Year-end cash considerations

Yesterday, I forgot to invoice Yahoo for the last month’s worth of stories, and my stupid oversight may save me a little money next year.

That’s because the odds of payment for November’s work at Yahoo Finance arriving by Dec. 31 just got two days’ worse. And if I don’t get paid by then, I don’t owe taxes on the money until 2017.

2016-in-changeThe downside of this scenario is that my 2016 income, already assured to fall below 2015’s because I wrote less than usual in early summer, will drop even more. That potential embarrassment bugs me, but apparently not enough that I remembered to get the payment machinery in gear by Friday.

Deferring income isn’t exactly an advanced financial hack, but it is something I couldn’t do when I worked on a salary.

Tax calculations should also drive me to go on a moderate hardware-spending binge this month. My laptop and my desktop are both ancient, and replacing either now would put a nice big expense on my Schedule C.

Alas, Apple seems uninterested in shipping a new laptop in my price range, or a new desktop at any price. The Windows universe offers a few enticing options, but on closer inspection I realize that the laptops I like all omit at least one feature I’d appreciate.

More important, CES is now only a month away. And I can’t possibly make any big electronics purchases before using that event to see what the gadget industry has in store for this year–its no accident that electronics rarely land on my Christmas list.

That leaves me another way to lower my tax burden: a late-December spree of charitable donations. You may have read a lot on Twitter about #GivingTuesday this week, but for me that day comes on the last Tuesday of this month–when I know the donation will count for my 2016 taxes but won’t come due on on my credit-card bill until sometime in February. Please do the same if you’re financially able.

Weekly output: streaming-media players

For the first time since June, I only have one posted story to my name. I filed two others, but I also tried to set aside work from Wednesday afternoon through this evening. Aside from some e-mail that I had to attend to Friday afternoon, I mostly succeeded.

pegoraro-streaming-media-players-post11/23/2016: How to figure out which streaming media device to buy, Yahoo Finance

My original copy tried to explain Apple and Amazon’s conduct by throwing around some references to multilateral diplomacy and balance-of-power theory, but my editors may have thought that description was a little too much Georgetown School of Foreign Service for a guide to buying gadgets. If so, I can’t exactly blame them.

There’s something weird with how Google indexed this–searching for keywords or the exact phrase of its headline finds nothing at finance.yahoo.com, while Google has no trouble locating the copy posted to Yahoo Tech. At least the original got picked up on Reddit, I guess.

 

A request for travel-app developers: automatic screen brightness

This weekend has many of you on planes and trains, which means many of you have been  fussing with smartphone apps to get a ticket’s QR code to scan properly. Thanksgiving-weekend travel pain may be unavoidable, but code-scanning snafus should be a solvable problem.

national-airport-runway-1They remain unsolved in practice because travel-app developers can’t seem to grasp the idea of brightening the phone’s screen automatically when displaying a boarding pass. Instead, these apps keep leaving that work to you.

That’s definitely the case with the Android travel apps I use most often, United Airlines and Amtrak. With UA, I can sometimes get away with leaving the screen on its usual brightness–but not if I want to have the code scan properly at both the TSA checkpoint and the gate. With Amtrak, even maxing out the brightness–something the conductors always remind passengers to do–doesn’t ensure the ticket will scan on the first time.

(I’m kicking myself for not calling out this shortfall in Amtrak’s app when I reviewed it in 2012.)

If I had an iPhone, I could bring up United boarding passes and Amtrak tickets in the Wallet app, which does brighten the screen automatically. But I don’t own an iPhone, and neither does a huge fraction of the traveling public.

From what I can tell, other airline apps are no smarter about this. American Airlines’ app doesn’t appear to adjust screen brightness (although that company should probably first fix the issue that results in a boarding pass becoming invalid if you don’t bring it up at least 30 minutes before boarding) and Delta’s doesn’t seem to either.

Paper is wasteful, but at least I know my ticket code will work every time. When I go to a Nationals game, it’s my only option–the barcode scanners at the turnstiles have yet to accept a ticket code in an e-mailed ticket, no matter how bright the screen on my phone gets. (My wife’s iPhone 6 doesn’t have that hangup, because reasons.)

Meanwhile, Eventbrite’s app has automatically maxed out screen brightness when I bring up an event’s ticket since the first day I opened it. It’s too bad that I’m almost never asked to show a ticket code on my phone when I show up at an event booked through that service. Perhaps it would help if somebody set up an event for travel-app developers and required Eventbrite mobile tickets?

Weekly output: Web Summit reactions to Trump, Trump’s FCC, Trump’s tech policy, fake news on Facebook, securing IoT devices

 

The number of weeks left in the year is declining rapidly, which can only mean one thing: I’m due to get bombarded with CES-meeting requests.

usat-trump-web-summit-reactions-column11/14/2016: At tech confab, coming to grips with Trump, USA Today

Vox’s Matthew Yglesias linked to this column I wrote at Web Summit in a post three days later, which hopefully won me some new readers.

11/16/2016: How watching videos online could get more annoying under Donald Trump, Yahoo Finance

When I started writing this analysis of what Trump might do with the Federal Communications Commission, I expected to conclude that he’d demolish almost all of President Obama’s legacy. But on closer inspection, policies like net-neutrality regulations may not be quite as easy to unwind as some of Trump’s advisors might hope.

11/17/2016: Technology and a Trump Presidency, Web Content Mavens

I debated what Trump’s tech-policy agenda might be–we’re still mostly guessing at this point–with Epolitics founder Colin Delany and General Assembly education coordinator Lauren Jacobson, as moderated by my friend Adam Zuckerman of Discovery Communications and Fosterly.

11/19/2016: Facebook didn’t get the memo about fake news. Of course it didn’t., Yahoo Finance

Seeing Facebook chief security officer Alex Stamos explain his paranoid attitude about infosec in his Web Summit talk informed this post–in that I’ve yet to see an equivalent mindset among the people tasked with creating and enforcing conduct rules at social networks.

11/20/2016: Holiday tech support to-do: ‘Internet of Things’ cleanup, USA Today

Instead of doing a catch-all column inventorying tech-support tasks you should tackle next weekend, I opted to focus on the problem of hacked or hackable IoT devices. That’s a fundamentally squishy topic: How are you supposed to tell that a connected camera has an admin password hardcoded into its firmware?

My Apple problem

I spent a little time checking out Apple’s new MacBook Pro today, and from my cursory inspection in an Apple Store I can confirm that it’s a very nice computer. It’s also an $1,800-and-up computer, and I am not an $1,800-and-up shopper in this category of hardware.

macbook-air-touchbar-closeupI’m more of a $1,000-ish guy, and Apple doesn’t seem to want such a small sum of money. At that price, the company has nothing new to offer–the MacBook Air saw its last update 621 days ago. But Apple continues to price that model as if it were new.

(I’m not counting the single-port MacBook, because a computer that makes me choose between recharging itself and recharging my phone will never work for CES.)

While Apple neglects the more-affordable end of its laptop lineup, Windows vendors have been doing some interesting work. Many Windows laptops include not just touchscreens but the ability to fold up the laptop into a tablet for easy economy-class use.

And some Windows laptops also include Windows Hello biometric login–like the TouchID authentication on the MacBook Pro, except you don’t have to pay $1,800 for it.

All this means that my next laptop is far more likely to be something like a Lenovo Yoga 910 or an HP Spectre x360 than a Mac. That feels weird–I’ve been buying Macs as a primary computer for over two decades--but to ignore what’s happening on the other side of the fence would make me less a shopper than a supplicant.

The other weird thing is, what I think I’d miss most from the Mac is a feature that’s seen little attention from Apple over the past few years: Services. That little menu you see in each app and when you right-click items in the Finder saves me an enormous amount of time each occasion it provides a two-click word count or image resizing. If only Apple would know this exists…

Meanwhile, Windows 10 suffers the embarrassing defect of not allowing separate time zones in its calendar app. Microsoft, too, shows no signs of being aware that this problem exists.

So if I get a Windows machine, how much will I regret it? If I get another MacBook Air, how much of a chump will I feel like for throwing even more money in Apple’s direction?

 

Weekly output: VR (x2), cloud efficiency, cloud video (x2), gig economy, work-life balance, customer experience, Facebook plans, self-driving cars

I’ve had few weeks that have left me more physically exhausted. Only hours after I was congratulating myself for crushing jet lag so soon after landing in Lisbon, the traumatic election destroyed my sleep cycle for the rest of the week, then I had jet lag in the reverse direction compounded by a cold I picked up sometime at Web Summit.

I filed the stories you see here about VR and cloud video weeks ago, so they didn’t add to the workload. On the other hand, the list below omits a post about Hillary Clinton’s broadband-expansion plans that my Yahoo editors had asked me to file by Tuesday afternoon so they could run it on Wednesday. I have never been sorrier to see a story of mine get spiked.

11/7/2016: Content and TV Companies Test the VR WatersVR May Require Network Upgrades, FierceCable

Management at Fierce must not have hated the post I did for them two months ago, so they sent a few more assignments my way. This e-book–as with September’s, you’ll have to cough up a name, e-mail and some occupational details to download it–features two stories from me about the state of virtual reality.

web-summit-2016-cloud-panel

11/8/2016: Revolutionising processes and driving efficiency, Web Summit

A panel about a topic as potentially vague as “using the cloud to make your business more efficient” could have been a tad dry. But my fellow panelists SnapLogic CEO Gaurav Dhillon, Symphony founder and CEO David Gurle, Dell EMC CTO John Roese, and WP Engine CEO Heather Brunner made it work. The link above points to a Facebook Live video of Tuesday morning’s panels on the Summit’s “SaaS Monster” stage; mine starts at about 55:10 in.

11/10/2016: A Complicated Forecast for Moving Video to the Cloud, Ads Move to the Cloud, Bringing Scale, Creativity and Inventory Issues, FierceBroadcasting

The first story for this Fierce e-book–you’ll have to cough up a name and e-mail to download it–covers some of issues streaming-video providers have to deal with when moving older video to cloud services. the second gets into the weeds with how ads make the same transition and explains oddities like ad breaks that don’t have an ad, just placeholder music or graphics.

11/9/2016: Rethinking the workforce, Web Summit

This panel was a more obvious fit: I’m a full-time freelancer, and venture capitalist Bradley Tusk and Handy founder and CEO Oisin Hanrahan want to make it easier for companies that rely on independent workers to provide them with portable benefits they can take to a future “gig economy” client. My one regret: After Tusk suggested that Republican control of both the executive and legislative branches could mean progress on things like tax reform, I should have asked how repealing the Affordable Care Act would help the self-employed. Skip to 1:22:50 in the Facebook video to see this panel.

11/9/2016: Technology has destroyed the work-life balance, Web Summit

This was structured as an actual debate, with Deloitte CTO Bill Briggs assigned to argue that tech has done just that while Kochava CEO Charles Manning presented the opposing case. Being a full-time work-from-home type gave me a useful perspective; moderating the debate on four hours of nightmare sleep probably explains why I forgot to take a show of hands of the audience at the start and then had to take that measurement of the audience’s pulse halfway through. This panel starts at 1:41:30 into this Facebook video.

Photo via Web Summit, reproduced under a Creative Commons license

Photo via Web Summit, reproduced under a Creative Commons CC-BY 2.0 license.

11/9/2016: Customer experience in the millennial age, Web Summit

I felt like I was more on my game for this discussion with Qualtrics co-founders Ryan and Jared Smith than at the day’s two earlier panels, even though I was so tired at that point that halfway through, I was telling myself “15 more minutes of focus and then I can go pass out in the speakers’ lounge.”

11/11/2016: Facebook’s status update: broadband bets, chattier bots, stricter security, Yahoo Finance

I gave up trying to write this Wednesday–there was zero chance of it getting any attention in the glut of election stories–but then didn’t file it until Thursday evening. One reason why: Tuesday and Wednesday left me so destroyed that I somehow slept in until 11 a.m. Thursday, something I last did before the birth of our child.

11/11/2016: These are the cars we’ll get before self-driving cars, Yahoo Finance

This post about Renault Nissan and Cadillac’s ambitions to give you a limited sort of autonomous driving took a little longer to write as well. I filed it from my hotel before joining friends for dinner at around 9 local time, which is not a crazy time to have dinner in that part of the world.

Seeing my country upended from afar, trying to process it at home

Being on the other side of the Atlantic for a presidential election so I could attend and speak at the Web Summit conference in Lisbon seemed like a swell idea. With my absentee ballot long ago cast, at best I could sing the Star-Spangled Banner with other Americans in some bar as Hillary Clinton claimed an early victory over Donald Trump (though if you’ve heard me sing, you might struggle to find the upside of that scenario); worst case, I could tweet “appreciate the congrats” sometime Wednesday.

us-passport-on-lisbon-streetThat didn’t work out. Reality punched me in the gut at 8 a.m. local time Wednesday, when I opened my laptop after four hours of nightmare-grade sleep and saw the Washington Post’s “Trump Triumphs” headline above a map of red and blue states I struggled to recognize.

Before the first talk Wednesday morning, organizer Paddy Cosgrave asked those of us in the audience to introduce ourselves to strangers nearby and say where we’d come from. On another day, I might have said “I’m from the U.S., peace be with you,” as if I were in church, but I had to go with “I’m from the United States, so I’m having a really shitty morning.” The Europeans near me could only offer versions of “I’m sorry,” as if my country had suffered a death in the family.

That day did not get much less bleak for all the people I knew in our globalist-elite bubble. In retrospect, I could have picked a better day to moderate three different panels.

“President Donald Trump” might have been a harmless comedy line in my childhood. Trump seemed a good guy when he put his own cash into an overdue renovation of the Wollman Rink in New York’s Central Park, but that sort of public-spiritedness became increasingly scarce in the decades since. And now Trump is set to become the nation’s CEO after a campaign marked by an embrace of fear, a flight from facts and a refusal of basic transparency. Humor has fled the situation.

On one level, this is like 2004, when American voters picked the wrong guy, and we paid a steep price. But George W. Bush looks like a seasoned statesman compared to Trump. And 12 years ago, we didn’t have a deluge of data points suggesting the Dems had the GOP on the run.

Seeing that running an effective campaign organization when the other side shows little sign of having any doesn’t matter, that a candidate can speak more and worse falsehoods than the other without consequence, that getting caught on tape joking about sexual assault need not hold a guy back, and that so many state poll numbers mean nothing (although Clinton’s popular-vote victory looks to be not far from nationwide polling data)… it’s taken a hammer to my belief in a rational universe. And it forces me to wonder what stories about voters’ concerns I should have read but did not.

I can’t ignore the media’s role in wasting our mental bandwidth with horse-race coverage and breathless and context-starved “reporting” about Hillary Clinton’s unwise but not illegal use of a private e-mail server as Secretary of State. I myself contributed two posts to that genre, one in March of 2015 and another in July; I wrote far more about tech-policy issues in this campaign, but I suspect those other posts drew far less attention.

faded-american-flag-close-upI would now like to think that Trump will grow in office and that he’ll quietly dump the worst of his campaign promises. I certainly wouldn’t mind him delivering on his plans to renew America’s crumbling infrastructure, the subject that led off his gracious victory speech. (The United flight attendant I chatted with during my flight home Friday was also upset about the election, but we agreed that a building binge that replaced the C/D concourse at Dulles would get our support.) I will allow for the possibility of pleasant surprises.

But I’m also 45, and I’ve seen too many elected officials disappoint me to expect that this one’s conduct in office will depart radically from his behavior as candidate. Why do we put up with two years of a presidential campaign if not to take the measure of the people in it?

In the meantime, we have the additional problem that the worst among Trump’s fans now feel more entitled to vomit their bigotry on people who don’t look or sound like me. Not having an ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or primary language on the enemies lists of “white nationalists” does not make me feel any less offended by the hatreds those cretins preach, or the president-elect’s silence about them.

What am I going to do? Work. The chance to call out abuse of power and control-freakery gets me up in the morning. If Trump’s administration puts forth policies that fall into those categories, you’ll read about them from me. If Democrats endorse them or respond with their own tech-policy control-freakery, the same applies. And if President Trump proposes laws or regulations that thwart abuse of power by the government or corporations, I won’t turn them down.

One aspect of my coverage that may very well change: I somehow doubt I’ll get invited to many White House celebrations of science and technology. Trump spent little time during the campaign talking about science and in some cases, like climate change, outright denied it. Also, this post and most of my political tweets this year may leave me in poor standing with his press people. So be it.