Weekly output: Facebook clones Clubhouse, sustainable news business models, Washington Apple Pi

This week had me spending an above-average time staring into my webcam while trying not to glance away at my notes too often.

6/21/2021: Facebook adds live audio rooms, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news network had me to discuss the “live audio rooms” Facebook launched Monday, part of a suite of upcoming audio features I wrote about at Forbes in April. The hosts wanted to know how Facebook’s clone of the Clubhouse app’s core feature might go over; I noted that Facebook starts out with the advantage of not requiring every user to create a new social graph but then holds itself back by initially only opening this feature to selected users.

Screenshot of the panel video as seen in an iPad's copy of Safari6/24/2021: The Future of Innovation in News Production: Models for Sustainability, Competition Policy International

Two months and change after the last time I moderated a panel about the state of the news business for CPI, this group (and event co-organizer Computer & Communications Industry Association) had me back to hold forth on what could put news on a sounder footing. My co-panelists this time were Poynter Institute media business analyst Rick Edmonds, Accenture managing director Andrew Charlton, Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro (who’s both a research fellow at Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism and CEO of the National Trust for Local News), and LION Publishers executive director Chris Krewson. As you can watch in the video CPI has temporarily posted, our discussion was a lot less pessimistic than you might expect for this subject.

6/26/2021: Rob Pegoraro Zooms into the Pi 2021, Washington Apple Pi

I was hoping my return to the local Apple user group would not be virtual like last June’s appearance, but the Pi is sticking to Zoom for now–so I’ll have to wait for a future opportunity to appear in person and give away some of the tech-event swag that’s been collecting dust in my office closet for the past year and change. Most of my talk covered my own experience getting through the pandemic, but I also discussed Apple’s transition to using its own Apple Silicon processors and its recent privacy moves–and, because why not, space launches.

Weekly output: talking tech with Mark Vena, laptops, Controlled Digital Lending

Researching the second item in this week’s roundup reminded me at length of how much I miss going to large tech trade shows like CES and IFA to assess new gadgets in person. Seeing a new laptop, tablet, smartphone or any other device in a canned online presentation is a weak substitute for a hands-on inspection, and I look forward to the time when I can resume that part of my work.

3/23/2021: SmartTechCheck Podcast (3-23-21), Mark Vena

I’ve now been on my industry-analyst pal’s podcast enough times with the same two fellow tech journalists–Stewart Wolpin and John Quain–that Mark decided to make us regulars. This week, we discussed a topics ranging from the new federal subsidies for educational broadband to the Apple event that was supposed to happen this week, and we also ventured a few predictions. In addition to the audio above, you can watch the video version in the YouTube embed below.

3/25/2021: Laptops, U.S. News & World Report

This project followed the lines of the password-managers guide I helped write over the winter: After editors picked a set of contenders to cover, based on a reading of third-party reviews, I wrote profiles of each of them. (As in, you should not read the rankings here as my own judgment.) In this guide, I covered Apple’s Macbook Air M1 and MacBook Pro 16-inch; Asus’s Chromebook Flip, ROG Zephyrus G14, VivoBook S15, and Asus ZenBook 13; Dell’s XPS 13 and XPS 15 9500; Google’s Pixelbook Go; HP’s Elite Dragonfly, Envy x360 13-inch, and Spectre x360 13-inch; Lenovo’s Chromebook Duet and ThinkPad X1 Carbon; and Microsoft’s Surface Pro 7. My contributions here also included a piece on what to consider when shopping for a laptop and a Chromebook-basics explainer.

3/27/2021: The Paper-To-Pixels Workaround Activists Want To Use To Keep Libraries Online, Forbes

“CDL” isn’t just shorthand for a commercial driver’s license; it’s also an abbreviation for Controlled Digital Lending, a framework for libraries to digitize printed books they own and then loan out those ebook copies on a one-for-one basis.  

My next Mac desktop needs one more thing…

It’s early days, as they say in tech, but Apple’s switch from Intel processors to chips built to its own designs on the ARM architecture seems to be working far better than I expected in June.

Reviews of the opening round of “Apple silicon” Macs have consistently applauded how amazingly fast they are–even when running Intel-coded software on Apple’s Rosetta 2 emulation layer. Witness, for example, Samuel Axon’s glowing writeup of the reborn Mac mini at Ars Technica.

Have I mentioned that I’m typing this post on a 2009-vintage iMac?

Having Apple finally update the desktop Mac that would best fit my circumstances–I don’t want to buy another all-in-one iMac, because a separate monitor would be far more useful over the long run–gets my interest. Knowing that this updated Mac mini would run dramatically faster than the previous model intrigues me even more.

But am I ready to pay $1,099 for a Mac mini ($699 plus $400 to upgrade from an inadequate 256 gigabytes of storage to 1 terabyte)? Not yet. Not because of any hangups over buying the 1.0 version of anything, and not because Apple still charges too much for a realistic amount of storage. Instead, I want this thing to include one more thing: a Touch ID button.

The fingerprint-recognition feature that Apple added to its laptops years ago would not only spare me from typing the system password every time I woke the computer from sleep, it would also relieve me from typing the much longer password that secures my 1Password password-manager software. I’ve gotten used to that combination of security and convenience on my HP laptop, where the Windows Hello fingerprint sensor reliably unlocks 1Password. The idea of buying a new Mac without that feature is maddening.

(I know I could get an Apple Watch and use that to unlock the computer. But then I’d also need an iPhone, and switching smartphones and incurring at least $800 in hardware costs to address Apple’s lack of imagination strikes me as idiotic.)

I would like to think that Apple will remedy this oversight with the next update to the Mac mini. But I also thought adding Touch ID would be an obvious addition to desktop Macs two years ago. Unfortunately, large tech companies have a way of ignoring what can seem unimpeachable feature requests–see, for instance, how Microsoft still won’t add full-disk encryption to Windows 10 Home or simply add time-zone support to Win 10’s Calendar app.

So I might be waiting a while. I do know I’ll be waiting until at least January even if Apple ships a Touch ID-enhanced Mac mini tomorrow–so I don’t get dinged for my county’s business tangible property tax on the purchase until 2022.

Weekly output: password managers, exposure-notification apps, talking tech with Mark Vena

Six months ago, I expected to be busy tonight packing for the IFA tech trade show. But although that conference in Berlin is proceeding on a drastically-scaled-down basis, I’m not flying to Germany tomorrow because of the European Union’s ban on Americans traveling to the EU. Given how thoroughly we’ve botched this pandemic, I can’t blame them for imposing that restriction.

8/24/2020: Extra security or extra risk? Pros and cons of password managers, TechRepublic

I shared my experience with password managers–mainly LastPass and 1Password–with TechRepublic’s Veronica Combs for this overview of the advantages and disadvantages of these services.

8/25/2020: COVID-19 tracking apps, supported by Apple and Google, begin showing up in app stores, USA Today

Writing a lengthy report for O’Reilly about contact-tracing apps did not mean I could write this much shorter piece from memory and my existing notes. In addition to getting useful adoption data from Virginia’s Department of Public Health about its COVIDWISE app, I also reported that VDH plans to support a national key-server project from the Association of Public Health Laboratories that will let these state-developed apps relay and receive warnings of potential COVID-19 exposure across state lines.

8/28/2020: SmartTechCheck Podcast (8-28-20), Mark Vena

I talked about exposure-notification apps, the future of tech events like IFA, 5G wireless and Apple silicon with my analyst pal at Moor Insights & Strategy–another tech type who would have been packing for Berlin tonight but is instead grounded. You may notice a break in the recording about halfway through, when I had to get a glass of water so I could resume speaking normally. Note to self: Before sitting down to record a 45-minute podcast, make sure a glass of water is on the desk.