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.

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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?

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.