Lesson re-learned: Daytime offsite events at a trade show rarely work

BERLIN–I had a decision to make about my schedule Thursday morning here: Would I cut away from IFA to attend a Huawei event on the other side of town from the Berlin Messe, or would I stick with the official show schedule and check out some press conferences that might not prove all that newsworthy?

Huawei Nova phone

I opted for the unusual, thinking that a firm on the scale of that Chinese vendor would have to commit some news–and in any case, the event wouldn’t take too long and I would be able to get over to the Messe soon enough.

I was wrong on both counts. The taxi I shared to the Velodrom with some journalist friends took 25 minutes, after which we needed another 15 minutes to find the entrance to this half-buried arena. Huawei’s event went on for an hour, after which the hands-on area to try its Nova and Nova Plus phones and MediaPad M3 tablet opened and consumed more of my time.

And when I finally walked over to the S-Bahn station and got on a train to the Messe, I had to exit halfway there because of a scheduled closure that Google Maps didn’t warn me about when saying transit would be as quick as a taxi. After failing to puzzle my way through substitute bus service, then taking a different train with an extra connection to IFA’s venue, I finally showed up at 1:30–an hour and a half later than I’d expected in my earlier, delusional moments.

It’s true that attending Huawei’s event did allow me to witness some extended selfie coaching from social-media celebrity Xenia Tchoumi (a few tweets highlighting audience reactions follow after the jump), which yielded some much-appreciated humor.

But if I’d made the more boring choice, I wouldn’t have lost more than half the day to an event that featured no details about U.S. availability of the new hardware. It’s something I will recall immediately the next time somebody suggests I step aside from the daytime schedule of the first day or two of a sprawling show like CES or Mobile World Congress to have a client monopolize my time for what should only be an hour.

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Weekly output: AR in academia, Yosemite in VR, messaging apps, mobile-app nags, municipal broadband

I haven’t traveled anywhere for work since the end of June, but tomorrow I depart for Berlin to cover the IFA trade show for my fifth year in a row. My passport has collected a lot more stamps since August 2012 and I know I won’t feel too lost when I emerge from a U-Bahn station, but the prospect of temporarily putting 4,000-plus miles between me and my family still leaves me with mixed emotions.

EdTech AR in academia post8/23/2016: Higher Ed’s Augmented-Reality Ambitions Highlight Infrastructure Requirements, EdTech

This short, technically-inclined piece allowed me to quiz an old Post colleague–Dan Pacheco, now a professor at Syracuse University’s journalism school–and follow up with a University of Maryland professor I met last winter.

8/25/2016: You can visit Yosemite National Park with Obama … in VR, Yahoo Finance

I got an advance look at this virtual-reality tour of Yosemite narrated by President Obama. Having myself immersed in a place I haven’t seen since 2001 filled me with an almost painful level of nostalgia, so I had no choice but to reference a certain Mad Men episode.

8/26/2016: Here’s why email is still the best messaging app, Yahoo Finance

Months after the idea landed in my head, I finally wrote this get-off-my-lawn post about the cognitive load of having too many messaging apps on my phone.

8/27/2016: Avoid downloading mobile apps with these iPhone tricks, USA Today

I spaced about marketing this Q&A item about getting mobile browsers to impersonate desktop browsers because the column went up on USAT’s site on Saturday, not the usual Sunday. Note to my editors: I’ll get into PR mode about it tomorrow morning, I promise.

8/27/2016: Municipal broadband, KGO

I talked to the San Francisco station’s Jason Middleton about the sorry state of broadband competition and the prospects of municipal broadband increasing our choices. Note to myself: The next time a radio host gets my last name wrong, correct that immediately instead of waiting for the right moment.

Unfinished summer business: updating my Flickr self

August is almost wrapped up, which makes it particularly sad that I still don’t have a Flickr album up for SXSW… as in, the schmoozefest of a conference that happens in March.

Flickr app logoI didn’t mean to let things slide this badly. But with Easter coming only a week after my trip to Austin, it was too easy to let photo-sharing chores wait. And then I didn’t take care of this in the two weeks and change I had between Easter and jetting off to Hong Kong for the IFA Global Press Conference–at which point, my photo debt had begun compounding.

You would think that a photo-sharing service with mobile apps that automatically upload your photos would ease sharing them with the world. But one of my most frequent edits, straightening a photo so the horizon is level, turns out to be maddeningly difficult in a touchscreen interface–unless you lift your fingertip off the display at just the right instant, the image will yaw to the right or left for a moment more and skew your adjustment.

I also suffer from the disease of needing to caption every picture before exposing it to a world that usually has better things to do. So even though I no longer usually need to transfer images from a camera to a desktop app and then geotag and caption them before uploading them to a photo-album site (which itself still beats the picture-sharing options of the 1960s), I haven’t gotten any more efficient at presenting my photographic output.

Hell, I haven’t even remembered to post a newer profile photo at Flickr. If the blurry nature of that shot doesn’t make it clear, the photo in question dates to 2004.

(For anybody asking “Why Flickr?”: Instagram wasn’t an option on my series of Android phones until 2012–and it remains a bad fit for a dedicated camera. I settled on Flickr years before I had any thought of writing for a Yahoo site but continue to enjoy it, even as alternatives have arisen. I mean, Google Photos is pretty great, but don’t I give that company enough business already?)

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.