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.

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Weekly output: cryptocurrency hack, TV technology (x2), Last Gadget Standing, 2018 cybersecurity forecasts revisited, connected appliances at CES, drones at CES, CES oddities

I never work harder in a week than during CES, so I immensely appreciated the gift of a snowstorm this weekend that let me get in some cross-country skiing, go sledding with my daughter on the nearest suitable hill and think about work very little.

If you’ve already read all of the posts below, please check out my Flickr album from the show.

1/8/2019: True Confessions: ICOs, Crypto, Tokens and VCs, Digital Money

My spot on this panel track was an onstage interview of cryptocurrency investor Michael Terpin about how a SIM-swap hack led to him being robbed of startup tokens worth almost $24 million at the time.

1/9/2019: Your TV could soon have these features that are better than 8K, Yahoo Finance

Just about every one of the 22 consecutive CESes that I’ve covered has led to me writing a report on the state of the TV. This year’s version involves an unusual company: Apple.

1/10/2019: Last Gadget Standing, Living in Digital Times

Once again, I helped judge this gadget competition and introduced one of the contestants–Origami Labs, developer of the Orii smart ring. This year’s contest, however, featured a new emcee. Instead of my former Yahoo colleague David Pogue, my USA Today colleague Jennifer Jolly did the honors.

1/10/2019: How cybersecurity forecasts got 2018 wrong, The Parallax

Having botched enough tech forecasts of my own, I appreciated having a chance to revisit other people’s predictions for the year we just escaped.

1/11/2019: From a smart toilet to ‘Shazam for Food’: CES unveils new connected appliances, Yahoo Finance

Once Samsung explained how this year’s version of their Family Hub fridge automatically identified food inside visible to its three interior cameras, Silicon Valley’s “Shazam for food” plot line immediately jumped into my head. That also led me to think of the role of hacked smart fridges in the HBO comedy–which made the unwillingness of so many CES smart-home exhibitors to talk specifics about security fixes all the more annoying.

1/11/2019: The drones of CES 2019 aren’t all in the air, Yahoo Finance

I wasn’t sure how I’d end this story until finding myself staring at a an enormous John Deere combine–brought to the show floor to exhibit how GPS guidance lets it drive itself to an extraordinary degree of accuracy. That makes it a very large drone that happens to help bring corn and corn-based products to supermarkets, and there I had my ending.

1/12/2019: 8K TVs show the tech industry indulging in a bad habit, USA Today

This take on TV technology revisited some CES flops of a decade and two decades ago: 3-D TV and the would-be CD-upgrade formats DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD.

1/13/2019: The weirdest tech we saw at CES, Yahoo Finance

I wrote this, along with the two prior stories, after landing at Dulles early Friday morning. It turns out that you can be productive after a red-eye flight home if you pass out for almost the entire flight, nap a couple of times during the day and apply caffeine as needed.

Updated 1/24/2019 with video of my interview of Michael Terpin.

CES 2019 travel-tech report: overcoming oversights

I’ve survived another CES, this time after committing two of the dumber unforced errors possible at an enormous tech trade show.

One was not arranging an update to the Wirecutter LTE-hotspots guide to coincide with CES, such that I’d have to bring a couple of new hotspots to the show. Instead, I was left to cope with intermittently available press-room and press-conference WiFi.

It confounds me that in 2019, anybody would think it okay to host a press event and not provide bandwidth to the press. But that’s CES for you, when either PR professionals or their clients seem to shove common sense into the shredder.

Fortunately, the show press rooms offered wired Internet, so I could fish out my USB-to-Ethernet adapter and get online as I would have 20 years ago. A couple of other times, I tethered off my phone.

On its second CES, my HP Spectre x360 laptop worked fine except for the one morning it blue-screened, then rebooted without a working touchpad. I had to open Device Manager and delete that driver to get it working once again. I also couldn’t help think this doesn’t charge as fast as my old MacBook Air, but I’m still happier with a touchscreen laptop that I can fold up to use as a tablet–and which didn’t gouge me on storage.

My other big CES error was leaving the laptop’s charger in the press room at the Sands. I looked up and realized I had only 30 minutes to get to an appointment at the Las Vegas Convention Center, hurriedly unplugged what I thought was everything, and only realized my oversight an hour later. Fortunately, a call to the Sands press room led to the people there spotting the charger and safeguarding it until I retrieved it the next morning.

Meanwhile, my first-gen Google Pixel declined to act its age. It never froze up or crashed on me, took good pictures and recharged quickly over both its own power adapter and the laptop’s. I am never again buying a phone and laptop that don’t share a charging-cable standard.

I also carried around a brick of an external charger, an 8,000 milliamp-hours battery included in the swag at a security conference in D.C. I covered in October. This helped when I was walking around but didn’t charge the Pixel as quickly, and leaving the charger and phone in my bag usually led to the cable getting jostled out of the Pixel.

The other new tech accessory I brought on this trip made no difference on the show floor but greatly improved my travel to Vegas: a pair of Bose QC25 noise-cancelling headphones that I bought at a steep discount during Amazon’s Prime Day promotion. These things are great, and now I totally get why so many frequent flyers swear by them.

Weekly output: privacy-law prospects, switching wireless carriers, cable and broadband fee inflation, Android messages on your computer

ces 2019 badgeOnce again, a Sunday in January finds me in Las Vegas for CES. It’s like I’ve been doing this since 1998 or something…

12/31/2018: Why 2019 might finally bring a national privacy law for the US, Yahoo Finance

Writing a story optimistic about the prospects for a national privacy bill makes me feel like Charlie Brown lining up to the kick the football, so if the year ends with Congress having yanked the ball away I’ll be disappointed but not enormously surprised.

12/31/2018: How to Switch Cell Phone Carriers, Wirecutter

This how-to post started with some banter on Wirecutter’s Slack about the mechanics of switching carriers.

1/1/2019: How your TV or broadband bill might creep up in the new year, Yahoo Finance

Just as I predicted a year ago, cable and broadband companies marked the new year with a round of rate hikes. This time around, I focused on increases to the add-on fees that are usually confined to the fine print of ads.

1/4/2019: You can read your Android phone’s texts on your Mac or PC. Here’s how, USA Today

A couple of readers complained that this column didn’t address third-party solutions for reading your texts on your Mac or PC–for example, MightyText, Pushbullet, Pulse SMS. That, I have to admit, is a fair point.

Updated 1/15/2019 to add a link to the Wirecutter how-to post that I’d missed at the time. 

Covering conference costs

My travel for work often involves a four-word question with a one-word answer. As in, somebody asks me “Who’s sending you here?”, and I reply by saying “me.”

Self-employment usually means self-financing of travel. Except for when speaking somewhere gets my travel comped or a conference organizer offers a travel subsidy (or the very rare times that a client covers my travel costs), I have to pay my own way.

When I started freelancing in 2011, I didn’t worry too much about how. I was blessed with clients overpaying me, and I was so tired of having the Post deny my travel requests–like the three years in a row they wouldn’t send me to South By Southwest–that I chose to spend some money to see what I’d missed.

I’m more practical these days: If I go somewhere, I should sell enough work based on things I learn during that trip to cover my costs. As long as I can find a scarcity to exploit, that should be doable. Google I/O and Mobile World Congress, for example, either limit press access or take place in locations where tech-news sites don’t have anybody based full-time–leaving me less competition. So did the Falcon Heavy launch.

To be honest in my accounting, I also have to consider how much I would have written and sold on a normal week at home, when my expenses amount to Metro fare and part of the utilities bills. In other words, I didn’t write five Yahoo posts from CES just for my health.

Most of the time, I do sell enough from out of town to get my above-baseline income to meet travel costs that I already try to ratchet down with my Airbnb and public-transit habits. What I still need to address: not slacking off the week after a mega-gathering like CES or MWC, a pattern you’ve probably noticed in my weekly recaps of my work.

Some trips, however, are worth doing even at a loss, and I appreciate that self-employment lets me make that choice.

For example, the XOXO conference in Portland was so mind-expandingly great in 2013 and 2015 that I paid not just for airfare and lodging but even for the conference pass–and I only sold a single post from it each time. Friday, the organizers tweeted that after taking 2017 off, the conference would return this September… so, you know, my financial realism may have to take a break that week.

My no-longer-secret Bitcoin shame

Bitcoin has infested tech news lately–the cryptocurrency’s unlikely rise in value, its subsequent and unsurprising fall in value, what complete tools Bitcoin zealots can be in front of a reporter, and so on and on. I’ve watched all of this as an unwitting spectator.

Yes, I’m one of those doofuses who forgot a password to a Bitcoin wallet. At least I have a half-decent excuse: CES.

I didn’t go to the gadget show in 2014 planning on investing in Bitcoin, but one of the first events I attended featured a diverse contingent of BTC startups, one of which had a dollars-to-Bitcoin ATM. How could I not gamble a few bucks to earn an anecdote to throw into a Bitcoin explainer?

I put a $5 bill into this thing and followed an exhibitor’s advice to install the Mycelium wallet app on my phone, scan a QR code off the ATM’s screen, and set a 15-character passcode to protect my stash of .00513 BTC.

Guess what I forgot to do as I headed to my next CES appointment?

I then mostly ignored the app, except for the occasional check to see how my investment had decayed. That habit faded, and when I tried resetting my phone the next fall to fix some touchscreen bugginess, I didn’t even think about the risk of losing access to my tiny Bitcoin hoard.

By which I mean, I didn’t even think to open Mycelium until several months after that unsuccessful phone-troubleshooting exercise. Then I realized that I could no longer remember the 15 characters I’d typed on my phone’s screen two years earlier, without which I could not restore the backup I had made right after my ATM transaction.

That’s where things have remained, even as Bitcoin’s value has soared and then plummeted. It’s annoying, but at least I have two things going for me: The app won’t lock me out as I keep guessing the passcode incorrectly, and at the current exchange rate I’m only out $57 or so. I’ve done much worse gambling in Vegas.

Weekly output: a bum Bitcoin deal, CES recap, Facebook and trusted news

The week after CES is always among my less productive ones–but this year, I can’t blame that on coming down with a CES-transmitted cold. Fortunately, I have the Dealmaker-in-Chief’s accomplishments of the past few days to put my own in a more positive context.

1/15/2018: Kodak bitcoin miner: What this dubious scheme says about technology’s misdirection, USA Today

My last post about CES unpacked a dubious Bitcoin-mining proposition on display in Kodak’s booth.

1/16/2018: Techdirt Podcast Episode 150: The CES 2018 Post-Mortem, Techdirt

I spent an hour or so talking with Techdirt’s Mike Masnick about what we saw at CES and what that suggests about the state of technology. Once again, I was struck by how more than two decades of practice at CES did not stop me from missing some interesting things at the show.

1/20/2018: Facebook and trusted news sources, Al-Jazeera

The news channel had me on to talk–as usual, overdubbed live into Arabic–about Facebook’s announcement that it will survey its users to see which news sites they trust, then prioritize those sources in the News Feed accordingly. I expressed my doubts about that idea, noting that a survey done last summer by the University of Missouri’s Reynolds Journalism Institute found that ranked Buzzfeed less trustworthy than Brietbart News–and that the conspiracy-theory outlet Infowars outranked both.