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.

 

Technology hasn’t upped my gift-giving game much

Between the advent of cloud-synchronized note-taking apps and the everyday logistics miracles performed by online retailers, remembering good ideas for Christmas presents and turning those thoughts into wrapped packages placed under the right tree in plenty of time should have stopped being a problem years ago.

2015 wrapping paperAnd yet my last holiday delivery arrived in the late afternoon of Dec. 24–and I made my last two gift purchases, one digital and one analog, at about the same time.

I can’t blame that on a lack of tools. I’ve had a frequently-updated “Gift ideas” note in Evernote since March of 2010–and I had a similar note in the memo-pad apps on various Palm phones and handheld organizers for most of the decade before. I’ve been able to lean on the time-condensing crutch of Amazon Prime since 2011, but by then I’d long since acquired a sense of logistical entitlement from the two-day shipping of such Web-retail pioneers as Cyberian Outpost.

But instead of letting me compile a thoughtful shopping list of gifts and fulfill that comfortably ahead of time, technology has only enabled and optimized my procrastination instincts.

It doesn’t help to have CES planning devour a large chunk of my mental processor cycles every December. But who am I kidding? If I didn’t have the annual gadget pilgrimage to eat my brain, I’m sure I’d find some other reason to leave present procurement until the last few days.

Changes with my Yahoo and USA Today columns

Astute readers should have noticed that my Yahoo Tech column did not run as usual this Tuesday. At least, I assume they did, even if none actually e-mailed to ask about its absence.

Yahoo Tech columnistBut in case any such curiosity exists, what happened is that management there decided that having me write one long story a week on Tuesday had stopped being a good fit.

On the one hand, the frustrating failure of tech-policy news to break exclusively on Mondays often meant I had to wait most of a week to offer my input. On the other hand, we weren’t running any other weekly columns. The original concept, as David Pogue explained in his introductory video, was to have five columnists who each wrote on an assigned workday–but various forms of attrition left me the only one still on that newspaper-ish schedule.

So instead of seeing one long story from me each Tuesday and then maybe an extra item, you should expect to see more, shorter posts every week. Next week, for instance, should feature three posts from me, counting the one I filed Friday that hasn’t been posted yet.

Meanwhile, over at USA Today my column will be a little shorter starting this weekend: We’re going to drop the tip-of-the-week item that ran at the end of each Q&A segment. I liked coming up with those info-morsels, but they were too easy for readers to overlook, given that we had no easy way to advertise them in the headline.

That doesn’t mean I’m out of the weekly-tip business–but if I resume writing such a thing, it would probably be somewhere else online.

Back at USAT’s site, you’re also more likely to see me use my space to offer my perspective on a major tech event–see, for instance, my recent reports from the IFA tech trade show and the Web Summit conference.

Any other questions about how I’ve been making my living lately? Ask away in the comments.

 

Steve Wildstrom

About a month after I left the Post, I sent an e-mail with the subject line “Joining the club” to another tech columnist who had been sent packing by his longtime employer a year and a half earlier.

I set aside the fact that I hadn’t had the class to send this guy a sorry-about-the-news note after his departure and instead asked upfront: any lessons from your experience that I should know about?

Barely 12 hours later, 875 words landed in my inbox, full of details about how this writer had handled the departure, his current business models and who he’d been invoicing, and what options I might want to consider. This line about the benefits of working from home stayed with me: “I love the flexibility of being able to cut the lawn on a Tuesday morning if that’s when I feel like doing it.”

The writer was Steve Wildstrom. He wrote Business Week’s personal-tech column from 1994 until 2009 with a combination of experience-driven insight and amused annoyance at the industry’s foibles (see, for example, this review of the Windows 7 upgrade experience), then carved out a successful career on his own after his column didn’t survive Bloomberg’s purchase of the magazine. On Tuesday, cancer took him from us, which gives me another reason to hate it.

I don’t remember when I first met Steve, but whenever it was, I soon got used to getting short e-mails and then tweets from him suggesting other angles to a topic I’d just covered that I might want to pursue. I almost always learned something from him, and I never got any sense that he was trying to show off his knowledge; he just didn’t want a key part of the story to go neglected.

Steve was also one of my favorite people to be on a panel with or run into at a conference (for example, Tech Policy Summit in 2012 and then Privacy Identity Innovation in 2014). I looked forward to seeing him randomly on the other side of the country… and now I can’t.

I am thankful today that I’ve had the chance to learn from people of this caliber. Good work Steve; now you can rest.

I would like to buy an argument: debating Syrian-refugee paranoia

I’ve spent too much time over the last five days arguing with people who have suddenly decided that Syrian refugees represent such a threat to the United States that we cannot risk admitting any of them, and it’s been wearying work on multiple levels.

First, there’s the bankruptcy of the entire argument that boiled over after the Paris attacks. All of the attackers identified so far were EU nationals, not Syrian refugees; there’s no evidence the craven death cult that has no right to call itself Islamic is even trying to hide itself among refugees fleeing it (none of the 2,200-odd Syrian refugees admitted since Sept. 11, 2001 have been arrested for plotting violent acts); getting into the U.S. as a refugee is a tedious, years-long process; getting in as a Syrian refugee involves even more screening; and said craven death cult wants us to fear Muslim foreigners, so this entire demonization of Syrian refugees fits right into their playbook.

Japanese internment memorial(Before you brush off the previous paragraph as a product of the liberal media conspiracy, please read this debunking of refugee myths by longtime Virginia Republican Brian Schoeneman.)

Then there’s trying to grasp the logic of politicians who were for Syrian refugees before they were against it and now refuse to admit any unless we can guarantee that 100 percent of them don’t embody a threat that appears to be fictional. This devotion to security at all costs would be touching if so many of these same individuals didn’t shrug away such better-documented risks as America’s current gun policy, the death toll on our roads, and global warming.

Lest the last paragraph look like a jab at Republicans, remember that this fear-mongering is a bipartisan sport: The single worst statement on the subject may have come from Roanoke, Virginia’s Democratic mayor David Bowers, who cited the 1940s imprisonment of Japanese-Americans as a reasonable precedent before apologizing two days later.

The second-most trying part of this conversation is what happens when you ask strangers how they came to this reasoning. One conversation on Twitter ended with the fellow in question asserting that “I trust 10,000 Jews before I trust 10 Muslims.” A friend of a friend on Facebook declared that “Any restrictions in Muslims would be based on the fact that they have earned it.”

It would be easy to brush off this hysteria as the product of garden-variety xenophobia and Islamophobia, but then there’s the most difficult part of the deal: Hearing from friends I know to be educated and open-minded who still think we can’t let in any Syrian refugees.

I try not to be a jerk when talking politics with pals, but I probably haven’t lived up to that standard this week. All I can say is this: If I didn’t care what you thought, I wouldn’t waste so many processor cycles trying to convince you otherwise. But I wish I did know where you’re coming from, because you’ve totally lost me on this one.

Oh, and this: If you really do want to hold up the citizens of one country or the adherents of one religion as uniquely suspect, can you please first go to D.C. and spend a few minutes contemplating the Memorial to Japanese-American Patriotism in World War II that commemorates the fear-driven imprisonment of 110,000 to 120,000 people who came from or had ancestors in the wrong country? Then ask yourself: Are you willing to make that same statement in front of this monument to our surrender to bigotry 73 years ago?

Why I don’t and (probably) won’t use an ad blocker

It will cost me a few hundred dollars to try iOS 9’s new support for ad-blocking tools, courtesy of that feature not working on my vintage iPad mini. (Thanks for not documenting that and other incompatibilities, Apple.) But even after I upgrade to an iPad mini 4, I probably still won’t treat myself to an ad-reduced mobile Web by paying for such popular content blockers as Crystal or Purify.

IiOS 9 ad blockers mentioned the reasons why in a comment on my Yahoo Tech post Tuesday, but the answer deserves a little more space.

It’s not about a sense of professional loyalty, although I would feel more than a little dirty undercutting the advertising revenue that helps news sites pay me and my friends in the business.

(Ars Technica founder Ken Fisher made that argument well in this March 2010 post.)

This is more a case of me trying to keep a little of the common touch online. In general, I stick with default settings so I will experience the same issues as the average Web user (also, I’m lazy). I will depart from defaults to keep my devices secure–that’s why Flash isn’t on this laptop–but installing extra apps to get a cleaner Web experience gets me too far from that ideal.

In particular, relying on ad blocking invites me to recommend sites without realizing their annoyance factor. If a site’s going to throw a sign-up-for-our-newsletter dialog before you can read every story, I don’t want to learn about that behavior afterwards from grumpy readers.

(My occasional client PCMag.com often presents that kind of newsletter dialog. And yet I gladly refer people there, because their journalists do good work. See, it’s complicated!)

I also need to know if my regular clients are getting obnoxious with the ads–remember, I was at the Post when an overload of ads and social-media widgets began to bog down everybody’s reading–on the chance that my complaint to management improves matters. You’ll tell me about that kind of problem, right?

Post-travel to-dos

Cards and card

I’m through the worst of what I’m not-so-fondly calling Conference Month, and all of this travel is reminding me of the tasks that await each time I come home and finish unpacking.

Let’s see:

  • Do laundry.
  • Catch up on other household chores: sweep the floors, do the dishes, bake bread, reaffirm my earlier decision that the late-summer lawn is a lost cause.
  • Go over my e-mail to see which messages I should have answered three to five days ago.
  • Tag and categorize business expenses in Mint, then verify that I didn’t forget to record any cash transactions in the Google Docs spreadsheet I use for that purpose.
  • Send LinkedIn invitations to people I met on the trip, assuming their profiles show signs of recent life. (Go ahead, call me a tool now.)
  • Throw the latest set of press-kit USB flash drives onto the pile.
  • Scan business cards into Evernote.
  • Download, edit, geotag and caption photos, then post them to Flickr (for public viewing) or Facebook (for friends).
  • Make sure I got the proper frequent-flyer credit for the last round of flights.
  • There’s probably some other chore that should be on this list but that I will only remember when I’m on my way to National or Dulles.

As I write this, there’s a stack of business cards on my desk and several dozen pictures in iPhoto that have not been edited, geotagged, captioned or shared. And I only have five days before my next work trip, the Online News Association’s conference in Los Angeles, so you can imagine how well this is going.

Conference organizers, maybe you could find other months to host your events?