Weekly output: Google vs. the headphone jack, Voatz blockchain absentee voting

Once again, Columbus Day–or, if you prefer, Indigenous People’s Day–delivered the unwelcome combination of our kid’s school being closed while both my wife and I still had to work. I joked on Twitter about resolving the argument over what to call this fake holiday and also saving Americans billions in day-care costs by abolishing it outright. But on reflection, the widely-tweeted suggestion that we relegate Columbus Day to a trivia question and promote Election Day to actual, don’t-have-to-work holiday status makes much more sense.

10/10/2018: With Google’s new devices, music fans once again don’t get jack, Yahoo Finance

I’ve had this post in mind for a while, ever since conversations at events like Mobile World Congress and IFA revealed their lack of interest in shipping USB-C headphones. I expected that Google wouldn’t retreat from last year’s idiotic move to remove the headphone jack from its flagship smartphones, but I didn’t realize they would pull the same stunt with the new Pixel Slate tablet.

10/11/2018: This startup wants to secure absentee voting with a blockchain, Yahoo Finance

Even after spending a couple of weeks talking to various experts, I still have questions about how Voatz has been securing its blockchain-based voting system and whether states have thought long enough about how to ease absentee voting for faraway citizens. That said, many of the other options for absentee voting look even worse, something upon which I hope to write further in the coming weeks.

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How I inspect laptops at tech events

BERLIN–I’ve spent the last three days here at the IFA tech trade show poking and prodding at new laptops to see if they might be worth your money. That inspection has gotten more complicated in recent years, thanks to some new features I welcome and a few others I could do without.

The following are the traits I now look for after such obvious items as weight, screen size, if that screen is the rare Windows laptop display that doesn’t respond to touch, advertised battery life, storage, memory and overall apparent sturdiness.

Acer Swift 7 close-up

  • Screen resolution: On smaller screens, 4K resolution eats into battery life without making a meaningful difference in picture quality–from most viewing distances, you can’t even see the pixels on a 1080p laptop screen anyway.
  • USB-C charging: Now that I have a laptop and a phone that can both use the same charger, I never want to go back to needing a proprietary power cable for a computer. You shouldn’t either.
  • USB ports: Laptops that only include USB-C ports can be thinner than those with full-sized USB ports, but I’m willing to accept a little bulk to avoid having to pop in an adapter for older USB cables or peripherals.
  • Other expansion options: For people who still use standalone cameras, SD or microSD Card slots will ease data transfer. I also look for HDMI ports, which ease plugging the laptop into a TV. (Since my own laptop doesn’t have one of those: Anybody have a recommendation for a USB-C-to-HDMI cable?) And now that I’ve seen a laptop here without a headphone jack, I need to confirm that audio output’s presence too.
  • Backlit keyboard: Typing without one in a darkened hall is no fun. While I’m looking for that, I’ll also see if the trackpad is governed by Microsoft’s simple Precision Touchpad control or janky third-party software.
  • Webcam placement: Some laptops stash the webcam not at the top of the screen but below it, which leaves video callers stuck with an up-the-nostril perspective of the laptop user.
  • Windows Hello: Fingerprint-recognition sensors are cheap, while having to type in a password or PIN every time you log in imposes its own tax on your time. I’m not so doctrinaire about Windows Hello facial recognition if fingerprint recognition is there.

This list is a little involved, but on the upside I no longer have to worry about things like WiFi or serial ports. So now that you know what I fuss over when inspecting laptops at tech events like this, what else should I be looking for on each new computer?

Weekly output: Chrome vs. unencrypted sites, Google vs. the headphone jack, international roaming, freelancing, Facebook and fact-checking

As expected, this was an exhausting but fulfilling week. The Online News Association conference was its usual informative, eye-opening self (but this time, with travel expenses miniaturized down to Metro fares), Friday’s NLDS game left me feeling wrung out, and then Saturday’s left me feeling a whole lot better. And then I didn’t get to sleep in as much as I wanted Sunday…

10/2/2017: Google Chrome is about to warn you even more about insecure sites, Yahoo Finance

I knew in the back of my head that Chrome would start flagging unencrypted sites as “Not secure” more often starting this month, but a tweet from Google’s Adrienne Porter Felt last week reminded me of that, which in turn gave me a reason to check up on the adoption of site encryption.

10/4/2017: Not OK, Google: The headphone jack exists for a reason, Yahoo Finance

I teed off on Google for its idiotic decision to follow Apple’s foolish removal of the headphone jack. Google, unlike Apple, can’t count on tens of millions of loyal phone shoppers to suck it up, so I hope a chastened company will reverse this decision for its next batch of phones.

10/5/2017: $5,000 cell bill while traveling: How to avoid this, USA Today

This was one of the crazier stories I’ve come across lately. But after USAT ran this tale of a Verizon subscriber who got socked with that bill in Saudi Arabia (then had VzW forgive the bill after I inquired about it), another reader tweeted about an $11,961.03 T-Mobile bill run up in Mongolia (they, too, forgave it, but before I could get around to asking).

10/7/2017: Hunting, Gathering and Accounting: Freelance Survival Skills, ONA17

I broke a three-time Online News Association conference losing streak by having this panel idea accepted. I got the idea of offering practical advice to self-employed journalists (or those about to be self-employed but don’t know it yet) from a conversation with veteran freelancer Rose Eveleth at last year’s ONA. Then I picked up a capable co-panelist in Katherine Lewis, who’s been freelancing since 2008, seems a lot more disciplined about it than me, and is a poised public speaker. I didn’t hit every point I wanted to, but I think that combined the both of us left the audience better informed than when they arrived. Really neat bonus: Nashville-based attendee Ayumi Bennett did a terrific sketchnote of our talk.

10/8/2017: Facebook and fact-checking, Al Jazeera

My ambition of celebrating my first day with zero work appointments since Monday by not shaving went awry when a D.C.-based producer at the Arabic-language news channel asked if I could come into the studio to speak about Facebook’s latest attempts to combat fake news with fact-checking. The conversation I had (overdubbed live into Arabic but not, as far as I know, archived online, hence the lack of a link) wound up focusing more on the broader issue of other countries trying to influence U.S. Facebook users.

Flash-drive disposal

I came back from a conference today (this time, the distinctly low-key CE Week), which means I also returned with a few USB flash drives adorned with some company’s logo.

Flash drives sortedThat, in turn, means I have to find some way to get rid of those pocket-sized storage devices, because I already have more flash drives than I will need. But I recognize that if you don’t have such a collection of these things that your kid starts to play with them, you might find just one of them valuable.

The answer for me is to give the flash drives away–ideally, after trashing their contents or at least renaming them by their size.

I’ve staged some reader giveaways on my Facebook page to unload particularly interesting-looking flash drives, but most of this hardware follows one of a handful of designs, differentiated only by the color and company logo on the outside. They’re not easy to give away in bulk.

Since it’s been a while since I’ve had a teacher say they could use a grab-bag of these things (and since I’ve already donated a few to the cause of undermining North Korea’s propaganda), that leaves only one obvious way to unload them by the dozens: Speak at some local gathering, and offer them–along with other PR swag I’ve accumulated–as rewards for the people who show up.

My talk tomorrow morning at the Mac user group Washington Apple Pi’s general meeting in Bethesda will feature that incentive. If you’re interested in some shop talk from me, or if you’re just in the market for some portable flash-memory storage, please stop by.

If, on the other hand, you’re a PR pro looking to get attention for a client, how about skipping the usual order of logoed flash drives in favor of putting the press-kit files on an obvious part of the company’s site? If the client insists on some kind of tchotchke, how about a Lightning or USB-C cable stamped with their logo instead?

Weekly output: cable boxes and apps, USB-C cables, Facebook degrees of separation

I hope everybody enjoyed the ads tonight!

Yahoo Tech cable-box post2/2/2016: Big Cable to FCC: Kiss Our Apps, Yahoo Tech

Yes, you did see the photo that ran with this post before; it first appeared with the post I filed from the cable industry’s trade show in Chicago last May. FYI, this year’s cable gathering takes place in Boston in mid-May, and I will be there.

2/4/2016: How to Avoid Dodgy USB-C Cables That Could Fry Your Gear, Yahoo Tech

I still have nowhere near enough USB-C cables for my new phone and the devices after it, so I plan to heed Benson Leung’s advice about which ones to get.

2/5/2016: Sorry, You’re Probably Not As Connected As Facebook Says You Are, Yahoo Tech

This post wasn’t on my to-do list at the start of the week, but after reading and thinking over the findings of a Facebook study about people’s levels of connection on the social network, I realized there could be a post in that.

 

 

CES 2016 travel-tech report: Where did the battery anxiety go?

Something bizarre happened at this year’s CES, my 19th in a row: Neither my laptop nor my phone ever got into the red-line zone that leads me to start frantically searching for a power outlet.

My phone is only a few months old and so offers much better battery life than its predecessor, but my laptop is the same old MacBook Air I’ve had since 2012. Maybe I’ve learned something about power discipline; maybe the butt-in-chair time required to write all the stories I owed to various clients ensured sufficient opportunity to keep my devices topped off.

CES 2016 gadgetsI’m going to go with the second explanation.

Also strange: I never needed to break out the travel power strip I always bring to CES.

I did have one lesser power scare: I left my phone’s charger in a restaurant, and it’s not like I can count on random passerby having a USB-C charger. Fortunately, I’m not a complete idiot and had an extra USB-C adapter cable on me, and the restaurant’s staff found the charger and had it waiting at the hostess stand when I stopped by the next evening.

But while the electrons may have been obliging for once, other tech annoyances persisted. OS X’s curiously inept multitasking left my laptop locked up by runaway browser processes more than once (does the phrase “Safari Web Content” make your blood boil too?), while my phone twice showed a no-SIM-present error that I elected to dispel with a reboot.

Bandwidth was mostly fine except for Thursday, when neither my phone nor the two LTE hotspots I’d been testing as part of an update to a Wirecutter guide could get any useful bandwidth in the Sands. I had to camp out on a chair next to a loading dock to get back online.

The Nexus 5X’s camera was a massive upgrade over the Nexus 4 imaging hardware I carried last year, but I still took the bulk of my photos with my aging Canon 330 HS. I’m pretty sure that this is my last CES with this camera–although it still takes better photos overall than my phone, its lack of a built-in panorama mode is annoying, and I’m sick of invoking its photo-plus-video “Hybrid Auto” mode by mistake.

While I’m figuring out what camera will replace this Canon, I also need to think seriously about the software I use on my computer to edit and share pictures taken with a “real” camera. Apple’s Photos is a good image editor, but as an organizer it’s awful. Because its broken sharing feature ignores photo titles and descriptions when uploading images to Flickr–and because you can’t right-click a photo in the app to jump to its Finder folder–I had to export all 74 shots in my CES album to the Finder, then drag and drop them into Flickr from there.

If Apple doesn’t fix this app, I need to use something else. But what? Please share your own suggestions–and no, I’m not going to buy Photoshop for this–in the comments.

 

Weekly output: cross-device tracking, prepaid and MVNO wireless, Justin Bieber Mode, USB-C cables and chargers

My business travel for the year officially wrapped up with my return Friday night from a brief but meeting-packed trip to NYC. If I spend any other nights out of town for work before CES 2016, somebody else will need to be paying.

In other news: Welcome, new readers interested in Syrian-refugee politics and/or USB-C accessories! Should you keep reading, each Sunday you will find a recap of where I wrote or spoke or was quoted; at least one more day in the week sees me writing about some other thing that doesn’t fit at my usual outlets.

11/17/2015: Cross-Device Tracking: How the Ad Industry Will Follow You Wherever You Go, Yahoo Tech

A workshop hosted by the Federal Trade Commission Monday gave me an opportunity to write about a topic I’ve been following for a while.

Wirecutter prepaid MVNO wireless guide11/19/2015: Best Prepaid and Alternative Cellphone Plans, The Wirecutter

My third guide at this site covers both prepaid and resold (aka “MVNO,” short for “mobile virtual network operator”) wireless service, and it was many months in the making. Please read the comments; I spent part of Friday morning answering the first round of reader feedback, and I’ll be back there Monday or Tuesday.

11/19/2015: Who Should Be On Lyft’s Playlist After Justin Bieber?, Yahoo Tech

Yes, I’m old to cover anything involving Justin Bieber. But after getting a prompt in the Lyft app to partake in this promotion, I couldn’t not write about the weird intersection of the ride-hailing service and the Canadian pop star.

11/22/2015: Some Android users face quandry with USB-C, USA Today

My self-serving motivation to write this column was my own curiosity over when the phone chargers handed out as tech-event swag will feature USB Type-C connectors to match the hardware on my new phone. Before you mention it: Yes, I’m aware of the typo in the headline, and we’ll get that fixed soonest.