About robpegoraro

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

Weekly output: Apple and social media, right to be forgotten, wireless carriers, Facebook and health care, overheating laptops

Another Sunday when my brain is mostly filled with thoughts about baseball. Yes, I was at Nats Park for all 18 innings last night. No, witnessing that loss didn’t hurt nearly as much as 2012’s horrible NLDS Game 5. Yes, I still felt crummy today.

But you know what? We’re going to play another game tomorrow. Go Nats.

9/30/2014: Apple, Can We Talk?, Yahoo Tech

I revisited a longstanding frustration with Apple–its apparently allergy to public conversations with its customers in any form of social media–and found it even more obnoxious when just about every other major American corporation will talk to the people who keep it in business on multiple social networks. This also bothers me as a journalist: Doling out information to select media outlets instead of tweeting it out to its paying customers offers Apple yet another way to try to manipulate the media.

IAB RtbF panel10/1/2014: Debating the “right to be forgotten,” IAB Global Summit

I spent a few days in New York for this Interactive Advertising Bureau conference and a couple of other tech events. My contribution to IAB’s gathering was this discussion with co-panelists Townsend Feehan (CEO, IAB Europe) and Valérie Chavanne (Yahoo France general counsel and public-policy head) about how this emerging legal doctrine in the European Union is unfolding for Internet users, search engines, Web publishers, and the rest of us.

10/1/2014: The Best Wireless Carriers, The Wirecutter

I updated much of this guide to reflect iPhone 6 pricing (thanks for all the extra math, Sprint!) as well as T-Mobile’s expansion of WiFi calling and texting. So if you’ve been dying to know which carrier offers the best deal for not just one iPhone 6 with a 2-gigabyte data allotment, but four of them, look no further.

10/3/2014: Facebook and health care, WTOP

I talked about a Reuters report that Facebook will move to set up “support communities” for people with particular health issues or conditions. Note that on the air, I mentioned that Facebook raised privacy concerns when it bought the maker of an activity-tracking device;  the product in question is not hardware but software, the Moves activity-tracking app.

10/5/2014: What’s cranking up your laptop’s cooling fan?, USA Today

This week’s column covered something that’s puzzled me too often: How is it that my laptop’s cooling fan can sometimes rev up for no apparent reason? The column suggests a few apps that can report the processor’s temperature and indicate which apps are hitting it hardest–and admits that you may still be puzzled after going through those troubleshooting steps.

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MLB playoffs > NFL, NBA and NHL playoffs

It’s 0-0 in the bottom of the second inning of the Nationals’ division series against the Giants. I am excited to see my city’s team playing in October. And a little nervous. Nats 2014 postseason tickets

The 2014 postseason–the second the Nats have reached since coming to D.C. nine years ago, also the second for a Washington baseball team since 1933–may end with a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. Or it may end in the kind of soul-crushing loss that leaves one staring blankly into space until 4 a.m. I don’t know yet.

But I do know that baseball’s postseason–the difficulty of reaching it, the unpredictable outcomes allowed by a quick schedule and five-game division series, and the overall beauty of the national pastime–beats football’s, basketball’s and hockey’s. Let’s inventory what those other prime-time pro sports get wrong:

NFL: The impossibility of multiple-game playoff rounds in a sport as injury-prone/dangerous as football keeps the postseason relatively brief. But teams with a regular-season losing record can get in. And the hype about the Super Bowl–should I call it the “Big Game” to avoid annoying the NFL’s control freaks?–irks me to no end. Get over yourselves already.

(I have other issues with the NFL, but I’ll save those for later.)

NBA: By bloating the postseason to four best-of-seven rounds and then further padding out the schedule with a travel-dense 2-2-1-1-1 format, the NBA ensures that its playoffs regularly welcome teams with losing records and then grind on for almost two months. Wrong. And then the same handful of teams dominate the Finals. Boring.

NHL: Hockey, too, lets losing teams into its postseason. But my major gripe with the Stanley Cup playoffs–aside from the Caps’ helplessness in them–is the nearly two-month duration that ends with the absurdity of a sport born on frozen bodies of water being played in June.

(As for soccer: MLS, your postseason is fine by me, especially with D.C. United in it.)

An individual customer rep is not a reliable source

Twice in the past few weeks, I’ve gotten into debates with readers about whether an option I’ve written about exists. Each time, my source has been a company PR contact, against which the reader has cited a sales or support representative who told them otherwise.

Verizon support chatThe first case came up in my Wirecutter guide to wireless carriers (updated today for the iPhone 6!) when I warned readers that Verizon’s otherwise appealing “Single Line Smartphone” plans exclude tethering.

I noted that I’d seen Verizon reps say otherwise (as in the screenshot here), but that I’d gotten the official word from a Verizon spokeswoman and the @VzWSupport Twitter account.

Then I had a commenter on the story report that two different reps had said  tethering was included. Even though that would make zero business sense for VzW–why offer a plan with the same features as one that costs $30 extra?

Next came last weekend’s USA Today column about buying an unlocked iPhone 6. In it, I cited reports from iPhone 6 purchasers and a confirmation from an Apple publicist as proof that the “no-contract” T-Mobile iPhone 6 for sale at Apple’s site is unlocked and can be used with any carrier.

Big surprise: I’ve since had readers saying Apple and T-Mobile reps told them that this phone is locked to T-Mobile. One particularly anxious shopper wrote that he’d gotten that answer from nine different people at Apple and T-Mobile.

Look: I am not the biggest fan of Apple PR, but they have been honest when I ask a yes-or-no question about an Apple product such as “is this phone unlocked?” (That’s going back many years; the staffer who gave me this answer is somebody I’ve dealt with since at least 2008.) Remember, too, that you’ve got firsthand reports from iPhone customers, including several who commented on the USAT piece.

(T-Mobile’s @TMobileHelp Twitter account did chime in, but its reply only mentions the carrier’s own warranty and “premium handset protection”–neither of which should concern you if you’ll use another carrier–and doesn’t actually say the phone sold by Apple comes locked. Apple said nothing in response because it’s apparently allergic to social-media conversations.)

Meanwhile, customer-service and support reps get the story wrong all the time. They think an old policy still applies, they try to make the customer happy, their boss told them something else, they just guess. This happens so often in travel that FlyerTalkers have an acronym for their preferred workaround for getting reps to do something allowed by policy: HUACA, short for “hang up and call again.”

None of this back-and-forth is necessary when companies post the correct answer on their sites. But I shouldn’t complain too much; their failure to do so opens an information inefficiency that I can exploit for profit… and subsequent reader e-mails explaining how they know I got it wrong.

 

Weekly output: Maker Faire, Apple flubs, unlocked iPhones

I should be using this space to go over my weekend at the Online News Association’s conference or what I’m up to this week, but I really just want to talk about seeing Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter at Nats Park today. I’d never seen one before. And in an alternate scenario, I wouldn’t have changed my original flight back from Chicago to United’s 8 a.m. departure, or that painfully-early flight would have been cancelled, and I would have missed the whole thing.

Sometimes it’s worth waking up at 5:15 a.m. on a Sunday to get home.

Yahoo Tech Maker Faire report9/23/2014: Report from Maker Faire: You, Too, Can Be a Maker, Yahoo Tech

Going into this celebration of DIY creativity and culture, I wasn’t sure I’d have a column’s worth of material. I shouldn’t have worried.

9/25/2014: Famous Flubs in Apple History, Yahoo Tech

When an extra review of a smartphone accessory got spiked (PR tip: make sure your client’s gadget works on the reviewer’s phone, lest the reviewer find himself unable to try it out), I had some unexpected free time I could devote to a quick catalog of past episodes of readers and writers alike freaking out over Apple mistakes and mishaps that, in retrospect, were perhaps not so world-ending.

9/27/2014: How to buy an unlocked iPhone 6, USA Today

This column untangling a confusing presentation on Apple’s online store ran a day earlier than usual. The comments feature some useful first-hand reports about activating Apple-sold iPhones on carriers other than those Apple intended–for instance, putting a Verizon iPhone 6 on T-Mobile.

 

Newspaper alumni need the occasional reunion too

CHICAGO–I’m here for the Online News Association’s annual conference, and it’s been pretty great so far. Not necessarily for all the panels and discussions (although they’ve been good too, especially Chartbeat CEO Tony Haile’s explaining how news sites and advertisers need to focus on time spent instead of page views, then Texas Tribune editor Amanda Krauss discussing how changing the “Like” button in their commenting system to a “Respect” button helped elevate the discussion), but for the people.

ONA 14 logo on tote bagThe right and honorable profession of journalism has many virtues, but occupational permanence or even long-term stability isn’t among them. Jobs change, news organizations grow or shrink, and your fellow cubicle farmers may not be there next year. The cubicle farm itself may vanish.

(That lesson is particularly obvious in this city: My walk to the ONA venue takes me past the Tribune Tower, where Sam Zell’s malicious mismanagement sent the newspaper into bankruptcy.)

You can still talk to the people you used to work with on Facebook, Twitter and mailing lists, but sometimes you want to see them in person. Tech events help–I don’t miss going to Apple product launches because of the chance to inspect a new iPhone under tightly-controlled conditions, but because they let me catch up with tech-journalism pals–but ONA is fantastic for reconnecting with old Post colleagues.

We run into each other, we ask what we’re up to now, we share our recollections of horrible CMSes, we trade tips about travel and technology, we talk about our families… and I love realizing that we’ve found happiness in our post-newspaper lives.

I’ve also run into some current Posties here, who seem much more content than many of us were when we left: The Jeff Bezos money has ended a long and seemingly unending cycle of staff cuts and started paying for hiring and travel on a scale unimaginable back then. That’s good to see too.

Weekly output: cell-phone lane, iPhone 6 pricing, wireless carriers, Moto 360, iOS app bandwidth

NEW YORK–I spent two fascinating days here checking out Maker Faire (and catching up with some old friends), and now it’s time to head home. Make that, 16 minutes ago was the time to head home, except my train is late. Yay, travel.

9/15/2014: Chinese cellphone lane inspired by D.C., WTOP

The post I did for Yahoo Tech about a mock cell-phone lane on a D.C. sidewalk was back in circulation after a city in China staged a similar exercise, so WTOP quizzed me about what I’d seen earlier this summer.

Yahoo Tech iPhone 6 pricing plans9/16/2014: iPhone 6 Plans Compared: AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile, Yahoo Tech

This column was about 50 percent shopping advice, 50 percent a desperate plea to the wireless carriers (T-Mobile excepted) to simplify their offerings. As one heading from the story cried out: Why, Sprint, why?

I know some of you wanted me to offer guidance about family-plan deals for the iPhone. We didn’t have room for that in this piece, but I did file an update to my Wirecutter guide to wireless service with that info and much more; it should be up soon.

9/17/2014: The Best Wireless Carriers Today, Tested.com

Speaking of, I wrote a condensed version of that guide, complete with updates to account for iPhone 6/6 Plus pricing, that the site’s syndication partners could run. Tested.com posted its version on Wednesday… and tonight the link is coming up 404. Not sure what happened there.

9/19/2014: Moto 360: A round smartwatch not yet ready to roll (review), VentureBeat

This review had an amazingly short gestation time compared to some of the things I’ve written: I started it on the train up from D.C. late Friday morning, and it was up by mid-afternoon. That’s a great feeling.

9/21/2014: Check it: Which iPhone apps are data hogs?, USA Today

I was mostly done reporting a different Q&A column when I discovered that I’d covered almost the same topic last summer. (Oops.) Fortunately, I had this idea as a backup; unfortunately, I left out one step in the tip about iOS 8’s per-app battery-usage data, so we had to update the story this afternoon to fix that.

Speaking of column updates, we also revised the prior weekend’s column to add a couple of paragraphs explaining the NFC-mobile-payment app Softcard’s hitherto under-documented security options.

Your con-call invitation isn’t as enticing as you think

I enjoy talking shop, but not so much when I first need to call a toll-free number, punch in a four-to-six-digit code, press the pound key, speak my name after the beep and be dumped into a cybernetic void in which I must wait to hear the sound of another human voice.

Con-call invite from OutlookNo, I’m not a fan of conference calls. Part of that is a common rationale–they allow a PR minder to be on the line and make sure nobody says anything too compromising–but, really, most of it is the exasperating user experience.

That starts with the con-call invitation, which inexorably arrives on my Mac as a blank e-mail consisting only of a “Mail Attachment.ics” file. OS X’s Quick Look won’t reveal its contents, so I must open it in Calendar to see that it contains the number, con-call code and time that should have been in the e-mail itself.

Make me open another program to see what you’re talking about in your e-mail? No.

To judge from the headers of these messages, this is a Microsoft Outlook-transmitted social disease–sending a calendar invitation from inside that sprawling program must not offer the sender any hint of how it will be displayed to a recipient. In my case, it’s badly: Not only does Mail for OS X throw up its hands, the Gmail app for Android doesn’t even show this file.

(And yet Mail for iOS displays a nifty calendar widget for those invitation messages. Apple’s inability to keep its desktop mail client at feature parity with its mobile mail client is a subject for a future rant.)

After the aforementioned routine of punching in numbers and waiting for a response, I often face an extra challenge in con-calls with more than one executive, or in which the publicist and the executive are of the same gender: figuring out which of two or three white guys is speaking at any one time.

And have I mentioned that this is the tech business? There are good, Web-based conference systems that let you connect by clicking a link and then make it easy to tell who’s there and who’s talking. I’ve used UberConference and it was terrific; I hear great things about Speek but haven’t used it yet (note that a friend works at that D.C.-based startup); video chat through apps like Skype, Google+ Hangouts, Vidyo or Rabbit works too, as long as I tidy up the parts of my home office within camera view.

And yet when a company wants to talk up its technological prowess, we must jack into the AOL chat room of group voice communication. PR friends, if your client insists on that routine, can you at least do me a favor and dial my phone directly before patching me into the call?