Weekly output: transparency reports in trouble

I had a whole week at home for the first time since [checks calendar] August. Some of that spare time let me finish bringing a story to publication at a new client, and some of the rest went into attending a conference hosted by the same client.

9/29/2019: Tech Companies Are Quietly Phasing Out a Major Privacy Safeguard, The Atlantic

This piece on stagnating support among U.S. tech companies for transparency reports had a prolonged and sometimes-painful gestation period. First I had another site interested to run it, then the other site decided it did not want the story. Then I had some anxious moments wondering if anybody anywhere would want to pay me for this (hello, impostor syndrome) before an editor at The Atlantic green-lighted my pitch. This time, the approval stuck, leading to the first story I’ve sold to one of my favorite publications.

In the interest of transparency–as in, to explain the screengrab I took this morning–management chose to swap out the initial headline after the story was posted. That’s not an uncommon occurrence in the news business these days.

Weekly output: EMV cards, wearable gadgets, cable-TV apps, Apple, upload speeds

I’m halfway through an obnoxiously transatlantic fortnight: I spent four days in New York this past week for CE Week, and Tuesday I fly to Paris to moderate a handful of panels at the VivaTechnology conference. But when I step off the plane at Dulles a week from today, I’ll have more than a month before my next work trip.

6/20/2016: What Home Depot’s Chip-and-Pin Lawsuit Means to You, Consumer Reports

If you’re wondering why people get so insistent about having a PIN on their credit cards, this story may clear things up for you. (Spoiler alert: It won’t do much for the biggest source of credit-card fraud.)

CE Week wearables panel 20166/23/2016: Is that Tech You’re Wearing?, CE Week

I talked about the design, features and use of wearable gadgets with UNICEF Ventures’ Jeanette Duffy, WARE founder Pamela Kiernan, and ŌURA co-founder Kari Kivelä. Afterwards, GearDiary’s Judie Stanford interviewed the four of us, and the organizers posted that clip next week.

6/23/2016: Big cable has a plan to help you dump the cable box you’re renting, Yahoo Finance

While I was in NYC, I stopped by Yahoo’s offices to record an interview with Yahoo Finance editor-in-chief Andy Serwer about the prospect of replacing cable boxes with cable apps; it runs atop this story.

6/25/2016: Rob Pegoraro on technology, plus a presentation by MacRecycleClinic, Washington Apple Pi

I drove over to the general meeting of this Apple user group to share my thoughts on the state of Apple–and to donate the 2002-vintage iMac I used for four years before handing it off to my mom, who relied on that computer until replacing it with an iPad Air last year.

6/26/2016: How to compare Internet service providers — by upload speed, USA Today

After a reader of last week’s USAT column commented that I should have addressed upload speeds–and some quick searching revealed that many Internet providers treat them as a bit of a state secret–I realized I had a column topic on my hands.

Updated 9/6 to add a link to Stanford’s interview.

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.

Weekly output: NYC startup spaces, zero rating (x2), wireless carriers, Internet downtime

My name showed up at a couple of new places this week. FYI: The coming week won’t feature my work on a typical schedule, because Yahoo Tech and I agreed to push my weekly column back from Tuesday so I could offer my take later in the week on the European tech trade show IFA. That, in turn, may explain why I’m posting this so late: I still have to pack.

8/25/2014: Making Space for More Tech Firms in New York City, Urban Land

I combined old and new reporting to generate this piece on the real-estate market for New York-based startups. I dropped a letter out of one source’s last name; we’ve since corrected the mistake

8/26/2014: ‘Zero Rating’: The Pros and Cons of Free Online Access, Yahoo Tech

My thinking on this subject changed radically as I kept talking to people involved in this issue.

8/26/2014: A Recent History of Free ‘Zero Rated’ Online Access in the U.S., Yahoo Tech

This sidebar about domestic efforts by various companies to make mobile access to their services a no-surcharge proposition led me to an interesting, post-column chat with a CEO involved in this market.

Wirecutter wireless-carriers guide8/29/2014: The Best Wireless Carriers, The Wirecutter

I have been working on this project for months, meaning I’ve had the pleasure of redoing calculations of two-year costs at the major nationwide wireless carriers more than once, sometimes more than twice. I don’t know why nobody’s found a mathematical error in the piece yet. If you have a question about this lengthy piece, check the comments; I may have answered it already there.

8/31/2014:  How to check your Internet connection, USA Today 

This column topic has been locked inside “Break Glass In Case Of Journalistic Emergency” box for the last two years and change. A cramped schedule and Time Warner Cable’s system-wide outage led me to conclude that this week was the right time for a column about debugging an apparently faulty Internet account.

Weekly output: mobile-app privacy, Google I/O (x5), Fort Reno, TiVo and SDV

One of these links is not like the others; five of them are very much like each other.

6/24/2014: 4 Questions to Ask Before You Give a New App Access to Your Personal Data, Yahoo Tech

I’m used to playing a grumpy old man, but I’m rarely in such a get-off-my-Internet mood as I was when writing this post about overhyped mobile apps.

6/25/2014: Google Announces Two New Directions for Android, Yahoo Tech

The first of three quick posts I wrote during the Google I/O keynote, this one sums up the day’s hardware and software news for Android.

6/25/2014: With Android TV, Google Turns Its Eyes to Larger Screens (Again!), Yahoo Tech

Here, I compared the debut of Android TV to the snakebit launch of Google TV four years ago. (Fun fact: My neighbor across the street is one of the few individuals to have purchased a Google TV box.)

6/25/2014: MIA at I/O: 8 Products That Google Didn’t Mention, Yahoo Tech

It’s good practice to notice what products or principles go unmentioned in a tech company’s keynote.

Google Cardboard post6/25/2014: Move Over, Google Glass: Here Comes Google Cardboard, Yahoo Tech

I wrapped up the day by describing this fun little experiment in cheapskate virtual reality.

6/27/2014: Man in Screamingly Loud Paisley Shirt Explains Google’s Subtle New Design Language, Yahoo Tech

I talked about Google’s new “Material Design” initiative for about half an hour with Google design v.p. Matias Duarte. I wish I could take credit for that memorable headline, but I can’t.

6/27/2014: D.C. Reflects: What Fort Reno’s Concert Series Meant To Us, D.C. Music Download

After the organizers of these annual free concerts in Northwest D.C. said they wouldn’t happen this year, courtesy of a last-minute demand by the U.S. Park Police that they pay to keep an officer onsite for each concert, I griped about the news on Twitter. Writer Stephanie Williams then e-mailed to ask if I could comment further, and so there I am next to all these people whose indie-rock creed goes beyond seeing Fugazi play Fort Reno two or three times.

6/29/2014: How to use TiVo with Time Warner Cable, USA Today

A query from a friend’s dad that I thought would be simple turned out to be complicated. And maybe even my abbreviation-dense answer was itself not complex enough; after the story ran, veteran gadget blogger Dave Zatz tweeted that TWC’s control-freak application of a copying restriction blocks a remote-viewing feature in newer TiVo DVRs.

Weekly output: Comcast-TWC, disk corruption

BARCELONA–One of the nicer things about this line of work is having to go here for Mobile World Congress. I’m in this city through Thursday to cover that show and see what it tells me about where the phone business is headed; look for my first take on that Tuesday at Yahoo Tech.

Yahoo Comcast-TWC post

2/18/2014: The Comcast/TWC Merger: As Big Cable Gets Bigger, Your Bill Will, Too, Yahoo Tech

Yahoo got an excellent value for their money with this column–at least in the money-per-word sense. It ballooned to 1,500 or so words as I kept writing; after some pruning, it still clocked in at 1,341 words. Biggest surprise since the column posted: no reader e-mail on this issue at all.

2/23/2014: How to salvage data from a hard drive, USA Today

This week’s question came from a reader I’ve known online since Post days, and whom I finally met in person last year; I was glad I could provide useful suggestions when he asked for help with a failing hard drive. There’s also a tip about using a wireless router to host a backup volume, leavened with a warning about a remote-access vulnerability in one well-regarded model that I happen to own.

On Sulia, I questioned Comcast’s “fastest in-home WiFi” sales pitch, suggested the FCC’s passing reference to investigating barriers to municipal broadband was the most interesting part of its revived net-neutrality agenda, mocked some impressively ill-targeted ads on Facebook, complained about United’s primitive routine for cashing in a discount companion-travel certificate, and then complimented the airline for providing a workaround through its Twitter customer service.

Weekly output: Energy Star, holiday shopping, consumer-vs-enterprise mobile apps, cable competition, FreedomPop, backup services

Happy Thanksgiving weekend, everyone! I hope it finds you well.

11/25/2013: Plugged-In with ENERGY STAR – EPA’s Consumer Electronics Podcast, Energy Star

I talked about electrical consumption in new and old gadgets on this podcast put out by the EPA’s Energy Star program with host and EPA spokeswoman Brittney Gordon, Samantha Nevels of the Consumer Electronics Association and Energy Star managers Una Song and Verena Radulovic.

11/26/2013: Let the Black Friday madness begin, Voice of Russia American Edition

I talked for a few minutes about the intersection of holiday marketing and consumer electronics (disclosures: a friend is a producer in their D.C. office).

11/26/2013: Navigating the Enterprise-Consumer Collision Course, Enterprise Mobile Hub

IDG Enterprise’s sponsored Twitter chat focused on how enterprise and consumer mobile apps can learn from each other.

11/26/2013: How One Local Cable Monopoly Can Compete With Another, Disruptive Competition Project

If Comcast buys Time Warner Cable or teams up with another cable operator to engulf TWC, no one TV viewer will gain or lose any cable-TV choices–but the subscription-TV business as a whole will still lose some important forms of competition.

PCMag Freedom Hub Burst review11/27/2013: Freedom Hub Burst (FreedomPop), PCMag

This home wireless-broadband router offers decent speeds–in the relatively few parts of the country with WiMax coverage–but FreedomPop’s creepy, sketchy Web presentation of the service really bothered me. Memo to marketers everywhere: Making visitors cough up both e-mail and street addresses just to see prices is a profoundly stupid way to introduce yourself to customers.

12/1/2013: How to choose a good backup system, USA Today

I was overdue to compare online backup services, and Comcast’s shuttering of its own offering gave me an excuse to test-drive Backblaze, Carbonite, CrashPlan and Mozy. One issue I’ve realized since filing this piece: Carbonite eats an awful lot of processor cycles on my Mac. Another: good deals on Backblaze and Mozy through Monday.

My Sulia microblogging was mostly Thanksgiving-themed, with one post comparing Google Maps and MapQuest’s performance on the rather gruesome drive up and four about family tech support (updating my mom’s Mac, introducing my father-in-law to Android Device Manager, fixing my sister-in-law’s iPhone-driver problem, freeing up space on my wife’s iPad). I also found time to visit one of Google’s “Winter Wonderlab” exhibits at a nearby mall, leading to the slow-mo video you can watch after the jump.

Updated 12/3 when I realized I’d forgotten to mention the Energy Star podcast.

Continue reading

Weekly output: app stores, NEC Terrain, HTC 8XT, ride-sharing, cable modems, guest WiFi

I spent three days in a row working outside of my home without actually leaving town, courtesy of the Usenix Security Symposium taking place in Washington. That was a little confusing.

8/13/2013: Mobile App Certification, IDG Enterprise

Another enterprise-focused Twitter chat I helped host. This week’s looked at company-specific app stores and other ways a business might try to regulate what mobile software runs on its network.

PCMag NEC Terrain review

8/15/2013: NEC Terrain (AT&T), PCMag.com

My first review for this new client covered NEC’s ruggedized Android phone, one of the last acts of a company leaving the smartphone business. I appreciated its sturdiness, but not its tiny screen or the high odds of future Android apps not running on the Terrain.

8/16/2013: HTC 8XT (Sprint), PCMag.com

My second covered a successor of sorts to a Windows Phone device I tried out earlier this year but wound up not reviewing for anybody. I can’t say the 8XT represents an upgrade over the 8X.

8/16/2013: Ride-Sharing Revs Up Around D.C., And Regulators May Not Even Freak Out Over It, Disruptive Competition Project

I returned to a topic I covered this spring–car- and ride-sharing services that can make private auto ownership more efficient by making private auto use more widely distributed–to note what seems to be a change in attitude among regulatory agencies in the District and elsewhere.

8/18/2013: Should you buy your own cable modem?, USA Today

This Q&A item about Time Warner Cable’s recent increase in its modem rental fee has really blown up–it’s picked up more comments than, maybe, anything I’ve written for USAT. There’s also a tip at the end about setting up a guest WiFi network and, should you desire, naming it “openwireless.org” to make it clear to passerby that they’re welcome to use it.

At Sulia, I relayed an avid D-SLR photographer’s assessment of the Nokia 1020, complained about “captive portal” WiFi networks that have names generic enough for my phone to have remembered them from other sites, noted a couple of presentations from the Usenix conference (one on a study of the effectiveness of browser-security warnings, another on Windows 8’s security upgrades), and shared reader feedback over the cable-modem item.

Updated 8/24 to add the IDG Twitter chat I’d left out. And updated again 9/29 with a better link to that.

Weekly output: Washington Post sale (x3), TWC vs. CBS, iPhone apps, lost and found phones

August is supposed to be a slow news month in D.C., but somebody forgot to remind the owners of the Washington Post about that.

8/6/2013: Bezos Brings Patient Capital to the Post; It Needs Bold, Persistent Experimentation Too, Disruptive Competition Project

My first take on the pending sale of my former employer to Jeff Bezos for $250 million looked at the possible upsides of the Amazon founder owning the business. (My second one ran here.) I find Bezos’s willingness to invest in costly ventures that may take decades to pay off, such as the private-spaceflight firm Blue Origin, heartening, but he doesn’t have much of a public record in standing up to government pressure on national-security issues.

WJLA spot on Post sale8/6/2013: Bezos’ influence on the Post, according to tech experts, ABC 7 News

WJLA’s Steve Chenevey–who interviewed me a few times at his old employer, Fox 5 News–asked me for some perspective about the Bezos sale on the Tuesday evening news. You can also see iStrategyLabs CEO Peter Corbett and 1776 co-founder Evan Burfield opine on the news in this report.

8/8/2013: The Hostage-Taking Foolishness of Retransmission Fights, Disruptive Competition Project

This unpacking of CBS’s squabble with Time Warner Cable over how much TWC should pay for the right to retransmit its local stations recycled much of my coverage of the 2010 retransmission fight between Cablevision and Fox–because the TV industry is recycling much of the stupidity of that “retrans” fight.

8/10/2013: How to bring iOS apps back to your home screen, USA Today

This explanation of how iPhone or iPad apps can appear to disappear almost needed a correction. But on Saturday I realized that a passing reference to how many apps you can put in a folder was incorrect (in fact, the limit varies by device), I e-mailed my editor to suggest we drop that detail, and she promptly fixed the piece. In other news, my editor is kind of awesome.

On Sulia, I complimented how everyone involved with the Post sale was able to keep a lid on the news beforehand, cast a little scorn on one story of many to suggest that Bezos’s involvement might finally allow the Post to put in place some obvious upgrades, and reported on my initial experiences with Twitter’s new login verification and Google’s Android Device Manager find-my-phone service.

Qualms Over QAM (2012 CEA re-post)

(Since a site redesign at the Consumer Electronics Association resulted in the posts I wrote for CEA’s Digital Dialogue blog vanishing, along with everything there older than last November, I’m reposting a few that I think still hold up or shed light on current issues. This one ran on Feb. 14, 2012;  the AllVid effort I mentioned at the end has gone nowhere since, but in October, the Federal Communications Commission voted to allow QAM encryption–with results that I’ll be discussing in this weekend’s USA Today column.)

This month’s telecom-policy squabble covers a TV technology that nobody seems to love–if they even know it exists.

The system in question goes by the name QAM, short for “quadrature amplitude modulation,” and it’s the only way to tune into digital cable without a box. But while “cable-ready” sets dealt fairly well with even premium channels in the mid 1990s, QAM’s horizons are far more limited.

Coax cableYou can’t count on QAM providing more than the “basic tier” of local broadcast stations plus public, educational and government channels. Forget ESPN or even CNN; to get those without a cable box, you need a CableCard-compliant device–which in practice means either a TiVo digital video recorder or one of a few add-on tuners for computers.

But it’s worse than that: As readers have testified and I’ve seen myself, QAM reception often presents a puzzling picture of your cable choices. Channels can appear under seemingly random numbers–and then move to new ones or disappear outright.

So the proposal now before the Federal Communications Commission to allow cable operators to encrypt QAM signals on all-digital networks–simplifying their systems while cutting off existing QAM hardware–might not seem like anything worth fussing over.

And yet for a small minority of users, QAM does work. Some use it on second or third sets (PDF); some resorted to basic-tier cable after failing to get adequate over-the-air digital-TV reception; some employ it to use computers as digital video recorders. And these subscribers don’t want it to go away.

How many people are we talking about? The Web-media-receiver vendor Boxee says that 40 percent of buyers of its new Boxee Live TV device use QAM to receive cable TV through that add-on. You could dismiss that as a figment of a small sample size; that $49 add-on has only been on sale since January. But a more established computer-video vendor, Hauppauge Computer Works, also cited 40 percent QAM usage (PDF) among buyers of its PC peripherals.

The Consumer Electronics Association has no stats for this segment of the market.

CEA has joined those manufacturers in their opposition to QAM encryption, writing in a November filing (PDF) that the FCC should decline this request unless it also moves forward on other, long-standing proposals to open up the market for TV hardware (more on that in a moment).

The cable companies’ arguments, as related over a call Friday with representatives of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, fall into three categories:

• Cable operators’ own figures suggest that almost nobody relies on QAM. Cablevision, which obtained a waiver from the FCC to start encrypting QAM after converting to all-digital service in New York, N.Y., reported that “less than 0.1 percent of subscribers” (PDF) requested a free set-top box or CableCard to decode it.

• Encryption will allow remote activation and deactivation, without sending a technician on a truck to somebody’s house. (NCTA realizes that people don’t like sitting through four-hour service windows.)

• Encryption will also stop people from tuning into basic-tier cable without paying. RCN, among other cable operators, reports (PDF) this is a growing problem among Internet-only subscribers.

It’s important to note that the the cable operators, while maybe not everyone’s favorite companies, have been way ahead of satellite vendors in the interoperability game. DirecTV users who wanted to plug in a TiVo could only wait for that service to ship its own “DirecTiVo” model; that recently arrived, years late, to complaints over its aged interface.

Meanwhile, CableCard finally seems to work as advertised–even if that’s happened too late for some pioneering CableCard vendors. Once-prominent TiVo rival Moxi Digital gave up the fight two weeks ago when its new owner, ARRIS Group, announced that it would only sell through cable operators.

There’s been a proposal afoot, against opposition from cable, to set a comprehensive pay-TV standard called “AllVid” that would work not just for cable but also satellite and fiber-optic services. It would allow every screen in a home network to tie into a simple gateway adapter–the video equivalent of the wireless router that links a cable modem and a laptop.

That’s what CEA has been asking for in return for giving up clear QAM. Boxee could also live with this tradeoff, said spokesman Andrew Kippen; Hauppauge CEO Ken Plotkin, however, was not to ready to make that deal.

Me, I think I could live with that bargain–if it included an assurance that current QAM users who will have to tolerate a new box and remote control won’t have to pay extra for them. (If encrypting QAM harms so few people and yields as many benefits as cable operators say, they should be able to afford subsidizing that hardware.)

But this is an easy thing for me to say, since I switched to over-the-air and Internet broadcasts years ago. If you pay for cable today, I’d rather know your opinion: Would you trade simple reception of entry-level cable today for easy access to a full lineup of channels a few years from now?