Weekly output: SXSW panel pitch, Verizon Wireless pricing, TPP, Winvote, retargeted e-mails

For much of this week, I took notes from a seat in a room while somebody else stood before me and others to deliver a lecture about one subject or another. It was a bit like college–except I used a laptop instead of paper, I was never unplugged from the outside world, and there was the prospect of getting paid for what I wrote about those talks instead of Mom and Dad paying for me to attend them.

SXSW panel on panels8/10/2015: A Panel On Panels: Things We’ve Learned Not To Do, SXSW PanelPicker

For the past couple of years, I’ve talked about pitching a SXSW panel about nothing other than the weird performance art that is participating in a panel discussion. I finally went ahead and wrote up a proposal, featuring me as well as ACT | The App Association’s Jonathan Godfrey and Tech.Co’s Jen Consalvo. Please vote for it, if you’re so inclined; if it gets a spot on the SXSW program, you’re welcome to show up in Austin and ask a question that’s more of a comment.

8/11/2015: Verizon Wireless’s new plans, WTOP

I answered a few questions from the news station about VzW’s switch to no-contract prices without phone subsidies–speaking via Skype on some iffy conference WiFi. How scratchy did I sound on the air?

8/11/2015: The Latest US Export: Bad Copyright Laws, Yahoo Tech

I’ve had “write a post about the intellectual-property implications of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal” on my to-do list for a while, and the leak of a much more current draft gave me a reason to turn that into an actual column. Something tells me this won’t be among my most-read stories this month, but it’s a post I had to write.

8/14/2015: Unlocking Democracy: Inside the Most Insecure Voting Machines in America, Yahoo Tech

I spent most of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at the USENIX Security Symposium in D.C., which gave me a chance to attend Jeremy Epstein’s entertaining and enraging autopsy of the incomprehensibly insecure voting machines on which I cast my ballot for over a decade. This post got a spot on the Yahoo home page over the weekend, in case you’re wondering how it racked up 665 comments.

8/16/2015: How ‘retargeted’ ads sneak into your inbox, USA Today

This is the column I’d meant to write last week–and could do this week when the reader who’d sent the e-mail I couldn’t find re-sent that message after reading about my holdup here.

Weekly output: wireless-service pricing, Google Calendar notifications

I suppose I should be watching the Oscars now–but first there was dinner, cleaning up and then this little routine. For what it’s worth, I’ve watched a surprisingly high number of this year’s nominees given my father-of-a-toddler status. But aside from The Imitation Game, paying for a ticket at a movie theater wasn’t involved: I saw The Grand Budapest Hotel on a plane (appropriately enough, given all the travel in that flick), watched Unbroken at a Comcast-hosted Newseum screening, saw CitizenFour as part of a security conference, and caught Guardians of the Galaxy and The Lego Movie on DVD.

Maybe I’ll catch up on a few more Oscar-nominated movies during all the air travel I have coming up: Saturday, I depart for Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, and then after a week at home I’m off to SXSW in Austin.

Yahoo Tech column on wireless prices2/17/2015: Why You Don’t Understand Wireless Rate Plan Prices, Yahoo Tech

This get-off-my-screen rant about confusing, contrived pricing schemes for wireless service–basically, I had to vent after the last few updates to the Wirecutter’s guide to wireless carriers–has already yielded some simplification. T-Mobile realized they hadn’t removed a description of an old rate plan from a chart (it’s been replaced with a prepaid plan that’s not nearly as attractive) and updated that. We, in turn, need to add a note about that to our story.

2/22/2015: How to limit Google Calendars notifications, USA Today

It took me writing this cheat sheet to finally go in and edit my own Google Calendar notification settings so I wouldn’t get pinged via e-mail, in-app and in-browser notifications for an event invitation I hadn’t even responded to, much less accepted.

Weekly output: CES vaporware, wireless carriers, Jeff Bezos’s Washington Post, removing iTunes DRM

This was what I did over the seven days I define as “CES recovery week.”

Yahoo Tech CES vaporware1/13/2015: 5 CES Innovations That Completely Flopped, Yahoo Tech

Putting together this look back at products that got high-profile debuts at CES and then didn’t ship (anybody remember Panasonic’s Comcast-compatible AnyPlay portable DVR?) made me realize two things: I should have started taking my CES notes in Evernote years earlier, and some of the cameras I took to the show were pretty weak. The photo atop the story, in case you’re curious, is one I took a few minutes before the 2012 CES keynote.

1/14/2015: The Best Wireless Carriers, The Wirecutter

I updated this guide yet again to account for T-Mobile and then AT&T adding data-rollover policies and to call out Verizon Wireless for its creepy and arrogant insertion of ad-tracking headers in subscribers’ unencrypted Web traffic. Next on the to-do list: Rearranging the presentation of Sprint’s mix of phone-procurement options to cut down on confusion.

1/15/2015:  Der Allesverkäufer, Wiener Zeitung

Adrian Lobe, a writer for Vienna’s oldest newspaper, asked me for comment about Jeff Bezos’s influence on my former employer. If you, like me, are hopeless in German and don’t want to rely on Google Translate (it reads the headline as “The all sellers,” which I’m pretty sure should end with a singular noun), the original English version of the first quote from me is “I know my former colleagues take pride on beating the NYT as often as they can.” The second, about any shifts in the Post’s op-ed section: “Not much, and that’s an area where many people were hoping for a change. It’s still populated by too many neocons with a questionable grasp on the facts.”

1/18/2015: How to free iTunes purchases from DRM, USA Today

You can’t pay 30 cents to upgrade a song from DRMed “iTunes Minus” to higher-fidelity, DRM-free iTunes Plus, but you can pay $24.99 for an iTunes Match subscription that will bulk-convert those files. Or you can try your luck with the song-matching feature in Google’s free Google Play Music.

Weekly output: MCX vs. NFC, wireless carriers, OS X Yosemite

I completely spaced on writing this earlier tonight, so this post comes to you early Monday morning instead of in my usual Sunday afternoon/evening timeframe.

10/28/2014: Why Some Stores Won’t Take Apple Pay, and How to Punish Them, Yahoo Tech

Did I mention all the clueless anti-Apple rage directed at this post covering the blocking of NFC mobile payments at CVS and Rite Aid? Yes, I did. I’m still shaking my head about all that. I mean, it’s quite the stretch to say that a story illustrated with a photo of my own Android phone is all about Apple; my own brain is incapable of such gymnastics.

10/30/2014: The Best Wireless Carriers, The Wirecutter

I updated this guide to account for a round of changes in Verizon’s pricing, some price cuts in some of AT&T’s shared-use plans and a few other shifts in the industry.

USAT Yosemite-tips column11/2/2014: Yosemite tips: Turn off translucency, tune up notifications, USA Today

The story I wrote this week that actually was all about Apple wasn’t too complimentary either, since it led off with a suggestion that you undo one of OS X Yosemite’s key visual features. (So far, I am pleased overall with this release, but check back in a month.)

Updated 11/5/14 to add the Wirecutter update that I had missed earlier.

An individual customer rep is not a reliable source

Twice in the past few weeks, I’ve gotten into debates with readers about whether an option I’ve written about exists. Each time, my source has been a company PR contact, against which the reader has cited a sales or support representative who told them otherwise.

Verizon support chatThe first case came up in my Wirecutter guide to wireless carriers (updated today for the iPhone 6!) when I warned readers that Verizon’s otherwise appealing “Single Line Smartphone” plans exclude tethering.

I noted that I’d seen Verizon reps say otherwise (as in the screenshot here), but that I’d gotten the official word from a Verizon spokeswoman and the @VzWSupport Twitter account.

Then I had a commenter on the story report that two different reps had said  tethering was included. Even though that would make zero business sense for VzW–why offer a plan with the same features as one that costs $30 extra?

Next came last weekend’s USA Today column about buying an unlocked iPhone 6. In it, I cited reports from iPhone 6 purchasers and a confirmation from an Apple publicist as proof that the “no-contract” T-Mobile iPhone 6 for sale at Apple’s site is unlocked and can be used with any carrier.

Big surprise: I’ve since had readers saying Apple and T-Mobile reps told them that this phone is locked to T-Mobile. One particularly anxious shopper wrote that he’d gotten that answer from nine different people at Apple and T-Mobile.

Look: I am not the biggest fan of Apple PR, but they have been honest when I ask a yes-or-no question about an Apple product such as “is this phone unlocked?” (That’s going back many years; the staffer who gave me this answer is somebody I’ve dealt with since at least 2008.) Remember, too, that you’ve got firsthand reports from iPhone customers, including several who commented on the USAT piece.

(T-Mobile’s @TMobileHelp Twitter account did chime in, but its reply only mentions the carrier’s own warranty and “premium handset protection”–neither of which should concern you if you’ll use another carrier–and doesn’t actually say the phone sold by Apple comes locked. Apple said nothing in response because it’s apparently allergic to social-media conversations.)

Meanwhile, customer-service and support reps get the story wrong all the time. They think an old policy still applies, they try to make the customer happy, their boss told them something else, they just guess. This happens so often in travel that FlyerTalkers have an acronym for their preferred workaround for getting reps to do something allowed by policy: HUACA, short for “hang up and call again.”

None of this back-and-forth is necessary when companies post the correct answer on their sites. But I shouldn’t complain too much; their failure to do so opens an information inefficiency that I can exploit for profit… and subsequent reader e-mails explaining how they know I got it wrong.

 

Weekly output: cell-phone lane, iPhone 6 pricing, wireless carriers, Moto 360, iOS app bandwidth

NEW YORK–I spent two fascinating days here checking out Maker Faire (and catching up with some old friends), and now it’s time to head home. Make that, 16 minutes ago was the time to head home, except my train is late. Yay, travel.

9/15/2014: Chinese cellphone lane inspired by D.C., WTOP

The post I did for Yahoo Tech about a mock cell-phone lane on a D.C. sidewalk was back in circulation after a city in China staged a similar exercise, so WTOP quizzed me about what I’d seen earlier this summer.

Yahoo Tech iPhone 6 pricing plans9/16/2014: iPhone 6 Plans Compared: AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile, Yahoo Tech

This column was about 50 percent shopping advice, 50 percent a desperate plea to the wireless carriers (T-Mobile excepted) to simplify their offerings. As one heading from the story cried out: Why, Sprint, why?

I know some of you wanted me to offer guidance about family-plan deals for the iPhone. We didn’t have room for that in this piece, but I did file an update to my Wirecutter guide to wireless service with that info and much more; it should be up soon.

9/17/2014: The Best Wireless Carriers Today, Tested.com

Speaking of, I wrote a condensed version of that guide, complete with updates to account for iPhone 6/6 Plus pricing, that the site’s syndication partners could run. Tested.com posted its version on Wednesday… and tonight the link is coming up 404. Not sure what happened there.

9/19/2014: Moto 360: A round smartwatch not yet ready to roll (review), VentureBeat

This review had an amazingly short gestation time compared to some of the things I’ve written: I started it on the train up from D.C. late Friday morning, and it was up by mid-afternoon. That’s a great feeling.

9/21/2014: Check it: Which iPhone apps are data hogs?, USA Today

I was mostly done reporting a different Q&A column when I discovered that I’d covered almost the same topic last summer. (Oops.) Fortunately, I had this idea as a backup; unfortunately, I left out one step in the tip about iOS 8’s per-app battery-usage data, so we had to update the story this afternoon to fix that.

Speaking of column updates, we also revised the prior weekend’s column to add a couple of paragraphs explaining the NFC-mobile-payment app Softcard’s hitherto under-documented security options.

Weekly output: NYC startup spaces, zero rating (x2), wireless carriers, Internet downtime

My name showed up at a couple of new places this week. FYI: The coming week won’t feature my work on a typical schedule, because Yahoo Tech and I agreed to push my weekly column back from Tuesday so I could offer my take later in the week on the European tech trade show IFA. That, in turn, may explain why I’m posting this so late: I still have to pack.

8/25/2014: Making Space for More Tech Firms in New York City, Urban Land

I combined old and new reporting to generate this piece on the real-estate market for New York-based startups. I dropped a letter out of one source’s last name; we’ve since corrected the mistake

8/26/2014: ‘Zero Rating’: The Pros and Cons of Free Online Access, Yahoo Tech

My thinking on this subject changed radically as I kept talking to people involved in this issue.

8/26/2014: A Recent History of Free ‘Zero Rated’ Online Access in the U.S., Yahoo Tech

This sidebar about domestic efforts by various companies to make mobile access to their services a no-surcharge proposition led me to an interesting, post-column chat with a CEO involved in this market.

Wirecutter wireless-carriers guide8/29/2014: The Best Wireless Carriers, The Wirecutter

I have been working on this project for months, meaning I’ve had the pleasure of redoing calculations of two-year costs at the major nationwide wireless carriers more than once, sometimes more than twice. I don’t know why nobody’s found a mathematical error in the piece yet. If you have a question about this lengthy piece, check the comments; I may have answered it already there.

8/31/2014:  How to check your Internet connection, USA Today 

This column topic has been locked inside “Break Glass In Case Of Journalistic Emergency” box for the last two years and change. A cramped schedule and Time Warner Cable’s system-wide outage led me to conclude that this week was the right time for a column about debugging an apparently faulty Internet account.