Thanks, Iota

My favorite bar in the D.C. area is pouring its last pint this weekend. That makes me sad.

When Iota Club and Cafe opened in the summer of 1994, Arlington’s Clarendon neighborhood was nobody’s idea of a nightlife destination. You had some good and cheap Vietnamese restaurants, a few dive bars (though not enough to string together a proper bar crawl), and a surplus of used-car lots.

Iota helped change that. The place had great beer on tap, the owners booked good musicians–although the tiny stage in its initial cozy confines couldn’t accommodate more than a quartet of skinny people–and they didn’t slack off when it came to food. It worked for an indie-rock Saturday night and a recuperative brunch Sunday morning.

A search of my calendar shows a long list of both local musicians (Jenny Toomey, The Kennedys, Alice Despard) and better-known out-of-towners (Kristin Hersh, Mike Doughty) that I saw there. But the Iota act I caught most often was my former Post colleague Eric Brace’s band Last Train Home.

That roots-rock group provided the soundtrack for a lot of evenings out with friends, and then for many of my first dates with my wife.

As other bars and restaurants opened up, Iota expanded into two adjacent spaces. The larger stage made bringing an upright bass or a piano an option, while the kitchen raised its sights and started doing new-American dishes good enough for me to take my mom there.

(I wrote the non-bylined ode to Iota’s catfish wrap that ran in the Food section in 2006. I already miss that, along with the fries that came with it.)

Iota even got a prime-time shout-out when an episode of The West Wing had a few of its White House staffers head across the Potomac for an evening out. For years later, a framed copy of that script hung on one of Iota’s brick walls.

The past several years saw the place retrench a bit. Management took away the good tables and the nice tablecloths and pared back the menu to sandwiches–really good ones.

Parenthood put a major dent in my own attendance, and my less-frequent visits found fewer people in the place. When I stopped in before 5 a few Saturdays ago, I was the only customer in sight.

But what finally did in Iota was something too predictable in its changing neighborhood: a redevelopment proposal that would have forced the place to relocate for a couple of years, then most likely pay a higher rent.

The developer’s renderings of the expanded building included Iota’s black-and-white facade, but I wasn’t shocked, just sad to see Iota’s owners announce three weeks ago that it would close at the end of September.

Of course, Last Train Home returned to play two final nights at Iota; I caught the last two-thirds of Thursday’s set and was glad to see a few Post pals there.

Now I have to put Iota’s absence on my list of neighborhood sorrows, along with the demise of most of the Vietnamese places, all the dive bars, and some of the newer, fancier restaurants that couldn’t cover escalating rents.

I still prefer the Clarendon of 2017 to its identity of 20 years earlier–I can do almost all of my shopping on foot, and we couldn’t have bought our home without the condo I’d bought nearby in 2000 doubling in value over four years. But this progress hasn’t happened in a straight line or without costs.

Some of you reading this have probably never heard of Iota until now, and my words may not adequately express what made it special.

But you probably do have some quirky bar or restaurant nearby that’s been around a while, doesn’t attract all the beautiful people, doesn’t have much of a social-media game and can’t be found anywhere else. Why not stop in for a drink tonight or brunch tomorrow?

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Weekly output: 5G, broadcast TV on online video, wireless broadband, machine-learning platforms

Having our kid come down with strep throat put a serious dent in my productivity on this week. (She’s fine now.) The next five days, meanwhile, have a much more crowded schedule that includes an overnight trip to Cleveland. You’ll find out why Tuesday.

9/18/2017: 5 things to know about what’s next for wireless internet, Yahoo Finance

Too-soon hype about 5G wireless is already getting customers confused–as I realized anew when a reader asked how it couldn’t be coming until 2020 if she already had a 5G router. (Answer: It was a 5 GHz router.)

9/18/2017: Broadcasters aren’t going OTT ASAP, FierceBroadcasting

The latest in a steady series of features I’ve written for Fierce’s monthly (registration required) bundles, this one looks at the tangled availability of local channels on “over the top” online-video services. I missed it when it first came out because, I guess, I didn’t see the download link in Fierce’s daily newsletter at the time.

9/20/2017: Why you might trade your wired internet connection for your phone, Yahoo Finance

This headline overstates the story a little. My answer to the question–newly raised by an FCC proceeding–of whether we should count the wireless carriers’ mobile broadband as competition for wired cable, fiber and DSL is that a mobile-only strategy doesn’t work as long as you still need to use a desktop or laptop computer.

9/22/2017: Machine-learning cloud platforms get to work, Ars Technica

This piece focuses on a much wonkier subject than my usual consumer-tech coverage, but I carved some time out of my schedule to write it anyway. On one hand, it allowed me to get into the weeds on the workings of some technologies that I do write about all the time. On the other hand, the story was for a site at which I hadn’t written in way too long (my last Ars byline happened over four years ago) and involved a great per-word rate.

That rate, in turn, was a product of this post being part of a set of stories sponsored by Siemens. I didn’t know the sponsor going in and, as I wrote in a comment below the piece, my editor neither told me which companies to feature nor instructed me on any conclusions the article should reach.

Updated 10/3/2017 to add a link to the broadcasters story.

 

A Safari upgrade I like: accountability for resource-hogging pages

Apple is a few days away from shipping its next big update to its desktop operating system, but people running its current and previous macOS releases can already benefit from one of macOS High Sierra’s components.

Yes, I’m writing something nice about Safari for a change.

The browser that I’ve spent much of the past few years cursing at for its weak memory management and general inability to let me run the computer instead of the other way around got a welcome, pre-High Sierra update Tuesday.

The most talked-about feature in Safari 11.0 may have been its ability to automatically silence sites that without invitation play videos with audio on (yes, I know that includes some of my freelance clients), followed by its blocking of cross-site ad tracking. But the option I’m enjoying most at the moment is Safari 11’s ability–stashed in a new “Websites” tab of its preferences window–to open every page at a given site in the minimalist Reader view.

Where ad blockers are often clumsy and random, Reader can be an elegant weapon against sites that demand attention with junky ads and auto-playing media. It might also spare you from a particularly piggy page locking up your Mac with a demand for more memory than the system can allocate.

“Isn’t that the system’s damn job,” you say? Yes, it is. Fortunately, Safari 11 also now seems able to quash a site in the middle of a memory binge, to judge from the banner I saw atop a page advising me that Safari had reloaded it “because it was using significant memory.”

I’m not going to tell the Safari developers to kick back with a nice vacation – since this update, the browser has already forced a reboot when it somehow refused to restart or fully quit–only a week after I’d had to go through the same routine with Google’s Chrome. But at least I don’t feel like this app is conspiring against me.

Weekly output: buying iPhones (x2), iPhone 8 and X (x2), connecting the unconnected, PR pitches

I flew to San Francisco Monday afternoon–once again marking Sept. 11 by getting on a plane, which strikes me as an appropriate way to honor the day–for the Mobile World Congress Americas trade show, then returned Thursday afternoon. That yielded one story I’ve filed that hasn’t yet been posted, another I need to finish, and ideas and sources for a few others farther in the future.

9/11/2017: Reminder: You don’t have to buy your next iPhone from a carrier, USA Today

My first part of this week’s new-iPhone feeding frenzy was this post reminding readers that Apple provides an installment-payment option like that of most carriers–except that Apple’s gives you a device that isn’t locked to any one carrier.

9/12/2017: Apple’s big announcements, WTOP

I shared my thoughts about Apple’s phone and smart-watch news via Skype from the MWCA press room; for once, the Internet-calling gods smiled upon me.

9/12/2017: Highlights: Apple unveils $999 iPhone X, new Face ID technology, Fox 5 News

I jumped on Skype a second time to discuss Apple’s new smartphones with WTTG’s Marina Marraco.

9/13/2017: Cellphone carriers are shining up their iPhone trade-in deals, USA Today

I wrote my USAT column earlier than usual to offer some advice about the incentives the carriers are throwing out to get people to upgrade from an iPhone 7 or 7 Plus–something you probably shouldn’t do, whereas owners of older models can profit from taking advantage of some generous trade-in deals.

9/13/2017: Connecting the Unconnected, Mobile World Congress Americas

About three weeks ago, I got an unexpected invitation from a Mozilla Foundation publicist: Would I like to interview executive chairwoman Mitchell Baker onstage at MWCA about that non-profit’s research into which strategies work to get people online in developing countries? I said that sounded like a great conversation, and it was. The MWCA organizers haven’t posted the full video yet, but you can watch an excerpt on Mozilla’s blog and in the embed below.

9/15/2017: Hit the Perfect Pitch: How to Fine-Tune your Story to the Media, Business Wire

With a handful of other journalists, I answered questions from area publicists about what makes an effective pitch (hint: your follow-up e-mail should never consist of “any interest?”) and heard out a handful.

The two kinds of Airbnbs I rent

No travel site has saved me as much money as Airbnb–the 10 rooms and the two apartments I’ve booked through the site represent thousands of extra dollars I didn’t have to spend on overpriced hotels at events like Mobile World Congress and Google I/O. But no other travel site has left me thinking so much about its effects on the places I visit.

The vision that Airbnb sells, and the reality I’ve seen in half of those 12 stays, is somebody renting out a room or (when they’re traveling) their entire residence to make extra money on the side. I always appreciate the effort these hosts put in–the labels on everything, the well-placed power strips that hotels often forget, the advice about places to eat and drink nearby–and I like the thought that I’m helping people stay in their homes or apartments.

(A friend in Brooklyn has rented out the extra room in his apartment for years; seeing him favorably review an Airbnb room in Denver put me at ease with staying there for last year’s Online News Association conference.)

But Airbnb also features many other hosts who list multiple properties and, in some cases, have purchased many or all of the apartments in a building to rent out to budget-minded travelers like me. In the latter case–like the room in San Francisco I rented this week that appeared to have once been a single-room-occupancy apartment–you can easily imagine that without an Airbnb, people who live near those places would have more housing options.

That concern, sometimes pushed by the hotel industry, has led many cities to try to restrict Airbnb. In Barcelona, that crackdown meant the apartment in the Gothic Quarter that I’d stayed at for three years in a row was off the market this February because the host couldn’t get the required tourist license (I found another apartment that did have it, or at least said it did). In San Francisco, it’s led the company to start collecting occupancy taxes (which is fine with me).

I don’t want to overstate Airbnb’s effect on a housing market–certainly not in the Bay Area, where development policies founded on delusional entitlement have done far more to jack up residential costs. But I do worry about this.

And then I continue to book on Airbnb when crashing with friends isn’t an option. When the alternative is eating $200 or $300 a night on a hotel room or staying in distant suburbs, what else do you expect me to do?

Weekly output: New laptops, IFA gadgets, online-video subscribers, wireless plans, Equifax

Technically speaking, I didn’t wrap up my IFA coverage until Sunday night, when I posted an album of photos from the show. Monday afternoon, I’m off to San Francisco for Mobile World Congress Americas, a successor to the CTIA wireless-industry show that I skipped last year.

9/5/2017: Why you might not want a laptop with a 4K display, Yahoo Finance

I liked most of what I saw in Windows laptops at IFA, but the idea of cramming Ultra High Definition resolution into a 13- or 14-inch screen seems idiotic to me.

9/6/2017: 4 amazing new gadgets you can’t get in the US, Yahoo Finance

Going to a gadget show overseas means you’ll see some hardware that you won’t be able to buy back home in the States.

9/7/2017: Best Cell Phone Plans, The Wirecutter

If I’d filed this on time, I would have had to rewrite the update to factor in Verizon’s downgrade of its most-advertised “unlimited” wireless plan. Instead, I had a hurried few days of revising the text I’d last updated in March to reflect that and many other pivots among wireless services.

9/7/2017: Measuring the OTT Subscriber, FierceCable

This piece–you’ll have to cough up an e-mail address to read it–covers how some online video services try to get a sense of their customer metrics.

9/8/2017: Why Equifax needs to give up some details about how it got hacked, Yahoo Finance

Equifax’s massive data breach–yes, I seem to be included among the victims–made me mad. Then it made me think about other posts I’ve written to denounce the reflexive silence of too many tech companies after they realize a third party has broken in and stolen customer data.

When a work-from-home type gets a driving commute

One of the many ways I count myself lucky is that I haven’t had to drive to work since high school. No matter where I’ve lived around D.C, I’ve been able to get to my job by bus, Metro or on foot. And since 2011, I’ve only had to step into my home office.

But the past two summers have added a different sort of commute: our daughter’s various day camps. And as the person in the house with the most flexible schedule, it’s fallen to me to drive our kid to one camp or another most mornings. Sometimes it’s easier for me to pick her up in the afternoon as well.

Compared to the commutes most people endure around D.C., that’s left me nothing to complain about. I’m not sitting in traffic on I-66, the Dulles Toll Road or the Beltway; instead, I’m on neighborhood streets lined with trees and not enough big front porches. And the very worst day-camp commute I’ve had only ran some 20 minutes each way.

(The best day-camp commute involved a location barely half a mile away, so I could walk our child there and back–with some crankiness on her part.)

I sometimes feel like I’m engaged in commute cosplay as I sit at a stoplight, sip coffee out of a travel mug, listen to WAMU (of course I do), and then end the morning’s schlep without clocking a highway mile or crossing the Potomac.

I’d anticipated going back to my usual car-light routine with the start of school this week, but my wife’s broken clavicle means I’m the sole driver in the house through sometime in October. It could be worse. I mean, our daughter could go back to demanding that the same two CDs be on heavy rotation all the time. And outside of picking her up from extended-day care at school, I still barely have to drive anywhere.

That makes now a good time to contemplate the benefits of living in a walkable neighborhood… as if having the second half of this year’s property tax come due next month didn’t give us reason enough.