Weekly output: Emmanuel Macron, Ditch the Box, Tech Night Owl

This week wasn’t really this slow: I filed two other stories that have yet to get edited and posted.

6/19/2017: Why America should import France’s plan to become ‘the nation of startups’, Yahoo Finance

I wrote up this recap of French president Emmanuel Macron’s Viva Technology speech on the flight home last Saturday. I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve had to use my not-totally-rusty French for a story: Macron spoke mostly in French, and the simultaneous English translation offered at the time fell behind at a few points, so I had to replay the speech to transcribe and translate some key phrases myself.

6/23/2017: Big Cable broke its promise and you’re paying for it, Yahoo Finance

I’ve had this post on my to-do list for a while: One year after major cable operators had put forth a bold, reasonably consumer-friendly plan to offer subscribers free apps to take the place of rented cable boxes, I could point out how almost none of them have done any such thing. The 1,195 comments below the post suggest I may have struck a nerve.

6/24/2017: June 24, 2017 — Kirk McElhearn and Rob Pegoraro, Tech Night Owl

I talked with host Gene Steinberg about my bootlooped Nexus 5X, Apple’s new iMac, why I wish Apple would finally update the Mac mini, and a few other things.

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Weekly output: watching baseball online, broadband privacy, Apple secrecy, Comcast wireless, Tech Night Owl

This week saw me at two Opening Days: On Monday, I attended the Nats’ home opener, and today I kicked off the 2017 lawn-mowing season. In both cases, I’m worried we’re going to fade down the stretch.

4/3/2017: The cheapest way to watch baseball online, Yahoo Finance

For once, I had good things to say about the availability of sports programming online, thanks to many regional sports networks now showing up on services like Sling TV, PlayStation Vue and DirecTV Now. Alas, the Nats’ Mid-Atlantic Sports Network is not among them.

4/5/2017: Broadband privacy, Al Jazeera

I talked about the swift, Republican-led dispatch of privacy regulations for the Arabic news network.

4/6/2017: How Apple’s secrecy can hurt consumers, Yahoo Finance

Apple’s unprecedented revelation of even broad details about the next Mac Pro and iMac kicked off this post about the unhelpful hangup many tech companies–no, not just Apple–have about keeping customers in the loop.

4/7/2017: The hidden details in Comcast’s wireless plan, USA Today

The amount of interest in Comcast’s upcoming Xfinity Mobile wireless service–which will run off Verizon’s network as well as Comcast’s network of WiFi hot spots–is remarkable, given that you’ll need to subscribe to Comcast Internet to use it. Also remarkable: how many details Comcast left out of its opening sales pitch for Xfinity Mobile. 

If you look at the comments, you’ll see a complaint from a reader that an accompanying chart didn’t list the correct price for Google’s Project Fi wireless service. That chart now lists the right rate–yes, I do try to read comments, and in this case I sent a quick note to my editors advising them of the error.

4/8/2017: April 8, 2017 — John Martellaro and Rob Pegoraro, Tech Night Owl

I returned to this podcast for the first time since August (had it really been that long?) to talk about Apple’s tepid gesture at transparency, Xfinity Mobile, and the state of broadband privacy and competition.

Weekly output: Windows 10 Creators Update, Apple’s decaying desktop line, IoT security, Google Pixel procurement

This week featured new-product events from Apple and Microsoft–and Redmond impressed me more than Cupertino, which I guess represents yet another way that 2016 has been a bizarre year. Also bizarre: It’s now been more than five weeks since I last flew anywhere for work, but that streak ends Saturday when I start my trip to Lisbon for Web Summit.

Screengrab of Yahoo post about Win 10 Creators Update10/26/2016: The Windows 10 Creators Update could streamline your friendships, Yahoo Finance

I balanced out my tentative praise for an upcoming Windows 10 feature that should help elevate conversations with friends with some complaints about lingering Win 10 flaws. One I could have added to this list but did not: the way you can find yourself staring at dialogs dating to Win 95 if you click or tap deep enough into Win 10’s UI.

(Note that this screengrab shows a Yahoo post at a Google address, an issue with Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages format that I noted last week.)

10/27/2016: Apple once again ignores a big market, Yahoo Finance

Crazy thing here: I wrote a harsh post about Apple’s neglect of the desktop computer, and none of the first 20 comments include any form of “how much did Microsoft pay you to write that?” I’m also irked by the increasingly pricey state of the Mac laptop, but that’s going to have to wait for another post.

10/28/2016: Hackers are taking over your smart devices, here’s how we can stop them, Yahoo Finance

My latest post on the mess that is Internet-of-Things security benefited from informative chats with an Underwriters Laboratories engineer and a Federal Trade Commission commissioner.

10/30/2016: Google Pixel’s ‘Only on Verizon’ pitch isn’t what it seems, USA Today

The misleadingly Verizon-centric marketing for Google’s new smartphones has bugged me for a few weeks, but T-Mobile’s rollout of a marketing campaign that also glossed over some issues gave me a convenient news peg.

Side effect of an aging iMac: Bluetooth mouse rage

Overall, the 2009-vintage iMac that I’m typing this on has aged not just well, but better than any other computer I’ve owned. But every few months, I can expect it to send me into a few hours of powerless rage, all because its Bluetooth mouse keeps making a change of batteries a drama-filled exercise.

imac-mouseIt happens something like this: After a few days of the menu bar flashing a low-battery icon for this “Magic Mouse,” that peripheral will finally go offline–most likely when I’m trying to wrap up an e-mail or a story. I’ll pop open the hatch on its bottom, remove the spent batteries, and pop in a fresh pair of AAs.

And that’s when the green LED on this rodent will either fail to illuminate or blink on and then off. I’ll go through the same troubleshooting steps each time: try different batteries, try cleaning the terminals in the mouse with a Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol, then try cleaning the ends of each battery with the same.

Eventually, this rodent will decide to accept its new power source, and that’s when the Bluetooth battle begins. I don’t know if it’s the age of my iMac or of the mouse, but it seems to take anywhere from a few hours to day of having the Bluetooth link repeatedly drop for no apparent reason before the device pairing sets in–as if it were glue that needed time to cure.

I thought I’d knocked the worst of this wonkiness out of the system this spring when I trashed a batch of preferences files and booting the iMac into “Safe Mode.” But then I had to go through another round of iffy Bluetooth pairing after a battery change a few days ago.

A less stubborn person would buy a new mouse already, but I can’t get too excited about paying $49 for a Magic Mouse 2 that can only be recharged with a Lightning cable that blocks any use of the mouse as a pointing device. And would become instantly redundant when I buy a new desktop computer… should Apple ever get tired of selling models that saw their last update a year or two ago. But that’s a separate gripe.

Whenever Apple does deign to ship a revived iMac or Mac mini, one thing’s for sure: I will order it with a wired keyboard.

 

Weekly output: cybersecurity disclosure, Facebook bots, White House Science Fair, Apple’s aging computers, Mac Bluetooth

HONG KONG–I am in this fair city for the first time since 1998 for the IFA Global Press Conference, a gathering put on by the organizers of the IFA trade show at which I’m going to speak on a panel (with my old Yahoo boss Dan Tynan) about virtual reality. I accept that it’s rather shameful to have waited 18 years to return to this part of the world.

4/13/2016: After hospital ransomware attack, time for some blunt talk about cybersecurity, Yahoo Tech

MedStar Health’s vague and dismissive responses to press queries got this story rolling, but this is about more than condescending PR. Compare this “we don’t have to tell you” attitude to the complete and mandatory disclosure you see in commercial aviation, and you will not be amused.

4/14/2016: Facebook bots, Al Jazeera

As I was already wearing a suit to cover the White House Science Fair that afternoon, I was better dressed than usual for this appearance on the Arabic news channel. My take on Facebook’s Messenger bots: Customer service is hard enough to do with actual people answering chat queries, and I’m not fond of having such an interrupt-driven medium take over more of my online interactions.

Yahoo Tech White House Science Fair post4/15/2016: Beyond the robot: White House Science Fair celebrates a nation of nerds, Yahoo Tech

As I wrote on my Facebook page after chatting up many of the intimidatingly smart and poised middle-school and high-school exhibitors here: “I can only hope they will prove to be benevolent bosses when we all wind up working for them.” Tip: Don’t read to the end of the comments if you’re not in the mood to see some mean, ignorant white-guy resentment of brown kids and white girls doing well.

4/15/2016: Hey Apple, how about shipping a new computer sometime?, Yahoo Tech

This column began life as a cranky tweet that spawned a little group therapy with Ars Technica’s Andrew Cunningham. I then turned it into a post with the help of some useful context from NPD’s Stephen Baker, a longtime source of mine.

4/17/2016: Stop your Mac from singing the Bluetooth blues, USA Today

An unadvertised benefit of owning an older Mac: Its random malfunctions provide a steady stream of topics for my USAT column. Fortunately, this crop had a happy ending–so maybe I don’t need to buy a new Mac just yet.

The other thing that happened this week: Friday marked five years since my last day at the Post. I didn’t expect at the time that half a decade later, my taxes would not have featured a new W-2 from anybody. I’ll have more to say about that later this week.

A different sort of spring cleaning: keyboards

A pocket knife, Q-tips, a toothbrush, paper towels, rubbing alcohol and dishwashing soap aren’t normal computing accessories, but I needed all six the other week when I gave the keyboards on my iMac, my MacBook Air and my mom’s old 2006-vintage iMac a desperately-overdue cleaning.

2006 iMac keyboard strippedWith the old iMac that Mom had retired in favor of an iPad Air, I had to get the keyboard looking decent before I could think of donating it anywhere. (If I’m overlooking potential buyers for a 10-year-old Mac, please tell me who they are in the comments.) With the other two, I was simply tired of seeing what a slob I am every time I stared down at the keyboard–the iMac’s keys had gotten especially begrimed over the last few years.

On the vintage iMac, the process was no different from the one I outlined in a 2006 column for the Post: Unplug the keyboard, pry the keys off and hand-wash them in the sink, and carefully scrub out the recessed area below. That last task required some painstaking work with a toothbrush to get out all the dirt that had piled up in that recessed area.

On the other two Macs, there was no removing the keys, so I had to use paper towels dipped in rubbing alcohol–it dries almost instantly–to swab the tops of the keys, then run a Q-tip dipped in the same to clean the gaps between them and get some of the dirt off their sides. Of course, now that I look at the iMac keyboard I’m typing this on, I see I missed a few spots.

(The How-To Geek has a guide to cleaning keyboards that should come with a trigger warning for its disgusting photos of Superfund-site keyboards. It does not, however, mention one recourse that I once tried with eventual success: sticking the keyboard in a dishwasher.)

After less than an hour of effort, I had all three keyboards in a state that no longer had me appalled at my own greasy, grimy slovenliness. And I had a renewed appreciation for what should now be a basic rule of multitasking: If you must eat while doing something on a computer, please make that a device a tablet or a smartphone, where you only need to wipe the screen clean.

All of my aging gadgets

As I’ve been plugging away at my taxes this year, one thing’s become blindingly clear: I’m not doing my share to prop up the electronics industry. My Schedule C will show only one gadget purchase for all of 2014, a $35 Google Chromecast.

Old laptop and phoneEvery other device I use for work is older, sometimes a lot older. I have my reasons for not upgrading, and some of them may even be valid… while others probably just testify to my own persnicketiness.

The oldest one of the bunch is my late-2009 iMac. I really should replace it–trying to edit a RAW image file taken with a friend’s camera made it painfully apparent how its processor has aged.

But buying a new iMac or Mac mini would require me to get an external optical drive, as if it’s 1997 all over again. (Doing without is not an option: Have you seen the lifespan of a DVD in the hands of a toddler?) One thing’s for sure: Whenever I do purchase a new Mac, there’s almost no chance I’ll pay Apple’s elevated price for an external DVD burner.

My 2011 ThinkPad X120E has not held its value nearly as well–the AMD processor inside was never that fast to begin with, and these days I only run it to test things in Windows 8. What I should do is replace it with a convertible laptop like one of Lenovo’s Yoga series–that’s a kind of device I can’t buy from Apple at any price. Maybe once Windows 10 ships?

The 2012 MacBook Air I’m typing this on shows its age on the outside–I’ve let this laptop pick up so many scuff marks that it’s unclear whether I even deserve a MacBook. But while its battery life has faded a little bit, it remains a great travel companion overall. I suspect I’ll wait to upgrade this one until I can get a new model with that charges via USB-C.

The upgrade calculus is simplest with my first-generation iPad mini. When I can buy a replacement that has not just the Touch ID sensor of the latest iPad mini but the better camera of the current full-sized iPad (or something close to it) and, ideally, a default storage allocation bigger than 16 gigabytes–boom, I’ll be throwing down my credit card.

On the other hand, I’m seriously anxious about how I’m going to replace my Nexus 4. This phone has aged remarkably well, not least since Android 5.0 Lollipop seems to have stretched out its battery life (I’ll write more on that separately). And I’ve somehow only dropped it onto an unyielding surface once, with the damage confined to a small crack on the back that I fixed in place with a bead of Krazy Glue.

But the Nexus 4’s camera remains mediocre in most situations, and the phone doesn’t have enough storage. Unfortunately, I can’t replace it with a newer Nexus model–the Nexus 6 is almost offensively enormous if you value one-handed use. So are most of the other high-end Android phones. If I shattered the screen on my generally-beloved phone tomorrow, I guess I’d buy the second-generation Moto X… which itself no longer ranks as new.

Finally, there’s my Canon 330 HS camera. I bought that bargain-priced model because the Wirecutter liked it at the time–and because the larger-sensor point-and-shoot models I initially coveted all required trade-offs. As far as I know, that’s still the case with the two leading candidates: Sony’s pricey RX100, now in its third generation, still can’t geotag photos from Sony’s smartphone app, and Canon’s S120 and newer G7X can’t take panoramic photos.

Now that I’ve described my intentional technological backwardness at length, I’m sure some of you would like to explain why I’m mistaken or which new gadgets I should be considering instead of the potential upgrades I listed above. Please have at it in the comments.