Weekly output: tax prep, Google Glass, Heartbleed, Nearby Friends, online banking

This was a multiple-microphone week, and two of my three broadcast appearances involved shows that hadn’t booked me as a guest before. That’s good.

In other news: Happy Easter!

4/15/2014: The Strange and Successful Campaign to Make Taxes More Taxing, Yahoo Tech

A lot of material had to get left out of this already-long column denouncing the crony-capitalism campaign by Intuit and such Washington groups as Americans for Tax Reform and my former client CCIA to stop governments from letting citizens file and pay taxes at their own sites. (For example, these direct-filing sites cost little to run–$80,000 a year at California’s ReadyReturn, $150,000 for Pennsylvania’s soon-to-be-shuttered padirectfile.)  Comments debuted at Yahoo Tech late Tuesday afternoon, and as you can see I did not wait long to show up in them myself.

Speaking of feedback, you might as well see ATR’s latest post opposing IRS-run tax prep and stories, mine included, that suggest it would be a good thing… which, in a coincidence too weird for me not to disclose, was written by the guy who’s done my taxes since 2012.

4/16/2014: Google Glass and privacy, Al Jazeera

The news network’s Arabic-language channel had me on the air to talk about Google Glass and privacy issues. Since I was being translated into Arabic in real time, the producer emphasized that I speak slowly and simply–a challenge when my usual habit is to speak too fast on the air.

To the Point Heartbleed show4/16/2014: Heartbleed and Internet Security, To the Point

KCRW’s news show had me on to discuss the Heartbleed bug and how  open-source development broke down in this case. I wish I’d thought to compare major tech companies’ unwillingness to kick in any money to the OpenSSL Foundation with all the effort they’ve put into finding ways to pipe income to shell corporations in overseas tax havens.

Most of my input happened in the first 20 minutes or so, but keep listening to hear Internet Governance Project founder Milton Mueller discard some silly objections from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation’s Daniel Castro to the government’s proposal to hand over supervision of the DNS root zone.

4/18/2014: Nearby Friends, WTOP

D.C.’s news station had me on the air for a few minutes via Skype to talk about Facebook’s new location-based option, its privacy implications and how it competes with such existing apps as Foursquare and the D.C. startup SocialRadar.

4/20/2014: Safety you can bank on: Chromebook, Linux, phone, USA Today

A relative’s question about whether he should buy a Chromebook for his online banking gave me an opportunity to note a couple of cheaper options to separate your Web financial transactions from your regular use: booting your computer off a Linux CD or flash drive, or using your bank’s app or the built-in browser on your phone or tablet.

About these ads

Making use of misfit review hardware

One of the recurring First World problems in technology journalism is possessing review hardware that you don’t get around to reviewing anywhere. That’s easier to happen than you might think: The device you want to review only works with another one that doesn’t warrant a writeup from you; a PR shop sends along a gadget you don’t need along with one you requested; you ask for a loaner device but then can’t interest a paying client in a story on it.

Chromebook Pixel with Galaxy Note 3 and Republic Wireless Moto XEither way, I hate to send the hardware in question back without getting some journalistic value out of it. (No, I don’t get to keep review hardware for my own use–and selling it on eBay isn’t an option either.) Here’s how I’ve tried to make additional use out of three gadgets that found their way to me without making it into a detailed review by me.

Galaxy Note 3: This size-XL phone was a supporting actor in my reviews of Samsung’s Galaxy Gear watch. I’ve since used this Sprint-spec Note 3 as a guinea pig in tests of the charging speed of its forked USB 3 cable (it was only about 22 percent faster than a generic USB cable) and of Absolute Software’s Lojack kill-switch app. I’ve also been taking notes on which of Samsung’s default settings merit changing–starting with that annoying whistle notification sound. Look for a cheat sheet on that topic, here or somewhere else.

Moto X: When Republic Wireless sent me its version of this phone, I was sure I could sell somebody on an assessment of how its WiFi-centric wireless service has evolved since last summer’s cruder offering. Nope! The loaner unit got a brief mention in a post about some positive trends in the mobile-phone industry and hasn’t shown up in any stories since then. I’ve used it to check the speed of Sprint’s LTE in my neighborhood (just now at my desk, a weak 4.51 Mbps down and 4.58 Mbps up) and to check its battery life (unsurprisingly enough, it’s vastly better on WiFi).

Chromebook Pixel: At Google’s I/O conference this May, journalists were invited to take home loaner units of this $1,299 Chrome OS laptop. I thought it would be educational to see how the Web looked on an ultra-high-resolution, 2560-by-1700-pixel display. Answer: pretty sharp! But I’ve spent surprisingly little time on the thing. For me, at least, the utility of a laptop with all of my usual apps trumps the beauty of a screen bereft of those tools. My last intensive use of the machine was to set up a fake Facebook account so I could check the social network’s default settings for a how-to post at Yahoo Tech, but this laptop’s smooth gray finish has also served as a backdrop in a few gadget close-up shots.

If you have any lingering questions about these devices that I might be able to answer, speak up now–sometime in the next few days, they’re all going home.

Weekly output: Chromebook, newspapers and search engines, Amtrak, photo spheres, Google Calendar, Gmail

What’s not on this list? Any gift-guide pieces or reports about Black Friday sales. I can’t say I miss those two staples of Thanksgiving-week tech coverage… and yet I feel vaguely guilty about dodging them.

11/19/2012: Google’s cheaper Chromebook: enough of a computer, Boing Boing

Having this fall’s implementation by Samsung of Google’s Chromebook laptop concept priced for half of last summer’s made the results easier to like. But Samsung also gave this $249 model better battery life and faster performance, while Google contributed more offline-compatible Web apps. I’m tempted to pick up one to have as a backup computer, which was not the case a year ago.

11/19/2012: A Business Perspective on the Snippet Tax, Disruptive Competition Project

My second post for this tech-policy blog picked up where a 2009 rant over stupid newspaper publishers whining about news-search sites had left off. Now, it’s news organizations in other countries complaining that Google News and sites like it are taking away readers; I’m not any more persuaded by that logic three years later.

11/20/2012: Amtrak’s New App: Does It Actually Make Travel Easier?, The Atlantic Cities

I like trains, and I like smartphone apps that simplify my life a little. I wasn’t sure that Amtrak’s offering for iOS and Android would be worth keeping around, but after using it to book and manage a round-trip from D.C. to NYC, I see where the railroad is going with it.

On Wednesday, USA Today was kind enough to publish a condensed version of last weekend’s Q&A about adding a Start menu to Windows 8 in its print edition. That was the first time I’ve appeared in a newspaper of any kind since Roll Call ran a version of a post I did for the Consumer Electronics Association just over a year a ago , and my first spot in a general-interest paper since I logged off from the Post in April of 2011.

11/24/2012: Spherical Panoramas from a Phone, Discovery News

Writing about a feature confined to a new Android release that most users of Google’s operating system won’t see for months, or ever, seems unfair, but the 4.2 edition’s “photo sphere” option genuinely intrigued me. Alas, I initially neglected to note that the older iOS app Photosynth–from a Redmond, Wash.-based software developer called Microsoft you may have heard of–can also generate interactive spherical panoramas from a phone’s camera.

11/25/2012: How to sync your Google calendar with your iPad, USA Today

Credit for this Q&A item goes to my wife, who asked me about this problem on her iPad. Credit for the tip about a new Gmail search option goes to the Google Operating System blog, an old favorite of mine, which brought that change to my attention last week.

Weekly output: Nexus 7, mobile-ized desktop interfaces, Yahoo passwords, HTTPS always

I ended this week with two more stories filed beyond those listed below, so next week’s version of this post should make me look busier.

7/10/2012: Nexus 7 Writes New Chapter In Android Tablets, Discovery News

I finally found an Android tablet I like–and, indeed, will probably buy. (Like everybody else who attended Google’s I/O developer conference, I got a Nexus 7 for free, along with a  Nexus Q media player and an unlocked Galaxy Nexus phone; as a journalist, however, I had to sign an agreement confirming that all these products are loans due back Dec. 31, and I will honor that commitment.) This review has one error I’ve since corrected: The Nexus 7 includes the Google Wallet app, even though a search for that app in the Play Store didn’t show any results and I stupidly didn’t think to check the apps list on the device itself.

Since this post went up, I’ve seen a few reports on Twitter from other tech journalists who say their Nexus 7 review units won’t charge, or won’t charge over anything but the tablet’s own charger. I didn’t have that experience–having seen how an iPad can slowly replenish itself off a generic USB charger even when it says it’s not charging, I figured that the Nexus 7 would follow that pattern and saw that it did. But should I have spelled that out explicitly in the review? Should I add that detail now?

7/13/2012: What Your Phone Owes Your Next Computer, CEA Digital Dialogue

My not-entirely-pleasant experiences trying out an advance version of Windows 8 and living with Apple’s OS X Lion led me to write this reassessment of the wisdom of making our desktop operating systems more like the software running our phones and tablets. I see some clear-cut improvements–app stores, for example–but also serious downgrades (touch-first interfaces). And even the positive steps can be undermined by other things OS and third-party software vendors do (see, for instance, the extra steps Mac developers have to take to meet the Mac App Store’s “sandboxing” security requirement).

7/15/2012: Give your passwords a security check-up, USA Today

Last week’s massive breach of user-account credentials at Yahoo’s Yahoo Voices site gave me an excuse to revisit older advice on generating and saving passwords that both resist guessing and cracking attempts but can also be memorized by normal human beings. The column wraps up with a reminder to enable the site-wide encryption option offered by Facebook and Hotmail, but not yet the default at either site.

Chromebook contemplation, cont’d.

At home, my wife and I have an iPad 2 parked more or less permanently on the coffee table–and, aside from Skype, we spend most of our time on this thing in its Web browser. Given that background, I should have liked Google’s “nothing but the Web” Chromebook concept. Right?

Wrong. I detail the reasons why I did not in my review for Discovery News, posted on Friday: The Samsung Series 5 machine I tested costs a little too much, weighs a little too much, is sometimes sluggish and is liable to turn into a brick should you stray beyond a wireless signal. I could have inventoried other gripes, such as its cooling fan’s distractingly loud whir, the overly-sensitive keyboard that repeatedly caused me to type duplicate characters, and the strange failure of Google’s Chrome Web Store to highlight Web apps that can run in an offline mode.

All of those aspects fell short of the optimistic presentation at this summer’s Google I/O developer conference that I watched on YouTube after the fact.

Don’t forget the inconvenient fact that Google already has a Web-friendly operating system that both runs  programs and saves data on your own device and automatically backs up everything online: Android.

But then there’s the possible market that Google didn’t pursue, the same one that Apple neglected when it introduced the iPad: the beginners who use a computer almost exclusively for Web and e-mail access, and never outside of the house. If you’ve had the privilege of providing Thanksgiving-weekend tech support for these first-timers, you’ll also admit that they probably don’t keep their applications up to date and often neglect to back up their data.

The Chromebook or something like it–a computer that updates itself, focuses on Web and e-mail use, and backs up everything automatically to secure Web storage–could serve that constituency well. But Google’s own marketing message, echoed by such retailers as Best Buy and Amazon, speaks right over this crowd:

Chromebooks are built and optimized for the Web, where you already spend most of your computing time.

There’s a chance left for somebody to connect with people who can’t give a billable-hours breakdown of their computing time and don’t throw around verbs like “optimize.” Right?