Weekly output: Facebook and Twitter transparency (x2), cord cutting, TV technology, Google Calendar and Microsoft Outlook

This week was looking super-productive until I had two fillings replaced during Wednesday’s visit to the dentist–and then the anesthetic and what looks like an adverse reaction to it had me out of commission for most of the rest of the day.

8/19/2014: Facebook, Twitter, and What a Social Network Owes Its Members, Yahoo Tech

This column followed up on extensive complaints about a perceived lack of visibility of news from Ferguson, Mo., on Facebook by suggesting how much Facebook and Twitter had to learn about being more transparent and accountable in how they filter and display information. The very day it ran, Twitter changed how it presents tweets to include those that had only been favorited by people you follow, plus others that it might deem interesting. And the sole announcement of this major shift was a revised tech-support note–not a blog post, not a tweet. Very funny, Twitter.

8/19/2014: How to Turn Off Facebook’s Algorithm … Temporarily, Yahoo Tech

This sidebar outlines a few ways to opt out of algorithmic filtering on Facebook and Twitter. With Twitter’s shift Tuesday, the post already looks out of date.

NowU cord-cutting post8/19/2014: How to untie yourself from cable TV, NowU

This long explainer is only about the 10th or 15th piece I’ve written about cord cutting, but it also benefits from a lot more experience with getting TV only via an antenna and various Internet sites, services and apps.

8/19/2014: The big picture: Choosing your next TV, NowU

The tl;dr version of this companion piece: Don’t worry too much, most TV sets are pretty good these days.

8/21/2014: Facebook and Twitter, Alice’s Coffee House With Johnny Molson

Listeners in the Springfield, Ill., market got to hear me talk about the transparency of these two social networks on Thursday morning with host Johnny Molson.

8/24/2014: How to get Google Calendar, Outlook to sync up, USA Today

This column–at least the third I’ve written about the changing state of sync between Google Calendar and third-party calendar apps–started with a message a reader sent to my Facebook page. See, I actually do read that stuff!

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Weekly output: Nokia Lumia 520, Pierre Omidyar and news, Demo (x2), MyTechHelp, @MicrosoftHelps and user groups

In an alternate universe, the two posts I filed from the Demo conference in Santa Clara would have been replaced by one or more from the Online News Association’s annual conference in Atlanta. If only the two events had not been scheduled right on top of each other

Nokia Lumia 520 review10/16/2013: Nokia Lumia 520 (AT&T), PCMag.com

I first checked out this phone at Mobile World Congress in February and thought the world could use more budget-priced smartphones. The $99.99 price does entail some compromises–like no front camera, and no flash on the back camera–but as a starter smartphone it seems fine.

10/17/2013: So Nice To See People With Money Regard Journalism As Not Doomed, Disruptive Competition Project

I wrote a quick reaction to the news that eBay founder Pierre Omidyar plans to invest $250 million in a full-spectrum news startup, which I see as something materially different from the splashy funding rounds that a few more specialized news sites have  racked up lately.

10/18/2013: Heads-Up Helmet, Rolling Camera Are an Eyeful, Discovery News

My first report from the Demo conference focused on the more interesting, sci-fi-esque gadgets and apps introduced there. The post has received about 1,400 Facebook likes so far–and I don’t know why, since it didn’t pick up any at my Facebook page and didn’t get a mention at Discovery’s.

10/18/2013: DEMO Debuts Plumb Privacy Frontiers, Disruptive Competition Project

Here, I looked at the privacy propositions of several apps and services launched at Demo, most of which will probably get labeled by some, fairly or not, as “creepy.” Look for an update to this post correcting a mistake I made: contrary to what People+’s demo suggested, this Google Glass app does not do facial recognition.

10/20/2013: Tip: Be cautious when calling ‘tech support’, USA Today

I got an e-mail from a longtime Post reader reporting a horrible tech-support experience at a company that had led him to believe he’d been talking to Apple. That sounded odd, but the story quickly checked out.

On Sulia, I posted several reports from Demo (for instance, Bounce Imaging’s Imperial interrogation droid camera- and sensor-stuffed ball, EmoVu’s emotion-detecting webcam system, HueTunes’ synesthetic software, and Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman’s onstage interview), reviewed my initial, glitchy experience with United’s inflight WiFi; correctly predicted that coverage of Facebook’s new privacy policy for teens would focus on its option of public posting instead of its increase in teens’ default privacy; and reported on my introduction to Windows 8.1 on my ThinkPad.

Weekly output: app stores, NEC Terrain, HTC 8XT, ride-sharing, cable modems, guest WiFi

I spent three days in a row working outside of my home without actually leaving town, courtesy of the Usenix Security Symposium taking place in Washington. That was a little confusing.

8/13/2013: Mobile App Certification, IDG Enterprise

Another enterprise-focused Twitter chat I helped host. This week’s looked at company-specific app stores and other ways a business might try to regulate what mobile software runs on its network.

PCMag NEC Terrain review

8/15/2013: NEC Terrain (AT&T), PCMag.com

My first review for this new client covered NEC’s ruggedized Android phone, one of the last acts of a company leaving the smartphone business. I appreciated its sturdiness, but not its tiny screen or the high odds of future Android apps not running on the Terrain.

8/16/2013: HTC 8XT (Sprint), PCMag.com

My second covered a successor of sorts to a Windows Phone device I tried out earlier this year but wound up not reviewing for anybody. I can’t say the 8XT represents an upgrade over the 8X.

8/16/2013: Ride-Sharing Revs Up Around D.C., And Regulators May Not Even Freak Out Over It, Disruptive Competition Project

I returned to a topic I covered this spring–car- and ride-sharing services that can make private auto ownership more efficient by making private auto use more widely distributed–to note what seems to be a change in attitude among regulatory agencies in the District and elsewhere.

8/18/2013: Should you buy your own cable modem?, USA Today

This Q&A item about Time Warner Cable’s recent increase in its modem rental fee has really blown up–it’s picked up more comments than, maybe, anything I’ve written for USAT. There’s also a tip at the end about setting up a guest WiFi network and, should you desire, naming it “openwireless.org” to make it clear to passerby that they’re welcome to use it.

At Sulia, I relayed an avid D-SLR photographer’s assessment of the Nokia 1020, complained about “captive portal” WiFi networks that have names generic enough for my phone to have remembered them from other sites, noted a couple of presentations from the Usenix conference (one on a study of the effectiveness of browser-security warnings, another on Windows 8’s security upgrades), and shared reader feedback over the cable-modem item.

Updated 8/24 to add the IDG Twitter chat I’d left out. And updated again 9/29 with a better link to that.

Old reviewer learns new review tricks

I wrote about a couple of new smartphones earlier this week. That’s not an unusual development, but the client–PCMag.com–was new. And so were the review guidelines by which I wrote my assessments of the AT&T Terrain and the HTC 8XT.

PCmag logoFor that matter, having review guidelines at all was different. For all the other gadget writeups I’ve done lately, I’ve had the latitude to make up my own criteria. So I elected to test battery life by playing Web radio instead of placing phone calls, write a lot about picture quality but not much about a phone’s video output, and spend little time discussing how voice calls sound.

The risk in that scenario is that I wind up writing reviews optimized for one reader: me.

At PCMag.com, however, they’ve been doing this for a while and have their own ideas about what readers need to know. As you can see in those two writeups–the first of which I expect will be a few posts a month there–they include things like observing call quality in indoor and outdoor settings, running a traditional talk-time test, recording video clips from both the front and back cameras and running benchmark tests to get a sense of the phone’s overall rank.

After I filed each review, my editors there had further questions: How was call quality over the speakerphone? What sort of frame rates did you get in your video clips? Does the touchscreen work with gloves on?

It was more detail work than I’m used to, but it helped me a spot a few issues I wouldn’t have noticed doing things my way. (For instance, the Terrain couldn’t connect to 5 GHz WiFi.) And now I’ve learned a few more things to watch for when inspecting phones–and that I haven’t finished learning how to evaluate technology.

(On a personal note. PC Magazine was the computing publication my dad subscribed to from the mid-’80s on, and therefore the one I read through high school. It’s neat to see my name on its site.)

Weekly output: e-mail privacy, 3-D printing, TV antennas, smartphone competition, sports networks, bargaining over TV bills

It’s not a total coincidence that I wrote as much about TV as I did in the week running up to one of the biggest televised events of the year.

1/28/2013: Why Can’t Web Services Compete To Protect My Data From The Feds?, Disruptive Competition Project

Reporting this one made me feel a little dumb when I realized that I could have had a nice little scoop weeks or months earlier if I’d just asked Google, Microsoft and Yahoo what they require before turning over a user’s e-mail data to the government. It turns out that all three go beyond the strict requirements of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act in requiring a warrant–but that none seemed to think this was something worth bragging about.

1/29/2013: Hold Your Fire Before Freaking Out Over 3-D Printed Guns, Disruptive Competition Project

I started writing this post in December, then decided I didn’t like the last third of it and set it aside. I finally picked it up again after CES. Somewhat to my surprise, it only got one “you want to ban all guns” reply.

Discovery TV antennas review1/30/2013: Two Flat, Stick-On Antennas Tune In Free TV, Discovery News

I revisited the subject of over-the-air TV for the first time in over a year to review a couple of flat, lightweight antennas. Somewhat to my surprise, they worked better than the old set of rabbit ears I had plugged into the set downstairs (and unlike that antenna, I could put each one high enough on the wall to avoid becoming a plaything for our toddler). So I bought one of these models, the Mohu, and am now trying to figure out exactly where on the wall it will get the best reception of the three trickier network affiliates: ABC’s WJLA, CBS’s WUSA and PBS’s WETA.

2/1/2013: Will A Two-Party System Adequately Represent Smartphone Users?, Disruptive Competition Project

BlackBerry has a new operating system, but will it do any better than Microsoft’s Windows Phone? (I’ve been testing Windows Phone 8 on an HTC 8X; there are things I like about it, but the app selection really holds it back.) In this post, I express the possibly-futile hope that either BlackBerry or Microsoft can become a viable alternative to the increasingly entrenched duo of Apple and Google.

2/3/2013: How sports networks inflate your TV bill, USA Today

One of the people on my neighborhood’s mailing list asked about a new fee that Verizon was going to put on her bill to cover regional sports networks. I told her I’d see what else I could find out. The column also includes a reminder that TV rate hikes can, at least sometimes, be negotiable if your service thinks you’ll leave.

Sulia highlights this week included two more rants about the TV business–one on Verizon’s extortionate CableCard rate hike and another about the stupidity of making some Hulu content “Web-only”–and a post noting that the “Apple tax” is real when you look at what it costs to get more storage on an iPad.

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