Weekly output: Verizon’s unlimited plan (x3), video-game economic impact, chatbots, broadband competition

Presidents’ Day used to feel like a real holiday–preferably experienced while enjoying views from a chairlift somewhere–but Monday doesn’t feel like much of one. I’m facing an abbreviated workweek, thanks to my Friday departure for Barcelona to cover Mobile World Congress. On the upside, I’m about to spend a few days in Spain for work.

2/13/2017: How Verizon’s new ‘unlimited’ plan compares to the competition, Yahoo Finance

This workweek technically started Sunday afternoon, when Verizon announced that it would once again sell an unlimited–more accurately called “unmetered”–data plan. After I’d filed this post, I got to rewrite a quarter of it to catch up with T-Mobile lifting the two worst restrictions on its own “unlimited” plan.

esa-panel-screengrab2/14/2017: Achievement Unlocked: The Video Game Industry’s Economic Impact, Entertainment Software Association

The nice thing about moderating a panel with members of Congress: They are guaranteed to make you look timely. Rep. Pete Aguilar (D.-Calif.) had to duck out halfway through this discussion, just as Rep. Doug Collins (R.-Ga.) made his belated entrance. You can watch the conversation, also featuring Higher Education Video Game Alliance president Constance Steinkuehler, on Twitch (this is the first and probably the last time I’ll appear on that game-centric network) and see photos from the event at ESA’s Facebook page.

2/15/2017: A Chatbot Is Here to Help, FedTech

I filed this story about the potential of chatbots to ease federal-government services in a simpler time when a Facebook Messenger bot would walk you through sending a message to the president. The Trump administration shut that down; I don’t know why, as my e-mailed inquiry to the White House press office did not yield a response.

2/15/2017: Here are the catches in Verizon’s new plan, USA Today

My editors at USAT asked if I could file my column early, recognizing that something about Verizon advertising unlimited data was driving readers bonkers. The piece now has 27,788 Facebook shares, which suggests they had the right idea.

usat-facebook-live2/17/2017: Unlimited data! But at what cost?, USA Today

My USAT editors also asked if I could do a Facebook Live spot with tech and media reporter Mike Snider. This allowed me to see what USAT’s Tysons Corner newsroom looks like–yes, more than five years after I started writing for the place.

2/18/2017: Wireless carriers are fighting for your cash, and that’s good news, Yahoo Finance

While I was gathering string for a story on broadband infrastructure, I realized I already had almost everything needed to write a post about the wireless industry’s recent display of the benefits of competition–and the equally telling behavior of residential-broadband services that face few or no rivals.

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Weekly output: CES recap, United fleet site, cybersecurity coverage, wireless phone plans, inauguration wireless coverage, T-Mobile One alternatives

I got a little extra publicity this week from the Columbia Journalism Review when its editors illustrated their open letter to President Trump from the White House press corps with a photo I took of the White House press briefing room. It’s been flattering to see that people actually read photo credits! I would have liked to see CJR link to the original–I believe that’s a condition of the Creative Commons non-commercial-use-allowed license under which I shared it on Flickr–but the reply I got was that their CMS doesn’t support links in photo credits.

That photo, incidentally, comes from 2014’s White House Maker Faire–exactly the sort of event I don’t expect to get invited to over the next four years.

1/17/2017: Techdirt Podcast Episode 105: The CES 2017 Post-Mortem, Techdirt

I talked with Techdirt founder Mike Masnick about my experience at this year’s show. I did the interview using a podcasting Web app I hadn’t tried before, Cast. My verdict: great UX, but that name is horrible SEO.

Screenshot of Air & Space story1/18/2017: Get to Know Your Airliner, Air & Space Magazine

I finally wrote a story for a magazine I’ve been reading on and off since high school, which is pretty great. The subject: the United Airlines Fleet Website, a remarkably useful volunteer-run database of United planes that I’ve gotten in the habit of checking before every UA flight. The story should also be in the February issue, available at newsstands in the next few days.

1/18/2017: What you should really know about every major hacking story, Yahoo Finance

I put on my media-critic hat to write this post about what too many cybersecurity pieces–and too many mass-media conversations on the subject, up to and including those started by Donald Trump–get wrong.

1/19/2017: The Best Cell Phone Plans, The Wirecutter

We decided last summer that having separate guides for the four major wireless carriers and for prepaid and resold phone plans didn’t help readers who should be considering all of their options. That also imposed extra work on me. The result: a single guide that’s much shorter and will be easier to update the next time, say, Sprint rolls out some new price plans.

1/19/2017: How carriers will keep D.C. online during Trump’s inauguration, Yahoo Finance

The real test of the big four networks came not during President Trump’s under-attended inauguration but the Women’s March on Washingtoh the next day. To judge from the experience of my wife and others, the carriers did not acquit themselves too well: Her Verizon iPhone lost data service for part of the day, and I saw friends posting on Facebook that they couldn’t get photos to upload.

1/22/2017: Am I stuck with T-Mobile’s flagship plan?, USA Today

T-Mobile’s decision to limit its postpaid offerings to the unmetered-but-not-unlimited T-Mobile One gave me an opportunity to provide a quick tutorial on the differences between postpaid, prepaid and resold services.

Weekly output: old phone plans, sports and VR, Vint Cerf, prepaid and MVNO wireless, Collision pitches, crowd wisdom, Apple earnings, “A Beautiful Planet,” VR visions, Charter and data caps

This week took me to New Orleans for the first time since 2012, courtesy of the Collision conference that ran from Monday through Thursday there. As I was signing up for a press pass to cover this production of the team behind the Web Summit conference I covered in Dublin last year, some of the organizers suggested I could moderate a panel or conduct an onstage interview; I followed up on that, they offered me a panel, and then a week before the show they asked if I could handle another.

The results: a great trip, a great conference, and a reason to go to New Orleans around this time in 2017.

 

4/25/2016: Oldies aren’t goodies when it comes to phone plans, USA Today

I used this column to answer a round of reader questions about an earlier column, and in the process subjected myself to dangerous levels of math.

Collision wristbands4/26/2016: Putting VR first, Collision

This conversation about using virtual reality to depict sports–featuring Derek Belch, founder of the VR-training firm STRIVR and PGA Tour senior content director Sloane Kelley–was the late addition to my schedule. I had about a second of complete panic as I began speaking and heard people saying “we can’t hear you,” but then I realized I probably hadn’t broken the head-mounted microphone and should instead try positioning it closer to my mouth. After that anxiety-inducing start, seeing this appreciate tweet from one of the organizers kind of made my morning.

4/26/2016: Internet pioneer Vint Cerf: We need to make room on the Net for all the machines, Yahoo Tech

The idea for that photo popped into my head about halfway through Cerf’s talk Saturday at Smithsonian magazine’s “The Future Is Here” festival, and then I had to write a post to go with it. I’m pretty sure this represented my first coverage of IPv6 since 2011.

4/26/2016: Best Prepaid and Alternative Phone Plans, The Wirecutter

The first update to this guide since November heralds an end to Republic Wireless’s ban on tethering and T-Mobile’s speed limits. It should have also noted Boost’s addition of family plans, but I left a stray phrase in that we had to fix two days later.

4/26/2016: Pitch judging, Collision

I helped judge one round of Collision’s startup competition. We heard from execs at a semiconductor supplier, a place-finding app, a video-production-management service, a chat app, an air-quality-monitoring service, and a restaurant-management app.

Collision schedule listing4/27/2016: Crowd wisdom and peer-based markets, Collision

This panel not only featured Declara CEO Ramona Pierson, Moovit CMO Alex Mackenzie Torres, and Getaround founder Jessica Scorpio, it also included a cute little dog, thanks to Scorpio bringing hers onstage. About a third of the way through, I realized I was in whatever zone panel moderators can get into–I was thinking a few questions ahead, I had no worries about having too little or too much time left, I was avoiding “uhs” and “ums,” and I had no anxiety at all. That’s a great feeling to have.

4/27/2016: iPhone Sales Fall, Ending Apple’s Record Growth, Voice of America

I did a quick interview from the Collision media lounge about Apple’s first “bad” quarterly earnings in 13 years. Speaking of that location: Collision’s press-room chow wasn’t quite as awesome as at Web Summit, but it was still vastly better than at almost every other conference I’ve attended.

4/28/2016: ‘A Beautiful Planet’: friendly space station, muddled message, Yahoo Tech

I attended a screening of this IMAX documentary at the National Air & Space Museum the Friday before, then wrote the review on the flight to New Orleans. Watching the movie’s depiction of life on the International Space Station represented a flashback to attending NASA Tweetups five years ago in more ways than one: I ran into NASA’s Stephanie Schierholz, the space agency’s social-media manager back then, at the screening.

4/29/2016: Virtual reality: Feeling our way into an uncertain future, Yahoo Tech

I enjoyed coming up with the lede for this, and playing around with Leap Motion’s hands-included VR was a treat too.

5/1/2016: Charter to drop data caps, but other companies, but other companies still use them, USA Today

We updated this post a few hours after it went up with a couple of lines about overage fees at AT&T and Comcast that should have been in my copy from the start, plus a tweaked headline.

Updated 5/2 to add last weekend’s USAT column, which I didn’t even realize I’d overlooked until I was invoicing for April’s work. And updated again that afternoon to add a link to the updated Wirecutter guide. It appears that I could use more sleep. 

Weekly output: FCC broadband labels, Office 365 vs. Google for Work, Revolv’s shutdown, device upgrade fees

This week saw the completion of one rite of spring: attending a Nats home opener. Another, doing our taxes, is in progress. I haven’t even started a third: mowing the lawn for the first time since last year.

Yahoo Tech FCC broadband-labels post4/5/2016: FCC’s new “nutrition labels” for broadband services leave out a few ingredients, Yahoo Tech

I had some fun with the Federal Communications Commission’s proposed broadband labels by noting how they didn’t cover such broadband pain points as the amount of time you may have to spend talking a rep off the ledge before he’ll consent to your closing your account.

4/7/2016: Battle in the Clouds: Google Apps for Work Vs. Office 365, CDW

This basic comparison of Google and Microsoft’s cloud productivity services ran at a few different CDW sites, including the one linked to from here.

4/7/2016: As Google shuts down Revolv, anxiety about the Internet of Things gears up, Yahoo Tech

I was far along into a different topic when I realized that we hadn’t run anything about the impending shutdown of a once-promising smart-home hub–and that other stories on Nest’s move had glossed over how tech-news sites waited a good two months to cover it.

4/10/2016: Fees at AT&T and Verizon are no upgrade, USA Today

This was another case of my setting aside one topic to cover another. This may have been the only story on this issue to clarify that AT&T won’t charge you its “device upgrade fee” if you move your old phone’s SIM card into a new device purchased from anybody besides AT&T.

Weekly output: old TVs, Mark Zuckerberg, rebooting, deleting old e-mail, wireless charging, Android phones, wireless carriers, smartphone features, smart apartments

Another Mobile World Congress went into the books when I flew home from Barcelona Thursday. I’m glad that show and that city have become a regular part of my travel schedule.

2/21/2016: It’s really time to let go of that old tube TV, USA Today

Circling back to a topic I covered in 2013 allowed me to note some good HDTV options for under $200–including the Wirecutter’s $170 pick–and the unfortunate end of Best Buy’s free TV recycling.

Yahoo Tech Zuckerberg MWC post2/22/2016: Zuckerberg at MWC: Getting the World (and Someday His Daughter) Online, Yahoo Tech

The Facebook founder’s Q&A session started at 6 p.m. local time, meaning the press room closed while I was still writing my recap. I finished it on a bench in the hall outside–MWC, unlike CES, has free WiFi throughout the facility.

2/22/2016: Tip: Sometimes You Really Do Need to Reboot the Damn Thing, Yahoo Tech

I’d written this tip item weeks before, not knowing that a colleague had just filed a different tip item around the virtues of rebooting. Fortunately, our devices did not get any less buggy over the ensuing month.

2/23/2016: Tip: How to Quickly and Easily Get Rid of Old E-Mails, Yahoo Tech

You read a version this three and a half years ago at USA Today, but that didn’t give enough credit to Microsoft’s Outlook.com for nailing the task of automatically deleting e-mails over a certain age.

2/23/2016: Why Wireless Charging Is Still a Tangled Mess, Yahoo Tech

Once again, the wireless industry seems dead set on balkanizing itself between two ways to do the same thing.

2/24/2016: Your Next Android Phone: Smaller but Expandable, Yahoo Tech

This was my attempt at a State of the Union address for Android phones.

2/24/2016: Best Wireless Carriers, The Wirecutter

Our first major update to this guide since September factored in the end of two-year contracts at AT&T and Sprint… and two days after it went up, I learned that Sprint had restored two-year contracts. We should have yet another update up in a few days.

2/26/2016: Your next smartphone should have these features, USA Today

My last MWC post inventoried six features that I think you’ll want on your next phone–and another that nobody should care about for a few more years.

2/27/2016: Emerging Multifamily Technologies Panel, NWP Energy Summit

The morning after I got home from Spain–professionalism!–I moderated this panel discussion with NWP’s Howard Behr, Greystar’s Pam Darmofalski, Embue’s Robert Cooper and Remotely’s Mike Branam about how smart-home technology is changing apartments.

The Sisyphean experience of documenting Sprint’s price plans

On Wednesday, the Wirecutter posted the latest version of its guide to the four nationwide wireless carriers. By Friday, my work needed another update.

Sprint logo from phone-recycling bagThe cause was something I should have seen coming: Sprint changing its offerings. That company, more than any other member of the big four, can’t seem to pick a channel and stay with it.

To give you a sense of how often it shakes things up, here are the rate-plan changes I’ve had to factor into this guide over the past eight months.

6/30/2015: Sprint announces $60 “All-In” unlimited-data plan.

7/29/2015: Sprint revises Family Share plans.

8/17/2015: Sprint offers $15/month iPhone lease deal, with smartphone trade-in required; without trade-in, it’s $22 a month.

9/24/2015: Sprint lowers iPhone-lease cost to $1 with iPhone 6 trade-in, leaving the regular lease rate at $22.

10/16/2015: Sprint announces impending increase to the unlimited-data rate from $60 to $70 (subscribers will get 3 GB of tethering a month instead of having to pay extra, but the press release omits that detail).

10/29/2015: Sprint announces revised individual and family plans, with service starting at 1 GB of data plus unlimited text and talk for $40 a month.

1/8/2016: Sprint quietly drops contracts–and hikes the iPhone-lease rate to $26.39, also without notice.

2/18/2016: Sprint announces new “Better Choice Plans” for individuals and families, with service starting at 1 GB of data plus unlimited text and talk for $40 a month.

2/26/2016: Sprint quietly restores contracts.

On the upside, each time the folks in Overland Park, Kans., drop a new rate plan, I can bill the Wirecutter for the required work at my usual hourly rate. So: Thank you, Sprint. 

 

 

 

Weekly output: iPhone leases, smartphone-car connectivity, cable-box alternatives

I didn’t set out to vanish from Twitter this week, but I became all but invisible anyway. First I decided that free-but-slow T-Mobile roaming in Israel was good enough, then I had a round of meetings and visits in places with little to no cell signal and no free WiFi, then my phone spent a couple of days not getting a signal at all until I gave in and rebooted it. Meanwhile, the seven-hour time gap between Israel and the East Coast left a minimal audience for anything tweeted before mid afternoon, which further discouraged me from jumping into Twitter.

1/25/2016: Sprint and T-Mobile Backtrack on Crazy iPhone Lease Deals — and Why That’s Good for You, Yahoo Tech

This story came out of fact-checking for an imminent revision to my Wirecutter guide to the wireless carriers. My “huh” realization that Sprint and T-Mobile’s lease options no longer saved any significant money compared to buying a phone outright was followed by my surprise at seeing that nobody had covered this shift in the market.

Yahoo Tech 2016 car-connectivity update1/28/2016: When It Comes to Car Tech, the Cars Are Having a Hard Time Keeping Up With the Tech, Yahoo Tech

This sequel to last year’s assessment of car-smartphone connectivity doesn’t find me much more optimistic about where the auto industry’s heading. If you’d like to cheer yourself up by looking at a picture of a crash-test dummy or a Toyota Mirai fuel-cell vehicle paying homage to Back to the Future, see my Flickr album from the Washington Auto Show.

1/31/2016: Ways to ditch some — but not all — of your cable boxes, USA Today

A reader’s question about whether she really had to rent a cable box for every TV in her home arrived only hours after Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler pledged action to open up the cable-box market. My answer to this reader: You do have fee-free options for your secondary TVs at home, but they depend on your cable or satellite provider and are often not that good.