Weekly output: gadget customer satisfaction, Google Pay fact-checking rewards, right to repair, Mozilla browser-choice report, AI image generators

Through two years of building back my business-travel schedule, one frequent destination from the Before Times had remained off my calendar until this week: New York. My overdue reunion with NYC allowed an equally belated inspection of Penn Station’s Moynihan Train Hall (one thing I didn’t expect was how great it would be to see the sky through that glass ceiling as I ascended the escalator from the tracks) and not enough time to wander around that other city on the Northeast Corridor.

9/20/2022: Amazon Sees Uptick in Consumer Satisfaction With Its Fire Tablets, Kindles, PCMag

I got an advance look at the latest survey by the American Customer Satisfaction Index, which suggested that Amazon’s e-readers and tablets have been winning some fans in the last year.

9/21/2022: Some Google Pay Users Offered Tiny Bribes to Check Transaction Data, PCMag

I decided to try to sell this story after Google prompted me in Copenhagen to verify that its app had correctly recorded a transaction at a ticket-vending machine in that city’s central train station–which should be among the easier paperless transactions to confirm.

Photo shows the slide identifying me and my fellow panelists: Lisa Kemp of Sims Lifecycle Solutions, Ildar Manoprov of WCell, and Dylan Jackie of Back Market.9/21/2022: Right to Repair Panel, BackForum

The gadget-resale platform Back Market had me moderate a panel at its one-day conference in Brooklyn, in return for which they covered my Amtrak fare from and back to D.C. This was originally going to be a one-day trip, but after Qualcomm invited me to an auto-tech event it was hosting the next day (with lodging covered), I opted to stick around NYC through Friday morning.

9/22/2022: Mozilla says users are being denied browser choice. It’s not that simple, PCMag

My first prominent endorsement of Mozilla Firefox happened 18 years ago, and yet I still found this report that browser’s developers to be surprisingly unpersuasive. 

9/25/2022: Why This Online Archivist Isn’t Feeling Much Angst About AI-Generated Art, PCMag

After arriving at Union Station late Friday morning, I bikeshared over to the Wharf for the conference hosted by The Atlantic that was a fixture in my Before Times calendar. The talk by the Internet Archive’s Jason Scott immediately struck me as material for a post, and then I had a moderately mind-expanding talk with him an hour and change later.

I forgot my laptop’s charging cable–and it wasn’t disastrous

NEW YORK

My e travel scenario revealed itself a few minutes after my train pulled out of Union Station Wednesday morning: My gadget-accessories bag was missing the USB-C-to-USB-C cable that I was counting on to connect my compact travel charger to my laptop and phone.

HP Spectre x360 laptop trickle-charging off a USB cable plugged into an aging Palm Pixi charger.

And yet I freaked out less than I would have imagined after realizing I’d forgotten to reclaim the cable that I’d handed to my wife for her Android phone migration–and then deciding to leave my laptop’s heavier charger at home to travel a little lighter.

Fortunately, unlike the could’ve-been-disastrous CES trip that started with me leaving without a proprietary charger for my Washington Post-issued Dell laptop, my HP laptop uses the same charger as most new laptops, Apple’s included. I assumed that would mean I’d have no trouble borrowing chargers after arriviing in NYC, or at least I’d have less trouble than when my old MacBook Air’s power cable fatally frayed at SXSW years ago.

But while I quickly plugged in my computer at my Wednesday-afternoon stop at gadget-reseller Back Market’s Brooklyn offcies–where I led a panel discussion about people’s rights to repair the things they’ve bought–I had to get more creative afterwards.

The front desk at my hotel near Madison Square Park (disclosure: paid for by Qualcomm as part of an event for press and investor types that I attended Thursday) did not have a spare cable, so I tried using the USB-A to USB-C connector that I did have to plug the laptop into the USB charging port next to a nightstand in my room. To my pleasant surprise, that worked, sort of: The computer charged, so slowly that the taskbar icon didn’t even indicate that it was plugged in.

For regular use, this hack of a solution wuold not fly–the trickle of current it provides is so slight that the battery only drains a little more slowly when in active use. But in sleep mode overnight, that slow drip brought the batttery back to full. I repeated this exercise during some idle time Thursday, using the ancient but tiny Palm charger that I had long ago tucked into my gadget-accessories bag on just-in-case grounds.

Once again, it helpd that I’d replaced the battery on this HP last fall, allowing a vastly better battery life than what I would have suffered with a year and a half ago.

Now that I’ve made it through this unplanned exercise in power management and am headed back to home and a full set of chargers and cables, one thing’s for sure: I will not repeat my mistake Wednesday of leaving home without consulting the travel checklist that I’d prepared years ago to avoid this exact situation.

Weekly output: Roku updates, targeted TV ads (x2), Instagram Reels, online-ad advice, TechBBQ startup pitches, Theranos whistleblower

This week’s trip to Copenhagen for the TechBBQ conference was going to introduce me to two new countries, thanks to my connection in Iceland each way. And then I realized that I could duck over to Sweden for breakfast Friday morning, thanks to Europe’s longest road/rail bridge connecting Denmark and Sweden with frequent and cheap train service.

9/12/2022: Upcoming Roku interface changes nod to streaming complexity, Fierce Video

Another run of fill-in work at my video trade-pub client started with this writeup of upcoming Roku product releases.

9/12/2022: Fox enlists Comscore to help target local TV ads, Fierce Video

Fox is bringing on outside help to improve its ad targeting at its local TV stations.

9/12/2022: New Dish partnership to enable real-time programmatic TV ads, Fierce Video

Dish is enlisting similar assistance with its targeted ads.

9/13/2022: WSJ report: Instagram’s Reels is reeling in hardly anybody, Fierce Video

A few days after writing this, I finally had a Reel catch my eye–in the form of one my brother had posted.

9/13/2022: Advertising Group Urges Companies: Give Customers a Reason to Share Data, PCMag

I finished writing this summary of a report from the ad-industry group IAB while sitting at the gate for my flight from Dulles to Reykjavik.

The audience for my panel, a few minutes before it started. Attendees wear headphones provided by the organizers to cope with a noisy venue.9/14/2022: PR & Press Panel Pitch, TechBBQ

My contribution to this conference, alongside moderator Morgan Meaker of Wired and fellow judges Jordan French of Grit Daily News, Amala Balakrishner of DealStreetAsia and Niels Lunde of Børsen, consisted of quizzing a set of early-stage firms picked by TechBBQ’s organizers: Seaborg Technologies (cost-competitive nuclear power), FarmDroid (robotic agriculture), Stykka (eco-friendly interior construction), Atlant 3D Nanosystems (nano-scale additive manufacturing), and Blue Lobster (sustainable seafood). All five had to present with the unexpected disadvantage of the audio-video system preventing them from showing all but snippets of their slide decks.

9/15/2022: Theranos Whistleblower on Lessons Learned: I ‘Would Have Hired a Lawyer’, PCMag

I wasn’t sure if a conference focused on the Nordic tech ecosystem would yield a story for a U.S. audience, but Tech.eu editor-in-chef Robin Wauters’s interview of Theranos whistleblower Erika Cheung provided just that.

Dodging cyclists in Denmark

COPENHAGEN

Rush hour sounds different here–instead of the usual chorus of car horns and idling engines, the whir and rattle of bicycle chains take precedence. And I’ve felt like I need to take just as much care to avoid getting bumped by a bike as by a car, although the consequences of a mistake with the former would be much gentler.

Cyclists pedal past the train station and Tivoli Gardens in downtown Copenhagen on a cloudy Friday morning.

I’d read about the cyclist-friendliness of Copenhagen enough times and heard about it from my brother, who went here twice for work and then brought his family here for vacation because he liked the city that much. But seeing and hearing how many people get around by bike–37% report doing so on a typical day, according to a 2020 survey by the European Union that put Copenhagen second only to Amsterdam among major EU cities–is something else.

And the Danes seem to have done this without building a lot of complicated infrastructure. The typical accomodation here is a flat lane of pavement, elevated above the street and next to the sidewalk, where you might find on-street parking in the U.S. There are also a few cyclist-and-pedestrian bridges spanning the canals that split the city; seeing them made me look forward to the bike/pedestrian bridge due to be built across the Potomac as part of the Long Bridge project to add a second rail span.

The bikes aren’t too fancy either, almost all sturdy two-wheelers with fenders and cargo racks–except for the tricycles with the parallel wheels up front to accommodate a cargo compartment big enough for groceries, a kid, or a dog. Almost everybody wears street clothes, and most don’t bother with helmets.

A red regional-rail train's bicycle-stowage carriage blurs as the train pulls out of Copenhagen Central Station at night.

(It has to help that Copenhagen is a compact and flat city with short travel distances.)

Bike parking consists of not individual racks but entire arrays of them, some covered. Bike locks didn’t seem terribly strong, and I’m not sure how big of a problem bike theft is or if that’s the reason why so many Copenhagen bikes are on the plainer side.

The trains also welcome cyclists, with regional-rail cars setting aside plenty of space for bike storage. And the stairs leading in and out of stations each have runnels to let you wheel a bike in and out of them instead of having to lug it up and down.

It’s all a delight to see, but further investigation is required after my brief, four-day stay this week. For one thing, I didn’t get on a bike myself despite having bikeshare services as an option, and I feel bad about that.

Weekly output: Huawei’s IFA pitch, broadband buildout, Verizon One Unlimited for iPhone, iPhone 12 and 13 discounts, pay-TV warnings, Super Bowl ads, Mark Vena podcast

A week after I got back from Berlin, I finished my Flickr album of photos from the event, plus another one of Berlin scenery. That comes just in time for me to get back on a plane to Europe: Monday night, I fly to Copenhagen for the TechBBQ conference, at which I’ll be one of the judges at a startup pitching session.

9/5/2022: Huawei exec generates reality distortion field in IFA keynote, Light Reading

The head of Huawei’s Western European consumer business gave some answers in this onstage Q&A that seemed not just detached from reality but delusional.

9/6/2022: NTIA Head: At First, New Broadband Maps Are ‘Not Going to Be as Good’ as We Want, PCMag

While the federal government will soon have much more accurate maps of broadband availability, it apparently won’t use them to distribute broadband-buildout subsidies until localites get a chance to challenge perceived inaccuracies.

9/7/2022: ‘One Unlimited for iPhone’ Is Verizon’s Sixth Unlimited-Data Phone Plan, PCMag

The lede here wrote itself: “Verizon now needs both hands to count all its unlimited-data smartphone plans.”

Screenshot of story as seen in USA Today's iPad app, with the lead art being an Apple-provided photo showing five iPhone 14 handsets in different colors.9/7/2022: Why now’s a great time to grab an iPhone 12 or 13 at a discount after iPhone 14 launch, USA Today

This explainer of the potential appeal of the newly-discounted iPhone 12 and 13 got a quick update after AT&T clarified that only the new iPhone 14 would be supported on the 3.45 GHz 5G spectrum it’s now deploying (which is not the same as its C-band 5G but also significant to its network plans).

9/8/2022: MoffettNathanson raises red flags about cord cutting, Fierce Video

On another day when I was filling in at my trade-pub client, I wrote up a research report warning media firms and pay-TV providers that cord cutting and advertising revenue each stood to get a good deal worse, while sports-rights deals would probably get even more expensive.

9/8/2022: Fox says Super Bowl spots are going, going, almost gone, Fierce Video

And speaking of sports-rights deals and advertising revenue, Fox Sports says it’s sold almost all of the spots for the next Super Bowl.

9/9/2022: S02 E35 – SmartTechCheck Podcast, Mark Vena

I rejoined this industry-analyst host and my fellow tech journalists John Quain and Stewart Wolpin to discuss IFA (Vena and Quain also covered it in Berlin) and Apple’s product-launch event Wednesday. One point I made about the latter: While Apple’s satellite-SOS feature looks fascinating, Apple requiring a subscription after the first two years raises a risk that somebody will set out for a wilderness hike with an iPhone that just turned two years old, then realize they can’t use that feature to summon help.

I still don’t get the iPhone pre-order feeding frenzy

Today, Apple started taking pre-orders for a new lineup of smartphones–the same thing it’s done every year since 2007. And just as they have every year since 2007, enough people tried throwing their credit cards at Apple that the company’s online store struggled to respond, leading to one of the more entitled forms of tweeting: Apple won’t let me buy its new smartphone right away!

I don’t get it. But I also didn’t get this customer behavior a dozen years ago, when about the same thing happened at the debut of the iPhone 4. After having seen this kind of self-defeating crowd psychology yield predictable results over the previous three years, I had to vent in my blog at the Post:

So why do people put themselves through the cybernetic equivalent of driving to Tysons Corner Center at 5 p.m. on a Friday in mid-December? A new iPhone–or any other device–isn’t like a ticket to Stephen Strasburg’s pitching debut; your opportunity to buy it does not expire within hours. Nor will they stop making the thing after meeting an initial quota. What’s the point of joining yet another “OMG must buy now!!” shopping stampede?

And yet after 12 more years in which we all should have learned definitively that Apple will crank out new iPhones by the tens of millions, many smartphone shoppers seem to have learned little.

(You can argue that Apple has learned just as little about building an online retail system that can scale to meet this level of demand. But I can understand the company not going too crazy to optimize its retail infrastructure for a one-day-a-year corner case.)

To be clear, I’m not talking about people who have been limping along with damaged smartphones because they didn’t want to buy last year’s Apple gadget weeks or days before its replacement by a shinier successor. I’m also not talking about people who evaluate gadgets for a living–I did once buy a new iPhone on the day of its in-store debut because CNNMoney.com paid me to do that as part of a review.

But if you set an alarm on your completely functional smartphone for 8 a.m. EDT Friday so you could spend $799 and up for a new model that you have not seen or touched and know only from Apple’s staged presentation and the hands-on reports of journalists and analysts at its product-launch event Wednesday, and then you found yourself repeatedly refreshing Apple’s online store to see if your order went through… I hope you’re not asking for sympathy after gadget-hype water once again turned out to be wet.

Weekly output: SLS explained, skepticism for Warner Bros. Discovery, wireless carrier cell-site location data retention, security-patch severity, Twitter opens Circle feature, Samsung’s 8K pitch at IFA, electronic eccentricities at IFA

This week’s trip to Berlin and back to cover the IFA trade show (reminder, with the event organizers covering most of my travel costs) finally allowed me to experience Berlin Brandenburg Airport as a passenger instead of as a zombie-airport tourist. I can’t say I miss Tegel Airport’s weird system of having separate security screenings at every gate.

Fast Company SLS explainer8/29/2022: NASA’s Space Launch System—whenever it comes—will mark the end of an era for U.S. spaceflight, Fast Company

This post needed a quick rewrite before posting to cover Monday’s scrub of the planned Artemis I launch of the SLS. After a second scrub Saturday, this headline remains current. And it appears that I have a renewed opportunity to see this giant rocket fly in person

8/29/2022: Bloomberg Intelligence raises flags about Warner Bros. Discovery, Fierce Video

I wrote this post during last week’s flurry of filling in at my trade-pub client, but it didn’t get published until Monday.

8/29/2022: Here’s How Long Your Wireless Carrier Holds on to Your Location Data, PCMag

I wrote this from a lounge at Dulles Airport before my departure for Berlin, but it helped that I’ve covered this topic before.

8/31/2022: Security patches for your iPhone come all the time. But should you be told which are important?, USA Today

This isn’t the first time a column for USAT started with a tech-support query from a relative.

9/1/2022: Twitter opens Circle to all users, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news channel asked if I could cover Twitter’s introduction of this new audience-selection tool. It’s an interesting topic (in part because Twitter has basically reinvented the Circles feature of Google+), but doing this TV hit from IFA required me to find a quiet spot with bandwidth. I found that spot in the landscaped Sommergarten in the middle of the Berlin Messe.

9/2/2022: Samsung Shows Off a Video Unicorn at IFA: A TV Series in 8K, PCMag

The dismal 8K sales stats I reference in the closing paragraphs are really something, and I’m saying that as a longtime skeptic of the 8K value proposition.

9/3/2022: Ovens with eyes, a chameleon of a fridge, and other electronic eccentricities at IFA, Fierce Electronics

I wrote this recap of IFA oddities–a staple of my coverage of the show over the last 10 years–for this sibling publication of Fierce Video.

New transit adventures in Berlin

BERLIN

The IFA tech trade show is not like CES in many ways, but transportation tops the list. Unlike the gadget gathering that’s owned my January schedule since 1998, Europe’s biggest electronics event takes place in a city with an immensely more advanced and useful transit network.

I thought I’d figured out Berlin’s expanse of U-Bahn, S-Bahn, tram, bus and regional rail lines fairly well, but this week here has taught me a couple of new tricks.

Photo shows a €9 ticket held in front of an arriving S-Bahn train at the Hackescher Markt station.

My first update came from taking advantage of Germany’s move to ease the pain of inflation, the €9 universal transit ticket it introduced in June. While I only had two days to capitalize on that promotion, buying one at a ticket-vending machine at Berlin Brandenburg Airport Tuesday still dramatically cut my trip costs over those last two days of August.

I enjoyed being reacquainted with the things I like about taking trains in Berlin. The rail system reaches almost everywhere (the now-shuttered Tegel Airport being a notable exception), trains come so often that waiting more than 10 minutes (as I had to do on the U5 Tuesday) comes as a shock instead of the usual, and the fare system prices every trip the same regardless of which exact service you take.

Thursday morning, I bought a 24-hour ticket at a ticket-vending machine. But then I screwed up by not getting a second one earlier than Friday evening, when crowds of IFA attendees lined up at the Messe Süd station’s TVMs. Only then did I think of downloading Deutsche Bahn’s app and using that to buy a ticket and avoid the unlikely embarrassment of having a fare inspector bust me for riding without paying.

Installing this app took only a minute or so, thanks to T-Mobile now offering full-speed roaming in the 11 countries in which its corporate parent Deutsche Telekom provides wireless service. Setting up an account and buying a 24-hour ticket took longer, thanks to the app demanding an account registration that included my street address and then not letting me select a credit card stored in Google Pay. But by the time I was three stops out of Messe Sud–the barrier-free, proof-of-payment regime let me board without paying upfront–I had my ticket.

And I’d learned that DB’s app cuts passengers a tiny break on fares, with a 24-hour ticket in Berlin’s A and B zones costing €8.80 instead of the TVM cost of €9.20. That makes DB Navigator a download I don’t mind having added to my small collection of transit payment apps—a set that now includes software for Austin and Las Vegas, but somehow not the city I’ve called home for more than three decades.

Weekly output: 5G IoT security worries, Big Ten carriage deals, House of the Dragon streaming glitches, Netflix + ads, Russian digital attacks on Ukraine, YouTube TV, Thursday Night Football, Xfinity Mobile, NBC Sports Washington, non-TV video viewing, Plex breach, video budgets, FuboTV, LotR: Rings of Power, SpaceX + T-Mobile

Monday’s schedule has three big items on it: the Space Launch System’s Artemis I liftoff, our kid starting seventh grade, and my flying across the Atlantic for the IFA electronics trade show in Berlin for the first time since 2019. They’re all pretty exciting, although one of them has a vastly more detailed checklist.

(The IFA organizers are covering most of the travel costs for an invited group of U.S. journalists and analysts, your blogger here included.)

Screenshot of story as seen in Safari on an iPad mini 5.8/22/2022: The next wave of wireless security worries: API-driven IoT devices, Light Reading

My Black Hat coverage continued with this recap of a talk about the possible security risks of connected devices on 4G and 5G networks.

8/22/2022: NBCUniversal and its Peacock streamer get Big Ten Saturday night, FierceVideo

I spent my mornings this week filling in at my video trade-pub client, starting with this post about a sweeping deal for college-sports carriage rights.

8/22/2022: Some Fire TV users fired up over streaming glitches with HBO Max, FierceVideo

Some House of the Dragon viewers had trouble watching the Game of Thrones prequel on Amazon Fire TV devices.

8/22/2022: Report: Netflix to keep new movies and kids’ shows ad-free, FierceVideo

I can imagine the relief of cash-strapped parents on learning that the upcoming cheaper-with-ads version of Netflix won’t feature ads in kid-oriented content.

8/23/2022: Six months into the war, how have Ukraine and its Western allies resisted Russia’s digital tactics?, Fast Company

I was almost done with this piece when I got the chance to quiz TCP/IP co-author Vint Cerf at a Washington event about how Russia has abused his creation.

8/23/2022: YouTube TV to add YouTube Shorts and four-channel viewing, FierceVideo

This lede essentially wrote itself: “YouTube TV’s shorter-attention-span viewers may applaud (albeit briefly) two new features apparently coming to the streaming video service.”

8/23/2022: DirecTV-Amazon deal keeps Thursday Night Football in bars, FierceVideo

This story about NFL rights is really one about the uneven availability of broadband in the U.S.

8/23/2022: Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile Cuts Rates for Subscribers With 2 or 3 Lines, PCMag

Verifying the fine print in Xfinity Mobile’s plans took a surprisingly long time.

8/24/2022: Comcast sells D.C. RSN to Monumental Sports & Entertainment, FierceVideo

After I wrote this, the Washington Post reported that MSE founder Ted Leonsis is preparing a bid to buy the Washington Nationals.

8/24/2022: 59% of U.S. adults watch video daily on non-TV devices, FierceVideo

I wrote up a survey of video-viewing habits.

8/24/2022: Plex reports data breach, tells users to reset passwords, FierceVideo

It was somewhat nice to write about a data breach that didn’t involve me.

8/25/2022: Survey: 26% of U.S. households have cut video budgets, FierceVideo

This survey found that Americans’ biggest money-saving move was dining out less often.

8/26/2022: Fubo adds slate of Cinedigm FAST lifestyle channels, FierceVideo

I noted that the streaming-TV provider Fubo’s list of channels is now as long as the average cable company’s.

8/26/2022: WSJ: Amazon spends $715 million on The Rings of Power, FierceVideo

I would have written this piece faster if I hadn’t spent so much time finding Lord of the Rings references to drop into it.

8/26/2022: T-Mobile to Expand Coverage With the Help of SpaceX’s Starlink Satellites, PCMag

A very long Thursday wrapped up with me writing a version of this post from an advance copy of the joint SpaceX/T-Mobile announcement, then rewriting it that night after watching the stream of the event.

KSC FOMO is real

This weekend is treating me to the first-world problem of having travel booked to a place I haven’t visited in three years–at the cost of not being able to visit another place I haven’t visited in four years.

The Kennedy Space Center's Vehicle Assembly Building, Shuttle Landing Facility Runway, and launch complexes 39A and 39B as seen from an American Airlines jet on the way to Miami.

While I will be packing Sunday to fly to Berlin for the IFA electronics show for the first time since 2019 (disclosure: the organizers are covering most of the travel costs for an invited group of U.S. journalists and analysts, myself included), NASA’s massive Space Launch System rocket will be enjoying what I trust is its last night of slumber on Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center before starting a journey to the Moon Monday morning.

Before everybody gets on my case for the subpar judgment I’ve just confessed, I booked the IFA travel in early July, weeks before NASA set tentative launch dates for this uncrewed Artemis I mission. At least I’ve got Monday morning mostly free to glue myself to a screen and see if SLS lifts off in the two-hour window that opens at 8:33 a.m.

Meanwhile, journalists I know are arriving at Cape Canaveral and tweeting photos from KSC’s press site, something I last got to do in 2018. The Artemis 1 countdown began Saturday morning. And if no technical glitches surface and all the other launch-commit criteria line up green Monday, everybody close enough will get to see NASA’s largest rocket since the Saturn V take to the skies–then hear and feel the crackling thunder of its engines, which apparently will be a lot louder than the shuttle’s.

I’ll only get to watch the proceedings from my living room. The closest I’ve gotten to the Cape since that February 2018 trip to cover Falcon Heavy’s debut is seeing KSC from a plane–which, don’t get me wrong, is a real window-seat treat.

But while I may have to wait two more years for a chance to see the next SLS launch, the launch calendar is now so busy at the Space Coast that even a randomly scheduled trip to central Florida allows decent odds of seeing a liftoff. So, yes, I will return to KSC even if it’s just for fun–and in that case, I’m bringing my family so they can see firsthand why I’m so crazy about this.