Six weeks in a row of travel

When I unlocked the front door on our darkened porch Thursday night–and, as if by magic, the power came back on–six consecutive weeks of travel went into the books.

View of Toronto from a departing airplaneIt all seemed like a reasonable idea upfront, not least when it appeared I’d have a couple of weeks at home over that period.

In an alternate universe, a spring break trip to see Bay Area and Boston relatives and then the IFA Global Press Conference in Spain would have been followed by week at home, then more than a week of additional downtime would have separated Google I/O in Mountain View and Collision in Toronto.

But then I got invited to moderate a panel at the Pay TV Show in Denver, with the conference organizers covering my travel expenses, and my Uncle Jim died. The results: 4/13-4/21 spring break, 4/24-4/28 IFA GPC, 4/29-4/30 in Ohio for my uncle’s funeral (I had about nine hours at home between returning from Spain and departing for Cleveland), 5/6-5/9 Google I/O, 5/13-5/16 Pay TV Show, 5/20-5/23 Collision.

I’d thought having the last three trips only run four days, with three days at home between each, would make things easier. That didn’t really happen, although I did appreciate having time to do all the laundry, bake bread and cook a bunch of food during each stay home, then be able to check the status of my flight home the morning after arriving at each destination.

In particular, my ability to focus on longer-term work and try to develop new business took a hit during all this time in airports, airplanes and conference venues. And because Yahoo Finance elected to have staff writers cover I/O and Collision remotely, so did my income.

Meanwhile, I can’t pretend that I’ve been following the healthiest lifestyle, thanks to all of the eating and drinking at various receptions. Consecutive days of walking around with my laptop in a messenger bag left a softball-sized knot in my left shoulder to complement my sore feet. And I’ve woken up in the middle of the night too many times wondering where I was–including once or twice in my own bed at home.

So while the past six weeks have taken me to some neat places and connected me to some interesting people, I don’t need to repeat the experience.

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Weekly output: 8K TV, privacy at Google I/O, Waymo

A week after taking off for the Bay Area to cover Google’s I/O conference, I’m departing for Denver early Monday afternoon. This week’s excuse for propping up the airline industry: moderating a state-of-the-industry panel at the Pay TV Show, in return for which the conference organizers are covering my travel costs.

5/6/2019: Dark clouds invade forecast for 8K TV shipments, FierceVideo

My big takeaway from the IFA Global Press Conference two weeks ago was a dramatically more pessimistic forecast for 8K TV shipments from the research firm IHS Markit. It was refreshing to see analysts decline to get in line behind industry hype over a new product category.

5/8/2019: Google attempts a pivot toward privacy at I/O developer conference, USA Today

For the first time in my experience, USAT didn’t send any of its own reporters to Google’s developer conference, leaving this piece my client’s sole dateline from that event.

5/10/2019: Waymo Doesn’t Mind Being Boring, CityLab

I took a break from I/O Wednesday morning to attend a press event hosted by Waymo, the self-driving-car subsidiary of Google’s parent firm Alphabet. Said event did not feature any time as a passenger in one of Waymo’s autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans, because the company apparently still doesn’t have the California permit needed to offer rides to non-employees.

On top of those stories, I also launched a page on the Patreon crowdfunding site. Despite getting no more publicity than a post here Saturday evening and one appreciative tweet afterwards, this experiment already has a non-zero number of supporters pledging to chip in a couple of dollars a month. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

Weekly output: cable-ISP data caps (x2), how long wireless carriers keep your cell-site location history, Facebook banning extremists, IFA GPC

Tomorrow kicks off three weeks in a row of travel: first Google I/O in Mountain View, Calif., which I’ll be covering for as many of my clients as feasible; then the Pay TV Show outside of Denver, at which I’m moderating a panel discussion between two industry analysts; then the Collision conference, newly relocated to Toronto and once again involving me speaking on a few panels. Fortunately, I have four nights at home between each of these trips.

5/1/2019: Why your cable company might be happy to see you stop subscribing to its TV service, USA Today

After seeing a research note from MoffettNathanson highlighting how some smaller cable operators have made their peace with video subscribers cancelling cable TV and switching to streaming TV services, I noticed that both firms spotlighted in that note–Cable One and Mediacom–had some stringent data caps in place that should allow them to profit handsomely from their Internet subscribers pivoting to online video.

5/2/2019: This Morning with Gordon Deal May 02, 2019, This Morning with Gordon Deal

I talked about my latest USAT column with this business-news radio show; my spot starts at the 14-minute mark.

5/3/2019: Why carriers keep your data longer, TechCrunch

I’ve been reading TC for years and going to their events for almost as long, but this is my first byline there. This post is also my first paywalled work in a while, requiring an Extra Crunch subscription ($150 a year, two-week free trial available). Here’s my one-sentence summary of this roughly 1,500-word piece: The four nationwide wireless carriers keep your cell-site location history for as long as five years and as little as one year, but none of them act as if these retention periods are information you’d want to know.

5/3/2019: Facebook banning extremists, Al Jazeera

I had my first appearance in a few weeks at the Arabic-language news channel to talk about Facebook’s recent move to ban such extremists as InfoWars conspiracy-theory liars Alex Jones and Paul Joseph Watson, Islamophobic loon Laura Loomer, and Nation of Islam anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan.

5/4/2019: Moor Insights & Strategy Podcast (5-4-19), What’s Hot in Tech?

If you thought the people giving you advice about what gadgets to buy could get said gadgets to work every time: My Saturday-afternoon conversation with analyst Mark Vena and my fellow tech freelancer John Quain recapping the IFA Global Press Conference was the third take of this podcast. The first attempt at the IFA GPC went awry when Mark’s iPhone overheated in the heat of a Spanish afternoon, then a second try a few days later fell prey to a corrupted audio recording.

Pros and cons of taking Google I/O outside

My most recent tech event took place in an unusual venue: a concert amphitheater set into the hills of the San Francisco Bay.

Android statueHeading into Google I/O, I was uneasy about Google’s decision–announced in a January 12 tweet from CEO Sundar Pichai–to move its developer conference from Moscone West in San Francisco to the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View. Unlike that convention center three blocks off Market Street, Shoreline promised no meaningful pedestrian, cyclist or transit access.

Fortunately, the traffic dystopia I feared did not quite happen at I/O 16, and this location revealed some redeeming qualities.

Having the analog environment of nature around was foremost among them–especially on Wednesday, when the temperature soared into the ’80s. Typing on my laptop in the shade of the press center brought back pleasant memories of 2012’s Tech Policy Summit, staged at a resort outside of Napa. But even in the concrete surroundings of the seating bowl, the noise of birds chirping offered a healthy reminder that much of the world doesn’t care what we humans do with circuits and code.

(This avian accompaniment was not risk-free. Analyst Jan Dawson almost had a bird poop on his leg.)

Shoreline is surrounded by parking lots, but they looked much better covered by tents and stages for I/O’s various panels and talks. And looking up on walks from one location to another often rewarded me with the sight of 747s and A380s low overhead on their approaches to SFO.

Shoreline stageThe official hotels Google suggested were no cheaper than most San Francisco hotels, but the clean, comfortable Airbnb suite I found in downtown Mountain View was much cheaper than anything I’ve seen listed in the city.

Finally, we did get to experience a concert at this concert venue, Wednesday night’s performance by Charli XCX and Kygo.

But while Google’s shuttle from the Mountain View Caltrain station–not advertised in advance–got me to I/O surprisingly quickly on Wednesday, on Thursday two shuttles in a row left without me because they had no seats left. On Friday, the bus arrived sorely late and then crawled through traffic, finally depositing me at Shoreline after almost as much time as it might have taken to walk the distance.

The weather also got less idyllic after Wednesday, even as the risk of sunburn remained the same. My teeth may have started chattering once or twice Thursday night and Friday afternoon. (Cardinal rule of packing for the Bay Area: Whatever season it is, bring a fleece jacket.)

And while having class outside is usually a great idea, it remains difficult to see a laptop’s screen in sunlight. Brightening the screen was not always a smart response at I/O; power outlets were a lot scarcer than they would have been in a conventional convention facility like Moscone.

All things being equal, I’d rather see I/O move back to San Francisco. But I suspect that Google is content with staging its event at a private space next to its headquarters that it can take over–a sort of Google Island, if you will–and that next May, we’ll have the same battles with traffic and logistics.