Weekly output: startups and privacy, iPhoto passwords

I’m thankful for readers who look for my work, and for clients who pay well and on time. You?

11/25/2014: Is the Uber Problem Changing How Startups Treat Privacy? Not Much., Yahoo Tech

Halfway through the Demo conference two weeks ago, I worried that I wouldn’t have anything to write about. Then I remembered that the founders of most new startups actually say what they think, unlike their more seasoned, better-media-trained counterparts at older tech companies.

USAT iPhoto-passwords post11/30/2014: Warning: iPhoto won’t know if you change a password in OS X, USA Today

I feel a tiny bit dumb for writing this more than two years after getting religion about two-step verification. In my defense, I almost never use iPhoto’s shortcut to e-mail photos from that app, so it fell to my wife to run into and ask me about a password-management glitch in that soon-to-be-retired app that Apple probably won’t fix.

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Weekly output: phone encryption, old browsers

I wrapped up this year’s business travel with a run out to the Bay Area for the Demo conference in San Jose, Calif. This year’s edition of that event was a little confusing: Although the quantity and quality of the startups presenting seemed as high as ever, the attendance had dropped significantly, and the catering (warning: first-world journalism problems) had fallen off a cliff. Is that a long-term problem? Don’t ask me, because events like that shouldn’t be all about me.

Yahoo Tech phone-encryption post11/18/2014: Why the Cops Hate the New Apple and Google Phones, Yahoo Tech

This was a column I could have written weeks ago, but instead I kept gathering string at various events in D.C. and elsewhere. I think that worked out okay.

Note that the headline got a rewrite after the first day. Did “Well-Encrypted Phones on Vulnerable Cellular Networks: Anxiety All Around” resonate more or less than the current hed?

11/23/2014: Thanksgiving tech support: Replace aging browsers, USA Today

After I filed this piece–for once, early–Mozilla announced that it would make Yahoo the default search engine in its Firefox browser. Updating the column to note that affiliation seemed like it would call too much attention to my client, as in the problem I try to avoid when I must mention Yahoo services at other sites. If you think I got that wrong, you’re welcome to explain why in a comment.

Weekly output: startup pitches, LG Optimus F6, Windows 8.1, OS X Mavericks

I feel like I should apologize or something for having only three stories to my name this week. I assure you that I was busier than this list would suggest–how else could I feel so tired on a Sunday?

10/25/2013: If Any Idiot Can Get Funding, How Do You Not Look Like Any Funded Idiot?, Disruptive Competition Project

After watching a few rounds of startup pitches at Tech Cocktail Celebrate in Vegas–then reflecting on all of the others I’ve seen at similar events in the Bay Area and around Washington–I felt compelled to write about what I think of some of the more common sales pitches.

10/25/2013: LG Optimus F6 (T-Mobile), PCMag

I initially gave this a three-out-five-stars rating, and one of my editors asked if I wasn’t being too generous, considering all of the flaws I’d identified with this phone. Should I have punished this model with a lower numerical assessment? You tell me.

USAT Windows 8.1 post10/27/2013: Tips on upgrading to Windows 8.1, USA Today

Devoting most of my USAT column to a Windows issue doesn’t happen that often–most of the time, I’m covering a mobile topic. But Microsoft’s release of a good update to Windows 8 that requires additional tweaking to deliver on its potential gave me an excellent reason to ignore phones and tablets for a change. And since Apple shipped an operating-system update of its own only days after Win 8.1, I could share a tip about OS X Mavericks as well.

On Sulia, I reported a successful installation of Mavericks but then had to confirm a serious problem with how its Mail app syncs Gmail accounts, shared some good answers the Celebrate judges had to a thoughtful question about mistakes, noted some quirky interactive demos (kids’ pajamas and LED lights, I kid you not) seen at that conference, and followed up on last weekend’s USAT column about a sketchy tech-support operation.

Weekly output: Nokia Lumia 520, Pierre Omidyar and news, Demo (x2), MyTechHelp, @MicrosoftHelps and user groups

In an alternate universe, the two posts I filed from the Demo conference in Santa Clara would have been replaced by one or more from the Online News Association’s annual conference in Atlanta. If only the two events had not been scheduled right on top of each other

Nokia Lumia 520 review10/16/2013: Nokia Lumia 520 (AT&T), PCMag.com

I first checked out this phone at Mobile World Congress in February and thought the world could use more budget-priced smartphones. The $99.99 price does entail some compromises–like no front camera, and no flash on the back camera–but as a starter smartphone it seems fine.

10/17/2013: So Nice To See People With Money Regard Journalism As Not Doomed, Disruptive Competition Project

I wrote a quick reaction to the news that eBay founder Pierre Omidyar plans to invest $250 million in a full-spectrum news startup, which I see as something materially different from the splashy funding rounds that a few more specialized news sites have  racked up lately.

10/18/2013: Heads-Up Helmet, Rolling Camera Are an Eyeful, Discovery News

My first report from the Demo conference focused on the more interesting, sci-fi-esque gadgets and apps introduced there. The post has received about 1,400 Facebook likes so far–and I don’t know why, since it didn’t pick up any at my Facebook page and didn’t get a mention at Discovery’s.

10/18/2013: DEMO Debuts Plumb Privacy Frontiers, Disruptive Competition Project

Here, I looked at the privacy propositions of several apps and services launched at Demo, most of which will probably get labeled by some, fairly or not, as “creepy.” Look for an update to this post correcting a mistake I made: contrary to what People+’s demo suggested, this Google Glass app does not do facial recognition.

10/20/2013: Tip: Be cautious when calling ‘tech support’, USA Today

I got an e-mail from a longtime Post reader reporting a horrible tech-support experience at a company that had led him to believe he’d been talking to Apple. That sounded odd, but the story quickly checked out.

On Sulia, I posted several reports from Demo (for instance, Bounce Imaging’s Imperial interrogation droid camera- and sensor-stuffed ball, EmoVu’s emotion-detecting webcam system, HueTunes’ synesthetic software, and Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman’s onstage interview), reviewed my initial, glitchy experience with United’s inflight WiFi; correctly predicted that coverage of Facebook’s new privacy policy for teens would focus on its option of public posting instead of its increase in teens’ default privacy; and reported on my introduction to Windows 8.1 on my ThinkPad.

Where’s a conference-scheduling cabal when you need one?

The tech-and-media hive mind has not been doing the best job this year of keeping its own events straight.

Overlapping eventsTake last month. I realized only after I’d booked my travel and made arrangements with multiple editors to cover CEA’s CE Week conference in New York that it shared two days with the great Computers, Freedom & Privacy event in D.C.–and just in time for the first rounds of NSA-snooping revelations to get people chattering away at the latter event. Oops.

In September, the pan-European IFA electronics trade show in Berlin barely avoids overlapping TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco. I got a lot out of covering both last year, but this time I’d have to hop on a pre-dawn flight out of Dulles the day after returning from Berlin. No thanks.

(Disclosure: IFA covered much of the travel costs for me and a large group of U.S. journalists last year and plans to do the same this year. But if I had to self-finance either trip, I don’t know that my choice would differ: I’d have an easier time selling stories out of Berlin than in the Bay Area, surrounded by half the tech media in America. Plus, Disrupt isn’t the only big pitch conference that time of year.)

In October, the Demo conference in Santa Clara, Calif., runs through the first day of the Online News Association’s annual conference. And that has swapped last year’s San Francisco venue for one in Atlanta. I could take a red-eye after Demo wraps up and only miss a third and change of ONA–not counting time spent nodding off the afternoon of my arrival–but then I’d eat that much of the value of my registration fee. (Had my ONA panel proposal been accepted, I could go for free, but that’s neither here nor there.)

I realize these calendar constraints fall well within the realm of first-world problems, and that aside from grandstanding product launches, event organizers have to book times and places many months in advance. But if we can’t have an actual cabal to restore order to the conference universe, isn’t this the kind of market inefficiency that ambitious dot-coms should be itching to fix disrupt with some buzzword-compliant online mechanism?

All kidding aside, I do need to decide which places get a spot on my October schedule by July 15, when ONA’s early-bird pricing ends: Santa Clara, Atlanta or both. What would you do?

(7/13: Realized I had missed an opportunity to use the verb “disrupt” and take a swipe at those overblown product-launch events that tech companies, perhaps under the delusion that they are all Apple, have been staging increasingly often.)

Weekly output: Demo, satellite Internet access, page speed

I wrote a lot less this week than last, unless you count all the tweeting I did at the Demo Fall conference from Monday through Wednesday. Which, I suppose, may not count for much in two months, when a query for the #demo2012 hashtag won’t yield anything on Twitter’s own site, although that should still work on an archive like Topsy. Yet I don’t know of a better way to share my notes in real time and get instant feedback from a wide audience–and, most of the time, come away with a bunch of new followers.

(I was too lazy to archive my tweets about the conference here when I wrote Thursday’s post. Should I do that now?)

10/4/2012: Home Automation On The Cheap Wins Demo, Discovery News

As I did after TechCrunch Disrupt, I picked a few of the dozens of presenting companies to spotlight for Discovery. That audience tends to gravitate towards more sci-fi-ish news, so this list favored Demo debuts that made interesting uses of networked sensors instead of those that relied on mere Web services to make existing tasks easier and faster (though I liked a few of those Demo presenters too). This post also features a breathtakingly dorky photo of me.

10/7/2012: Rural options for speedy Internet still tough, USA Today

I got the reader e-mail paraphrased in this column three weeks ago; two weeks ago, I attended a briefing by Dish Network about its new DishNet satellite service; one week ago, the guy I buy cheese from at my farmer’s market complained about his malfunctioning satellite Internet. That was enough for me to write this column, revisiting the limits of rural Internet access–and why satellite, despite the issues I outline here, looks to be the only option out there for a while. The column also suggests using Google’s Page Speed Insights tool to check a site’s responsiveness; if you were curious, it gives this blog a score of 92 out of a possible 100.

Go Nats!

Demo versus Disrupt

SANTA CLARA, CALIF.–I’ve attended TechCrunch Disrupt SF twice and DEMO Fall once, which doesn’t give me much background to judge these two pitch conferences. (The two used to happen on the same days, forcing potential attendees to pick one or the other.) Fortunately, I have no editor on this site to stop me from handing down judgments anyway.

Format: Both events take the same American-Idol-for-startups approach, in which each company gets a limited time on stage to make its pitch to the audience and a set of judges. But Demo (let’s ditch the all-caps) crams in 78 six-minute presentations by startups, while Disrupt’s Startup Battlefield only admits 30 contenders. That made for a grueling pace at Demo. But Disrupt also invites other startups to demo their products offstage–and since it’s a different lineup each day, I didn’t get to see many of them.

Another notable difference: At Disrupt, the judges quiz each startup directly, but at Demo the “sages” have their say after the presenters have left the stage. I prefer the former setup.

Selection: Disrupt seems to invite a bubblier set of startups than its older rival, put on by IDG Enterprise and the tech-news site VentureBeat. Last year’s winner at Disrupt, for instance, was an Israeli startup called Shaker that essentially provides a Facebook-confined version of Second Life–and since seems to have stalled out. Demo had less fluff but was also more boring sometimes; as a consumer-tech guy, I tuned out of most of the enterprise-IT and business-CRM presentations. (I though four interesting enough to write about in a little more detail in this Discovery News post.)

The extra wrinkle with Disrupt is the role of the CrunchFund, the investment vehicle set up by TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington. Although Arrington no longer runs TechCrunch–AOL kicked him out after he said he’d go back to financing startups with CrunchFund–he still spends a lot of time onstage at Disrupt. And CrunchFund companies somehow won Disrupt’s $50,000 prize this year and last year in San Francisco.

Talks: With fewer startups competing, Disrupt had a lot more time for panels and speeches. The highlight of this year’s event was Arrington’s grilling of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg; the lowlight was his cringe-inducing interview of Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff, which featured such challenging inquiries as “Are you enjoying life, other than the Fiji trips?” and “I kind of want you to buy an island, that would be kind of neat.” At Demo, we were treated to a mind-expanding talk by artificial-intelligence pioneer Ray Kurzweil; Twitter co-founder Evan Williams’s substance-starved answers to VentureBeat editor Matt Marshall’s questions were less rewarding.

Location: Disrupt takes place at the San Francisco Concourse Exhibition Center, a renovated warehouse in the South of Market neighborhood. Demo happens at the Santa Clara Hyatt Regency. So at Disrupt, all the nightlife is offsite, while at Demo I didn’t need to leave the hotel grounds until the last night’s party, half a block away at Citrix’s offices. The Hyatt’s neighborhood is far less interesting, but it is a short ride on the VTA light rail (plus a shuttle bus) from San Jose’s airport.

Internet access: The WiFi at Disrupt was horrible last year and only barely usable for much of this year’s conference (during the Zuckerberg interview, it pretty much cratered). At Demo, the WiFi worked almost all the time. But with 1,000 attendees versus Disrupt’s 4,000 or so (if I remember that correctly), there weren’t as many laptops and tablets to congest the airwaves.

Food and drink: No question, Demo wins this–we had three hot meals a day there, compared to Disrupt’s menu of pastries and yogurt for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and go-find-your-own dinner. It’s a push in terms of booze.

Soundtrack: Both conferences don’t exactly burnish their indie cred with their choice of music played between presentations, but Disrupt occupies its own level of hell by endlessly playing a set of techno songs commissioned for the event. Sadly, typing the previous sentence put those tunes in my head again.