Weekly output: smart cities, Bowie Seniors Computer Club, Twitter hack (x2)

Baseball will allegedly return Thursday with the Nationals’ home opener against the Yankees. Six months ago, I was looking forward to being on the stands on Opening Day to see the Nats hoist a World Series championship banner–and now the prospect of baseball coming back seems divorced from reality.

7/13/2020: Keeping an Eye on Privacy as Cities Get Smarter, Urban Land

I wrote this recap of smart-cities technology seen at CES month ago, but the coronavirus pandemic upended the publication schedule at the Urban Land Institute’s magazine. Note that the site will ask you to provide an e-mail address for a newsletter subscription to read this piece, but you don’t have to confirm your signup before reading.

7/16/2020: July 16 Zoom meeting, Bowie Seniors Computer Club

I got a message through the contact form here–yes, I really do read those–from one of the people running the user group that had hosted me for a talk back in 2009. I said I’d be delighted to return, even if only in video form, and I wound up spending much more time than I’d expected talking about my post-Post freelance career, the state of tech journalism, and the role of travel to tech events in my work these days.

7/16/2020: Twitter hacking, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news network had me on live a couple of times to talk about the previous day’s takeovers of a grab-bag of big-name Twitter accounts for no apparent purpose but broadcasting a cheap Bitcoin scam from such high-profile accounts as Apple, Uber, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Joe Biden.

Weekly output: CES recap (x2), Bezos iPhone hack, Intuit’s stewardship of Mint, VentureFuel CES panel, encrypting smartphone backups

This week has me attending two conferences in D.C. The tech-policy gathering State of the Net has been a fixture of my winters since 2006, while my introduction to the hacker convention ShmooCon did not come until last January.

1/21/2020: Industry Insights: CES Speaker Series Part 2, eMarketer

This research firm interviewed me over e-mail about this year’s CES. The last exchange in this short piece:

Q: If you could pick one thing that should stay in Vegas, forever, what would it be?

A: CES traffic. Who else would want it?

1/21/2020: Techdirt Podcast Episode 235: The CES 2020 Post-Mortem, Techdirt

I spent 44 minutes talking to Techdirt founder Mike Masnick about my impressions of the show–including my less-than-successful ride in a self-driving car and an eerily-personalized dinner hosted by HBO.

1/22/2020: Bezos iPhone hack, Al Jazeera

I talked about the deeply-strange report that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos had his iPhone hacked by a malware-loaded WhatsApp message sent by Saudi Arabian crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. As I said on the air: Who will ever again open a message from that guy?

1/23/2020: What the hell happened to Mint?, Fast Company

I have been meaning to write a piece unpacking Intuit’s apathetic stewardship of Mint for years–as the occasional rant here and on Twitter about that personal-finance app should have suggested. A mid-January ragetweet elicited an apologetic reply from one of Mint’s original developers, which led me to think I should dust off the pitch another client had rejected last year and add the promise of quotes from ex-Mint types. That got a quick thumbs-up from FC, and then I had a great half-hour conversation with Mint founder Aaron Patzer, with whom I’d last spoken when I was still at the Washington Post, not long after Intuit had bought his startup.

The post promptly blew up, getting an outsized reaction across Twitter and sparking some involved discussions at Reddit and Hacker News about possible alternatives to Mint; I’m the “robpegoraro” answering questions in each thread.

1/23/2020: The Future: From the Writers Who Cover Innovation, VentureFuel

Fred Schonenberg, founder and CEO of the consultancy that had me on a panel at CES two and a half weeks ago, wrote up the conversation I had with fellow journalists Eric Savitz and Rick Limpert. I appreciated Fred giving some prominent play to one thing I said back then: Data isn’t the new oil, it’s the new nuclear waste.

1/26/2020: Whether Apple or Google: Is there a back door into your phone’s online backups?, USA Today

A Reuters report that Apple had dropped plans to offer end-to-end encryption for iCloud backups of iPhones and iPads led to this explainer of the different levels of encryption possible with backups. Short version of the column: If you want to encrypt your phone’s data without any other party having a backup key, you’ll either have to stick to local backup of your iPhone or use an Android phone running either of the two most recent releases of Google’s mobile operating system.

Weekly output: talking CES 2020 with Mark Vena

This was one of those weeks where all of my public output involved me talking about my job instead of doing it (including one radio interview that doesn’t seem to have gotten aired and a second podcast that should get posted next week). The exception: Patreon, where I unloaded my CES 2020 notebook by writing about my observations of TiVo’s strategy, how HBO took me and my data with dinner, and my aborted ride in a self-driving car.

1/16/2020: Moor Insights & Strategy Podcast (1-13-20), Mark Vena

I joined my analyst friend Mark Vena via Skype Monday afternoon (hence the Jan. 13 reference in the title) to unpack what we learned from CES 2020. We talked about privacy on connected TVs (others call them “smart TVs,” but I’m not ready to bestow that kind of compliment), foldable phones and laptops, 5G wireless and the industry’s addition to hyping it up, and much much more.

Weekly output: OurStreets, ATSC 3.0, innovation in 2020, 5G meets retail, connected-TV privacy, Last Gadget Standing, Korean smart-city tech, best of CES

Yet another CES is in the books. It was a tiring week, but once again I got an enormous amount out of the show. And it is nice to think that less than two weeks into the year, I’ve already finished the year’s toughest business trip.

Earlier this evening, I put together a Flickr album of my pictures from the gadget show; at some point in the next few days, I will write up the more interesting bits from my notes for Patreon subscribers.

1/6/2020: This app helps pedestrians and cyclists wage war on terrible drivers, Fast Company

The second-to-last piece I filed in 2019 ran a week later–a look at an upcoming app that will help pedestrians and cyclists report bad behavior by drivers.

1/8/2020: ATSC 3.0 draws selective, if not scant, support at CES 2020, FierceVideo

Industry support for a long-awaited upgrade to broadcast-TV technology is a somewhat wonky topic compared to, say, robots bearing toilet paper, but that’s why it’s handy to have a trade-pub client that deals in wonky stuff all the time.

1/8/2020: What’s Next for Innovation in 2020?, VentureFuel

I debated fellow tech journalists Eric Savitz and Rick Limpert in a panel discussion hosted by this New York-based consultancy before a small audience of investor and founder types.

1/8/2020: 5G Meets Retail, CES

My contribution to the show’s high-tech retailing track was this talk with Nokia 5G market-development director Jason Elliott and Verizon connected-solutions managing director Arvin Singh about what 5G could do for the retail experience–in a shop and along its supply chain.

Yes, this was my second manel of CES. I should have said something about that when I was asked to join each panel but did not, and feeling strung out by December’s cognitive overload is a weak excuse.

 

1/9/2020: CES: Your smart TV is watching you. Will Samsung, LG, Vizio do more to protect privacy?, USA Today

Think of this column as a sequel to the one I wrote for USAT from Google I/O in May. Where Google showed it could speak in detail–if not as much as I’d like–about adopting such data-minimization techniques as federated learning, TV manufacturers at CES appeared to be grossly unready for that sort of privacy discussion.

1/9/2020: Last Gadget Standing, Living in Digital Times

Once again, I helped judge this competition and then introduced two contenders on stage Thursday: the Octobo connected toy and the Flic 2 programmable smart button.

1/9/2020: A Look At Korea’s Smart-City Ambitions At CES, Ubergizmo

Friends at this gadget blog asked if I could help with their coverage by writing up one set of exhibits in the Eureka Park startup space. They offered a suitable rate, so I said that would be fine.

1/9/2020: CES 2020: Our best of show, USA Today

I contributed a paragraph about Hyundai’s air-taxi venture with Uber that ended with a contrary comment from an aviation-safety professional who’s understandably skeptical about the odds of this and other attempts at urban air mobility. If you’re not in the mood to read that much, you can also hear my spoken-word rendition of this piece (recorded on a Vegas sidewalk Wednesday night) on Jefferson Graham’s Talking Tech podcast.

Updated 1/16/2020 to correct the spelling of Elliott’s last name; updated 1/29/2020 to add a YouTube embed of the panel.

CES 2020 travel-tech report: too much rebooting

My 23rd CES in a row featured an accomplishment I may never have pulled off before: I didn’t open my laptop the last day.

I got away with that because I’d filed all of the copy I owed from Las Vegas by Wednesday evening, leaving Thursday writing-free. And because I was starting to worry about having to rely on my laptop for one more day at the gadget show.

Each prior morning in Vegas, I awoke to find that my late-2017 HP Spectre x360 had crashed overnight and then failed to reboot, instead landing on a black-and-white error screen reporting that a boot device could not be found. Rebooting the laptop–sometimes more than once–allowed this computer to rediscover its solid-state drive, but I kept worrying that the condition would become terminal.

And then Friday morning, I dared to open the HP’s screen after my red-eye flight out of Vegas and had it awake normally, as it’s done every time since. I need to figure this out before I head out for MWC next month.

My HP is showings its age in other ways. The two rubber pads on the bottom have peeled off (this seems to happen a lot), and the battery life could be better.

My Google Pixel 3a, on the other hand, worked like a champ throughout my long work week as I took pictures and notes, stayed mostly on top of e-mail and tweeted out my usual snarky CES commentary. This phone didn’t crash once, and its battery lasted long enough for me not to get anxious about it–though having it recharge so quickly also helped with that.

But my Pixel 3a also briefly hijacked my Twitter account when I apparently didn’t press the phone’s power button before shoving it in my pocket after I’d tweeted my congratulations to a friend on his new job. And then I didn’t even realize this storm of pocket-tweeting had erupted until a few minutes later. Ugh.

Unlike last year, I benefited from the fortuitous overlap of an update to Wirecutter’s WiFi-hotspot guide. This let me borrow the bandwidth of the top two devices in this review, a Verizon Jetpack 8800L and an AT&T Nighthawk LTE, while also subjecting them to the harshest use possible. The 8800L also doubled as a battery pack for my phone; the Nighthawk also offers that function, but not via its USB-C port–and I forgot to pack a USB-A-to-C cable.

The Belkin travel power strip that I’ve been packing since 2012 also proved instrumental in keeping my devices charged, because there are never enough power outlets in CES press rooms. This gadget had the added advantage of not needing any firmware updates or reboots. So did the handheld storage device I used to access my notes for a panel I led Wednesday: a Field Notes notebook.

Weekly output: FOIAing for facial-recognition software

LAS VEGAS–I’m only a few hours into this year’s CES, and I’ve already had to bag one appointment. Not because I was running late, but because I tried to stay on schedule by going direct from the airport. But while the two individual vendor events I’m going to are okay with that, the CES Unveiled reception was not. Whoops.

I If you’d like to know more about my agenda for this week in Vegas, I outlined all that for Patreon subscribers earlier today.

1/4/2020: To learn how police use facial recognition, we must ask the right questions, Fast Company

A presentation a few weeks ago at the Cato Surveillance Conference in D.C. got me interested in this crowdsourcing experiment in surfacing information (do we call that “crowdsurfacing”) about police uses of facial-recognition technology by using state freedom-of-information laws. Then it took me a few more frazzled pre-holiday weeks to quiz one of the people who worked on this project, plus another week to write the thing.

 

Weekly output: corporate-branded texts and calls

I have done remarkably well at staying away from this laptop’s keyboard this week. I may be able to prolong that streak through next Sunday morning–when all thoughts of reduced gadget dependence must be shoved aside as I begin my 23rd annual pilgrimage to CES.

Patreon subscribers got an extra item this week: my notes from walking around Capitol Hill in the rain with a Verizon 5G hotspot.

Fast Company verified-SMS post12/28/2019: Google wants to help you tell which texts are legitimate, not scams, Fast Company

Most of this post covered Google’s recent introduction of Verified SMS–a way for businesses to get their texts verified and branded with their logo, which so far exists only in Google’s Messages app for Android phones. But it also covers a branded-calling feature from a company called First Orion that I saw demoed at MWC back in February. Take heart from that, PR pros; if I take good notes about an interesting company, I will probably find some way to put that raw material into a story somewhere at some point.

Updated a few hours after posting to add a mention of the Patreon post.

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.

How I booked my CES lodging (and did not get ripped off, I hope)

No business-travel lodging decision is trickier than CES. The usual affordability of Las Vegas hotels evaporates as properties on the Strip send their rates into the stratosphere for this massive show, leaving budget-minded CES attendees scrounging for cheap alternatives that won’t be too distant or too sketchy.

Las Vegas Strip from the southHere how I managed that this year. I hope you all don’t need to book CES lodging anytime soon, but applying some of the same shopping practices might make your next non-work trip a little more affordable.

  1. Start at the show site’s list of official hotels. Conference hotels can be a grotesque rip-off, but the enormous scale of CES–175,212 attendees this January–means the endorsed-lodging list has to go beyond a handful of high-end hotels. The best deals left this week are in downtown Las Vegas, which I know from prior trips is an easy Lyft/Uber ride to the Strip and not much slower by bus, which in this case includes the show’s free hotel shuttle service. And by “best deals” I mean $500 to $600 and change for four nights–including resort fees, which the CES site helpfully includes in its nightly-cost estimates. That set an upper bound on what I’d pay.
  2. Check Airbnb. Airbnb is an essential part of my business travel–I don’t think I could do events like MWC or Google I/O without that source of cheap lodging–but in this case it didn’t pan out. Airbnb’s site didn’t show any affordable options near the Strip that either had accumulated enough favorable reviews or were offered by hosts with their own prior crowd-sourced approvals.
  3. Check Kayak. Kayak.com has remained one of my favorite travel-search sites for all the tools it provides to narrow down a search (with Hipmunk a close second) while still showing results from a wide range of booking sites. In this case, Kayak revealed another option in the low $500s near the University of Nevada at Las Vegas–not walking distance from the Strip, but a manageable Lyft/Uber commute. (Vegas taxis are dead to me, thanks to their adding a $3 surcharge for credit-card payments.)
  4.  Check Hotwire. This Expedia Group-owned travel-search site offers mystery deals on hotels that don’t have to be that much of a mystery. The trick is to see what “Hot Rates” look good, then check not just the TripAdvisor rating shown next to each but the number of TripAdvisor reviews. That second data point should allow you to identify the underlying hotel with a high degree of confidence. In this case, Hotwire showed some downtown-Vegas properties at about the same rates as the CES site–but without clarity on whether resort fees were included.
  5. Don’t forget esoteric or expiring discounts. My search ended with an app on my phone, and not one I’ve used to book travel before. The T-Mobile Tuesdays app, which historically hasn’t yielded much more than the occasional free Lyft ride, touted some subscriber-exclusive discounts at Booking.com this week. So I belatedly remembered to take a look Friday, which is how I found a DTLV property with solid TripAdvisor ratings and no resort fees for just over $500.

Will that be my most comfortable CES stay ever? Probably not. Will I care after spending 14 hours a day schlepping around my laptop? Probably not. Now to book my CES flights…

 

 

Weekly output: CES recap, cable’s 10G pitch, making Congress smarter about tech policy, whither “GIS”

We’re now more than halfway through this presidential term, which is crazy to think about considering that January 2017 sometimes feels like it happened five years ago.

1/22/2019: Techdirt Podcast Episode 196: The CES 2019 Post-Mortem, Techdirt

For the fourth year in a row, I joined Techdirt editor Mike Masnick on his podcast to compare notes about CES.

1/24/2019: How cable wants to speed up your internet access, Yahoo Finance

The cable industry chose CES week to announce its “10G” initiative for 10-Gbps broadband, which helped ensure that I couldn’t get around to unpacking how much of his plan isn’t new until a couple of weeks later.

1/24/2019: These people are trying to make Congress smarter about tech policy, Yahoo Finance

I’ve had this story on my to-do list for months, but the arrival of a new class of TechCongress fellows finally pushed me to research and write it.

1/25/2019: The Changing Nature of GIS, Trajectory Magazine

I returned to my occasional client to write this wonky article about how cloud services and mobile devices are democratizing geographic information systems in much the same way that they’ve opened up online publishing.