Weekly output: WWDC (x2), FlightCar, laptop shopping

This week’s worth of stories features a new client, which is a pleasant sort of feeling.

6/2/2014: Apple’s WWDC news, WTOP

I talked to the news station about Apple’s news from its developer conference and took a shot at the line that Apple is somehow stalling out in the market because it doesn’t use its public time for demos of products like self-driving cars that are years from shipping.

6/3/2014: How Apple Sees the Cloud: Not Like You Do, Yahoo Tech

You might have seen an earlier version of this post appear briefly on Yahoo’s site, courtesy of a miscommunication in editing. The version that showed up online later in the day benefited (I hope!) from another round or two of revision.

VentureBeat FlightCar review6/7/2014: Taking FlightCar for a SoCal spin: A smooth ride — mostly (review), VentureBeat

I rented somebody else’s Prius through FlightCar during a recent trip to southern California for a friend’s wedding. At the time, I thought that my using a “shared economy” service would at least qualify me to put the cost on my Schedule C as a research expense, but then I wound up selling a post on the experience to VentureBeat. They do good work there, and I’m glad they saw fit to publish mine.

On Sunday, FlightCar announced that if a renter had coverage denied by a credit-card issuer on the grounds that it’s not a standard rental-car agency, it would cover any damage expenses. The company also looked into my own rental and thinks that the phone-number mismatch I reported was due to a typo on my part. The e-mail confirmations that I received didn’t go into that level of detail, so if I did somehow mistype my area code I never would have known until showing up.

6/19: The travel-news site Skift reposted the story the day after it debuted, if you were yearning to read it in a different design.

6/8/2014: Buy or wait: When to pull the trigger on a new computer, USA Today

An old Post colleague e-mailed to ask what factors to consider when shopping for a new MacBook. That query led to this column, in which I note how the computer industry has progressed to the point that you don’t need to agonize so much over what kind of processor or how much storage is comes with.

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Weekly output: Web radio, Facebook privacy, Windows 7, Windows 8 backup

The good thing about driving home from Thanksgiving on a Monday is skipping the Sunday traffic. The bad thing about that strategy is giving yourself a four-day week when five days is the legal minimum to catch up on everything that got shoved aside in the previous week. And then I had to burn half a day on a solid-state-drive upgrade for a laptop that remains unfinished… but I’ll save the ugly details for later.

IRFA post11/26/2012: The Internet Radio Fairness Act, And Two Things I Hate About Copyfights, Disruptive Competition Project

It had been a few years since my last rant about the illogical and unfair royalties charged to Web radio outlets (as compared to satellite and, especially, FM and AM), so I was already due. Then a few weeks of seeing Pandora demonized in ads and Congressional testimony further set me off, resulting in this essay about the inanity of intellectual-property absolutism. Fortunately, I’m not the only one thinking such subversive thoughts.

11/28/2012: Facebook Privacy Changes Not as Bad as You Think, Discovery News

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, something else irked me: Yet another round of uninformed panic over a proposed change in Facebook’s terms of service, this time featuring Facebook users sharing copied-and-pasted gibberish asserting their rights under the nonexistent “Berner Convention.” I hope this post didn’t make me sound like an apologist for a company I don’t trust completely.

12/2/2012: Tip: You can still buy a Windows 7 PC, USA Today

A reader wrote in to ask about putting Windows XP on a Windows 8 computer, which my editor and I thought a bit out there. (Seriously, about XP: Let it die already.) But we did see sufficient interest in a piece about getting a new computer with Windows 7. The column wraps up with an item about Windows 8’s backup options, which are sufficiently complicated that I may have to revisit them at greater length later on.

Weekly output: Chromebook, newspapers and search engines, Amtrak, photo spheres, Google Calendar, Gmail

What’s not on this list? Any gift-guide pieces or reports about Black Friday sales. I can’t say I miss those two staples of Thanksgiving-week tech coverage… and yet I feel vaguely guilty about dodging them.

11/19/2012: Google’s cheaper Chromebook: enough of a computer, Boing Boing

Having this fall’s implementation by Samsung of Google’s Chromebook laptop concept priced for half of last summer’s made the results easier to like. But Samsung also gave this $249 model better battery life and faster performance, while Google contributed more offline-compatible Web apps. I’m tempted to pick up one to have as a backup computer, which was not the case a year ago.

11/19/2012: A Business Perspective on the Snippet Tax, Disruptive Competition Project

My second post for this tech-policy blog picked up where a 2009 rant over stupid newspaper publishers whining about news-search sites had left off. Now, it’s news organizations in other countries complaining that Google News and sites like it are taking away readers; I’m not any more persuaded by that logic three years later.

11/20/2012: Amtrak’s New App: Does It Actually Make Travel Easier?, The Atlantic Cities

I like trains, and I like smartphone apps that simplify my life a little. I wasn’t sure that Amtrak’s offering for iOS and Android would be worth keeping around, but after using it to book and manage a round-trip from D.C. to NYC, I see where the railroad is going with it.

On Wednesday, USA Today was kind enough to publish a condensed version of last weekend’s Q&A about adding a Start menu to Windows 8 in its print edition. That was the first time I’ve appeared in a newspaper of any kind since Roll Call ran a version of a post I did for the Consumer Electronics Association just over a year a ago , and my first spot in a general-interest paper since I logged off from the Post in April of 2011.

11/24/2012: Spherical Panoramas from a Phone, Discovery News

Writing about a feature confined to a new Android release that most users of Google’s operating system won’t see for months, or ever, seems unfair, but the 4.2 edition’s “photo sphere” option genuinely intrigued me. Alas, I initially neglected to note that the older iOS app Photosynth–from a Redmond, Wash.-based software developer called Microsoft you may have heard of–can also generate interactive spherical panoramas from a phone’s camera.

11/25/2012: How to sync your Google calendar with your iPad, USA Today

Credit for this Q&A item goes to my wife, who asked me about this problem on her iPad. Credit for the tip about a new Gmail search option goes to the Google Operating System blog, an old favorite of mine, which brought that change to my attention last week.

Weekly output: RapidShare, tech policy, e-mail privacy, Windows 8

There’s a new client in my list this week: a blog called the Disruptive Competition Project, set up this summer by the Computer & Communications Industry Association. (Back then, GigaOM and Techdirt separately noted its launch in the context of other attempts to connect the tech industry to Washington.) I’m going to be writing a couple of posts a week there about various aspects of tech policy through at least the end of the year.

11/13/2012: In Conversation: Daniel Raimer of RapidShare, Future of Music Summit

I’ve been going to and occasionally speaking at the Future of Music Coalition’s annual summits since their debut in 2001. This year, I got a chance to interview the chief legal officer of the Swiss data-locker service RapidShare–a company that has gotten a lot of heat for enabling copyright infringement but says it’s working to stop people from employing it for that purpose. I had to condense my questions after Raimer took too long with his PowerPoint, but I did hit the points I wanted in the time I had left (beginning at about 13:50 in the clip below).

11/13/2012: Patents, Broadband, Privacy: Now That The Election’s Over, Can We Talk About Tech Policy?, Disruptive Competition Project

Back in 2008, candidates Barack Obama and John McCain put together lengthy, detailed descriptions of their tech-policy goals; this year, Obama and Mitt Romney barely mentioned the subject. This has been bothering me all year (earlier this fall, I unsuccessfully pitched an article along these lines to a couple of sites); in this post, I tried to outline where the absence of a campaign conversation on tech policy leaves us in three key areas.

11/16/2012: How Your Secret E-Mail Can Give You Up, Discovery News

I wrote this in part because e-mail security has been catapulted into the headlines, courtesy of the Petraeus/Broadwell scandal, but also because I thought it was a good idea to remind people that no technology measure can stop the recipient of your message from doing whatever he or she wants with it, while also summing up other risks to your privacy in e-mail. But I should have spelled out how encrypting your e-mail won’t close most of these vulnerabilities (even if most people can’t be bothered to try that).

11/17/2012: How to add a Start menu to Windows 8, USA Today

This is the first Windows-centric piece I’ve written for USAT in a while. It leads off with advice about ways Windows 8 users can either replicate the program-launching functions of the Start menu or outright restore that feature (for what it’s worth, I will see if I can get by with filling out the taskbar with shortcuts to programs), then wraps up with a tip about Win 8’s helpful system-refresh and reset tools.

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: iPad mini (x), Windows 8 (x2), Lightning cable, OS X updates

Was there any surprise about which two stories would dominate my time this week?

10/23/2012: New iPad Mini Eats Steve Jobs’ Words, Discovery News

My reaction to Apple’s announcement of a smaller iPad had to remind readers of Steve Jobs’ lengthy explanation two years ago of the functional impossibility of a quality tablet experience on a screen smaller than 10 inches.

10/23/2012: Apple’s iPad Mini much pricier than rival tablets, Fox 5 News

That evening, the folks at the local Fox station had me on to talk about the iPad mini. Our conversation focused on the gap between its $329 starting price and the $199 cost of two smaller tablets, Google’s Nexus 7 and Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD. I left out the iPad mini’s lack of a Retina display, but then again I’m not sure I’ll notice that when using the thing. (I’ll find out soon enough, as I pre-ordered one on Friday; if I don’t like it enough to keep after writing up my reviews, Apple doesn’t charge a restocking fee.)

On Wednesday the 24th, I moderated a good panel discussion with Potomac Tech Wire’s Paul Sherman, the Washington Business Journal’s Bill Flook and the Washington Post’s Steven Overly about how tech reporters interact with public-relations types. But there’s no record of this event, hosted by the PR agency Environics Communications, besides a round of tweets.

10/25/2012: Windows 8 release, Fox 5 News

Two days later I was back in WTTG’s newsroom–even standing on the same marker tape on the floor–to talk about the impending arrival of Microsoft’s Windows 8. I spent most of this brief hit talking about its new, wildly different interface and didn’t even mention Windows RT and the Surface tablet. Considering that Microsoft has papered the Gallery Place Metro station with ads for Surface, that might not have been the best call.

10/27/2012: Windows 8: Twice The Interface, Third The Price, Discovery News

This review was supposed to run on Friday, but a miserable all-nighter of an installation experience ensured I’d need more time. I’m glad I took it; the insight that Windows 8’s new Start-screen user interface could be seen as a descendant of such simplified, media-playback front ends as Microsoft’s Media Center and Apple’s Front Row didn’t come to me until Saturday morning.

10/28/2012: Apple’s Lightning cable: Making the switch, USA Today

This is my attempt at summing up the long-term complications of Apple’s switch to a smaller cable for its mobile devices. Anybody want to bet how long it will be before cars that today ship with dock-connector cables will leave factories with Lightning cables instead? The column wraps up with a reminder about how you can repair a botched OS X patch installation by downloading a large “combo update” from Apple’s site.

To all reading this along the Northeast Corridor: Stay safe, stay dry, and I’ll see you on the other side.

How to test laptop battery life in your sleep

The most boring task I have as a gadget reviewer is testing battery life. First I tediously configure a phone, tablet or laptop to run a few Internet-connected apps and keep its screen on instead of dimming automatically. (To Android vendors who remove that option from Google’s Settings app: Try tapping a mobile device’s screen every 10 minutes for six hours straight, you jerks.) Then I have to sit there until the gadget in question throws up its hands, electronically speaking, and powers down or enters a last-ditch sleep mode.

But on most laptops, I can stop paying attention once I unplug them. That’s because Windows and Mac OS X each automatically log all system events, including low-battery sleep, and make that data reasonably accessible to the user.

In Windows 7 and 8, open the Control Panel and search for “event log,” then click the “View event logs” link. In that app, click the “Windows Logs” category at the left, then its “System” listing. In a second or two, the center of that window will fill with entries.

Click there, hit Ctrl-F to open a search window, and type “Kernel-Power.” Click the search dialog’s “Find Next” button until you spot an entry whose description reads “The system is entering sleep. Sleep Reason: Battery.” That time is when the battery ran out.

On a Mac, the menu bar will show the last time the computer was on for a few seconds  after you power it on again. After that, the following routine applies.

Hit the Apple-icon menu, select “About This Mac” and, in that About window, click its “More Info…” button; in the next window that opens, click “System Report…” That will open the System Information app (formerly known as Apple System Profiler, also available in the Applications folder’s Utilities sub-folder). In its left-hand column, scroll down to the “Software” heading and select “Logs”; from the list that will present in the app’s top-right pane, select “Power Management logs.”

Click in the the pane below that heading, hit Cmd-F and search for “low power sleep”; you should see an entry including that phrase, preceded by a timestamp and followed by a note in parentheses that the battery was at “Charge:0%”

(I don’t expect many of you will need to employ this knowledge. But at least I won’t have to research this stuff all over again the next time I test a laptop.)

Weekly output: Mobile patents, Facebook, Tech Night Owl, Twitter fakes, Facebook again

This list below shows me spending more time talking about my job than actually doing it, which isn’t really something to brag about. But I also filed one short piece for print that will hopefully pass muster with the editors involved. And if I hadn’t run into some technical issues trying out a new app, I would have had a post for Discovery here as well.

10/16/2012: Will $Billions in Patent Lawsuits Kill Smartphone and Tablet Innovation?, Advisory Committee to the Congressional Internet Caucus

I discussed the smartphone-patent situation with lawyer and activist Marvin Ammori, American University law professor Jorge Contreras and George Mason University law professor Adam Mossoff, with Internet Caucus legal policy fellow Eric Hinkes moderating. InfoWorld’s Grant Gross wrote up the event and was kind enough to let a quote from me serve as the last word.

10/18/2012: Is Facebook Losing Its Cool?, Mid-Atlantic Marketing Summit

That link only points to an agenda page, not a recording or report of this panel I moderated at a marketing conference in Baltimore. But I assure you that we–meaning me, Mitch Arnowitz of Tuvel Communications, SocialCode’s Cary Lawrence, Kari Mitchell of HZDG and marketing guru Geoff Livingston–had a great discussion about the changing engagement of Facebook’s audience and how that differs from the crowd you might draw at Twitter, Pinterest or some other social network.

10/20/2012: October 20, 2012 — Rob Pegoraro and Joe Wilcox, Tech Night Owl Live

Once again, I was a guest on Gene Steinberg’s tech-news podcast–this time, with BetaNews editor Joe Wilcox. I talked about satellite Internet access and broadband access in general, the almost-guaranteed arrival of an iPad mini this week and Windows 8’s potential fit with consumers.

10/21/2012: Don’t get fooled by fake Twitter accounts, USA Today

In this week’s column, I ticked off a few ways to spot a phony or parody Twitter account, from the lack of a blue “verified” checkmark to a sneaky use of the number “1” in place of a lowercase “l” in a handle. Then I share a tip about inspecting how often and in what ways you’ve interacted with Facebook friends on that social network.

How Windows (may have) killed my laptop

Little-known fact about me: For the past two weeks or so, I haven’t been able to use the ThinkPad I bought last summer. Here’s what happened, in 10 painful steps.

1. Months after successfully installing the Customer Preview of Windows 8 in a separate partition of my  ThinkPad X120E (and somewhat regretting that it required me to wipe out Lenovo’s recovery partition), I finally got around to trying to install the Win 8 Release Preview Microsoft shipped at the end of May.   At the tail end of a seemingly-nominal installation, the Release Preview installer, it got stuck at the “Finalizing your settings” screen. After waiting a few hours, I forced the machine to shut down and got a prompt at startup saying that Windows would undo the RP installation and return me to CP.

2. Because I am an idiot, and because I was getting fed up with some networking problems in Win 8 CP, I decided I’d try installing Release Preview again the night before I was heading out to San Francisco to cover Google’s I/O conference. Once again, the installer couldn’t get past “Finalizing your settings”–which is a funny place for Win 8 RP to halt, since it doesn’t preserve any of your settings in the first place.

3. Because I’m an idiot, I then tried wiping the Win 8 partition and doing a clean installation. The results were much worse:

4. After yet another restart that night–which by now counted as “early morning,” I got as far as the setup screens where Windows 8 asks you to set a live.com user account. It said mine was already in use on the machine. Trying different usernames only resulted in yet another stall

5. With no Win 8 system available and less than six hours remaining before my 8 a.m. departure from National Airport, I gave up, reverted to Windows 7, and resented its slower performance all week long.

6. Back home, I took yet another stab at installing Win 8 RP in early July. I got the same failure: a bogus report that somebody else was trying to use my Windows Live account on the system. (By then, I had gotten a few sympathetic e-mails from a Microsoft publicist promising help from people on the Windows team, but I never got more than an initial, friendly “what can I do to help?” response from them.)

7. For reasons I don’t remember precisely, I elected to switch back to Windows 7, saw that the system had a round of updates to install, and thought I’d proceed with them. Bad idea: The installation failed, leaving the computer unbootable in two different versions of Windows.

8. Successive attempts to use the disk-repair tools in Windows 7 failed; a Lenovo troubleshooting utility came up, complained that it needed me to log in, and demanded a reboot with an “Okay” button. No, it’s not okay. The disk-repair tools on the Win 8 installer’s flash drive didn’t do any better.

9. Because I’m not a complete idiot, I had a complete drive-image backup of my pre-Win 8 system (plus incremental backups from mid-July). But I can’t recover it: The Win 8 installer flash drive said it couldn’t restore a 32-bit disk image–even though there’s nothing bit-specific about that job. (Sometimes I think the only way the 32- and 64-bit editions of Windows could get along worse is if Microsoft farmed out the development of each to the Israeli Defense Forces and the PLO.) Edit, 2:43 p.m. And as of this morning, booting up the laptop yields the results you see in the photo above.

10. A 32-bit version of the Windows 8 Release Preview installer then said it couldn’t restore an image from an earlier version of Windows. So now I need to generate a Windows recovery-tools flash drive from a 32-bit version of Windows 7. And thanks to Microsoft’s unwillingness to offer a download of that program, this job apparently either requires a machine with CD or DVD burner or a painful amount of monkeying around with DOS commands.

But things could be worse. Wired writer Mat Honan, one of the smarter observers of technology around and one of the more decent human beings on the Internet, had somebody break into his iCloud account and use its remote-wipe feature to nuke his MacBook Air, iPad and iPhone–while also laying waste to his Twitter and Google accounts. So I’m not going to whine too much about this self-inflicted wound. Besides, I can always install Linux on the machine.

Epilogue, 10/21: In case anybody was wondering how this turned out, I was able to generate a USB-based, 32-bit Windows 7 system-repair volume using Into Windows’ directions. My only hangups involved having to disable Parallels Desktop from sharing USB volumes with OS X, followed by the exceptionally long time it took to format this USB flash disk in NTFS from the command line. Things worked as advertised otherwise, and I once again have a working Windows laptop–ready for me to try out Windows 8 once again when it ships next week.

 

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.