Weekly output: net neutrality, Web browsers compared, Last Gadget Standing, China’s autonomous-vehicle ambitions, Sprint and Verizon “unlimited” data

My most-distant business trip of the year is in the books, and I don’t even feel that tired after getting home Friday evening. Falling asleep in my own bed remains the single best cure for jet lag that I know. I’m traveling again this year, but I’m only going about 3 percent as far–I’m in New York from Tuesday night through Friday afternoon for the CE Week show.

6/11/2018: Why the death of net-neutrality rules will be a big campaign issue, Yahoo Finance

I started writing this from Newark International Airport, then finished it and filed it from the plane–worrying I’d lose the satellite link as the plane got farther and farther north. My thanks to United for not leaving me in the lurch… and for opening some upgrade space just in time for my longest flight this year.

6/12/2018: Stuck on Chrome? Always use Safari? It may be time to break up with your default web browser, USA Today

Apple’s WWDC news about online privacy got my editor interested in a post comparing the virtues of the Apple’s Safari, Google’s Chrome, Microsoft’s Edge, and Mozilla Firefox. If you still run Microsoft Internet Explorer, my advice in this column remains unchanged from prior years: stop.

6/13/2018: Last Gadget Standing, CES Asia

I helped emcee this competition along with my former Yahoo colleague Dan Tynan and Last Gadget’s impresario-in-chief Robin Raskin. I introduced and briefly quizzed the people behind three finalists: iGlass ARAction One, and the Wahe nuclear living room machine V. Alas, my joke about the name of that last device–a streaming-media player with gaming aspirations–becoming “nucular living room machine” in the American South was never going to make it through translation.

6/16/2018: How self-driving cars will take to China’s roads, Yahoo Finance

I wrote most of this from my hotel, then filed it from my flight home–except that when edits came back, we were still too far north to have a reliable signal. And since I had stupidly neglected to e-mail photos before taking off, I also had to deal with the horribly slow uploads of satellite Internet.

For more from CES Asia, have a look at my Flickr album from the trip.

6/17/2018: Sprint and Verizon’s latest deals offer still more definitions of “Unlimited“, USA Today

Verizon decided that having two different flavors of unlimited wasn’t enough, so it added three–while Sprint elected to mix up its own offerings with a quickly-expiring offer that amounted to a Basic Economy level of unlimited data.

Advertisements

Bandwidth battles in China

SHANGHAI–Crowded gadget trade shows like CES and Mobile World Congress usually entail connectivity complaints. But when you put the gadget show in China, you level up the complexity, thanks to the need to run a Virtual Private Network app to preserve access to U.S. sites blocked by China’s Internet filters.

In theory–and in every PR pitch from a VPN service advertising itself as the surefire way to stop your ISP from tracking your online activity–that should add no difficulty to getting online. You connect, the VPN app automatically sets up an encrypted link to the VPN firm’s servers, and then you browse as usual.

PIA VPN exit-server menu

The reality that I’ve seen at CES Asia this week while using the Private Internet Access Windows and Android apps has been a good deal less elegant.

  • Often, the PIA app will connect automatically to the best available server (don’t be like me by wasting selecting a particular U.S. server when the app usually gets this right) to provide a usable link to the outside world. But it’s never clear how long that link will stay up; you don’t want to start a long VoIP call or Skype conference in this situation.
  • On other occasions, the app has gotten stuck negotiating the VPN connection–and occasionally then falls into a loop in which it waits increasingly longer to retry the setup. Telling it to restart that process works sometimes; in others, I’ve had to quit the app. For whatever reason, this has been more of a problem on my laptop than on my phone.
  • The WiFi itself has been exceedingly spotty whether I’ve used my hotel WiFi, the Skyroam Solis international-roaming hotspot I took (a review loaner that I really, really need to send back), the press-room WiFi or, worst of all, the show-floor WiFi. Each time one of those connections drop, the VPN app has to negotiate a new connection.

If you were going to say “you’re using the wrong VPN app”: Maybe I am! I signed up for PIA last year when the excellent digital-policy-news site Techdirt offered a discounted two-year subscription; since then, my client Wirecutter has endorsed a competing service, IVPN (although I can’t reach that site at the moment). Since I don’t have any other trips to China coming up, I will wait to reassess things when my current subscription runs out next April.

Also, it’s not just me; my friend and former Yahoo Tech colleague Dan Tynan has been running into the same wonkiness.

To compound the weirdness, I’ve also found that some connectivity here seems to route around the Great Firewall without VPN help. That was true of the press-room WiFi Thursday, for instance, and I’ve also had other journalists attending CES Asia report that having a U.S. phone roam here–free on Sprint and T-Mobile, a surcharge on AT&T or Verizon–yielded an unfettered connection.

At the same time, using a VPN connection occasionally left the CES Asia site unreachable. I have no idea why that is so.

What I do know is that I’ll very much appreciate being able to break out my laptop somewhere over the Pacific in a few hours and pay for an unblocked connection–then land in a country where that’s the default condition.

Weekly output: Last Gadget Standing, macOS High Sierra, pro tablets, LTE speeds worldwide, Trump-administration IT modernization, CES Asia

Each of the last few years has featured a month with an insane travel schedule. I’m in the middle of one right now: Last week saw me depart for Shanghai Monday morning and return home Friday night, and tomorrow evening I fly to Paris. I have my reasons–covering CES Asia (here’s my Flickr album) and helping emcee a gadget competition there last week, then moderating three panels at Viva Technology Paris this week–but I am feeling a little woozy already.

6/7/2017: Last Gadget Standing, Living in Digital Times

I helped judge and emcee this gadget competition, put on by the same people who did the Mobile Apps Showdown competition at CES. The winning entry was a compact, lightweight augmented-reality visor.

6/7/2017: The big issues we want Apple to address in macOS High Sierra, Yahoo Finance

I started writing this reaction to Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference on the long flight from San Francisco to Shanghai (you can imagine my delight at having my upgrade clear), then finished it in my hotel room.

6/7/2017: Can an iPad Pro or Surface Pro 4 Tablet Replace Your Laptop?, The Wirecutter

I updated this guide to pro tablets with a review of Samsung’s Android-based Galaxy Tab S3.

6/8/2017: America has slower LTE wireless than Canada or Mexico, Yahoo Finance

I should have also written this on the same schedule as the WWDC post, but I severely underestimated how the 12-hour time-zone gap would bog down the usual editorial back-and-forth.

6/8/2017: IT Modernization Under Trump: Clear Goals, but Funding Worries Linger, FedTech Magazine

I departed from my usual consumer focus to write this post about how federal IT managers are approaching the Trump administration’s ambitions to modernize government computing.

6/11/2017: CES Asia shows where consumer tech is heading in one of its dominant markets, Yahoo Finance

This post has some light moments, but the overall point is not: China’s customers won’t wait for foreign companies to show up to meet their needs. That’s already leading to some interesting dynamics in markets like smart homes in which the usual U.S. tech giants mostly stand offstage.

Updated 6/17 to remove a mention of a Washingtonian story that only featured a photo of me. Who was I kidding to link to something that doesn’t feature any actual input from me? Updated again 6/27 to add the Wirecutter update that I completely missed. I’m blaming all this catchup work on jet lag. 

Weekly output: selling online video, online privacy

I’m going to spend most of Monday on airplanes as I make my way from D.C. to Shanghai for CES Asia. I’m helping to emcee the Last Gadget Standing app competition, after which I hope to learn a thing or two about the state of consumer electronics on the other side of the Pacific.

5/30/2017: How To Sell OTT To Cable, Satellite And ‘Cord Never’ Subscribers, FierceCable

The highlight of reporting this feature about how online video services try to pitch themselves to potential viewers: having to lean into my laptop to hear an interview subject when I realized I didn’t have a hands-free kit with me. (I’d already answering the call on my laptop instead of my phone, for reasons lost in the mist now.)

6/1/2017: How Washington is throwing away its shot at protecting your privacy, Yahoo Finance

Sometimes, what people don’t say matters more than what they do say. This piece offers some recent evidence for that, in the form of a new bill from Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R.-Tex.) that’s surprisingly favorable towards consumers and has been ignored by some of her usual allies.