Weekly output: T-Mobile and Verizon wireless home broadband, sports on streaming TV, MLB streaming (x2), Netflix earnings, WiFi hotspots, the future of live events, Fios TV, WWE, Facebook’s new audio features, Mark Vena podcast

The list you see below reflects a lot of work done in earlier weeks–three virtual panels recorded in advance, plus a Wirecutter update that I started researching last year.

4/19/2021: Time to cut internet cords: T-Mobile, Verizon up their bids to be your next home broadband, USA Today

I wrote about the fixed-wireless home-broadband services now available from these two carriers–one of which looks better positioned to let more Americans dump their local cable or telco monopoly.

4/19/2021: A key lesson of sports on OTT: first, do no lag, FierceVideo

An editor at this trade pub asked if I could fill in with coverage of an online event they were hosting. That work started with a write-up of a panel about lessons learned in distributing live sports events on over-the-top (aka “OTT,” meaning delivered on a third party’s broadband) video services.

Screenshot of the panel as seen on an iPad, with me at the left and Marinak at the right4/20/2021: Keynote Interview: Producing OTT Sports Content, StreamTV Sports Summit

I didn’t just write about Fierce’s conference, I also participated in it by interviewing Chris Marinak, Major League Baseball’s chief operations and strategy officer. You can watch our banter after registering with your e-mail or Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter accounts; meanwhile, take a close look at the screenshot at the right and you may be able to recognize the Nationals bobblehead I’d placed on my desk for this recording.

4/20/2021: MLB to RSNs: It’s time to think direct-to-consumer, FierceVideo

Fierce then invited me to write up my own appearance at its show, so I led with Marinak’s answer to my question about his statements in a March season-preview event that MLB wants regional sports networks to sell game coverage direct to subscribers instead of making them sign up for a big pay-TV bundle. (I’d covered those earlier comments in an Opening Day post at Forbes.) Marinak reiterated that stance, and my recap got picked up at a few places; among them, Awful Announcing‘s Andrew Bucholtz and The Streamable‘s Jason Gurwin provided useful context.

4/21/2021: Netflix subscriber growth downshifts in Q1, FierceVideo

I wrote one more post for Fierce, in this case because the usual reporter was taking a just-in-case day off after getting his second dose of a coronavirus vaccine. Netflix earnings are less annoying to cover than those of other tech companies, because NFLX posts an “earnings interview” video instead of making people listen to an audio-only recording on which all the executives usually sound alike.

4/21/2021: The Best Wi-Fi Hotspot, Wirecutter

This overdue update to the guide I’d last revised in those innocent days of early 2020 brings a new 5G-specific pick, T-Mobile’s M2000 hotspot. AT&T and Verizon’s 5G hotspots, lacking the midband 5G T-Mo offers, were nowhere close–and yet Verizon’s LTE remains so good that the top pick went to the same Vz 4G hotspot as last year.

4/21/2021: Preparing for the return to live, Collision

I started this interview of Nathan Hubbard (formerly of Musictoday, Ticketmaster, Twitter and Rival) by mentioning the last game and concert I’d attended in the Before Times. That last musical event was a John Hiatt set at the Birchmere, which led Hubbard to recount how he’d once played that Alexandria venue himself.

4/21/2021: Verizon’s Slumping Video-Subscriber Numbers: Here’s What A Post-TV Provider Looks Like, Forbes

Seeing Verizon lose another stadium’s worth of pay-TV subscribers led me to take a closer look at both its Fios TV service and its sales pitch for it online, which at this point represents the softest of sells.

4/22/2021: WWE: Breaking down the data, Collision

I talked to WWE CTO Rajan Mehta about the network’s applications of technology… after offering the disclaimer that not only am I not anybody’s idea of a WWE viewer, as a D.C.-based journalist I must self-identify as a C-SPAN man.

4/22/2021: Facebook Exec Sounds Off On Its New Audio Features, Forbes

Fidji Simo, who heads Facebook’s app efforts, spoke at a couple of Collision panels about the social network’s upcoming audio features–while other Collision speakers made some good points about Facebook’s history of not thinking through the implications of new products and features.

4/24/2021: SmartTechCheck Podcast (4-23-21), Mark Vena

I returned to my tech-analyst friend’s podcast to discuss Apple’s announcements from its “Spring Loaded” event and talk about my findings from testing 5G hotspots around the D.C. area.

 

Three more erased events: SXSW, Google I/O, Collision

Yet another set of travel plans got sucked into a coronavirus-fueled jet engine this week. On Tuesday, Google announced that it would cancel its annual I/O developer conference, Friday morning saw Web Summit pull the plug on the Collision conference in Toronto, after which Friday afternoon brought the cancellation of SXSW

And now my business-travel schedule for the first quarter of the year looks as empty as it did back in Q1 of 2007.

I expected the I/O news. As an event that draws a global audience and is hosted by a large tech company with preexisting image problems, I/O seemed doomed the second Facebook said it would scrub the F8 developer conference that was set to happen a week before I/O. (Those of you still hoping to go to Apple’s WWDC developer conference would be well advised to book fully-refundable airfare and lodging.) 

I was also prepared for the axe to fall on SXSW, just because of the overriding attention to it as one large conference this month that had yet gotten coronavirus-canceled–and all of the tech companies that had already bailed. But it still took an order from Austin’s government banned events of more than 2,500 people to kill this year’s festival and deprive me of my annual overdose of tacos and BBQ.

Collision, however, surprised me. That conference was scheduled for June 22 through 25, which in a strictly medical sense would have left plenty of time to gauge the situation. But I suspect that the organizers were already considering how many speakers had or would pull out after their employers banned employee travel, and so made the decision early to run the conference online instead.

I told them I’m willing to moderate whatever panels they need, but count me as a skeptic of this approach. A “digital conference”–more accurately read as “webinar”–is no substitute for the unexpected in-person connections you make at a good conference.

I would like to see this event-losing streak end. One of the things I treasure as a self-employed professional is the freedom to go to interesting places for work. I also count on conferences to offset all the Me Time that working from home full-time affords me.

But as the past few weeks have made clear, that’s not up to me. The only travel I have booked that isn’t subject to getting scratched by risk-averse tech corporations is a trip in early April to see my in-laws over our kid’s spring break. Taking off from Dulles that morning will feel like a victory.

Weekly output: cybersecurity, pay-TV satisfaction, U.S. vs. Huawei, personal air transport, open-source SaaS, Collision conference

I don’t have to fly anywhere Monday, which seems a cause for joy after the last six weeks of travel.

5/21/2019: Cybersecurity: In search of the Holy Grail?, Collision

This somewhat broad description yielded a talk on what we’re doing wrong in infosec with defy.vc managing director Trae Vassallo, Veracode co-founder Chris Wysopal, 4iQ CEO Monica Pal, and Emerson Collective managing director (and former Democratic National Committee CTO Raffi Krikorian. I will add a link to video of this (and the other panels I moderated in Toronto) whenever the organizers post it; in the meantime, enjoy the picture by my friend John Ulaszek.

5/21/2019: Comcast, DirecTV and others suffer another round of low customer satisfaction scores, FierceVideo

I wrote up the latest findings of the American Customer Satisfaction Index survey for my occasional trade-publication client FierceVideo.

5/21/2019: U.S. vs. Huawei, Al Jazeera

I talked to AJ’s Arabic-language news channel about the growing isolation of the Chinese telecom firm via Skype from the Collision speaker-prep lounge; if you watched this hit live, that setting should explain the dull backdrop.

5/22/2019: The race to rule the skies, Collision

My second Collision panel featured Gwen Lighter, founder and CEO of the GoFly competition, and Ben Marcus, co-founder of the drone-cartography firm AirMap, talking about efforts to enable personal air transportation.

5/23/2019: Open source in the SaaS era, Collision

Panel number three of this week called for me to interview MongoDB CTO Eliot Horowitz, and that proved harder than I’d expected: The stage acoustics made it difficult for mo to hear complete sentences from him.

5/24/2019: At Collision conference, Facebook and the rest of tech gets taken to task once again, USA Today

I wrote a recap of the conference for USAT that noted the general distaste for Facebook’s reach and conduct as well as the lack of certainty over what, exactly, we should do about that company.

Updated 6/29/2019 to add links to videos of my Collision panels.

Six weeks in a row of travel

When I unlocked the front door on our darkened porch Thursday night–and, as if by magic, the power came back on–six consecutive weeks of travel went into the books.

View of Toronto from a departing airplaneIt all seemed like a reasonable idea upfront, not least when it appeared I’d have a couple of weeks at home over that period.

In an alternate universe, a spring break trip to see Bay Area and Boston relatives and then the IFA Global Press Conference in Spain would have been followed by week at home, then more than a week of additional downtime would have separated Google I/O in Mountain View and Collision in Toronto.

But then I got invited to moderate a panel at the Pay TV Show in Denver, with the conference organizers covering my travel expenses, and my Uncle Jim died. The results: 4/13-4/21 spring break, 4/24-4/28 IFA GPC, 4/29-4/30 in Ohio for my uncle’s funeral (I had about nine hours at home between returning from Spain and departing for Cleveland), 5/6-5/9 Google I/O, 5/13-5/16 Pay TV Show, 5/20-5/23 Collision.

I’d thought having the last three trips only run four days, with three days at home between each, would make things easier. That didn’t really happen, although I did appreciate having time to do all the laundry, bake bread and cook a bunch of food during each stay home, then be able to check the status of my flight home the morning after arriving at each destination.

In particular, my ability to focus on longer-term work and try to develop new business took a hit during all this time in airports, airplanes and conference venues. And because Yahoo Finance elected to have staff writers cover I/O and Collision remotely, so did my income.

Meanwhile, I can’t pretend that I’ve been following the healthiest lifestyle, thanks to all of the eating and drinking at various receptions. Consecutive days of walking around with my laptop in a messenger bag left a softball-sized knot in my left shoulder to complement my sore feet. And I’ve woken up in the middle of the night too many times wondering where I was–including once or twice in my own bed at home.

So while the past six weeks have taken me to some neat places and connected me to some interesting people, I don’t need to repeat the experience.

Weekly output: smartphone-only Internet access, data discussion, Credit Karma, GDPR notices, ad agencies, Sprint and T-Mobile’s networks, live music, encryption politics, future of the FTC

I spent most of this week in New Orleans for the Collision conference–that event’s finale there, as it’s moving to Toronto next year. (The clip the organizers put together to announce the change of host cities includes a snippet at the 0:21 mark of a panel on VR and AR that I did at Collision last year, something that completely escaped my attention when they played that clip Tuesday.) I’m sad that I won’t have an obvious reason to put NOLA on my Schedule C next year, but I don’t want to complain too much after three years in a row of being able to do just that.

Meanwhile, Conference Month continues with my departure Monday for Google I/O in Mountain View. I return Thursday, and then Tuesday of the week after has me off to Toronto for RightsCon.

4/30/2018: Study: 1 in 5 American homes get broadband through smartphones, Yahoo Finance

After filing this write-up of a new Pew Research Center study from a “real” computer, my editor sent back some questions as I was boarding my flight to New Orleans. I had free Internet access on my phone thanks to T-Mobile’s deal with Gogo, so I wound up finishing this post on smartphone-only Internet access on my mobile device. My comment to my editor: “I’ve basically become one with the story.”

5/1/2018: Data do nicely: Metrics that matter, Collision

My first of four panels at Collision had me quizzing Node co-founder Falon Fatemi and Branch Metrics co-founder Mada Seghete about how their firms collect and crunch large amounts of data for various clients. About five minutes in, I realized that I only had 15 minutes’ worth of questions for this 20-minute panel–a clock-management fail I should know to avoid–and started improvising. As I watched the timer tick down and silently implored each of my fellow panelists to keep talking, I thought the situation vaguely reminded me of watching the Caps grinding out a penalty kill.

 

5/1/2018: From 0-$4bn: Building Credit Karma, Collision

Tuesday’s second panel was an onstage interview of Credit Karma co-founder Nichole Mustard. After the morning’s timing troubles, I took care to write down more questions than I thought I’d need, then didn’t have to worry about timing since my panel partner could hold forth on everything I asked about.

 

5/1/2018: Pay attention to those privacy notices flooding your email, USA Today

This column explaining why so many sites, apps and services are rolling out new privacy policies effective May 25 was one of two posts that benefited from an interview I did with the Federal Trade Commission’s Terrell McSweeny–as in, one of my Web Summit co-panelists last year–on her second-to-last day in office.

5/2/2018: The agency of tomorrow today, Collision

I had a great chat with DDB Worldwide’s CEO Wendy Clark about the state of the ad business. This panel also featured some audience questions–routed through the Slido app, so I could pick which ones to answer instead of pointing to somebody in the audience and hoping they wouldn’t begin “this question is more of a comment.”

 

5/3/2018: Why Sprint customers should hope the T-Mobile deal succeeds, USA Today

This column walked readers through four independent assessments of Sprint and T-Mobile’s networks–three of which found Sprint’s to be well behind, even after notable improvements.

5/3/2018: Tech changed consumption: What’s the next disruption?, Collision

My last Collision panel had me quizzing Ticketmaster’s Ismail Elshareef (with whom I’d worked in 2012 when I did a talk at his then-employer Edmunds) and the UCLA Center for Music Innovation’s Gigi Johnson about the state of live music. You’ll hear a couple of shout-outs from me to such current and former D.C.-area venues as the 9:30 Club and Iota.

 

5/3/2018: The Trump administration is pushing hard for smartphone backdoors, Yahoo Finance

I’m not sure what led this recap of recent developments in encryption politics to get 1,280 comments, but I’m not going to turn down that kind of attention.

5/3/2018: The agency that protects your privacy is in for big changes, Yahoo Finance

Most of my notes from the McSweeny interview went into this post, along with a few conversations with outside observers of the Federal Trade Commission.

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?

 

 

Weekly output: old phone plans, sports and VR, Vint Cerf, prepaid and MVNO wireless, Collision pitches, crowd wisdom, Apple earnings, “A Beautiful Planet,” VR visions, Charter and data caps

This week took me to New Orleans for the first time since 2012, courtesy of the Collision conference that ran from Monday through Thursday there. As I was signing up for a press pass to cover this production of the team behind the Web Summit conference I covered in Dublin last year, some of the organizers suggested I could moderate a panel or conduct an onstage interview; I followed up on that, they offered me a panel, and then a week before the show they asked if I could handle another.

The results: a great trip, a great conference, and a reason to go to New Orleans around this time in 2017.

4/25/2016: Oldies aren’t goodies when it comes to phone plans, USA Today

I used this column to answer a round of reader questions about an earlier column, and in the process subjected myself to dangerous levels of math.

Collision wristbands4/26/2016: Putting VR first, Collision

This conversation about using virtual reality to depict sports–featuring Derek Belch, founder of the VR-training firm STRIVR and PGA Tour senior content director Sloane Kelley–was the late addition to my schedule. I had about a second of complete panic as I began speaking and heard people saying “we can’t hear you,” but then I realized I probably hadn’t broken the head-mounted microphone and should instead try positioning it closer to my mouth. After that anxiety-inducing start, seeing this appreciate tweet from one of the organizers kind of made my morning.

4/26/2016: Internet pioneer Vint Cerf: We need to make room on the Net for all the machines, Yahoo Tech

The idea for that photo popped into my head about halfway through Cerf’s talk Saturday at Smithsonian magazine’s “The Future Is Here” festival, and then I had to write a post to go with it. I’m pretty sure this represented my first coverage of IPv6 since 2011.

4/26/2016: Best Prepaid and Alternative Phone Plans, The Wirecutter

The first update to this guide since November heralds an end to Republic Wireless’s ban on tethering and T-Mobile’s speed limits. It should have also noted Boost’s addition of family plans, but I left a stray phrase in that we had to fix two days later.

4/26/2016: Pitch judging, Collision

I helped judge one round of Collision’s startup competition. We heard from execs at a semiconductor supplier, a place-finding app, a video-production-management service, a chat app, an air-quality-monitoring service, and a restaurant-management app.

Collision schedule listing4/27/2016: Crowd wisdom and peer-based markets, Collision

This panel not only featured Declara CEO Ramona Pierson, Moovit CMO Alex Mackenzie Torres, and Getaround founder Jessica Scorpio, it also included a cute little dog, thanks to Scorpio bringing hers onstage. About a third of the way through, I realized I was in whatever zone panel moderators can get into–I was thinking a few questions ahead, I had no worries about having too little or too much time left, I was avoiding “uhs” and “ums,” and I had no anxiety at all. That’s a great feeling to have.

4/27/2016: iPhone Sales Fall, Ending Apple’s Record Growth, Voice of America

I did a quick interview from the Collision media lounge about Apple’s first “bad” quarterly earnings in 13 years. Speaking of that location: Collision’s press-room chow wasn’t quite as awesome as at Web Summit, but it was still vastly better than at almost every other conference I’ve attended.

4/28/2016: ‘A Beautiful Planet’: friendly space station, muddled message, Yahoo Tech

I attended a screening of this IMAX documentary at the National Air & Space Museum the Friday before, then wrote the review on the flight to New Orleans. Watching the movie’s depiction of life on the International Space Station represented a flashback to attending NASA Tweetups five years ago in more ways than one: I ran into NASA’s Stephanie Schierholz, the space agency’s social-media manager back then, at the screening.

4/29/2016: Virtual reality: Feeling our way into an uncertain future, Yahoo Tech

I enjoyed coming up with the lede for this, and playing around with Leap Motion’s hands-included VR was a treat too.

5/1/2016: Charter to drop data caps, but other companies, but other companies still use them, USA Today

We updated this post a few hours after it went up with a couple of lines about overage fees at AT&T and Comcast that should have been in my copy from the start, plus a tweaked headline.

Updated 5/2 to add last weekend’s USAT column, which I didn’t even realize I’d overlooked until I was invoicing for April’s work. And updated again that afternoon to add a link to the updated Wirecutter guide. It appears that I could use more sleep.