Weekly output: AT&T “unlimited” plans, Helium’s peer-to-peer IoT network

I spent Friday attending a tech-policy event at the Newseum’s conference space. That’s something I’ve done a great many times, but Friday’s visit looks like it might be my last ever, or at best my last for the next four years. The Newseum is closing at the end of the year before Johns Hopkins University starts a lengthy renovation of the building it bought in January, and I have no further events there on my calendar.

11/15/2019: AT&T’s latest smartphone plans offer new ways to limit ‘unlimited’ data, USA Today

My latest in an ongoing series of “here’s what’s up with your wireless carrier’s new sort-of-unlimited plans” columns unpacked recent changes at AT&T. My advice this time: When assessing unlimited-esque plans, the most important limit to assess is the threshold at which your data speeds can be “deprioritized,” followed by the cap on your use of the phone’s mobile-hotspot function.

11/15/2019: This startup wants to pay you—in cryptocurrency—to help build its network, Fast Company

It took a while for me to wrap my head around the cryptocurrency framework meant to underwrite Helium’s peer-to-peer Internet-of-Things wireless network. And then soon after the story went up, I got an e-mail from a Lime publicist asking that we remove the mention of them, because they hadn’t worked with Helium–even though Helium has repeatedly cited Lime as a partner, including a prominent mention on their site’s business page that vanished after I’d filed the post. Helium later responded that Lime had tested their tech before deciding not to pursue it… which still doesn’t square with Lime’s denial of any relationship. One thing I know for sure: I’m glad I thought to e-mail Lime while reporting the story to check up on Helium’s positioning of them. And if Lime’s reply to that message had arrived Thursday instead of Friday, this story would not have read the same.

Event-space review (first in a series): the Newseum’s Knight Conference Center

I just spent three days in a row at the same event venue–at two different conferences, which strikes me as a particularly pathological level of Washingtonality.

That also made me think: Why not review the Newseum’s Knight Conference Center? I’ve spent enough time there over the years–much like some of the news organizations chronicled in its exhibits, this museum seems increasingly reliant on the events business–so sharing the accumulated knowledge I’ve picked up along with an assortment of event badges seems the least I can do.

(The two conferences: the Ashoka Future Forum and Mashable’s Digital Beltway.)

Newseum conference center interiorLocation

The worst I can say about the Newseum’s 555 Pennsylvania Avenue NW address is that it’s a tad inconvenient for people coming in on Metro’s Orange, Blue or Silver Lines. In that situation, you’re looking at either a 10- to 12-minute hike from Metro Center or Federal Triangle (if you’re coming from Virginia, exit at Metro Center to avoid a long wait to cross Pennsylvania) or changing trains twice to get to the closest stop, Archives.

Otherwise, it’s an easy walk from Capitol Hill and a reasonable stroll from much of downtown. The closest Capital Bikeshare station is at 6th and Indiana, barely two blocks away.

The real payoff awaits upstairs, the $450 million view from the outdoor terraces on the seventh and eighth floors. I like that scenery so much I used it as a backdrop for my Twitter profile pic. (My thanks to Boing Boing’s Xeni Jardin for taking the photo.)

Bandwidth and Power

The “Newseum Guest” WiFi is routinely swamped by demand (and has a history of not providing a working IP address to my phone), and yet T-Mobile’s signal fades out once I get too far from the windows. It’s depressing. Bonus feature Friday: I couldn’t get the Newseum’s own site to show up over its WiFi, even as my phone was able to display it.

Outlets are also pretty scarce around here. Tip: In the main auditorium, get a seat all the way at the back and look for the outlets in the floor concealed by metal flip-up panels. If you’re going to a breakout session in one of the smaller conference rooms on the eighth floor, they’re harder to find. I’m not sure any exist in rooms 806 and 807 except behind the speakers’ table.

(You’ll note that I’m using some of the same criteria that I use to judge airport lounges, another specialized space in which I spend a fair amount of time.)

Newseum city view with beverageCatering

I have yet to get a bad meal here. Breakfast usually isn’t hot but always features a good variety of pastries, the boxed lunches show some creativity (though like most, they include far too much food), and the hors d’oeuvres are world-class. If an event includes dinner, you should be in luck–especially if it’s at The Source restaurant on the ground floor.

Plus, you can usually count on mid-afternoon snacks that include such shelf-stable fare as Kind bars and little packages of trail mix. Stash them in your bag for future travel sustenance.

Extras

The restrooms are not only spotless but feature a form of decor that could only exist in a museum of journalism: flubbed headlines and captions from the Columbia Journalism Review’s archives such as this April 24, 2000 gem from the San Francisco Chronicle, “State Governments Are Sold on EBay for Surplus Auctions.”

The check-in swag has included a free Newseum ticket at least half the time I’m here. That’s nice, given that I’d rather not pay to attend a museum devoted to my profession–and which still has a 2010 interview of me about the publishing possibilities of tablets playing on a screen on the second or third floor. And on the way out, there’s the chance that scanning the newspaper front pages on display at street level will reveal the byline of a high-school-newspaper colleague.