Here’s my Web-services budget

The annual exercise of adding up my business expenses so I can plug those totals into my taxes gave me an excuse to do an extra and overdue round of math: calculating how much I spend a year on various Web services to do my job.

The result turned out to be higher than I thought–even though I left out such non-interactive services as this domain-name registration ($25 for two years) and having it mapped to this blog ($13 a year). But in looking over these costs, I’m also not sure I could do much about them.

Google One

Yes, I pay Google for my e-mail–the work account hosted there overran its 15 gigabytes of free storage a few years ago. I now pay $19.99 a year for 100 GB. That’s a reasonable price, especially compared to the $1.99 monthly rate I was first offered, and that I took too long to drop in favor of the newer, cheaper yearly plan.

Microsoft Office 365

Getting a Windows laptop let me to opting for Microsoft’s cloud-storage service, mainly as a cheap backup and synchronization option. The $69.99 annual cost also lets me put Microsoft Office on one computer, but I’ve been using the free, open-source LibreOffice suite for so long, I have yet to install Office on my HP. Oops.

Evernote Premium

This is my second-longest-running subscription–I’ve been paying for the premium version of my note-taking app since 2015. Over that time, the cost has increased from $45 to $69.99. That’s made me think about dropping this and switching to Microsoft’s OneNote. But even though Microsoft owns LinkedIn, it’s Evernote that not only scans business cards but checks LinkedIn to fill in contact info for each person.

Flickr Pro

I’ve been paying for extra storage at this photo-sharing site since late 2011–back when the free version of Flickr offered a punitively-limited storage quota. This cost, too, has increased from $44.95 for two years to $49.99 a year. But now that Yahoo has sold the site to the photography hub SmugMug, the free tier once again requires serious compromises. And $50 a year doesn’t seem that bad, not when I’m supporting an indie-Web property instead of giving still more time to Facebook or Google.

Private Internet Access

I signed up for this virtual-private-network service two years ago at a discounted rate of $59.95 for two years, courtesy of a deal offered at Techdirt. Absent that discount, I’d pay $69.95, so I will reassess my options when this runs out in a few months. Not paying for a VPN service, however, is not an option; how else am I supposed to keep up on American news when I’m in Europe?

LastPass Premium

I decided to pay for the full-feature version of this password manager last year, and I’m already reconsidering that. Three reasons why: The free version of LastPass remains great, the premium version implements U2F two-step verification in a particularly inflexible way, and the company announced last month that the cost of Premium will increase from $24 a year to $36.

Combined and with multi-year costs annualized, all of these services added up to $258.96 last year. I suspect this total compares favorably to what we spend on news and entertainment subscriptions–but that’s not math I care to do right now.

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How I turn notes into quotes

Since the issue of how journalists take notes during interviews has come up this week–courtesy of former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson’s cringe-inducing declaration that “I’ve never recorded“–here’s how I capture quotes from an interview, a speech or a panel.

The usual answer involves a keyboard. For everyday note-taking, I type the most interesting sentences I hear into an Evernote file. That demands a certain amount of parallel processing, as one part of my brain decides if a sentence-like string of words is worth memorializing and another sends my fingers skittering across the keys, but it generally works for stories that don’t center on one person’s quotes.

I know that real-time transcription involves a risk of transposing a word here or there–it’s amazing how many places an adverb can land in a sentence–so I quote conservatively when writing.

If, however, I’m writing a story around an interview or a speech, I’ll record the whole thing while also taking notes in real-time. That’s a two-device proposition: While I type on my laptop, my phone is on the table or otherwise far enough away not to pick up my keystrokes.

(The one time I tried recording in Evernote on my laptop as I typed was a disaster, with the soundtrack of my keystrokes sounding like a herd of small animals running back and forth over the keyboard.)

If I’m covering a public speech or panel, I usually get the additional backup of streaming video of the event that I can replay afterwards.

I’ll also record instead of trying to jot down notes if I’m having a conversation with somebody while we both walk, as if we were in an Aaron Sorkin drama. Trying to take notes on my phone in that scenario invites typo-ridden notes at best, bumping into somebody at worst.

But while recording an interview ensures that I won’t miss a turn of phrase, it also at least doubles my writing time, since I need to play back the entire thing, usually more than once, to ensure I got the quotes correct. Automated transcription services–my friend Ron Miller is a huge fan of Otter, so I’ve now signed up for that–can speed the process, but I doubt I’d copy and paste from a machine-learning model’s transcript without a reality-check replay of the recording.

In all of these scenarios, the speaker in question can make the job easier or harder. Practiced orators who elocute in precisely-formed sentences are a pleasure to transcribe, while fast talkers and people who interleave their dependent and independent clauses escalate the difficulty level.

Or I can just do the interview via e-mail and not have to worry about any of this stuff.

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.

An unexpected comeback for a paper notepad

PARIS–I’m still not a fan of taking notes on paper, but I was glad I had a reporter’s notepad in my bag when I flew here to moderate six panels at the VivaTechnology Paris conference. Why? As I was getting ready to head over to my first talk yesterday morning, I saw that Evernote’s Android app was stuck on the “Opening note, please wait” dialog when I tried to open the note with my outline, even though I had enough bandwidth to tweet out my annoyance at that malfunction.

Notepad and panel notes(Yes, this happened only two days after Evernote announced it was raising its subscription prices. Regrettable timing all around.)

I don’t trust myself to memorize panel talking points, so I had to write them down on the paper I had available. Then I had to do the same five more times–Evernote’s app continues to have that hangup, even though it opens other notes without complaint.

In this context, ink held some distinct advantages over pixels. I didn’t have to keep my phone refreshed throughout the whole panel, draining its battery that much more. I could rest it anywhere without worrying about it falling on the floor. There was no risk of people thinking I was texting somebody or looking up cat videos in the middle of my panel. And a reporter holding a notepad during a panel looks more natural in a picture than one clutching a phone.

I will admit that I somewhat regretted not being able to use Twitter as a panel backchannel. But at this particular venue, carrying around a paper notepad brought one other benefit: The Paris expo Port de Versailles was a little toasty, and I soon got in the habit of fanning myself with the notepad between panels.

2008 called, and it wants its PR pitches back

The other week, I engaged in a futile exercise to avoid having to pay for extra storage in my Google Apps account by getting a few years’ worth of old pitches out of my PR folder. It would have been a quick process if I’d just dragged those thousands of e-mails off the server and into a local folder, but I had to glance over them first to see if I’d filed any important interviews there by mistake… and so went many hours stumbling down memory lane.

2008 calendar closeupBeyond my surprise at how many PR pros can still stand to deal with me (thanks for the continued tolerance, Jesus, Brooke, and Steve), I was also amused to see the PR pitches I’d blown off or misunderstood in just one year, 2008.

For instance, what if I’d known then that I actually would make this app my external brain?

Writing with a company called Evernote— not sure if you are familiar with them, but they have a fascinating story around how consumers can capture their memories in a completely unique and innovative way. The company has already been seeing a lot of buzz around their Web beta and we’re excited to finally be opening the product to the general public. Evernote’s CEO, Phil Libin, will be in DC June 4-6 and I wanted to see if you’d be interested in taking a meeting with him to get an introduction to Evernote and how it can become a user’s external brain?

I ignored the following because, I sniffed at the time, I don’t cover accessories. Look, anybody can ignore a story that becomes a $3 billion acquisition!

Monster, the leader in audio/video accessories, along with legendary artist and producer Dr. Dre and Interscope Geffen A&M Chairman Jimmy Iovine have teamed up to develop a brand new level of headphones, Beats ™ by Dr. Dre ™. The headphones were created to reproduce the full spectrum of sound that musical artists and producers hear in professional recording studios.

I actually did review the gadget offered in the following pitch. But I passed on the CEO interview, and my writeup spent too much time whining about the slow speeds of broadband and the limited availability of streaming movies (even if that remains an annoyance).

Good Morning Rob:

We’re happy to introduce The Netflix Player By Roku.

Please let me know if you would like additional information, JPEGS of the product or would like to speak with Anthony Wood, founder and CEO.

And then there were all the pitches I got for Yahoo sites and services, even after setting aside all the announcements and commentary about Microsoft’s unsuccessful attempt to buy Yahoo. Maybe I should have paid more attention to them?

Post-travel to-dos

Cards and card

I’m through the worst of what I’m not-so-fondly calling Conference Month, and all of this travel is reminding me of the tasks that await each time I come home and finish unpacking.

Let’s see:

  • Do laundry.
  • Catch up on other household chores: sweep the floors, do the dishes, bake bread, reaffirm my earlier decision that the late-summer lawn is a lost cause.
  • Go over my e-mail to see which messages I should have answered three to five days ago.
  • Tag and categorize business expenses in Mint, then verify that I didn’t forget to record any cash transactions in the Google Docs spreadsheet I use for that purpose.
  • Send LinkedIn invitations to people I met on the trip, assuming their profiles show signs of recent life. (Go ahead, call me a tool now.)
  • Throw the latest set of press-kit USB flash drives onto the pile.
  • Scan business cards into Evernote.
  • Download, edit, geotag and caption photos, then post them to Flickr (for public viewing) or Facebook (for friends).
  • Make sure I got the proper frequent-flyer credit for the last round of flights.
  • There’s probably some other chore that should be on this list but that I will only remember when I’m on my way to National or Dulles.

As I write this, there’s a stack of business cards on my desk and several dozen pictures in iPhoto that have not been edited, geotagged, captioned or shared. And I only have five days before my next work trip, the Online News Association’s conference in Los Angeles, so you can imagine how well this is going.

Conference organizers, maybe you could find other months to host your events?

 

Weekly output: Android app permissions, Google Photos and lifetime service, Rovi’s vanishing TV guide

After last week’s travel and travel-induced delays, I enjoyed going no further for work than Capitol Hill.

Yahoo Tech Android M permissions post6/1/2015: Six Things to Know About Android’s Apple-esque App Permissions, Yahoo Tech

I could have written this post right after the Google I/O session that provided me with these details, but that Friday-afternoon talk didn’t wrap up until after 6 p.m. Eastern–and the delay allowed me to inspect the new permissions interface in a developer-prevue build of Android M on a loaner Nexus 9 tablet I picked up at I/O.

6/2/2015: Will Google Really Store All Your Photos Forever?, Yahoo Tech

Instead of trying to do a full review of this service based on only a day or two of playing around with it, I opted to use my Yahoo Tech column to unpack the long-term deal Google is offering with its new Photos service. One thing I didn’t mention in the column: I have near-zero hope of using any online service to back up all of my pictures, because I have about 20 years’ worth that exist only as negatives or prints, and I have nowhere near enough time to scan all of those.

6/7/2015: How software, service shifts disconnect smart TVs, USA Today

Not for the first time, my 2009 HDTV served as review hardware for a story. This time around, it involved the unexpected and unexplained shutdown of Rovi’s onscreen TV guide on some older Sony sets.