At last, a little taste of Conference Life

This week featured a number of items that last all figured in my routine in early February of 2020: a hotel key, a conference badge, a wireless microphone, a stage, and other people’s business cards.

My brief stay in Miami Beach to moderate two panels at the Seatrade Cruise Global conference–one on the shipboard potential of connected gadgets, the other on risks of ransomware–was one of my shorter business trips ever. But as the first work travel I’d done to speak at a conference since an equally short visit to New York two winters ago, it was still a big deal.

After more than a year of speaking only through my webcam and seeing fellow panelists only as moving pixels on a screen, I loved having a live audience to read. I loved being able to interact like a normal human being with another person on the same stage–even if both panels also featured at least one remote panelist who was only visible as moving pixels on the monitors placed in front of us.

(I had not done a hybrid panel before at all, and I quickly realized that in a discussion with two remote participants, they could not tell which one I had in mind when I gestured to one of their feeds on that screen below me.)

And after each panel, having my fellow in-person speaker shake my hand and offer their congratulations on my job as moderator felt so much better than hearing congrats via Zoom or seeing them in a conference’s Slack channel. Likewise, networking IRL was so much more engaging than the stilted experience you get in well-meaning apps like Remo.

That said, as much as I appreciated getting this speaking invitation and having it include the conference covering my travel costs, I did not accept the offer lightly. I watched the pandemic numbers in Miami-Dade County intently and was relieved to see them drop dramatically in recent weeks. I was much more more relieved to see Seatrade require participants to upload either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test taken within 24 hours prior to arrival–not that I’d expect to find many vaccine skeptics among travel-industry professionals.

And then I saw that almost everybody on the lightly-populated trade-show floor wore a mask–except at the various receptions there Wednesday afternoon. All of the other social events I enjoyed took place outdoors at one venue or another, such as the rooftop bar at which I took the photo above. Having that option be as pleasant as it was in the evenings (as opposed to what outdoor gatherings would have been like at Black Hat in the blast-furnace heat of August in Las Vegas) represented a big point in Miami Beach’s favor.

(If you were going to ask: Although I came home Thursday exceptionally tired from sleeping so badly in a strange bed, I never felt any symptoms. And I just self-administered the BinaxNow antigen test left over from the pair I bought after coming home from Estonia in August; the result was once again negative.)

So I think I found a good excuse to get out of town for a couple of days. One with a small extra bit of personal significance: My American Airlines DCA-MIA flight Tuesday finally introduced me to Miami International Airport exactly 20 years after that was supposed to happen on a Sept. 28, 2001 DCA-MIA flight on American that got cancelled within days after 9/11. Thanks for not minding my late arrival, Miami.

Weekly output: Starlink to exit beta, Mark Vena podcast, Texas social-media law challenged, iOS 15/iPadOS 15 help

This coming week has something unusual on it: business travel to a conference. I’m flying to Miami to moderate two panels at Seatrade Cruise Global, a cruise-industry gathering at which I was supposed to speak last spring¬†before the pandemic forced its cancellation. Then I led one video panel at Seatrade’s virtual gathering in April, which went well enough for the organizers to bring me to Florida.

9/20/2021: Elon Musk says his Starlink satellite internet is coming out of beta, Fast Company

Since pretty much every other tech-news site was also covering SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announcing (in a reply to somebody else’s tweet) that Starlink would exit its beta status in October, I took some time in this piece to compare this broadband satellite constellation’s progress to the slower pace of OneWeb and Amazon’s yet-to-launch Project Kuiper.

9/22/2021: S01 E10 – SmartTechCheck Podcast by Parks Associates, Mark Vena

I rejoined this industry analyst’s podcast with fellow tech journalists Stewart Wolpin and John Quain to talk about Apple and Google knuckling under to Russia by removing the “smart voting” app of dissident Alexei Navalny’s party, Starlink’s service, commercial space travel, and Apple’s iOS 15 and iPadOS 15.

Screenshot of the story as seen in Safari on an iPad mini 5.9/23/2021: Tech Policy Groups Mess With Texas, Sue Over ‘Unconstitutional’ Social Media Law, PCMag

This is the first thing I’ve written for PCMag in several years, but you won’t have to wait nearly as long to read my next piece there. I’m now going to be writing short explainers about tech-policy news at that site. Yes, this debut item on two tech-policy groups suing to overturn the blatantly-unconstitutional Texas law banning large social media platforms from most forms of content moderation runs about 700 words, which is not exactly short even if a lot of it consists of extended quotations from the law and the lawsuit filed by the Computer & Communications Industry Association and NetChoice. I’ll try to be more economical with my prose the next time.

9/25/2021: How to fix some foibles of iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, USA Today

After seeing the reaction to my cranky tweet about iPadOS 15 wrecking my carefully tended arrangement of app icons (even before the Verge’s Chris Welch lent it some extra publicity by embedding it in a story), I pitched my editors at USAT about a column offering advice to people irked by some of the changes in this release. One angle I had to cut from the piece: how the iPhone and iPad versions of Safari are in some ways catching up to mobile browsers like Firefox (which moved its controls to the bottom last August) and Chrome (which added tab groups¬†last May).