Weekly output: Movies Anywhere, pay-TV apps

This week involved some tech trouble at home: Tuesday morning, our fridge was near room temperature. After a call to Samsung support, they scheduled a technician to stop by Thursday afternoon, and then I borrowed a friend’s powered cooler to store the surviving food items. (We later tried rescheduling but couldn’t reach a human to change it, but the original time worked out in the end.) The cause was apparently a faulty $8.59 sensor that let ice build up and block a fan that, when partially obstructed, had earlier begun yielding annoying grinding noises that should have been our warning. It cost another $175 or so in labor and other charges to get that replaced and restore the fridge to working order. Still worth it, although I would like for this 2014 purchase to go much longer than three years before its next service incident.

10/13/2017: Movies Anywhere solves the hassle of downloading flicks everywhere, Yahoo Finance

This Disney-run site, which puts copies of movies you’ve bought off Apple, Amazon, Google or Vudu in your accounts on all four services and in its own app, is shockingly good–especially in light of the sheer awfulness of the first Hollywood-run movie-download sites. The site has even improved since I filed the post: While it didn’t initially match my years-ago iTunes purchase of The Insider, by the next day it had. I’ll try to get the post updated tomorrow.

10/15/2017: A new way to beat the cable box: Streaming Internet apps, USA Today

This column was set off by a reader asking if Spectrum’s app could let her retire one of her cable boxes. I realized that I hadn’t written about that, and then further research revealed that some other cable and satellite TV providers had expanded their own app offerings. A reader’s Facebook comment has since revealed an option for Fios TV that Verizon may not know about: If you have a Samsung phone and a Samsung smart TV, the mobile device’s Smart View screen mirroring can cast the Fios app to the big screen.

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Ranking my Nats postseason nightmares

It happened again. Of course it did.

The Nationals’ 9-8 loss to the Cubs in Thursday’s National League Division Series game 5 stands apart from the team’s other postseason exits for how utterly snakebit the Nats looked.

Barry Svrluga’s breakdown of the defeat only begins to capture what a shitshow this game was. The nightmare fifth inning alone–in which previously lights-out Max Scherzer got lit up for three hits, had a third strike turn into a run-scoring error when Matt Wieters dropped the ball and then airmailed it past Ryan Zimmerman (except play should have stopped after Javier Baez’s bat grazed his mask), saw the bases load on a catcher’s interference call, and walked in a run by hitting Jon Jay with a pitch–will haunt me for years.

But the upshot is the same as in 2012, 2014 and 2016: We lost a winnable division series in avoidable ways, leaving me with a strip of NLCS tickets to set on fire in the driveway before I wait to see which other city’s team gets to mob the infield after winning the World Series.

In the meantime, as an inveterate list-maker I feel compelled to rank the relative misery of our final home games in each postseason, all of which I’ve had the dubious privilege of witnessing in person.

4) 2014 NLDS game 2. Eighteen innings. Eighteen freezing innings. And all after we got within one out of a victory before robo-manager Matt Williams took out Jordan Zimmermann for Drew Storen because that’s what the book says to do. Giants 2, Nats 1, but we did still have three more chances to win–only one of which we took, leading to our fastest NLDS exit.

3) 2016 NLDS game 5. A great start by Scherzer turned to ashes in a horrible and prolonged (one hour and 5 minutes!) seventh inning that saw five relief pitchers give up four hits before Chris Heisey’s two-run shot in the bottom of the frame concluded our scoring in the series. Dodgers 4, Nats 3.

2) 2017 NLDS game 5. Seriously, this was grotesque. I’ve now attended maybe 250 Nationals games, and this one subjected me to onfield calamities I never thought I’d see even in the woeful seasons in which we lost over 100 times.

1) 2012 NLDS game 5. The worst. Witnessing a 6-0 lead collapse, inning by inning, into a 9-7 loss to the Cardinals ranks as my most painful sports memory ever.

And so the D.C. postseason curse grinds on. I would like to think that it will end in my lifetime, preferably before inflicting too much trauma on our daughter. But that’s also what I said to myself in 2012. And 2014. And 2016.

Weekly output: Chrome vs. unencrypted sites, Google vs. the headphone jack, international roaming, freelancing, Facebook and fact-checking

As expected, this was an exhausting but fulfilling week. The Online News Association conference was its usual informative, eye-opening self (but this time, with travel expenses miniaturized down to Metro fares), Friday’s NLDS game left me feeling wrung out, and then Saturday’s left me feeling a whole lot better. And then I didn’t get to sleep in as much as I wanted Sunday…

10/2/2017: Google Chrome is about to warn you even more about insecure sites, Yahoo Finance

I knew in the back of my head that Chrome would start flagging unencrypted sites as “Not secure” more often starting this month, but a tweet from Google’s Adrienne Porter Felt last week reminded me of that, which in turn gave me a reason to check up on the adoption of site encryption.

10/4/2017: Not OK, Google: The headphone jack exists for a reason, Yahoo Finance

I teed off on Google for its idiotic decision to follow Apple’s foolish removal of the headphone jack. Google, unlike Apple, can’t count on tens of millions of loyal phone shoppers to suck it up, so I hope a chastened company will reverse this decision for its next batch of phones.

10/5/2017: $5,000 cell bill while traveling: How to avoid this, USA Today

This was one of the crazier stories I’ve come across lately. But after USAT ran this tale of a Verizon subscriber who got socked with that bill in Saudi Arabia (then had VzW forgive the bill after I inquired about it), another reader tweeted about an $11,961.03 T-Mobile bill run up in Mongolia (they, too, forgave it, but before I could get around to asking).

10/7/2017: Hunting, Gathering and Accounting: Freelance Survival Skills, ONA17

I broke a three-time Online News Association conference losing streak by having this panel idea accepted. I got the idea of offering practical advice to self-employed journalists (or those about to be self-employed but don’t know it yet) from a conversation with veteran freelancer Rose Eveleth at last year’s ONA. Then I picked up a capable co-panelist in Katherine Lewis, who’s been freelancing since 2008, seems a lot more disciplined about it than me, and is a poised public speaker. I didn’t hit every point I wanted to, but I think that combined the both of us left the audience better informed than when they arrived. Really neat bonus: Nashville-based attendee Ayumi Bennett did a terrific sketchnote of our talk.

10/8/2017: Facebook and fact-checking, Al Jazeera

My ambition of celebrating my first day with zero work appointments since Monday by not shaving went awry when a D.C.-based producer at the Arabic-language news channel asked if I could come into the studio to speak about Facebook’s latest attempts to combat fake news with fact-checking. The conversation I had (overdubbed live into Arabic but not, as far as I know, archived online, hence the lack of a link) wound up focusing more on the broader issue of other countries trying to influence U.S. Facebook users.

Early impressions from a late Pixel adopter

Not that many people have bought either of Google’s two Pixel phones–as little as one million as of June, per Ars Technica’s estimate–and I bought my Pixel later than most.

And Wednesday, Google will introduce the replacements for the Pixel and Pixel XL, so this will be one of my less relevant reviews ever. But I still think it worthwhile to write down my three-months-in impressions… just in case I hate the phone later on.

But so far, I don’t. For something that I thought would be an interim advance over my now-dead Nexus 5X, the Pixel has impressed me.

The most pleasant surprise has been battery life that frees me from having to look for a charger on normal days–reading, I’m not at CES or some other phone-battery-destroying event, but I still leave the house and do my usual poor job of avoiding social media. I realize that sounds like thin gruel, but it also represents progress.

The camera has been an unexpected delight, easily the best I’ve used on a phone and more than good enough for me to leave my “real” Canon in my bag at the IFA trade show two months ago. Seriously low-light indoor exposures can still flummox it, but for the vast majority of my shots it delivers great results. The HDR function does some particularly amazing work with fireworks and illuminated structures at night. But judge for yourself: Have a look at my Flickr and Instagram feeds.

My major gripe with this phone is a weird one: It seems too easy to unlock. As in, the positioning of its fingerprint sensor seems to catch my finger more than the 5X’s sensor did when I slip it into a pocket.

So far, I have only pocket-texted one person–“App eye, meàl,” the message began before sliding into complete incoherence–but that was embarrassing enough to get me to try to grab the Pixel by its sides when pocketing it. And to change its “Automatically lock” screen setting from five seconds post-sleep to immediately.

If the rumors are true, the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL Google will introduce Wednesday won’t feature expandable storage but will drop the headphone jack. If so, that will make me feel pretty good about taking Google on its offer of a full refund on my bootlooped 5X and applying that to a Pixel.
But it will also leave me profoundly uneasy over what my next Android phone will look like. I don’t want an uncompromised Android configuration to be a deeply compromised choice of outputs.

Weekly output: iOS 11 issues, Super Cruise, SESTA, Tech Night Owl

In recent years, late September has seen me jetting off to one city or another to attend the Online News Association’s annual conference, but this time around my ONA travel will consist of taking Metro–the conference starts Thursday at the Marriott in Woodley Park. And I’m also on the schedule for the first time: I’m speaking Saturday afternoon with veteran freelancer Katherine Lewis about survival skills for the self-employed.

Meanwhile, the Nationals host the Cubs sometime Friday and Saturday in the first two games of the division series, ensuring that I will be completely hoarse and sleep-deprived by Sunday. Go Nats!

9/26/2017: How to fix Apple iOS 11 battery and Outlook problems, USA Today

My editor opted to hold this post for a day to reduce the odds of it getting lost in USAT’s other iOS 11 coverage.

9/28/2017: What it’s like riding in Cadillac’s self-driving Super Cruise for 350 miles, Yahoo Finance

This account of having a 2018 Cadillac CT6 drive me along much of I-70 and the Pennsylvania and Ohio Turnpikes was the most interesting transportation-related piece I’ve written since this spring’s post about advances in Gogo’s satellite WiFi. The long drive from Washington to Cleveland also let me see parts of Pennsylvania and Ohio that I hadn’t glimpsed in years and take a detour to pay my respects at the Flight 93 National Memorial.

9/30/2017: Why the tech industry is worried about a bill targeting sex trafficking, Yahoo Finance

I should have had this post about the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act written earlier, but the delays allowed me to add some useful quotes from a panel I attended on the Hill Thursday.

9/30/2017: September 30, 2017 — Rob Pegoraro and Kirk McElhearn, Tech Night Owl

I talked with host Gene Steinberg about my Cadillac test drive, my iOS experience, and the macOS High Sierra install that was going on in the background but had not wrapped up by the time my roughly hour-long segment ended.

Thanks, Iota

My favorite bar in the D.C. area is pouring its last pint this weekend. That makes me sad.

When Iota Club and Cafe opened in the summer of 1994, Arlington’s Clarendon neighborhood was nobody’s idea of a nightlife destination. You had some good and cheap Vietnamese restaurants, a few dive bars (though not enough to string together a proper bar crawl), and a surplus of used-car lots.

Iota helped change that. The place had great beer on tap, the owners booked good musicians–although the tiny stage in its initial cozy confines couldn’t accommodate more than a quartet of skinny people–and they didn’t slack off when it came to food. It worked for an indie-rock Saturday night and a recuperative brunch Sunday morning.

A search of my calendar shows a long list of both local musicians (Jenny Toomey, The Kennedys, Alice Despard) and better-known out-of-towners (Kristin Hersh, Mike Doughty) that I saw there. But the Iota act I caught most often was my former Post colleague Eric Brace’s band Last Train Home.

That roots-rock group provided the soundtrack for a lot of evenings out with friends, and then for many of my first dates with my wife.

As other bars and restaurants opened up, Iota expanded into two adjacent spaces. The larger stage made bringing an upright bass or a piano an option, while the kitchen raised its sights and started doing new-American dishes good enough for me to take my mom there.

(I wrote the non-bylined ode to Iota’s catfish wrap that ran in the Food section in 2006. I already miss that, along with the fries that came with it.)

Iota even got a prime-time shout-out when an episode of The West Wing had a few of its White House staffers head across the Potomac for an evening out. For years later, a framed copy of that script hung on one of Iota’s brick walls.

The past several years saw the place retrench a bit. Management took away the good tables and the nice tablecloths and pared back the menu to sandwiches–really good ones.

Parenthood put a major dent in my own attendance, and my less-frequent visits found fewer people in the place. When I stopped in before 5 a few Saturdays ago, I was the only customer in sight.

But what finally did in Iota was something too predictable in its changing neighborhood: a redevelopment proposal that would have forced the place to relocate for a couple of years, then most likely pay a higher rent.

The developer’s renderings of the expanded building included Iota’s black-and-white facade, but I wasn’t shocked, just sad to see Iota’s owners announce three weeks ago that it would close at the end of September.

Of course, Last Train Home returned to play two final nights at Iota; I caught the last two-thirds of Thursday’s set and was glad to see a few Post pals there.

Now I have to put Iota’s absence on my list of neighborhood sorrows, along with the demise of most of the Vietnamese places, all the dive bars, and some of the newer, fancier restaurants that couldn’t cover escalating rents.

I still prefer the Clarendon of 2017 to its identity of 20 years earlier–I can do almost all of my shopping on foot, and we couldn’t have bought our home without the condo I’d bought nearby in 2000 doubling in value over four years. But this progress hasn’t happened in a straight line or without costs.

Some of you reading this have probably never heard of Iota until now, and my words may not adequately express what made it special.

But you probably do have some quirky bar or restaurant nearby that’s been around a while, doesn’t attract all the beautiful people, doesn’t have much of a social-media game and can’t be found anywhere else. Why not stop in for a drink tonight or brunch tomorrow?

Weekly output: 5G, broadcast TV on online video, wireless broadband, machine-learning platforms

Having our kid come down with strep throat put a serious dent in my productivity on this week. (She’s fine now.) The next five days, meanwhile, have a much more crowded schedule that includes an overnight trip to Cleveland. You’ll find out why Tuesday.

9/18/2017: 5 things to know about what’s next for wireless internet, Yahoo Finance

Too-soon hype about 5G wireless is already getting customers confused–as I realized anew when a reader asked how it couldn’t be coming until 2020 if she already had a 5G router. (Answer: It was a 5 GHz router.)

9/18/2017: Broadcasters aren’t going OTT ASAP, FierceBroadcasting

The latest in a steady series of features I’ve written for Fierce’s monthly (registration required) bundles, this one looks at the tangled availability of local channels on “over the top” online-video services. I missed it when it first came out because, I guess, I didn’t see the download link in Fierce’s daily newsletter at the time.

9/20/2017: Why you might trade your wired internet connection for your phone, Yahoo Finance

This headline overstates the story a little. My answer to the question–newly raised by an FCC proceeding–of whether we should count the wireless carriers’ mobile broadband as competition for wired cable, fiber and DSL is that a mobile-only strategy doesn’t work as long as you still need to use a desktop or laptop computer.

9/22/2017: Machine-learning cloud platforms get to work, Ars Technica

This piece focuses on a much wonkier subject than my usual consumer-tech coverage, but I carved some time out of my schedule to write it anyway. On one hand, it allowed me to get into the weeds on the workings of some technologies that I do write about all the time. On the other hand, the story was for a site at which I hadn’t written in way too long (my last Ars byline happened over four years ago) and involved a great per-word rate.

That rate, in turn, was a product of this post being part of a set of stories sponsored by Siemens. I didn’t know the sponsor going in and, as I wrote in a comment below the piece, my editor neither told me which companies to feature nor instructed me on any conclusions the article should reach.

Updated 10/3/2017 to add a link to the broadcasters story.