Weekly output: Tom Wheeler’s farewell speech, DirecTV boxes and apps

I tried to take Monday off and only partially succeeded, then got knocked down for most of the next three days by a completely-unsurprising CES cold. That event isn’t just a trade show, it’s a massively-multiplayer biological-warfare experiment.

On the upside, I managed to edit and caption enough of my CES photos to get a Flickr album started.

Screenshot of Yahoo Finance post on Tom Wheeler's farewell speech1/13/2017: Outgoing FCC chair: Don’t go backward on net neutrality, Yahoo Finance

I finally emerged from my home Friday morning to bikeshare over to Dupont and see Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler’s final address. The reporting challenge here was figuring out which sources Wheeler had cited without naming in his defense of net-neutrality regulations–one of which turned out to make a weak case for or against those open-Internet rules.

1/15/2017: No direct way to duck DirecTV’s box rental fee, USA Today

The reader e-mail I got right before CES addressed a topic I’d covered not even a year ago, but since then a Wheeler initiative to require subscription-TV providers to ship no-fee apps to watch their programming has died on the vine. And a pay-TV proposal (yes, signed on by DirecTV) to do much the same on a voluntary basis has yet to result in shipping apps. In DirecTV’s case, it hasn’t even yielded updates to add AirPlay or Chromecast video output to the AT&T-owned service’s existing apps.

CES 2017 travel-tech report: My devices are showing their age

 

I took the same laptop to CES for the fifth year in a row, which is not the sort of thing you should admit at CES. I’m blaming Apple for that, in the form of its failure to ship an affordable update to the MacBook Air, but 2016’s Windows laptops also failed to close the deal.

My mid-2012 MacBook Air did not punish my hubris by dying halfway through the show and instead was content to remind me of its battery’s age by running down rapidly once past 25 percent of a charge. Seeing a “Service Battery” alert last fall had me thinking of getting the battery replaced beforehand, but my local Apple Store’s diagnostic check reported that I could hold off on that for a little longer.

2017-ces-gearWhen I had to recharge my MacBook, nearby attendees could also guess its age from the black electrical tape I had to apply to its power cord to cover a frayed area–yes, this is the power adapter I bought not even two years ago. In any darkened room, they might have also noticed the glow coming my from my laptop’s N key, on which the backlight shines through now that this key’s black coating has begun to rub off.

My Nexus 5X Android phone, my other note-taking device, kept bogging down as I was switching from app to app. If I could upgrade the RAM on this thing, I could–but, oops, I can’t. Its camera, however, once again did well for most shots, and T-Mobile’s LTE held up up except for press-conference day at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.

WiFi was once again atrocious. I’m not surprised by this, only that the Consumer Technology Association tolerated this kind of crap connectivity at its most important event.

Two hardware items I know I can and should easily replace before next year’s CES are the USB charger I took for my phone and my travel power strip.

The remarkably compact charger that came with my wife’s old Palm Pixi almost 10 years ago still functions as designed, but it doesn’t charge my phone fast enough. I only took that item to Vegas because I lost the charger that came with my Nexus 5X (yes, the one I almost misplaced last year at CES) at Google I/O. I should have packed my iPad mini’s charger, which replenishes my phone much faster, but I won’t mind buying a cheap, fast-charging, two-port USB charger. Any endorsements?

My travel power strip also charges USB devices slowly, but the bigger problem is this Belkin accessory’s relative bulk. The Wirecutter now recommends a more compact Accell model; remind me to get that sometime soon.

I’d written last year that I probably wouldn’t take my aging Canon 330 HS point-and-shoot for another CES, but I did anyway. I experienced my usual wishes for better low-light performance and the ability to touch the screen to tell the camera where to focus, but this camera’s lens cover also no longer closes without me nudging its plastic petals into place.

I should have spent more time at CES checking out replacements, but I only had time to verify that the Canon pocket-sized model that looked most appealing doesn’t take panoramic photos.

I’d like to think that I’ll address all of these hardware issues well before next year’s CES. I’d also like to think that by then, I will always remember to note a CES event’s location in its calendar entry.

Weekly output: CES (x4), freemium apps, Faraday Future, cybersecurity, TV technology, drones, personal-data business models, Mobile Apps Showdown, battery and bandwidth advice

I wrapped up the tech-journalism hell week that is CES with a red-eye flight out of Vegas last night, as if I wasn’t tired enough after writing close to 6,000 words of copy and doing two panels, one radio interview and one on-stage intro. So if you’re hoping for typo-free prose, this may not be the post for you.

1/3/2017: The biggest busts from the world’s most renowned gadget show, Yahoo Finance

I enjoyed writing this reality-check post about past flops at CES–some of which I thought at the time could fly.

1/3/2017: Can you put a price on ‘freemium’ apps?, USA Today

You may have seen my column on alternatives to paying Evernote and iCloud appear a few days earlier in a personal-finance section that I’m told ran in some Gannett newspapers.

1/3/2017: What to expect this week at CES, the world’s biggest gadget show, Yahoo Finance

This was the second post I filed on Monday–you know, the day that was supposed to be a holiday.

1/4/2017: Faraday Future’s FF 91: Electric speed at a vaporous price

I attended the unveiling of this self-driving, electric-powertrain supercar Tuesday night and did not find the overhyped “reformat the future” sales pitch super-persuasive.

1/4/2017: Tech trends at CES, WTOP

I talked with WTOP’s Shawn Anderson and Hillary Howard about early headlines from the show. We usually do these interviews over Skype, but bandwidth was so bad that they had to call my phone.

ces-2017-cybersecurity-panel1/5/2017: The Escalating War on Cybersecurity, CES

I talked about the changing landscape of cybersecurity with Blackberry chief security officer David Kleidermacher, HackerOne CTO Alex Rice, and Qualcomm senior director of product management Sy Choudhury. One big takeaway of our discussion: Companies and organizations that don’t want to talk about their security misfortunes aren’t the ones you want to trust.

1/6/2017: CES 2017: The top trends in new TVs, Yahoo Finance

This piece ran over a thousand words in my first draft, which is not an optimal writing strategy when you have a CES-dense schedule.

1/6/2017: Selfie drones and more fly into CES 2017, Yahoo Finance

I finished and filed this from a chair near an entrance to the Venetian at around 6:30 Friday night, which is not generally part of people’s weekend activities in Vegas.

1/7/2017: Business Models in the Personal Data Economy, Mobile Ecosystem Forum

I inflicted some dead air on the organizers when I forgot that they’d moved up my introduction of this panel by 15 minutes. After that awkward start, I had a good conversation about ways customers can become empowered custodians of their own data with executives at companies trying to make that happen: digi.me founder Julian Ranger, MatchUpBox CEO Didier Collin de Casaubon, Meeco founder Katryna Dow, and Universal Music CTO Ty Roberts.

mobile-apps-showdown1/7/2017: Mobile Apps Showdown, Living in Digital Times

I helped judge this competition (irreverently emceed by my Yahoo colleague David Pogue), then jumped on stage to introduce the app I’d evaluated, Intel Security’s True Key. My summary of its use case: “You all suck at passwords.”

1/8/2017: How to stay online in impossible circumstances, USA Today

My editor suggested I use my column to share lessons learned from CES about preserving  the battery life and connectivity of mobile devices in phone-hostile environments like the gadget show. I should have known that the press-room WiFi would crap out as I was trying to write this Friday afternoon, leaving me to limp along on the Las Vegas Convention Center’s insultingly-limited guest network.

1/8/2017: The weirdest tech we saw at CES 2017, Yahoo Finance

I filed this from the United Club at McCarran at around 11, which is also not how people normally spend a weekend night in Vegas.

Things I have learned from 20 years of CES

January 1998 brought something new to my schedule: a flight to Vegas (Southwest from BWI through Midway) and four days at the Consumer Electronics Show.

I’m pretty sure that at the time, I didn’t think this event would occupy my January schedule for the next two decades. But it has, and now that I have 20 CESes in the books I’ve learned a few things about the show.

ces-timeline• The timing is dreadful. Tearing yourself away from your family only days after the warmth of the holidays sucks—and having to deal with CES prep for the weeks beforehand doesn’t exactly put me in the Christmas spirit. If I could build a time machine, I would be tempted to let somebody else kill Hitler (on the theory that if I could construct such a device, so could many other people) and instead go back to 1973 to lobby the founding fathers of CES to hold the damn thing in early February.

• At the same time, the show often represents the first time I will have seen journalist and analyst friends in months. Catching up with these tech-nerd pals makes up for some of the family angst. Unfortunately, I’ve been doing this for long enough that some of these people have filed their last report; I had to cover this year’s show without the insight of Envisioneering’s Richard Doherty.

• The deliberate inefficiency of Vegas (casino-floor layouts are America’s answer to Tokyo’s inscrutable system of street addresses) is infuriating and has only gotten worse as CES attendance has zoomed past 175,000. I struggle to think of a major American event held in a place less capable of moving that many people around, in part because of its own choices: Not having the monorail stop at the Sands represents one of the worst unforced errors in the history of American transit planning.

ces-south-hall• Not getting a flu shot well before going to CES is one of the worst unforced errors in the history of business travel. I found out the hard way in 2009, when I spent five days after CES staggering around my house in a diseased haze–including the day when President-elect Obama toured the Post’s newsroom.

• Year after year, I never work harder than I do at CES. It’s not like I’m a foreign correspondent getting shot at… but when people who have never been to CES say they wish they could go, I struggle to respond with any graciousness.

• People will talk about the obsolescence of shows like CES, but most tech companies can’t pull an Apple and summon reporters to their own events. Having so many of these firms hawking their wares in one place helps me do my job of making sense of the tech industry–and the chance meetings that happen have connected me to good sources and new clients. As annoying as CES gets, it remains one of my more important journalistic and business-development ventures. It looks like I’m stuck with it for a while longer.

• After being from home for a few days and catching up other people’s CES coverage, I have realized once again how many things I missed–an event or a dinner I should have attended, a corner of the floor I overlooked, a vendor I should have met, a demo I should have checked out–despite spending five painfully long days immersed in the show. Whatever else 20 years of covering CES has taught, it hasn’t allowed me to not feel swamped before, during and after this thing.

Updated 1/11/2017 with some concluding thoughts.

Weekly output: Google’s 2017 to-do list

The slowest week of the entire year saw only one story appear under my byline. I’ll more than make that up this week as I cover my 20th CES in a row (!). Any gadget news you’d like me to look out for while I’m in Vegas?

yahoo-google-2017-post12/26/2016: OK, Google: Please do these things in 2017, Yahoo Finance

My contribution to Yahoo Finance’s end-of-year coverage was a post about what Google should do in 2017. Will that company follow up on all of my suggestions? Probably not. I’m reasonably confident that we’ll get a better Android Wear watch from Google, that we haven’t seen the last of Google broadband, and that advertising on fake-news sites will take a hit from stricter Google policies. But I’m less confident that Google will ship an end-to-end encryption plug-in for Gmail, and I would be pleasantly shocked to see the firm start selling an ad-free upgrade to Gmail.

 

2016 in review: a year of travel

This has been a trash bag of a year in so many ways, but on a personal level it could have been worse. As in, for a few weeks in the late winter I thought the overwhelming source of my income would vanish along with most of the Yahoo Tech operation.

Instead, Yahoo Finance picked me up before I’d gotten too far in exploring other possibilities. But the publicity over Yahoo’s content cutbacks wound up helping an overdue diversification of my income anyway–an editor at Consumer Reports e-mailed to ask if the news meant I’d be interested in writing for them. That led to a good series of stories, one not yet published.

2016-calendarI got another lucky break when a press-room meeting at the cable industry’s sparsely-attended INTX show yielded a string of assignments for the FierceTelecom group of sites.

These and other new clients still leave most of my income coming from a single company, but the totals aren’t as skewed as they were last year.

2016 did, however, see me do much better at finagling opportunities to speak on panels that got my travel expenses covered in the bargain. My mileage totals kept climbing as conferences and other tech events took me to places I’d hadn’t seen in 18 years (Hong Kong), 25 years (Paris), 43 years (Lisbon), or ever before (Israel), as well as my now-regular trips to Barcelona for Mobile World Congress and Berlin for IFA.

Domestically, New York was once again my most frequent travel destination, followed by Boston (now that both my brother and my mom live around there, I’m kind of obliged to find interesting tech events around the Hub). I also made my way to Austin, Denver, Las Vegas, New Orleans, and the Bay Area. Having SFO appear as a work destination only once seems like a grave dereliction of duty; I’ll try to do better.

(Read on after the jump to see all of my air travel plotted on a map of the world.)

My single favorite trip of the year: Viva Technology Paris, which brought me back to France for a second time this summer and showed that I could moderate four panels in a day. The trip also allowed enough downtime for me to take a train to the suburb of Louveciennes, knock on the door of the house my family rented a quarter-century ago, and discover that the family we’d rented the place from still lived there and was happy to let me look around.

The most challenging trip of 2016 would have to be Web Summit. Doing three panels on four hours of nightmare-level sleep is not an experience I need to repeat.

On that note, I can only hope that 2017 will bring less bad news than 2016. But I don’t know how it will turn out, only that I have work to do and good fortune to repay somehow.

Continue reading

Weekly output: DSL speeds, Uber economics, Windows 10 setup, tech policy in 2017

Merry Christmas! Today is five years and a day from the start of my USA Today column. They never did get around to putting a “#Help” title on the column (though I still use that on my invoices) and they’ve cut back on its length (shrinking its share of my income), but they have kept running it and paying me for it within two weeks of each invoice, which is what counts.

12/20/2016: FCC study shows DSL is terrible, but it doesn’t have to be, Yahoo Finance

This study came out at the start of the month, but it took me a little longer to consult some experts about the potential of digital-subscriber-line connections to compete with cable and fiber. It’s there, but not if phone-based Internet providers choose to forego investing in it. If those same ISPs–hi, Verizon–also forgo expanding fiber into new markets, we have a bigger problem.

yahoo-uber-study-post12/21/2016: 3 ways Uber can help its drivers, Yahoo Finance

Years ago, a mobile-development shop called Proteus had space in a building across the street from the Post, and I’d occasionally lean on its CEO Patrick McQuown for background guidance about the business. Years later, I’m finally quoting him directly in his role as a professor at Brown University who just published a study of the economics of Uber from a driver’s perspective.

12/24/2016: You’ve got a new PC. Now what?, USA Today

When I wrote about Windows 10’s Anniversary Update this summer, a few readers got on my case for not covering their concerns about privacy in Win 10’s operating system. I read up on the subject and took detailed notes as I set up a couple of different Win 10 tablets from scratch, and this column resulted.

12/25/2016: A 2017 tech-policy forecast: Washington slams the ‘undo’ button, Yahoo Finance

I am not optimistic about the state of tech policy under President Trump, and I’ve yet to hear anybody advance a cogent explanation of why I should feel any different. Congress’s history of failing to reform laws that govern law-enforcement access to stored e-mail privacy and enable patent trolling doesn’t improve my forecast.