Weekly output: Ajit Pai’s agenda, inflight WiFi, Clinton-era telecom policy, cord cutting, electronics ban

This week has me headed to the Bay Area to cover Google’s I/O developer conference. If you have questions about Google’s intentions for its Web services, Android, Chromebooks, or any of its other products, now would be a good time to send them my way.

5/8/2017: Trump’s FCC chief looks to expand broadband internet access, Yahoo Finance

I’ve beaten up on FCC chairman Ajit Pai many times already, but this recap of his speech last Friday at the American Enterprise Institute had me in a somewhat forgiving mood. I don’t like scam robocalls any more than he does, and this talk was nothing like the red-baiting denunciation of net-neutrality regulations I’d watched last month.

5/11/2017: How Gogo will transform your Wi-Fi experience in the sky, Yahoo Finance

Here’s my recap of Tuesday’s Gogo flight that showed how inflight WiFi doesn’t have to be terrible–unless airlines screw up anyway. If you’d like more technical details about Gogo’s souped-up “2KU” satellite-linked system, read my fellow passenger Seth Miller’s writeup.

5/12/2017: The Trump administration gets the history of Internet regulations all wrong, The Washington Post

Six years and 25 days after the Post last featured my byline, I wrote another story for the paper. This was originally going to be an item on the PostEverything blog unpacking Ajit Pai’s inaccurate praise for 1990s telecom regulation. But after a John Oliver rant about net neutrality and multiple rounds of editing, it became a broader take on the history of open-Internet policies and found a spot on the front of today’s Outlook section.

If you read this piece in the first few hours it was up Friday, you probably caught it citing an older FCC statistic about the state of competition among Internet providers. Conservative analyst Richard Bennett tweeted out my failure to include the latest, less-depressing stats (they may have been posted after I started writing this), and I only spotted that after seeing this guy had added me to a Twitter list named “open piracy”–a notification Twitter’s “quality filter” showed while hiding the more-relevant tweet calling out my error. Anyway, I e-mailed my editor about the problem, he fixed it, and I left a comment advising readers of the change.

5/12/2017: Financial Review by Sinclair Noe for 05-12-2017, Financial Review

I talked with host Sinclair Noe about the ups and downs of cord cutting, the subject of a Yahoo Finance post last week.

5/13/2017: How a wider laptop ban could threaten your safety and data, Yahoo Finance

I take this story somewhat personally, since if the Feds do expand the current laptop ban, my trans-Atlantic travel habits will ensure I’m hurt by it. And since it looks like my next trip to Europe will be this year’s edition of the Viva Technology Paris conference, I may get to experience any such ban in one of the EU’s worst places for passenger queues: Terminal 1 of Charles de Gaulle airport.

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An avgeek treat: experiencing a takeoff from the cockpit jumpseat

I’ve flown out of Newark International Airport dozens of times, but Tuesday’s departure wasn’t like any of the others. Instead of flying United (or, years ago, Continental), I was on Gogo’s 737-500 testbed with other journalists to try out the company’s latest inflight WiFi system.
And instead of occupying one of the 58 generously-spaced seats on that 1982-vintage airframe, I took the jumpseat up front, just behind the pilot and co-pilot.
That was all Zach Honig’s fault. When I was on another Gogo WiFi flight last March, the editor of The Points Guy travel blog thought to ask if he could take the jumpseat for landing–allowable because FAA air-carrier rules didn’t apply to this private flight. That sent me into an immediate fit of jealousy.
So Tuesday afternoon, I had to ask–politely, while acknowledging the pilot’s discretion. He considered it for a moment and then said okay, and I promised to keep my mouth shut and not touch anything. A flight attendant unfolded the jumpseat, and of course I needed help buckling myself into the five-point harness.
My eyes got a little wider as the pilot explained that if we had to get out of the plane in a hurry, we’d bail out the side window, using the rope stashed above it. Then he and the co-pilot busied themselves with their checklists as I gawked at the switches, knobs and gauges covering most of the available surfaces.
I’ve had the privilege of flying up front a couple of times before–a biplane ride out of College Park’s tiny airport in 1996, and a floatplane tour of Seattle out of Lake Union in 2010. This involved a lot more metal.
EWR being EWR, we had to wait an extra 10 minutes or so to get our clearance. We taxied to the runway–it felt like we took each turn too late, on account of my sitting forward of the nose landing gear–and lined up. The pilot pushed the thrust levers forward, the engines roared, and after a very short takeoff roll our lightly loaded Boeing cranked into the sky.
I had to resist the impulse to yell “holy shit! holy shit!” as we banked left and then right, the altimeter spiraled upward, the trim wheels on each side of the throttles spun, and Manhattan’s skyline unfolded across all three of the windows on the right side. Flying is a more visceral experience when you can watch the pilot turn the yoke, then see the plane respond a moment later–and when sitting at the front of the jet lets you feel it shake more than you would seated by the wing.
Then we popped through a layer of clouds to see them spread out before us, an impossible sight from any seat in the back. Looking at that office view, it became much clearer why people do this for a living.
I will admit that the seat itself–with no recline and vanishingly little legroom–was among the least comfortable I’ve sat in on any airplane. That did not matter Tuesday afternoon.
For more pictures (plus a shaky, poorly exposed video of the takeoff), see this Flickr album.

Weekly output: Gogo 2Ku, online harassment, Twitter filtering, SXSW

I still haven’t caught up on the sleep deficit and food surplus accumulated at SXSW.

Yahoo Tech Gogo 2Ku post3/15/2016: Taking off soon: Gogo promises in-flight Wi-Fi that you won’t hate, Yahoo Tech

This was the most avgeek-ish post I’ve written since my recap of texting and calling from Gogo’s private jet at SXSW two years ago. For more details about this test of Gogo’s new “2Ku” satellite-based WiFi on that company’s Boeing 737-500, I’ll point you to the writers who sat one row behind me, Gary Leff and Zach Honig.

3/16/2016: At SXSW, talking about online harassment — but is anyone listening?, Yahoo Tech

I found SXSW’s Online Harassment Summit to be a little less depressing, slightly more hopeful and a lot less crowded than I expected.

3/18/2016: Hate it when social networks tinker with your timeline? You’d hate it more if they didn’t, Yahoo Tech

As I type this, the post on my Facebook page linking to this story has been seen by all of 29 people, or barely over 1 percent of the people following my page. So, yeah, I am fully aware that algorithmic filtering of social-media timelines has consequences. Or maybe I just wrote a boring post?

3/20/2016: SXSW 2016: A look back at the highlights, USA Today

After a lot of mental back and forth about how I could so some sort of SXSW recap that wouldn’t duplicate all of USAT’s earlier coverage out of Austin, I realized that I could contrast each highlight of the festival with whatever event I had to skip to attend that panel, Q&A or demo.

One place I don’t mind paying for Internet access by the hour

For years, I’ve been a bit of a curmudgeon about inflight WiFi. A seat on a plane was a refuge from an interrupt-driven lifestyle, a place where I could monotask for a change.

Engine nacelle over mountainsAnd besides, most first-generation, air-to-ground WiFi systems became unusably slow once enough people got on. In my limited experience, at best Gogo’s cellular technology yielded download speeds below 1 million bits per second–unacceptably slow 3G service on the ground. So why would I want to pay $16 or more for a flight’s worth of that?

Satellite-based WiFi can run much faster and works over oceans but is usually no cheaper over the duration of a flight.

(JetBlue offers free satellite WiFi but isn’t convenient for most of my usual destinations. Southwest charges only $8 a day for satellite WiFi but has its own route-map issues.)

Hourly pricing can make this a better proposition–I have paid Gogo’s $5 hourly rate on short flights, though I no longer do since I discovered that my phone’s Google apps work for free on its WiFi. But on its 737s, United Airlines offers hourly prices with a tweak that makes them more valuable to me: a pause button.

I can pay $3.99 for an hour of LiveTV’s satellite-delivered WiFi that actually works–download speeds have exceeded 24 Mbps in my tests–and then stretch out those 60 minutes by pausing it while I eat, nap, read, squeeze myself into the lav or take a moment to appreciate the wonder of occupying a chair in the sky. I can further extend my online time by opening up a batch of pages in new tabs, then pausing the connection to read them as if I were trying to save costs on a dial-up connection.

I can’t do that with Gogo, where you only buy a continuous hour of use. But I also haven’t seen this purchase option on United’s other WiFi-equipped aircraft; this airline’s inconsistent service (its A319s and A320s got WiFi before its 737s but still don’t have in-seat power) extends to a confusing mix of WiFi providers and pricing. I worry the company will “fix” this problem by taking away the pause button–but for now, that has me spending money I might otherwise not ante up.

Weekly output: community broadband, worst Windows, talking to startups, Google apps on Gogo WiFi

Another weekend in which I did not get as much down time as I’d hoped, courtesy of some additional work coming my way. So goes freelance life sometimes… although I remember the same thing happening, without any extra income, when I was a full-time employee.

1/20/2015: Obama’s Community-Broadband Plan: 4 Ways to Understand His State of the Union Pitch, Yahoo Tech

When we posted this story, we all thought municipal broadband would get at least as much of a mention in the State of the Union address as space exploration. Then that didn’t happen. Oops.

1/21/2015: The Worst Version of Windows Is…, Yahoo Tech

Sometimes, I struggle with columns. Not this time: I wrote the whole thing in basically one take, and I had fun doing it.

1/23/2015-1/24/2015: Media Match, Collaborate

I spent about 45 minutes Friday and Saturday hearing a parade of startup founders take three minutes to explain their idea, answer my questions and ask some of their own. As in prior years when I’ve participated in this part of the D.C.-area “entrepreneurship community” Fosterly’s conferences, I came away reminded of how impressive it can be to watch somebody excel at in-person sales, and how often that doesn’t happen.

USAT column on free Google apps on Gogo1/25/2015: Use Google apps over Gogo Wi-Fi for free, USA Today

I got the idea for this on a flight last October, but I held off on writing it up until I’d had enough conversations with enough people at Gogo to be reasonably confident that publicizing this loophole wouldn’t ruin it for everybody. The tip at the end of this avgeek-oriented column about using an Android phone’s GPS on a plane should be familiar to those of you who followed my microblogging experiment at Sulia. But since that startup’s shutdown last October wiped those posts off the Web, I’ve felt no guilt about recycling the ideas behind them.

Weekly output: phone unlocking, Gogo talk and text, laptops with dead screens

AUSTIN–I’m here through Wednesday for SXSW, getting my fill of panel discussions, keynotes, tacos, BBQ, beer and more tacos. Having this conference on my schedule is a huge perk of my job. How did I ever get by without it?

3/4/2014: Progress! Soon You May Actually Be Able to Unlock Your Mobile Phone, Yahoo Tech

A lot of tech-policy types hate the phone-unlocking bill that the House passed after some last-minute weakening, but I couldn’t bring myself to kick Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s bill to the curb in this column–it’s just so rare to see Congress turn away from intellectual-property maximalism. (The part of the column I would like to change: Its initial description of unlocking, which glossed over how this is basically limited to GSM phones.)

Yahoo Tech Gogo post3/7/2014: I’m Calling You From A Chair In The Sky, Yahoo Tech

I had my most improbable product demo yet: a ride in Gogo’s corporate jet to see how its next-generation inflight WiFi system allows you to text and talk from a plane.

The plane itself, in case you were asking, was comfortable but compact, and it wasn’t even the most interesting aircraft on the ramp at AUS. That honor goes to Zero G’s 727 and the two T-38 supersonic trainers that rocketed off the runway before us.

3/9/2014: How to get data off a laptop with a dead screen, USA Today 

This column was a last-minute substitution when I realized that writing a column on my original topic required a FireWire adapter cable that I own but could not find anywhere in my house. (If I once loaned you a FireWire 400-to-800 cable and never asked for it back, please leave a comment.) Happily, I had this idea right after that one in the queue.