The conference that got away: Viva Tech 2018

In an alternate universe, Sunday’s recap of my last week’s work would have included a round of panels at Viva Technology Paris, the growing tech gathering that’s now in its third year. In 2016 and 2017, I moderated a round of discussions and got my travel covered, which was an excellent way to go to one of my favorite cities.

That didn’t happen this year, and I’m the reason why. I didn’t think to e-mail anybody involved with the conference until a third of the way through April, which in retrospect was absurdly late for an event of this size. I got a reply a few days later, saying they were “quite advanced” in assigning panels but wanted to know if there were particular topics I could handle.

My response emphasized my flexibility, which may have been a mistake in that it didn’t say “give me everything open on this topic.” In any case, I didn’t get another e-mail back and then ensured I wouldn’t be going to Viva Tech by not sending any more myself.

(If you listen closely, you may now be able to pick out the sound of a rather small violin playing for me.)

The lesson here is nothing new: Sitting back and waiting for good things to happen is more likely to result in nothing happening. Which in this case not only foreclosed any chance of organizer-paid airfare and lodging but also meant I didn’t get to cover Viva Tech talks by the likes of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella.

I did, however, avoid having four weeks in a row of business travel, and being around this weekend meant I could catch up with an old friend from my college paper at a gathering on the roof of his apartment building. That wasn’t so bad.

I will try to be more assertive for next year’s Viva Tech… although its mid-May scheduling may overlap with Google I/O. In which case: le sigh.

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Weekly output: hotspot data use, smart grids, 3D printing, quantum computing, Sheryl Sandberg

After clocking almost 24,000 miles in the air in a 12-day period, I’m not scheduled to fly anywhere until late July–and that time, I’m taking my family. This week’s trip was to Paris for the second installment of moderating panels at the Viva Technology conference (with a side order of meetings with local tech types set up by a PR firm hired by Business France, the government trade-promotion organization that paid for my airfare and lodging), and the flights seemed positively short after last week’s jaunt to Shanghai and back.

6/14/2017: Use a mobile hotspot? How to avoid busting data caps, USA Today

I heard from a reader who said he’d successfully dropped his residential broadband connection in favor of tethering off his phone; I worried he’d exceed his wireless plan’s cap on mobile-hotspot use, so I wrote this how-to. It ran in the paper’s print edition Friday.

6/15/2017: Smart Grids Are Getting Smarter, Viva Technology

My conversation with LO3 Energy’s Scott Kessler and Upside Energy’s Graham Oakes involved some unexpected difficulty: I woke up around 3:30 in the morning and couldn’t get back to sleep for the next two hours. I haven’t had jet lag that bad in Europe in a couple of years, but spending the previous week six time zones to the right (or 18 to the left, depending on how you look at it) could not have helped.

6/15/2017: How Industrial​ ​3D​ ​Printing Is Helping Startups Go from Zero to Factory​, Viva Technology

Having his panel with Product of Things’ Moriya Kassis and re:3D’s Samantha Snabes come almost right after the other meant I didn’t have a chance to realize my fatigue again. Afterwards, I thought I could get in a nap in the speakers’ lounge–but French president Emmanuel Macron’s visit there made that impossible. (My Yahoo writeup of the pro-startup agenda Macron talked up in his Viva Tech speech should post Monday morning.)

6/16/2017: Quantum Computing, Cryptography And Our Privacy, Viva Technology

I felt like less of a zombie for this chat with Kudelski Security’s Jean-Philippe Aumasson and Shlomi Dolev of the wonderfully-named Secret Double Octopus. And I learned a few things about quantum computing in the process, which is how a panel is supposed to work.

6/18/2017: Sheryl Sandberg has 2 useful pieces of advice for Facebook advertisers, Yahoo Finance

Facebook’s chief operating officer spoke by video to Viva Tech co-founder Maurice Lévy at the end of Friday’s sessions, which made for some rotten timing in terms of my writing the story and then deal with edits. The lesson I take from that: It’s a privilege to be able to go to Paris for work.

Throwback Thursday: I’m walking around in 2017 with a phone from 2013

PARIS–I’m having an unusual week of smartphone use: I’m not unlocking my device with my fingerprints and I’m not posting any pictures. That’s because I’m not using the Nexus 5X I’d been carrying around since late 2015.

On my walk home from Metro late Friday after a very long day, night and day of travel back from Shanghai, my Nexus 5X rebooted by itself. That’s become a depressingly common occurrence lately–but this time, my phone wouldn’t get past the initial Google logo.

I spent the next 48 hours reading up on this “bootloop” issue (see, for example, this Reddit thread and this post from a user who spent far more time fighting the problem than I have) and trying to revive the phone. Putting the phone in the fridge or freezer let me boot the device, unlock it and run it long enough to stage some manual backups in two apps, but I got no further. It seemed clear I was facing a hardware failure, not a software issue.

The tech-support call I requested Sunday led to a remarkably quick resolution: After I told the rep that two other troubleshooting options in the Android bootloader hadn’t worked, he said Google would make a one-time exception and replace my out-of-warranty phone with a refurbished 5X for free.

Good! But I needed some kind of mobile device for my trip to the Viva Technology Paris conference. Enter the Nexus 4 that I’d never gotten around to selling, donating or recycling after retiring it a year and a half ago. I dusted it off, charged it up, wedged my 5X’s micro-SIM card inside the frame of an old prepaid SIM (the kind that lets you push a micro-SIM out of a surrounding bracket), popped that into the N4, and began restoring and updating the old phone’s apps.

Five days in, it’s working… more or less. Having to trace an unlock pattern on the screen every time I wake it is a pain, while constant interactions with the phone have also reminded me that part of its touchscreen no longer detects my fingers. The camera is clearly inferior, the lack of storage space bugs me even more than it did three and a half years ago, and the battery life is also pretty bad.

On the other hand, not having LTE doesn’t matter at the moment, since T-Mobile’s free international roaming only allows 2G speeds anyway. And the touchscreen has–so far-refrained from relapses into the digitizer freakouts that marred its last few months of service. So for the basics of Web browsing, text-only tweeting, checking my e-mail, getting Google Maps directions and taking notes in Evernote, my antique Android suffices.

The problem I now have: The refurb Nexus 5X that was supposed to have shipped on Monday and arrived at my home by now hasn’t gone anywhere. I have a query into Google about the status of that; stay tuned for a future post that will relate how soon I was able to set aside my fossil of a phone. I’d just as soon not have to buy a new Pixel phone when that model is due for its own update, but that’s not entirely up to me anymore.

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.