Weekly output: Pixel 5a repair, Spectrum One, defining AI, innovating through a crisis, Alexa ambitions, Comcast uploads, brain-computer interfaces, digital personalization, Microsoft supports Ukraine, Seaborg nuclear power, Facebook Oversight Board, Signal

My last international trip of the year wrapped up Saturday afternoon with my last landing at Dulles Airport without a Metro station there in revenue service. And I have somehow already posted my Flickr album from this week’s Web Summit trip.

10/31/2022: DIY Demo: Just How Easy Is It to Fix Your Phone’s Shattered Screen Yourself?, PCMag

My recap of successfully replacing my Pixel 5a’s shattered screen using an iFixit repair kit was, as far as I can tell, the first story I’ve written to include the word “spudger.” It was also the first story in quite some time, maybe ever, where I lost a little blood in the research phase.

10/31/2022: Spectrum Adds New Bundle of Broadband and Wireless (Not Broadband and Cable), PCMag

We had to update this post to note a $5 rate hike to Spectrum’s non-promotional rates for residential broadband that went into effect Nov. 1–something that Spectrum’s PR person didn’t think to mention when answering my fact-checking questions about that service’s new promotion for bundled broadband and wireless.

My Web Summit schedule, as seen in the browser on my phone as I held it up in the Forum. 11/2/2022: Time to define AI, Web Summit

I got asked to cover this panel two and a half hours in advance after the original moderator had some unspecified flight trouble. It all worked out, thanks in large part to Dataiku CEO Florian Douetteau’s stage presence. #professionalism

11/2/2022: Recession busters: How to innovate through a crisis, Web Summit

This panel had a wide-ranging cast of characters: Andy Baynes, who worked at Apple and Nest before co-founding the consultancy GT; Kit Krugman, board chair of WIN: Women in Innovation and managing director for organization and culture design at co:collective; and Jasjit Singh, executive director of the Commerce Department’s SelectUSA office.

11/2/2022: More Than a Voice: Amazon Wants Alexa to Be an ‘Advisor and Companion’, PCMag

Amazon’s Rohit Prasad, senior vice president and head scientist for Alexa, led off the Web Summit main-stage schedule Wednesday morning.

11/2/2022: Comcast is upping upload speeds. But for now, you’ll need a premium bundle., USA Today

After years of hiding its slow upload speeds on a network-management disclosures page, Comcast has a better story to tell there–which it’s stepping on by making those faster uploads a privilege of a premium-service bundle.

11/3/2022: Hardware that can read your mind, Web Summit

I usually don’t bring props to my panels, but after getting invited to do this onstage interview with Neuroelectrics co-founder and CEO Ana Maiques, I almost immediately thought that a talk about brain-computer interfaces needed a tinfoil hat. Maiques liked the idea when we met backstage and I showed the aluminum foil I’d brought from the U.S., and a great conversation ensued.

11/3/2022: Making products that speak, Web Summit

This panel about digital personalization (featuring CI&T president Bruno Guicardi, BBC chief product officer Storm Fagan, and Chubb chief digital and chief risk officer Sean Ringsted) featured a stage that was noisier and warmer than average, and ending the panel at the 0:00 mark felt like a minor victory.

11/3/2022: Microsoft Pledges Digital Support for Ukraine Through 2023, PCMag

After multiple years of seeing Microsoft president Brad Smith warn in Web Summit talks of the risks of cyberattacks on civilian infrastructure, that executive returned to this conference to say the company would extend its digital support for Ukraine through all of 2023.

11/4/2022: This Danish startup wants to make nuclear cheap again—by putting plants on barges, Fast Company

This story started with my startup-pitch panel at TechBBQ in Copehagen more than six weeks earlier, when I found Seaborg’s presentation interesting enough to want to learn more. Then the ensuing weeks of travel got in the way of my moving forward with the piece while I needed more time than I expected to chase down an analyst type to provide some perspective.

11/4/2022: Facebook Oversight Board to Elon Musk: Do No Harm, Don’t Piss Off the Advertisers, PCMag

This panel happened the same day that new Twitter owner Elon Musk ordered mass layoffs at the company, and whoever at Web Summit picked this day for this panel may have been well-advised to buy a lottery ticket.

11/4/2022: New Signal Boss: We’re No WhatsApp, PCMag

After the speakers’ lounge and press center closed, I finished writing this post on a park bench outside the venue, where the event WiFi somehow kept working and let me file this before dinner.

A humbling gadget-handling lesson

The past four weeks have involved four work trips that took me to events in two other countries and two other states, with travel fatigue compounded by unchacteristically bad sleep in hotel rooms and jet lag from going five time zones to the right, twice, and then three to the left–so of course the place where I would break my phone was less than a mile from my home.

On my walk to Metro to go to Saturday afternoon’s Nationals game, as a drizzle started to turn into real rain, I thought I’d check to see if the team had announced a rain delay. I grabbed my Pixel 5a, opened Twitter, checked the Nats’ Twitter feed and saw an announcement that the game would start half an hour late, and one-handed the phone back into my pocket–except the rain-slicked device slipped free and fell to the sidewalk with a sickening little splat.

A Pixel 5a's screen shows a wide-ranging web of cracks, with trees above reflected in the glass.

Cursing too loudly at myself, I picked up the phone and saw a web of cracks sparkling out from the bottom right, plus a smaller crack on the right above the power button.

First thoughts: You dumbass! You couldn’t have waited until you were in the station and out of the rain?! I mean, I had somehow never shattered a phone’s screen before; the worst I’ve done is drop my Nexus 4 years ago at just the right angle to put a crack in its glass back cover.

Second thoughts: Now what?

The phone that I bought barely 10 months ago not only looks hopelessly janky but makes any sort of onscreen interaction a trying experience. It is usable only under duress.

(Having my phone borderline offline did at least force me to experience the game much more in the moment, in between hearing my friend Anthony recount his recent experience hiking to the top of Kilimanjaro.)

Then I remembered the deal Google announced with iFixit in April to provide “genuine parts” for Pixel devices. Alas, that DIY hub’s $99.99 Pixel 5a repair kit is out of stock at the moment. And while I could obviously pay any third-party shop to fix my phone, that would probably cost more and certainly wouldn’t yield any how-to recap for me to sell somewhere afterwards.

Google no longer lists the Pixel 5a in its online store, and while the Pixel 6a that replaced it seems to be a fine phone in its own right, it lacks a headphone jack and otherwise doesn’t represent a huge advance over the 2021-vintage 5a. There’s also the upcoming, also headphone-jack-deprived Pixel 7–but as I trust I’ve made clear, I’m not a fan of buying the next high-profile phone on the day it ships.

Speaking two weeks ago at a conference hosted by the refurbished-device marketplace BackMarket reminded me that buying a refurb Pixel 5a is an option as well. But unless my phone abuse inflicted injuries beyond my 5a’s screen, I’d feel a little dirty spending a large fraction of the original device’s purchase price when it only needs that one major component replaced.

(No, the iPhone 14 is not an option. Neither is any other iPhone until Apple kills off its Lightning cable. I am so done needing proprietary charging cables.)

Fortunately, I don’t have to decide just yet. My old Pixel 3a continues to gather dust at home as a backup device, and I also still happen to have too many of the budget-priced phones I tested for CNN Underscored at the start of the year. And since it’s been a while since I’ve drunk deeply of Samsung’s flavor of Android, that makes my temporary decision for me: I’ll spend a few weeks, hopefully not more, with a Galaxy A52 A13 5G (I forgot that I’d already shipped back the A52) as my daily phone. And I will do my utmost not to drop the damn thing.