General Tech News · Software News For Professionals · Tech For Travelers · Uncategorized

Wider Laptops Aren’t Always The Best Option. Especially When Flying.

For the past several days, frequent travelers have been dreading something far worse than being stuck in a middle seat: having to check their laptops and tablets before flying home from Europe.

That’s the fear invoked by news reports that the Department of Homeland Security will expand its current ban on large electronic devices in the cabins of flights to the U.S. from the initial 10 airports across Africa and the Middle East to all U.S.-bound flights coming from anywhere in Europe.

Until we see the details of this plan’s implementations, we’ll have to hold off on some questions about a policy that almost no other country imposes.

Still, you should wonder what airlines might do to cope with such a ban, and what that might mean for your safety and the safety of your data.

Checking your laptop

The cardinal rule of checking baggage is not to put anything valuable into a bag that will spend hours in the custody of strangers, many of whom don’t work for the airline you fly.

Some foreign airlines blindsided by the electronics ban announced in March responded by setting up systems to check laptops at the gate or even on board, then keeping them with airline staff members until reuniting the devices with their owners after the flight.

That’s what Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines have done. The first three also offer loaner devices — laptops at Emirates and Qatar, iPads at Etihad — to passengers in business or first class.

People who have used these airlines’ laptop-check services — see, for instance, travel-blog reports on flights with Emirates, Etihad, Qatar, and Turkish — have generally had positive things to say about them.

Note that this service may not alleviate the fire hazard posed by their lithium-ion batteries, which are already banned from being shipped as cargo on passenger aircraft.

Analyst Bob Mann, president of the airline-consulting firm RW Mann & Company, warned that leaving this work to passengers would be even worse: “Given passengers cannot be presumed to know how to properly pack spare and in-use batteries and devices, this proposed order has very serious safety implications for every flight on which it is imposed.”

And flights from the U.S. to the Middle East involve far fewer people: 9,753,172 passengers in the 12 months ending last June, versus 59,401,505 travelers between the U.S. and Europe over that period, according to Department of Transportation statistics.

Protect your data if you can’t protect your device

Should the current ban be extended across Europe, travelers with gadgets would have to hope that their airlines would provide some sort of gadget-concierge service like those Mideast carriers.

But U.S. airlines — none of which fly out of the 10 airports covered by the current ban — have yet to say how they might deal with a wider prohibition on in-cabin electronics.

Neither United Airlines (UAL) nor Delta Air Lines (DAL) responded to requests for comments on the matter. A representative with American Airlines (AAL) referred me to the trade group Airlines for America, which wouldn’t set individual baggage policies.

If your airline will gate-check your laptop, you should not have to worry about baggage handlers stealing it. But you should still be ready for consequences worse than, say, nine hours of unproductive boredom between Frankfurt and Washington.

The cost of a lost laptop or tablet may not be an issue with devices worth less than thecap on liability for luggage (currently, about $1,550). But the data on them is another issue.

“We recommend that people that can, travel with a Chromebook,” advised Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy & Technology. Those cheap, light laptops backup your data automatically to Google (GOOG, GOOGL), allowing you to wipe one before handing it over, then restore it on arrival.

If you must carry a “real” laptop, Hall advised setting a “reasonably complex” password and powering the device down before checking it.

Another tech-policy expert had similar advice about bringing hardware you can’t quickly reset and restore once you get home.

“Ultimately, travelers should be more careful with the devices they choose to bring across borders under these new regulations,” wrote Amie Stepanovich, a policy manager and counsel with Access Now. “In many cases the best advice will be to leave the laptop at home.”

General Tech News · Uncategorized

Here’s Why Tv Streaming Services Are Worth Your Time And Money

Hulu finally announced its $40 per month live TV streaming service. And with 50 channels of live TV, the aptly-named Hulu with Live TV, is just one more reason you should fire your cable or satellite TV provider — a task some 762,000 subscribers undertook in the first quarter of 2017, according to analyst Craig Moffett. That’s great news if you care about customer choice, also known as having a functioning and competitive marketplace.

Unfortunately, you are also likely to see bogus arguments claiming streaming TV services like the Hulu’s don’t actually represent a fundamental break with cable and won’t save you much money. Here’s why those claims are simply wrong.

It’s still a bundle of channels, not à la carte

This frequent complaint — see, for instance, this November Wall Street Journal piece — makes a legitimate but unimportant point. Whether you sign up for Sling TV, Hulu’s new offering, PlayStation Vue, YouTube TV or any other live-TV service, you probably wind up paying for some channels you don’t want.

But the amount of money you pay and the number of unwanted channels you get should both still be lower for streaming services than what you’d get from cable or satellite.

At Comcast (CMCSA), for example, the “Economy” TV bundle — starting at $60 a month when bundled with 25-mbps broadband and HBO — includes more than 100 channels. But since those don’t include ESPN and AMC, among many other name-brand channels, you’ll probably need to pay an extra $10 for a package with the “Starter” bundle of 140-plus channels.

At DirecTV, the floor is even higher. The AT&T (T) subsidiary’s $50 “Select” bundle packs in more than 150 channels.

Dish Network’s (DISH) service Sling, meanwhile, includes just 30 channels in the basic$20 per month Sling Orange bundle. DirecTV Now’s $35 starter service bundles 60-plus channels. YouTube TV—note that this $35 per month Google (GOOG) service is only available in a few cities—includes 40 channels. And the Sony (SNE) PlayStation Vue service doesn’t make you buy more than 45 or so channels in its $30 per month basic tier.

And those bundles, unlike the cheaper options on many traditional pay-TV services, do include ESPN, with regional sports networks available for just $5 or so more a month.

So, yeah, it’s a bundle, but it’s less bloated and better balanced.

It costs almost as much as a cable when you add up all the different services

A November Bloomberg Businessweek story provides a typical example of this argument by suggesting that a cord cutter would need to sign up for Netflix (NFLX), Hulu, Sling, Amazon (AMZN) Prime, YouTube Red and HBO Now, for a total monthly cost of $71.21.

It’s true that online TV services each have their own gaps. Some don’t have Comedy Central. Some don’t include local channels. Some have exclusive content you can’t get elsewhere, Netflix being the canonical example.

Comcast’s pricing, for example, punishes internet-only subscribers by turning the $40 monthly rate for a 25 Mbps connection to $75 after the first year — Hulu’s service, already on the expensive side, may not save you any money unless you watch it on multiple TVs.

But most of the time, you can cover your bases with just two or three services. In my case, we pay for Sling and Netflix, for a total cost of $29.99. We also watch the occasional show on Amazon Prime — but the real reason we pay for that is the service’s free two-day shipper. Our local channels are free via over-the-air broadcasts.

The lack of contracts in online-TV services also allows you to sign up for one, binge-watch a favorite series, then drop that service.

But wait, there’s more — all the add-on fees with cable or satellite. With Comcast, for example, “Broadcast TV” and “Regional Sports” fees add another $9.95. An HD tuner is free for the first TV, but a DVR will run $10 a month extra — and adding a second TV incurs a $9.95 “HD technology fee” and a $5.99 rental fee for a second box.

Traditional pay-TV companies are strangely reluctant to mention these fees. I have probably received 100 pounds of flyers in the mail from Comcast and Verizon (VZ) touting their TV offerings since we cut the cord in 2009, and I can’t recall any of these promotional mailings breaking out their add-on costs.

And the promotional rates you usually see generally rise after a year unless you’re consistently good at threatening to quit the service if they don’t keep that discount in place. That $60 Comcast price I quoted jumps another $15 a month, while the DirecTV rate ascends to $90 a month.

Don’t forget the cost of the broadband service you need

“It still requires internet service from a cable or telco provider” was one of the lines questioning Sling TV’s chances in a January 2015 Variety piece. I see this all the time, and it is by far the silliest objection to online TV.

Broadband is pretty much a requirement of modern life at this point. Suggesting it’s an extra we’d only get for online video is like writing a recipe that warns that you’ll need to pay for electricity or gas.

It is true that many cable companies price standalone internet service to minimize your savings compared to taking a bundle of internet and TV service. It’s also true that many people don’t like their cable company, so continuing to pay them for one service can feel like a form of defeat.

But the lack of competition in American broadband is a much deeper problem than the pricing details of TV and internet services, and it’s not something you’re going to be able to fix yourself—especially not when Washington acts like that’s not really a problem.

But saving money by cutting the cord is something you can do on your own, and it will probably be easier than you think.