Weekly output: CES recap, United fleet site, cybersecurity coverage, wireless phone plans, inauguration wireless coverage, T-Mobile One alternatives

I got a little extra publicity this week from the Columbia Journalism Review when its editors illustrated their open letter to President Trump from the White House press corps with a photo I took of the White House press briefing room. It’s been flattering to see that people actually read photo credits! I would have liked to see CJR link to the original–I believe that’s a condition of the Creative Commons non-commercial-use-allowed license under which I shared it on Flickr–but the reply I got was that their CMS doesn’t support links in photo credits.

That photo, incidentally, comes from 2014’s White House Maker Faire–exactly the sort of event I don’t expect to get invited to over the next four years.

1/17/2017: Techdirt Podcast Episode 105: The CES 2017 Post-Mortem, Techdirt

I talked with Techdirt founder Mike Masnick about my experience at this year’s show. I did the interview using a podcasting Web app I hadn’t tried before, Cast. My verdict: great UX, but that name is horrible SEO.

Screenshot of Air & Space story1/18/2017: Get to Know Your Airliner, Air & Space Magazine

I finally wrote a story for a magazine I’ve been reading on and off since high school, which is pretty great. The subject: the United Airlines Fleet Website, a remarkably useful volunteer-run database of United planes that I’ve gotten in the habit of checking before every UA flight. The story should also be in the February issue, available at newsstands in the next few days.

1/18/2017: What you should really know about every major hacking story, Yahoo Finance

I put on my media-critic hat to write this post about what too many cybersecurity pieces–and too many mass-media conversations on the subject, up to and including those started by Donald Trump–get wrong.

1/19/2017: The Best Cell Phone Plans, The Wirecutter

We decided last summer that having separate guides for the four major wireless carriers and for prepaid and resold phone plans didn’t help readers who should be considering all of their options. That also imposed extra work on me. The result: a single guide that’s much shorter and will be easier to update the next time, say, Sprint rolls out some new price plans.

1/19/2017: How carriers will keep D.C. online during Trump’s inauguration, Yahoo Finance

The real test of the big four networks came not during President Trump’s under-attended inauguration but the Women’s March on Washingtoh the next day. To judge from the experience of my wife and others, the carriers did not acquit themselves too well: Her Verizon iPhone lost data service for part of the day, and I saw friends posting on Facebook that they couldn’t get photos to upload.

1/22/2017: Am I stuck with T-Mobile’s flagship plan?, USA Today

T-Mobile’s decision to limit its postpaid offerings to the unmetered-but-not-unlimited T-Mobile One gave me an opportunity to provide a quick tutorial on the differences between postpaid, prepaid and resold services.

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Weekly output: Tom Wheeler’s farewell speech, DirecTV boxes and apps

I tried to take Monday off and only partially succeeded, then got knocked down for most of the next three days by a completely-unsurprising CES cold. That event isn’t just a trade show, it’s a massively-multiplayer biological-warfare experiment.

On the upside, I managed to edit and caption enough of my CES photos to get a Flickr album started.

Screenshot of Yahoo Finance post on Tom Wheeler's farewell speech1/13/2017: Outgoing FCC chair: Don’t go backward on net neutrality, Yahoo Finance

I finally emerged from my home Friday morning to bikeshare over to Dupont and see Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler’s final address. The reporting challenge here was figuring out which sources Wheeler had cited without naming in his defense of net-neutrality regulations–one of which turned out to make a weak case for or against those open-Internet rules.

1/15/2017: No direct way to duck DirecTV’s box rental fee, USA Today

The reader e-mail I got right before CES addressed a topic I’d covered not even a year ago, but since then a Wheeler initiative to require subscription-TV providers to ship no-fee apps to watch their programming has died on the vine. And a pay-TV proposal (yes, signed on by DirecTV) to do much the same on a voluntary basis has yet to result in shipping apps. In DirecTV’s case, it hasn’t even yielded updates to add AirPlay or Chromecast video output to the AT&T-owned service’s existing apps.

CES 2017 travel-tech report: My devices are showing their age

 

I took the same laptop to CES for the fifth year in a row, which is not the sort of thing you should admit at CES. I’m blaming Apple for that, in the form of its failure to ship an affordable update to the MacBook Air, but 2016’s Windows laptops also failed to close the deal.

My mid-2012 MacBook Air did not punish my hubris by dying halfway through the show and instead was content to remind me of its battery’s age by running down rapidly once past 25 percent of a charge. Seeing a “Service Battery” alert last fall had me thinking of getting the battery replaced beforehand, but my local Apple Store’s diagnostic check reported that I could hold off on that for a little longer.

2017-ces-gearWhen I had to recharge my MacBook, nearby attendees could also guess its age from the black electrical tape I had to apply to its power cord to cover a frayed area–yes, this is the power adapter I bought not even two years ago. In any darkened room, they might have also noticed the glow coming my from my laptop’s N key, on which the backlight shines through now that this key’s black coating has begun to rub off.

My Nexus 5X Android phone, my other note-taking device, kept bogging down as I was switching from app to app. If I could upgrade the RAM on this thing, I could–but, oops, I can’t. Its camera, however, once again did well for most shots, and T-Mobile’s LTE held up up except for press-conference day at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.

WiFi was once again atrocious. I’m not surprised by this, only that the Consumer Technology Association tolerated this kind of crap connectivity at its most important event.

Two hardware items I know I can and should easily replace before next year’s CES are the USB charger I took for my phone and my travel power strip.

The remarkably compact charger that came with my wife’s old Palm Pixi almost 10 years ago still functions as designed, but it doesn’t charge my phone fast enough. I only took that item to Vegas because I lost the charger that came with my Nexus 5X (yes, the one I almost misplaced last year at CES) at Google I/O. I should have packed my iPad mini’s charger, which replenishes my phone much faster, but I won’t mind buying a cheap, fast-charging, two-port USB charger. Any endorsements?

My travel power strip also charges USB devices slowly, but the bigger problem is this Belkin accessory’s relative bulk. The Wirecutter now recommends a more compact Accell model; remind me to get that sometime soon.

I’d written last year that I probably wouldn’t take my aging Canon 330 HS point-and-shoot for another CES, but I did anyway. I experienced my usual wishes for better low-light performance and the ability to touch the screen to tell the camera where to focus, but this camera’s lens cover also no longer closes without me nudging its plastic petals into place.

I should have spent more time at CES checking out replacements, but I only had time to verify that the Canon pocket-sized model that looked most appealing doesn’t take panoramic photos.

I’d like to think that I’ll address all of these hardware issues well before next year’s CES. I’d also like to think that by then, I will always remember to note a CES event’s location in its calendar entry.

Weekly output: CES (x4), freemium apps, Faraday Future, cybersecurity, TV technology, drones, personal-data business models, Mobile Apps Showdown, battery and bandwidth advice

I wrapped up the tech-journalism hell week that is CES with a red-eye flight out of Vegas last night, as if I wasn’t tired enough after writing close to 6,000 words of copy and doing two panels, one radio interview and one on-stage intro. So if you’re hoping for typo-free prose, this may not be the post for you.

1/3/2017: The biggest busts from the world’s most renowned gadget show, Yahoo Finance

I enjoyed writing this reality-check post about past flops at CES–some of which I thought at the time could fly.

1/3/2017: Can you put a price on ‘freemium’ apps?, USA Today

You may have seen my column on alternatives to paying Evernote and iCloud appear a few days earlier in a personal-finance section that I’m told ran in some Gannett newspapers.

1/3/2017: What to expect this week at CES, the world’s biggest gadget show, Yahoo Finance

This was the second post I filed on Monday–you know, the day that was supposed to be a holiday.

1/4/2017: Faraday Future’s FF 91: Electric speed at a vaporous price

I attended the unveiling of this self-driving, electric-powertrain supercar Tuesday night and did not find the overhyped “reformat the future” sales pitch super-persuasive.

1/4/2017: Tech trends at CES, WTOP

I talked with WTOP’s Shawn Anderson and Hillary Howard about early headlines from the show. We usually do these interviews over Skype, but bandwidth was so bad that they had to call my phone.

ces-2017-cybersecurity-panel1/5/2017: The Escalating War on Cybersecurity, CES

I talked about the changing landscape of cybersecurity with Blackberry chief security officer David Kleidermacher, HackerOne CTO Alex Rice, and Qualcomm senior director of product management Sy Choudhury. One big takeaway of our discussion: Companies and organizations that don’t want to talk about their security misfortunes aren’t the ones you want to trust.

1/6/2017: CES 2017: The top trends in new TVs, Yahoo Finance

This piece ran over a thousand words in my first draft, which is not an optimal writing strategy when you have a CES-dense schedule.

1/6/2017: Selfie drones and more fly into CES 2017, Yahoo Finance

I finished and filed this from a chair near an entrance to the Venetian at around 6:30 Friday night, which is not generally part of people’s weekend activities in Vegas.

1/7/2017: Business Models in the Personal Data Economy, Mobile Ecosystem Forum

I inflicted some dead air on the organizers when I forgot that they’d moved up my introduction of this panel by 15 minutes. After that awkward start, I had a good conversation about ways customers can become empowered custodians of their own data with executives at companies trying to make that happen: digi.me founder Julian Ranger, MatchUpBox CEO Didier Collin de Casaubon, Meeco founder Katryna Dow, and Universal Music CTO Ty Roberts. Update, 2/6: MEF posted audio of our conversation.

mobile-apps-showdown1/7/2017: Mobile Apps Showdown, Living in Digital Times

I helped judge this competition (irreverently emceed by my Yahoo colleague David Pogue), then jumped on stage to introduce the app I’d evaluated, Intel Security’s True Key. My summary of its use case: “You all suck at passwords.”

1/8/2017: How to stay online in impossible circumstances, USA Today

My editor suggested I use my column to share lessons learned from CES about preserving  the battery life and connectivity of mobile devices in phone-hostile environments like the gadget show. I should have known that the press-room WiFi would crap out as I was trying to write this Friday afternoon, leaving me to limp along on the Las Vegas Convention Center’s insultingly-limited guest network.

1/8/2017: The weirdest tech we saw at CES 2017, Yahoo Finance

I filed this from the United Club at McCarran at around 11, which is also not how people normally spend a weekend night in Vegas.

Things I have learned from 20 years of CES

January 1998 brought something new to my schedule: a flight to Vegas (Southwest from BWI through Midway) and four days at the Consumer Electronics Show.

I’m pretty sure that at the time, I didn’t think this event would occupy my January schedule for the next two decades. But it has, and now that I have 20 CESes in the books I’ve learned a few things about the show.

ces-timeline• The timing is dreadful. Tearing yourself away from your family only days after the warmth of the holidays sucks—and having to deal with CES prep for the weeks beforehand doesn’t exactly put me in the Christmas spirit. If I could build a time machine, I would be tempted to let somebody else kill Hitler (on the theory that if I could construct such a device, so could many other people) and instead go back to 1973 to lobby the founding fathers of CES to hold the damn thing in early February.

• At the same time, the show often represents the first time I will have seen journalist and analyst friends in months. Catching up with these tech-nerd pals makes up for some of the family angst. Unfortunately, I’ve been doing this for long enough that some of these people have filed their last report; I had to cover this year’s show without the insight of Envisioneering’s Richard Doherty.

• The deliberate inefficiency of Vegas (casino-floor layouts are America’s answer to Tokyo’s inscrutable system of street addresses) is infuriating and has only gotten worse as CES attendance has zoomed past 175,000. I struggle to think of a major American event held in a place less capable of moving that many people around, in part because of its own choices: Not having the monorail stop at the Sands represents one of the worst unforced errors in the history of American transit planning.

ces-south-hall• Not getting a flu shot well before going to CES is one of the worst unforced errors in the history of business travel. I found out the hard way in 2009, when I spent five days after CES staggering around my house in a diseased haze–including the day when President-elect Obama toured the Post’s newsroom.

• Year after year, I never work harder than I do at CES. It’s not like I’m a foreign correspondent getting shot at… but when people who have never been to CES say they wish they could go, I struggle to respond with any graciousness.

• People will talk about the obsolescence of shows like CES, but most tech companies can’t pull an Apple and summon reporters to their own events. Having so many of these firms hawking their wares in one place helps me do my job of making sense of the tech industry–and the chance meetings that happen have connected me to good sources and new clients. As annoying as CES gets, it remains one of my more important journalistic and business-development ventures. It looks like I’m stuck with it for a while longer.

• After being from home for a few days and catching up other people’s CES coverage, I have realized once again how many things I missed–an event or a dinner I should have attended, a corner of the floor I overlooked, a vendor I should have met, a demo I should have checked out–despite spending five painfully long days immersed in the show. Whatever else 20 years of covering CES has taught, it hasn’t allowed me to not feel swamped before, during and after this thing.

Updated 1/11/2017 with some concluding thoughts.

Why yes, I did get your CES pitch. Again.

As I started working on this post, my phone buzzed and its screen lit up with a predictable subject line: “Are you going to CES?”

Of course it did. And of course I am. This January will mark my 20th consecutive trip to CES, the gadget gathering formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show–which itself will mark its 50th anniversary. So this December features not just my usual late and disorganized attempts to shop for gifts, but the annual wave of requests to book meetings at CES.

And just like last year, I have yet to address more than a small fraction of that correspondence. To save tech-PR types some time, here are my answers to the most frequent questions about my schedule in the first week of January. To save myself time, I copied much of this from last year’s post.

GoPro clusterAre you still going to CES?

Since I’m apparently serving a life sentence at this show, that would be a yes. I’ll be there from Tuesday morning through Saturday night.

Will we see you at our press conference?

Your odds are actually better this year, since my flight should land at LAS before 11 a.m. on Tuesday. That leaves me a lot more time for the events before the show officially opens Thursday. But that doesn’t change the basic problem of big-ticket press conferences at CES: endless lines to get in. Not be all “do you know who I am?!,” but if you can put me on whatever list frees me from spending an hour queued up in a hallway, it will help your company’s cause.

Would you like to schedule a show-floor meeting with [giant electronics company]?

Yes, probably. When one company’s exhibit space is a large fraction of an acre, getting a guided tour of the premises can be a real time-saver. I should have answered all of these pitches by now; sorry for the delay.

Can we schedule a show-floor meeting with [small gadget firm]?

Most likely not. The point of vendors paying exorbitant amounts of money for show-floor exhibit space is to provide a fixed target for interested attendees. So as long as you’ll have somebody there who can answer questions, I’ll get to you when I can. Hint: Telling me where to find your client in your first e-mail helps make that happen.

This general outline of my CES schedule may also be of use:

  • Thursday, the first full day of the show, I probably won’t go further than the Central Hall of the LVCC.
  • Friday will find me in the South Hall of the LVCC (it’s become drone central) and then probably in the Sands, where it looks like I’ll be moderating a panel on cybersecurity… which will actually be the second panel on cybersecurity I’ll do that day, because CES.
  • Saturday’s my day to cover everything else before what I’m sure will be a delightful 3.5-hour red-eye flight to O’Hare and then home to National Airport.

Can we set up a meeting at [Pepcom/ShowStoppers]?

Those two evening events, in which an outside PR firm books a hotel ballroom (Pepcom is in the Mirage, ShowStoppers at the Wynn), rents tables to various gadget vendors and caters food and beverages so journalists can have dinner on their feet, constitute an efficient use of my time because I don’t have to find these companies and find time for them. Can we please not then get all OCD by booking a meeting inside an event at a spot inside a location?

Strip trafficCan you come to our reception/happy hour/dinner/party? 

Pepcom and ShowStoppers have me occupied most of Wednesday and Thursday night, but if you have an event before or after them in someplace nearby, I’m more likely to show up. If your event has a couch I can fall asleep on, that might help too. If it will be in a place with no convenient way to charge my devices, that will not help.

Okay, jerk, we get that you’re busy. Are there any times or places that won’t cause you to whine about your trying circumstances?

So glad you asked! Considering how annoying it is to get around Vegas during CES, giving journalists a lift in exchange for a quick product pitch can be pretty smart–I’m surprised I’ve only gotten one offer along those lines. Breakfast is also a good time to try to get a reporter’s attention at CES, because what they do to bagels in CES press rooms should be a crime. And remember that I’m around through Saturday–my schedule should open up after the insanity of Thursday.

Any interest in the e-mail I sent yesterday?

If there is, I promise I will write back… in the next week or so… probably.

Weekly output: LTE hotspots, Techdirt, SOTU, password managers, Washington Apple Pi, Tech Night Owl, old IE versions

I had a relaxing week after CES… no, that’s not right.

Wirecutter LTE hotspot guide1/11/2016: Best Wi-Fi Hotspot, The Wirecutter

My overdue update to this guide to LTE hotspots endorsed a Verizon model and gave a secondary endorsement to an AT&T hotspot with lesser battery life. We then revised the update after it posted to note that the Sprint reseller Karma had downgraded an initially-promising unlimited-data option.

1/12/2016: Techdirt Podcast Episode 56: The CES Post-Mortem, Techdirt

I ran into Techdirt’s Mike Masnick at CES, and on our respective ways out of town he suggested I appear on his podcast. I said that would be a great idea.

1/13/2016: State of the Union’s Technology? What Obama Didn’t Say, Yahoo Tech

The tech-policy story about this SOTU address is how little attention tech policy got. I’d still like to know what led Reuters to think that self-driving cars would get a mention in the speech.

1/14/2016: Tip: How to Make Sure Someone Can Access Your Passwords in an Emergency, Yahoo Tech

The 4.0 update LastPass rolled out right before CES added an emergency-access feature, so I used this tip to tell readers about that and Dashlane’s comparable emergency-contacts option.

1/14/2016: Afternoon Learners SIG, Washington Apple Pi

I stopped by a meeting of this Apple users’ group to share my thoughts about CES–and to hand out some PR swag and USB flash drives.

1/16/2016: January 16 2016 — John Martellaro and Rob Pegoraro, Tech Night Owl

I talked to Gene Steinberg about what I saw at CES, from UHD TVs to the Internet of Insecure Things.

1/17/2016: What to do after Microsoft ends support for older browsers, USA Today

The easy answer to Microsoft’s end of support for older Internet Explorer versions is “install IE 11.” But that browser isn’t the same app in Windows 7 as it is in Win 8 and 10, and updating your browser doesn’t end your Web-security chores.