen the same thing happen with Google many times, most recently when a German media exec suggested the gang in Mountain View applied, I kid you not, North Korean media-manipulation techniques. And only a decade ago, Microsoft Derangement Syndrome was much more of a thing than it is now.

But there’s never been such a thing as Palm Derangement Syndrome, Dell Derangement Syndrome or Nokia Derangement Syndrome. Don’t you feel sorry for those companies now?