2016 in review: a year of travel

This has been a trash bag of a year in so many ways, but on a personal level it could have been worse. As in, for a few weeks in the late winter I thought the overwhelming source of my income would vanish along with most of the Yahoo Tech operation.

Instead, Yahoo Finance picked me up before I’d gotten too far in exploring other possibilities. But the publicity over Yahoo’s content cutbacks wound up helping an overdue diversification of my income anyway–an editor at Consumer Reports e-mailed to ask if the news meant I’d be interested in writing for them. That led to a good series of stories, one not yet published.

2016-calendarI got another lucky break when a press-room meeting at the cable industry’s sparsely-attended INTX show yielded a string of assignments for the FierceTelecom group of sites.

These and other new clients still leave most of my income coming from a single company, but the totals aren’t as skewed as they were last year.

2016 did, however, see me do much better at finagling opportunities to speak on panels that got my travel expenses covered in the bargain. My mileage totals kept climbing as conferences and other tech events took me to places I’d hadn’t seen in 18 years (Hong Kong), 25 years (Paris), 43 years (Lisbon), or ever before (Israel), as well as my now-regular trips to Barcelona for Mobile World Congress and Berlin for IFA.

Domestically, New York was once again my most frequent travel destination, followed by Boston (now that both my brother and my mom live around there, I’m kind of obliged to find interesting tech events around the Hub). I also made my way to Austin, Denver, Las Vegas, New Orleans, and the Bay Area. Having SFO appear as a work destination only once seems like a grave dereliction of duty; I’ll try to do better.

(Read on after the jump to see all of my air travel plotted on a map of the world.)

My single favorite trip of the year: Viva Technology Paris, which brought me back to France for a second time this summer and showed that I could moderate four panels in a day. The trip also allowed enough downtime for me to take a train to the suburb of Louveciennes, knock on the door of the house my family rented a quarter-century ago, and discover that the family we’d rented the place from still lived there and was happy to let me look around.

The most challenging trip of 2016 would have to be Web Summit. Doing three panels on four hours of nightmare-level sleep is not an experience I need to repeat.

On that note, I can only hope that 2017 will bring less bad news than 2016. But I don’t know how it will turn out, only that I have work to do and good fortune to repay somehow.

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Weekly output: 2015 tech fails, apps versus mobile sites, 2015 in tech policy, CES newbies, OS X Keychain, how to read CES stories

 

A few stories I’d filed earlier went up this week, lending a false sense of my output. Tomorrow, I depart for my 19th CES in a row, and even after all that experience I’m still not quite sure what I’ve signed up for.

USAT tech-fails column12/30/2015: Tech fails: The year’s worst consumer gadget calamities, USA Today

My editors elected to run the column that appeared online last week in Wednesday’s print edition. Can’t lie; that’s still neat.

12/30/2015: Tip: Does That Site Really Deserve To Be An App On Your Phone?, Yahoo Tech

I’ve had this topic on my story-ideas list for a while, and now it’s finally posted.

12/30/2015; The Year in Technology Policy: It Wasn’t All That Bad!, Yahoo Tech

My latest take on this evergreen end-of-year topic found me in a better mood than usual.

12/31/2015: Tip: How to Cut Old Passwords Out Of Apple’s Keychain, Yahoo Tech

Like my other tip this week, this was something I’d had on my mind for a while.

1/1/2016: CES 2016 Survival Guide: What Newbies Need to Know, Yahoo Tech

You’ve read earlier versions of this how-to here in 2011 and 2013. This time around, I think I did a better job of monetizing my thoughts.

1/3/2016: How to read the hype of CES, USA Today

This weekend’s column takes another break from the usual tech-Q&A format to offer advice about interpreting the impending deluge of CES coverage.

2015 in review: less change than usual

I’m ending 2015 writing for the same core set of clients as in 2014–Yahoo Tech, USA Today and the Wirecutter–which ranks as unusual for me. That could change (yes, I’ve read some of the same stories as you about Yahoo’s prospects) but if it does I will figure something out.

2015 calendar view

Another way to look at things would be to say that I need to put more effort into my self-marketing. As in, I only sold a handful of stories to places outside those three, only two of which were new clients. I’m working to improve on that.

But overall, I can’t complain too much about 2015. In addition to once again providing me with the chance to learn and write about a topic I find interesting, this year saw me stumble my way into interviewing will.i.am, shake hands with the last man to walk on the moon (so far!), and have the honor of Washingtonian naming me one of its 100 “Tech Titans.”

After going a year without buying any major new hardware, I have a new phone, a Nexus 5X, and a new tablet, an iPad mini 4. I still need to upgrade both laptops and my desktop, but the computer industry will have to wait until 2016 to get my money.

Travel for work took me to most of the same places as last year, with one exception: Dublin. Going there for Web Summit in November may have been my favorite business trip of the year, because the trip doubled as an overdue reunion with some of my Irish cousins and an overdue introduction to the youngest among them.

I hope your year also afforded a chance to reconnect with friends or family you hadn’t seen in too long. Thanks again for reading, and I’ll see you in 2016.

 

Weekly output: 2014 tech policy in review, Mac scroll bars

LAS VEGAS–Here I am for yet another CES. Sad fact: I’ve made the trip to Vegas for the show so many times that I lost count in an earlier post whining about being badgered by CES PR pitches.

Yahoo Tech 2014 in review12/30/2014: Tech Policy 2014: Mistakes Were Made, Yahoo Tech

I came up with the photo illustrating this column last of all: As I was about to file the thing and stick my editor with the job of finding some stock art, I thought that a photo of OS X’s Calendar app showing “2014” with the setting sun in the background might work just as well.

1/4/2015: How to bring back scroll bars on your Mac, USA Today

Not for the first time, I used my USAT Q&A to revise and extend remarks I’d first made here. Your reward for reading to the end of a column that might otherwise seem too familiar: a tip about an OS X feature that Apple doesn’t seem to have documented.

2014 in review: old and new clients

Somewhere there must exist freelance writers who keep the same core group of clients for many years in a row, but I’m not one of them. This year, like last, saw the Web addresses and the names on checks and direct-deposit transfers change yet again.

2014 calendarRealizing the transient nature of freelance work makes me appreciate the third anniversary of my contract-columnist gig with USA Today that much more. They continue to be one of my favorite clients, and this year that association led to some enjoyable extra work at Gannett’s NowU site.

Then there’s Yahoo Tech. This year kicked off with the moderately mind-bending experience of seeing my photo and those of my fellow columnists on a giant slide during Marissa Mayer’s CES keynote; since then I’ve discovered that I work with a fun bunch of people, that moderating comments gets difficult after the first few hundred, and that I enjoy taking my own stock-photo shots more than I’d realized.

And selling extra stories to Yahoo Tech beyond my weekly column has generated some much-appreciated extra income… while allowing me to cross “fly in a private jet” off the bucket list.

After those two, the client that’s occupied the bulk of my time has been the Wirecutter. Writing its guide to wireless service–already updated once, with a second revision in the works–has involved an enormous amount of time and math, but it’s made me a better student of the wireless industry. And I appreciate how my friends there not only run a good comment system and participate in it regularly but will send me quick notes about noteworthy input there.

I’ll also give a shout out to VentureBeat, which has neatly filled a gap in my current lineup by allowing me to review gadgets and apps that I should check out but which already have reviewers assigned at Yahoo and USAT.

Most of this outside work stepped up in the last third of the year. That plus a few payment hiccups earlier that inconveniently coincided with quarterly-tax deadlines provided me with the humbling experience of developing an intense interest in each invoice’s progress. Things are fine now, but the experience left me more sympathetic to startup types who have to obsess over cash flow.

I traveled almost as much as I did last year but with a much less even distribution of trips. As in, I didn’t go anywhere for work in August but then spent over half of September away from home. Ugh. Can the conference-scheduling cabal space things out better in 2015?

Although I upgraded the security of my accounts this year, I didn’t make any serious hardware upgrades–the first time I’ve gone 12 months without any major computer or gadget purchases since I started freelancing. I hope the industry can forgive me.

Thanks again for reading, and I’ll see you all in 2015.

2012 in review: business and baby development

This year hasn’t been nearly as dramatic as last, and I think I’m okay with that (aside from not going to any rocket launches).

2012 calendarI started this year with three regular clients constituting almost all of my income and have spent a lot of my time since showing up at other places. I’ve had the pleasure of writing at some of my favorite sites and of getting reacquainted with long-form journalism in print and online.

That experimentation was the right idea, since I stopped blogging for CEA in September (not that I’d mind doing the occasional guest post there) and will be writing less for Discovery next year.

I have other income coming along; in particular, I’m enjoying opining about tech-policy matters at the Computer & Communications Industry Association’s Disruptive Competition Project. But these shifts have been a useful reminder of how as a freelancer, you can’t get too fixated on any current client–a principle that I may have let fade in my mind during those 17 years at the Post.

I’ve also traveled a hell of a lot this year. Conferences, trade shows and speaking invitations took me to Austin, Boston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Napa, San Francisco (four times!) and Santa Clara–plus a transatlantic jaunt to Berlin.

I’ve enjoyed coming home to my family every single time. The miniature human being who had started calling me “Dada” by this time last year now seems to learn a word a week and has developed distinct interests–including, to my delight, trains, airplanes and spaceships. She has gone from toddling around the house to fearlessly exploring playgrounds on both coasts. What will our daughter think of next? I look forward to finding out over next year.

Farewell, 2011

When I look back on this year–not when writing the-year-in-tech stories like the one I’m writing for CEA’s blog, but when I consider how 2011 treated me in particular–the same phrase keeps coming up: Did all that really happen?

Were my circuits that fried from overwork and increasingly dire hints that my job was in danger that I felt a vague sense of relief to get a severance offer?

Did I somehow manage to keep a lid on this news, outside of sharing it with my family, then close friends and finally a handful of dismayed coworkers, for a month before announcing it myself? (It was instructive to look through my Facebook Timeline for March and April to see how completely I avoided any mention of Topic A while the union was negotiating on my behalf.)

Did I really walk out of the Post’s newsroom on April 15 for the final time after almost 17 and a half years of employment there? (To old Post friends reading this: I miss you guys.)

Was it a full month before I realized that I had stopped feeling the old stress?

Have I seriously avoided rewriting anybody else’s iPhone-rumor stories since April?

How did the squirmy baby of last December become the toddler running around our house, picking up random things and sometimes calling me “Dada”?

After at least two decades of wishing I could find a way to make it happen, did I finally see the space shuttle launchtwice?

Had it been that long since I’d had the time to write a second draft of a story?

Have I actually found a sufficient variety of sufficiently-generous freelance clients–assuming they don’t all realize their error–that I feel more confident about my prospects than I did a year ago?

Somehow, all of those things happened. Considering how tough things remain for too many other Americans, I feel damned lucky.

Happy new year, everyone. I hope it finds you well.