Weekly output: Emmanuel Macron, Ditch the Box, Tech Night Owl

This week wasn’t really this slow: I filed two other stories that have yet to get edited and posted.

6/19/2017: Why America should import France’s plan to become ‘the nation of startups’, Yahoo Finance

I wrote up this recap of French president Emmanuel Macron’s Viva Technology speech on the flight home last Saturday. I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve had to use my not-totally-rusty French for a story: Macron spoke mostly in French, and the simultaneous English translation offered at the time fell behind at a few points, so I had to replay the speech to transcribe and translate some key phrases myself.

6/23/2017: Big Cable broke its promise and you’re paying for it, Yahoo Finance

I’ve had this post on my to-do list for a while: One year after major cable operators had put forth a bold, reasonably consumer-friendly plan to offer subscribers free apps to take the place of rented cable boxes, I could point out how almost none of them have done any such thing. The 1,195 comments below the post suggest I may have struck a nerve.

6/24/2017: June 24, 2017 — Kirk McElhearn and Rob Pegoraro, Tech Night Owl

I talked with host Gene Steinberg about my bootlooped Nexus 5X, Apple’s new iMac, why I wish Apple would finally update the Mac mini, and a few other things.

Advertisements

Goodbye, Nexus; hello, Pixel

I’m no longer rocking a four-year-old phone. Instead, I’ve upgraded to a 2016-vintage model.

This Google Pixel represents–I hope!–the end of the smartphone saga that began when my increasingly glitchy Nexus 5X lapsed into a fatal bootloop. The refurbished 5X Google offered as a free out-of-warranty replacement never shipped, notwithstanding the “confirmed” status of that order, so after a second call with Google’s store support I took their fallback offer of a full refund of my 5X purchase.

(It’s possible I got special treatment–Google should know how to Google me–but comments in Reddit’s 5X-bootloop thread report similar outcomes.)

I opted to use that money (technically, future money, since I won’t get the credit until the dead 5X completes its journey back to Google) on a Pixel for a few reasons. It remains the Wirecutter’s pick as the best Android phone; a pricier Samsung Galaxy S8 would subject me to tacky interface alterations and delayed security fixes; the new OnePlus 5 would be cheaper but comes with an even weaker record of software updates.

(I did consider buying an iPhone 7, but its absence of a headphone jack has not stopped seeming idiotic to me. And my frequent iPad experience of seeing apps revert to the stock keyboard instead of Google’s better Gboard isn’t something I need to repeat on a phone.)

It bugs me a little to upgrade to a device that shipped last fall, barely a year after the 5X’s debut. Although the Pixel’s camera does indeed seem terrific, in other respects this phone doesn’t represent a major advance over the 5X. But smartphone evolution has slowed down in general–a point people forget when they whine about Apple not shipping breakthrough products anymore.

It’s possible that the next Pixel 2 will add cordless charging, expandable memory and water resistance, and in that scenario I may wish my old phone could have staggered on for another few months. Or maybe Google will follow Apple’s foolish lead and get rid of the headphone jack on its next Pixel, in which case I’ll be patting myself on the back for timing my phone failures so well.

Weekly output: hotspot data use, smart grids, 3D printing, quantum computing, Sheryl Sandberg

After clocking almost 24,000 miles in the air in a 12-day period, I’m not scheduled to fly anywhere until late July–and that time, I’m taking my family. This week’s trip was to Paris for the second installment of moderating panels at the Viva Technology conference (with a side order of meetings with local tech types set up by a PR firm hired by Business France, the government trade-promotion organization that paid for my airfare and lodging), and the flights seemed positively short after last week’s jaunt to Shanghai and back.

6/14/2017: Use a mobile hotspot? How to avoid busting data caps, USA Today

I heard from a reader who said he’d successfully dropped his residential broadband connection in favor of tethering off his phone; I worried he’d exceed his wireless plan’s cap on mobile-hotspot use, so I wrote this how-to. It ran in the paper’s print edition Friday.

6/15/2017: Smart Grids Are Getting Smarter, Viva Technology

My conversation with LO3 Energy’s Scott Kessler and Upside Energy’s Graham Oakes involved some unexpected difficulty: I woke up around 3:30 in the morning and couldn’t get back to sleep for the next two hours. I haven’t had jet lag that bad in Europe in a couple of years, but spending the previous week six time zones to the right (or 18 to the left, depending on how you look at it) could not have helped.

6/15/2017: How Industrial​ ​3D​ ​Printing Is Helping Startups Go from Zero to Factory​, Viva Technology

Having his panel with Product of Things’ Moriya Kassis and re:3D’s Samantha Snabes come almost right after the other meant I didn’t have a chance to realize my fatigue again. Afterwards, I thought I could get in a nap in the speakers’ lounge–but French president Emmanuel Macron’s visit there made that impossible. (My Yahoo writeup of the pro-startup agenda Macron talked up in his Viva Tech speech should post Monday morning.)

6/16/2017: Quantum Computing, Cryptography And Our Privacy, Viva Technology

I felt like less of a zombie for this chat with Kudelski Security’s Jean-Philippe Aumasson and Shlomi Dolev of the wonderfully-named Secret Double Octopus. And I learned a few things about quantum computing in the process, which is how a panel is supposed to work.

6/18/2017: Sheryl Sandberg has 2 useful pieces of advice for Facebook advertisers, Yahoo Finance

Facebook’s chief operating officer spoke by video to Viva Tech co-founder Maurice Lévy at the end of Friday’s sessions, which made for some rotten timing in terms of my writing the story and then deal with edits. The lesson I take from that: It’s a privilege to be able to go to Paris for work.

Throwback Thursday: I’m walking around in 2017 with a phone from 2013

PARIS–I’m having an unusual week of smartphone use: I’m not unlocking my device with my fingerprints and I’m not posting any pictures. That’s because I’m not using the Nexus 5X I’d been carrying around since late 2015.

On my walk home from Metro late Friday after a very long day, night and day of travel back from Shanghai, my Nexus 5X rebooted by itself. That’s become a depressingly common occurrence lately–but this time, my phone wouldn’t get past the initial Google logo.

I spent the next 48 hours reading up on this “bootloop” issue (see, for example, this Reddit thread and this post from a user who spent far more time fighting the problem than I have) and trying to revive the phone. Putting the phone in the fridge or freezer let me boot the device, unlock it and run it long enough to stage some manual backups in two apps, but I got no further. It seemed clear I was facing a hardware failure, not a software issue.

The tech-support call I requested Sunday led to a remarkably quick resolution: After I told the rep that two other troubleshooting options in the Android bootloader hadn’t worked, he said Google would make a one-time exception and replace my out-of-warranty phone with a refurbished 5X for free.

Good! But I needed some kind of mobile device for my trip to the Viva Technology Paris conference. Enter the Nexus 4 that I’d never gotten around to selling, donating or recycling after retiring it a year and a half ago. I dusted it off, charged it up, wedged my 5X’s micro-SIM card inside the frame of an old prepaid SIM (the kind that lets you push a micro-SIM out of a surrounding bracket), popped that into the N4, and began restoring and updating the old phone’s apps.

Five days in, it’s working… more or less. Having to trace an unlock pattern on the screen every time I wake it is a pain, while constant interactions with the phone have also reminded me that part of its touchscreen no longer detects my fingers. The camera is clearly inferior, the lack of storage space bugs me even more than it did three and a half years ago, and the battery life is also pretty bad.

On the other hand, not having LTE doesn’t matter at the moment, since T-Mobile’s free international roaming only allows 2G speeds anyway. And the touchscreen has–so far-refrained from relapses into the digitizer freakouts that marred its last few months of service. So for the basics of Web browsing, text-only tweeting, checking my e-mail, getting Google Maps directions and taking notes in Evernote, my antique Android suffices.

The problem I now have: The refurb Nexus 5X that was supposed to have shipped on Monday and arrived at my home by now hasn’t gone anywhere. I have a query into Google about the status of that; stay tuned for a future post that will relate how soon I was able to set aside my fossil of a phone. I’d just as soon not have to buy a new Pixel phone when that model is due for its own update, but that’s not entirely up to me anymore.

Weekly output: Last Gadget Standing, macOS High Sierra, pro tablets, LTE speeds worldwide, Trump-administration IT modernization, CES Asia

Each of the last few years has featured a month with an insane travel schedule. I’m in the middle of one right now: Last week saw me depart for Shanghai Monday morning and return home Friday night, and tomorrow evening I fly to Paris. I have my reasons–covering CES Asia (here’s my Flickr album) and helping emcee a gadget competition there last week, then moderating three panels at Viva Technology Paris this week–but I am feeling a little woozy already.

6/7/2017: Last Gadget Standing, Living in Digital Times

I helped judge and emcee this gadget competition, put on by the same people who did the Mobile Apps Showdown competition at CES. The winning entry was a compact, lightweight augmented-reality visor.

6/7/2017: The big issues we want Apple to address in macOS High Sierra, Yahoo Finance

I started writing this reaction to Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference on the long flight from San Francisco to Shanghai (you can imagine my delight at having my upgrade clear), then finished it in my hotel room.

6/7/2017: Can an iPad Pro or Surface Pro 4 Tablet Replace Your Laptop?, The Wirecutter

I updated this guide to pro tablets with a review of Samsung’s Android-based Galaxy Tab S3.

6/8/2017: America has slower LTE wireless than Canada or Mexico, Yahoo Finance

I should have also written this on the same schedule as the WWDC post, but I severely underestimated how the 12-hour time-zone gap would bog down the usual editorial back-and-forth.

6/8/2017: IT Modernization Under Trump: Clear Goals, but Funding Worries Linger, FedTech Magazine

I departed from my usual consumer focus to write this post about how federal IT managers are approaching the Trump administration’s ambitions to modernize government computing.

6/11/2017: CES Asia shows where consumer tech is heading in one of its dominant markets, Yahoo Finance

This post has some light moments, but the overall point is not: China’s customers won’t wait for foreign companies to show up to meet their needs. That’s already leading to some interesting dynamics in markets like smart homes in which the usual U.S. tech giants mostly stand offstage.

Updated 6/17 to remove a mention of a Washingtonian story that only featured a photo of me. Who was I kidding to link to something that doesn’t feature any actual input from me? Updated again 6/27 to add the Wirecutter update that I completely missed. I’m blaming all this catchup work on jet lag. 

WeChat, but I can’t

SHANGHAI–It wasn’t until shortly before I left for CES Asia that I realized showing up here without a WeChat account would mark me as some kind of hick. I’m now about to head home, still bereft of a WeChat account. But I tried!

WeChat, for those as uninitiated as I once was, is the service AOL Instant Messenger became in an alternate universe. Tencent’s messaging app not only connects almost one billion users in real time, it functions as a wallet, a business card, a news feed and a great many other things.

So I downloaded the Android app, plugged in my Google Voice number–as the work number on my business card, it’s what I ordinarily use without a problem on phone-linked messaging systems.

But what worked in WhatsApp and Signal did not in WeChat. After creating an account and entering the security code texted to my number, I got this error message:

“This WeChat account has been confirmed of suspicious registration in batch or using plugins and is blocked. Continue to use this account by tapping OK and applying for an account unblock.”

Whoops. I tapped through to a “Self-service unblock allowed” screen, tapped its  “Read and accept” button. That presented me with CAPTCHA prove-you’re-not-a-robot interface that had me tap the letters in one graphic that matched those in another.

But after going through that, I still couldn’t log in. Instead, the app told me to get another WeChat user to verify my existence on their phone. I’ve now tried that a few times with both U.S.-based and local users, and after each try the app has offered a vague error message about the other person not being eligible to vouch for me.

After some further research, I think the problem is my using a Google Voice number. That possibility goes unmentioned in WeChat’s English-language online help, but a Quora post reports that Tencent quashed that option years ago.

And thinking about it, it does make sense: I can’t imagine that the Chinese government would look fondly on any communications service that allows people to use a number likely to be untethered from a billable address.

When I get back to the States, I will see if I can’t get WeChat to work with some kind of a burner number still attached to a real account–maybe from a loaner phone. Otherwise, I guess I’ll have to set up WeChat with my “real” phone number. I can’t stay illiterate in this service forever, right?

Weekly output: selling online video, online privacy

I’m going to spend most of Monday on airplanes as I make my way from D.C. to Shanghai for CES Asia. I’m helping to emcee the Last Gadget Standing app competition, after which I hope to learn a thing or two about the state of consumer electronics on the other side of the Pacific.

5/30/2017: How To Sell OTT To Cable, Satellite And ‘Cord Never’ Subscribers, FierceCable

The highlight of reporting this feature about how online video services try to pitch themselves to potential viewers: having to lean into my laptop to hear an interview subject when I realized I didn’t have a hands-free kit with me. (I’d already answering the call on my laptop instead of my phone, for reasons lost in the mist now.)

6/1/2017: How Washington is throwing away its shot at protecting your privacy, Yahoo Finance

Sometimes, what people don’t say matters more than what they do say. This piece offers some recent evidence for that, in the form of a new bill from Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R.-Tex.) that’s surprisingly favorable towards consumers and has been ignored by some of her usual allies.