It’s customary to start a disclosure statement with a list of all the financial ties you might have to the companies you cover. But I hardly have any to discuss. As I noted on my Post blog at the end of 2009 and in the fall of 2008, my investments are exceedingly dull: three Vanguard Group mutual funds.
(Before a rollover into an IRA, my Post 401(k) had a small stake in the Berkshire Hathaway Stock Fund. It never included any investments in Washington Post Co. stock; make of that what you will.)
My regular clients ought to be more relevant: I contribute a weekly tips/Q&A column for USA Today’s site, write about tech-policy issues at the Computer & Communications Industry Association‘s Disruptive Competition Project blog, and cover gadgets and social media for Discovery News. (For most of 2012, I also wrote a weekly post, recorded a monthly podcast and hosted a monthly Web chat for the Consumer Electronics Association.) For 2012, CEA and Discovery each made up maybe a third of my income, USA Today about a fifth.
The balance has come from other freelance work: longer-than-Twitter updates at Sulia, various pieces for Ars Technica, Boing Boing and CNNMoney.com; two pieces for ReadWriteWeb; a couple of shorter posts for The Atlantic Cities, a chapter for an e-book by Lumension Security; a guide to tablet computers and a listicle on headphone prices for Reader’s Digest; a long interview in Washingtonian and an honorarium for interviews on the History Channel’s “101 Gadgets That Changed The World” special.
Lastly, I’ve had travel or lodging paid for by Edmunds, TV Land (to record a spot on its “Best Night In” program), the organizers of the IFA trade show in Berlin (it covered much of the travel costs of a large group of U.S. journalists) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (I spoke on a panel about social media at its Shepherdstown, W.V. training center)
It may be more enlightening to note the technological ties I have. The limited range of software, hardware and services I use every day is likely to inform my coverage, in one way or another, and you should keep that in mind as you read my work. Just please don’t interpret the following as endorsements–I made these choices for reasons that you might find irrelevant or worse, depending on your situation.
- Home broadband comes courtesy of a Verizon Fios connection. We only get the basic $50 plan: 15 Mbps down, 5 Mbps up.
- We don’t pay anybody for conventional TV service, having dumped our satellite service in 2009 in favor of a mix of over-the-air and Internet delivery (including Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu streaming through apps on our 2009-vintage Sony TV).
- For wireless, I have an unlocked Nexus 4 Android phone on T-Mobile.
- Computers in use around the home: a 2012 MacBook Air, a 2011 ThinkPad x120e (running Windows 8, but I’ve been meaning to put Linux on a second partition) and an iMac that dates to late 2009, my wife’s iPad 2 and my own iPad mini.
- I use Google Apps Standard accounts to host my home and work accounts.
- I use Facebook both for personal networking and to market my work.
- Twitter constitutes an even bigger chunk of my professional communication (if the widget on this blog’s home page didn’t give that away).
What else about where I’m coming from? You might as well start with this: In general, I like playing with technology. My earliest memories of dealing with electronics involve taking a screwdriver to my dad’s broken calculator and being fascinated to discover the wiring inside. It wasn’t too many years later that I sat in front of a personal computer for the first time (a TRS-80, for those old enough to remember), looked at the blinking cursor on its screen and thought “hmm, what next?” I remain interested in turning on a new device and seeing what it can do.
But if you see me use a computer today, you probably won’t have to wait long to hear me curse at it. My fascination with the possibilities of technology has not made me overly forgiving of its failings. I hate having to wait as a computer locks up for no apparent reason, decipher inscrutable error messages or puzzle through interfaces designed with militant ignorance of such established principles of design as consistency, discoverability and efficiency.
Conversely, I can be more tolerant about aspects of technology besides usability. I’ve never qualified as an audiophile or videophile and in general will accept a good-enough product that’s cheaper or available now over a more expensive or not-yet-shipped ideal version. In some cases, perfectionism is outright dangerous: If you required an alternative browser to provide perfect compatibility with every big-name site seven years ago, we all still might be using Internet Explorer.
And on that note: I hate control freakery, whether it’s Microsoft choking off browser competition in a prior decade, Apple dictating what gets into its App Store in this one or big entertainment companies’ ongoing insistence on customer-hostile usage restrictions on digital media. The computer is among the most amazing general-purpose tools ever invented; why would you artificially constrain its utility?
If you’re curious about my politics, the preceding paragraph should make it clear that I worry about abuse of power by corporations, not just the government. I vote accordingly. (My history in recent presidential elections: Gore, Kerry, Obama, Obama. I have no regrets about those choices, aside from wishing I’d written in somebody else for vice president in 2004.)