Weekly output: CES (x4), freemium apps, Faraday Future, cybersecurity, TV technology, drones, personal-data business models, Mobile Apps Showdown, battery and bandwidth advice

I wrapped up the tech-journalism hell week that is CES with a red-eye flight out of Vegas last night, as if I wasn’t tired enough after writing close to 6,000 words of copy and doing two panels, one radio interview and one on-stage intro. So if you’re hoping for typo-free prose, this may not be the post for you.

1/3/2017: The biggest busts from the world’s most renowned gadget show, Yahoo Finance

I enjoyed writing this reality-check post about past flops at CES–some of which I thought at the time could fly.

1/3/2017: Can you put a price on ‘freemium’ apps?, USA Today

You may have seen my column on alternatives to paying Evernote and iCloud appear a few days earlier in a personal-finance section that I’m told ran in some Gannett newspapers.

1/3/2017: What to expect this week at CES, the world’s biggest gadget show, Yahoo Finance

This was the second post I filed on Monday–you know, the day that was supposed to be a holiday.

1/4/2017: Faraday Future’s FF 91: Electric speed at a vaporous price

I attended the unveiling of this self-driving, electric-powertrain supercar Tuesday night and did not find the overhyped “reformat the future” sales pitch super-persuasive.

1/4/2017: Tech trends at CES, WTOP

I talked with WTOP’s Shawn Anderson and Hillary Howard about early headlines from the show. We usually do these interviews over Skype, but bandwidth was so bad that they had to call my phone.

ces-2017-cybersecurity-panel1/5/2017: The Escalating War on Cybersecurity, CES

I talked about the changing landscape of cybersecurity with Blackberry chief security officer David Kleidermacher, HackerOne CTO Alex Rice, and Qualcomm senior director of product management Sy Choudhury. One big takeaway of our discussion: Companies and organizations that don’t want to talk about their security misfortunes aren’t the ones you want to trust.

1/6/2017: CES 2017: The top trends in new TVs, Yahoo Finance

This piece ran over a thousand words in my first draft, which is not an optimal writing strategy when you have a CES-dense schedule.

1/6/2017: Selfie drones and more fly into CES 2017, Yahoo Finance

I finished and filed this from a chair near an entrance to the Venetian at around 6:30 Friday night, which is not generally part of people’s weekend activities in Vegas.

1/7/2017: Business Models in the Personal Data Economy, Mobile Ecosystem Forum

I inflicted some dead air on the organizers when I forgot that they’d moved up my introduction of this panel by 15 minutes. After that awkward start, I had a good conversation about ways customers can become empowered custodians of their own data with executives at companies trying to make that happen: digi.me founder Julian Ranger, MatchUpBox CEO Didier Collin de Casaubon, Meeco founder Katryna Dow, and Universal Music CTO Ty Roberts. Update, 2/6: MEF posted audio of our conversation.

mobile-apps-showdown1/7/2017: Mobile Apps Showdown, Living in Digital Times

I helped judge this competition (irreverently emceed by my Yahoo colleague David Pogue), then jumped on stage to introduce the app I’d evaluated, Intel Security’s True Key. My summary of its use case: “You all suck at passwords.”

1/8/2017: How to stay online in impossible circumstances, USA Today

My editor suggested I use my column to share lessons learned from CES about preserving  the battery life and connectivity of mobile devices in phone-hostile environments like the gadget show. I should have known that the press-room WiFi would crap out as I was trying to write this Friday afternoon, leaving me to limp along on the Las Vegas Convention Center’s insultingly-limited guest network.

1/8/2017: The weirdest tech we saw at CES 2017, Yahoo Finance

I filed this from the United Club at McCarran at around 11, which is also not how people normally spend a weekend night in Vegas.

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El Capitan errata

Ten days ago I upgraded my MacBook Air to Apple’s new OS X El Capitan, and a day later I did the same on this iMac. The experience has been a little rocky so far:

El Capitan beachball cursor• I’m still seeing the spinning-beachball cursor way too often, and for steps that shouldn’t particularly tax either computer’s processor or flood its memory. Having it look different does not help.

• While Mail no longer randomly bounces me months back in a particular folder when I select it, it’s exhibiting a more annoying malfunction: When I move or delete messages in either of my Google Apps accounts, they pop back into their original inbox for a moment before being swept away a second or too later.

• Time Machine still can’t do math. On this iMac, it’s complaining that the backup volume is full–even after I’ve removed more than 150 gigabytes of data from its backup set. Dear Apple: I am not interested in buying a new hard drive because your backup utility doesn’t know how to subtract.

OS X El Capitan about box• Some random malfunction has caused every item in Address Book–both individual contacts and contacts groups–to get duplicated. I’m going to assume this is iCloud’s fault.

• Safari continues to randomly pop tabs into their own separate window. This bug has now persisted through different OS X releases, and I know I’m not the only one to complain about it. Alas, its cause and how to end it remain mysteries to me.

• Safari remains vulnerable to locking up the entire machine when Safari Web Content processes start to gobble memory; short of force-quitting Safari, my only remedy is to bring up Activity Monitor and force-quit the offenders, one at a time. But hey, at least I can finally silence the audio that started randomly playing in some other tab.

I had hoped that this deliberately incremental release of OS X would bring a renewed and overdue focus on software quality in OS X, but so far I’m not seeing it. Are you?

Weekly output: Apple’s cloud services, iPhone discounts

In addition to these two stories, I filed another that happens to be the first piece I’ve done for the client in question. That debut status means I can only guess if the editing will entail more or less punishment for my prose than it deserves.

8/4/2015: Why Are Apple’s Cloud Services So Weak?, Yahoo Tech

I look at the near-absence of comments on an Apple-centric story–especially one finding fault, at length, with the company’s efforts–and I can only wonder what I did wrong.

USAT iPhone-discounts column8/9/2015: Discounted iPhone the unicorn of smartphones, USA Today

I had another topic in mind for this weekend’s column but couldn’t find the reader e-mail asking the question–either I deleted it by mistake or, more likely, my failure to flag it for follow-up combined with all the correspondence I get about Web ads made this message search-proof. (If you sent me a note about retargeted ads, this could be your e-mail; please re-send!) Anyway, as I was going through my inbox, one item at a time, to try to find that query, I came across a different reader question that I realized would also work for my Q&A column.

Weekly output: Neil deGrasse Tyson, iCloud files, Mountain Lion notifications

This was not a good week for productivity. The inauguration took out Monday, and a couple of late nights for inaugural festivities made the cold I was already feeling a lot worse. Then caught a glancing blow from some kind of stomach bug that left me uninterested in eating for 20 hours or so.

I could take notes and socialize at the events I went to Tuesday and Wednesday–washing my hands all the time to try to avoid sharing my illness–but I didn’t have the strength to write anything once I got home. And while I did file two things I’d been working on for the Disruptive Competition Project blog Friday afternoon, neither was posted. Hence the total of two headlines on this week’s list.

Ars Technica NdGT post1/24/2013: Neil deGrasse Tyson: science funding can “guarantee your economic future”, Ars Technica

My NASA Tweetup connections led to an invitation to a talk by one of America’s favorite astrophysicists to mark the launch of a new House Science and National Labs Caucus; then I wrote up his lecture and Q&A for one of my favorite tech-news sites. I tried to put his talking points into the political context of how hard it can be justify government funding of any new projects.

In the process, I had to leave out some notes about the sense of humor Tyson displayed, such as a comment about the compatibility of astrophysics’ shorter words with hip-hop lyrics (“I can’t rhyme with orthoclase feldspar or deoxyribonucleic acid”). So if the post makes him sound like a scold, that’s on me.

1/27/2013: How do I move files from iCloud to Mac?, USA Today

I knew iCloud didn’t act like other Web-based file-storage services, but I didn’t realize how much it departed from OS X’s traditions until I stumbled across the one easy way to move multiple files from iCloud back to a Mac–using iCloud file dialogs. The column also includes a tip on making Mountain Lion’s Notification Center less intrusive.

On Sulia, this week’s highlights included my first impressions of Facebook’s Graph Search, continued excoriation of CBS Interactive’s interference with CNET’s reviews, context about smartphone unlocking becoming illegal (again) this weekend, and some snarky comments about Twitter’s new Vine six-second-video-clip service.

Weekly output: Mat Honan, Mike Daisey, pausing telecom service, “Free Public WiFi”

Two of this week’s posts involved other people’s stories–either adding context to them or critiquing the storytelling itself. (I also filed one post and a podcast for CEA, but they haven’t gone up yet. I’m blaming the fact that it’s August in D.C.)

8/8/2012: Hacking Nightmare Comes True: Mat Honan’s Story, Discovery News

After reading Wired writer Mat Honan’s Tumblr post about how hackers had hijacked his iCloud and Twitter accounts, deleted his Google account and remote-wiped his iPad, iPhone and MacBook Air, I wanted to know how such a thing could be possible. After reading his explanation of the hack on Wired.com, I wanted to write about it myself–both to yell at Amazon and Apple for their (now fixed) security flaws that enabled the hack, and to remind readers of what they can to prevent the same thing from happening to them. It helped to talk to Honan over the phone on Tuesday morning and hear the stress and anger in his voice. (I enjoy Honan’s work, and he and I were on a radio show once, but I don’t think we’ve met face to face.)

8/8/2012: How Mike Daisey retooled The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, Ars Technica

Some 17 months after I first saw Daisey’s monologue about Apple, I returned to the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in downtown D.C. to catch the 2.0 version, stripped of the material he fabricated earlier about Apple’s outsourced manufacturing in China. This was the first time in years that I’d taken notes on a paper notepad (the prior item in this one was a set of questions I jotted down for a video interview with Steve Wozniak I did for the Post in late 2009).

It was also the first time in a while that the subject of a review wrote back to me. Maybe an hour after this post went up, Daisey e-mailed to contest my interpretation. He said I made him sound too trusting in the New York Times’ reporting and didn’t give him enough credit for addressing some of the related issues I mentioned in this piece in the program handed out to attendees. I replied that those were my reactions, as jotted down in real time in the dark; they may not be a correct interpretation, but the review is supposed to reflect what I thought at the time.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of the comments from Ars readers were far less sympathetic to Daisey’s case.

8/12/2012: How to pause cable, phone services, USA Today

I thought a reader’s question about whether he could suspend his Internet, TV and phone services while away from home would make for a nice, easy, “it’s August in D.C. and nobody wants to work too hard” item. Wrong. Some telecom firms have multiple policies that vary by region. The piece also reminds readers that the “Free Public WiFi” hot spot you might see is an artifact of a patched Windows XP bug. (Yes, you’ve read that from me before: I covered it in a 2009 article for the Post.)

Weekly output: Outlook.com, the cloud, 8K TV, Activity Monitor, Mac App Store

It took me a while, but I finally managed to have a week in which smartphones did not figure into the lede of any review.

7/31/2012: Microsoft Outlook: Not Hotmail, Not Quite Gmail, Discovery News

I had high expectations for this service when I got an embargoed briefing of it from Microsoft about two weeks ago–finally, I thought, I might have something that would allow me to move my home e-mail from Google. But I didn’t know at the time how limited Exchange ActiveSync support could be: Contrary to my first expectations, this Hotmail successor leaves Mac users no way to sync their e-mail to a desktop client. My review devoted more words to this topic than most; I was glad to see the same issue come up multiple times in the Reddit discussion Microsoft invited, and I hope Outlook.com’s developers take the numerous hints.

8/3/2012: Questions to Clarify Cloud Computing, CEA Digital Dialogue

After reviewing Google Drive and seeing how tightly Apple and Microsoft’s new and upcoming software integrate each company’s cloud services, I realized I wasn’t sure which ones to include or rule out. So I wrote up the questions I’d want to ask of any cloud service for CEA’s blog.

If you’re curious about the photo, it consists of a Nexus 7 tablet resting on the screen of a MacBook Air. It took a few tries to get enough of the cloud cover reflected on each screen.

8/3/2012: ‘8K’ TV: More Pixels Than Can Meet Your Eye, Discovery News

After Comcast invited me to a screening of some “Ultra High Definition” Olympics video (as in, 7,680 by 4,320 pixels, adding up to 33 megapixels and change), I wrote up my impressions of the experience. Not a surprise, considering my earlier writing: I didn’t come away hoping to get something like that in my living room. Actual surprise: a reader wrote in to protest that studies by the Japanese broadcaster NHK showed that people could distinguish the higher resolution of 8K in still images seen at common viewing distances. Since this reader couldn’t get a comment to post, I quoted those e-mails in a comment I added to the post.

8/5/2012: Monitor your Mac’s behind the scenes activity, USA Today

Maybe a day after I’d posted my review of OS X Mountain Lion, I noticed that my iMac (but not the new MacBook Air next to it) was suddenly running low on memory. I checked the Activity Monitor app, saw a CalendarAgent process eating up every last bit of RAM, confirmed that others also had this problem, and force-quit that process. After several tries had apparently beaten this program into submission, wrote a reminder for USAT about the usefulness of Activity Monitor. (It also covered reasons to use or ignore the Mac App Store.) Unfortunately, CalendarAgent resumed its assault on the iMac’s memory and processor after I’d filed this piece; any ideas about what to do next, besides yell at Apple to fix its software?

Discovering iCloud

I’m no longer a full-time gentleman of leisure: I’ll be writing two blog posts a week for Discovery News. My assignment is to give an out-of-the-weeds take on tech topics, explaining what they might mean to you and if they deserve a purchase, a download or a sign-up.

(I’m doing this on a freelance basis, so Discovery won’t the only place to find my work. More on that as I know it.)

My first post for the Silver Spring firm is a look at Apple’s iCloud news. I wrote “news” instead of “service” because so much of iCloud remains open only to developers testing a beta version. Most of its features won’t ship until its iOS 5 mobile operating-system upgrade ships this fall; some will require extra work by third-party developers.

But Apple did give an exceptionally detailed presentation on this upcoming set of Web-based services at last week’s WWDC event (the iCloud show starts at about the 79th minute of Apple’s keynote video). And from that and subsequent writeups, two things jumped out at me: This service will be far more device- and app-specific than other cloud services, and it also seems to have left out Web access to your content.

That is, while Google Docs and Amazon’s Cloud Player, to name two competing cloud services, each require nothing more complicated than a Web browser through which you can edit a spreadsheet or play a song, Apple will make you run an app on your Mac, PC, iPhone or iPad to do those things. Its core strategy appears to involve replacing in-browser access with connected apps.

(No, Apple didn’t specifically say “we won’t let you get at your iCloud info in a browser.” But its unwillingness to mention iCloud Web apps in a nearly 40-minute introduction to the service should be as telling as its failure to note the addition of turn-by-turn navigation to the iPhone’s aging Maps program. The only hint of Web access came when Steve Jobs said iCloud’s e-mail would not include ads–but to omit a Web-mail interface would be a special sort of insanity. Update, 6/13, 2:38 p.m. Joshua Topolsky got Apple PR to confirm that it will retire all of the current MobileMe Web apps when that service closes on June 30, 2012, without any plans to replace them: “You will no longer be able to log in and check your mail through a browser, change calendar events, or edit contacts.” Update, 6/26, 2:31 p.m. Eleven days after Topolsky’s article, Apple posted a Q&A on the MobileMe-to-iCloud transition that promised Web access to iCloud’s e-mail, contacts and calendar services this fall. Left unanswered: How a company that prides itself on elegance as much as Apple does could make such a mess of its message.)

Apple’s service should work much better at the machine-to-cloud intersection, because it, unlike Google or Amazon, knows what software will be waiting there. The one part of iCloud that I could test, iTunes in the Cloud, worked just as advertised: It took only one tap on our iPad2 to download a song I’d bought in my Mac’s copy of iTunes to that tablet. Then I bought another song on the iPad’s version of iTunes; within 10 seconds, it was downloading on the Mac.

But if I’d wanted to listen to my iTunes collection on a friend’s computer or a work machine without downloading it at all, I’d be out of luck.

And what if your hardware inventory includes more than Macs, Windows PCs and iOS devices? What if there’s an Android phone or a Linux computer in the mix? What if you can’t install Apple’s software on your work PC? Computing life isn’t always as tidy as it might look in a Steve Jobs keynote or in an Apple Store.