About robpegoraro

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

Weekly output: whither the small smartphone, medical-device security, Senate privacy hearings

I watched my last Nats game of the year this afternoon and had scant company in the ballpark, thanks to the chilly temperatures, near-constant rain, and yesterday’s elimination of the team from postseason contention. But even in those crummy circumstances, baseball still offers its less-likely rewards: seeing us turn a 5-2-3 double play, then watching Trea Turner break the franchise record for stolen bases.

(Confession: I wasn’t in the stands after the 5th. I believe that staying for all 18 innings of game 2 of the 2014 NLDS gives me a pass to leave the very-occasional game early.)

9/19/2018: With Apple maxing out iPhone sizes, the small smartphone looks even more endangered, USA Today

If you’re a fan of smartphones small enough to allow easy one-handed use–and to fit into what passes for pockets on many women’s clothing–then the big part of Apple’s iPhone news this year was the quiet discontinuation of the compact iPhone SE. Unfortunately, Android vendors appear even more set on ignoring market demand for smaller devices.

9/20/2018: How weak IoT gadgets can sicken a hospital’s network, The Parallax

I wrote an explainer about how badly-configured or insecure-by-default connected devices can allow remote exploitation, then traversal of a hospital’s network. To get a fuller sense of your risks, replace “hospital’s network” with “your home’s network.”

9/21/2018: Midday Movers: Stocks mixed after a day of record highs, Yahoo Finance

Yahoo Finance runs four live video shows each weekday, and I made an appearance on one of them after an editor basically asked what was taking me so long. I had already been planning on attending Yahoo’s All Markets Summit conference Thursday (I hope my livetweeting from it didn’t get too annoying), so this gave me even more reason to head up to NYC for a few days. I come on at the 40-minute mark, when I talk about a post I have coming up that outlines the questions I hope will be asked at Wednesday’s Senate Commerce Committee tech-privacy hearings–plus what I’m afraid we’ll hear instead.

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Why I attended two monetization-resistant conferences

I spent the past two weeks betraying a basic rule of self-employment: Don’t go someplace without having enough work lined up to pay for the trip. Worse yet, I paid for a conference badge–twice.

I had my reasons. The XOXO festival in Portland promised a repeat of the mind-expanding, heartening talks I watched with rapt attention in 2013 and 2015, plus the side reward of getting to spend a few days in a city I like but hadn’t visited since 2015. The Online News Association conference in Austin, meanwhile, would bring its usual mix of professional development and catching up with old friends.

XOXO stageI had hopes of selling a post or two from each, but I’d still lose money from each trip (and then I wound up not selling anything at all). So what did I get for my $500 XOXO pass and $439 ONA registration, plus airfare and lodging for each?

This year’s XOXO was not the same independent-creativity pep talk as before, because most of the speakers didn’t address that theme. But there were some seriously compelling talks anyway:

  • Jonny Sun and then Demi Adejuyigbe talked with candor and hilarity about battling impostor syndrome;
  • Jennifer 8. Lee explained how she worked the emoji-governance system (yes, there is one) to get a dumpling emoji added;
  • Claire L. Evans retold some forgotten stories about female computing pioneers;
  • Helen Rosner spoke about being defined by an out-of-context tweet and having to defend her expertise, then led the audience in a recitation of this pithy, profane self-affirmation: “I am really smart, and I am really good at what I do, and you should fucking listen to me.”

Trust me, you will want to watch these whenever the organizers post the video to their YouTube page.

XOXO also had a day of meetups across Portland and endless conversations with fellow attendees. Somehow, this conference manages to attract some of the kindest, nicest people on the Internet; it’s a wonderful contrast to the acid bath that is Twitter on a bad day.

XOXO postcardThe people at ONA may not have been as uniformly pleasant–look, if we journalists had a full set of social skills, we’d all have real jobs–but that event had the advantage of being much more tightly focused on my professional reality. It’s not by accident that I’ve gone to every ONA conference since 2014.

There, too, the talks were terrific:

ONA was as great as ever for networking, I had more than my fill of delicious tacos, and I got to hear Dan Rather give a brief talk at an evening event and then shake his hand afterwards.

In retrospect, XOXO is an expense I wouldn’t repeat–although I’ve yet to go to that festival in consecutive years anyway. My takeaway from this year’s version is that instead of flying across the country to get these different perspectives, I should try harder to find them around D.C.

ONA, however, is pretty much guaranteed to be on my schedule next year–the 2019 conference will be in New Orleans. How can I not do that?

Weekly output: Stasi Museum, new iPhones

For the first time since I-don’t-know-when, I didn’t watch an Apple new-iPhone event live. I had planned on doing that in the air on my way to Austin Wednesday for the Online News Association’s conference, but the plane was a regional jet with Gogo WiFi–and I realized after takeoff that I’d forgotten my Gogo password, didn’t have that password saved in LastPass and could not reset it without, you know, Internet access. Then I further realized that a) since nobody had asked me to opine on Apple’s new hardware as of noon, that probably wasn’t going to happen later on, and b) since my upgrade had cleared on this flight, I could skip creating a new Gogo account for the occasion and instead enjoy a leisurely lunch before napping in a chair in a sky.

9/10/2018: Remember Stasi spying to understand the GDPR, The Parallax

The day I arrived in Berlin for IFA, I set aside a few hours to explore the Stasi Museum, a grim monument to the oppressive surveillance of the German “Democratic” “Republic.” I’d prepared myself for the visit by watching “The Lives of Others,” but it was something else to see the physical relics of East Germany’s campaign to take up residence in the heads of its subjects. Writing this gave me a chance to quote a co-worker from 1993: Shane Green, who was a fellow intern at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and went on to work in Berlin and learn about the Stasi’s destruction of privacy before a lot of other Americans.

9/12/2018: Apple’s upcoming iPhones, Al Jazeera

My one bit of punditry–so far!–about Apple’s new phones came late Wednesday morning (or that evening if you watched the Arabic-language channel in in Qatar), an hour and a half before Apple’s event. I did a quick live interview to talk about the prospects of higher prices and a wider array of iPhone models, plus the chances that President Trump would slap a tariff on Chinese-made iPhones.

How to pick a panel out of a lineup

AUSTIN–Once again, ONA is bringing some serious FOMO. Like any conference with multiple panel tracks, the Online News Association’s gathering here requires me to choose between as many as 13 talks happening in the same timeslot.

ONA 18 badge backThe past five ONA conferences I’ve attended have featured few lackluster panels, so this choice is not easy unless I think I can sell a story from the talk.

Setting aside that mercenary motivation, when I’m looking at two or three panels of equal interest to me, I have to ask myself a series of questions. Does the talk feature people I’ve heard before and liked? Or would I rather hear from speakers I’ve never seen? Do I want to say hi to the people on the panel afterwards? Will the conversation make me uncomfortable? (That’s usually a good thing.) And will the panel I skip have audio or video posted that I can check out later on?

At least all of ONA’s panels occupy a few floors of the J.W. Marriott here, so it’s not like SXSW and its archipelago of venues. There, the panel choice is often made for you by your location.

As a last resort, I may pick my spot for the next hour on a simpler metric: Does the room have a power outlet open near a chair?

Weekly output: IFA oddities, Windows laptop trends

PORTLAND–I’m nearing the end of one work trip, after which I’ll get to spend a whole 40 or so hours at home before heading out for a second. No, I’m not heading to the Bay Area for Apple’s new-iPhone event Wednesday (I haven’t gotten an invitation to one of those occasions since 2010, which is fine); I will instead spend that afternoon flying to Austin for the Online News Association’s conference.

Like XOXO here, ONA is an event that has me paying for the conference badge. In a few days, I will try to write why I think it sometimes worthwhile to put this kind of dent in my business model.

Yahoo Finance IFA-oddities post9/4/2018: The weirdest, most interesting, and most unavailable gadgets from IFA 2018, Yahoo Finance

This illustrated recap of the oddest hardware I saw at IFA, including a robot dog and a “Solar Cow,” ran a couple of days after my return from that gadget show in Berlin. This sort of listicle has become a staple of my tech-trade-show coverage, because the gadget industry doesn’t seem to be getting any less weird. And after I’ve filed a few thousand words from a faraway city, stringing together a post from 200-word chunks feels exponentially easier.

9/7/2018: Laptops get thinner, lighter, more secure – and, in one case, audio-hostile, USA Today

This overview of laptop-design trends seen at IFA–most of which I like, one of which I absolutely hate–took a few more days to appear online. I can’t say that any of these changes made me feel bad about my almost-year-old laptop… which is fine! Most people should not buy a new computer every year.

 

Ranking U.S. airport rail connections

PORTLAND–The easiest part of my journey here Thursday for this year’s XOXO festival was the last leg: a roughly half-hour ride on the light rail from the airport to downtown.

Many cities do not offer that kind of convenience, leaving visitors to choose between infrequent buses that get stuck in traffic and don’t have enough room for luggage or ride-hailing services that may not even save that much money over taxis (sorry, New Orleans; you’re guilty on both counts here). But not all airports with rail service get the basics right: a quick and obvious route from terminal to train, frequent service, a one-seat ride to downtown, and plenty of connecting service once you get there.

Here’s my sense of how 10 U.S. airport rail connections rate. It could have been an even dozen–I’ve also appreciated MARTA’s one-seat ride to ATL in Atlanta and availed myself of SEPTA’s less-frequent commuter-rail airport service in Philadelphia–but both of those happened in the prior century, and I’d rather refresh my memories of each first.

ORD: You do have to walk what feels like half a mile of underground corridors to get to the Blue Line station, but then you’ve got a traffic-free 45-minute, $5 ride to the Loop that runs 24 hours a day. Bonus: CTA is one of the very few U.S. transit agencies to take NFC phone payments instead of making visitors choose between paying a paper-fare surcharge or buying a smart card that will collect dust in a drawer later on.

PDX airport rail stationPDX: TriMet’s Red Line light rail takes you to the middle of downtown in about half an hour, the station itself is just outside one end of the terminal, and trains offer almost round-the-clock service, even on Sundays. As in Chicago, you can pay your fare via NFC; unlike CTA, Tri-Met also caps your daily fare at $5 if you use that option.

DCA: National Airport’s Metro connection checks off all the boxes, including a walk from the station to the terminal shorter than many of the planes waiting on the other side. And having spent the years before National’s new terminal opened in 1997 taking a shuttle bus to the Interim Terminal makes me appreciate this convenience even more. But: On weekends, Metro opens too late for even 8 a.m. flights.

SEA: Each time I’ve taken the 38-minute ride on the Link light rail from Sea-Tac to downtown Seattle, I think of Steve Dunne from “Singles” and his dreams of a Supertrain for commuters. Having to walk through a parking garage to reach the airport station, however, is not so super.

SFO: Putting SFO’s BART station at the end of a wye was an epic blunder: At best, only one in two southbound trains from San Francisco stop at the airport—at a steep fare of $9.15 from Embarcadero–and taking Caltrain can require separate BART rides from Milbrae north to San Bruno, then south to SFO. I appreciate being able to walk from the BART station to T3, but everybody would be better off if the Airtrain inter-terminal shuttle went across 101 to a single station for BART and Caltrain.

DEN: The RTD’s A line electric commuter rail replaced a bus that only ran every hour or so with service every 15 minutes during the day, and being able to end your trip downtown at beautiful Union Station is a treat. But at $9, this is on the expensive side.

BOS: You have to take a bus to the T’s Blue Line stop (so does this even count as airport rail access?) and then connecting to the T’s other lines is as much of a mess as anything in downtown Boston. And if you don’t already own a CharlieCard, you’ll pay a paper-fare surcharge because the T doesn’t seem to grasp the importance of selling its smartcards in all of its stations.

EWR: Newark’s station on the Northeast Corridor allows Amtrak to serve as a connecting “flight”–United will sell you that routing if you want to travel from Stamford or New Haven to one of its own destinations. But if you’re only going to Manhattan, NJ Transit’s schedule can leave you waiting at off hours, and the $13 fare is the second most I’ve paid to take a train to a U.S. airport.

CLE: Fun fact: Cleveland was the first North American city to institute rapid-transit service to its airport. And if you start your journey to Hopkins from downtown, your commute can begin in the historic confines of the Tower City complex. But Northeast Ohio is not exactly a paradise of rail transit, which cuts down on the utility of this connection.

JFK: Taking the Long Island Rail Road from Penn Station to JFK’s Airtrain was easy enough the one time I did that a few years ago, but if I had to make that commute more often I imagine I’d tire of the $15 combined cost of LIRR plus Airtrain–or the slower ride on the subway.

BWI: For passengers coming from D.C., BWI’s rail station takes the basics of Newark’s Amtrak connection and makes them worse: MARC runs less often than NJ Transit, especially on weekends, and instead of a short monorail ride you have a bus that takes longer and runs less often. Also, the BWI rail station itself is a miserable concrete bunker that doubles as a cellular dead zone. If, on the other hand, you’re coming from Baltimore, you can take the light rail direct to the airport—but I wouldn’t know about that.

So what about my own favorite Washington-area infrastructure project, phase 2 of Metro’s Silver Line? That will offer a one-seat ride from Dulles to downtown at what I’m guessing will cost $6 and change at peak hours, $4 off-peak and should take about 50 minutes, going by a published 43-minute estimate of travel from Rosslyn to Dulles.

(Having the station be across the hourly parking lot from the terminal doesn’t bother me a bit; the added walking over the rejected station option closer to the terminal, factoring out moving walkways, is 260 feet, and if that’s too much pedestrian locomotion then Dulles isn’t the airport for you anyway.)

They can’t finish that thing soon enough, and when they do I anticipate it will occupy a spot on this list right after National.

Weekly output: Facebook diet, 8K TV, social-media hearings

Another trip to Berlin for IFA is in the books, which means I’ve spent another year wondering when Berlin Brandenburg Airport–which was originally scheduled to open before my 2012 introduction to the show–will ever inaugurate scheduled commercial service.

8/28/2018: How to detox from Facebook, Yahoo Finance

I’d had the bones of this piece in mind since sometime after writing a similar how-to on reducing Google’s role in your life. I’m going to guess that most people didn’t install the Facebook Container extension for Firefox (although I am now running that on my Windows laptop), but I do hope that a good fraction of readers opted out of Facebook’s noisier mobile notifications.

Yahoo Finance IFA 8K post9/1/2018: Forget 4K TVs — 8K televisions are already here, Yahoo Finance

If it wasn’t obvious enough the last time I covered this topic: No, I really don’t think anybody should pay extra for 8K resolution, and if this entire format vanishes into consumer irrelevance as 3D TV did, I won’t be too sad. Meanwhile, I appreciated seeing Yahoo give this a little more publicity with a repost on Yahoo Sports.

9/2/2018: What to expect as Google, Facebook and Twitter face Capitol Hill lawmakers, Yahoo Finance

I wrote a curtain-raiser for Wednesday’s grillings of social-media executives in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Based on how prior House interrogations of tech execs have gone, my expectations for the latter hearing are exceedingly low.