Weekly output: 5G possibilities, Comcast-NBC revisited, switching to Windows, big-media serfdom, Face ID hack, online abuse

Good luck with your Thanksgiving family tech support, everybody!

11/13/2017: 5G’s Economic Prospects: Flexibility and Fuzziness, FierceWireless

Researching this piece about possible business models for 5G wireless helped inform me about story angles I’ll want to look into over the next few years. As with my past work for Fierce’s e-book bundles, you’ll have to cough up an e-mail address to read this one.

11/13/2017: Comcast + NBCUniversal Produces Mixed Bag, FierceCable

Disclosure: Comcast’s purchase of NBCUniversal has benefited me directly, in the form of Comcast PR inviting me to NBCUniversal movie screenings in D.C.

11/13/2017: How Apple sold me on buying a Windows laptop, Yahoo Finance

An angle I didn’t have room to address in this post: Windows 10’s “tablet mode” represents a long-delayed fulfillment of the promise of Windows XP’s watching-not-creating Media Center interface.

11/14/2017, Barry Diller says big media will be ‘serfs on the land’ of tech giants, Yahoo Finance

The media mogul’s pessimistic assessment of traditional media’s future was an easy sell from the Internet Association’s Virtuous Circle conference in San Francisco.

11/17/2017: You should still use the iPhone X’s Face ID even though hackers say they beat it, Yahoo Finance

I’ve written a few posts over the past year or two on the theme of “security nihilism”–the unhelpful belief of many infosec types that if a defensive measure can’t protect you from the most experienced and motivated attackers, then it’s worthless. Maybe this was more persuasive than the others?

11/16/2017: Technical and Human Solutions to Problematic Behaviors, Family Online Safety Institute

I moderated this panel at FOSI’s conference about ways to deal with people being jerks online. My thanks to TeenSafe’s Tracy Bennett, Verizon’s Ginelle Brown, Twitter’s Patricia Cartes and the Born This Way Foundation’s Rachel Martin for making me sound smarter on the subject on a day when I had to function on about four hours of sleep after a fuel leak forced my flight back from SFO to divert to Denver, after which I didn’t land at Dulles until after 1 a.m.

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The other shocking secret about my latest laptop purchase

To judge from the 840 comments on Monday’s Yahoo Finance post about my first laptop purchase in a few years, the fact that this computer runs Windows 10 surprised many readers.

Another aspect of this acquisition may be even more shocking: I bought this computer in person, not remotely.

HP laptop keyboard

Over some 28 years of computer use, I had somehow avoided procuring every prior laptop or desktop in a store. My first two Macs came via Georgetown’s student-discount ordering, I bought a Power Computing Mac clone either over the phone or at the company’s site (too long ago for me to remember for sure), and I’d purchased three iMacs, one MacBook Air and a Lenovo ThinkPad online.

I had planned on ordering an HP Spectre x360 through my iMac’s browser, but HP’s site listed the new version as back-ordered. Finding a reseller at Amazon that had the 2017 model, not last year’s, quickly got me lost. Best Buy listed the latest version online–with the lure of credit towards a future purchase through its rewards program–but the profusion of different model numbers made me want to inspect the hardware in person to make sure I’d get the features I had in mind.

At about that time, I recalled that D.C.’s sales tax is fractionally lower than the rate in Northern Virginia, 5.75 percent versus 6 percent. And since that retailer’s site said this computer was on display at its Columbia Heights location on a day when I already had to be in D.C. for a conference and would be departing for Web Summit the next evening, why not stop by?

The exact set of options I wanted came in a configuration with more memory and storage than I’d normally buy, of which the store only had one unit in stock. But after taking a moment to contemplate the time I spend on laptops, I rationalized the added expense and handed over a credit card. So it was done: I walked out with a box in a bag that I lugged around that afternoon, and then I began a trip the next night with a newly-purchased laptop for the first time in five years.

One part of my work, however, remains incomplete: finding a home for a 2012 MacBook Air with a broken T key and a “Service Battery” alert. Any ideas?

Weekly output: video surveillance, privacy vs. security, Facebook listening, universal basic income, intelligent assistants, convenience economy, UberAir, privacy fears

Once again, I’m at an airport. I got back from Web Summit on Friday, and now I’m headed to San Francisco for the Internet Association’s Virtuous Circle conference. This trip, however, will be a lot shorter than the last one: I fly back Wednesday.

11/6/2017: ‘Smart’ surveillance cameras should set off privacy alarms, Yahoo Finance

The advances in machine vision I saw demonstrated at the Nvidia GPU Tech Conference in D.C. last week both impressed and alarmed me–especially when I heard some of the responses of executives at companies bringing these artificial-intelligence technologies to the market.

11/7/2017: Debate: We should be prepared to give up our privacy for security, Web Summit

My first Web Summit panel was a debate between Threatscape managing director Dermot Williams and Federal Trade Commission commissioner Terrell McSweeny. I expected a one-sided audience vote at the end in favor of privacy, but Williams changed a few minds. There should be video of this somewhere, but I’ve yet to find it on Web Summit’s Facebook page.

11/8/2017: Why so many people still think Facebook is listening to them, Yahoo Finance

I’d had this post in the works for a while, and then CNN’s Laurie Segall asked Facebook’s Messenger head Stan Chudnovsky in a Summit panel about the persistent rumor that Facebook’s apps listen surreptitiously to your conversations. Hello, news peg.

11/8/2017: Double focus: IPO’s & the future of games, Web Summit

My contribution to Web Summit’s Wednesday programming was this interview of Rovio CEO Kati Levoranta. As you can probably guess from watching the video below, I exhausted my questions early on and had to improv a bunch of it.

11/9/2017: Why would you oppose Universal Basic Income?, Web Summit

This panel, held at one of the small stages in Web Summit’s speakers lounge, featured Basic Income Earth Network co-president Guy Standing, Kela change management director Marjukka Turunen, GiveDirectly CEO Michael Faye, and Portuguese foreign minister Augusto Santos Silva. Not having taken part in any extended debate on this topic before, I learned a few things from this conversation.

11/9/2017: The next evolution of intelligent assistants, Web Summit

I quizzed Sherpa founder Xabi Uribe-Etxebarria about what he thinks the likes of Amazon, Apple and Google miss in the AI-personal-assistant market and how he hopes to carve out a niche with his own app.

11/9/2017: Demand more: Driving the convenience economy, Web Summit

The last of Thursday’s three panels had me interviewing Trivago co-founder and CEO Rolf Schromgens and Casper co-founder Luke Sherwin about how each is trying to challenge long-established competitors. This panel featured an unexpected technical difficulty: The acoustics made it hard for Schromgens, seated farther away from me on the stage, to hear me.

11/9/2017: Uber’s grand plan for flying cars faces a major obstacle, Yahoo Finance

One of first thoughts about “UberAir” was something along the lines of “you’re really going to get the FAA to open up the national air system to flocks of new electric-powered air taxis?” A conversation over e-mail with aviation-safety expert Bob Mann led me to believe Uber is being predictably optimistic about the odds of it bending government regulators to its will.

11/12/2017: Web companies should make it easier to make your data portable: FTC’s McSweeny. USA Today

This column about the privacy discussions that carried on all week long in Lisbon benefited from a little luck: My debate partner from day one was on both of my flights back from Lisbon and even sat a row behind me on the EWR-DCA hop, so we had a quick chat after arriving at National Airport before she headed to the parking garage and I got on Metro.

Panel clock management

I spent part of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday sneaking a peek at clocks counting down.  Sadly, no rocket launches were involved: Instead, I had the less exciting but also important task of making sure that my Web Summit panels ended on time or close to it.

Web Summit panel clockGetting one, two, three or four other people to wrap up a conversation as a clock hits 0:00, as this week in Lisbon reminded me, is one of those skills where I still have things to learn.

Of the five I did at the summit, two required me to improvise some questions after I exhausted all the ones I’d written down–which, since these discussions only involved one other person, is something I should have known to be a risk.

Also predictable: The one panel with four other people went a couple of minutes over when I let one of the subject-matter experts have the last word, by which I mean words.

An on-time finish matters at a talkfest like Web Summit, where the stages have panels stacked up throughout the morning and afternoon and schedule overruns will result in people not being able to eat lunch or the audience fleeing for the reception that started five minutes ago. I continue to be in awe of the people who make that happen, considering both the overall chaos level of a 60,000-person conference and the high odds of a VIP deciding to be a windbag on stage.

As a moderator, I just need to allow roughly equal airtime in my role as verbal air-traffic controller–while also asking intelligent questions, not stepping on other people’s responses, throwing in a line or two that gets a laugh out of the audience, and trying not to close out the panel with something lame like “well, it looks like we’re out of time.”

At events that invite audience questions, you have the extra challenge of people asking questions that are more comments–the dreaded, time-wasting “quomment.” I can see why the schedule-focused Web Summit organizers usually tell panelists not to bother with audience Q&A.

It’s maybe one panel in three that leaves me feeling like I checked off all the boxes. I hope I can get that average up to one in two at some point. And maybe later on I can have the prospect of being the only person behind the mic for 30 minutes or more not make me quite so antsy.

Weekly output: LTE speeds, geospatial intelligence and police, reading deleted Web pages

LISBON–I’m here for my third Web Summit, where I have four panels to moderate (a late change having added to the three I already had on my schedule) and many more to watch and learn from.

As I write this, I’m listening to my friend Anthony Zurcher’s recap for the BBC of the election result that stunned me here last year. Life has gotten a lot more complicated since then, that’s for sure.

11/1/2017: Study shows US has slower LTE wireless than 60 other countries, Yahoo Finance

About half a year after writing about an earlier OpenSignal study of wireless-data speeds around the world, I covered new findings from that research firm that saw the U.S. backsliding compared to other countries. I wrote that we could see improvement if Sprint and T-Mobile gave up on their merger ambitions and focused instead on building their separate networks… and Saturday, each firm walked away from that deal.

Trajectory police-geoint feature11/1/2017: GEOINT for Policing: Location-based technologies offer opportunities for law enforcement, Trajectory

My first piece for the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation’s quarterly magazine looks at how police departments are deploying data gathered from real-time sensors and street-level databases to try to spot crime as it happens–or earlier, if possible. It was a fascinating topic to dig into–not least when the CEO of one “geoint” firm agreed unhesitatingly with an ACLU analyst’s concerns about this technology’s possible misuses–and I’m now working on a second feature for Trajectory.

11/3/2017: After Gothamist: how to read Web pages that have gone to their grave, USA Today

I had started researching a column about data caps when news broke that billionaire owner Tom Ricketts had not only shut down the DNAInfo and Gothamist family of news sites (I miss you already, DCist) but had also redirected every story published there to his statement voicing regret about not being able to make money at the venture. I offered to write a quick explainer about how to use the Internet Archive and Google’s page-caching function to read just-deleted pages, which USAT had up by the next morning. That evening, Ricketts restored those pages, if not many journalists’ trust in the promises of wealthy, would-be newsroom saviors.

Another experiment in spending Facebook’s money on a Facebook ad

Last week, Facebook offered me a chance to play with the house’s money: a $10 ad credit to boost my ode to RFK Stadium, which the social network’s algorithms had seen drawing an outsized audience on my page there.

Facebook RFK-post ad reportLike the last time I got this freebie, I could target people for the ad by geography, interests (as perceived by Facebook), age range and gender. Unlike the last time, I got this warning, Facebook’s belated response to learning that its self-service ad system was not magically bigotry-proof: “Ad sets that use targeting terms related to social, religious or political issues may require additional review before your ads start running.”

The logical demographic to target for a post about RFK would have been the greater Washington area–but Facebook didn’t present any such option. In a hurry and on my phone, I told it to target users in D.C., Bethesda, Silver Spring, Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax.

Then I stuck with the default age range of 21 to 65+ and added the following interests: music festivals, Washington Redskins, Washington Nationals, D.C. United and local history. RFK being its dilapidated self, it’s too bad “peeling paint” wasn’t a choice.

Three days later, I got my results: The ad reached 847 people and yielded all of 26 clicks through to my post here. That leaves me nowhere near Russian propagandists in using money to get people’s attention on Facebook–even if in terms of reach I fared about as well as Sens. Mark Warner (D.-Va.) and Amy Klobuchar (D.-Minn.) did in their test purchase of ads to lure Hill staffers and reporters to a fake Facebook group.

But while I still see no reason to spend my own money on Facebook ads, I hope the site continues to throw out these freebies. It’s fascinating to see how the marketing machinery works from the inside; that alone easily justifies the time I put into my Facebook page.

Weekly output: pro tablets, iPhone X, Google Maps and airport transit routes, Honest Ads Act, media consolidation, WiFi-password troubleshooting

After a month and a half with no travel aside from one overnight trip, I’ve got my next international departure in five days: Web Summit has me moderating at least three panels and will have me busy watching everybody else’s in Lisbon the week after this. Which once again means I will once again be spending Election Day overseas.

(There may “only” be statewide races at stake this time, but I cast my absentee ballot three weeks ago anyway. New Jersey and Virginia voters–and anybody with even a local race on the ballot–show up and do your job as a citizen.)

10/23/2017: Can an iPad Pro or Surface Pro Tablet Replace Your Laptop?, Wirecutter

This update to my Wirecutter guide adds my thoughts on Microsoft’s new Surface Pro and Apple’s latest pair of iPad Pro models. I was harsher about the Apple Pencil this time around even before I managed to lose one on our coffee table.

10/26/2017: iPhone X, WTOP

I thought the hosts at D.C.’s all-news radio station would spend more time quizzing me about the camera notch at the top of the $999-and-up iPhone X’s screen or the Face ID login system that camera offers, but instead they focused mainly on its price.

10/26/2017: Why Doesn’t Google Maps Know the Best Way to the Airport?, CityLab

My first appearance at The Atlantic’s transportation-and-development site since 2013 (when it went by the name The Atlantic Cities) was originally going to be a cranky post here about Google’s continued inadequacy with transit directions to Dulles Airport. But then I thought I should try to be a little more enterprising about that idea. It took just long enough to get the post written and edited that Google finally added IAD’s Silver Line Express bus–but in a botched way that incorrectly advises walking another .7 miles after exiting the bus.

10/26/2017, A bill aimed at Facebook’s bogus political ads has some big problems, Yahoo Finance

The Honest Ads Act is a good idea and worth passing even after Facebook and Twitter’s belated moves towards transparency about their advertising, but it’s not going to stop all the social-media engineering the Russians put on last year.

10/27/2017: How Trump’s FCC chair could limit your media choices, Yahoo Finance

Writing about Federal Communications Commission chair Ajit Pai’s moves to open up media-ownership restrictions got me thinking about how an earlier FCC made it so much easier for out-of-town conglomerates to roll up radio stations.

10/29/2017: Wi-Fi problems are the worst. 3 ways to solve them., USA Today

This was going to focus on Apple’s neat but undocumented way to share a WiFi password from one Apple device to another (if each runs its latest mobile or desktop operating system), but my editor asked me to broaden the column to cover non-Apple use cases.