Weekly output: video surveillance, privacy vs. security, Facebook listening, universal basic income, intelligent assistants, convenience economy, UberAir, privacy fears

Once again, I’m at an airport. I got back from Web Summit on Friday, and now I’m headed to San Francisco for the Internet Association’s Virtuous Circle conference. This trip, however, will be a lot shorter than the last one: I fly back Wednesday.

11/6/2017: ‘Smart’ surveillance cameras should set off privacy alarms, Yahoo Finance

The advances in machine vision I saw demonstrated at the Nvidia GPU Tech Conference in D.C. last week both impressed and alarmed me–especially when I heard some of the responses of executives at companies bringing these artificial-intelligence technologies to the market.

11/7/2017: Debate: We should be prepared to give up our privacy for security, Web Summit

My first Web Summit panel was a debate between Threatscape managing director Dermot Williams and Federal Trade Commission commissioner Terrell McSweeny. I expected a one-sided audience vote at the end in favor of privacy, but Williams changed a few minds. There should be video of this somewhere, but I’ve yet to find it on Web Summit’s Facebook page.

11/8/2017: Why so many people still think Facebook is listening to them, Yahoo Finance

I’d had this post in the works for a while, and then CNN’s Laurie Segall asked Facebook’s Messenger head Stan Chudnovsky in a Summit panel about the persistent rumor that Facebook’s apps listen surreptitiously to your conversations. Hello, news peg.

11/8/2017: Double focus: IPO’s & the future of games, Web Summit

My contribution to Web Summit’s Wednesday programming was this interview of Rovio CEO Kati Levoranta. As you can probably guess from watching the video below, I exhausted my questions early on and had to improv a bunch of it.

11/9/2017: Why would you oppose Universal Basic Income?, Web Summit

This panel, held at one of the small stages in Web Summit’s speakers lounge, featured Basic Income Earth Network co-president Guy Standing, Kela change management director Marjukka Turunen, GiveDirectly CEO Michael Faye, and Portuguese foreign minister Augusto Santos Silva. Not having taken part in any extended debate on this topic before, I learned a few things from this conversation.

11/9/2017: The next evolution of intelligent assistants, Web Summit

I quizzed Sherpa founder Xabi Uribe-Etxebarria about what he thinks the likes of Amazon, Apple and Google miss in the AI-personal-assistant market and how he hopes to carve out a niche with his own app.

11/9/2017: Demand more: Driving the convenience economy, Web Summit

The last of Thursday’s three panels had me interviewing Trivago co-founder and CEO Rolf Schromgens and Casper co-founder Luke Sherwin about how each is trying to challenge long-established competitors. This panel featured an unexpected technical difficulty: The acoustics made it hard for Schromgens, seated farther away from me on the stage, to hear me.

11/9/2017: Uber’s grand plan for flying cars faces a major obstacle, Yahoo Finance

One of first thoughts about “UberAir” was something along the lines of “you’re really going to get the FAA to open up the national air system to flocks of new electric-powered air taxis?” A conversation over e-mail with aviation-safety expert Bob Mann led me to believe Uber is being predictably optimistic about the odds of it bending government regulators to its will.

11/12/2017: Web companies should make it easier to make your data portable: FTC’s McSweeny. USA Today

This column about the privacy discussions that carried on all week long in Lisbon benefited from a little luck: My debate partner from day one was on both of my flights back from Lisbon and even sat a row behind me on the EWR-DCA hop, so we had a quick chat after arriving at National Airport before she headed to the parking garage and I got on Metro.

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Panel clock management

I spent part of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday sneaking a peek at clocks counting down.  Sadly, no rocket launches were involved: Instead, I had the less exciting but also important task of making sure that my Web Summit panels ended on time or close to it.

Web Summit panel clockGetting one, two, three or four other people to wrap up a conversation as a clock hits 0:00, as this week in Lisbon reminded me, is one of those skills where I still have things to learn.

Of the five I did at the summit, two required me to improvise some questions after I exhausted all the ones I’d written down–which, since these discussions only involved one other person, is something I should have known to be a risk.

Also predictable: The one panel with four other people went a couple of minutes over when I let one of the subject-matter experts have the last word, by which I mean words.

An on-time finish matters at a talkfest like Web Summit, where the stages have panels stacked up throughout the morning and afternoon and schedule overruns will result in people not being able to eat lunch or the audience fleeing for the reception that started five minutes ago. I continue to be in awe of the people who make that happen, considering both the overall chaos level of a 60,000-person conference and the high odds of a VIP deciding to be a windbag on stage.

As a moderator, I just need to allow roughly equal airtime in my role as verbal air-traffic controller–while also asking intelligent questions, not stepping on other people’s responses, throwing in a line or two that gets a laugh out of the audience, and trying not to close out the panel with something lame like “well, it looks like we’re out of time.”

At events that invite audience questions, you have the extra challenge of people asking questions that are more comments–the dreaded, time-wasting “quomment.” I can see why the schedule-focused Web Summit organizers usually tell panelists not to bother with audience Q&A.

It’s maybe one panel in three that leaves me feeling like I checked off all the boxes. I hope I can get that average up to one in two at some point. And maybe later on I can have the prospect of being the only person behind the mic for 30 minutes or more not make me quite so antsy.

Weekly output: LTE speeds, geospatial intelligence and police, reading deleted Web pages

LISBON–I’m here for my third Web Summit, where I have four panels to moderate (a late change having added to the three I already had on my schedule) and many more to watch and learn from.

As I write this, I’m listening to my friend Anthony Zurcher’s recap for the BBC of the election result that stunned me here last year. Life has gotten a lot more complicated since then, that’s for sure.

11/1/2017: Study shows US has slower LTE wireless than 60 other countries, Yahoo Finance

About half a year after writing about an earlier OpenSignal study of wireless-data speeds around the world, I covered new findings from that research firm that saw the U.S. backsliding compared to other countries. I wrote that we could see improvement if Sprint and T-Mobile gave up on their merger ambitions and focused instead on building their separate networks… and Saturday, each firm walked away from that deal.

Trajectory police-geoint feature11/1/2017: GEOINT for Policing: Location-based technologies offer opportunities for law enforcement, Trajectory

My first piece for the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation’s quarterly magazine looks at how police departments are deploying data gathered from real-time sensors and street-level databases to try to spot crime as it happens–or earlier, if possible. It was a fascinating topic to dig into–not least when the CEO of one “geoint” firm agreed unhesitatingly with an ACLU analyst’s concerns about this technology’s possible misuses–and I’m now working on a second feature for Trajectory.

11/3/2017: After Gothamist: how to read Web pages that have gone to their grave, USA Today

I had started researching a column about data caps when news broke that billionaire owner Tom Ricketts had not only shut down the DNAInfo and Gothamist family of news sites (I miss you already, DCist) but had also redirected every story published there to his statement voicing regret about not being able to make money at the venture. I offered to write a quick explainer about how to use the Internet Archive and Google’s page-caching function to read just-deleted pages, which USAT had up by the next morning. That evening, Ricketts restored those pages, if not many journalists’ trust in the promises of wealthy, would-be newsroom saviors.

Weekly output: Web Summit reactions to Trump, Trump’s FCC, Trump’s tech policy, fake news on Facebook, securing IoT devices

 

The number of weeks left in the year is declining rapidly, which can only mean one thing: I’m due to get bombarded with CES-meeting requests.

usat-trump-web-summit-reactions-column11/14/2016: At tech confab, coming to grips with Trump, USA Today

Vox’s Matthew Yglesias linked to this column I wrote at Web Summit in a post three days later, which hopefully won me some new readers.

11/16/2016: How watching videos online could get more annoying under Donald Trump, Yahoo Finance

When I started writing this analysis of what Trump might do with the Federal Communications Commission, I expected to conclude that he’d demolish almost all of President Obama’s legacy. But on closer inspection, policies like net-neutrality regulations may not be quite as easy to unwind as some of Trump’s advisors might hope.

11/17/2016: Technology and a Trump Presidency, Web Content Mavens

I debated what Trump’s tech-policy agenda might be–we’re still mostly guessing at this point–with Epolitics founder Colin Delany and General Assembly education coordinator Lauren Jacobson, as moderated by my friend Adam Zuckerman of Discovery Communications and Fosterly.

11/19/2016: Facebook didn’t get the memo about fake news. Of course it didn’t., Yahoo Finance

Seeing Facebook chief security officer Alex Stamos explain his paranoid attitude about infosec in his Web Summit talk informed this post–in that I’ve yet to see an equivalent mindset among the people tasked with creating and enforcing conduct rules at social networks.

11/20/2016: Holiday tech support to-do: ‘Internet of Things’ cleanup, USA Today

Instead of doing a catch-all column inventorying tech-support tasks you should tackle next weekend, I opted to focus on the problem of hacked or hackable IoT devices. That’s a fundamentally squishy topic: How are you supposed to tell that a connected camera has an admin password hardcoded into its firmware?

Weekly output: VR (x2), cloud efficiency, cloud video (x2), gig economy, work-life balance, customer experience, Facebook plans, self-driving cars

I’ve had few weeks that have left me more physically exhausted. Only hours after I was congratulating myself for crushing jet lag so soon after landing in Lisbon, the traumatic election destroyed my sleep cycle for the rest of the week, then I had jet lag in the reverse direction compounded by a cold I picked up sometime at Web Summit.

I filed the stories you see here about VR and cloud video weeks ago, so they didn’t add to the workload. On the other hand, the list below omits a post about Hillary Clinton’s broadband-expansion plans that my Yahoo editors had asked me to file by Tuesday afternoon so they could run it on Wednesday. I have never been sorrier to see a story of mine get spiked.

11/7/2016: Content and TV Companies Test the VR WatersVR May Require Network Upgrades, FierceCable

Management at Fierce must not have hated the post I did for them two months ago, so they sent a few more assignments my way. This e-book–as with September’s, you’ll have to cough up a name, e-mail and some occupational details to download it–features two stories from me about the state of virtual reality.

web-summit-2016-cloud-panel

11/8/2016: Revolutionising processes and driving efficiency, Web Summit

A panel about a topic as potentially vague as “using the cloud to make your business more efficient” could have been a tad dry. But my fellow panelists SnapLogic CEO Gaurav Dhillon, Symphony founder and CEO David Gurle, Dell EMC CTO John Roese, and WP Engine CEO Heather Brunner made it work. The link above points to a Facebook Live video of Tuesday morning’s panels on the Summit’s “SaaS Monster” stage; mine starts at about 55:10 in.

11/10/2016: A Complicated Forecast for Moving Video to the Cloud, Ads Move to the Cloud, Bringing Scale, Creativity and Inventory Issues, FierceBroadcasting

The first story for this Fierce e-book–you’ll have to cough up a name and e-mail to download it–covers some of issues streaming-video providers have to deal with when moving older video to cloud services. the second gets into the weeds with how ads make the same transition and explains oddities like ad breaks that don’t have an ad, just placeholder music or graphics.

11/9/2016: Rethinking the workforce, Web Summit

This panel was a more obvious fit: I’m a full-time freelancer, and venture capitalist Bradley Tusk and Handy founder and CEO Oisin Hanrahan want to make it easier for companies that rely on independent workers to provide them with portable benefits they can take to a future “gig economy” client. My one regret: After Tusk suggested that Republican control of both the executive and legislative branches could mean progress on things like tax reform, I should have asked how repealing the Affordable Care Act would help the self-employed. Skip to 1:22:50 in the Facebook video to see this panel.

11/9/2016: Technology has destroyed the work-life balance, Web Summit

This was structured as an actual debate, with Deloitte CTO Bill Briggs assigned to argue that tech has done just that while Kochava CEO Charles Manning presented the opposing case. Being a full-time work-from-home type gave me a useful perspective; moderating the debate on four hours of nightmare sleep probably explains why I forgot to take a show of hands of the audience at the start and then had to take that measurement of the audience’s pulse halfway through. This panel starts at 1:41:30 into this Facebook video.

Photo via Web Summit, reproduced under a Creative Commons license

Photo via Web Summit, reproduced under a Creative Commons CC-BY 2.0 license.

11/9/2016: Customer experience in the millennial age, Web Summit

I felt like I was more on my game for this discussion with Qualtrics co-founders Ryan and Jared Smith than at the day’s two earlier panels, even though I was so tired at that point that halfway through, I was telling myself “15 more minutes of focus and then I can go pass out in the speakers’ lounge.”

11/11/2016: Facebook’s status update: broadband bets, chattier bots, stricter security, Yahoo Finance

I gave up trying to write this Wednesday–there was zero chance of it getting any attention in the glut of election stories–but then didn’t file it until Thursday evening. One reason why: Tuesday and Wednesday left me so destroyed that I somehow slept in until 11 a.m. Thursday, something I last did before the birth of our child.

11/11/2016: These are the cars we’ll get before self-driving cars, Yahoo Finance

This post about Renault Nissan and Cadillac’s ambitions to give you a limited sort of autonomous driving took a little longer to write as well. I filed it from my hotel before joining friends for dinner at around 9 local time, which is not a crazy time to have dinner in that part of the world.

Seeing my country upended from afar, trying to process it at home

Being on the other side of the Atlantic for a presidential election so I could attend and speak at the Web Summit conference in Lisbon seemed like a swell idea. With my absentee ballot long ago cast, at best I could sing the Star-Spangled Banner with other Americans in some bar as Hillary Clinton claimed an early victory over Donald Trump (though if you’ve heard me sing, you might struggle to find the upside of that scenario); worst case, I could tweet “appreciate the congrats” sometime Wednesday.

us-passport-on-lisbon-streetThat didn’t work out. Reality punched me in the gut at 8 a.m. local time Wednesday, when I opened my laptop after four hours of nightmare-grade sleep and saw the Washington Post’s “Trump Triumphs” headline above a map of red and blue states I struggled to recognize.

Before the first talk Wednesday morning, organizer Paddy Cosgrave asked those of us in the audience to introduce ourselves to strangers nearby and say where we’d come from. On another day, I might have said “I’m from the U.S., peace be with you,” as if I were in church, but I had to go with “I’m from the United States, so I’m having a really shitty morning.” The Europeans near me could only offer versions of “I’m sorry,” as if my country had suffered a death in the family.

That day did not get much less bleak for all the people I knew in our globalist-elite bubble. In retrospect, I could have picked a better day to moderate three different panels.

“President Donald Trump” might have been a harmless comedy line in my childhood. Trump seemed a good guy when he put his own cash into an overdue renovation of the Wollman Rink in New York’s Central Park, but that sort of public-spiritedness became increasingly scarce in the decades since. And now Trump is set to become the nation’s CEO after a campaign marked by an embrace of fear, a flight from facts and a refusal of basic transparency. Humor has fled the situation.

On one level, this is like 2004, when American voters picked the wrong guy, and we paid a steep price. But George W. Bush looks like a seasoned statesman compared to Trump. And 12 years ago, we didn’t have a deluge of data points suggesting the Dems had the GOP on the run.

Seeing that running an effective campaign organization when the other side shows little sign of having any doesn’t matter, that a candidate can speak more and worse falsehoods than the other without consequence, that getting caught on tape joking about sexual assault need not hold a guy back, and that so many state poll numbers mean nothing (although Clinton’s popular-vote victory looks to be not far from nationwide polling data)… it’s taken a hammer to my belief in a rational universe. And it forces me to wonder what stories about voters’ concerns I should have read but did not.

I can’t ignore the media’s role in wasting our mental bandwidth with horse-race coverage and breathless and context-starved “reporting” about Hillary Clinton’s unwise but not illegal use of a private e-mail server as Secretary of State. I myself contributed two posts to that genre, one in March of 2015 and another in July; I wrote far more about tech-policy issues in this campaign, but I suspect those other posts drew far less attention.

faded-american-flag-close-upI would now like to think that Trump will grow in office and that he’ll quietly dump the worst of his campaign promises. I certainly wouldn’t mind him delivering on his plans to renew America’s crumbling infrastructure, the subject that led off his gracious victory speech. (The United flight attendant I chatted with during my flight home Friday was also upset about the election, but we agreed that a building binge that replaced the C/D concourse at Dulles would get our support.) I will allow for the possibility of pleasant surprises.

But I’m also 45, and I’ve seen too many elected officials disappoint me to expect that this one’s conduct in office will depart radically from his behavior as candidate. Why do we put up with two years of a presidential campaign if not to take the measure of the people in it?

In the meantime, we have the additional problem that the worst among Trump’s fans now feel more entitled to vomit their bigotry on people who don’t look or sound like me. Not having an ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or primary language on the enemies lists of “white nationalists” does not make me feel any less offended by the hatreds those cretins preach, or the president-elect’s silence about them.

What am I going to do? Work. The chance to call out abuse of power and control-freakery gets me up in the morning. If Trump’s administration puts forth policies that fall into those categories, you’ll read about them from me. If Democrats endorse them or respond with their own tech-policy control-freakery, the same applies. And if President Trump proposes laws or regulations that thwart abuse of power by the government or corporations, I won’t turn them down.

One aspect of my coverage that may very well change: I somehow doubt I’ll get invited to many White House celebrations of science and technology. Trump spent little time during the campaign talking about science and in some cases, like climate change, outright denied it. Also, this post and most of my political tweets this year may leave me in poor standing with his press people. So be it.

 

Weekly output: Roku pauses live TV, Twitter’s focus, Facebook’s real-names policy

LISBON–For the second year in a row, Web Summit has me far from home in early November. But unlike last year, I’m moderating four panels instead of watching everybody else’s, this conference’s move to Portugal deprives me of a reunion with my Irish relatives, and more is at stake in the election I’m missing than in any other I’ve seen.

That’s why I voted absentee Sept. 23, the first day possible in Arlington. Given the past presidential choices listed on my disclosures page and my general wish to live in the reality-based community, I trust you will not be surprised that I voted for Hillary Clinton.

11/3/2016: Roku’s new pause button turns your TV into a poor man’s DVR, Yahoo Finance

I’ve been wondering for years when the flattening price of flash memory would let even basic TVs ship with enough storage to pause a live broadcast–and now Roku is doing just that with an update to the software for Roku TVs.

yahoo-finance-twitter-features-post11/5/2016: Twitter keeps innovating but isn’t fixing these core problems, Yahoo Finance

This was originally going to be a rant about Twitter’s unexplained decision to opt some users, myself included, into an experiment in which its iOS apps open links in Safari’s Reader Mode. My editors suggested I take a broader look at where Twitter seems to be devoting its attention.

11/6/2016: Facebook’s real-name policy draws line at titles, USA Today

It’s the rare column that lets me reference both Usenet and Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books. Pop quiz: How many of you can still name any of your regular newsgroups?