Weekly output: YouTube meets COPPA, LTE and 5G hotspots

I was supposed to be spending today bouncing from one MWC press event to another, but the cancelation of that conference left me at home with an empty schedule. That also meant I could see firsthand the worst thing you can spot in the paper: a death notice for an old friend. My Georgetown classmate and Georgetown Voice colleague Claudine Weber-Hof died last month in Germany, but the sad news somehow took longer to make its way to Washington.

The Munich-based magazine where she worked put together a lovely remembrance, and I want you to read that. That story doesn’t explain what happened, but a public Facebook post by one of Claudine’s friends that I found later this afternoon mourns her “lost battle against anxiety and depression.” Which would mean that for the second time in less than three years, depression has taken somebody I know. It’s too much.

2/19/2020: Will YouTube’s New Privacy Rules Actually Protect Children?, Glimmer

I helped inaugurate this new online publication from Glitch, the Web-app-development firm formerly known as Fog Creek Software. As the date stamp on this suggests, the site was supposed to launch earlier but ran into some late snafus that I’d just as soon not know about. So everybody had to wait another week and change to read my look at the controversy YouTube has made for itself by subjecting creators of content that kids might like to an unusually harsh regime.

2/19/2020: The Best Wi-Fi Hotspot, Wirecutter

Speaking of long-awaited updates, this revision to Wirecutter’s guide to WiFi hotspots brings two new recommendations and my emphatic advice to ignore 5G for now. Especially Verizon’s millimeter-wave 5G, which offers amazingly fast speeds almost nowhere–speeds that the company’s first 5G hotspot can’t share over WiFi with nearby devices.

The boring art of testing hotspot bandwidth and battery life

I’m nearing the finish line (I hope) of an overdue update to the Wirecutter guide to WiFi hotspots. The research for that had me repeatedly subjecting an array of loaner hotspots from all four nationwide wireless carriers to tests of the two core metrics of bandwidth and battery life.

It hasn’t exactly been my most exciting work.

For bandwidth testing, I’ve continued to rely on Ookla’s Speedtest.net Web, Android and iOS apps to clock the download speeds, upload speeds and ping times each hotspot has served up. This is pretty much an industry-standard benchmark, and these apps are simple enough to run.

But getting data out of them is another thing:

  • The iOS app creates a .csv file you can open in any spreadsheet app that includes every relevant bit of data–date and time, GPS-derived location, WiFi network name, download/upload/ping measurements, shareable public link–and attaches it to an e-mail message.
  • The Android app also generates a .csv file–except that choosing to have it saved to your Google Drive leaves you with a .eml mail-attachment file. You have to e-mail it to yourself to get a usable .csv, at which point you discover that this export doesn’t include the name of the wireless network.
  • The Web app’s “Export” button yields a third type of .csv file, one without a record of the WiFi network name, your location, or a shareable link.
  • No, the option to create a Speedtest account won’t help–because you can’t log into that from the mobile apps.

Ookla is owned by PCMag publisher Ziff Davis, but that has yet to result in any corporate pressure to make exporting measurements less janky for the hardworking journalists at that and other Ziff tech media properties.

Testing hotspot battery life only requires recording the times you started and ended each trial. But because these things often run for 12 hours or more, it’s not realistic to tether a laptop to a hotspot and keep working nonstop until the hotspot battery expires and the connection drops.

To ensure my laptop would be keeping each hotspot working full time, I opened a page to NASA’s live YouTube channel. Beyond running up the social-media metrics for one of my favorite four-letter government agencies, keeping the browser on a single live channel avoids the risk of YouTube’s recommendations sending me off to some nutcase conspiracy hub.

Because I’m not always that smart, I didn’t think to check my laptop’s ability to log a wireless connection going offline until after I’d spent an hour and change watching one hotspot linger at 1% of a charge.

As a helpful StackExchange thread pointed out, that logged data awaits inside Windows. Type “Event Viewer” in the taskbar search, open that app, select “Applications and Services Logs” in the left-hand pane, double-click the center pane’s “Microsoft,” “Windows,” “UniversalTelemetryClient,” and “Operational” entries in succession, then select “Filter Current Log…” in the right-hand pane. Type “55” in the resulting dialog’s Event ID field, hit “OK” and you’ll see a series of entries.

Assuming you check this right after seeing that the laptop went offline, opening the most recent should reveal a properties field consisting of “Is the Internet available: false,” with the time corresponding to when the hotspot died.

Since I don’t have a Mac laptop, I’m not sure how you’d do this on one. A different StackExchange thread suggests a Terminal command, but that doesn’t work on my iMac–maybe because this aging desktop isn’t running the latest macOS edition. It would be ironic if you have to hit the command line on a Mac to perform a task that Windows lets you accomplish inside a graphical user interface–but the Windows Event Viewer app is mighty ugly itself, and neither operating system covers itself in glory in this aspect.

CES 2020 travel-tech report: too much rebooting

My 23rd CES in a row featured an accomplishment I may never have pulled off before: I didn’t open my laptop the last day.

I got away with that because I’d filed all of the copy I owed from Las Vegas by Wednesday evening, leaving Thursday writing-free. And because I was starting to worry about having to rely on my laptop for one more day at the gadget show.

Each prior morning in Vegas, I awoke to find that my late-2017 HP Spectre x360 had crashed overnight and then failed to reboot, instead landing on a black-and-white error screen reporting that a boot device could not be found. Rebooting the laptop–sometimes more than once–allowed this computer to rediscover its solid-state drive, but I kept worrying that the condition would become terminal.

And then Friday morning, I dared to open the HP’s screen after my red-eye flight out of Vegas and had it awake normally, as it’s done every time since. I need to figure this out before I head out for MWC next month.

My HP is showings its age in other ways. The two rubber pads on the bottom have peeled off (this seems to happen a lot), and the battery life could be better.

My Google Pixel 3a, on the other hand, worked like a champ throughout my long work week as I took pictures and notes, stayed mostly on top of e-mail and tweeted out my usual snarky CES commentary. This phone didn’t crash once, and its battery lasted long enough for me not to get anxious about it–though having it recharge so quickly also helped with that.

But my Pixel 3a also briefly hijacked my Twitter account when I apparently didn’t press the phone’s power button before shoving it in my pocket after I’d tweeted my congratulations to a friend on his new job. And then I didn’t even realize this storm of pocket-tweeting had erupted until a few minutes later. Ugh.

Unlike last year, I benefited from the fortuitous overlap of an update to Wirecutter’s WiFi-hotspot guide. This let me borrow the bandwidth of the top two devices in this review, a Verizon Jetpack 8800L and an AT&T Nighthawk LTE, while also subjecting them to the harshest use possible. The 8800L also doubled as a battery pack for my phone; the Nighthawk also offers that function, but not via its USB-C port–and I forgot to pack a USB-A-to-C cable.

The Belkin travel power strip that I’ve been packing since 2012 also proved instrumental in keeping my devices charged, because there are never enough power outlets in CES press rooms. This gadget had the added advantage of not needing any firmware updates or reboots. So did the handheld storage device I used to access my notes for a panel I led Wednesday: a Field Notes notebook.

Weekly output: tech ecosystems, patent trolling, LTE hotspots, YouTube ad-friendly rules, e-mail name games

Having Monday off–or as “off” as is possible for a self-employed, work-from-home type–is pretty exciting given my schedule for the first half of June. Spoiler alert: It involves a lot of time on airplanes.

5/22/2017: Why you shouldn’t be loyal to just one tech giant, Yahoo Finance

This reaction to Google I/O expands on an argument I’ve been making on and off for the past several years–that you’re better off spreading your business around multiple tech companies. Case in point: my decision to host this blog at WordPress.com instead of Google’s Blogger.

5/23/2017: A widely praised Supreme Court decision still doesn’t fix the broken patent system, Yahoo Finance

For once, I could write a non-despondent post about patent trolling, thanks to a Supreme Court ruling that should make it harder for patent litigants to drag random companies into the Eastern District of Texas.

5/25/2017: Best Wi-Fi Hotspot, The Wirecutter

This guide went much longer than usual between updates, and then I wound up recommending the same Verizon hotspot I’d endorsed last January. But the standalone and add-on service pricing at Verizon and runner-up AT&T had changed greatly over that time, and I also took advantage of this update to test a few hotspots set up for international roaming.

5/28/2017: YouTube thought a giant American flag wasn’t ‘advertiser friendly’, Yahoo Finance

This story landed in my lap Thursday evening, when a longtime reader tweeted that YouTube had declared his upload of a gigantic American flag being unfurled at FedEx Field on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 to be ad-unworthy. How could I not write about that for the Memorial Day weekend?

5/28/2017: How to hang onto your email if you change your name, USA Today

My editor mentioned that she’d gotten this question from a co-worker… and I had to admit that I’d never had to deal with or think much about this issue, since guys almost always keep their last names through marriage. That’s the patriarchy for you, I guess.

Weekly output: non-spying Samsung TVs, WiFi hotspots, WiFi channels

I miss David Carr too.

I knew that he wrote like an angel and tolerated no bullshit in his New York Times column, that his honest and humane Twitter presence was one of the better reasons to be on that social network, and that it seemed reasonable to be a little star-struck when my friend Deb Amlen introduced me to her NYT desk-mate during a visit to the Times building last summer. It was only after Carr’s way-too-soon death that I learned of all the unrequired and unadvertised kindness he left behind. Damn.

2/10/2015: No, Your TV Doesn’t Care What You Say, Yahoo Tech

Tech-media outlets did not cover themselves in glory when they took one EFF activist’s tweet mocking a poorly-written privacy policy as proof of a technically-implausible voice-recognition scheme on Samsung TVs.

Wirecutter LTE hotspots guide2/11/2015: Best Wi-Fi Hotspot, The Wirecutter

I’ve been working on my second Wirecutter guide for months, but the initial debut of this review of LTE hotspots last Sunday escaped my notice. The update we pushed out on Wednesday gave me an excuse to talk up the story on social media, so I’ll just call that this guide’s publication date for the purposes of this post.

2/15/2015: Bad Wi-Fi performance? Try channel surfing, USA Today

When I got the reader e-mail that led to this column, I thought I’d covered the topic somewhat recently. Nowhere near true: The piece I had in mind ran in 2006, which may explain why researching my correspondent’s query led me to an OS X feature that I had no idea existed.