About robpegoraro

Freelance journalist who covers (and is often vexed by) computers, gadgets and other things that beep.

Weekly output: Hulu’s rate hike, Trump vs. social media

Like (I hope) many of you, we bagged our plans for Thanksgiving travel. The pandemic metrics around here keep going up, while escalating demand for coronavirus tests is making getting a result back in a timely manner a dicey proposition; seeing these and other metrics looking worse than they did in summer, when we had opted not to visit relatives, left no other sound choice.

11/17/2020: Hulu Hikes Its Rates Yet Again As TV Pricing Pain Rolls On, Forbes

Hulu hiking the monthly cost of its live TV service to $65 left me asking when TV viewers will be able to get off this treadmill of rate increases. The answer seems to be “only if they have good local TV reception and aren’t that invested in sports.”

11/17/2020: Trump’s battle with social media, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news channel had me on talk about our soon-to-be ex-president’s latest round of whining about the unfairness of social-media platforms.

My next Mac desktop needs one more thing…

It’s early days, as they say in tech, but Apple’s switch from Intel processors to chips built to its own designs on the ARM architecture seems to be working far better than I expected in June.

Reviews of the opening round of “Apple silicon” Macs have consistently applauded how amazingly fast they are–even when running Intel-coded software on Apple’s Rosetta 2 emulation layer. Witness, for example, Samuel Axon’s glowing writeup of the reborn Mac mini at Ars Technica.

Have I mentioned that I’m typing this post on a 2009-vintage iMac?

Having Apple finally update the desktop Mac that would best fit my circumstances–I don’t want to buy another all-in-one iMac, because a separate monitor would be far more useful over the long run–gets my interest. Knowing that this updated Mac mini would run dramatically faster than the previous model intrigues me even more.

But am I ready to pay $1,099 for a Mac mini ($699 plus $400 to upgrade from an inadequate 256 gigabytes of storage to 1 terabyte)? Not yet. Not because of any hangups over buying the 1.0 version of anything, and not because Apple still charges too much for a realistic amount of storage. Instead, I want this thing to include one more thing: a Touch ID button.

The fingerprint-recognition feature that Apple added to its laptops years ago would not only spare me from typing the system password every time I woke the computer from sleep, it would also relieve me from typing the much longer password that secures my 1Password password-manager software. I’ve gotten used to that combination of security and convenience on my HP laptop, where the Windows Hello fingerprint sensor reliably unlocks 1Password. The idea of buying a new Mac without that feature is maddening.

(I know I could get an Apple Watch and use that to unlock the computer. But then I’d also need an iPhone, and switching smartphones and incurring at least $800 in hardware costs to address Apple’s lack of imagination strikes me as idiotic.)

I would like to think that Apple will remedy this oversight with the next update to the Mac mini. But I also thought adding Touch ID would be an obvious addition to desktop Macs two years ago. Unfortunately, large tech companies have a way of ignoring what can seem unimpeachable feature requests–see, for instance, how Microsoft still won’t add full-disk encryption to Windows 10 Home or simply add time-zone support to Win 10’s Calendar app.

So I might be waiting a while. I do know I’ll be waiting until at least January even if Apple ships a Touch ID-enhanced Mac mini tomorrow–so I don’t get dinged for my county’s business tangible property tax on the purchase until 2022.

Weekly output: streaming-video aggregation, video customer acquisition, Jeremy Toeman, MLB video, “do not sell my personal information,” Strap Technologies

Most of my work this week involved an event that was supposed to have me in Denver back in June–before FierceVideo’s Stream TV Show got pushed back to October and then moved online. After all that, management wound up not requiring me to moderate a panel as I did at this event last year–instead, they asked if I could write up some of the panels.

Patreon readers got an extra post from me Thursday unpacking my efforts to get AT&T to tell me where I might be able to test its millimeter-wave 5G signal.

11/9/2020: Industry execs share diverging opinions about aggregation, FierceVideo

The first panel I covered featured executives from Google, LG, Netflix and Vizio discussing how the pandemic had boosted their businesses (aside from killing many of their customers, something these guys did not acknowledge but should have) and how they were working to keep these confined-to-home viewers entertained.

11/10/2020: StreamTV panel discusses OTT customer acquisition, FierceVideo

This panel had Amdocs Media, Brightcove, Crunchyroll and Roku execs talking about their tactics to win and keep customers. One big takeaway: Disney+ and Netflix don’t have to play by the same rules as everybody else.

11/11/2020: WarnerMedia predicts second screens and synthetic smarts, FierceVideo

WarnerMedia innovation v.p. Jeremy Toeman–a guy I enjoyed meeting in San Francisco in 2012 when he was with a startup called Dijit–talked about how game-streaming services and artificial intelligence could change the state of TV.

11/11/2020: How big data can amp up fans’ experience of the big leagues, FierceVideo

The last Stream TV Show panel I wrote up covered Major League Baseball’s increasingly advanced fusion of statistics and video.

11/13/2020: Here’s A Hint About How Few People Click Those “Do Not Sell My Personal Information” Links, Forbes

A survey released at the end of a half-day online conference hosted Thursday by the Interactive Advertising Bureau suggested embarrassingly scant adoption of a key privacy measure mandated by the California Consumer Privacy Act.

11/14/2020: This startup wants to replace the white cane for blind people, Fast Company

After seeing the pitch of a startup called Strap Technologies for a sensor-equipped pod designed to let blind people navigate the world without a cane, I took a little more time to get the input of some independent experts on this Austin company’s ambitions.

Google Photos storage won’t be free. Now what?

Almost five and a half years ago, I wrote a post for Yahoo Tech about the launch of the new, free Google Photos service that ran under the headline “Will Google Really Store All Your Photos Forever?” Wednesday, Google answered that question: No, it won’t. At least not for free.

That response came in a corporate post from Google Photos vice president Shimrit Ben-Yair announcing the end of the unlimited-with-imperceptible-compression picture storage that Google had touted at its I/O developer conference in San Francisco in a simpler time:

Starting June 1, 2021, any new photos and videos you upload will count toward the free 15 GB of storage that comes with every Google Account or the additional storage you’ve purchased as a Google One member.

I don’t have to worry about this just yet. Beyond “only” having squirreled away 4.4 gigabytes of images and video on Google Photos–a rate of accumulation that Google estimates won’t push me past that 15 GB threshold for another year–my Pixel 3a phone entitles me to continued free backup from that device.

But at some point, I’ll retire that phone and may need to make some budgetary decisions. My USA Today colleague Jefferson Graham outlined the major alternatives in a post Wednesday. Leaving out Apple’s Android-excluded iCloud and assuming yearly discounts, here are the cheapest options:

  • Amazon (unlimited storage, included with $119/year Prime Account)
  • Dropbox (2 TB, $119.88/year)
  • Flickr (unlimited, $60/year)
  • Google (100 GB, $19.99/year)
  • Microsoft (100 GB, $23.88/year)

As it happens, I’m already paying for three of those–I’m an Amazon captive like everybody else, I’ve paid for Flickr Pro since 2011, and I subscribe to the 1 TB tier of Microsoft 365 for easy backup of my Windows laptop. (I also pay Google for 100 GB of storage for my G Suite work account, but that’s separate from the everyday Google account I use on my Android phone.)

I already have Flickr set to back up my photos–although the app only does that when I open it, not in the background–so that would seem the logical fallback option. That service also offers the advantage of existing outside the orbits of the tech giants. But although Flickr has worked to apply some machine-learning techniques to photo searches, it’s nowhere as good as Google at finding photos without a human-written title or description: A search for “eggs” in Google Photos yields 19 photos, only two of which don’t feature actual eggs. On Flickr, that nets me one photo, a close-up of fingertips.

So the easiest choice for me, for now, is to change nothing and hope I can stay under that 15 GB limit. One thing I will do, and which you can as well to free up some space: Clean out your Gmail by searching for and deleting messages from certain senders older than a set number of days, weeks or months (as I told USA Today readers back in 2012, when daily-deal messages were a serious consumer of inbox space).

But maybe I’m wrong. Here’s your chance to show that: Take the survey below and then leave a comment explaining your choice.

Weekly output: YouTube TV drops NESN, upload speeds, AMC earnings, FedEx tech, election social-media misinformation, Discovery vs. T-Mobile

The longest Election Day I’ve seen since 2000 wrapped up a few minutes before noon Saturday, when I checked my phone on a bike ride and saw that all the major news networks had called the race for Joe Biden. A few minutes later, I turned around and rode into D.C. to witness the city as ecstatic as I’ve ever seen it.

After four years of President Trump’s lies, cruelty, bigotry, and incompetence, Americans have chosen a future that starts with four words: Donald Trump, private citizen. This is the resolution I had been hoping for since the morning of Nov. 9, 2016.

11/2/2020: RSN cuts continue as YouTube TV drops NESN, FierceVideo

I started the week by spending Monday covering breaking news at my trade-pub client. This post started with a tweet from my friend Ron Miller about his streaming-TV service dropping the network that carries Red Sox games.

11/2/2020: Upload speeds still lag on most Americans’ broadband, USA Today

This column revisited a subject I’d covered for the paper back in 2016, and I have to credit the work I did for the U.S. News Internet-provider package for refocusing my attention on this problem.

11/2/2020: AMC sees third-quarter 2020 income slip as subscriptions grow, FierceVideo

I wrote up AMC Networks’ Q3 earnings and had a little fun with the lede. From what Google tells me, I may have introduced the phrase “zombies and subscriptions” to the Web.

11/4/2020: FedEx is upgrading its tech for a holiday season in pandemic times, Fast Company

FedEx staged an online event for media that unpacked some interesting work it’s doing with robots and drones. One thing this effort won’t deliver anytime soon: a live delivery map like what UPS and Amazon offer.

11/6/2020: Election misinformation on social media, Al Jazeera

The translator for this live hit on the Arabic-language news network asked me if Twitter was being unfair to Trump. I replied that the president should try not lying so often.

11/6/2020: Discovery To T-Mobile: What Do You Think You’re Doing Bundling Us?, Forbes

Two weeks after I covered T-Mobile’s launch of a streaming-TV service with some attractive pricing and some notable gaps in the channel lineup, I wrote about the unlikely complaint of Discovery and two other entertainment-industry firms–that T-Mobile doesn’t have the contractual rights to put their channels on its $10 TVision Vibe package.

Election Day 2020, from 5:05 a.m. to 9:21 p.m.

I had my longest workday of the year (or so I can only hope) Tuesday when I served as an election officer for Arlington County, my fourth time this year. Here’s how things went, hour by hour.

  • 5:05 a.m. It’s near freezing out and Venus still sits fairly high in the sky as I arrive. I join 11 other poll workers in setting up the hardware, including two ballot scanners. We decide to keep the exit door open to ensure the space stays well ventilated.

  • 5:43 a.m. Ballots come in shrink-wrapped packs of 100 each, but I’ve hand-counted 200, 10 at a time, to ensure we know just how many we give to voters and can compare that total with how many went into the ballot scanner. (Voters can request a new ballot if they make a mistake, after which we mark the old one “spoiled,” record it on a sheet, and put the spoiled ballot into a large envelope.) Halfway through that, I decided I was too tired to try practicing my French and Spanish by counting to 10 in each language. 

  • 5:45 a.m. I look outside and see there’s already a line of voters waiting.

  • 6 a.m. Polls open, and voters stream in. Four minutes later, we have our first voter with a dog; the pup wears an American-flag bandanna. We don’t get a break until 35 minutes later, and 29 minutes after that, we see our first parent to bring a kid.

  • 6:59 a.m. Working the ballot table doesn’t leave me much to do, except when a voter makes a mistake and wants a new ballot. The first such spoiled one goes into the designated envelope. 

  • 7:39 a.m. For the first time in four elections I’ve worked, a ballot gets jammed in the scanner. Rebooting the device, as advised by tech support, doesn’t work, but unlocking it from the ballot receptacle and sliding it free revealed a ballot with a folded corner that had gotten hung up on its way out of the machine.

  • 8:07 a.m. A crew for the German television network ARD stops inside to film for a segment that airs without this interior footage. Two minutes later, we have our first voter requesting a provisional ballot after (if I heard this correctly from across the room) their requested absentee ballot did not arrive.

  • 8:53 a.m. Ugh, so tired. Coffee delivery not due to happen until 9:30 a.m., also known as four and a half hours after we got to work.

  • 9:38 a.m. Where is that coffee?

  • 9:42 a.m. COFFEE! ☕ I enjoy this with a second breakfast of homemade scones.

  • 11:12 a.m. A man arrives wearing a mask, sunglasses and a hat, as if to point out the questionable utility of Virginia’s now-repealed photo-ID requirement in a pandemic.

  • 12:40 p.m. Can’t lie, I just nodded off behind the ballot table.

  • 1:10 p.m. Things slow down enough for me to enjoy the lunch I’d packed eight-plus hours ago at a picnic table outside.

  • 1:37 p.m. Time to charge my phone, which I have been checking for news way too often despite the lack of useful insights on the election.

  • 2:30 p.m. After switching to the poll-book table, I discovered that KnowInk’s Poll Pad app may have issues with surnames longer than one word. First I couldn’t find a voter whose last name began with the Arabic prefix “al-” (I had to type it without the hyphen), and then it didn’t spot somebody with a “di ” Italian prefix until I entered that without a space.

  • 2:49 p.m. The poll worker who took over my spot at the ballot table gives us some excitement when she discovers one pack of ballots contain only 99, not the specified 100.

  • 3:43 p.m. Voter check-in involves us looking up the voter by name in the app, then asking them to say their address. If they recently moved but are in the same precinct, we can fix that on the spot. I see this with several voters, including one gentleman who forgot to update his home address while his wife, with him to vote, had.

  • 5:48 p.m. I hand off poll-book duty to take a spot by the scanner, where I tell voters the scanner will read their ballot whether they feed it in upside-down, right side up, forwards or backwards–then invite them to take a sticker, one of the best parts  of this job.

  • 7 p.m. The two scanners recorded a total of 358 votes, exactly matching the number of ballots handed out and not spoiled. That’s light turnout–we saw 1,046 voters for the March 3 Democratic presidential primary–except this precinct already had 1,585 voters cast ballots in advance.

  • 7:18 p.m. We print the results from the scanners, revealing both vote totals and images of everybody’s write-in votes. They range from Calvin Coolidge to Tony Bennett (unclear if the voter meant the singer or UVA’s basketball coach) to “EAT SHIT.”

  • 7:54 p.m. Having printed and signed the results and extracted the flash drives from each that contain images of every ballot, we can stow the scanners. We then collect the ballots and secure them in a sealed box.

  • 9:21 p.m. After an hour of collecting various pieces of paper, signing them, tucking them in designated envelopes and sealing those, then stowing the rest of the election hardware, we’re done. The precinct chief thanks us, and we give him a round of applause. A late dinner awaits.

Weekly output: local ISPs, augmented reality, Toronto and Lisbon’s mayors, TVision, Senate Commerce vs. tech CEOs

I’m looking at a four-day workweek at my day job–plus a 16-hour day Tuesday as a poll worker for Arlington. Wish me luck! More important, wish all of us luck.

10/26/2020: Local Internet Service Providers, U.S. News & World Report

I wrote guides to the major choices for Internet access (using data from BroadbandNow) in 10 markets: Fairbanks, Alaska; Chandler, Ariz.; Colorado Springs and Denver, Colo.; Chicago, Ill.; Cary and Charlotte, N.C.; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Dallas and El Paso, Tex. (The first of these got posted back on Oct. 16, but the last two didn’t land until Tuesday, and it’s simpler to cover them in one entry.) Putting this together enlightened me beyond expectations about the state of broadband across the U.S.; for instance, I hadn’t realized how strict data caps could get until seeing what Alaska’s dominant cable provider inflicts on its customers.

10/26/2020: AR is finally infiltrating everyday tasks such as Google search, Fast Company

Writing this post on the state of augmented-reality interfaces allowed me to revisit a topic I’d covered for the Washington Post almost 11 years ago. It’s too bad Yelp scrapped the Monocle AR interface I wrote about then.

10/27/2020: Panel: Leading the city of the future, City Summit

This Web Summit side event had me interview Lisbon mayor Fernando Medina and Toronto mayor John Tory about how their cities–hosts of the Web Summit and Collision conferences, also places I sorely miss visiting this year–have responded to the novel-coronavirus pandemic.

10/27/2020: T-Mobile Launches TVision To Help You Fire Cable (Or Satellite) TV, Forbes

I walked readers through T-Mobile’s entry into streaming TV, which offers some surprisingly aggressive pricing but also requires some compromises in its channel selections that may prove non-trivial obstacles.

10/29/2020: The Best And Worst Moments In The Senate’s Grilling Of Social-Media CEOs, Forbes

The Senate Commerce Committee’s interrogation of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey featured many cringe-inducing if not disgraceful sound bites, but it also afforded some non-garbage-fire moments. I particularly enjoyed writing the last sentence, even if it cost me some time poking around Federal Election Commission filings.

T minus four days, or so we can only hope

In four days, we Americans can punch out of our national nightmare. We can finish voting to close the books on the Trump administration’s luxuriation in lies, cruelty, bigotry, and incompetence and try to rebuild. Or we will re-up for another four years of that and probably worse.

(“We will” is doing an uncertain amount of work here, given all the lawyers that Republicans have dispatched to various courts to argue against counting ballots that voters did not cast in person.)

This does not make for good sleep at night or mental focus during the day. We are all, as I’ve said of lesser things, in the Death Star trench.

The numbers here all look good for the American people to shut the door on Donald Trump, possibly in a landslide vote for Joe Biden. Yes, I did see things through blue-colored glasses four years ago–but then everybody assumed Hillary Clinton would win. A lot of people felt safe either sitting out an election featuring two unpopular candidates or voting for a third-party contender.

This year, pollsters have tried to correct for the mistakes they made at the state level four years ago, Trump’s administration is a known quantity instead of a high-leverage bet on an outsider–and a pandemic abetted by his criminally inept response has sent close to a quarter of a million Americans to their graves and put the economy into a ditch. Yet Democrats are by and large terrified, because nobody around for November 2016 can forget that shock.

I’m also walking on eggshells here. If it helps, please know that unlike in 2016, I am not working on any stories about the tech-policy agenda of any hypothetical election winner–nor will I accept any such assignment until we know who won.

I take most comfort from the enormous numbers of Americans voting early–especially in Texas, despite restrictive election laws ranked most difficult in the nation. The fairest election is the one with the most voters showing up. This early-voting boom also stands to help me personally, since I will once again work as an election officer in Arlington; I don’t want to be bored Tuesday, but I would like to have enough idle time to eat lunch at a moderate degree of leisure.

I cast my own vote five weeks ago, so that weight is off my shoulders. If you haven’t yet, you have a little more time to vote early–but I suggest you deliver that ballot in person or at a drop box. If you make your choice Tuesday, please say thanks to your election workers who started their day far before sunrise and won’t end it until well after sunset.

The only important thing is that if you’re eligible, you vote. Do not throw away your shot.

Weekly output: Open RAN, 5G marketing, Google’s display-ads business, tech and journalism

We’re down to the last full week before Election Day–a point that seemed painfully distant just under four years ago. Note that for myself and more than 59 million other Americans (per the University of Florida’s United States Elections Project), the voting’s already happened.

Patreon readers got an extra post this week: a recap of things I’ve done to give a little less business to Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google.

10/21/2020: Can OpenRAN Hit its Stride?, CCA Convention

Last year, the opportunity to moderate a panel at the Competitive Carriers Association’s conference got me a free trip to Providence. This year, it got me some free time in front of my computer’s webcam to speak remotely with Dish Network executive vice president Jeff Blum, Mavenir senior vice president for business development John Baker, and OpenRAN Policy Coalition executive director Diane Rinaldo about the prospects for building next-generation radio access networks off open standards (aka, OpenRAN) instead of proprietary stacks.

10/22/2020: Why the 5G Pushiness? Because $$$, The New York Times

Shira Ovide, author of the NYT’s On Tech newsletter, quizzed me over e-mail about a reader’s concerns over possibly needing a 5G smartphone. My advice: no need to worry just yet.

10/23/2020: The Lucrative Google Business That The Justice Department’s Antitrust Suit Doesn’t Touch, Forbes

I took a little extra time to cover the Department of Justice’s antitrust lawsuit against Google–by which I meant, write about the Google chokehold on display advertising that goes unaddressed in the DoJ complaint.

10/25/2020: Emerging Media Platforms, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications

After interviewing my long-ago Post colleague Dan Pacheco, now a professor at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, for an upcoming story about augmented-reality interfaces, he asked if I could make a remote guest appearance for one of his classes. I talked a little bit about the state of freelance journalism about heard out his students’ pitches for upcoming projects (most frequent elements: drones, chatbots and voice assistants).

WordPress Block Editor considered harmful

The drop cap that starts this paragraph is something I could not have readily done in the Classic Editor here at WordPress.com, so I hope everybody reading this understands that I’ve spent some time looking for upsides to the Block Editor that has replaced it.

But those upsides still look scarce. Five months after WordPress.com anointed the Block Editor as the new default–and well over three years after this project’s debut–I still find basic tasks more difficult in the Block Editor than in the now-deprecated Classic writing interface. Four examples:

  • Inserting an inline image with text wrapped around it, as seen at right, apparently requires a detour to a separate block menu in which you reduce the image’s size, followed by a click on a menu to right-align the image. In the Classic Editor, those options sit in the dialog to select an image from the Media Library.
  • There’s no way to indent text outside of making it part of a bulleted or numbered list. This one sticks in my craw a bit: I told two WordPress representatives this was a problem after they gave a presentation at least year’s Online News Association conference, and they seemed to agree that indenting was a legitimate formatting tool.
  • This may be more of a bug than a design decision, but when I right-click on a link in Safari and paste its address into the Classic Editor, the link appears in a post as a complete hypertext link under the linked page’s title. In the Block Editor, pasting yields the address of the link, leaving it to me to copy its title and then turn that into a link.
  • The addition of a menu option to switch between editing and selecting modes, as if I were back into learning desktop publishing on Aldus PageMaker in 1991, allows for the chance to realize I clicked my way out of revising whatever I’m writing.

I think I understand where WordPress is going with this. The Block Editor offers a lot more options to embed different types of content, as seen in the screengrab above, and for bloggers looking to mash up their media, I can see why that would make sense. I also have a lot of faith in WordPress, having picked this platform instead of keeping my Web home on Facebook real estate and remaining convinced of the soundness of that decision.

Plus, speaking as a long desktop-publishing geek who may still have some muscle memory of PageMaker keyboard shortcuts: Yes, drop caps are cool.

But from my words-first perspective, the Block Editor makes the everyday writing here a little harder. And since indents are a basic element of the weekly-output posts I’ve been writing here since the fall of 2011, sometimes it makes my usual habits impossible.

I can still switch to the Classic Editor at the start of or halfway through a post, so I’m not doomed. But I worry that at some point, its deprecated status will lead to it being deleted. Will that point arrive before WordPress’s developers can get this editor to interface parity with its predecessor? Please wish me luck.