Weekly output: Turkey and Twitter, activity trackers, MVNOs

 

This week provided a rare excuse, however tangential, to apply some of my Georgetown book learning on things like international relations and European history.

Yahoo Turkey Twitter column41/2014: Turkey Blocks Twitter. Could It Happen Here? It’s Come Close Already., Yahoo Tech

I’d been wondering how I could cover the strange campaign by Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdoğan against Twitter and social media in general, and then I realized how many of their actions matched up with things that have been done or advocated in the U.S. (Fortunately, Erdoğan complied with an unfavorable court ruling and ended the block on Thursday.)

4/1/2014: Activity trackers, WTOP

The news station had me on to talk about the utility of activity-tracking wristbands, pods and apps. I had a brief deer-in-the-ON-AIR-lights moment when I realized I was about to mix up the names of a few phone apps… but you can’t hear it since WTOP’s site seems to have stopped archiving each day’s broadcasts on an “ICYMI” page. Hence there’s also no link.

4/6/2014: How wireless service resellers stack up, USA Today

A query from a friend became the kick in the rear I needed to conduct an overdue evaluation of the pros and cons of some major wireless resellers: Consumer Cellular, Credo Mobile, Net10, Republic Wireless, Straight Talk and TracFone.

 

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#corrected: Fixing your errors on Twitter

I screwed up on Twitter yesterday morning. In the grip of nerd rage over a story about an Apple patent application–and without sufficient caffeine in my body–I tweeted that the Cupertino, Calif., company had received a patent on a feature that had debuted in a third-party app some three years before its 2012 filing.

Delete tweetThe problem was, Apple had only applied for a patent on a text-while-you-walk system that would overlay message conversations on your phone camera’s view of your surroundings. Oops.

So I tweeted something, um, transparently wrong. Now what? I’ve attended more than one panel discussion on this, and the answers usually get stuck on one of two conflicting imperatives: Don’t let the error go unfixed, but don’t look like you’re hiding the mistake either.

(See my earlier post about documenting changes to your story, if necessary in comments you leave yourself.)

Since you can’t edit the incorrect tweet or even flag it as wrong in the way you could amend a flawed story or blog post, letting it stand risks perpetuating the mistake. But if you delete it, then the evidence of your error vanishes.

What I decided to do was to delete the tweet, follow up by saying what I’d gotten wrong, and then redo the original tweet with a reasonably obvious hashtag, #corrected, to indicate that it was a “CX” for an earlier version:

Does that routine work for you all? Or am I once again seriously overthinking something that people with real jobs don’t worry about at all?

In other news, earlier this afternoon I was glad to see that the Ask Patents clearinghouse for prior art will include this Apple filing in an upcoming call for submissions:

 

So long, Sulia: lessons from an experiment in compressed journalism

My time contributing short updates to the microblogging site Sulia wrapped up unceremoniously Monday morning when an e-mail–“ending our paid arrangement”–landed in my inbox. The site’s pivoting in another direction that doesn’t involve paying for my input or that of what seems to be most other contributors it had signed up (for example, my friend Rocky Agrawal); so it goes.

Sulia compose dialogThe departure of any one freelance client isn’t that big of a deal, but in this case it was a different sort of medium, and I learned some things along the way that seem worth sharing.

The basic idea here was to get paid a little for writing the equivalent of three tweets in a row–a minimum of 700 characters, a maximum of 2,500. On clicking the “Post” button at Sulia, those updates would appear automatically under my name on Twitter and at my public Facebook page–and that’s when I was met with confusion. Readers had no idea what the heck Sulia was or what I was doing there, leading me to post an explanation here after the first three weeks.

It took longer for me to pace myself so that I wouldn’t be rushing to finish my weekly quota of 10 posts in the last hours of Sunday–and to figure out what topics fit best into this pressurized container. In retrospect, holding off on live-tweeting interesting talks so I could post a longer recap on Sulia was a mistake, while it was smarter to use that greater character count to break some local wireless news in slightly more depthdo the cost-of-ownership math for a new smartphone, or recount my experience upgrading an operating system.

Overall, this site filled a useful void in my work by allowing me to share my notes in a medium slightly longer and less evanescent than Twitter while also getting paid (and without having to send an invoice first). I‘m not sure how I’ll replace that.

Among no-payment options, Twitter puts me back in a 140-character box, Facebook and Google+ have enough of my personal business already, LinkedIn seems too business-focused, and as for Medium–well, I already have a blog here. Alas, my WordAds revenue has been so minimal to date that it’s not worth thinking about the potential income from any one extra post.

Or perhaps the Sulia experiment was a mistake all along, and I should have put the time spent crafting those 40-some morsels a month into finding three or four good stories to sell elsewhere. Either way: on to the next thing…

Follow you, follow me: Twitter and a scaleable attention span

A few days ago, I learned something new about the social network I’ve been using almost every day since the spring of 2008. As I belatedly followed somebody on Twitter whose input I’d been enjoying for years in retweeted form, it struck me how rarely I’d had reason to regret following people on the service.

Twitter follow buttonMost of my unfollows have involved read-only accounts that I found a poor substitute for RSS. As for actual people–and organizational accounts that interact as if there are actual people behind the keyboards–I have to discover that you’re a far more obnoxious or uninformative tweep than I’d thought to unfollow you.

(FWIW, I don’t think I’ve blocked anybody on Twitter for anything besides spamming and don’t quite understand “ending” an argument by blocking somebody who has remained civil throughout the debate. I suppose enough pointless jackassery sent my way could drive me to that step, but it hasn’t happened yet.)

And yet when I started out, I was unrealistically afraid of having too many people’s words cascade down the screen. Each new follow involved a careful consideration of how often this person would tweet, and how relevant those tweets were to my work.

I mean, I didn’t even follow the guys I shared a group house with at a NASA Tweetup. How weirdly snobbish is that?

That was dumb. I missed out on a lot that way.

I now follow more than 400 users–still far less than many other people I know–and don’t feel close to overwhelmed even though I have far more to keep up with. In retrospect, I seriously underestimated how my attention span could scale up.

It’s true that reading Twitter on the go on a phone has gotten more pleasant since 2008, and that this service imposes no visual penalty for falling behind–no messages piling up in an inbox, no RSS items asking to be marked as read.

But the most important change is in my own head. I’ve gotten better at reading Twitter quickly: recognizing the varying signal-to-noise ratios of people and skimming their output appropriately, noticing retweets from users with particularly good taste, ignoring waves of banter about pop-culture topics I don’t care about.

Twitter has become one of those specialized tasks–typing on phone keyboards comes to mind–that I’ve done enough times to have essentially reprogrammed my brain.

That could still turn out to be a tragic waste of cerebral capacity. But it is more fun to surround myself with more interesting and creative people, even if they don’t all neatly fit into a People Relevant to Tech Journalism spreadsheet.

Post-CES travel-tech recap, 2013 edition

Last week was a little busy. I flew to Las Vegas to cover CES, walked several miles each day trying to stay on top of show events, wrote and spoke at length about it, ran into Vint Cerf (who, no kidding, asked for help getting on the Internet) and met Bryce Harper (I told him thanks and good luck). And I subjected various hardware and software to the cruel and unusual punishment of five days at the electronics show.

CES 2013 travel techHere’s how technology worked out compared to last year–and 20102009 and 2008.

This time, I left my 2011-vintage ThinkPad at home in favor of the lighter, faster MacBook Air I bought last summer. The battery life and backlit keyboard were great; I was not so fond of having to break out an Ethernet adapter (not Apple’s, but a $10 Monoprice model that worked just as well once I went to the trouble of installing drivers for it) when I didn’t want to take my chances with WiFi.

But–this is going to sound crazy–the WiFi actually worked at lot more often at CES this year. Even in the past-fire-code-packed Samsung press conference, where the Mandalay Bay convention center’s wireless somehow never dropped. I would love to think that we’re learning a few things about scaling this technology.

I did my standup computing on two loaner smartphones I’d packed, an unlocked Galaxy Nexus on a prepaid T-Mobile SIM and an HTC 8X Windows Phone unit on Verizon. Both were a lot better than the smartphones I took last year–even though one of them was a Verizon LTE Galaxy Nexus. (Yes, the VzW Nexus was that bad.)

I employed the HTC phone and its faster, more reliable LTE connection for a fair amount of tethered access. That worked fine in my hotel room but was almost unbearably unreliable in crowded settings like Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs’ bizarre keynote. As in, the one where Jacobs kept going on about how awesome our wireless future was going to be.

I took more photos with the 8X than with the Nexus, but I still spent more time on the Android phone. I blame Twitter–specifically, its buggy, clumsy excuse for a Windows Phone client. The Nexus also had slightly better battery life, but I was pleasantly surprised to see I didn’t have to recharge both phones by lunch every day.

The one application I used most often was Evernote. Once again, it was terrific to be able to start a note on one device, then seamlessly pick it up on another. And once again, I could not get through the week without a synchronization hiccup resulting in conflicting modifications that I had to reconcile by going over two copies of the same note to see which one was newer.

For photo editing, I used mostly iPhoto, with OS X’s Preview handling some basic cropping. My word processor? Don’t laugh: OS X’s TextEdit, combined with the free WordService plug-in, sufficed to generate copy to paste into an e-mail or a blog post.

I brought an old Canon point-and-shoot camera (some of its work is on display in the Flickr set shown after the jump). It was fine in most cases, but there’s no way I’d take that to another CES. Modern cameras have better resolution, low-light performance and telephoto reach, and now camera vendors also seem to have agreed that they all should support automatic picture transfers to cameras for on-the-go sharing.

The photo above shows the two other major pieces of technology I brought: the Belkin travel surge protector that avoided “who gets the last outlet?” awkwardness in various press rooms, and the nerdy Airbeltbag messenger bag that distributed the weight of my gadgets sufficiently well to keep my shoulder from feeling completely destroyed. Continue reading

Weekly output: Instagram, Twitter, default apps, family tech support

There’s no way that two popular social networks would dare commit news the week before Christmas, right?

Instagram post12/18/2012: Insta-Hate For Instagram’s New Rules, Discovery News

No consumer-focused service should be surprised when its users read an intimidatingly long terms-of-service document in the unfriendliest way possible, but Instagram apparently was. The schadenfreude factor here was higher than usual, between my amazement at Instagram’s failure to learn from new corporate parent Facebook’s past missteps and my “you dang kids, get off my f-stop!” distaste for the idea of expressing one’s photographic creativity by applying somebody else’s canned filter to a picture.

(No, I don’t see this episode as any sort of a win for Instagram. While its old, now-reinstated terms of service give it more latitude in some ways, the PR hit here is lasting. And if Instagram actually engages in the sort of sketchy advertising reuse of its users’ photos that people feared this time, it will get crushed all over again.)

12/19/2012: Twitter Gives Your History Back, Discovery News

I’d been hoping I’d be able to write this post since hearing Twitter CEO Dick Costolo tell Online News Association conference attendees that he hoped to see the option to download your entire Twitter archive happen this year. Details I probably should have added to this post: The first few years of the archive don’t include clickable links, and photo previews don’t start showing up until late 2011.

12/20/2012: Google Maps Shows How Locked-Down Defaults Deter Competition, Disruptive Competition Project

This post, in which I compared your inability to change the default Web, e-mail and mapping apps in iOS to the locked search defaults in Microsoft’s Windows Phone operating system and in earlier versions of Google’s Android, reminds me of some of the wonkier stuff I did at the Post. I was flattered to see it get as much attention as it did.

12/23/2012: A ‘to-do list’ for helping family with tech support, USA Today

Several years ago, Gina Trapani wrote a great post for Lifehacker about how to fix Mom and Dad’s computer over Thanksgiving. I thought that was an idea worth imitating, so I started writing my own holiday-computer-troubleshooting tips for the Post–first in the newsletter I used to do, then on my blog there. Note how much of my advice this time around focuses on uninstalling software instead of adding or updating it.

Blacked out and plugged in

When did our first move after a power outage switch from reaching for a flashlight to grabbing a phone to announce on Twitter or Facebook that we’d lost electricity?

I don’t know, but I’ve had a lot of time to think about that this week. As I started writing this post, it had been almost 40 hours and counting since the neighborhood went dark Monday night.

During that stretch–finally ended by the merciful restoration of current late Thursday Wednesday morning–I never lacked for adequate wireless bandwidth. My current surplus of review hardware helped, but even if I’d had only one phone and one laptop I still could have stayed online most of that time. It just doesn’t drain a laptop’s battery much to keep a phone charged, as I’m reminded every time I go to some phone-destroying tech conference.

How did I use that access? I scanned Twitter even more often than usual, realizing that things were a whole lot worse in New York than here. I lingered over some longer stores on the Web on a tablet tethered to a phone (no candlelight needed for this blackout reading, although having one flickering away on the coffee table made for a pleasing steampunk vibe). I got updates about downed trees and power restoration on our neighborhood’s mailing list, while Facebook let me see how friends slightly further away were doing.

I could, in fewer words, realize that we weren’t alone. That’s something.

This didn’t happen by accident. I have to give the wireless carriers an enormous chunk of credit for building out networks sufficiently resilient, and sufficiently backed up by batteries and standby generators, to keep working through these widespread outages. I also need to thank all of the engineers and developers who have spent the last decade finding better ways to put the Internet into a device that fits in your pocket and runs for hours on a charge.

Think about how technology has advanced when, even as your house has gone dark and cold, you can use a miniature computer to view of a photo of the hurricane besieging your city… taken by an astronaut sitting warm and dry on a space station 250 miles above.

10/31, 4:40 p.m.: Cabin fever apparently led me to confuse today with Thursday.