About robpegoraro

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

2020 gardening report card: a very small hill of beans

This year has given me more time to garden than any other in my adult life. Now that the gardening season is officially over, courtesy of multiple below-freezing days and the season’s first snowfall, I’m once again grading myself on how well I did at growing some of my own food–and I’m left wondering how I didn’t make better use of that extra time to play with plants.

(For your reference: my 20192018201720162015201420132012 and 2011 gardening grades.)

Beans: A-

The pandemic arrived in the middle of both planting season and my realization that we had a lot of leftover bean seed packages lying around. So we went a little crazy–in addition to planting seeds in the usual spots in the shabbier raised bed in the side yard, my wife and I repurposed a few random pots we had laying around for bean-growing purposes. For a while, we had more beans than we could eat; although the bean plants in the raised bed didn’t make it past summer, most of the others kept growing through fall, if at a slower pace.

Arugula: B+

I can usually count on two growing seasons for this salad green, but most of the seeds I planted in September got washed out by heavy rains, and then the survivors failed to yield more than a few tiny plants. So I wound up spending more on lettuce at the farmers’ market than I’d hoped, which was somewhat frustrating.

Herbs: B

Flat-leaf parsley once again grew like crazy all spring and summer, enabling me to make multiple batches of parsley-walnut pesto, but then it failed to resume growing in the fall. Rosemary made a comeback: After last year’s rosemary died, I planted a fresh batch in a new pot, and those plants are still going strong. Mint was also its usual reliable self. But the sage plants died sometime in late summer, and basil underperformed, if not as badly as last year. I did finally get thyme to grow–indoors, in a pot in a sunny corner of the dining room.

Spinach: B-

I enjoyed modest success with this in the spring–by which I mean, some of last year’s plants hung on until then, and not all of the seeds I planted this year vanished into the dirt.

Lettuce: C+

See the above entry for spinach, but make everything 20 percent worse.

Tomatoes: C-

Unlike last year, I was able to treat myself to the sublime pleasure of a BLT sandwich made with a just-plucked-off-the-vine tomato. Well, once or twice.

Weekly output: Discovery hire, vaccine disinfo on social media, Moody’s pay-TV forecast,

This week saw the quiet demise of Uber’s flying-taxi ambitions, in the form of the company  selling that operation to Joby Aviation. I feel relieved that my earlier coverage of Uber Elevate included skeptical notes from aviation-security analyst Robert Mann.

12/7/2020: Discovery hires Hulu’s Jim Keller to helm digital ads, FierceVideo

I spent Monday filling in at my trade-pub client to write breaking news. This post covered a Discovery hire in advance of its new Discovery+ streaming-video service.

12/7/2020: Vaccine disinformation on social media, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news channel had me to discuss what social networks should do about anti-vax lies now that coronavirus vaccines are finally in distribution.

12/7/2020: Moody’s forecast shows no end to pay TV’s problems, FierceVideo

My other piece at Fierce Monday covered a new report from Moody’s Investors Service that predicts an acceleration of cord cutting.

12/9/2020: Google Will Pay For Some Paywalled News Stories—Just Not Here, Forbes

Google paying for the first click at a paywalled site in a few other countries represents a major turnaround from it demanding that paywalled sites give that first click for free. But with this initiative confined to the News Showcase Google is launching outside the U.S., it offers no help to American publishers that, in turn, continue to neglect revenue possibilities for occasional readers. (In a post here yesterday, I suggested two ideas of my own for that scenario.)

12/10/2020: Meet The Web’s New Second-Place Tracker: Not Facebook, It’s Amazon, New Report Finds, Forbes

A study from the online-privacy firm Ghostery found that Amazon’s trackers now show up on more U.S. sites than Facebook’s–although not all of these trackers serve its retail business. Meanwhile, Google continues to do the most tracking by an enormous margin.

Two ideas to reduce the paywall pain for out-of-town and occasional readers

The post I wrote for Forbes Wednesday about a major unsolved problem in the news business–the way sites that restrict access to paying subscribers don’t try too hard to accommodate occasional and out-of-town readers–did not suggest a solution itself.

But I have two ideas that I want to outline here, both of which seem doable without requiring a new micropayments infrastructure (please spare me the “Bitcoin will save journalism” takes) or the intervention of a benevolent third party. They just require tweaks to existing paywall models that are already seeing a healthy amount of reinvention.

A regional subscription bundle. This would invert the model of the now-shelved Washington Post digital partner program: The big paper in a region invites its subscribers to pay a small premium for an above-paywall allotment of stories at other, smaller news sites based farther out.

For example, I would be happy to pay another $5 towards my Washington Post subscription if I could read a story or two a week at such Virginia papers as the Richmond Times-Dispatch about issues that affect my end of the state. The regional papers would have to accept giving up the chance to sell me on a subscription (yes, I saw the RTD’s $1/month deal and also noticed that it’s $12/month after that promotional period ends), but they should know from my IP address alone that I’m not a local reader and therefore an unlikely sale.

Access through aggregators. A site that aggregates news coverage in a particular area, and which presumably already pays for subscriptions to sites covering that topic in depth, would invite readers to pay a small fee that covers access to every story to which it links, with the proceeds going to those sites and the aggregator taking its own cut.

Imagine, for instance, that a donation to the Greater Greater Washington blog got you a special feed that included access to every story cited in its Morning Links posts, which often point to paywalled stories at publications like the Washington Business Journal and the Washington Post. This could be a tougher sell–for instance, I doubt the Post would want to cut a deal–but it would offer some upside to both smaller sites like GGW, a non-profit that has had to struggle for funding, and smaller publications like the WBJ.

I would like to think these ideas are nowhere out of whack–publishers certainly seem willing to take less money for the sake of gaining new readers when it’s Apple asking. And yet none of them appears to have implemented these concepts. So am I missing some less-obvious flaws, or is this another case of my industry not missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity?

Weekly output: One America News, how to exceed Comcast’s 1.2 TB data cap, tech and humanity, Big Tech, remote teamwork in a pandemic

We’ve finally reached the last month of this ordeal of a year.

11/30/2020: The Most Trump-Tastic Network Might Lose Its Biggest Carrier Next Year, Forbes

I’ve had this story on my to-do list since seeing a Bloomberg report this summer about the precarious prospects for One America News after its current carriage deal with DirecTV expires, reportedly in early 2021. It was gratifying to write this at last–and see it get a bigger audience than my other Forbes posts so far.

12/2/2020: Comcast’s 1.2 TB data cap seems like a ton of data—until you factor in remote work, Fast Company

After seeing some readers tweet their skepticism about anybody possibly topping 1.2 terabytes a month, I talked to three Comcast users who had done just that–and who, despite their technology backgrounds, could not identify an app or service that had pushed them over and which they could have foregone without excess pain. (One even sent screengrabs of data-usage stats from his Ubiquiti router, which Patreon readers got to see today.) The story seems to have resonated with readers, including a sarcastic retweet from Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) taking a whack at Comcast’s phone support.

12/2/2020: Technology: The key to making us more human, Web Summit

My first of two panels for this year’s online-only Web Summit had me talking to Ikea chief digital officer Barbara Martin Coppola and AI Now Institute co-founder Meredith Whittaker about various tech-ethics issues, from ways to shrink a global organization’s carbon footprint to tech-policy advice for the incoming Biden administration.

12/2/2020: Who’s afraid of Big Tech?, RI Digital: USA 2020

My second virtual panel of the week consisted of a discussion at Responsible Investor’s conference about tech policy in such areas as privacy and global warming. My fellow speakers: ClearBridge Investments analyst Hillary Frisch, Migrant Nation director Simon Zadek, and Responsible Investor co-founder Hugh Wheelan. My major line of argument: The most effective way to rein in the power of large technology companies would be to pass effective digital-privacy laws, but since that seems to be a task beyond the reach of Congress, we keep getting sidetracked into less-useful discussions about how we might make life less pleasant for one or two of the tech giants.

12/4/2020: Evolution from the inside out, Web Summit

My second Web Summit panel had me quizzing Weight Watchers CEO Mindy Grossman and Julien Codorniou, Facebook’s vice president for its Workplace collaboration platform, about how WW had to accelerate existing moves towards distributed work once the pandemic hit.

Taking stock, one set of leftover bits at a time

I needed a week to cross off a big item on the post-Thanksgiving to-do list: making stock from the remaining parts of the bird. In my defense, the three of us took that long to make enough of a dent in our half turkey before it was worthwhile picking the last meat off the carcass.

Making stock from scratch isn’t hard, but it does demand some time and cleanup. (If you homebrew beer, you may recognize some similarities.) Most of the time, I simplify this procedure by only making vegetable stock, and that’s where I’d recommend you start.

As the Washington Post’s Joe Yonan wrote several years ago, that starts with rerouting vegetable scraps to the freezer instead of a compost bin. Every time you’re chopping up veggies and have some bits you don’t want to eat–like the ends of carrots and onions, the greenest parts of leeks, or the woody stems of cauliflower or broccoli–toss them in a quart bag in your freezer. Once you have a quart’s worth, simmer them with a quart and a half of water for 30 minutes, then cool, strain and use now or freeze for later.

Turkey stock is more involved, and I decided to further complicate it Thursday night by following the advice of Serious Eats and roasting the carcass first. That proved to be an excellent idea, first because it made the kitchen smell amazing and second because it turned the last bits of turkey skin deliciously crispy and crackly.

I sauteed some leftover vegetable bits from the fridge in a pot, added the re-roasted turkey parts, threw in the most recent bag of frozen vegetable scraps and poured in enough water to cover everything.

And then I let the pot simmer for the next couple of hours while I wrestled with Christmas lights on the front porch. Straining it yielded about a quart of stock that after refrigeration, as predicted by the Serious Eats recipe, had set into a gelatinous state. I will admit that the results may look a little gross that way. But I’m sure they’re going to taste great.

Weekly output: Comcast rate hikes, Comcast data caps, home network troubleshooting

I did a much better job of setting work aside this holiday weekend than in prior years, and I am thankful for that.

11/24/2020: Comcast Celebrates Holiday Ritual Of Rate Hikes, Forbes

Just like a year ago, Comcast’s Grinch-like habit of revealing rate increases in the last few weeks before Christmas amounted to a pitch left hanging over the plate.

11/25/2020: As Comcast enforces data caps nationwide, will AT&T, Verizon, Charter and other internet providers follow?, USA Today

Comcast’s even-more-foolish decision to expand its unnecessary data caps in the middle of a pandemic that’s forced millions of Americans to work and learn from home led my editor at USA Today to ask for a column on that topic. I was delighted to oblige.

11/27/2020: Sluggish Wi-Fi? Here’s how to find out who – or what – is hogging your bandwidth, USA Today

I had filed this how-to piece a week earlier, but it didn’t have an obvious news peg, so I figured it might not get posted right away.

Thanksgiving almost entirely from scratch, and on short notice

More than three decades after I moved out, I finally cooked Thanksgiving without parental help. This was not my original plan for the holiday, but the pandemic led us to scrap that a week before the holiday–giving me just enough time to shop and plan a downsized meal.

The turkey was the first item to cross off the to-do list. I thought about buying just a turkey breast, but when I realized that Virginia’s EcoFriendly Foods had half turkeys for sale, I picked up one at the Arlington farmers market on Saturday. FYI, it is significantly easier to carry less than 7 pounds of half a bird–yes, I lived up to local stereotype by buying a left-wing turkey–than 14 pounds of a complete one.

I also came home from the market with a few pounds of potatoes, leaving surprisingly little shopping for other ingredients over the next few days: sweet potatoes, fennel, and stuffing mix.

Thanksgiving itself started a little before 9 a.m. with mixing dough for two baguettes. Julia Child’s recipe from The Way To Cook spans five pages and requires three rises; it’s far more effort than the no-knead bread I’ve done in previous years, but a complete baguette freezes better than half a loaf.

As the dough rose, I made the crust and filling for pumpkin pie from my usual recipe; getting dessert finished before 1:30 p.m. was a good morale booster. The baguettes went into the oven next (accompanied by a head of garlic), while on the stove top I boiled the potatoes.

But what about the turkey, the entree that my brother’s wife had handled when we had family Thanksgiving here last year? I had been tempted to follow Kamala Harris’s advice about wet brining but didn’t get around to that Wednesday, so I limited myself to rubbing butter on the bird and then seasoning it with salt, pepper, herbes de Provence and some diced rosemary from the garden.

I mostly followed the roasting directions in my go-to cookbook, Mark Bittman’s How To Cool Everything, except that I cooked it at 450 degrees instead of 500 for the first 20 or so minutes before backing down to 350 degrees. I stuck the temperature probe for a ThermoWorks Dot into what seemed the thickest part of the bird and set the alarm on that remote thermometer to 165 degrees.

Meanwhile, my daughter helped mash the potatoes as I threw too much butter and some of the roast garlic into that pot while my wife handled the stuffing and crafted some tangy cranberry sauce from scratch, using a recipe she’d looked up that afternoon.

After about two hours in the over–another advantage to getting half a bird–the turkey was done and looked and tasted amazing. Folks, this doesn’t have to be hard; like many other areas of cooking, throwing butter at the problem works. Speaking of which, I whipped up some gravy from the drippings in the pan. I will admit that the results were lumpy, not that anybody cared.

The only real misfire in this entire cooking production was the roast vegetables–putting that dish of sweet potatoes, carrots and fennel on the top rack in the oven meant that I didn’t see it when I took out the turkey and so left them a bit overdone. But roast veggies are pretty fault tolerant, and everybody ate enough of everything that we had to walk around the neighborhood to check out the earliest Christmas decorations before indulging in dessert.

Thanksgiving was not the same with relatives only visible on an iPad’s screen, but at least we did dinner right. And now we’re going to see how long Thanksgiving leftovers last with only three people around to eat them.

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.