Conference-app feature request: block out my schedule as I pick panels

NEW ORLEANS–My calendar includes a lot of conferences (especially this month), and as a result my phone features a lot of conference apps.

Collision app schedulingThe conference that has me here, Collision, has one such app. As these things go–meaning, let’s set aside how many of their features could be done just as well by Web apps–it’s not bad. But the personalization tool that lets you cobble together a schedule of talks that appeal to you is deeply broken.

The schedule at Collision, as at other conferences with multiple stages and venues, is packed with events that happen at the same time. The app should clear up that clutter by not letting me be in two places at once–meaning, when I add a talk to my schedule, it should gray out every other talk overlapping with that timeslot.

That way, I’d immediately see the opportunity cost of going to one talk versus another. But the Collision app does not do that. And although it is smart enough to stick an orange “Priority” label next to my own panels, it doesn’t even block out talks overlapping with the most important items on my agenda.

This is a common failing with conference apps. I don’t recall the SXSW app doing this kind of schedule triage, even though that’s even more vital at an event with so many more overlapping tracks. The app for Google I/O, my destination next week, definitely omits this function. And since the Web Summit app is built from the same template as the Collision app, it will repeat this omission… unless somebody in management is sufficiently moved by this post. Can y’all hear me out on this?

 

 

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Covering conference costs

My travel for work often involves a four-word question with a one-word answer. As in, somebody asks me “Who’s sending you here?”, and I reply by saying “me.”

Self-employment usually means self-financing of travel. Except for when speaking somewhere gets my travel comped or a conference organizer offers a travel subsidy (or the very rare times that a client covers my travel costs), I have to pay my own way.

When I started freelancing in 2011, I didn’t worry too much about how. I was blessed with clients overpaying me, and I was so tired of having the Post deny my travel requests–like the three years in a row they wouldn’t send me to South By Southwest–that I chose to spend some money to see what I’d missed.

I’m more practical these days: If I go somewhere, I should sell enough work based on things I learn during that trip to cover my costs. As long as I can find a scarcity to exploit, that should be doable. Google I/O and Mobile World Congress, for example, either limit press access or take place in locations where tech-news sites don’t have anybody based full-time–leaving me less competition. So did the Falcon Heavy launch.

To be honest in my accounting, I also have to consider how much I would have written and sold on a normal week at home, when my expenses amount to Metro fare and part of the utilities bills. In other words, I didn’t write five Yahoo posts from CES just for my health.

Most of the time, I do sell enough from out of town to get my above-baseline income to meet travel costs that I already try to ratchet down with my Airbnb and public-transit habits. What I still need to address: not slacking off the week after a mega-gathering like CES or MWC, a pattern you’ve probably noticed in my weekly recaps of my work.

Some trips, however, are worth doing even at a loss, and I appreciate that self-employment lets me make that choice.

For example, the XOXO conference in Portland was so mind-expandingly great in 2013 and 2015 that I paid not just for airfare and lodging but even for the conference pass–and I only sold a single post from it each time. Friday, the organizers tweeted that after taking 2017 off, the conference would return this September… so, you know, my financial realism may have to take a break that week.

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.

Updated 11/27/2017 to add an embed of video of my first Web Summit panel.

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.