2019 gardening report card: the persistence of parsley

Winter has yet to bring more than decorative amounts of snow to the D.C. area, but it’s already inflicted enough hard frosts to put a period on my kitchen-gardening efforts. So it’s once again time to evaluate how my attempts to grown my own food have worked out.

(For reference: my 2018, 201720162015201420132012 and 2011 gardening grades.)

Arugula: A

This most reliable vegetable once again came through with spring and fall crops, although the latter didn’t measure up to the former. As I’ve written in earlier posts here: This is what you should try to grow before lettuce or spinach–the most fault-tolerant vegetable outside of parsley.

Parsley harvestHerbs: A-

So about that: Flat-leaf parsley remains my flagship herb, yielding so much in the spring and fall that I was able to make repeated batches of parsley-walnut pesto. Sage came in second, even before getting extra credit for flourishing in a garden bed I basically ignored after half of the wood framing was well into rotting apart.

The other herbs I attempted to cultivate, however, dragged down this category score. Basil did better than last year, in that I got one great batch of pesto sauce out of it, but it would have lasted longer had I put in more effort. Mint was fine and dill grew adequately, but everything else evaporated.

Lettuce: B

Even getting two months’ worth of lettuce from one packet of seeds beats buying the same amount in a grocery store or at a farmers’ market.

Spinach: B-

This was great in the spring, but my attempt at a fall crop petered out before I could pluck any leaves to throw in a sandwich or an omelette.

Tomatoes: F

The plants I bought got as far as flowering but never showed a single tomato. You can imagine my frustration as a native New Jerseyan, especially after last year’s moderately impressive harvest.

Green beans: F

I planted seeds that yielded nothing in the neglected garden bed that I should rebuild in the spring. At least I tried, which I can’t say for cucumbers or bell peppers.

 

Weekly output: Google’s RCS messaging, PBS comes to YouTube TV (x2), 5G and IoT, Telaria + Rubicon, pay-TV fee transparency, Dish boxes + Nest Hello video doorbells, car2go gone, best DNA tests

My last full work week of the year and the decade had me busy, which is another way of saying this was a real bag of stress. I am looking forward to enjoying a few more tranquil days, and I hope you all also get some downtime in the rest of the December.

12/16/2019: Google’s new RCS text messaging: Will it work with my wireless carrier?, USA Today

I explained this upgrade to SMS that Google has taken to calling “chat features,” and which continues to see apathetic support from carriers.

12/17/2019: Cord cutters, you can finally stream your PBS stations online – on YouTube TV, USA Today

The reporting I did in January for a FierceVideo piece about PBS’s digital strategy paid off when I got a heads-up from public television’s Boston station WGBH about their impending arrival on YouTube TV. That allowed me to get this post on USAT’s site right after the news that cord cutters could finally watch many local PBS affiliates without needing either reliable over-the-air reception or a cable or satellite TV subscription.

12/18/2019: 5G deployment stands ready to supercharge the Internet of Things, Ars Technica

My last feature-length explainer covered the potential of 5G’s network-slicing and edge-computing capabilities in IoT markets. Like the earlier two, this was sponsored by a company that I assume was Verizon, going by the presence of their ads atop each one in the series. But Ars has yet to confirm that, and they certainly didn’t tell me in advance–which is exactly how this sort of arrangement should work.

12/19/2019: PBS lands on YouTube TV, FierceVideo

I spent the last two days of the week filling in at this trade-pub client to cover breaking news. My first post provided some more context about PBS’s debut on a streaming-TV service, including more details about participating stations than I had for the USA Today piece.

12/19/2019: Adtech firms Telaria and Rubicon to merge, FierceVideo

Thursday’s other post was a writeup of this merger of two adtech companies that I must admit I didn’t know much about prior to Thursday.

12/20/2019: New law mandates pay-TV fee transparency, FierceVideo

Friday morning, I wrote up the Television Viewer Protection Act, a just-passed measure mandating a little more disclosure of such tacked-on pay-TV expenses as the surcharge for local broadcasts and equipment-rental fees.

12/20/2019: Dish Network says hello to Google’s video doorbell, FierceVideo

Some Dish DVRs and receivers can now show a Nest Hello video doorbell’s view of who’s at your front door.

12/21/2019: An elegy for Car2Go, the smarter Zipcar rival that lost its way, Fast Company

The demise of D.C.’s leading point-to-point car-sharing service made me and many other transportation geeks sad.

12/21/2019: The best DNA test kit of 2019, Tom’s Guide

The fourth big story I wrote about DNA tests for this reviews site offers a ranking of the two I tested myself, 23andMe and AncestryDNA, plus an assessment of three others that have ranked high in other reviews: MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA and Living DNA.

It’s not the most wonderful week of the year

It’s after 7 p.m. on the Saturday before Christmas, and I wrapped up my workweek and  checked off the last major Christmas chores barely an hour ago. Unfortunately, this is not a departure from my holiday habits.

I’ve never been one of those people who can have all presents purchased and wrapped by a week before Christmas. Every year, the back half of December has me scrambling to find worthy presents for family members until I’m worrying more than I should about Amazon shipping deadlines–or finding that I’ve slipped past the wrong side of them. The joy of the holidays escapes me too easily.

At the same time, the advent of CES–Evil Advent, if you will–and the usual onslaught of PR pitches for exhibitors at that enormous electronics show steadily destroys my ability to focus on my day job. My inability to learn from prior gift-shopping experience seems to be matched by the tech-PR industry’s inability to learn that flooding journalists’ inboxes with repetitive or irrelevant pitches–often coupled with invitations to CES events scheduled in defiance of that show’s schedule and traffic, and often followed by cold calls that are never a good idea—-does not constitute effective outreach.

Being treated as if I have an infinite amount of time to evaluate and respond to CES pitches that themselves assume I’ll have an infinite amount of time in Las Vegas during the show is especially maddening when I’m already feeling strung out by the holidays and struggling to write and file the year’s last stories so I might have a few days around Christmas to do as much of nothing as possible before getting on a plane to Vegas.

It is easy to slip into both workload paralysis and errand paralysis, feeling too overwhelmed to do anything that isn’t due this hour and then feeling lousy for getting so little done. That’s a cruel little cocktail of stress and shame, and I imagine many of you have mixed it for yourselves this month.

The last workweek before Christmas is the worst for this, since at that point there’s almost no time left for the holiday chores and the CES planning and the year’s last crop of stories. Plus, most of the good holiday parties already happened.

All of this stress boiled over Thursday morning, when call from a 646 number I was sure I didn’t want to take set Google Voice ringing on my phone, tablet and desktop. As I cursed at my computer and reached for my phone to dismiss the call, I answered it instead. Oops. There’s a Toyota publicist who probably thinks I’m some unhinged nutcase… which might not be that far off from my frazzled state this time of year.

Weekly output: D.C. United’s online-TV experiment, 5G’s home-broadband potential, how the four carriers offer 5G, a 5G forecast for 2020

One of this week’s stories isn’t like the others–because it doesn’t mention 5G wireless at all.

12/9/2019: What D.C. United’s streaming experiment can teach about soccer’s TV future, FierceVideo

D.C.’s soccer team tried to cut its own cord and go with online-only video coverage of matches. That didn’t work, but that doesn’t mean D.C. United was wrong to dump traditional pay TV–or that Major League Soccer has much use for broadcast partners that require an old-school cable or satellite TV package.

12/11/2019: Can 5G replace everybody’s home broadband?, Ars Technica

The second feature in this series for Ars covered 5G’s potential as a source of uncapped home broadband. I struggled mightily to find somebody, anybody, who could testify to their experience of the 5G Home service Verizon sells in small areas of a handful of cities and finally found a few users on Reddit willing to share their experiences.

12/11/2019: Want crazy-fast internet? Here’s what AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint offer right now, Fast Company

The four nationwide U.S. carriers are selling four degrees of 5G, and I couldn’t explain them all adequately without going over my usual word count. Note that we updated this post after publication to add a quibble from Verizon over my use of the 5G hotspot that firm sells to judge its 5G connectivity: That $650 M1000 hotspot apparently can’t share more than 400 Mbps or so of 5G speed over WiFi. (My friend Sascha Segan called that out in his review at PCMag, but I had missed that.)

12/12/2019: 5G’s rollout is confusing, uneven, and rife with problems, Fast Company

I wrote up an Opensignal forecast of 5G’s prospects in North America next year. Like me, the people at that London network-analysis firm have serious concerns over the confusion the carriers are introducing by hyping millimeter-wave 5G that many people won’t be able to use.

A belated introduction to Wreaths Across America

I spent two hours walking around Arlington National Cemetery in a chilly drizzle this morning, and I could only think I should have done that sooner.

The occasion was Wreaths Across America, a relatively new tradition of placing wreaths on graves at military cemeteries. I was all set to forget about it until it had begun once again, but a tweet from ArlNow two weeks ago reminded me that I could sign up to volunteer. I filled out a form online and got an e-mail confirming my registration, which led to me waking up early this morning to take a short bikeshare ride over to Arlington’s Ord & Weitzel gate and join a line to get through a security screening.

After 35 minutes, an inspection of my bag, and a soldier’s once-over of me with a handheld metal detector, I walked into the cemetery and over to the closest truck distributing wreaths. (Yes, registering online was not actually necessary.) Another volunteer handed me a wreath, which I took over to the nearest row of graves and placed against one after reading the short story of service carved into it: name, rank, military branch, war or wars, dates of birth and death. Then I repeated the task.

We didn’t get much direction besides encouragements to say the name on each grave and the occasional unexplained instruction to skip those with a Star of David. Because I had not thought seriously before about the protocol of decorating strangers’ burial sites, I did not know that Jewish custom frowns on leaving flowers at a grave. Should I do this next year, I may bring some pebbles to place on those headstones instead.

(The tradition of leaving stones on a grave has spread to non-Jewish burial sites at Arlington; Medgar Evers’ headstone, for example, was topped with pebbles left by passerby.)

I quickly realized that two things about a headstone would catch my attention: a connection to someplace I’ve lived, or a date of death suggesting the person didn’t make it home from a war. I made a point of leaving wreaths on headstones of several people from New Jersey, D.C. and Virginia who had apparently died in Vietnam.

After half an hour, I decided to hike over to Section 60, the last resting place of those who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. The marble headstones are brighter there, the names and the religious emblems on them more diverse, the mementos left more numerous and personal. I could not avoid thinking that in an alternative universe, one or both of my cousins who fought with the Marine Corps in Iraq would be there–but unlike some of their comrades, they came home physically intact. You can’t not think of the cost of war when visiting Arlington National Cemetery, but that price exists in its rawest, most painful form in Section 60.

Volunteering at Wreaths Across America (run by a non-profit organization that has bought its wreaths from a single company with family ties) isn’t necessary to make this pilgrimage to Arlington and contemplate how much we ask of service members and their families. But it looks like I needed that push.

By 10 a.m., I was starting to have trouble finding undecorated graves. That’s when a volunteer at a truck handed me not one or two wreaths but six, and I had to walk about half a mile to find places for them. I should have taken a moment beforehand to check the @ArlingtonNatl Twitter account, which posted updates about which sections still needed wreaths.

After two hours, I could see no more headstones in need of a wreath anywhere near me. That seemed improbable, given the enormous size of Arlington–easy to overlook when you drive or bike around it, not so much when you walk more than three miles through it. But we had somehow done it. Also improbable: that after hundreds of thousands of internments at Arlington, space still exists for more. I wish I were not so convinced that we will fill it all.

Weekly output: Huawei and ZTE network-gear security, Ericsson’s 5G forecast, 5G explained

I hope you all haven’t gotten bored of me writing about 5G wireless, because there’s a lot more of that coming over the next two weeks.

12/3/2019: Don’t obsess over the security of Chinese wireless gear. Do this instead, Fast Company

I wrote about the Federal Communications Commission’s recent move to ban wireless carriers that receive Universal Service Fund subsidies from using any of those government dollars to buy network gear from the Chinese firms Huawei and ZTE.

12/4/2019: Get ready for 5G to make your phone even more addictive, Fast Company

Remember the Ericsson study about the future of mobile broadband worldwide that I briefly wrote about for FierceVideo last week? Fast Company also thought that worthy of a post, allowing me to cover it in more detail. As my old editor Craig Stoltz used to say: “Sell everything twice.”

12/4/2019: 5G on the horizon: Here’s what it is and what’s coming, Ars Technica

This 2,000-word post–the first of three I’m doing for Ars about the possibilities of 5G wireless–allowed me to synthesize a lot of the research and reporting I’ve been doing over the last few months. One thought I had after writing this: The carriers are setting their customers up for an enormous amount of disappointment by hyping up the potential of the one form of 5G least likely to reach most Americans, millimeter-wave 5G. Another thought: Even with all the skepticism I tried to bring to the topic at the time, my first coverage of 5G still exhibited too much trust in the sales pitches of carriers and hardware vendors.

 

 

 

 

Happy 10th birthday, iMac

A decade ago today, I set up the computer on which I’m typing this post. That is an absurdly long lifespan for any computer, much less one that’s seen near-daily use over that many years.

But here we–meaning me and the late 2009 iMac that’s now graced the same desk for 10 years–are. Three things made this longevity possible.

One is my working mainly in text and non-moving images. If I had to do any serious video editing, this model’s processor would have forced its retirement long ago. As is, there’s not that much computational labor involved in polishing prose–and while working with high-resolution photos can require a few CPU cycles, I do most of that editing online anyway.

Another is the relative repairability of this model. In the previous decade, Apple still designed desktops that allowed memory upgrades, so I took advantage of that option to double this iMac’s RAM early on. Apple didn’t intend for owners of this model to replace the hard drive, but its design left that possible with fairly simple tools–as in, no need to cut through adhesive holding the screen in place. I didn’t exploit that opportunity until a couple of years later than I should have, but the SSD upgrade I performed last spring now looks like some of the best $200 I’ve spent.

I could have replaced the optical drive that stopped reading CDs and DVDs in the same manner, but instead I bought a cheap Samsung DVD burner and plugged that into a free USB port–so much for the all-in-one concept!

(My second-longest-tenured daily-use computer, the Mac clone I kept from 1996 to 2002, was far more tolerant of tinkering, since Power Computing designed it along the lines of any PC desktop. That box ended its service to me after two processor upgrades, one hard drive replacement, an internal power-supply transplant, a memory upgrade and the addition of two USB ports.)

Last comes Apple’s baffling inability to keep its desktops current over any sustained stretch of time. The company formerly known as “Apple Computer, Inc.” spent several years not updating the iMac or Mac mini at all. By the time it finally refreshed the iMac, buying a new all-in-one desktop would have meant buying a 4K monitor inseparable from a computer would grow obsolete well before the display. But when Apple finally updated the moribund Mac mini last year, it shipped it with a joke of a 128 GB SSD and then listed insultingly high prices for adequate storage.

It’s since slightly moderated the storage rip-off, but the Mac mini has now gone over a year without an update, so I’d feel like a chump paying new-Mac pricing for that old design now. Even though my legacy Mac is now living two editions of macOS in the past–Apple dropped support for this model with macOS Mojave, leaving macOS Catalina completely out of the question. If Apple weren’t still shipping security updates for macOS High Sierra, I’d be in a real pickle.

Okay, I guess there’s a fourth factor behind this iMac’s longevity: I can be really cheap, stubborn or both sometimes.

Updated 12/3/2019 to note my OS-support issues and better crop a photo.