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?

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Weekly output: tech ecosystems, patent trolling, LTE hotspots, YouTube ad-friendly rules, e-mail name games

Having Monday off–or as “off” as is possible for a self-employed, work-from-home type–is pretty exciting given my schedule for the first half of June. Spoiler alert: It involves a lot of time on airplanes.

5/22/2017: Why you shouldn’t be loyal to just one tech giant, Yahoo Finance

This reaction to Google I/O expands on an argument I’ve been making on and off for the past several years–that you’re better off spreading your business around multiple tech companies. Case in point: my decision to host this blog at WordPress.com instead of Google’s Blogger.

5/23/2017: A widely praised Supreme Court decision still doesn’t fix the broken patent system, Yahoo Finance

For once, I could write a non-despondent post about patent trolling, thanks to a Supreme Court ruling that should make it harder for patent litigants to drag random companies into the Eastern District of Texas.

5/25/2017: Best Wi-Fi Hotspot, The Wirecutter

This guide went much longer than usual between updates, and then I wound up recommending the same Verizon hotspot I’d endorsed last January. But the standalone and add-on service pricing at Verizon and runner-up AT&T had changed greatly over that time, and I also took advantage of this update to test a few hotspots set up for international roaming.

5/28/2017: YouTube thought a giant American flag wasn’t ‘advertiser friendly’, Yahoo Finance

This story landed in my lap Thursday evening, when a longtime reader tweeted that YouTube had declared his upload of a gigantic American flag being unfurled at FedEx Field on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 to be ad-unworthy. How could I not write about that for the Memorial Day weekend?

5/28/2017: How to hang onto your email if you change your name, USA Today

My editor mentioned that she’d gotten this question from a co-worker… and I had to admit that I’d never had to deal with or think much about this issue, since guys almost always keep their last names through marriage. That’s the patriarchy for you, I guess.

Weekly output: WannaCry, Google I/O, Android O, AMP, DVD on UHD

 

Google I/O consistently ranks as one of the most info-dense events I cover. After Google has put out its headline news in the opening keynote, the conference offers dozens of talks that get into the weeds on things like mobile-ad formats, Android’s notifications interface, and augmented-reality applications. I take far more notes than I can put into the stories I file from this event, but those notes inform many more stories over the next 12 months.

5/15/2017: Rob Pegoraro Finance and Tech Writer from Yahoo.com [Interview], Mike and Molson

I talked about the WannaCry ransomware outbreak with Johnny Molson and Mike Wennmacher, hosts of this show on the Springfield, Illinois station WMAY.

5/17/2017: Google Assistant and Google Home Make Renewed Pitch to Consumers, Consumer Reports

An editor at CR e-mailed to ask if I could do an I/O recap right as I was going to e-mail him to ask if they needed one.

5/18/2017: Android O: Google tries to fix Android’s biggest weakness, Yahoo Finance

I led with Project Treble, Google’s overdue move to speed Android updates by putting a hardware abstraction layer between that operating system and that machine-specific code that talks to a phone’s chipsets. Google did not, relegating Treble to brief mentions in presentations until engineering V.P. Dave Burke called Treble “probably the biggest architectural change since we started” in a Q&A session Thursday evening.

5/19/2017: How Google’s trying to make the mobile web look less ugly, Yahoo Finance

My big takeaway from a few I/O talks about Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages effort: How about putting the same effort into making the desktop Web look less like hot garbage?

5/21/2017: Ultra-high-def TV’s image problem, and how to fix it, USA Today

A chat over breakfast at the IFA Global Press Conference last month with another tech journalist led me to this under-reported problem with 4K televisions: how bad a DVD can look on them.

The silent shame of bringing an older Android phone to a Google event

MOUNTAIN VIEW–I really didn’t think my Nexus 5X phone was that old until I saw so many others at Google I/O here–being used by event staff to scan the RFID tags in people’s conference badges before admitting them to talks.

Badge-scanning duty is typically the last lap around the track for a mobile device before it gets put out to pasture. Or sent to the glue factory. But that usually doesn’t happen until years after its debut; for instance, at SXSW this year, I was amused to see volunteers use 2013-vintage Nexus 7 tablets to scan badges.

Google didn’t introduce my phone until September of 2015, after which I waited a month to buy my own.

Unfortunately, it’s not just the hardware milieu at this conference that’s been making my phone look obsolete. Over the past few months, my 5X has gotten into the embarrassing and annoying habit of locking up randomly. Sometimes the thing snaps out of it on its own; sometimes I have to mash down the power button to force a restart.

I’ve factory-reset the phone once, with all the reconfiguration of apps and redoing of Google Authenticator two-step verification that requires, and that doesn’t seem to have made a difference. It’s been good today, but yesterday I had to force-reboot it twice. I only hope fellow attendees didn’t notice the Android logo on its startup screen and start judging me and my janky phone accordingly.

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.

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.