CES 2014 journalism-tech report

For once, I made it through a CES without my phone dying. But it was close: Wednesday night, I arrived at a party with my phone showing 2 percent of a charge left. One of the hosts asked if I wanted a drink, and I replied that I could use an outlet first.

Phone battery charging

America’s annual gadget gathering is an unfriendly environment for gadgets. Too many people using too many phones, tablets and laptops result in jammed airwaves and a severe power shortage.

And this year, I gambled a little by not bringing any a spare review phone or two for backup. Plugging in my Nexus 4 every time I was sitting down helped the phone survive the show. But I also think I tweeted less than last year and didn’t take as many pictures as I expected (including only one panorama and no “photo spheres”).

I should have packed an external phone charger–my MacBook Air, unlike the ThinkPad I brought to CES in 2012, can’t charge a phone when closed and asleep in my bag, and it’s not that fast at replenishing my phone when awake. (On the other hand, the ThinkPad doesn’t have a backlit keyboard, making it far inferior to the MacBook for keynote note-taking.) I also should have remembered to pack my travel power strip, which I sorely missed on press-conference day but survived without the rest of the trip.

WiFi was not quite as reliable as last year, but it did suffice in the only places Ethernet was a viable option–meaning I never used the MacBook’s USB-to-Ethernet adapter.

The Canon 330 HS camera I’d picked up at a low, low sale price on the Wirecutter’s advice worked out better than I’d expected (see my Flickr set from CES to judge for yourself). I never even had to recharge the battery, and it was compact enough to leave in a jacket pocket full-time.

But after I couldn’t get the Canon’s WiFi linked to my phone–the upcoming 340 HS that I saw at CES should ease that by automating the pairing process with NFC wireless–I was stuck geotagging and uploading photos on a computer, same as ever.

That communication breakdown also cost me the chance to have the phone fix the incorrect date I’d set on the camera. Yes, I was the guy still writing “2013” on his photos, something I only noticed when I couldn’t find them at the end of my iPhoto library. Everybody point and laugh now… because I’m totally sure this mistake will have been engineered out of possibility by the time I pack for CES 2015.

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Weekly output: online banking

A week split in half by a national holiday means I don’t have much to show for my work this time around. Don’t expect much over the coming week either–although I will be working on stories you’ll see later.

USAT online-banking column12/29/2013: Tip: How to bank safely online at home, USA Today

A reader asked one of those questions that seemed simple but unfolded to reveal enough other wrinkles to make for an interesting column to write. This post also gave me a chance to scold the big banks for not embracing two-step verification.

On Sulia, I shared details about two episodes of holiday tech support (one involving Time Machine’s inexplicable failure to clear old backups, another an aging AirPort’s apparent breakdown), pointed readers to a wonderful NASA recreation of Apollo 8’s unlikely “Earthrise” photo, panned Dave Eggers’ dystopian novel “The Circle” as “Atlas Shrugged” 2.0, and wrote up my first impressions of my in-laws’ Fiat 500e electric car.

Four further Windows 8 issues

It’s now more than half a month since I reviewed Windows 8, and close to three weeks since I installed the shipping version of Microsoft’s newest PC operating system on my ThinkPad.

I’m still wrapping my head around how much time I’ll spend in its new interface (FYI, this weekend’s USA Today column covers ways to bring back a Start menu), but I’m also dealing with some smaller-scale issues. If you’ve got insight on how to fix them, please share it in a comment.

  • I’m hoping this is just my laptop, but WiFi looks outright broken. It keeps losing a working IP address, then won’t fix it on its own; I have to disconnect and reconnect manually. The problem can’t be my router (the Wirecutter-endorsed Asus RT-N66u), since no other device in my home exhibits this behavior.
  • The new Calendar app doesn’t seem capable of displaying anything but a default Google calendar account. That renders it useless to detail freaks like me who set up separate work and home calendars. I’d like to find a solution simpler than (I’m not making this up) impersonating an iPhone.
  • The desktop’s right-click “Send To” menu lists an option to send a document via fax–even though my laptop, like almost all sold now, doesn’t have a modem. (I hope the remedy I outlined in 2008 still works to remove that line.) The same menu doesn’t offer the Bluetooth file transfer that this ThinkPad does support, and which did appear in the Send To menu in Windows 7.
  • Is there really no way to have Windows set the time zone by the computer’s location? I’m tired of realizing I’ve had a computer stuck in Pacific time for days after I got home, even as OS X has been figuring out time zones more or less automatically since 2009.

 

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: WiFi, Mac or PC, Web chat, QAM, HD or SD

I did not review a single product or service this week. Don’t worry; that streak won’t last long.

4/10/2012: Passpoint: A Recipe for Wider Wi-Fi, CEA Digital Dialogue

I got a little wonky with this post explaining a new standard for automatic WiFi roaming–first for smartphones, later for other devices. The idea behind WiFi Certified Passpoint (also referred to by the names of related efforts, Hotspot 2.0 or Next Generation Hotspot) is to ensure that people can stay online when the cellular airwaves get crowded. I got an example of the need for such a thing when I couldn’t upload a photo to Twitter from the Washington Nationals’ home opener.

4/12/2012: We’re All Macs And PCs (Unless We’re iPhones), Discovery News

My editors at Discovery asked if I’d be interested in writing an essay on the fading Mac-PC divide, and I said that sounded like a good topic–especially coming after a week that had seen Apple hit with an antitrust suit and the Mac get hit with a massive malware attack. I enjoyed writing this piece, although I’m a little puzzled that it didn’t draw any comments beyond a reader e-mail calling the piece “misleading, incorrect, and mischievous” (the writer has not responded to my request for specific examples of same).

I also enjoyed coming up with the no-Photoshop-involved illustration you see on the post. To take that photo, I held a Kindle Fire with its browser open to the Windows 7 logo in just the right spot to have that Microsoft graphic reflected in the Apple logo below an iMac’s screen–while holding a camera in the other hand.

4/13/2012: The Widening Wireless World (Web chat), CEA Digital Dialogue

My monthly Web chat covered a variety of mobile and wireless topics and a few related to desktop and laptop computing: LTE and WiMax 4G, WiFi roaming, USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt ports and–of course!–the possible timing of the next iPhone.

4/15/2012: Do you need a box for digital cable? USA Today

This column started out with a Twitter inquiry from a Comcast subscriber outside of Charlottesville, Va., about tuning into just local channels without a box–a subject I’d covered at length for CEA a couple of months back. (Look, synergy!) The rest of the column outlines which cable and satellite providers offer ways to avoid watching the SD versions of channels you pay to watch in HD. (Speaking of synergy, from now on I’m going to try to have some thread connecting the Q&A part of each column with the tip.)

Weekly output: CES, CES and more CES (plus WiFi speed and BlackBerry woes)

What a long, strange week it’s been. CES accounted for the vast amount of my work since last Saturday–not to mention what must have been several thousand words’ worth of tweets–but this list does include one token item that has nothing to do with the electronics show.

1/8/2012: Tip: Simplify your Wi-Fi to speed it up, USA Today

I wrote this after troubleshooting my mom’s router over Thanksgiving–hers was set in Verizon’s default configuration of mixed-mode 802.11b and 802.11g support, and we saw notably better performance downstairs after switching it to “g” only. The rest of the piece rates Research In Motion’s chances: I rated them as dismal but not impossible, which enraged a few BlackBerry readers who took to the comments to say how much they loved their PlayBook tablets.

1/10/2012: Lessons from 15 years of change at CES, CEA Digital Dialogue

At the start of my 15th CES, I devoted this week’s post on their blog to how I’ve seen the show change and what those shifts mean for the electronics industry in general. After I’d filed it, though, I realized that I could have written a more distinctive show-opening column by grading the analysis I’d written of the last two shows. (For one thing, I was too optimistic about Android tablets after CES 2011.) Can you all remind me about that next January?

1/13/2012: Displays Get Bigger, Thinner and More Costly, Discovery News

My state-of-the-show piece for Discovery looked at changes I saw afoot at CES across five categories of screens: TVs, computers, tablets, phones and–oh, yes–watches. It closes with a jab at the single biggest problem in the electronics industry, one that’s always more painful at CES: inadequate battery life in portable gadgets.

1/13/2012: Mediatwits #33: CES Jumped the Shark?; SOPA Battles; Google+ in Search, PBS MediaShift

The hosts of PBS’s Mediatwits program, Mark Glaser and Rafat Ali, interviewed me and Techdirt’s Mike Masnick about our takes on CES, the Stop Online Piracy Act and CES attendees’ dislike of it, and the general history of tension between the entertainment and electronics histories. Mike and I are on from about the five-minute mark to 23 minutes in.

1/13/2012: Top Strange And Impractical Tech From CES 2012, Discovery News

The headline on this slide show might be a little unfair; while OLED TV sets may not be anything more than technology for the 1 percent and overinflated phones like Samsung’s Galaxy Note just look ridiculous, I could see myself buying an Ultrabook and am certainly interested in trying cameras that do better at teaming up with phones over WiFi. Plus, isn’t the robot on the last page cute? To iOS and most Android users reading this, who can’t see the Flash presentation of this gallery on Discovery’s site: my apologies.