About robpegoraro

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

Weekly output: Starry Internet

Merry Christmas to all who observe! And to all who observe by bestowing gadget gifts: good luck with the setup and tech support.

Yahoo Finance Starry post12/18/2017: This startup could replace your cable internet, but faces hurdles, Yahoo Finance

Some of you may remember my coverage a few years ago of the TV-via-Internet firm Aereo. After the Supreme Court shut down that startup on questionable copyright-infringement grounds, founder Chet Kanojia went into the fixed-wireless Internet market. Starry offers 200 megabits-per-second, no-data-caps access to some buildings around Boston, and when I was there in early December I quizzed Kanojia for an hour and change about his new venture’s progress.

Note that this story has been updated since posting: One caption got egregiously mislabeled, and one analyst I talked to didn’t spell out (which also means that I should have asked) that he wrote his case study without quizzing Starry directly.

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2017 gardening report card: lettuce, at last

With last Thursday’s hard frost, another year of backyard gardening has come to an end and it’s time once again to assess the results of a hobby that may not make much financial sense on an opportunity-cost basis–but which does allow a regular analog respite from all of my screen time.

(For reference: my 20162015, 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011 gardening grades.)

Herbs: A+

Planting basil seeds in a different, sunnier spot paid off with weeks of abundant leaves that I could toss into pesto sauces. The sage did even better and has kept on going into winter, although the relative lack of recipes for it means I’ve left most of the crop outside (any ideas to change that?). The parsley, meanwhile, rebounded from its subpar 2016 showing and once again led me to make multiple batches of tabbouleh in the spring. Mint, oregano, and rosemary were their usual prolific selves, and chives and dill did well in the fall. But cilantro only showed up in trace quantities.

Arugula: A

I got a terrific spring crop of this versatile green that lasted into July, then had another several weeks’ worth in the fall. If you’re thinking of starting a kitchen garden, this should be first plant you aspire to after parsley or basil.

Lettuce: A

Planting this in a sunnier spot paid off spectacularly well in the spring and summer, yielding an outstanding return on my investment in a couple of seed packets. If only I’d bought more: I couldn’t try for a fall crop because I forgot to purchase extras in the spring and then couldn’t find any after August.

Spinach: B

Last year’s plants held on through last winter–the day I got back from SXSW, one day after the season’s one notable snowfall, I brushed off some of the accumulation to pluck some leaves to use in a pasta sauce. It flourished throughout the spring but did not reward me with a fall crop.

Green beans: B-

These did great through the spring, but then some of our neighborhood’s many rabbits got into the raised bed and devoured the plants. Having enjoyed the Peter Rabbit books as a toddler, I can only laugh at the thought that I’ve become Mr. McGregor.

Tomatoes: C

Modest, incremental improvements at cultivating tomatoes did not yield a huge difference in this gardening paradox: I have no trouble getting tomato plants to sprout, but coaxing any to bear fruit is much less of a sure thing.

Cucumbers: F

Just to show that there’s no year-over-year logic to gardening, a comparable level of effort this year yielded 100 percent less than last year. Fortunately, cucumbers cost almost nothing at farmers’ markets.

Bell peppers: F

For yet another year, I got nowhere trying to grow these.

Weekly output: Apple Park, forced-redirect ads, net neutrality, tech trends, Tech Night Owl, media-player tips

I would add up how many weeks this year have involved me writing about net-neutrality issues, but that would be too depressing.

12/11/2017: Why doesn’t Apple make its devices as carefully as it’s making Apple Park?, The Washington Post

After seeing Jony Ive’s talk at the Hirshhorn Museum last month, I tweeted out a line from him about how people should shut up about Apple Park’s perfectionist design–which then irked a great many people. I decided there was a story in this and, after striking out at two other places, found a home for it at the Post. Once again, I enjoyed confusing people who hadn’t seen my byline there in years.

12/11/2017: How to stop rogue ads that can set you up for malware, Yahoo Finance

When my mom asked how to dispel an obnoxious “forced-redirect” ads–the kind that take you off whatever you’re reading and then break your browser’s back button–I figured the problem was widespread enough to be story fodder.

12/14/2017: Here’s what you can expect now that the FCC has killed net neutrality, Yahoo Finance

The anger I’m seeing about this–not to mention the 3,767 comments this has drawn so far–suggest that FCC chair Ajit Pai’s PR strategy of laughing off fears is not calming anybody down.

12/16/2016: What’s Up With Tech?, PATACS

In my first talk to this user group since 2010, I talked about why I’m not sold on a handful of much-hyped technologies–4K TV, smart speakers, drones, virtual reality and Bitcoin. I brought a bag full of random trade-show swag to give away, and now I have that much more room in my home office’s closet.

12/16/2017: December 16, 2017 — Rob Pegoraro and Jeff Gamet, Tech Night Owl Live

I talked to host Gene Steinberg about the demise of the service once known as AOL Instant Messenger, net-neutrality politics, and my decision to replace my MacBook Air with a Windows laptop.

12/17/2017: Cord-cutting tips for setting up your new Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV, USA Today

The advice about using an Ethernet connection instead of WiFi should be obvious, but I’ll bet a lot of people don’t think about using Plex’s apps to play music and videos stored on their PCs or using a media player’s remote-control app to avoid having to type passwords by clicking at letters on the TV’s screen with the player’s regular remote.

 

 

For tech journalists, this may not be the most wonderful time of the year

It’s almost the middle of December, which means I’m once again in the weeds with my CES planning, in the weeds with Christmas shopping, and in the weeds with writing stories in advance so I can maybe spend some of the holidays moderately unplugged.

All of these things have been part of my Decembers for 20 years (although working on a blog schedule has only been part of the deal for the last decade). I should have been able to get better at this, especially since I succumbed to leaning on the crutch of free Amazon Prime two-day shipping and let my wife handle the cards I’d otherwise not send out until early January. Nope!

CES, meanwhile, has kept growing in size–from 117,704 attendees in 2003 to 184,279 this January–and generally making a mockery of predictions that big tech shows no longer matter.

And because it’s 2017, there’s now the added hilarity of the Trump news cycle. Today, it’s given us the complete repeal of 2015’s net-neutrality rules. That’s been readership gold–2,678 comments on my Yahoo Finance post and counting–but it’s not exactly helping me ease into the holidays.

At least it’s not just me. Every CES-bound tech journalist has to be feeling the same crunch, and many of them have to post much more often. And as much as I hate CES PR pitches, I’m sure many of their senders tried to remind their clients that the space-time continuum still governs CES and that expecting reporters to attend an off-Strip event the first day of the show is wildly optimistic–and then the clients ignored their advice.

I do, however, have one thing extra going for me: CES doesn’t start until the second weekend of January, so I have an entire five blessed days between New Year’s Day and my getting on a plane. I plan on sleeping for as much of that time as possible.

Weekly output: telecom bargaining (x2), net neutrality, gadget gift guidance, 4K viewing options

The list below would suggest that I spent more time talking about my job this week than actually doing it, but I filed two other stories that you should see Monday.

12/4/2017: Bargaining for lower telecom bills, KTRH

This Houston radio station wanted to interview me about last Sunday’s USA Today advice to bargain for a better rate on your TV and Internet bill. Fortunately, I had spare time during a long connection through Newark and an unusually uncrowded United Club in which to take anchor Scott Crowder’s call. I should probably list this with an asterisk, as I don’t know when or even if KTRH ran the interview; if you happened to tune in Monday and hear my spot, please let me know.

12/5/2017: Total Eclipse of the Net: The End of Net Neutrality?, New America

“I am serving a life sentence of covering net neutrality” was how I began this 90-minute panel hosted by New America’s Open Technology Institute. My conversation partners were Incompas general counsel Angie Kronenberg, economist Hal SingerNational Hispanic Media Coalition policy adviser (and former FCC commissioner) Gloria Tristani, and Free Press policy director Matt Wood.

12/5/2017: This Morning with Gordon Deal December 05, 2017, This Morning with Gordon Deal

A few minutes after my interview with KTRH, I did a second interview about last Sunday’s USAT column. My spot comes up a little after 13 minutes into this episode.

12/6/2017: Holiday gift guide: Shopping for a person who’s hard to shop for? These D.C. locals have you covered., Express

Bryanna Cappadona, entertainment editor at the Washington Post’s free tabloid, quizzed me for this gift guide. I will admit that my suggested purchase is rather nerdy, but it could also spare the recipient major heartache with their Gmail or Facebook account.

12/10/2017: 4K TV: How much Internet bandwidth do you need?, USA Today

This column also notes your primary offline option for watching 4K content–the small minority of Blu-ray discs that offer Ultra High Definition resolution–and the continued absence of 4K in cable-TV lineups and over-the-air broadcasts.

Ban the panel prep call

Tuesday morning had me moderating a panel discussion, which made the workweek nothing out of the ordinary: I’ve done 20 or so panels so far this year.

I enjoy the exercise–when you only have to ask interesting questions, call out any departures from the truth, throw in the occasional joke and try to end things on time, you’ve got the easiest job of anybody on the stage. But there’s one part I resent: the inevitable request by the event organizers that everybody get on a conference call first to discuss the panel.

If it’s just going to be me interviewing another person and we’re in the same time zone, this need not be too bad. But more often, you have four or five people with widely varying schedules.

That leads to a flurry of e-mails in which the panelists or their PR reps try to pick out a mutually agreeable time–instead of, you know, using the e-mail thread to discuss the panel itself.

The con call itself is likely to run on some 1990s phone-based system, not any sort of online app that would make it easy to tell who’s talking (pro tip: when on a con call, play up whatever regional accent you have). Using a text-based collaboration tool like Slack that would let people on planes or an Amtrak Quiet Car get in on the conversation never seems to come up.

Last month, the only time the organizers offered for the prep call was 5 p.m. on a Friday when I had to get to Dulles Airport for a flight later that night. I replied that this wouldn’t work and suggested we “use e-mail the way God intended,” then wrote up an outline of the talk as I would have needed to do even if I’d hacked out time for a con call. The panel went just fine.

So if you ask me to dial into a con-call service to talk about what we’ll talk about on a panel and I suddenly get cranky, please understand that I’m just trying to act as if we’re doing business in the 21st century.

Weekly output: net neutrality (x2), 2018 security risks, bargaining for a better TV or Internet bill

One of the ways that self-employment has taught me to see the calendar differently: Once you put November in the books, you’ve pretty much put your yearly income in the books too unless you can sell something early in December to a client that pays unusually fast. (See also, a client worth keeping around.)

USAT net-neutrality transparency post11/28/2017: After net neutrality: Up to you to police the ISPs, USA Today

My contribution to USAT’s coverage of Federal Communications Commission chair Ajit Pai’s move to repeal all of 2015’s net-neutrality rules was to unpack the disclosure requirements he would impose on Internet providers. One big catch: An ISP wouldn’t have to post on its own site that it blocks or slows certain sites or charges others for priority delivery of their bits.

11/28/2017: Why the FCC chair says social networks are the real threat to the free internet, Yahoo Finance

Pai gave a speech Tuesday that included some reasonable arguments against the current, proscriptive net-neutrality rules–and then pivoted to the deeply dubious contention that we should really worry about Twitter and other social networks being mean to conservatives.

11/29/2017: How hackers might target you in 2018, Yahoo Finance

I wrote up McAfee Labs’ cybersecurity forecast for next year–which identified the companies selling connected gadgets for your home as a major part of your privacy and security risks.

12/3/2017: Check your cable or Internet bill: After the first year discounts, it’s time to bargain, USA Today

Three weeks ago in San Francisco, I sat down with my USAT editor for the first time after two-plus years of her handling my column to brainstorm tech-support columns that might resonate over the holidays, and this was among them. Conveniently enough, my Thanksgiving tech support a week ago allowed me to inspect my mom’s Fios bill to see how Verizon breaks down its promotional discounts and what you’ll owe after their expiration.