About robpegoraro

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

Weekly output: MLB regional blackouts, Sprint and T-Mobile “unlimited” plans (x2), Tech Night Owl

This week brought the unusual experience of a story getting taken down a few hours after its appearance. The post in question covered the regional blackouts that prevent MLB.tv subscribers from watching their home team online and my use of an alternative domain-name service called Unlocator.com to work around them. I’ve expressed my annoyance at the fan-hostile nature of regional blackouts before, but this story was my first to document how to defeat them… and Yahoo Finance’s editor-in-chief thought it went too far in telling people just how to break the rules, so he decided to take it down.

Facebook share of Yahoo Finance postBefore you ask, I don’t know what Major League Baseball thinks of the story, as I haven’t heard anything from anybody there since the background conversation I had with a publicist Monday afternoon in which I recounted my Unlocator use. I do know that I’m nowhere near the first person to write a how-to about beating blackouts–see, for example, this April piece from the Los Angeles Times’ Chris Erskine. I’m going to chalk this up to my not reading my client correctly.

8/19/2016: T-Mobile and Sprint’s new unlimited plans aren’t exactly unlimited, Yahoo Finance

As part of August’s stubborn refusal to act like the slow news month it’s supposed to be, Sprint and T-Mobile each introduced new, cheaper “unlimited” data plans that each contain significant limits (like an absence of usable tethering at T-Mo). Most subscribers should avoid these offers, but many may find them tempting because their own phones make it difficult to track how much data they use.

8/20/2016: August 20, 2016 — Rob Pegoraro and Jeff Gamet, Tech Night Owl

I talked with host Gene Steinberg about those new price plans, the state of municipal broadband, and Windows 10’s first anniversary. I would have sounded less positive about Win 10 had I known before the recording of this podcast that the Windows 10 Anniversary Update broke many third-party webcams.

8/21/2016: Unlimited plans at Sprint, T-Mobile have limited appeal, USA Today

My editors at USAT wanted me to compare these two new offerings to the unlimited-data deals they replaced and to the other plans available at each carrier. Sprint’s all-you-can-browse deal came out of this exercise looking a good deal better than T-Mobile’s.

An iOS mystery: Where and when will Gboard not appear?

The fact that I own an Android phone has rarely been more obvious than when I use my iPad–and I try to “gesture type” as if I were using my smaller mobile device’s onscreen keyboard.

The arrival of iOS 8 and its support of third-party keyboards made tracing a path from letter to letter to enter text not just a pointless exercise but a possibility. And with iOS 9’s less buggy support, it’s become a less annoying possibility, but still not a sure thing.

Gboard app iconThat’s become clear to me since Google shipped its Gboard keyboard app in May and, after a satisfactory tryout, I made that free app the default keyboard on my iPad mini 4.

Most of the time, Gboard appears whenever I touch a text field. I can gesture-type with ease (except when I’m holding the tablet sideways), and I could season my prose with emojis and GIFs were I, you know, 20 years younger.

But Apple’s built-in keyboard keeps on surprising me by resurfacing on its own. To get a better sense of how often that happens, I tried taking notes on this behavior this week and reached three conclusions:

• The system works more often than I gave it credit for. The departures from the norm stick out, but keeping track of them made me realize how rare they are.

• In certain cases, the stock keyboard shows up because it’s supposed to. As an Apple tech-support note explains, iOS’s keyboard automatically takes over in secure data-entry fields like the password dialogs of the App Store and Amazon apps.

• In rare occasions, iOS does get confused about keyboards for no apparent reason. A tap of the address bar in Safari would sometimes invoke the stock keyboard instead of Gboard, while the Duolingo language-tutorial app proved itself capable of alternating between the iOS and Google keyboards in a single session.

It’s tempting to blame Apple, given the iffy quality of much of its software. But I can’t rule out this being Google’s fault. I mean, as good as Gboard is, I still had to do a copy-and-paste job from a Web site to enter the symbol that best captures my latest diagnosis of the situation:

 

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Weekly output: Blendle, municipal broadband, OS X Calendar crashes

I spent last week on vacation, more or less, with my wife’s family in the Bay Area. I didn’t succeed in avoiding work completely, but I did manage to compress my laptop time to maybe a day and two-thirds of effort. To carve out a little more downtime, I also refrained from answering non-urgent e-mails; if yours was one of those, I should be able to answer it in the next few days.

Yahoo Finance Blendle review8/10/2016: This ambitious new service wants to be the ‘Spotify of news’ — but falls short, Yahoo Finance

After a few months of trying out Blendle, a news app that lets you make micropayment for news stories, an otherwise slow news week meant it was time to review the service. After the story ran, Blendle spokesman Michaël Jarjour wrote in to say that about two dozen news sites in Germany and the Netherlands had added a special Blendle button that allows readers to pay for a story without leaving that site–a good way to make this app less invisible–and that the company was working to bring the same feature to U.S. publishers.

8/11/2016, We need more high-speed internet, but politicians are blocking the way, Yahoo Finance

I worried that the comments here would skew towards denouncing the socialist evil of collective ownership of the means of watching cat videos, but instead people lined up to complain about their Internet provider.

8/14/2016: Cure a calendar crash on Mac, USA Today

This column was curiously popular with people on my Facebook page–although my share of it only reached 348 people as of now, nine of them gave it a thumbs-up “Like” or the rarer, more coveted “Love” reaction. Was it something I said?

August lawns are the worst

April is when moderate temperatures and regular rain conspire to make me dare to dream of a perfected lawn. And then every August, weeks of inadequate rain and blast-furnace heat leave that dream withered.

August lawnIt doesn’t even bug me much that most of the yard has turned a shade of greenish-brown. That should come back to life by late September, and in the meantime my lawn looks no worse than most of the rest on the block.

(The neighbors who had sprinkler systems installed, something we are too cheap to do, live farther down the street or around the corner.)

But I could do without seeing cracks spread across large expanses of the yard. Since these signs of drought happen in the same place, they represent my annual reminder that I didn’t do enough to cultivate a thicker lawn when I had the chance in the fall or spring.

The “hell strip” between the sidewalk and the street appears even worse, with more than half of it overrun by weeds anxious to demonstrate why yard grass should be selected out by this climate. (At least the heat and dryness seem to have taken some of the fight out of the Tree of Hell seedlings that invade the front lawn every July.) I should dig out the entirety of that strip and either re-seed it from scratch or put in some abuse-tolerant ground cover.

But as I type this, the thermometer on the front porch is showing about 94 degrees, and I just can’t be bothered. It’s August. All of this can wait.

 

 

 

Weekly output: social-media mimicry, T-Mobile’s network, Windows 10 and Android notifications, Windows 10’s reception

Last week, I had Bernie Sanders dead-enders and WikiLeaks zealots angry at me. This week, it’s Windows 7 users. I have to imagine that some of these embittered Microsoft customers also voted for Sanders and have WikiLeaks bookmarked, which I guess means they’re now shopping for voodoo dolls to name after me.

8/3/2016: 3 features that social networks should never, ever borrow from one another, Yahoo Finance

I had been sketching out an essay along these lines for a while when Instagram copied a Snapchat feature almost wholesale, giving me a news peg on which to hang this post.

Yahoo Finance T-Mobile network post8/4/2016: T-Mobile now has America’s second-best availability, new ranking says, Yahoo Finance

We changed the headline on this after AT&T PR complained about the use of the word “coverage” in it when OpenSignal takes care to say they only track LTE availability over time, not over geography. That struck me as a fair objection, so we revised the hed.

8/7/2016: Get Windows 10 in touch with your Android phone, USA Today

I was working on a different topic, which you may read next weekend or the week after, when I decided I could get this week’s column done quicker by devoting it to a walk-through of a nifty cross-platform notification system available in Windows 10’s new Anniversary Update, an upgrade I’d just installed with zero issues on two tablets I’m testing for an upcoming story.

8/7/2016: Windows 10 isn’t perfect — but it’s time to let go of Windows 7, Yahoo Finance

Reader reaction has been pretty negative to this piece. Some of it is fair–like objecting to Microsoft’s problem-monitoring telemetry or the company’s pushy presentation of this update–but to call the 2009-era Win 7 a better fit for the hardware and Internet of today strikes me as a serious reach. If you had an update to Windows 10 hobble your computer, I’m sorry for your loss. But I’ve heard that complaint about every single Windows release ever, and my own experience and the prior reader input I’ve seen suggests Win 10 is a less risky upgrade than its predecessors

The apps that finally pushed me past my data plan’s limit

For the first time in years, maybe ever, I maxed out the data plan on my phone. Fortunately, racking up 3.68 gigabytes of data when I’d only paid T-Mobile for 3 GB didn’t cost me anything–the leftover data from earlier months socked away in my Data Stash covered the overage, and I still have more than 5 GB in the bank.

Android data usageBut the experience did remind me that you can burn through mobile bandwidth surprisingly fast. And since I’m always asking readers who have had the same experience “what apps did you in,” I should answer the same question myself.

So here are the top 10 offenders listed in Android’s Data Usage screen:

• Twitter: 1.91 GB. This one stands out not just because it’s at the top of the list–that’s a quasi-obscene amount of data for a social network originally designed to function over SMS. Tapping that entry revealed that Twitter ate up almost half of that data, 855 megabytes, while running in the background; I guess that’s why Android has a “Restrict app background data” control.

• Chrome: 723 MB. This didn’t surprise me much, since I haven’t switched on this browser’s Data Saver option. I’m glad it’s there, though.

• Facebook: 244 MB. I expected more, considering how I spend almost as much time in this app as I do in Twitter. The developers at the social network may deserve a little more credit for keeping their app quasi-efficient in its bandwidth use.

• Android OS: 109 MB. Picture me shrugging as I realize how little this entry just told me.

• Gmail: 92.6 MB. I thought this would be higher, considering I have this app syncing three different e-mail accounts.

• Google App: 63.11 MB. This is all Google Now, right?

• Google Play services: 62.55 MB. Here we have another catchall item–this Android library does chores for a vast variety of apps on a phone.

• Vine: 55.79 MB. While Twitter’s primarily text-based app binged on bandwidth, its video-only offshoot sipped this little. Picture me once again shrugging.

• Snapchat: 53.13 MB. I don’t even use this app in any meaningful way (a fuller account of my Snapchat incompetence will require a separate post), so I don’t know how it burned through that much data.

• Flickr: 48.02 MB. This would have been vastly higher had I not set Yahoo’s photo-sharing app to upload photos only over WiFi. The Play Store accounts for a tiny share of my bandwidth for the same reason.

If you don’t mind sharing, what apps top your own phone’s data-usage screen? I realize that in iOS, you can’t get a month-by-month breakdown (the upcoming iOS 10 doesn’t fix that, to judge from the peek I got at it last month), but even the running total iOS keeps should still yield some useful insights.

Weekly output: WikiLeaks, standard-definition pay-TV channels

This past week was supposed to be downtime visiting family in Boston, but when we booked this I didn’t think to see if it would overlap any major-party conventions. I also didn’t wrap up a longer, not-yet-published feature beforehand as I should–and then people had to go and make news outside the Democratic convention anyway. It was a minor miracle that I only lost two full days to my laptop. And yes, you have read this kind of story before here.

Yahoo Finance WikiLeaks post7/27/2016: If you value privacy, WikiLeaks stopped being your friend years ago, Yahoo Finance

I wrote about WikiLeaks in depth for the first time since maybe late 2010, and even back then I was growing doubtful of that site’s preening self-righteousness. My reward was seeing my Twitter notifications become even more of a nexus of derp than usual, but I did appreciate seeing the kind of company I had in my skeptical assessment of WikiLeaks.

7/31/2016: How to watch TV channels in high definition, USA Today

Once again, a family member’s tech troubles–Fios boxes showing the standard-definition versions of major networks when HD feeds of them were available–turned into column materials. Fortunately, this time around I was able to find a solution for the issue, research how other TV providers handle this, and get the column written and filed considerably earlier than usual.