Weekly output: Disney CEO swap, streaming devices, adtech deal, Comcast freebies, robocall punishment, T-Mobile updates, World Cup ratings, Black Friday streaming deals, Musk touts Twitter growth

I had an exceedingly busy three days to start the week–as in, it was a good thing my flight Wednesday wasn’t until 3:15 in the afternoon–then managed to keep my hands off a keyboard for most of the rest of the week.

Patreon readers got a bonus post Wednesday afternoon about my struggles getting Verizon to document where it’s expanded its C-band 5G service this year.

11/21/2022: Disney CEO recycling sees Chapek go and Iger return, Fierce Video

The lede for this story about Disney replacing CEO Bob Chapek with his predecessor Bob Iger–“Meet the new Bob, same as the old Bob”–popped into my head almost immediately, and then I checked Twitter and saw that I was not alone in thinking of that turn of phrase.

11/21/2022: U.S. total of streaming video devices topped 1 billion last year, Fierce Video

Before you react in disbelief to that number, remember that the authors of the report I wrote up are counting not just TVs and streaming-media players but also phones and computers.

11/22/2022: Amagi buys data-aggregation vendor Streamwise, Fierce Video

My work filling in at this video-industry news site continued with this writeup of one infrastructure company buying another.

11/22/2022: Comcast offers a week of streaming freebies to video subscribers, Fierce Video

Subscribers to Comcast’s video services are getting some extra stuff to watch without paying extra.

11/23/2022: Robocall-Enabling Provider Gets the Digital Death Penalty From the FCC, PCMag

If you’re a telecom provider subject to the Federal Communications Commission’s regulations, you should probably not answer an FCC query about your non-compliance by writing back “We are not needing this certification.”

Screenshot of the story as it appeared in Safari for macOS.11/23/2022: T-Mobile execs open a door to mmWave FWA, Light Reading

I wrote up my conversation at Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Summit with two T-Mobile network executives, during which I learned a few things about the carrier’s fixed-wireless-access efforts.

11/23/2022: U.S.-Wales World Cup match draws 11.7 million viewers, Fierce Video

After writing this post, I felt bad for not watching any of that match live–oh, wait, the video services I pay for don’t include Fox Sports.

11/23/2022: Black Friday deals at streaming vendors, retailers and services, Fierce Video

After looking up all of these discounts, I then made it through the weekend without buying any streaming-media gadgets. My only purchase that Friday happened at a grocery store.

11/27/2022: Elon Musk touts Twitter growth, Al Jazeera

I did a quick hit via Skype to talk about Musk’s claims of rising numbers for total users and engagement on Twitter, telling the audience (as translated live into Arabic) that if Musk though Twitter had a bot problem before he bought the company, Twitter almost certainly had a worse bot problem after Musk had fired far more than half of Twitter’s employees.

Not the best time for a laptop to break, not the worst time either

Not even a day after arriving in Hawaii last week for Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Summit, my laptop started showing signs of homesickness: When I opened my aging HP Spectre x360 before the Tuesday-afternoon keynote that led off this conference’s agenda, it would not wake up—or shut down or restart, no matter how long I pressed the power button.

I gave up, shoved the laptop in my bag, grabbed my phone and took my notes on that much smaller screen. Afterwards, I took the laptop out of my bag and it was scorching hot. Holding down the power button one more time finally got it to shut down and restart, after which the computer treated me to a new failure mode: The display snapped into a crazed checkerboard of randomly colored pixels. Then it kept doing that through successive restarts, sometimes with the screen locking into colorful horizontal streaks.

HP Spectre with its screen showing rows of lines filled with randomly-colored pixels.

I retreated to my room to try to work the problem. And after two more cycles of rebooting and having the display go nuts, the laptop seemed to snap out of it, while its hardware diagnostic tools don’t report anything amiss.

Alas, the HP hilarity resumed the next morning when the laptop worked in my room but then refused to wake up for the interviews I had booked with T-Mobile and Verizon network executives. I recorded each on my phone instead, hoping that I could avoid finding some novel way to screw that up.

After my laptop didn’t recover from its stupor back in my hotel room, I sent an apologetic e-mail to my editor at Light Reading asking if he could deal with my filing the two lengthy stories he’d assigned from those interviews after I got home. He could, writing back “It happens to the best of us.”

(Reminder: Qualcomm paid for my airfare and lodging, an arrangement approved in advance by my editor at that telecom-news site.)

I managed to write two more shorter stories from the event without my laptop. The easy one involved a PC borrowed from Qualcomm for a couple of hours Thursday—a Lenovo Thinkpad x13s featuring the Snapdragon 8cx chip introduced at last year’s summit, Qualcomm’s venture into laptop processors having become of more than academic interest over the week.

The hard one was a 500-ish word post that I wrote in the Google Docs app on this phone Friday morning, an experience that left me wanting to ice my thumb afterwards.

On the first of two flights home, the laptop worked again for long enough to allow me to transcribe all of one interview and part of another—and then lapsed into its coma until I came home. Then it resumed working properly as if nothing had happened, or as if it really had been homesick.

But while it’s a relief to have my laptop back, it’s also time I got on with replacing this 2017 purchase. The malfunction that mysteriously went away can return just as mysteriously, and in any case computer design has advanced a bit over the last five years. On the other hand, I hate having to make major electronics purchases barely a month before CES, when I should get a good perspective on what’s coming over the next several months.

My answer: continuing my overdue evaluation of Windows on non-x86 platforms by borrowing a review unit of that Lenovo Thinkpad x13s. I may not always be lucky in my gadget ownership, but when things go wrong I do try to be resourceful.

Weekly output: Google location-privacy lawsuit, Mozilla privacy-minded gift guide, Artemis I launch, Astranis, Mark Vena podcast, Qualcomm “Always-Sensing Camera,” FCC broadband moves

My trip to Hawaii this week was less enjoyable than the phrase “my trip to Hawaii” (and event host Qualcomm covering airfare and lodging expenses) would suggest, thanks to my laptop suffering a screen and maybe motherboard-level malfunction that left it unusable from Wednesday on.

11/15/2022: Google to Pay Almost $392M to Settle 40-State Lawsuit Over Location Tracking, PCMag

I wrote this from my hotel room during the lightly-scheduled first day of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Summit.

11/16/2022: If You Care About Your Privacy, Don’t Buy These Tech Gifts, PCMag

I got an advance copy of Mozilla’s announcement of this update to its Privacy Not Included gift guide, making it easy to write this as well in conference idle time.

Screenshot of story as seen in Chrome for an Android, illustrated with a NASA photograph of the Space Launch System liftoff.11/16/2022: NASA Successfully Launches Artemis I, PCMag

I assumed somebody else would cover the long-awaited debut of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, but seeing nobody claim that in my client’s Slack workspace led me to raise my hand–and then writing this from Hawaii made it easier to follow a post-launch press conference that started around 5 a.m. Eastern.

11/17/2022: Astranis’s MicroGEO is a high-flying new take on satellite broadband, Fast Company

I wrote about one of the companies spotlighted in Fast Company’s Next Big Things in Tech awards.

11/17/2022: S02 E40 – SmartTechCheck Podcast, Mark Vena

I joined this podcast by positioning my phone on a travel tripod parked atop a trash can atop a table on the balcony of my room. And then somebody had to fire up a circular saw on the ground floor of the hotel…

11/18/2022: How Qualcomm’s ‘Always-On Camera’ Became Its ‘Always-Sensing Camera’, PCMag

With my laptop inoperable, I wrote this on a Qualcomm Snapdragon-powered Lenovo Thinkpad x13s that a company rep had handy. Writing this post in Chrome on a laptop with a processor architecture not supported in that Windows x86-only browser was a bit of an adventure, and now I want to do a longer-term test of a Snapdragon laptop–not just because my own laptop is on the fritz.

11/18/2022: FCC Publishes New Broadband Map, Votes to Require ISP ‘Nutrition Labels’, PCMag

I wound up writing this post in the Google Docs app on my phone, a dreadful experience that left me wanting to ice my thumb.

A ride decades in the making: Metro from Dulles

Arriving at Washington Dulles International Airport early Saturday morning was nothing like any of the dozens, maybe hundreds of times I’ve landed at IAD over the past 30 years and change: I walked to a Metro stop at the airport and took the train home, no bus connection needed.

Photo taken from a Silver Line train at Dulles shows the station sign, with IAD's main terminal just visible in the background.

Tuesday’s opening of the second phase of Metro’s Silver Line has been justified grounds for local celebration after years of local angst over schedule slips and cost overruns (even if, by average U.S. transit-construction costs, it can look like we stole the line).

But the debut of a one-seat rail link between our downtown and our international airport–a traveler-friendly feature in some U.S. cities and in many more outside the country–should be even more welcome for Washingtonians old enough to remember 20th-century transit options to Dulles.

When I first started making my acquaintance with IAD, Dulles advertised only one such route: the “Washington Flyer Coach” bus that ran every 30 minutes between the West Falls Church Metro station and the airport, at a cost of $9 one-way or $16 roundtrip that later became $10 one-way or $18 roundtrip. That was so bad that it made “can you give me a lift to Dulles?” a routine test of D.C.-area friendship. It was so inadequate that Metro adding the much cheaper 5A bus in December of 2000–which ran from L’Enfant Plaza and Rosslyn with an intermediate stop in Herndon but only did so once an hour–represented a serious improvement.

But it took having phase one of the Silver Line open in 2014, after local backers overcame such obstacles as the George W. Bush administration’s rail-skeptical Department of Transportation, to make “National or Dulles?” less of a dumb question. The Metro extension’s opening reduced my IAD transit timing from Arlington to an hour and change, factoring in a transfer at the Wiehle-Reston East station to a $5 airport-express bus or a free-with-transfer but much slower Fairfax Connector route.

Yet every time I had to sit around the bus level of that station’s garage and breathe its polluted air, I could only wish that the rest of the line would get past the concrete-drying stage.

Four years later than once estimated, that’s finally happened.

So after a short walk Saturday morning from the terminal to the station–maybe five minutes with stops to take photos–I had to celebrate by taking the Silver Line in the wrong direction to see all of it. I let a train to D.C. go by and instead boarded one to the Silver Line’s Ashburn terminus in Loudoun County.

That neighborhood of the county that in 2012 barely voted to stay in the Silver Line project is now the farthest place Metro reaches from the center of D.C. And as development around the station continues, it now has a chance to follow the path of other Metro neighborhoods and become a more pedestrian-friendly spot–or at least one where cost-conscious travelers don’t have to ask friends to give them a lift to Dulles.

Weekly output: Web Summit, Tim Berners-Lee, 1Password, Slingbox, Rocket Lab

This coming week features my last long-haul flying for work of this year: I’m headed to Maui for Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Summit. Qualcomm is picking up airfare and lodging for reporters and analysts at this invitation-only immersion into wireless technology; like last year, I accepted the invitation on behalf of my telecom-news client Light Reading with the advance approval of my editor there, and I’ll disclose the comped travel in every story I write from the event.

11/8/2022: Tech for good, evil and companionship at Web Summit, USA Today

I wrote most of this column at my hotel on my last night in Lisbon, then wrapped it up on the flight home.

11/8/2022: Tim Berners-Lee is building the web’s ‘third layer.’ Don’t call it Web3, Fast Company

I originally had a separate interview booked with Tim Berners-Lee but opted to consolidate with one my Fast Company editor Harry McCracken had already set up Friday. He wound up doing most of the talking and therefore got to transcribe the interview and write the story. Unanticipated bonus: Seeing Harry introduce himself to Berners-Lee, express his thanks to him for inventing the Web, and have Sir Tim respond “You’re very welcome—use it any time you like.”

Screenshot of the story as seen in Safari on an iPad mini.11/8/2022: 1Password CEO: Our Competition Isn’t Just Apple and Google, It’s Bad Habits, PCMag

The other interview I did Friday at Web Summit was with 1Password CEO Jeff Shiner, which resulted in this longer piece for PCMag. This was another plane-written piece, which was not the most comfortable sort of writing in the context of the 31-in. seat pitch in the back of a TAP Air Portugal A321.

11/9/2022: Slingboxes Silenced as Servers Go Offline, PCMag

Writing this semi-obituary for the Slingbox, the pioneering place-shifting device for traveling TV viewers, provided me with an unexpected hit of nostalgia. Especially when I looked up the review I wrote for the Washington Post of the first Slingbox in July of 2005.

11/10/2022: Rocket Lab Picks Dec. 7 for First US Electron Rocket Launch, PCMag

I’ve been following the progress of Rocket Lab’s plans to start launching its Electron rocket from Wallops Island, Va., for a few years, and now there’s an official launch date announced. Yes, I plan on making the trip to Virginia’s Eastern Shore for that.

 

 

Whither Twitter

Twitter has occupied an embarrassingly large part of my online existence since the spring of 2008–a span of years that somehow exceeds my active tenure on Usenet. But the past two weeks of Twitter leave me a lot less certain about how much time I will or should spend on that service.

I did not have high expectations in April when Elon Musk–who, never forget, already has two full-time jobs at just Tesla and SpaceX–offered to buy Twitter. He had already revealed a low-resolution understanding of content moderation on social platforms but took the advice of a clique of tech bros and told Twitter’s board that he had the answers: “Twitter has extraordinary potential. I will unlock it.”

Photo of Twitter's site showing the "fail whale" error graphic and a "Twitter is over capacity" message, as seen in a phone's Web browser at CES 2010.

Seeing Musk then spend months and what could be $100 million in legal fees trying to squirm out of his accepted, above-market offer of $54.20 a share did not elevate those expectations.

Just before a court case he probably would have lost, Musk gave in, threw $44 billion ($13 billion borrowed) on the table and took over Twitter on Oct. 28. He quickly sacked a handful of top executives before firing about half of the workforce with careless cruelty. One friend figured he’d gotten canned when he couldn’t log into his work laptop.

Things have skidded downhill since. On Twitter, Musk keeps showing himself an easy mark for far-right conspiracy liars and the phony complaints of online trolls; in its offices, he’s ordered a rushed rollout of an $8/month subscription scheme that grants the blue-circled checkmark of a verified account, on the assumption that credit-card payment processors will catch fraudsters.

The predictable result: a wave of fake but “verified” accounts impersonating the likes of Eli Lilly, Nintendo, George W. Bush, Lockheed Martin, Telsa and Musk himself.

Also predictable: Twitter advertisers reacting to this chaos and their fear of wobbly content moderation (rejected by Musk) by smashing the Esc key on their spending plans until they can figure out what’s going on. Musk has responded by whining that companies pausing ad campaigns amounts to them “trying to destroy free speech in America.”

As for legacy verified accounts like my own, Musk has oscillated from saying that they’d require the same $8/month charge to suggesting they’d continue to saying they will be dropped–while also introducing, yanking and then resurfacing gray-checkmark icons for certain larger organizations over a 36-hour period. Oh, and not paying your $8 a month might mean your tweets fall down a bit bucket.

After a Thursday that saw Twitter’s chief information security officer, chief privacy officer, and chief complaince officer resign by early morning, Musk told the remaining employees at an all-hands meeting that “Bankruptcy isn’t out of the question.” Since Twitter now owes more than $1 billion a year in interest on the debt from Musk’s acquisition, that warning seems reasonable.

I am not writing this out of schadenfreude. As much as Twitter can drive me nuts (what is it with the militantly stupid people in my replies?), I’ve found it enormously helpful as a public notebook, a shortcut to subject-matter experts, an on-demand focus group, and an ongoing exercise in short-form prose. As (I think) my Washington Post colleague Frank Ahrens once observed, Twitter lets journalists write the New York City tabloid headlines we couldn’t get away with in our own newsrooms.

A "Keep Calm and Tweet #ONA12" badge from the 2012 Online News Association conference.

If Twitter really does implode, which now seems a much more real possibility even if a roundtrip through Chapter 11 is more likely, I don’t know how I’d replace it.

Many of the people I follow there are advancing evacuation plans on a federated, non-commercial, somewhat confusing social platform–not Usenet, but Mastodon.

I have taken tentative steps to do likewise, in the sense that I created one account on the well-known server Mastodon.Social and then realized I’d created a separate account on the xoxo.zone server in 2018 after hearing Mastodon talked up at a meetup during the XOXO conference in Portland. Now I need to decide which account to keep and which one to migrate, and indecision over that makes it easier to stay on Twitter and watch it burn.

Meanwhile, seeing Musk’s stark, public display of incompetence continues to leave me baffled when I compare that to the Musk venture I know best, SpaceX. If Musk ran SpaceX this impulsively and with this little willingness to learn from others, multiple launch pads at Cape Canaveral would be smoking holes in the ground.

Instead, SpaceX is the leading provider of launch services in the world, sending Falcon 9 rockets to space and landing their first stages for reuse on a better-than-weekly basis. “Transformational” is not too strong of a word for what SpaceX has accomplished since it first orbited a prototype Dragon capsule in December of 2010; this part of Musk’s career ought to be Presidential Medal of Freedom material, with bipartisan applause.

(I got to see that reentry-singed Dragon capsule up close in July of 2011 when NASA hosted a Tweetup at the Kennedy Space Center for the final Space Shuttle launch, yet another experience I owe in some way to Twitter.)

I keep hoping that I will see this sort of steely-eyed focus in Musk’s stewardship of Twitter. Instead, he appears to be off to an even worse start than I could have imagined. And I can imagine quite a bit.

Weekly output: Pixel 5a repair, Spectrum One, defining AI, innovating through a crisis, Alexa ambitions, Comcast uploads, brain-computer interfaces, digital personalization, Microsoft supports Ukraine, Seaborg nuclear power, Facebook Oversight Board, Signal

My last international trip of the year wrapped up Saturday afternoon with my last landing at Dulles Airport without a Metro station there in revenue service. And I have somehow already posted my Flickr album from this week’s Web Summit trip.

10/31/2022: DIY Demo: Just How Easy Is It to Fix Your Phone’s Shattered Screen Yourself?, PCMag

My recap of successfully replacing my Pixel 5a’s shattered screen using an iFixit repair kit was, as far as I can tell, the first story I’ve written to include the word “spudger.” It was also the first story in quite some time, maybe ever, where I lost a little blood in the research phase.

10/31/2022: Spectrum Adds New Bundle of Broadband and Wireless (Not Broadband and Cable), PCMag

We had to update this post to note a $5 rate hike to Spectrum’s non-promotional rates for residential broadband that went into effect Nov. 1–something that Spectrum’s PR person didn’t think to mention when answering my fact-checking questions about that service’s new promotion for bundled broadband and wireless.

My Web Summit schedule, as seen in the browser on my phone as I held it up in the Forum. 11/2/2022: Time to define AI, Web Summit

I got asked to cover this panel two and a half hours in advance after the original moderator had some unspecified flight trouble. It all worked out, thanks in large part to Dataiku CEO Florian Douetteau’s stage presence. #professionalism

11/2/2022: Recession busters: How to innovate through a crisis, Web Summit

This panel had a wide-ranging cast of characters: Andy Baynes, who worked at Apple and Nest before co-founding the consultancy GT; Kit Krugman, board chair of WIN: Women in Innovation and managing director for organization and culture design at co:collective; and Jasjit Singh, executive director of the Commerce Department’s SelectUSA office.

11/2/2022: More Than a Voice: Amazon Wants Alexa to Be an ‘Advisor and Companion’, PCMag

Amazon’s Rohit Prasad, senior vice president and head scientist for Alexa, led off the Web Summit main-stage schedule Wednesday morning.

11/2/2022: Comcast is upping upload speeds. But for now, you’ll need a premium bundle., USA Today

After years of hiding its slow upload speeds on a network-management disclosures page, Comcast has a better story to tell there–which it’s stepping on by making those faster uploads a privilege of a premium-service bundle.

11/3/2022: Hardware that can read your mind, Web Summit

I usually don’t bring props to my panels, but after getting invited to do this onstage interview with Neuroelectrics co-founder and CEO Ana Maiques, I almost immediately thought that a talk about brain-computer interfaces needed a tinfoil hat. Maiques liked the idea when we met backstage and I showed the aluminum foil I’d brought from the U.S., and a great conversation ensued.

11/3/2022: Making products that speak, Web Summit

This panel about digital personalization (featuring CI&T president Bruno Guicardi, BBC chief product officer Storm Fagan, and Chubb chief digital and chief risk officer Sean Ringsted) featured a stage that was noisier and warmer than average, and ending the panel at the 0:00 mark felt like a minor victory.

11/3/2022: Microsoft Pledges Digital Support for Ukraine Through 2023, PCMag

After multiple years of seeing Microsoft president Brad Smith warn in Web Summit talks of the risks of cyberattacks on civilian infrastructure, that executive returned to this conference to say the company would extend its digital support for Ukraine through all of 2023.

11/4/2022: This Danish startup wants to make nuclear cheap again—by putting plants on barges, Fast Company

This story started with my startup-pitch panel at TechBBQ in Copehagen more than six weeks earlier, when I found Seaborg’s presentation interesting enough to want to learn more. Then the ensuing weeks of travel got in the way of my moving forward with the piece while I needed more time than I expected to chase down an analyst type to provide some perspective.

11/4/2022: Facebook Oversight Board to Elon Musk: Do No Harm, Don’t Piss Off the Advertisers, PCMag

This panel happened the same day that new Twitter owner Elon Musk ordered mass layoffs at the company, and whoever at Web Summit picked this day for this panel may have been well-advised to buy a lottery ticket.

11/4/2022: New Signal Boss: We’re No WhatsApp, PCMag

After the speakers’ lounge and press center closed, I finished writing this post on a park bench outside the venue, where the event WiFi somehow kept working and let me file this before dinner.

Moderating from the bullpen

LISBON

My Wednesday got a little more interesting halfway through breakfast when my phone buzzed with an e-mail from my Web Summit speaker coordinator: He’d had a panel moderator drop out after a problem with his flight interrupted his travel to Lisbon, and was there any chance I could cover the session?

Oh, and this “Time to define AI” session was starting in two and a half hours.

I like a challenge, my schedule had room for this panel, and I’ve written at non-trivial length about artificial-intelligence applications, so I said I could do the conference equivalent of pitching out of the bullpen.

Then I learned that the original moderator had not e-mailed an outline for the panel, leaving me with just a short briefing written by the organizers weeks ago.

Fortunately, my new speaking partner–Dataiku CEO Florian Douetteau–had written an essay for VentureBeat about his vision for AI a week ago and then shared it on his LinkedIn profile. As I read that, I thought of a fun question that would work for an opening or closing line (do you put “AI,” “machine learning,” “neural network” or some other buzzword on your pitch deck to investors to get the most money out of them?) and reaffirmed that I could still do this.

We had a quick conversation as we walked to the stage, four large convention-center halls away from the speakers’ lounge, that lodged a few more talking points in my head. I transferred them to a paper notepad as we sat backstage, we got fitted with our microphones–and then the talk went fine.

It helped greatly that Douetteau showed himself to be a practiced speaker, easing my job of panel clock management by holding forth on whatever topic I threw out. To put it in D.C.-radio terms, he spoke in NPR-affiliate WAMU paragraphs instead of commercial news-radio WTOP sentences.

We wrapped up the panel within seconds of the scheduled length, the audience applauded, Douetteau and I shook hands, and I had relearned an old lesson: When in doubt but always when it’s reasonably easy, be the person who solves your client’s problems.

Weekly output: chip shortage (x2), cybersecurity survey, satellite broadband, soccer-playing robot, Xfinity Mobile, Elon Musk bought Twitter, MRI mind reading

I’m off to Lisbon tonight for Web Summit–the eighth time I’ve covered this conference and the seventh time I’ve traveled to it as a speaker (with the organizers picking up lodging and airfare). This, however, is the first time in my experience that the conference doesn’t overlap with Election Day.

I gave Patreon readers got an advance look at my agenda in a post there Friday; the rest of y’all will get to find out as the week progresses.

Screenshot of the column as seen in USAT's iPad app, illustrated with a close-up picture of a chip on a green circuit board.10/24/2022: As chip shortage starts to ease, factory-level fixes will take longer, USA Today

Usually, I suggest story topics to my USAT editors, but this time one of them asked if I could tackle this topic.

10/24/2022: People Still Think Their Smart Speakers Are Eavesdropping on Conversations, PCMag

I got an advance look at a survey the Chubb insurance company had done, which both revealed some disturbing beliefs and practices among respondents and shared some dubious security advice.

10/26/2022: Do We Need to Rethink Existing Rules About Satellite Internet Interference?, PCMag

I went to a lunchtime panel Tuesday at the New America think tank about this wonky topic and came away with both a free lunch and notes for this post.

10/27/2022: And The Chip Shortage Lingers – What It Means For Your Next Car Purchase, KTRH

This Houston radio station wanted to quiz me about the USAT column. The link here points to a story they did based in part on a quick phone interview I did Wednesday morning with KTRH’s Jeff Biggs, but I assume H-town listeners also heard me on the air at some point.

10/25/2022: Soccer-playing robot, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news channel had me–in their D.C. studio for my first time since early 2020–to discuss an IEEE Spectrum story with the eye-catching headline “Goalkeeping Robot Dog Tends Its Net Like a Pro”

10/27/2022: Comcast Puts Up ‘Over 5 Million Served’ Sign for Xfinity Mobile, PCMag

I wrote about a Comcast service that people seem to really, really like.

10/29/2022: Elon Musk owns Twitter now, Al Jazeera

I returned to AJ’s studio for a spot about the possible ramifications and downsides of the world’s richest man owning Twitter.

10/30/2022: mind reading via MRI, Al Jazeera

Researchers at the University of Texas demonstrated an ability to reconstruct the mental language of subjects via MRI measurements–just not word for word. The anchors wanted to know if this technology could be abused by tyrannical governments; I said that since you need to have the subject inside an MRI machine, the government would need to detain the person first, and tyrannical governments already have ways to compel people to talk. The researchers also found that “subject cooperation is required both to train and to apply the decoder.”

A little Lisbon and Web Summit advice

When I arrived in Lisbon for Web Summit in 2016, I had about the least experience possible with the place for somebody who had visited it once before–because that previous visit happened when I was one year old. But over four more Web Summit trips in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2021, I’ve gotten a much deeper sense of the city and the conference.

If you’re coming to both for the first time, I hope you will find this post helpful.

A Web Summit sign in the Praça Dom Pedro IV, as seen during 2021's conference.

Arrival

Expect a terrific view of Lisbon and the Tagus River on your way into Humberto Delgado Airport–and then steel yourself for a long passport line if you don’t have a passport from one of the European Union’s member state. (This is the airport that persuaded me to renew my long-dormant Irish passport.) You can and should pick up your Web Summit badge right after you clear customs.

Getting around

The Lisbon Metro should be your new friend. Although its network is not all that extensive, it connects to the airport and Web Summit’s venue (more on that in a moment) and ensures that most parts of the center city are only a short walk from a stop. Of the various fares, I’ve found that a Zapping prepaid credit–also good on buses and Lisbon’s hill-climbing trams–has worked best for me.

Update, 10/27/2022: A reader pointed out that Web Summit has arranged for discounted multiple-day transit passes, with the best involving buying ahead of time at the Lisbon Metro’s site (for instance, €25 for five days) and then redeem at a ticket-vending machine by punching in the voucher code e-mailed to you.

Like all good European cities, Lisbon is marvelously walkable and worth strolling around aimlessly during any idle time you may have (such as the day you arrive, when you’ll want to get some sun on your face to counteract the time-zone shift). But it’s a lot steeper than most, and its stone-mosaic sidewalks are slippery when wet.

Don’t forget to eat. Portugueuse food is delicious, and eating in Lisbon was a bargain long before the dollar hit parity with the euro.

Conference app and site

Web Summit not only provides but mandates Android and iOS mobile apps that store your ticket, let you manage your schedule, and network and chat with other attendees. Think of the app on your phone as Web Summit’s answer to WeChat–except this “everything app” doesn’t come with constant state surveillance.

Unfortunately, the Web Summit app and the Web Summit site don’t synchronize. And the app somehow does not support copy and paste (judging from its performance on my Pixel 5a and iPad mini 5), so if you want to save the description and participants of a panel for your notes, you’ll need to switch from the app to the site, search for the panel on the site, and then copy the info from there.

Venue

Web Summit takes places at the Altice Arena and, next door to that roughly 20,000-seat arena, the Feira Internacional de Lisboa convention center. These buildings are about a 10-minute walk from the Oriente station on the Red Line (Linha Vermelha) of the Lisbon Metro, but it can take easily twice as long to walk from the arena to the most distant hall of the convention center. It can also take a while to get in on the first couple of days, when the queue backs up into the plaza in front of the FIL and the arena.

You should be able to rely on the conference WiFi, but power outlets may be harder to find. If you’re a speaker, you should also be able to rely on the speaker lounge for all your meals; otherwise, there are numerous food trucks and stands to choose from in the plazas between the FIL’s four halls. You should not expect to get to every panel you had in mind, but there are enough interesting talks going on that–as at one of my other regular talkfests, SXSW–it can make sense to camp out in one spot and let yourself be surprised.

Departure

The security lines at LIS can be gruesome, like 30 minutes gruesome. But if you have Star Alliance Gold status (which for U.S. readers usually means Premier Gold or higher status on United) and are flying on a Star Alliance airline like United, TAP or Lufthansa, you can take this airport’s elite-shortcut “Gold Track” line–just remember that it’s labeled “Green Way” instead of “Gold Track” because reasons.

That status also lets you stop by TAP’s lounge if you’re on a Star Alliance carrier, but with the common premium travel credit card perk of a Priority Pass membership you can also enjoy the ANA lounge (no relation to the Japanese airline) regardless of your flight. Either one is good for a breakfast before a long day above the Atlantic. Remember, though, that a potentially tedious non-EU passport exit line awaits after the lounges unless you’re flying to another Schengen-area country.

If even after standing for too long in both the security and passport lines, you still find yourself looking forward to returning to Lisbon–don’t worry, that’s a normal reaction.