Steve Wildstrom

About a month after I left the Post, I sent an e-mail with the subject line “Joining the club” to another tech columnist who had been sent packing by his longtime employer a year and a half earlier.

I set aside the fact that I hadn’t had the class to send this guy a sorry-about-the-news note after his departure and instead asked upfront: any lessons from your experience that I should know about?

Barely 12 hours later, 875 words landed in my inbox, full of details about how this writer had handled the departure, his current business models and who he’d been invoicing, and what options I might want to consider. This line about the benefits of working from home stayed with me: “I love the flexibility of being able to cut the lawn on a Tuesday morning if that’s when I feel like doing it.”

The writer was Steve Wildstrom. He wrote Business Week’s personal-tech column from 1994 until 2009 with a combination of experience-driven insight and amused annoyance at the industry’s foibles (see, for example, this review of the Windows 7 upgrade experience), then carved out a successful career on his own after his column didn’t survive Bloomberg’s purchase of the magazine. On Tuesday, cancer took him from us, which gives me another reason to hate it.

I don’t remember when I first met Steve, but whenever it was, I soon got used to getting short e-mails and then tweets from him suggesting other angles to a topic I’d just covered that I might want to pursue. I almost always learned something from him, and I never got any sense that he was trying to show off his knowledge; he just didn’t want a key part of the story to go neglected.

Steve was also one of my favorite people to be on a panel with or run into at a conference (for example, Tech Policy Summit in 2012 and then Privacy Identity Innovation in 2014). I looked forward to seeing him randomly on the other side of the country… and now I can’t.

I am thankful today that I’ve had the chance to learn from people of this caliber. Good work Steve; now you can rest.

Weekly output: cross-device tracking, prepaid and MVNO wireless, Justin Bieber Mode, USB-C cables and chargers

My business travel for the year officially wrapped up with my return Friday night from a brief but meeting-packed trip to NYC. If I spend any other nights out of town for work before CES 2016, somebody else will need to be paying.

In other news: Welcome, new readers interested in Syrian-refugee politics and/or USB-C accessories! Should you keep reading, each Sunday you will find a recap of where I wrote or spoke or was quoted; at least one more day in the week sees me writing about some other thing that doesn’t fit at my usual outlets.

11/17/2015: Cross-Device Tracking: How the Ad Industry Will Follow You Wherever You Go, Yahoo Tech

A workshop hosted by the Federal Trade Commission Monday gave me an opportunity to write about a topic I’ve been following for a while.

Wirecutter prepaid MVNO wireless guide11/19/2015: Best Prepaid and Alternative Cellphone Plans, The Wirecutter

My third guide at this site covers both prepaid and resold (aka “MVNO,” short for “mobile virtual network operator”) wireless service, and it was many months in the making. Please read the comments; I spent part of Friday morning answering the first round of reader feedback, and I’ll be back there Monday or Tuesday.

11/19/2015: Who Should Be On Lyft’s Playlist After Justin Bieber?, Yahoo Tech

Yes, I’m old to cover anything involving Justin Bieber. But after getting a prompt in the Lyft app to partake in this promotion, I couldn’t not write about the weird intersection of the ride-hailing service and the Canadian pop star.

11/22/2015: Some Android users face quandry with USB-C, USA Today

My self-serving motivation to write this column was my own curiosity over when the phone chargers handed out as tech-event swag will feature USB Type-C connectors to match the hardware on my new phone. Before you mention it: Yes, I’m aware of the typo in the headline, and we’ll get that fixed soonest.

I would like to buy an argument: debating Syrian-refugee paranoia

I’ve spent too much time over the last five days arguing with people who have suddenly decided that Syrian refugees represent such a threat to the United States that we cannot risk admitting any of them, and it’s been wearying work on multiple levels.

First, there’s the bankruptcy of the entire argument that boiled over after the Paris attacks. All of the attackers identified so far were EU nationals, not Syrian refugees; there’s no evidence the craven death cult that has no right to call itself Islamic is even trying to hide itself among refugees fleeing it (none of the 2,200-odd Syrian refugees admitted since Sept. 11, 2001 have been arrested for plotting violent acts); getting into the U.S. as a refugee is a tedious, years-long process; getting in as a Syrian refugee involves even more screening; and said craven death cult wants us to fear Muslim foreigners, so this entire demonization of Syrian refugees fits right into their playbook.

Japanese internment memorial(Before you brush off the previous paragraph as a product of the liberal media conspiracy, please read this debunking of refugee myths by longtime Virginia Republican Brian Schoeneman.)

Then there’s trying to grasp the logic of politicians who were for Syrian refugees before they were against it and now refuse to admit any unless we can guarantee that 100 percent of them don’t embody a threat that appears to be fictional. This devotion to security at all costs would be touching if so many of these same individuals didn’t shrug away such better-documented risks as America’s current gun policy, the death toll on our roads, and global warming.

Lest the last paragraph look like a jab at Republicans, remember that this fear-mongering is a bipartisan sport: The single worst statement on the subject may have come from Roanoke, Virginia’s Democratic mayor David Bowers, who cited the 1940s imprisonment of Japanese-Americans as a reasonable precedent before apologizing two days later.

The second-most trying part of this conversation is what happens when you ask strangers how they came to this reasoning. One conversation on Twitter ended with the fellow in question asserting that “I trust 10,000 Jews before I trust 10 Muslims.” A friend of a friend on Facebook declared that “Any restrictions in Muslims would be based on the fact that they have earned it.”

It would be easy to brush off this hysteria as the product of garden-variety xenophobia and Islamophobia, but then there’s the most difficult part of the deal: Hearing from friends I know to be educated and open-minded who still think we can’t let in any Syrian refugees.

I try not to be a jerk when talking politics with pals, but I probably haven’t lived up to that standard this week. All I can say is this: If I didn’t care what you thought, I wouldn’t waste so many processor cycles trying to convince you otherwise. But I wish I did know where you’re coming from, because you’ve totally lost me on this one.

Oh, and this: If you really do want to hold up the citizens of one country or the adherents of one religion as uniquely suspect, can you please first go to D.C. and spend a few minutes contemplating the Memorial to Japanese-American Patriotism in World War II that commemorates the fear-driven imprisonment of 110,000 to 120,000 people who came from or had ancestors in the wrong country? Then ask yourself: Are you willing to make that same statement in front of this monument to our surrender to bigotry 73 years ago?

Weekly output: data caps, enterprises and startups, semi-anonymous social media, T-Mobile price plans, social media and Paris attacks

I had a fun few days in New York at the Consumer Electronics Association’s Consumer Technology Association’s Innovate conference. I’d also planned to spend some of my time in Manhattan at Fast Company’s Innovation Festival, but learning only hours before that a talk by Apple retail chief Angela Ahrendts had been made off-limits to the press (aside from Fast Company’s Harry McCracken, who himself didn’t know about this rule and his exclusion from it) annoyed me enough to skip the rest of that conference. Here’s a little event-planning FYI: don’t indulge in that sort of control-freakery. You will only annoy the press, and word will get out on social media anyway.

11/11/2015: Cap as Cap Can: Comcast, T-Mobile Redefine Data Limits in Ways You May Not Like, Yahoo Tech

One point I could have made in this post but did not: Comcast’s devotion to fairness apparently stops with business customers, who face no such data tiers.

11/12/2015: Witness the Symbiosis Between Enterprises and Startups, Tech.Co

Tech.Co’s Will Schmidt wrote up the panel I moderated at the Celebrate conference last month. The post also includes full video of our discussion.

CAM Summit panel11/13/2015: How Social is Going Private: Snapchat, Texting and New Platforms, Campaigns & Marketing Summit

I had the easiest job as moderator ever because my panelists–Sherri Anne GreenJenn KauffmanKat Murti, and Emily Rasowsky--knew their stuff, enjoyed debating it and didn’t step over each other’s lines. I hope the organizers post video of our talk at some point.

11/13/2015: T-Mobile’s new deal will mean rate hikes for some users, USA Today

The feedback loop on this one got a little crazy when T-Mobile CEO John Legere tweeted his annoyance at the headline’s suggestion that some T-Mo subscribers would pay more. That’s a fair complaint, since the carrier didn’t touch plans in effect before Sunday–as the story itself makes clear. My editor said we’d take another look at the headline, but as of Sunday night it had not been changed.

11/14/2015: Social media and the Paris attacks, WTOP

The news station had me on to talk about how social media carried news of Friday’s atrocities in Paris and then gave people ways to, as I put it, scream, cry or wonder why. A busy schedule that Saturday meant I had to do the interview sitting in our parked car while our daughter’s soccer team was playing on the adjacent field, which is not an ideal situation in multiple ways.

Je t’aime, Paris

Eiffel Tower in 1991Lesser-known fact about me: For one happy summer in 1990, I qualified as a part-time Parisian. I owed that to my dad, who had first lucked into a transfer to his employer’s Paris office and then–nepotism at its finest!–arranged a summer job for me there.

Each morning, I’d board the train in the suburb of Louveciennes, transfer to the RER, escape from the subterranean, odorous archipelago of the Châtelet – les Halles station, and enjoy a short walk to Dad’s office. I’d plug away at building out a database, then take a long lunch break and explore the city.

I’d come back, immerse myself in Paradox for another few hours and then head home. I felt like I’d won an occupational lottery on top of the life-lottery victory of my parents’ move to France in 1989 and my subsequent spring, summer and winter breaks there.

Paris office viewThe two and a half years my family spent around France’s capital before returning to the States in 1991 gave me the chance to know the city beyond bucket-list tourist attractions: the sculpture garden of modern architecture that is La Défense; quiet, tree-lined streets in the inner arrondissements; the roof of the old opera building that a friend and I somehow made our way to after ditching a tour.

This time also left me with an enduring fondness for baguettes, croissants, Camembert, crêpes, Côtes du Rhône, steak frites, duck breast, any other entrée done up with a pan sauce, and Calvados.

And it taught me to speak French well enough that Parisians stopped automatically replying in English. (I had an unfair advantage at Georgetown’s foreign-language proficiency exam: When my examiner handed me a Le Monde story and asked me to discuss it, I realized I’d read that piece a week before while spending Easter with my family.) That fluency has faded, but I still enjoy dusting off my rusty French to help a visitor like the gentleman at the Walmart near Union Station who needed a prepaid SIM card for his phone.

France passport stampsI wish I were writing this out of idle nostalgia. But I’m not. The city I adored 25 years ago fell victim to a series of monstrous crimes Friday night, apparently committed by the same craven death cult that has murdered thousands more across the Middle East and has no right to call itself “Islamic” or even “human.”

There is nothing I can do to reverse that. But I can say this much after almost a quarter-century apart: Paris, it’s been so long since last we met, but I will return. That’s a promise.

Weekly output: DMCA exemptions, Facebook futurism, Tinder, Web Summit

Back in March, my friend Ron Miller was recounting his experience at Web Summit a few months earlier and suggesting I go. I’m glad (not for the first time!) I heeded his advice. For a sense of those five days in Dublin, see my Flickr slideshow.

I’m now about to spend a couple of days in New York for the Consumer Electronics Association’s Innovate conference, where I can heckle David Pogue get an update on what the gadget industry’s been up to.

11/3/2015: Why Jailbreaking Your iPhone Is Legal But Hacking eBooks is Not, Yahoo Tech

Longtime readers may recall I wrote a post for CEA’s public-policy blog in 2011 about the incoherent policy of granting exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s ban on circumventing DRM. My wait for an opportunity to revisit this topic ended when the government issued this year’s round of exemptions a week and change ago.

Yahoo Tech Facebook Web Summit talk post11/4/2015: Facebook’s Vision for the Future: Drones With Lasers, All-Seeing AI, VR for Real, Yahoo Tech

This post stands as a sequel of sorts to the piece I filed from SXSW about a similar talk from Google’s “Captain of Moonshots” Astro Teller about a comparable range of ambitious experiments.

11/4/2015: Tinder’s Sean Rad: We’re Changing the World, One Long-Term Relationship at a Time, Yahoo Tech

I was worried I wouldn’t get into the hall to see Rad’s interview, but the crowds parted and I got a seat. As I asked at the end of this post: If you, unlike me, have ever installed Tinder on your own phone, do you agree with Rad’s take on this dating app?

11/6/2015: Robot sex, drone sheep-herding: what you missed at Web Summit, USA Today

The lede and end of this story popped into my head almost immediately, but the rest took longer to write. As in, I was still working on it while on a bus to meet three of my cousins for dinner. (Dublin FYI: The buses have WiFi that worked well for me after I’d answered a moderately intrusive questionnaire on the “captive portal” sign-in page.)


Nexus 5X setup tips

A week and a half ago, I set up a new phone–not to review, but to keep. I’m not ready to render a conclusive verdict on this Nexus 5X beyond “I paid for it and I own it,” but I can offer some getting-started advice to other new 5X users. Maybe you will find them helpful?

Nexus 5X on Ha'penny BridgeNexus Imprint: The fingerprint recognizer on the back of this phone works amazingly fast–it only took me a few days to get out of the habit of pressing the power button to wake it. But it functioned better after I re-registered my left and right index fingers with more off-axis touches to allow for those times when I grab the phone from one side or another.

After I’d done that, I remembered to register my wife’s fingerprint too. You should do the same for anybody you’d trust with your phone if you couldn’t get to it.

USB Type-C: I no longer have to worry about plugging a USB cable into this thing upside-down; instead, I have to worry about trying to use it with my collection of incompatible micro-USB cables. To keep all of those old accessories–especially those connected to external chargers, given that this is yet another phone I can’t assume will last a full day on a charge–I had to buy a USB-C-to-micro-USB adapter for $7 or so off Amazon.

Any advice about where else I should have looked? Monoprice’s offerings were more expensive–maybe because theirs charge fast enough by correctly implementing the USB Type-C specification?

LED notifications: The 5X has a notification LED embedded below the screen that’s off by default. To switch it on, open the Settings app, touch “Sound & notification,” and tap the switch to the right of “Pulse notification light.”

WiFi calling: This phone can also do WiFi calling on compatible carriers such as T-Mobile, and you can enable that under the “More” heading of Settings’ “Wireless & networks” category. Touch “WiFi calling” for a switch to activate that and an option to prefer WiFi or cellular calling.

Screen app and widget layouts: I was a little embarrassed by how many mental processor cycles I put into migrating a layout of apps and widgets from the four-icon-wide grid on my old phone to the 5X’s five-icon grid. But in return, I was able to condense five screens’ worth of app shortcuts down to four.

But some of my regular widgets, like the two-icon-wide analog clock and the four-icon-wide “What’s This Song?”, either no longer fit neatly at the center of the screen or could span the width of it, and the old power-management toolbar doesn’t seem available in Marshmallow at all.

Oh, and if you were confused about how to create new home screens beyond the one you get by default: Drag an app icon off the right or left side of that screen, and Android will spawn a new one automatically.