Six weeks in a row of travel

When I unlocked the front door on our darkened porch Thursday night–and, as if by magic, the power came back on–six consecutive weeks of travel went into the books.

View of Toronto from a departing airplaneIt all seemed like a reasonable idea upfront, not least when it appeared I’d have a couple of weeks at home over that period.

In an alternate universe, a spring break trip to see Bay Area and Boston relatives and then the IFA Global Press Conference in Spain would have been followed by week at home, then more than a week of additional downtime would have separated Google I/O in Mountain View and Collision in Toronto.

But then I got invited to moderate a panel at the Pay TV Show in Denver, with the conference organizers covering my travel expenses, and my Uncle Jim died. The results: 4/13-4/21 spring break, 4/24-4/28 IFA GPC, 4/29-4/30 in Ohio for my uncle’s funeral (I had about nine hours at home between returning from Spain and departing for Cleveland), 5/6-5/9 Google I/O, 5/13-5/16 Pay TV Show, 5/20-5/23 Collision.

I’d thought having the last three trips only run four days, with three days at home between each, would make things easier. That didn’t really happen, although I did appreciate having time to do all the laundry, bake bread and cook a bunch of food during each stay home, then be able to check the status of my flight home the morning after arriving at each destination.

In particular, my ability to focus on longer-term work and try to develop new business took a hit during all this time in airports, airplanes and conference venues. And because Yahoo Finance elected to have staff writers cover I/O and Collision remotely, so did my income.

Meanwhile, I can’t pretend that I’ve been following the healthiest lifestyle, thanks to all of the eating and drinking at various receptions. Consecutive days of walking around with my laptop in a messenger bag left a softball-sized knot in my left shoulder to complement my sore feet. And I’ve woken up in the middle of the night too many times wondering where I was–including once or twice in my own bed at home.

So while the past six weeks have taken me to some neat places and connected me to some interesting people, I don’t need to repeat the experience.

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Weekly output: 8K TV, privacy at Google I/O, Waymo

A week after taking off for the Bay Area to cover Google’s I/O conference, I’m departing for Denver early Monday afternoon. This week’s excuse for propping up the airline industry: moderating a state-of-the-industry panel at the Pay TV Show, in return for which the conference organizers are covering my travel costs.

5/6/2019: Dark clouds invade forecast for 8K TV shipments, FierceVideo

My big takeaway from the IFA Global Press Conference two weeks ago was a dramatically more pessimistic forecast for 8K TV shipments from the research firm IHS Markit. It was refreshing to see analysts decline to get in line behind industry hype over a new product category.

5/8/2019: Google attempts a pivot toward privacy at I/O developer conference, USA Today

For the first time in my experience, USAT didn’t send any of its own reporters to Google’s developer conference, leaving this piece my client’s sole dateline from that event.

5/10/2019: Waymo Doesn’t Mind Being Boring, CityLab

I took a break from I/O Wednesday morning to attend a press event hosted by Waymo, the self-driving-car subsidiary of Google’s parent firm Alphabet. Said event did not feature any time as a passenger in one of Waymo’s autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans, because the company apparently still doesn’t have the California permit needed to offer rides to non-employees.

On top of those stories, I also launched a page on the Patreon crowdfunding site. Despite getting no more publicity than a post here Saturday evening and one appreciative tweet afterwards, this experiment already has a non-zero number of supporters pledging to chip in a couple of dollars a month. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

Weekly output: cable-ISP data caps (x2), how long wireless carriers keep your cell-site location history, Facebook banning extremists, IFA GPC

Tomorrow kicks off three weeks in a row of travel: first Google I/O in Mountain View, Calif., which I’ll be covering for as many of my clients as feasible; then the Pay TV Show outside of Denver, at which I’m moderating a panel discussion between two industry analysts; then the Collision conference, newly relocated to Toronto and once again involving me speaking on a few panels. Fortunately, I have four nights at home between each of these trips.

5/1/2019: Why your cable company might be happy to see you stop subscribing to its TV service, USA Today

After seeing a research note from MoffettNathanson highlighting how some smaller cable operators have made their peace with video subscribers cancelling cable TV and switching to streaming TV services, I noticed that both firms spotlighted in that note–Cable One and Mediacom–had some stringent data caps in place that should allow them to profit handsomely from their Internet subscribers pivoting to online video.

5/2/2019: This Morning with Gordon Deal May 02, 2019, This Morning with Gordon Deal

I talked about my latest USAT column with this business-news radio show; my spot starts at the 14-minute mark.

5/3/2019: Why carriers keep your data longer, TechCrunch

I’ve been reading TC for years and going to their events for almost as long, but this is my first byline there. This post is also my first paywalled work in a while, requiring an Extra Crunch subscription ($150 a year, two-week free trial available). Here’s my one-sentence summary of this roughly 1,500-word piece: The four nationwide wireless carriers keep your cell-site location history for as long as five years and as little as one year, but none of them act as if these retention periods are information you’d want to know.

5/3/2019: Facebook banning extremists, Al Jazeera

I had my first appearance in a few weeks at the Arabic-language news channel to talk about Facebook’s recent move to ban such extremists as InfoWars conspiracy-theory liars Alex Jones and Paul Joseph Watson, Islamophobic loon Laura Loomer, and Nation of Islam anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan.

5/4/2019: Moor Insights & Strategy Podcast (5-4-19), What’s Hot in Tech?

If you thought the people giving you advice about what gadgets to buy could get said gadgets to work every time: My Saturday-afternoon conversation with analyst Mark Vena and my fellow tech freelancer John Quain recapping the IFA Global Press Conference was the third take of this podcast. The first attempt at the IFA GPC went awry when Mark’s iPhone overheated in the heat of a Spanish afternoon, then a second try a few days later fell prey to a corrupted audio recording.

Weekly output: Android P, crytocurrency security, Android Things, Sprint-T-Mobile

My eighth Google I/O conference–and my seventh in a row–is in the books. Once again, I came home from the Bay Area with way more in my notes than I could put into stories at the time. (See my Flickr album to get a sense of the event.) This Tuesday will continue another streak: My third consecutive week of work travel has me heading to Toronto that morning for Access Now’s RightsCon conference, at which I’m moderating two panels.

5/8/2018: New in Android P, Tools to Help You Put Down Your Phone, Consumer Reports

I made my first appearance in CR in months with this recap of the major features in the next version of Android–which I expect get on my Pixel phone within days of its debut later this year, but which many other Android users may not see so quickly.

5/9/2018: Your crypto exchange may be less secure than your email account, Yahoo Finance

I wrote this recap of Chris Wysopal’s talk at Collision last week, but for reasons not quite clear to me it didn’t get posted until this week.

5/10/2018: Google is trying to make your smart home safer, Yahoo Finance

My I/O coverage continued with this explanation of Google’s Android Things connected-device platform and the broader “IoT” security problem that needs fixing.

5/11/2018: Could the Sprint-T-Mobile merger mean higher bills for Boost or MetroPCS customers?, USA Today

All the time I’ve spent poring over the pricing of prepaid and resold wireless service informed this assessment of how Sprint and T-Mobile’s proposed merger might affect those markets.

Conference-app feature request: block out my schedule as I pick panels

NEW ORLEANS–My calendar includes a lot of conferences (especially this month), and as a result my phone features a lot of conference apps.

Collision app schedulingThe conference that has me here, Collision, has one such app. As these things go–meaning, let’s set aside how many of their features could be done just as well by Web apps–it’s not bad. But the personalization tool that lets you cobble together a schedule of talks that appeal to you is deeply broken.

The schedule at Collision, as at other conferences with multiple stages and venues, is packed with events that happen at the same time. The app should clear up that clutter by not letting me be in two places at once–meaning, when I add a talk to my schedule, it should gray out every other talk overlapping with that timeslot.

That way, I’d immediately see the opportunity cost of going to one talk versus another. But the Collision app does not do that. And although it is smart enough to stick an orange “Priority” label next to my own panels, it doesn’t even block out talks overlapping with the most important items on my agenda.

This is a common failing with conference apps. I don’t recall the SXSW app doing this kind of schedule triage, even though that’s even more vital at an event with so many more overlapping tracks. The app for Google I/O, my destination next week, definitely omits this function. And since the Web Summit app is built from the same template as the Collision app, it will repeat this omission… unless somebody in management is sufficiently moved by this post. Can y’all hear me out on this?

 

 

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.

The two kinds of Airbnbs I rent

No travel site has saved me as much money as Airbnb–the 10 rooms and the two apartments I’ve booked through the site represent thousands of extra dollars I didn’t have to spend on overpriced hotels at events like Mobile World Congress and Google I/O. But no other travel site has left me thinking so much about its effects on the places I visit.

The vision that Airbnb sells, and the reality I’ve seen in half of those 12 stays, is somebody renting out a room or (when they’re traveling) their entire residence to make extra money on the side. I always appreciate the effort these hosts put in–the labels on everything, the well-placed power strips that hotels often forget, the advice about places to eat and drink nearby–and I like the thought that I’m helping people stay in their homes or apartments.

(A friend in Brooklyn has rented out the extra room in his apartment for years; seeing him favorably review an Airbnb room in Denver put me at ease with staying there for last year’s Online News Association conference.)

But Airbnb also features many other hosts who list multiple properties and, in some cases, have purchased many or all of the apartments in a building to rent out to budget-minded travelers like me. In the latter case–like the room in San Francisco I rented this week that appeared to have once been a single-room-occupancy apartment–you can easily imagine that without an Airbnb, people who live near those places would have more housing options.

That concern, sometimes pushed by the hotel industry, has led many cities to try to restrict Airbnb. In Barcelona, that crackdown meant the apartment in the Gothic Quarter that I’d stayed at for three years in a row was off the market this February because the host couldn’t get the required tourist license (I found another apartment that did have it, or at least said it did). In San Francisco, it’s led the company to start collecting occupancy taxes (which is fine with me).

I don’t want to overstate Airbnb’s effect on a housing market–certainly not in the Bay Area, where development policies founded on delusional entitlement have done far more to jack up residential costs. But I do worry about this.

And then I continue to book on Airbnb when crashing with friends isn’t an option. When the alternative is eating $200 or $300 a night on a hotel room or staying in distant suburbs, what else do you expect me to do?