Weekly output: “Beyond television,” cable boxes and apps, Google I/O (x3), Chrome OS, security, Android N

I had a two-city, four-airport week: I spent Sunday afternoon through Tuesday evening in Boston for the cable industry’s INTX show, flew to SFO that night and spent Wednesday through Friday at Google I/O before flying home Saturday morning. I am seriously exhausted… so it’s not optimal timing that I’m writing this from Dulles. Why? I was invited to moderate a panel at the Connected Conference in Paris later this week (and on the side, meet a bunch of French startups the government wants to show off). I haven’t been to my family’s one-time expat home in 25 years, so this would have been difficult to turn down. But I did think about that.

5/16/2016: Beyond Television: Extending the Media Brand Across the Digital Forever, INTX

I moderated this discussion with BET’s Kay Madati, Fusion’s Jigar Mehta and Scripps Networks Interactive’s Vikki Neil about how cable networks are trying to connect with current and potential fans outside the big screen. I may be a cord cutter, but I do have one of Alton Brown’s cookbooks and I often turn to Fusion’s tech coverage, so I guess I’m an example of successful beyond-television marketing.

Consumer Reports I O preview5/17/2016: What to Expect from Google I/O 2016, Consumer Reports

My debut piece for CR (no subscription required to read it) was a preview of Google I/O’s expected news that I think mostly holds up.

5/18/2016: Live at Google I/O, Jefferson Graham

Right after I picked up my press badge, I ran into Jefferson and a few other USAT pals, and he elected to do a Facebook Live stream on the spot.

5/18/2016: Cable operators are trying to fix the single biggest problem with their apps, Yahoo Finance

I wrote a reality-check piece about the cable industry’s “but we have apps!” response to the Federal Communications Commission’s “unlock the box” proceeding. The cable operator that now seems most far along in providing TV apps that can take a cable box’s place without compromising on major features? Comcast.

5/18/2016: Google just made it clear that it’s trying to catch up in 3 big areas, Yahoo Finance

This recap of the keynote that opened up I/O disappeared sometime between Wednesday night and Thursday afternoon due to a publishing glitch nobody noticed at the time. Sorry for the mess!

5/19/2016: Google just revealed it’s ‘bringing the Play Store to Chromebooks’, Yahoo Finance

The news that Chrome OS laptops and desktops shipped in the last two years will get a free update opening them up to the Play Store’s catalogue of 1.5 million Android apps may have been the biggest consumer news out of I/O.

5/20/2016: Google: 3 steps you should take now to secure yourself online, Yahoo Finance

Like at last year’s I/O, Google’s security chief Stephan Somogyi gave a great presentation about the state of security that I judged worth a writeup.

5/22/2016: 6 big changes coming to Android phones, USA Today

My last I/O post broke down the changes coming to the next major Android release. I wound up finishing it on my Android phone–an excruciating experience–after my laptop ran out of battery on Caltrain on the way into San Francisco.

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Pros and cons of taking Google I/O outside

My most recent tech event took place in an unusual venue: a concert amphitheater set into the hills of the San Francisco Bay.

Android statueHeading into Google I/O, I was uneasy about Google’s decision–announced in a January 12 tweet from CEO Sundar Pichai–to move its developer conference from Moscone West in San Francisco to the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View. Unlike that convention center three blocks off Market Street, Shoreline promised no meaningful pedestrian, cyclist or transit access.

Fortunately, the traffic dystopia I feared did not quite happen at I/O 16, and this location revealed some redeeming qualities.

Having the analog environment of nature around was foremost among them–especially on Wednesday, when the temperature soared into the ’80s. Typing on my laptop in the shade of the press center brought back pleasant memories of 2012’s Tech Policy Summit, staged at a resort outside of Napa. But even in the concrete surroundings of the seating bowl, the noise of birds chirping offered a healthy reminder that much of the world doesn’t care what we humans do with circuits and code.

(This avian accompaniment was not risk-free. Analyst Jan Dawson almost had a bird poop on his leg.)

Shoreline is surrounded by parking lots, but they looked much better covered by tents and stages for I/O’s various panels and talks. And looking up on walks from one location to another often rewarded me with the sight of 747s and A380s low overhead on their approaches to SFO.

Shoreline stageThe official hotels Google suggested were no cheaper than most San Francisco hotels, but the clean, comfortable Airbnb suite I found in downtown Mountain View was much cheaper than anything I’ve seen listed in the city.

Finally, we did get to experience a concert at this concert venue, Wednesday night’s performance by Charli XCX and Kygo.

But while Google’s shuttle from the Mountain View Caltrain station–not advertised in advance–got me to I/O surprisingly quickly on Wednesday, on Thursday two shuttles in a row left without me because they had no seats left. On Friday, the bus arrived sorely late and then crawled through traffic, finally depositing me at Shoreline after almost as much time as it might have taken to walk the distance.

The weather also got less idyllic after Wednesday, even as the risk of sunburn remained the same. My teeth may have started chattering once or twice Thursday night and Friday afternoon. (Cardinal rule of packing for the Bay Area: Whatever season it is, bring a fleece jacket.)

And while having class outside is usually a great idea, it remains difficult to see a laptop’s screen in sunlight. Brightening the screen was not always a smart response at I/O; power outlets were a lot scarcer than they would have been in a conventional convention facility like Moscone.

All things being equal, I’d rather see I/O move back to San Francisco. But I suspect that Google is content with staging its event at a private space next to its headquarters that it can take over–a sort of Google Island, if you will–and that next May, we’ll have the same battles with traffic and logistics.

 

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.

Weekly output: Chromecast tips, GM and the DMCA, Google I/O, online security, landline number portability via VoIP

I had a fun and productive stay in San Francisco for Google I/O, then started a day of travel home that became a day and a half. And it was basically my fault for being a greedy avgeek. Instead of booking a nonstop back to National or Dulles, I opted to connect through Houston so I could get a belated introduction to the Boeing 787 on the first leg–and, I figured, have the extra capacity of a widebody plane on a domestic route lead to my upgrade clearing.

That left me with a tight connection before the last flight to National, and I’d thought that my big risk was getting into IAH too late for that departure. Instead, the latest in a series of storms pounded the Houston area, forced planes to divert hundreds of miles away, and led too many pilots to time-out. My brittle connection finally crumbled when United acknowledged reality and cancelled the DCA flight at around 10:30, I grabbed a reasonably cheap hotel room nearby, and I got home after 4 this afternoon. Oh, and my upgrade didn’t clear on the 787. Not my smartest travel hacking ever.

5/25/2015: How to watch your own videos on Chromecast, USA Today

My editor decided to run this column on Monday of the Memorial Day weekend instead of Sunday. That, in turn, meant I could devote Sunday to holiday pursuits instead of taking time to market the piece on social media.

5/26/2015: General Motors: Don’t Touch Your Car’s Software, Yahoo Tech

I’d planned on writing about this year’s round of requests for exemptions from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s anti-circumvention clause later this year, but there was enough interest in a proposal to legalize tinkering with the embedded software on cars that I had to go ahead with the column. Short version of the ensuing reader feedback: You all trust GM about as far as you can throw it.

Yahoo Tech 2015 Google-keynote post5/28/2015: Cut From Google I/O: What Didn’t Make the Stage, Yahoo Tech

After the opening keynote to Google’s I/O conference wrapped up, I wrote this recap of the things that Google executives didn’t mention in that two-plus-hour presentation. I hope somebody does the same for the keynote at Apple’s upcoming Worldwide Developers Conference.

2/29/2015: Google’s Security News: Malware’s Down, and You’re Heeding More of Its Warnings, Yahoo Tech

My editor at Yahoo Tech suggested I check out this half-hour presentation by Google’s Stephan Somogyi about its security efforts, and I’m glad I took his advice. He shared some fascinating details about how security warnings fare when read by distracted humans who are apparently feeling lucky all the time.

5/31/2015: Want to move your home number? Take it to the Web, USA Today

The question that led to this column about using Internet-calling services to move a landline number to another area came from a reader of my May 11 piece about the demise of Sprint’s WiMax wireless broadband–see, I do read my e-mail! It also gave me an overdue incentive to start testing some home-phone VoIP hardware I’ve had sitting around for a while.

Weekly output: mobile-app privacy, Google I/O (x5), Fort Reno, TiVo and SDV

One of these links is not like the others; five of them are very much like each other.

6/24/2014: 4 Questions to Ask Before You Give a New App Access to Your Personal Data, Yahoo Tech

I’m used to playing a grumpy old man, but I’m rarely in such a get-off-my-Internet mood as I was when writing this post about overhyped mobile apps.

6/25/2014: Google Announces Two New Directions for Android, Yahoo Tech

The first of three quick posts I wrote during the Google I/O keynote, this one sums up the day’s hardware and software news for Android.

6/25/2014: With Android TV, Google Turns Its Eyes to Larger Screens (Again!), Yahoo Tech

Here, I compared the debut of Android TV to the snakebit launch of Google TV four years ago. (Fun fact: My neighbor across the street is one of the few individuals to have purchased a Google TV box.)

6/25/2014: MIA at I/O: 8 Products That Google Didn’t Mention, Yahoo Tech

It’s good practice to notice what products or principles go unmentioned in a tech company’s keynote.

Google Cardboard post6/25/2014: Move Over, Google Glass: Here Comes Google Cardboard, Yahoo Tech

I wrapped up the day by describing this fun little experiment in cheapskate virtual reality.

6/27/2014: Man in Screamingly Loud Paisley Shirt Explains Google’s Subtle New Design Language, Yahoo Tech

I talked about Google’s new “Material Design” initiative for about half an hour with Google design v.p. Matias Duarte. I wish I could take credit for that memorable headline, but I can’t.

6/27/2014: D.C. Reflects: What Fort Reno’s Concert Series Meant To Us, D.C. Music Download

After the organizers of these annual free concerts in Northwest D.C. said they wouldn’t happen this year, courtesy of a last-minute demand by the U.S. Park Police that they pay to keep an officer onsite for each concert, I griped about the news on Twitter. Writer Stephanie Williams then e-mailed to ask if I could comment further, and so there I am next to all these people whose indie-rock creed goes beyond seeing Fugazi play Fort Reno two or three times.

6/29/2014: How to use TiVo with Time Warner Cable, USA Today

A query from a friend’s dad that I thought would be simple turned out to be complicated. And maybe even my abbreviation-dense answer was itself not complex enough; after the story ran, veteran gadget blogger Dave Zatz tweeted that TWC’s control-freak application of a copying restriction blocks a remote-viewing feature in newer TiVo DVRs.

I left my conference badge in San Francisco

If business travel has helped ruin Las Vegas for me (downtown LV excluded), it’s had the opposite effect with San Francisco. With this week’s trek to Google I/O in the books, I’ve now had at least one work trip a year there for the past dozen years–and the only part of the experience I dread is being reminded that the days of quality $100-a-night hotels near Union Square are gone.

Departing SFOAs a city, San Francisco has many of the qualities I look for: walkability, history, beautiful architectural and natural scenery, diverse dining from food trucks to white-tablecloth establishments, a pleasant climate, and a subway that goes direct to the airport.

Even the flights are good: The approach up the Bay to SFO offers one of the best arrival vistas around even when your plane isn’t landing in parallel with another. (Bonus: When I fly United’s nonstop home to National I have a 50-50 chance of getting the River Visual approach’s even-better rooftop views of the District or Arlington.)

As a journalistic destination, San Francisco allows me the chance to see job-relevant people I otherwise only meet on social media or e-mail.

On the other hand, those job-relevant folks aren’t all newly-wealthy founders or long-wealthy investors. Some are fellow tech reporters who, unlike me, must cope with a frighteningly expensive real-estate market that keeps getting more toxic, courtesy of deranged housing policies founded on entitlement and denial. One unsurprising result: In May, a friend and his family were served with an eviction notice after their landlord elected to cash out by selling their place.

So while I enjoy going to the Bay Area as much as ever, I don’t feel so bad about my home being some 2,400 miles east. I do, however, feel bad about judging one of my favorite travel destinations with a version of “nice place to visit, wouldn’t want to live there.”

Time-zone arbitrage

Spending the past five days in Barcelona, six hours ahead of the East Coast, has me thinking anew about the finer points of having different digits on your clock and those of editors and readers. 

World clockYes, jet lag sucked. I woke up Monday at 4:30 a.m. and then couldn’t get back to sleep, leading to a couple of naps in the press room. (A laptop does not make a good pillow.) But a day later, my eyelids no longer felt like they weighed 200 pounds, and I realized again that the time-zone gap can also be my friend.

Specifically, it turns the morning into—not an accountability-free zone, but at least a self-directed time, thanks to almost nobody in a position to direct my coverage being awake. Then it allows my copy to arrive early in an editor’s day for a change. If my editor is based in the Bay Area, I look even more prompt: The story sent at 5 p.m. arrives at 9 a.m.

At some point, this equation will flip and I’ll have an evening upended when an editor decides my copy needs another run through the typewriter. But so far, the worst that’s happened is me turning into that annoying guy who answers e-mails on his phone during dinner.

Social media also highlights that temporal shift: Twitter and Facebook look a lot quieter than usual until lunchtime, to the point where I question the wisdom of tweeting out observations that will get lost in the timelines of most of my usual audience. But then I  have my phone pinging with notifications until I go to sleep myself.

Back at home, the three-hour gap between the East and West Coast should also benefit me when dealing with editors there. But it’s too easy to waste that advantage until it’s 6 p.m. here and I have a different deadline looming in my own time zone: cooking dinner.

Flying to the West Coast, meanwhile, permits jet lag to work for me: On the first couple of days, I usually snap awake not much later than 5 a.m., and I am never more productive than in those hours before I finally get breakfast. And if the event I’m covering won’t have people committing news after lunch—for example, Google I/O keynotes usually start at 9 a.m. and run until about noon—my workday will also end earlier than usual.

But then I also have to deal with the 7-9 p.m. keynote that opens each CES. Not only does it throw a wrench in my scheduling machinery, it ensures I can’t eat until a time that feels more like 11 p.m. At least I don’t have to write stories about those things anymore.