Weekly output: mobile-app privacy, Google I/O (x5), Fort Reno, TiVo and SDV

One of these links is not like the others; five of them are very much like each other.

6/24/2014: 4 Questions to Ask Before You Give a New App Access to Your Personal Data, Yahoo Tech

I’m used to playing a grumpy old man, but I’m rarely in such a get-off-my-Internet mood as I was when writing this post about overhyped mobile apps.

6/25/2014: Google Announces Two New Directions for Android, Yahoo Tech

The first of three quick posts I wrote during the Google I/O keynote, this one sums up the day’s hardware and software news for Android.

6/25/2014: With Android TV, Google Turns Its Eyes to Larger Screens (Again!), Yahoo Tech

Here, I compared the debut of Android TV to the snakebit launch of Google TV four years ago. (Fun fact: My neighbor across the street is one of the few individuals to have purchased a Google TV box.)

6/25/2014: MIA at I/O: 8 Products That Google Didn’t Mention, Yahoo Tech

It’s good practice to notice what products or principles go unmentioned in a tech company’s keynote.

Google Cardboard post6/25/2014: Move Over, Google Glass: Here Comes Google Cardboard, Yahoo Tech

I wrapped up the day by describing this fun little experiment in cheapskate virtual reality.

6/27/2014: Man in Screamingly Loud Paisley Shirt Explains Google’s Subtle New Design Language, Yahoo Tech

I talked about Google’s new “Material Design” initiative for about half an hour with Google design v.p. Matias Duarte. I wish I could take credit for that memorable headline, but I can’t.

6/27/2014: D.C. Reflects: What Fort Reno’s Concert Series Meant To Us, D.C. Music Download

After the organizers of these annual free concerts in Northwest D.C. said they wouldn’t happen this year, courtesy of a last-minute demand by the U.S. Park Police that they pay to keep an officer onsite for each concert, I griped about the news on Twitter. Writer Stephanie Williams then e-mailed to ask if I could comment further, and so there I am next to all these people whose indie-rock creed goes beyond seeing Fugazi play Fort Reno two or three times.

6/29/2014: How to use TiVo with Time Warner Cable, USA Today

A query from a friend’s dad that I thought would be simple turned out to be complicated. And maybe even my abbreviation-dense answer was itself not complex enough; after the story ran, veteran gadget blogger Dave Zatz tweeted that TWC’s control-freak application of a copying restriction blocks a remote-viewing feature in newer TiVo DVRs.

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Weekly output: CableCard, two-step verification

It’s now been a month and a half since my last air travel for work. Crazy, huh? I hope the airline industry can deal with my absence.

Yahoo Tech CableCard post4/22/2014: Dept. of Diminishing Choice: Cable Industry Wants Out of the CableCARD It Invented, Yahoo Tech

I returned to a topic I last covered in an August post for Ars Technica about the emergence of a bill that would weaken the regulatory framework behind the CableCard that TiVo and a few other manufacturers rely on to make cable-compatible hardware.

Notice that I don’t write “Card” in all-caps here: Those four letters aren’t an acronym, so capitalizing them all just plays into some marketer’s idea of text hacking.

4/27/2014: Two-step verification: It’s a trust issue, USA Today

This column began on Tuesday, when a local tech-policy type asked why Google’s two-step verification kept inviting him to mark a computer as trusted and therefore exempt from this security check. I decided that query was too narrow–but that there could be a column looking at the broader topic of how strictly different sites implement this concept.

Weekly output: Nokia 1020, BYOD, PR Summit, Chromecast (x2), patent trolls, CableCard (x2), Google Maps, Gmail

I had some 5,200 words appear under my byline this week. (I wrote one of those reviews last weekend, but I also filed one story this week that won’t show up in print for weeks.) Some of that is the result of products shipping and news breaking at about the same time, and some is what happens when you know you owe a client so many posts in a month and then tell yourself “I can finish that story tomorrow” too many days in a row.

7/29/2013: Nokia’s 1020: A Camera That Makes Phone Calls, Discovery News

Nokia’s latest smartphone includes a 41-megapixel camera that takes impressive photos, but its Windows Phone software has issues with driving directions and app selection. And its battery life may be worse than it seemed when I wrote this.

7/30/2013: BYOD Chat, IDG Enterprise

Another turn as a chat host, this time for a round of questions about bring-your-own-device policies and experiences. The link goes to a Twitter query for the #mobilebizchat hashtag, owing to the questions and answers not yet having been archived on the Enterprise Mobile Hub site. 9/29: Updated link.

7/30/2013: The Future of Technology & How to Speak Blogger Language 4.0, PR Summit

VentureBeat’s Christina Farr moderated a panel featuring yours truly, Fleishman-Hillard’s Layla Revis, Jon Oleaga of etceter and marketing maven Murray Newlands. I can’t say we got the audience past blogger language 3.0, but we did have a good chat on some basic issues of building influence and maintaining trust on the Web, whether you’re in PR or journalism or some intersection of the two.

Boing Boing Chromecast comparison7/31/2013: The real Web TV: Chromecast, Apple or Roku?, Boing Boing

I compared Google’s new $35 Web-media receiver to Apple and Roku’s models. Short answer: Apple’s best for sharing what’s already on your computer, Roku has the widest set of video and audio apps, Google has the easiest setup and the biggest potential upside. Don’t forget to check out the comments BBS, where I answered several questions about these devices and my review.

7/31/2013: Google’s Chromecast Puts the Web On TV For $35, Discovery News

For Discovery, I wrote a higher-level piece starting with what makes the Chromecast different from and better than running an HDMI cable from your laptop to your TV.

8/1/2013: Past And Future Patent Pain: When Does The Law Recognize Abuse For What It Is?, Disruptive Competition Project

I’d been meaning to write this 1,100-word essay for while; fortunately, the EFF’s launch of its Trolling Effects database of “demand letters” from patent trolls gave me a decent news peg for the piece.

8/2/2013: TiVo, media center PC makers alarmed by CableCard-cutting bill, Ars Technica

I got a nice little scoop about an upcoming bill that would end a key regulatory protection for the CableCard standard that allows TiVos and a few other devices to tune in cable TV. Check page three of the comments for a few from me answering reader queries.

8/2/2013: The Endless Re-Runs Of The Cable-Compatibility Debate, Disruptive Competition Project

This counterpart to the Ars piece summarizes the 15 years and counting of regulatory, technological and market failures at establishing a standard way to get cable without leasing a box from the cable company.

8/4/2013: Google removes multiple stops feature from Maps, USA Today

It’s never a good idea to let users discover on their own that you removed a feature many of them like to use. This column also has a tip about using Gmail’s offline and ad-free mode in Chrome.

On Sulia, I recounted an amusing HDMI failure in Apple’s flagship San Francisco store, reported an apparently painless installation of Android 4.3 on my Nexus 4 phone, shared a fix for a broadband breakdown I encountered later that day,  critiqued Google’s announcement of an overdue find-my-phone service for Android phones, suggested replacement brand names for Microsoft’s trademark-conflicted SkyDrive and complimented Dulles Airport for its real-time security wait estimates.

Qualms Over QAM (2012 CEA re-post)

(Since a site redesign at the Consumer Electronics Association resulted in the posts I wrote for CEA’s Digital Dialogue blog vanishing, along with everything there older than last November, I’m reposting a few that I think still hold up or shed light on current issues. This one ran on Feb. 14, 2012;  the AllVid effort I mentioned at the end has gone nowhere since, but in October, the Federal Communications Commission voted to allow QAM encryption–with results that I’ll be discussing in this weekend’s USA Today column.)

This month’s telecom-policy squabble covers a TV technology that nobody seems to love–if they even know it exists.

The system in question goes by the name QAM, short for “quadrature amplitude modulation,” and it’s the only way to tune into digital cable without a box. But while “cable-ready” sets dealt fairly well with even premium channels in the mid 1990s, QAM’s horizons are far more limited.

Coax cableYou can’t count on QAM providing more than the “basic tier” of local broadcast stations plus public, educational and government channels. Forget ESPN or even CNN; to get those without a cable box, you need a CableCard-compliant device–which in practice means either a TiVo digital video recorder or one of a few add-on tuners for computers.

But it’s worse than that: As readers have testified and I’ve seen myself, QAM reception often presents a puzzling picture of your cable choices. Channels can appear under seemingly random numbers–and then move to new ones or disappear outright.

So the proposal now before the Federal Communications Commission to allow cable operators to encrypt QAM signals on all-digital networks–simplifying their systems while cutting off existing QAM hardware–might not seem like anything worth fussing over.

And yet for a small minority of users, QAM does work. Some use it on second or third sets (PDF); some resorted to basic-tier cable after failing to get adequate over-the-air digital-TV reception; some employ it to use computers as digital video recorders. And these subscribers don’t want it to go away.

How many people are we talking about? The Web-media-receiver vendor Boxee says that 40 percent of buyers of its new Boxee Live TV device use QAM to receive cable TV through that add-on. You could dismiss that as a figment of a small sample size; that $49 add-on has only been on sale since January. But a more established computer-video vendor, Hauppauge Computer Works, also cited 40 percent QAM usage (PDF) among buyers of its PC peripherals.

The Consumer Electronics Association has no stats for this segment of the market.

CEA has joined those manufacturers in their opposition to QAM encryption, writing in a November filing (PDF) that the FCC should decline this request unless it also moves forward on other, long-standing proposals to open up the market for TV hardware (more on that in a moment).

The cable companies’ arguments, as related over a call Friday with representatives of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, fall into three categories:

• Cable operators’ own figures suggest that almost nobody relies on QAM. Cablevision, which obtained a waiver from the FCC to start encrypting QAM after converting to all-digital service in New York, N.Y., reported that “less than 0.1 percent of subscribers” (PDF) requested a free set-top box or CableCard to decode it.

• Encryption will allow remote activation and deactivation, without sending a technician on a truck to somebody’s house. (NCTA realizes that people don’t like sitting through four-hour service windows.)

• Encryption will also stop people from tuning into basic-tier cable without paying. RCN, among other cable operators, reports (PDF) this is a growing problem among Internet-only subscribers.

It’s important to note that the the cable operators, while maybe not everyone’s favorite companies, have been way ahead of satellite vendors in the interoperability game. DirecTV users who wanted to plug in a TiVo could only wait for that service to ship its own “DirecTiVo” model; that recently arrived, years late, to complaints over its aged interface.

Meanwhile, CableCard finally seems to work as advertised–even if that’s happened too late for some pioneering CableCard vendors. Once-prominent TiVo rival Moxi Digital gave up the fight two weeks ago when its new owner, ARRIS Group, announced that it would only sell through cable operators.

There’s been a proposal afoot, against opposition from cable, to set a comprehensive pay-TV standard called “AllVid” that would work not just for cable but also satellite and fiber-optic services. It would allow every screen in a home network to tie into a simple gateway adapter–the video equivalent of the wireless router that links a cable modem and a laptop.

That’s what CEA has been asking for in return for giving up clear QAM. Boxee could also live with this tradeoff, said spokesman Andrew Kippen; Hauppauge CEO Ken Plotkin, however, was not to ready to make that deal.

Me, I think I could live with that bargain–if it included an assurance that current QAM users who will have to tolerate a new box and remote control won’t have to pay extra for them. (If encrypting QAM harms so few people and yields as many benefits as cable operators say, they should be able to afford subsidizing that hardware.)

But this is an easy thing for me to say, since I switched to over-the-air and Internet broadcasts years ago. If you pay for cable today, I’d rather know your opinion: Would you trade simple reception of entry-level cable today for easy access to a full lineup of channels a few years from now?

Weekly output: Microsoft Surface (x2), Kojo Nnamdi Show, soundbars, NFC payments, This Week in Law, HDMI DRM, remote-control apps

Microphones played almost as big of a role in my work this week as keyboards usually do.

6/19/2012: Microsoft’s Tablet: No Depth Below The Surface, Discovery News

I wasn’t invited to Microsoft’s Monday-afternoon event in Los Angeles to unveil its Surface tablets (not that I would have been too keen to fly across the country on four days’ notice), but I didn’t mind that much after learning how attendees didn’t actually get to use the display units in any meaningful way.

6/19/2012: New Microsoft Tablet Is Unveiled, Fox 5 News

The local Fox station’s Will Thomas interviewed me about Surface on its morning-news show. As I did in the Discovery post, I noted what Microsoft left out of its introduction of the two Surface tablets: a price, a ship date and even vague promises about battery life.

(Update, 5:53 p.m. Oh, one other thing… the next guest on the show was rapper Ice-T. That does not make me his opening act, but it did result in a photo of me with the gentleman and his wife.)

6/19/2012: Personal Tech Advice, The Kojo Nnamdi Show

About three hours later and half a mile south on Wisconsin Avenue, I talked about cell-phone pricing, iOS 6’s maps app, password security, car2go, and, yes, Surface with two old friends: veteran tech journalist Wayne Rash and guest host Marc Fisher, who remains one of my favorite people at the Washington Post.

6/22/2022: No Soundbar To Mass Adoption, CEA Digital Dialogue

This week’s CEA post chronicles my evolution from a set of what I’ve called Single Guy Speakers to a far more compact soundbar system and discusses how many other people seem to have decided to trade some sonic fidelity for a less bulky (and more baby-proof) setup.

6/22/2012: The High Cost Of Paying By Phone, Discovery News

My first attempt to buy something with the Google Wallet app on the Evo 4G LTE phone I reviewed last month was a flop. The second one worked–and then the entire Wallet app stopped working. I don’t know if I’ll have a chance for a third try before I have to return this loaner phone.

6/22/2012: Episode 167: Are You Game?, This Week in Law

I talked about politicians on Twitter, privacy rights in an age of ubiquitous cameras, how “quantified self” apps might push us to do dangerous things, and the latest DMCA anti-circumvention debate with host Evan Brown and fellow guests Joseph Gratz (a San Francisco-based lawyer) and Sherwin Siy (a vice president at Public Knowledge). I look forward to my next spot on TWiL–one of a series of podcasts produced by TWiT.TV, a Petaluma, Calif.-based network–and hope that it won’t feature Skype locking up and crashing with about 10 minutes to go.

6/24/2012: TiVo ‘viewing error’ a rights issue, USA Today

You may recall me venting on Twitter two weeks ago about an annoying HDMI failure on a Samsung HDTV; this column is the result of that failed troubleshooting session. It also includes a tip about using smartphone or tablet apps as remote controls that I explored at greater length on CEA’s blog last month.

Weekly output: podcast, DVD recording, TPS panel, Social Machines, Twitter and Topsy, searching within sites

The amount of writing inventoried below is a tiny fraction of all the tweeting I did from the Tech Policy Summit last week. I’m surprised my follower total didn’t plunge after all of that verbiage.

6/5/2012: Rob’s May Podcast: Big-Screen Banter With Dave Zatz, CEA Digital Dialogue

For the latest episode of the CEA podcast, I had a long chat with longtime D.C.-area tech blogger Dave Zatz. He’s been doing great work covering the video end of the electronics industry, I’ve cited his posts many times (most recently, in my Discovery News post about Vudu’s disc-to-digital service), and he has the unusual perspective of having seen gadget marketing from the inside out in two jobs with electronics vendors.

6/6/2012: How DVD Recording Got Paused, CEA Digital Dialogue

My past enthusiasm for DVD recording doesn’t look as ill-founded as my cheerleading for municipal WiFi, but it’s not far behind. In this post, I explain four angles that I missed–and make the shocking confession that I bought a 3D-compatible Blu-ray player in December. Worse yet, this thing can also play SACDs.

6/6/2012: Looking Ahead: Intellectual Property and Innovation, Tech Policy Summit

Video of the contentious discussion I moderated at this conference in Napa, Calif., featuring Techdirt’s Mike Masnick and USC Annenberg Innovation Lab director Jonathan Taplin.

6/7/2012: ‘Social Machines': Check In For Free Beer, Discovery News

An overdue dose of DC-area tech news in my coverage, featuring clever hacks put together by the Dupont Circle social-media marketing firm iStrategyLabs that carry on a tradition of connecting ordinary devices to the Internet that I first wrote about in the Post’s long-forgotten “CyberSurfing” column. (Anybody remember the Cygnus Support Christmas tree?) Speaking of hacking, note how this post includes gratuitous and yet relevant, justifiable references to free beer and Lady Gaga.

6/10/2012: Topsy knows what you did on Twitter last year, USA Today

A friend’s Facebook query about looking up tweets from NASA’s STS-135 launch Tweetup last July led to this–which was once set to run as the shorter tip item in the column until I realized I could address other recent developments in the Twitterverse. It also offers a tip about working around a site’s defective internal search that I hope isn’t too mind-numbingly obvious.

In other news, a story I covered two weeks ago–the arrival of the iPhone on Cricket Wireless’s prepaid service–got a little more interesting this week as Sprint’s Virgin Mobile subsidiary also announced that it would sell Apple’s smartphone at a higher price but lower monthly rates than Cricket. From this tech-support note, it appears that Virgin Mobile will also unlock the iPhone; I’ve asked PR there for clarification but haven’t heard back yet. Update, 6/11/2012: Virgin Mobile publicist Jayne Wallace replied, “Yes the SIM slot is locked, and no it can’t be unlocked.” It will not work on any other carrier, in the U.S. or overseas; that tech-support link came from Virgin Mobile Canada, a separately-owned company.

Update, 6/25/2012: Added a link to video of the TPS panel.