Weekly output: null

I finally managed to end a week with not a mere one or two stories, but absolutely nothing to my name. I spent last Saturday to this Saturday in the Bay Area with my wife’s family, and I did as much of nothing as I could manage–in between gawking at county-fair exhibits, visiting a winery or two and touring a nature preserve that offered the unadvertised benefit of zero wireless coverage. I napped at least once every day, I read a couple of books (on paper, even) that were not about current consumer-tech trends, and I ate too much.

I didn’t completely unplug; I sent out some queries for stories, answered some time-sensitive messages, and allotted a few minutes most days to flip through my RSS headlines. And I set aside one morning for an in-person conversation about security issues that led to a post I filed Friday. But that story and another piece I wrote this week have not gotten posted yet. Nothing to do about that now but get back to work Monday morning…

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Weekly output: Blendle, municipal broadband, OS X Calendar crashes

I spent last week on vacation, more or less, with my wife’s family in the Bay Area. I didn’t succeed in avoiding work completely, but I did manage to compress my laptop time to maybe a day and two-thirds of effort. To carve out a little more downtime, I also refrained from answering non-urgent e-mails; if yours was one of those, I should be able to answer it in the next few days.

Yahoo Finance Blendle review8/10/2016: This ambitious new service wants to be the ‘Spotify of news’ — but falls short, Yahoo Finance

After a few months of trying out Blendle, a news app that lets you make micropayment for news stories, an otherwise slow news week meant it was time to review the service. After the story ran, Blendle spokesman Michaël Jarjour wrote in to say that about two dozen news sites in Germany and the Netherlands had added a special Blendle button that allows readers to pay for a story without leaving that site–a good way to make this app less invisible–and that the company was working to bring the same feature to U.S. publishers.

8/11/2016, We need more high-speed internet, but politicians are blocking the way, Yahoo Finance

I worried that the comments here would skew towards denouncing the socialist evil of collective ownership of the means of watching cat videos, but instead people lined up to complain about their Internet provider.

8/14/2016: Cure a calendar crash on Mac, USA Today

This column was curiously popular with people on my Facebook page–although my share of it only reached 348 people as of now, nine of them gave it a thumbs-up “Like” or the rarer, more coveted “Love” reaction. Was it something I said?

Weekly output: vacation mode for phones, whither unlimited-data plans

The next few weeks will involve a lot of airplanes, starting tomorrow when I fly to Berlin for my fourth annual trip to the IFA electronics show there. I’m back on the 6th, then depart two days later for the CTIA wireless-industry gathering in Las Vegas. That will be a brief stay, as I move on to Portland on the 10th for the XOXO conference. A week and a half later, I’m off to L.A. for the Online News Association conference.

At least this travel schedule isn’t as insane as last September’s (when, for example, less than 24 hours separated the IFA and CTIA trips). But still: Conference organizers, maybe you could find other months to host your events?

Yahoo Tech vacation-mode post8/25/2015: The One Feature Every Smartphone Needs: Vacation Mode, Yahoo Tech

I wrote this essay, sadly enough, while on vacation. But I did leave time that day for a nap! Of course, half the comments were along the lines of “just turn off your phone.” Thanks, dude, that’s a really practical bit of advice.

8/30/2015: New math hurts case for old unlimited data plans, USA Today

Speaking of comments, something weird happened with them on this post tonight–the previous 16 comments, including some replies of my own, vanished, and now there’s just one. (It’s from a guy who says his phone is his only Internet device, and he therefore burns through 40 gigabytes of data. I am pained thinking of spending that much time online on any phone.) I’m not sure what happened. Never mind–I was reading a syndicated copy of the story on the site of the St. Louis TV station KSDK but completely ignored the different header atop the story. Duh.

Did I do the whole vacation thing right?

I was on vacation from last Tuesday morning to Wednesday night. Could you tell?

Maybe not. Beyond my output at Yahoo Tech (two posts written in advance, one I did Monday), at USA Today (filed the night before we left). and here (neither of those two posts were done ahead of time), I hardly disappeared from social media. I tweeted 33 times, not counting verbatim retweets, and posted three things on my Facebook page, not counting WordPress.com’s automatic sharing.

Golden Gate and hillsAnd I skimmed through my RSS feed each day and read my work e-mail more or less as it came in, even if I didn’t answer as much as usual. Over those seven days, I sent 33 messages from that account. In the three days since, I’ve sent 32. But wait–I composed 10 or so of those on the plane home but left them in my outbox until Thursday morning. No, I did not even think of setting a witty out-of-office message. Who would believe it?

Finally, the destination of this trip–Sonoma County–meant we arrived at SFO late Tuesday morning. And when I’d be in San Francisco at lunch, how could I not meet my Yahoo editor for lunch? (I let Dan pick up the check.) I couldn’t entirely escape work in the North Bay either. After my wife and I met a friend for lunch in Petaluma, he suggested we walk around the corner to stop by the This Week in Tech studio.

I had my reasons for all of that work-like activity: I had to finish a couple of projects, I didn’t write the Yahoo column before the trip as I’d hoped, I didn’t want to miss an e-mail with a writing or speaking opportunity and actually did get one such invitation, the laptop was on the kitchen table, the phone was right in my pocket, blah blah blah. (My most successful act of unplugging was an overnight trip to Vegas for a friend’s wedding, when I liberated myself by taking only my phone.) But it all falls short of how much I was able to let work go two years ago.

And it’s nowhere near how my friend Alex Howard didn’t check his work e-mail for an entire six days of a vacation. Or how my wife could ignore hers for our entire trip. The key difference: Both of them have full-time jobs. Imagine that–somebody pays them not to work!

I don’t quite have that luxury unless I sell enough stories first. But the flip side of full-time freelancing is that without a boss looking out at my desk, I can take time during the day to do other, offline things–gardening, laundry, baking bread, maybe even bottling a batch of homebrew–instead of trying to look productive in front of a screen.

It’s not a bad trade-off.  But I really should check my work e-mail less often the next time I’m on vacation.

Respect the vacation

I did something a little crazy two Tuesdays ago, which was board a plane without a laptop. That strange behavior–the last time it had happened might have been Christmas of 2010–was the result of something almost as out of character, my taking a vacation.

iPad not at work

If you define that term as meaning a trip out of town that runs at least a week, which does not involve more than a tiny fraction of your usual workload and which is not listed on your taxes as a business expense, our last one had been a pre-parenthood jaunt in Montana in 2009.

The next summer saw entire weeks of time off, courtesy of our daughter’s birth–but that period  lacked the essential vacation ingredient of sleeping in. In 2011 and 2012, we had some great long weekends, but nothing matching the traditional definition.

(Some of my work trips have had vacation-like qualities–SXSW absolutely comes to mind–but if you’re on e-mail and Twitter all the time, your laptop is in use every day and all of the expenses will wind up on your Schedule C, the obnoxious term “workcation” is unavoidable.)

This year, however, things finally lined up. Our tenth wedding anniversary was approaching; we could leave our kid with her parents then; we both had enough time freed up in our respective work schedules. I even committed to avoid booking any business meetings in the tech-friendly cities we visited–that’s Portland in the above shot–even though that could have easily converted my airfare into a Sched C line item and allowed me to sell a story or two from the road. But I still had to force myself to unplug from my usual online outlets.

I used to be a hard-liner about not checking any work-related communication on vacation. That got harder to do as the pace of tech journalism accelerated, but many of our vacation destinations still enforced some disconnection. (Have you ever tried checking your e-mail in the middle of Glacier National Park? Would you be excited about doing that from the shared computer in the lobby of a hotel in China?)

This time, however, I figured I couldn’t skip telling people about just-published posts I’d written in advance (the last ones filed at around 3 a.m. the morning of our flight out of D.C.) or answering tweets mentioning me. And not checking my work e-mail at all also seemed like a freelance foul. It didn’t help that major tech-news events happened while I was out: Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference and the revelation of massive phone and online surveillance by the National Security Agency. But even so, I found myself checking Twitter less and less after the first few days, to the point that I spent at least 48 hours without tweeting anything, and I felt zero guilt about letting unread e-mails and RSS items pile up.

There’s probably something to be learned from that experience. And yet: Here I am typing this on a Saturday evening.

Post-Labor Day reflections

The calendar says summer runs through Sept. 23, but in the working world it ends on the Tuesday after Labor Day, when kids go back to school and most adults either return to their work or return their full attention to their work.

Things have been a little different for me this year. I started this summer by exiting the working world, and I have not quite rushed to return to it. I needed time off, more than I realized in April.

It took a good month after my departure from the Post for me to realize the absence of the accumulated stress I’d been working under. It wasn’t just the volume of work, it wasn’t just the pressure to write up tech rumors of dubious long-term relevance, it wasn’t just the increasing anxiety of hearing each new crack in the ice under my position–it was the combination of all that.

Having that weight lifted from my back was a blessing. So was the chance to catch up on many of the things I’d been missing. Among them: growing enough lettuce and cucumbers to be able to stop buying either for two months (please don’t ask about the tomatoes and green beans); trying a round of new recipes to use up those crops; brewing beer at home; turning a few unproductive patches of lawn into beds of perennials more compatible with my erratic groundskeeping; witnessing the space shuttle launch in May and again in July; swimming in the Atlantic and the Pacific; exploring my expanded freedom to speak more directly on Twitter; arriving somewhat on time for weeknight events instead of showing up 90 minutes late.

Best of all, I’ve watched my daughter taking her first steps.

(I should also note things I’ve left undone: reading Ulysses, or even finishing the books I got two Christmases ago; resuming my fitful attempts to learn Spanish; getting rid of most of the junk in the basement.)

But now it’s back-to-work time for me as well. Blogging twice a week for Discovery News has left room in my schedule, but I’m about to start a second weekly gig and am looking at one or two other possible regular arrangements. I’ve also been picking up one-time assignments–within the next few weeks, I owe various third parties two magazine articles and at least one blog post. Under these circumstances, I don’t mind being busy again.