Weekly output: New-computer setup, Facebook Timeline, Twitter custody, podcast (plus republished CEA TE posts)

I wasn’t quite as productive over the last work week of the year as this list might suggest–I finished one of these items last week and had most of another done by them as well.

12/27/2011: New Computer? Same Old Setup Issues, CEA Digital Dialogue

From 2005 to 2010, I did a “how to set up your new Windows or Mac computer” guide for the Post every December. This year’s version ran on CEA’s blog instead; in addition to having fewer ads around it, it revises some of my advice for Win 7 users (such as using LibreOffice instead of OpenOffice as a free Microsoft Office alternative) and incorporates new suggestions for Mac users to compensate for problems in Apple’s OS X Lion.

12/27/2011: Facebook’s Timeline: We Are All Historians Now, Discovery News

At first I thought I’d hate the new Timeline profile format (in part because of the overwrought predictions made about how it would forever change our lives). But after playing around with it a week, I realized that it’s a neat way to tell people about the pre-Facebook parts of your personal history–as long as you remember that new “Life Events” are public by default, and that it’s not a bad thing to keep some mystery about your life.

12/29/2011: New Job-Divorce Dispute: Twitter Custody, Discovery News

The dispute between PhoneDog Media and tech writer Noah Kravitz over who owns the Twitter account Kravitz created and ran–under PhoneDog’s instructions, the wireless-news site says–and then kept for himself after leaving the company, but it didn’t vault into mass-media headlines until the New York Times ran a story about it right after Christmas. That’s when an editor asked if I could opine on the subject; having some experience with the virtues of keeping a Twitter identity separate from one’s employer, I was happy to oblige.

12/30/2011: Rob’s December Podcast: 3D TV, Holiday Sales Trends and CES, CEA Digital Dialogue

Tech commentator Mario Armstrong has interviewed me on one show or another many times before; finally, I was able to return the favor by chatting with him a few days before Christmas about the holiday sales prospects for various tech gadgets–and the odds of people having trouble setting them up after taking them out of the box. Elsewhere in the podcast, I relate the history of CEA’s soon-to-end Tech Enthusiast program, offer a few predictions about CES and make a disturbing confession about my own experience with 3-D TV technology.

And speaking of that transition at CES, the folks there also re-posted all of the columns I did for the TE site on CEA’s regular blog a few days ago. Here they are, from newest to oldest:

  • 12/5/2011: Why You Keep Reading These Privacy-Scare Stories How bad habits in business and journalism lead to panicked coverage of cases like Carrier IQ and Google’s Street View “spy-fi” debacle.
  • 11/28/2011: TV Screen Sizes: 30 Is The New 20 Now that flat-panel TVs have become a commodity product, the minimum size is creeping up–and some intermediate sizes seem to be getting squeezed out too.
  • 11/21/2011: Gadget-guide Guidance Why you shouldn’t put too much trust in all of those catalog-style “what to get” pieces that pop up around the holidays with well-meaning advice on giving tech gifts.
  • 11/15/2011: Fading Flash And Other Media Missteps With Adobe ending development of the mobile version of the Flash player, it looks increasingly like we’ll be stuck using apps to view name-brand video on mobile devices and other non-computer gadgets.
  • 11/8/2011: A Cord-Cutting Toolkit: What kind of video hardware can help you close your cable or satellite-TV subscription in favor of over-the-air and Internet programming. (This is an update of an earlier how-to by me.)
  • 10/31/2011: SOPA: Copyright Overreach, Version 2.0: My denunciation of the “Stop Online Piracy Act,” later turned into an op-ed in Roll Call.
  • 10/25/2011: Happy Tenth Birthday, iPod! Now Please Go Away: Now that the iPod is 10 years old, what are the odds of that entire category of music-playing hardware surviving for another 10 years in the market.
  • 10/17/2011: PROTECT IP, Latest Reason To Beware of Product Design By Congress: The Protect IP Act, the not-quite-as-awful Senate version of SOPA, fits into a long and sad history of legislation written without much comprehension of the underlying technology.
  • 10/11/2011: What’s Next for the Digital Camera? Four suggestions for digital-camera manufacturers hoping to stay competitive when smartphones take increasingly appealing pictures and allow quick and easy online sharing.
  • 10/3/2011: Decoding the demo: five sales pitches to doubt After you sit through enough new tech-product launches, certain arguments start to sound a) alike and b) unpersuasive.
  • 9/26/2011: The Flattening Price of Flash: The most important number in consumer electronics may be the average price of the flash memory used in everything from laptops to smartphones–and it’s about to get a lot cheaper still.
  • 9/19/2011: How Dead is the Disc? With Netflix increasingly anxious to get out of the DVD business, what sort of a future is there for physical storage formats–and should we be happy about this trend?
  • 9/12/2011: 3-D TV and 3D Technology Why 3-D technology hasn’t made much of a dent in the HDTV market, and how it might yet start showing up in more people’s homes.
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Weekly output: Privacy-scare stories, phones on a plane, new new Twitter

I may have written way too much on Twitter lately–in particular, live-tweeting presentations by local startups at Tuesday’s DC Tech Meetup and then doing the same for a fascinating but hard-to-define play Thursday, “e-Geaux,” that was part faux product launch, part improv comedy and part shared social-media experience. But I also have these stories to my name for this week:

12/6/2011: Why You Keep Reading These Privacy-Scare Stories, CEA Tech Enthusiast (subscription required) CEA Digital Dialogue

I followed up last week’s Discovery News post on Carrier IQ by unpacking some of the factors behind this genre of tech coverage. First, ever-cheaper storage has allowed developers to get lazy with data–they no longer need to scrub unneeded bits from an app’s input to avoid running out of memory. Second, customers who may not necessarily understand the finer points of how software works–and don’t get a clear, plain-English explanation from the companies suspected of privacy breaches–often default to the scariest possible interpretation. (You can see much the same dynamic at work when people freak out over new terms-of-service documents written by lawyers for other lawyers.)

12/7/2011: Don’t Pull An Alec Baldwin Over Airplane Mode, Discovery News

This was one of those rare stories where throwing a celebrity’s name into a headline isn’t just a cheap way to catch a reader’s attention but also wholly relevant to the story. It also allowed me to write about a topic that fascinates me but doesn’t get into my coverage too often, aviation. (I’m one of those weirdos who is more interested in Channel 9′s availability on a United flight than whatever second-rate movie they’re offering.) For further reading, read this rejection of the phones-off rule from the Atlantic’s James Fallows, who is both an astute observer of technology and a licensed pilot–and then the three posts that followed with input from passengers, pilots, flight attendants and engineers.

12/9/2011: Twitter Redesigns Site, Apps. Yes, Again. Discovery News

I enjoy critiquing user interfaces, and Twitter’s latest redesign gave me an excellent opportunity to do just that. Overall, I’m happy to see far fewer mismatches of functionality between Twitter’s mobile apps and its Web site (for example, I no longer have to turn to my phone to see if any given user follows me, nor must I flip from phone to computer to see exactly who retweeted my latest exercise in compressed prose). But as I noted when I shared this on Google+, in one respect this change is a downgrade: It takes an extra click or two to report somebody for spam.

Updated 1/31/2012 with a non-paywalled CEA link.

Weekly output: HDTV screen sizes, podcast, 10 defining gadgets of 2011, Carrier IQ

Have I mentioned that I don’t mind not having to write 3,000 or so words of gadget guidance over the last week? Instead, I wrote these articles.

11/28/2011: “TV Screen Sizes: 30 Is The New 20,” CEA Tech Enthusiast (subscription required) CEA Digital Dialogue

One of the unofficial sports of CES is the “how big of a TV can we put on the floor” contest that manufacturers engage in every January. (This year’s winner was a Panasonic plasma that spanned 152 inches 12.7 feet.) But what about sets that mere mortals might put in their homes? I looked up some numbers and found that as TVs have gotten bigger–if you bought an HDTV two years ago, you’re not going to enjoy knowing how cheap 55-inch screens have become–some in-between sizes look to be vanishing from the market.

11/30/2011: “10 Gadgets That Defined 2011,” Discovery News

The end of the year doesn’t only bring gadget-guide stories; it also brings listicles. My latest contribution to the genre was a list of the 10 devices that left the biggest dent in the industry this year–although in some cases, the dent was more of an impact crater. Yes, I had to mention the HP TouchPad.

12/1/2011: Monthly podcast, CEA Tech Enthusiast (subscription required)

In the latest episode of the monthly podcast I do for the TE site, I chatted with one of my regular market-analyst sources, NPD’s Stephen Baker, and discussed how CES has ruined my ability to buy or wish for electronics as Christmas gifts.

12/2/2011: “Cell Phone Spying By Carrier IQ? Define Spying,” Discovery News

As I’ve written here before, many privacy-scare stories turn out to be not so frightening after a closer inspection. In this case, I talked to the guy who found this hidden diagnostic program and a security researcher who had done a separate investigation of it. (For a similar take on this, see Declan McCullagh’s post at CNet.) I enjoyed illustrating this post–since Carrier IQ doesn’t have a user interface I could easily get a screen shot of, I opted for something abstract: a photographer’s loupe magnifying the “Privacy” heading in Android’s settings app.

Updated 1/31/2012 with a non-paywalled CEA link.