Weekly output: GamerGate, iPad backup

What a dull week this was: no radio, TV or podcast appearances, no articles at new freelance clients, no speaking appearances. Nothing wrong with some relative downtime like that, as long as I don’t make a habit out of it.

Yahoo Tech GamerGate column10/14/2014: Twitter Could Fix Gamergate. Why Doesn’t It?, Yahoo Tech

This week I learned that writing about “GamerGate” is a good way to boost reader engagement with your content (sorry for all the marketing buzzwords, folks!). Ensuring that the bulk of this reader feedback will be positive… that’s another thing.

10/19/2014: Retiring an old iPad? Back it up first, USA Today

A chat with EcoATM CEO Mark Bowles at Super Mobility Week last month about how often people try to recycle iPhones through that company’s buy-back kiosks without first resetting them and disabling Activation Lock ultimately got me thinking that an explainer about backing up and resetting an iOS device prior to resale or donation could help on the week of a new iPad’s introduction.

A grab-bag of #GamerGate responses

Tuesday was a busier day than usual for me on Twitter. Yahoo Tech ran my column decrying the vicious and creepy harassment of a few women in or connected to the gaming industry by what I called a “nutcase fringe” of “GamerGate”–and, more important, Twitter’s failure to take some basic steps to make itself less harassment-friendly–and my Twitter notifications promptly blew up.

Twitter analytics for GamerGate weekThe GamerGaters who showed up there–and in the post’s comments thread and on my Facebook page–were not amused. I spent most of the morning replying to those tweets but then had to turn my attention back to work. So for anybody who’s been waiting for a reply–or would like one exceeding 140 characters–here are my responses to the most common comments on my column.

Why didn’t you write about the doxxing and harassment of GamerGate supporters?

That’s the fairest point I’ve seen made. But this was a column about the history of harassment on Twitter–which has seen women take by far the worst abuse, as I noted in my mentions of Kathy Sierra and Adria Richards’ ordeals–and the service’s ineffectual response to it. I could have and should have written it months ago; the attacks on GamerGate opponents represent just another chapter in the story of a part of online culture that needs to die.

Plus, I have seen no credible evidence that harassment of GamerGate supporters has been as prolonged and vicious as that of Zoe Quinn, Brianna Wu, Anita Sarkeesian and other female critics of GamerGate.

(To anybody who’s been hit with death threats on Twitter, I’m sorry. Nobody should be subjected to that crap for speaking their mind. To those sending those threats: What the hell is wrong with you?)

This is about journalism ethics.

Those of you saying this, I believe you. But I also don’t get where you’re coming from. The massive influence AAA game publishers have over the gaming media and the willingness of some writers to suck up to them have been a glaring issue since the 1990s–back when I was writing and editing game reviews at the Post myself–and now you’re up in arms over a game nobody had heard of, Quinn’s Depression Quest, getting a little publicity? You’re saying the real sickness in gaming media, the reason to grab the pitchforks and torches, is the relationships some indie developers have with individual writers?

Oh, and the chat logs showing this meme was cooked up by a bunch of 4chan trolls using sockpuppet Twitter accounts display little concern about journalism ethics.

(Note also that the GamerGate outcry over the phony allegation that sleeping with a game writer got Quinn a favorable review of Depression Quest has led to the game getting about a billion times more mentions than it would have received otherwise.)

Twitter notifications on watchWe just want the politics taken out of game journalism.

Not everything has to be political. But if you take gaming seriously as a creative endeavor–a goal I remember most game-industry types supporting back in the ’90s–it’s delusional and incoherent to declare it exempt from any political scrutiny.

If you don’t appreciate Sarkeesian’s feminist critique of games, you can read somebody else’s–most reviews don’t put games in any social or political context, same as many write-ups of music, movies and books. Or write your own.

We’re tired of SJWs imposing their agenda on the gaming industry.

That’s “SJW,” as in “Social Justice Warrior.” Beyond the silliness of that supposed insult (me, I think it’s good to care whether an industry marginalizes people who could make it better), the idea that feminists are in a position to order around the game industry or any other segment of the technology sector is laughable.

The subtext of some of these objections, that the gaming industry does not need to change, troubles me much more. Historically, the majority culture in America telling a minority culture “can’t you just pipe down and let us keep things the way they are?” has led to some darker chapters in our country’s history.

There is a history of unjustly blaming video games for real-world violence, but that complaint hasn’t been brought up much by GamerGaters. And now that a threat of a school shooting led Sarkeesian to cancel a planned appearance at Utah State University–campus police told her they couldn’t check attendees for weapons under the state’s open-carry laws–it would be awkward to bring up that.

(The game industry hasn’t done itself a favor by shying away from that argument, as game designer Daniel Greenberg—a friend and, years ago, one of my better freelance contributors—argues in this post at The Atlantic.)

The publicity over these attacks is unwarranted; those women should have just ignored the trolls.

The accounts of people who have been hit with repeated, graphic threats of rape and death indicate no such thing is possible. Not having had to endure such a thing, I’m inclined to believe those who have.

Another thought: It would have been an interesting experiment to publish my column under a female byline and a woman’s photo.

You’re advocating for censorship.

If you can’t tell the difference between governments arresting people for their speech and a corporation deciding on the rules of its own social network, you’re an idiot.

We’re not misogynists. We value diversity and welcome women, and there’s no evidence GamerGate is behind any of the attacks.

I believe you when you say that. But a non-trivial proportion of the pro-GamerGate testimony I’ve seen has exhibited sexism of varying levels of toxicity, from saying Quinn reached “the top” (as if she’s now EA) “on her back” to calling complaints about GamerGate “stupid feminist BS.”

And some of the most public supporters of GamerGate are outright cretins, from actor Adam Baldwin (who earlier wondered if President Obama wanted to bring Ebola to America) to writer and professional jerk Milo Yiannopoulos (last year, his mockery of complaints about female underrepresentation at tech conferences ran under the headline “Put a sock in it, you dickless wonders”).

And all the way at the nutcase fringe, you have the creeps on 8chan plotting these attacks. This is the problem with calling a hashtag a movement: How do you kick people out of GamerGate when they say they support it too?

As for people who actually make games, an increasing number of them don’t want anything to do with this mess.

We’re tired of being demeaned and stereotyped in the media.

I get it: You don’t appreciate stories like Leigh Alexander’s “‘Gamers are over” post at Gamasutra questioning whether there is a “gamer” identity and whether it has anything redeeming to offer. But having spent most of the last decade reading about the demise of my own occupation, I have to say: If you want to call yourself an oppressed class, get in line.

Meanwhile, what has GamerGate itself done to the image of gamers? Does the rest of the world think you’re a saner lot with a more secure grasp on reality now? Do they think you’re a more pleasant bunch to hang out with? I will bet that they don’t. And that GamerGate will wind up as one of the most counterproductive attempts at a PR campaign since the Iraqi Information Minister.

Weekly ouput: Ello, smart-home privacy, Tech Night Owl, Google Voice MMS

I’m starting the first week since August that won’t have me going any farther from home than Metro can take me. (Each of those trips made sense on its own as a business proposition, but halfway through I could not stop thinking “what have I done?”) That is an exciting thought.

A week without my team playing baseball: not so exciting. Sigh.

10/7/2014: Our Relationship with the New Social Network Ello: It’s Complicated, Yahoo Tech

I’m instinctively suspicious of hype over a new social network without much of a track record, but in this case I think the record supports my cranky-old-man reaction.

Tech Cocktail Celebrate Hagins interview10/7/2014:  Can We Protect Privacy in the Smart Home?, Tech Cocktail Celebrate

I interviewed Jeff Hagins, CTO and a founder of the home-automation firm SmartThings, about where the “Internet of Things” idea is taking us. The two big takeaways: Hagins is interested to see what Microsoft can bring to home automation (me too), and he’d be happy to see this progress lead to a home without light switches (not so much).

10/11/2014: October 11, 2014 — Josh Centers and Rob Pegoraro, Tech Night Owl

I talked to host Gene Steinberg about (among other things) my Yahoo column of two weeks ago critiquing Apple’s unwillingness to talk in public to its customers online. Also on this episode: TidBITS managing editor Josh Centers.

10/12/2014: What’s new in Google Voice: MMS, USA Today

Google’s belated expansion of multimedia-messaging support to most carriers besides Verizon invited a column; Verizon telling me that it plans to remedy that omission made it a more news-worthy piece.

Captions are good for panels, not just photos

LAS VEGAS–I am here once again for yet another conference, this time Tech Cocktail’s Celebrate. Some of the discussions here ranged a bit afield of my own consumer-tech focus, but It’s been a pretty good event overall–including my turn in the spotlight this morning, when I interviewed SmartThings founder Jeff Hagins about the future of smart homes and the “Internet of Things.”

Tech Cocktail Celebrate panelIn one respect, however, Celebrate has clearly outdone other conferences I’ve spoken at or attended. During every session here, the screen behind the stage has displayed these data points:

  1. each panelist’s name;
  2. each panelist’s photo;
  3. each panelist’s Twitter handle;
  4. the above presented in the order in which they’re seated onstage.

Conference organizers, won’t you please go and do likewise?

I hate having to hit Google to confirm who said which quotable quip, especially in the too-frequent cases when the panel is all or mostly white dudes. (Note: In those situations, the organizers should address their diversity issues first, then tackle their presentation.) Having to lean on Twitter’s clumsy search to look up people’s handles–it’s basic etiquette to mention somebody in a tweet about them, their company, or their product–amuses me even less.

Make it clear who’s talking and how to identify them when I tweet about the panel, and I can focus on taking notes and sharing them. And when I happen to be on the panel and check my phone for Twitter mentions (don’t judge…), I can be more confident that I’m not missing any backchannel banter about my performance.

While you’re doing that, event planners, don’t forget to consult my advice about conference-badge design.

(Disclosure: I’ve known Tech Cocktail founders Frank Gruber and Jen Consalvo since at least 2009, long enough for them to move from “people I deal with for work” to “people I enjoy talking to outside of work.”)

Weekly output: Apple and social media, right to be forgotten, wireless carriers, Facebook and health care, overheating laptops

Another Sunday when my brain is mostly filled with thoughts about baseball. Yes, I was at Nats Park for all 18 innings last night. No, witnessing that loss didn’t hurt nearly as much as 2012’s horrible NLDS Game 5. Yes, I still felt crummy today.

But you know what? We’re going to play another game tomorrow. Go Nats.

9/30/2014: Apple, Can We Talk?, Yahoo Tech

I revisited a longstanding frustration with Apple–its apparently allergy to public conversations with its customers in any form of social media–and found it even more obnoxious when just about every other major American corporation will talk to the people who keep it in business on multiple social networks. This also bothers me as a journalist: Doling out information to select media outlets instead of tweeting it out to its paying customers offers Apple yet another way to try to manipulate the media.

IAB RtbF panel10/1/2014: Debating the “right to be forgotten,” IAB Global Summit

I spent a few days in New York for this Interactive Advertising Bureau conference and a couple of other tech events. My contribution to IAB’s gathering was this discussion with co-panelists Townsend Feehan (CEO, IAB Europe) and Valérie Chavanne (Yahoo France general counsel and public-policy head) about how this emerging legal doctrine in the European Union is unfolding for Internet users, search engines, Web publishers, and the rest of us.

10/1/2014: The Best Wireless Carriers, The Wirecutter

I updated much of this guide to reflect iPhone 6 pricing (thanks for all the extra math, Sprint!) as well as T-Mobile’s expansion of WiFi calling and texting. So if you’ve been dying to know which carrier offers the best deal for not just one iPhone 6 with a 2-gigabyte data allotment, but four of them, look no further.

10/3/2014: Facebook and health care, WTOP

I talked about a Reuters report that Facebook will move to set up “support communities” for people with particular health issues or conditions. Note that on the air, I mentioned that Facebook raised privacy concerns when it bought the maker of an activity-tracking device;  the product in question is not hardware but software, the Moves activity-tracking app.

10/5/2014: What’s cranking up your laptop’s cooling fan?, USA Today

This week’s column covered something that’s puzzled me too often: How is it that my laptop’s cooling fan can sometimes rev up for no apparent reason? The column suggests a few apps that can report the processor’s temperature and indicate which apps are hitting it hardest–and admits that you may still be puzzled after going through those troubleshooting steps.

MLB playoffs > NFL, NBA and NHL playoffs

It’s 0-0 in the bottom of the second inning of the Nationals’ division series against the Giants. I am excited to see my city’s team playing in October. And a little nervous. Nats 2014 postseason tickets

The 2014 postseason–the second the Nats have reached since coming to D.C. nine years ago, also the second for a Washington baseball team since 1933–may end with a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. Or it may end in the kind of soul-crushing loss that leaves one staring blankly into space until 4 a.m. I don’t know yet.

But I do know that baseball’s postseason–the difficulty of reaching it, the unpredictable outcomes allowed by a quick schedule and five-game division series, and the overall beauty of the national pastime–beats football’s, basketball’s and hockey’s. Let’s inventory what those other prime-time pro sports get wrong:

NFL: The impossibility of multiple-game playoff rounds in a sport as injury-prone/dangerous as football keeps the postseason relatively brief. But teams with a regular-season losing record can get in. And the hype about the Super Bowl–should I call it the “Big Game” to avoid annoying the NFL’s control freaks?–irks me to no end. Get over yourselves already.

(I have other issues with the NFL, but I’ll save those for later.)

NBA: By bloating the postseason to four best-of-seven rounds and then further padding out the schedule with a travel-dense 2-2-1-1-1 format, the NBA ensures that its playoffs regularly welcome teams with losing records and then grind on for almost two months. Wrong. And then the same handful of teams dominate the Finals. Boring.

NHL: Hockey, too, lets losing teams into its postseason. But my major gripe with the Stanley Cup playoffs–aside from the Caps’ helplessness in them–is the nearly two-month duration that ends with the absurdity of a sport born on frozen bodies of water being played in June.

(As for soccer: MLS, your postseason is fine by me, especially with D.C. United in it.)

An individual customer rep is not a reliable source

Twice in the past few weeks, I’ve gotten into debates with readers about whether an option I’ve written about exists. Each time, my source has been a company PR contact, against which the reader has cited a sales or support representative who told them otherwise.

Verizon support chatThe first case came up in my Wirecutter guide to wireless carriers (updated today for the iPhone 6!) when I warned readers that Verizon’s otherwise appealing “Single Line Smartphone” plans exclude tethering.

I noted that I’d seen Verizon reps say otherwise (as in the screenshot here), but that I’d gotten the official word from a Verizon spokeswoman and the @VzWSupport Twitter account.

Then I had a commenter on the story report that two different reps had said  tethering was included. Even though that would make zero business sense for VzW–why offer a plan with the same features as one that costs $30 extra?

Next came last weekend’s USA Today column about buying an unlocked iPhone 6. In it, I cited reports from iPhone 6 purchasers and a confirmation from an Apple publicist as proof that the “no-contract” T-Mobile iPhone 6 for sale at Apple’s site is unlocked and can be used with any carrier.

Big surprise: I’ve since had readers saying Apple and T-Mobile reps told them that this phone is locked to T-Mobile. One particularly anxious shopper wrote that he’d gotten that answer from nine different people at Apple and T-Mobile.

Look: I am not the biggest fan of Apple PR, but they have been honest when I ask a yes-or-no question about an Apple product such as “is this phone unlocked?” (That’s going back many years; the staffer who gave me this answer is somebody I’ve dealt with since at least 2008.) Remember, too, that you’ve got firsthand reports from iPhone customers, including several who commented on the USAT piece.

(T-Mobile’s @TMobileHelp Twitter account did chime in, but its reply only mentions the carrier’s own warranty and “premium handset protection”–neither of which should concern you if you’ll use another carrier–and doesn’t actually say the phone sold by Apple comes locked. Apple said nothing in response because it’s apparently allergic to social-media conversations.)

Meanwhile, customer-service and support reps get the story wrong all the time. They think an old policy still applies, they try to make the customer happy, their boss told them something else, they just guess. This happens so often in travel that FlyerTalkers have an acronym for their preferred workaround for getting reps to do something allowed by policy: HUACA, short for “hang up and call again.”

None of this back-and-forth is necessary when companies post the correct answer on their sites. But I shouldn’t complain too much; their failure to do so opens an information inefficiency that I can exploit for profit… and subsequent reader e-mails explaining how they know I got it wrong.