Weekly output: Neil deGrasse Tyson, iCloud files, Mountain Lion notifications

This was not a good week for productivity. The inauguration took out Monday, and a couple of late nights for inaugural festivities made the cold I was already feeling a lot worse. Then caught a glancing blow from some kind of stomach bug that left me uninterested in eating for 20 hours or so.

I could take notes and socialize at the events I went to Tuesday and Wednesday–washing my hands all the time to try to avoid sharing my illness–but I didn’t have the strength to write anything once I got home. And while I did file two things I’d been working on for the Disruptive Competition Project blog Friday afternoon, neither was posted. Hence the total of two headlines on this week’s list.

Ars Technica NdGT post1/24/2013: Neil deGrasse Tyson: science funding can “guarantee your economic future”, Ars Technica

My NASA Tweetup connections led to an invitation to a talk by one of America’s favorite astrophysicists to mark the launch of a new House Science and National Labs Caucus; then I wrote up his lecture and Q&A for one of my favorite tech-news sites. I tried to put his talking points into the political context of how hard it can be justify government funding of any new projects.

In the process, I had to leave out some notes about the sense of humor Tyson displayed, such as a comment about the compatibility of astrophysics’ shorter words with hip-hop lyrics (“I can’t rhyme with orthoclase feldspar or deoxyribonucleic acid”). So if the post makes him sound like a scold, that’s on me.

1/27/2013: How do I move files from iCloud to Mac?, USA Today

I knew iCloud didn’t act like other Web-based file-storage services, but I didn’t realize how much it departed from OS X’s traditions until I stumbled across the one easy way to move multiple files from iCloud back to a Mac–using iCloud file dialogs. The column also includes a tip on making Mountain Lion’s Notification Center less intrusive.

On Sulia, this week’s highlights included my first impressions of Facebook’s Graph Search, continued excoriation of CBS Interactive’s interference with CNET’s reviews, context about smartphone unlocking becoming illegal (again) this weekend, and some snarky comments about Twitter’s new Vine six-second-video-clip service.

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Weekly output: iPhone 5, TechCrunch Disrupt, NFL Mobile, Gatekeeper

I’d like to have more items in this list, but travel took a big chomp out of this week. (And it’s going to do the same for next.) If you’re wondering about the absence of any CEA posts, we’re taking a break while their new communications guy Jeff Joseph gets up to speed and they decide if they want to make any changes to their online outreach.

9/12/2012: Apple’s iPhone 5: The Price of Thin, Discovery News

Confession: My first, peevish reaction when Apple didn’t invite me to its iPhone 5 event was to let somebody else write it up for Discovery–I’d have enough to cover at TechCrunch Disrupt, a couple of miles away. I’m glad I rethought that, since my post seems to be one of few to note the iPhone 5′s problematic fragmenting of the SIM card standard. (CEA readers got a preview of that argument in a post I wrote in July.)

9/14/2012: Smart Cycles, Transparent Time, Other Disruptions, Discovery News

Most of my coverage of TC Disrupt SF took the form of a prolonged stream of tweets (to readers who did not unfollow out of sheer fatigue: thanks!). Then I had to synthesize three days of watching startups pitch themselves and their products into 500 words and change. I did that by picking five of these companies–none of which won TC Disrupt’s Startup Battlefield–to note in this post. But in retrospect, I should have used a few more words to offer more details about their business models.

Also: If I haven’t written about at least one of these companies at greater length 10 months from now, can somebody call me out on the oversight?

9/16/2012: NFL Mobile app doesn’t work on new iPad, USA Today

As you can see, this piece doesn’t actually answer the reader’s question–the Verizon Wireless PR guy I’ve been e-mailing all week never provided a specific explanation. So I wound up making this post double as a critique of VzW’s failure to communicate with its users. It wraps up with a reminder about white-listing apps blocked by OS X Mountain Lion’s Gatekeeper; please use that advice wisely.

You can also read this story in USAT’s new design; what do you think of the updated look?

Weekly output: traveling with tech, SwiftKey versus Swype, iCloud backup, OS X’s Library folder

This list excludes one other job I did this week: Edmunds.com had me give an opening talk for their annual Hack Days conference at the car-news site’s Santa Monica, Calif., offices. I spoke about transitions afoot in how we connect our phones to our dashboards, how we shop for new and used autos, and the ways vehicle-sharing services might reduce the need for individual car ownership. The video should show up on YouTube eventually, but for now you can read the list of related resources I posted in lieu of inflicting a PowerPoint deck on my audience.

8/14/2012: Avoid Tech Travel Travails, CEA Digital Dialogue

For an August blog post, a vacation-minded summary of the things I’ve learned from traveling with technology for work seemed like a good idea. I didn’t realize I would get a reminder of my own advice about the perils of airport WiFi Friday morning, when I found both LAX’s WiFi and T-Mobile’s coverage equally useless in a large chunk of Terminal 7.

8/17/2012: New Android Keyboards Swallow Your Words, Discovery News

I started this review maybe two months earlier, but kept pushing it back as breaking news interrupted things. Those delays allowed me to try improved releases of each of these alternative Android keyboards–and to see that Android phone vendors still feel it necessary to sink good money into replacing the perfectly good keyboard they get for free from Google with their own awful software.

Since this review ran, two or three readers have recommended yet another aftermarket onscreen keyboard, TouchPal. Should I should check that out next?

8/19/2012: Tip: How to clear space in your iCloud storage, USA Today

This piece started with a question from my wife about an alert on her iPhone about insufficient iCloud backup space, but I knew the situation was widespread after reading a memorably-headlined post by BuzzFeed’s John Hermann. The post also recaps advice posted here last summer about forcing OS X to show your Library folder; credit goes to Apple’s Mountain Lion for keeping this foolish default and making the tip relevant again.

A CalendarAgent cure

A runaway, memory-eating process in Mac OS X Mountain Lion that I’ve whined about on Twitter and in last weekend’s USAToday.com column seems to have returned to sanity.

At first, this CalendarAgent program had been a mild-mannered citizen on both my MacBook Air and on my older iMac. But a day or two after Discovery News posted my generally positive review of Mountain Lion, the iMac started locking up as CalendarAgent devoured as much as three to four gigabytes until I force-quit it with OS X’s Activity Monitor app.

The problem went away long enough for a cautious endorsement of Activity Monitor in Sunday’s USAT piece, but then it resumed. After a few days of getting bored with killing off this process two or three times an hour, I was trying to remember how to yank its execute privileges when I thought to check the Console app.

The repeated errors listed in this troubleshooting tool indicated that CalendarAgent was choking on my wife’s shared Google Calendar feed. I’d subscribed to that in Lion’s iCal without any issues (parenthood requires a non-trivial coordination of schedules), but Mountain Lion apparently had other opinions. I deleted the subscription from ML’s Calendar app,  added it back in the BusySync software I use to publish my own set of calendars to Google, and was soon treated to the welcome and overdue sight of CalendarAgent’s memory allocation dropping back to normal levels.

I still don’t know what exactly went wrong on the iMac; the MacBook Air didn’t have this problem even after I subscribed directly to my wife’s schedule in its Calendar app. Adding it under the “delegation” option for the Google account I’d already configured in that copy of Mountain Lion–but which I hadn’t set up on the iMac–didn’t result in any memory leaks either.

But if you’re tired of seeing CalendarAgent hold up your Mac, try changing how Google calendars get to the computer. Instead of adding a direct .ics subscription via Calendar’s Edit menu, subscribe to that feed in your Google Calendar, add that Google account in System Preferences’ Mail, Contacts and Calendars pane and you should see the subscription when you click Calendar’s “Calendars” button look under “Delegates.” Or revert from the delegation approach to a direct subscription. Let me know if that yields any better results.

Weekly output: Outlook.com, the cloud, 8K TV, Activity Monitor, Mac App Store

It took me a while, but I finally managed to have a week in which smartphones did not figure into the lede of any review.

7/31/2012: Microsoft Outlook: Not Hotmail, Not Quite Gmail, Discovery News

I had high expectations for this service when I got an embargoed briefing of it from Microsoft about two weeks ago–finally, I thought, I might have something that would allow me to move my home e-mail from Google. But I didn’t know at the time how limited Exchange ActiveSync support could be: Contrary to my first expectations, this Hotmail successor leaves Mac users no way to sync their e-mail to a desktop client. My review devoted more words to this topic than most; I was glad to see the same issue come up multiple times in the Reddit discussion Microsoft invited, and I hope Outlook.com’s developers take the numerous hints.

8/3/2012: Questions to Clarify Cloud Computing, CEA Digital Dialogue

After reviewing Google Drive and seeing how tightly Apple and Microsoft’s new and upcoming software integrate each company’s cloud services, I realized I wasn’t sure which ones to include or rule out. So I wrote up the questions I’d want to ask of any cloud service for CEA’s blog.

If you’re curious about the photo, it consists of a Nexus 7 tablet resting on the screen of a MacBook Air. It took a few tries to get enough of the cloud cover reflected on each screen.

8/3/2012: ’8K’ TV: More Pixels Than Can Meet Your Eye, Discovery News

After Comcast invited me to a screening of some “Ultra High Definition” Olympics video (as in, 7,680 by 4,320 pixels, adding up to 33 megapixels and change), I wrote up my impressions of the experience. Not a surprise, considering my earlier writing: I didn’t come away hoping to get something like that in my living room. Actual surprise: a reader wrote in to protest that studies by the Japanese broadcaster NHK showed that people could distinguish the higher resolution of 8K in still images seen at common viewing distances. Since this reader couldn’t get a comment to post, I quoted those e-mails in a comment I added to the post.

8/5/2012: Monitor your Mac’s behind the scenes activity, USA Today

Maybe a day after I’d posted my review of OS X Mountain Lion, I noticed that my iMac (but not the new MacBook Air next to it) was suddenly running low on memory. I checked the Activity Monitor app, saw a CalendarAgent process eating up every last bit of RAM, confirmed that others also had this problem, and force-quit that process. After several tries had apparently beaten this program into submission, wrote a reminder for USAT about the usefulness of Activity Monitor. (It also covered reasons to use or ignore the Mac App Store.) Unfortunately, CalendarAgent resumed its assault on the iMac’s memory and processor after I’d filed this piece; any ideas about what to do next, besides yell at Apple to fix its software?

Weekly output: broadband, favorite gadgets, competition, Mountain Lion, miniaturization, location awareness, IP addresses

I don’t usually write this much in a week for my two oldest regular clients (“oldest” being a relative term, since it’s been just over a year since my first post for Discovery), but the scheduling worked out that way.

7/25/2012: Internet Costs and Choices Still Stink, Discovery News

This critique of the FCC’s latest study of the U.S. residential broadband market might have gone up last week had I not set it aside to write about Reddit’s coverage of the Aurora shootings. Instead, I gave it another couple of days. In that time, I came up with the somewhat contrived illustration shown here: an Ethernet cable twisted in the shape of a question mark in front of the FCC report as seen in a laptop’s browser. The headline here overstates things slightly–pricing for most consumer-grade connections doesn’t seem that bad, at least if you compare it to cable TV–but nobody can say the state of competition is good.

I updated the post a day later to add a reference to Google’s just-announced pricing for its Kansas City fiber-optic service (1 billion bits per second for $70 a month, 1 Gbps plus a set of TV channels that exclude ESPN for $120, or 5 Mbps for free after a connection fee).

7/25/2012: Tech Team’s Favorite Gadgets: Photos, Discovery News

As I mentioned upfront, it’s been just over a year since Discovery set out to cover tech and gadget news more closely. This photo gallery, featuring myself and the other regular Discovery contributors writing about gadgets we’ve appreciated more than most, marks that anniversary.

7/25/2012: Rethinking the State of Competition, CEA Digital Dialogue

This reassessment of the relative openness of a few key consumer-tech markets was going to be last week’s post for CEA–as you can see, it’s responding to Microsoft’s pulling out its MSNBC joint venture and Yahoo hiring Google’s Marissa Mayer as its new CEO–but got held up for various reasons. I’m not sure there was a solid 800-word blog post in this topic, but once I realized that I didn’t have time to crank out something different–I was late enough already.

7/27/2012: Your Device Can Be Too Small And Too Thin, CEA Digital Dialogue

Here I question the move to make ever-thinner gadgets at the cost of connectivity, expandability, compatibility and repairability. I could have written it at any time over the last few months, but buying a MacBook Air laptop–and realizing how much more I had to think about its memory allocation when I couldn’t upgrade that later on–closed the deal for me.

7/27/2012: Apple’s Mountain Lion: More of iOS in OS X, Discovery News

I feel better about Mountain Lion than I do about Lion–but I also recall that some of Lion’s annoyances took a few weeks to sink in. You’ll have to ask me in a month if I’m still spending much time checking the Notifications list, using the Share buttons in Safari and the Finder, or employing the Dictation feature to crank out short snippets of text. I also wonder if by then I will have figured out why the MacBook doesn’t see my Canon printer/scanner; nobody had an answer when I asked on Google+, and this post hasn’t generated any input on that subject either.

7/29/2012: How your phone gets location-confused, USA Today

Giving readers a refresher course in how smartphones fix their location through network signals, WiFi and GPS allowed me to bring orbital mechanics into an article, which doesn’t happen all that often. If I hadn’t written this a couple of weeks earlier (my editor was going on vacation), the second part of this column could also have noted the newfound interest of some U.S. Olympics viewers in using proxy servers to watch the BBC’s reportedly-excellent streaming video of the 2012 games.

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.

Weekly output: WWDC, tech policy, Web chat, prepaid iPhones

Happy Father’s Day, everyone. When I became a dad almost two years ago, a friend welcomed me to that new title by calling it “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” I think he was right. And next to that, my last seven days of occupational output seem small in comparison.

6/11/2012: Apple’s WWDC News: iOS Hits The Road, Discovery News

After all of the pre-conference hype about Apple unveiling its own mapping solution for iOS 6, I found the reality presented at its Worldwide Developers Conference Monday morning in San Francisco to be a tad underwhelming and so ranked it fifth on my list of top-five WWDC announcements. Note that I had to update this post a couple of days later to reflect for the fact that this app will, contrary to Apple’s initial silence on the issue, include walking directions. But transit navigation could still be decidedly inelegant.

(Also note that I watched the keynote as almost all of you did: by viewing it online after Apple posted it a few hours later, on account of Apple not issuing me a WWDC press pass. I did, however, get a few peeks at iOS 6 from WWDC attendees Monday night.)

6/15/2012: TPS Report: The Election’s Missing Tech-Policy Issues, CEA Digital Dialogue

After mulling over two days of enlightening banter at the Tech Policy Summit, I wrote up a summary of that conference for CEA that closed by remarking on the allergy some Silicon Valley types have to engaging with Washington in any sustained manner. I may have to explore that at greater length in a future story–along with some other topics discussed at TPS, such as a proposal to hand governance of some core Internet protocols to the U.N.’s International Telecommunications Union and the debate in Europe over mandating a “right to be forgotten” online.

6/15/2012: Mobile Minded (Web chat), CEA Digital Dialogue

The monthly Web chat focused almost entirely on smartphones and tablets, as it should have a week after WWDC and a week and change before Google’s I/O developer conference. The curiosity about iOS 6′s Maps and Passbook apps in particular struck me, so I know to focus on those when I review iOS 6 sometime this fall. I also got at least two questions that should work well for my USA Today Q&A, so that’s good as well.

Now, for a tech-support question of my own: CoverItLive, the DemandMedia site that provides the chat system we’ve used so far, is essentially doing away with its free option at the end of this month. CEA may elect to pay up, but there are alternatives to consider (see, for instance, Digital First Media journalist Mandy Jenkins’ list); if you have any recommendations, I’d like to know about them.

6/17/2012: Cricket or Virgin: What’s best iPhone deal?, USA Today

Not long after Cricket Wireless surprised me by announcing that it would start selling the iPhone, Sprint’s Virgin Mobile USA revealed that it, too, would sell Apple’s iPhone 4 and 4S at a higher cost but lower rates than Cricket. This post compares these two offerings–Virgin comes out ahead in coverage and pricing–and notes one difference left out of most stories on the topic: Cricket’s iPhone will be internationally unlocked for use on GSM services overseas, while Virgin’s can’t be switched to any other carrier. The column closes out with a reminder about taking better photos with a phone.