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.

Weekly output: chip shortage (x2), cybersecurity survey, satellite broadband, soccer-playing robot, Xfinity Mobile, Elon Musk bought Twitter, MRI mind reading

I’m off to Lisbon tonight for Web Summit–the eighth time I’ve covered this conference and the seventh time I’ve traveled to it as a speaker (with the organizers picking up lodging and airfare). This, however, is the first time in my experience that the conference doesn’t overlap with Election Day.

I gave Patreon readers got an advance look at my agenda in a post there Friday; the rest of y’all will get to find out as the week progresses.

Screenshot of the column as seen in USAT's iPad app, illustrated with a close-up picture of a chip on a green circuit board.10/24/2022: As chip shortage starts to ease, factory-level fixes will take longer, USA Today

Usually, I suggest story topics to my USAT editors, but this time one of them asked if I could tackle this topic.

10/24/2022: People Still Think Their Smart Speakers Are Eavesdropping on Conversations, PCMag

I got an advance look at a survey the Chubb insurance company had done, which both revealed some disturbing beliefs and practices among respondents and shared some dubious security advice.

10/26/2022: Do We Need to Rethink Existing Rules About Satellite Internet Interference?, PCMag

I went to a lunchtime panel Tuesday at the New America think tank about this wonky topic and came away with both a free lunch and notes for this post.

10/27/2022: And The Chip Shortage Lingers – What It Means For Your Next Car Purchase, KTRH

This Houston radio station wanted to quiz me about the USAT column. The link here points to a story they did based in part on a quick phone interview I did Wednesday morning with KTRH’s Jeff Biggs, but I assume H-town listeners also heard me on the air at some point.

10/25/2022: Soccer-playing robot, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news channel had me–in their D.C. studio for my first time since early 2020–to discuss an IEEE Spectrum story with the eye-catching headline “Goalkeeping Robot Dog Tends Its Net Like a Pro”

10/27/2022: Comcast Puts Up ‘Over 5 Million Served’ Sign for Xfinity Mobile, PCMag

I wrote about a Comcast service that people seem to really, really like.

10/29/2022: Elon Musk owns Twitter now, Al Jazeera

I returned to AJ’s studio for a spot about the possible ramifications and downsides of the world’s richest man owning Twitter.

10/30/2022: mind reading via MRI, Al Jazeera

Researchers at the University of Texas demonstrated an ability to reconstruct the mental language of subjects via MRI measurements–just not word for word. The anchors wanted to know if this technology could be abused by tyrannical governments; I said that since you need to have the subject inside an MRI machine, the government would need to detain the person first, and tyrannical governments already have ways to compel people to talk. The researchers also found that “subject cooperation is required both to train and to apply the decoder.”

A little Lisbon and Web Summit advice

When I arrived in Lisbon for Web Summit in 2016, I had about the least experience possible with the place for somebody who had visited it once before–because that previous visit happened when I was one year old. But over four more Web Summit trips in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2021, I’ve gotten a much deeper sense of the city and the conference.

If you’re coming to both for the first time, I hope you will find this post helpful.

A Web Summit sign in the Praça Dom Pedro IV, as seen during 2021's conference.

Arrival

Expect a terrific view of Lisbon and the Tagus River on your way into Humberto Delgado Airport–and then steel yourself for a long passport line if you don’t have a passport from one of the European Union’s member state. (This is the airport that persuaded me to renew my long-dormant Irish passport.) You can and should pick up your Web Summit badge right after you clear customs.

Getting around

The Lisbon Metro should be your new friend. Although its network is not all that extensive, it connects to the airport and Web Summit’s venue (more on that in a moment) and ensures that most parts of the center city are only a short walk from a stop. Of the various fares, I’ve found that a Zapping prepaid credit–also good on buses and Lisbon’s hill-climbing trams–has worked best for me.

Update, 10/27/2022: A reader pointed out that Web Summit has arranged for discounted multiple-day transit passes, with the best involving buying ahead of time at the Lisbon Metro’s site (for instance, €25 for five days) and then redeem at a ticket-vending machine by punching in the voucher code e-mailed to you.

Like all good European cities, Lisbon is marvelously walkable and worth strolling around aimlessly during any idle time you may have (such as the day you arrive, when you’ll want to get some sun on your face to counteract the time-zone shift). But it’s a lot steeper than most, and its stone-mosaic sidewalks are slippery when wet.

Don’t forget to eat. Portugueuse food is delicious, and eating in Lisbon was a bargain long before the dollar hit parity with the euro.

Conference app and site

Web Summit not only provides but mandates Android and iOS mobile apps that store your ticket, let you manage your schedule, and network and chat with other attendees. Think of the app on your phone as Web Summit’s answer to WeChat–except this “everything app” doesn’t come with constant state surveillance.

Unfortunately, the Web Summit app and the Web Summit site don’t synchronize. And the app somehow does not support copy and paste (judging from its performance on my Pixel 5a and iPad mini 5), so if you want to save the description and participants of a panel for your notes, you’ll need to switch from the app to the site, search for the panel on the site, and then copy the info from there.

Venue

Web Summit takes places at the Altice Arena and, next door to that roughly 20,000-seat arena, the Feira Internacional de Lisboa convention center. These buildings are about a 10-minute walk from the Oriente station on the Red Line (Linha Vermelha) of the Lisbon Metro, but it can take easily twice as long to walk from the arena to the most distant hall of the convention center. It can also take a while to get in on the first couple of days, when the queue backs up into the plaza in front of the FIL and the arena.

You should be able to rely on the conference WiFi, but power outlets may be harder to find. If you’re a speaker, you should also be able to rely on the speaker lounge for all your meals; otherwise, there are numerous food trucks and stands to choose from in the plazas between the FIL’s four halls. You should not expect to get to every panel you had in mind, but there are enough interesting talks going on that–as at one of my other regular talkfests, SXSW–it can make sense to camp out in one spot and let yourself be surprised.

Departure

The security lines at LIS can be gruesome, like 30 minutes gruesome. But if you have Star Alliance Gold status (which for U.S. readers usually means Premier Gold or higher status on United) and are flying on a Star Alliance airline like United, TAP or Lufthansa, you can take this airport’s elite-shortcut “Gold Track” line–just remember that it’s labeled “Green Way” instead of “Gold Track” because reasons.

That status also lets you stop by TAP’s lounge if you’re on a Star Alliance carrier, but with the common premium travel credit card perk of a Priority Pass membership you can also enjoy the ANA lounge (no relation to the Japanese airline) regardless of your flight. Either one is good for a breakfast before a long day above the Atlantic. Remember, though, that a potentially tedious non-EU passport exit line awaits after the lounges unless you’re flying to another Schengen-area country.

If even after standing for too long in both the security and passport lines, you still find yourself looking forward to returning to Lisbon–don’t worry, that’s a normal reaction.

Weekly output: sustainability, Project Kuiper, Frances Haugen, AI benefits, wellness UX, Amazon Sidewalk, less Facebook, Microsoft vs. climate change, Apple vs. sideloading, HBO Max, Nothing, Tim Berners-Lee, Facebook at Web Summit, U.S. vs. NSO Group

Looking at this list makes me feel tired… or maybe that’s just the jet lag talking.

Photo shows the Corporate Innovation Summit program in the library of the Academy of Sciences.11/1/2021: How technology is driving sustainability, Web Summit

My first of four Web Summit panels took place at the Corporate Innovation Summit, an offsite gathering at the Lisbon Academy of Sciences Monday. There, I quizzed Rebecca Parsons, chief technology officer at Thoughtworks; Vincent Clerc, chief executive officer for ocean and logistics at Maersk, and Tolga Kurtoglu, chief technology officer at HP, about how their firms were working to slow global warming.

11/1/2021: Amazon is gearing up to take on Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite internet, Fast Company

I got an advance on the news that Amazon’s Project Kuiper low-Earth-orbit satellite broadband plans to launch its first two prototype satellites towards the end of next year–which will still leave it years behind SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellation.

11/1/2021: Facebook Whistleblower: ‘I Don’t Hate Facebook’ (But Zuckerberg Should Step Down), PCMag

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen helped open Web Summit with an onstage talk Monday night; writing that up led to me not having dinner until 10 p.m.

11/2/2021: Beyond the bottom line: The extra benefits of AI, Web Summit

Tuesday morning, I interviewed David Kiron, editorial director at MIT Sloan Management Review, and François Candelon, managing director and senior partner at Boston Consulting Group, about research they’d done in how artificial-intelligence software can make organizations smarter.

11/3/2021: How to win at wellness UX, Web Summit

Talking to executives at two health-tech startups–Nevada Sanchez, co-founder and vice president of core technology at Butterfly Network, and Alison Darcy, founder of Woebot Health–I had to ask “How do you convince people that you’re not the next Theranos?” I thought these two people fielded that query well.

11/3/2021: Amazon Sidewalk quietly walks on, Light Reading

This assessment of Amazon’s mesh-network project reflects a correction I requested Saturday after Amazon pointed out that the setup process on a new Echo device now gives people a chance to opt out of Sidewalk.

11/3/2021: Stop bothering me, Facebook: Not ready to quit? Try these 3 tips to quiet it down, USA Today

The last time I wrote a Facebook-diet column for USAT, the social network had yet to give its users a way to opt out of having it analyze their reading habits across the rest of the Web for advertising-tracking purposes.

11/3/2021: How Do You Hit Net Zero? Microsoft President Brad Smith Has an Idea, PCMag

Microsoft president Brad Smith used a Web Summit keynote to explain how the company plans to make itself not just a carbon-neutral operation, but to zero out all the carbon dioxide it’s put into the air since its founding.

11/3/2021: Apple Exec to the EU: Hands Off Our App Store, PCMag

Apple software executive Craig Federighi gave what I thought was a remarkably disingenuous speech at Web Summit urging the European Union to back off on a proposal to require that Apple allow “sideloading” of apps in iOS.

11/4/2021: HBO Max exec emphasizes curation and localization, FierceVideo

I wrote up an interview of HBO Max product-planning senior vice president Melissa Weiner, that took place at a virtual conference hosted by Fierce’s parent firm. I thought I’d have more free time in my calendar when I accepted the story assignment, but an early start to my Thursday allowed me to get this written without putting a dent in my Web Summit schedule.

11/4/2021: Can Europe compete in consumer hardware?, Web Summit

This interview of Akis Evangelidis, co-founder of the gadget startup Nothing, provided me with my introduction to Web Summit’s main stage.

11/4/2021: Tim Berners-Lee Wants to Put Online Privacy on a Solid Foundation, PCMag

Web Summit closed out with the Web’s inventor making a pitch for his privacy-optimizing startup Inrupt.

11/4/2021: Facebook finds few friends at Web Summit as techies turn out to hear from whistleblower, USA Today

I wrote a recap of how so many speakers at this conference teed off on Facebook–er, Meta–even as the social network now recasting itself as a “metaverse” company limited its presence at Web Summit to glitchy appearances via streaming video.

11/7/2021: U.S. blacklists NSO Group, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news network had me on Sunday to discuss the Department of Commerce putting the Israeli surveillance-software firm NSO (and three other offenders) on its Entity List of banned firms for its role in eroding human rights.

Weekly output: LTE speeds, geospatial intelligence and police, reading deleted Web pages

LISBON–I’m here for my third Web Summit, where I have four panels to moderate (a late change having added to the three I already had on my schedule) and many more to watch and learn from.

As I write this, I’m listening to my friend Anthony Zurcher’s recap for the BBC of the election result that stunned me here last year. Life has gotten a lot more complicated since then, that’s for sure.

11/1/2017: Study shows US has slower LTE wireless than 60 other countries, Yahoo Finance

About half a year after writing about an earlier OpenSignal study of wireless-data speeds around the world, I covered new findings from that research firm that saw the U.S. backsliding compared to other countries. I wrote that we could see improvement if Sprint and T-Mobile gave up on their merger ambitions and focused instead on building their separate networks… and Saturday, each firm walked away from that deal.

Trajectory police-geoint feature11/1/2017: GEOINT for Policing: Location-based technologies offer opportunities for law enforcement, Trajectory

My first piece for the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation’s quarterly magazine looks at how police departments are deploying data gathered from real-time sensors and street-level databases to try to spot crime as it happens–or earlier, if possible. It was a fascinating topic to dig into–not least when the CEO of one “geoint” firm agreed unhesitatingly with an ACLU analyst’s concerns about this technology’s possible misuses–and I’m now working on a second feature for Trajectory.

11/3/2017: After Gothamist: how to read Web pages that have gone to their grave, USA Today

I had started researching a column about data caps when news broke that billionaire owner Tom Ricketts had not only shut down the DNAInfo and Gothamist family of news sites (I miss you already, DCist) but had also redirected every story published there to his statement voicing regret about not being able to make money at the venture. I offered to write a quick explainer about how to use the Internet Archive and Google’s page-caching function to read just-deleted pages, which USAT had up by the next morning. That evening, Ricketts restored those pages, if not many journalists’ trust in the promises of wealthy, would-be newsroom saviors.