About robpegoraro

Freelance journalist who covers (and is often vexed by) computers, gadgets and other things that beep.

Weekly output: 2016 tech-policy topics, tech journalism and PR, phone theft, Tech Night Owl, no-broadband house

This was my least-scheduled week in the entire month, allowing me to start catching up on some overdue chores. Like doing my taxes.

3/24/2015: 3 Tech Arguments that the Candidates for President Will Be Debating… Endlessly, Yahoo Tech

Monday’s announcement by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) of his entrance into the 2016 presidential race gave me a reason to outline three key tech-policy issues–and some key words and phrases that indicate a candidate is either thinking seriously about them or recycling discredited dogma.

BusinessWire panel photos via Twitter3/24/2015: Media Breakfast with DC Technology Media, BusinessWire

I talked about the state of the tech-news business and news-PR interactions with the Washington Business Journal’s Kasra Kangarloo, Potomac Tech Wire publisher Paul Sherman, Politico’s Joseph Marks and my old Post colleague Hayley Tsukayama. You may have seen some of our banter tweeted out by attendees under the #BWchat hashtag.

This isn’t the first time I’ve made an early-morning trek to Tysons for a BusinessWire breakfast panel (I did the same thing in 2013), but it was the first time I could take what I like to call the Tysons Corner El instead of driving. Round-trip fare on the Silver Line: $7.05. Being able to laugh at traffic on 66 and the Beltway while answering e-mail on my laptop: priceless.

3/24/2015: Armed robbers target victims along popular trail, Fox 5 DC

After a round of robberies on the Metropolitan Branch Trail in which thieves (since arresteddemanded not just smartphones but their numeric passcodes, Fox 5’s Jennifer Davis interviewed about that tactic. I told her that you should make sure your phone’s online-backup and remote-wipe features were active. And what should you do if a robber demands your phone and its unlock code? My only suggestion (which didn’t make the spot) was to try to reset the phone, on the assumption that the criminal only wants a phone in a sellable state.

3/28/2015: March 28, 2015 — Jeff Gamet and Rob Pegoraro, Tech Night Owl

I talked to host Gene Steinberg about Sling TV and other new video services aimed at cord-cutters, how Apple might offer one of its own, and Google’s latest interactions with regulators on either side of the Atlantic.

3/29/2015: New home, no broadband? Prepare to negotiate, USA Today

This column started with a tweet to me during last month’s FCC vote to overturn North Carolina and Tennessee’s restrictions on municipal broadband. Untangling this Knoxville-area reader’s situation and assessing his options took weeks longer than I expected. Fortunately, he does have one broadband option at hand, with another to come should he agres to Comcast’s offer to connect his home if he commits upfront to two years of pricier-than-usual service.

Cert-ifiable: How my Mac didn’t trust a new secure site from the Feds

For about three minutes on Monday, I thought I’d uncovered a gigantic security flaw in a new government site set up to push other .gov sites towards secure browsing: When I tried visiting The HTTPS-Only Standard, my iMac’s copy of Safari reported that it couldn’t verify that site’s identity and its copy of Chrome said my connection wasn’t private.

https.cio.gov cert errorBut when you think you’ve uncovered an obvious error in a site that’s been out for over a week, it’s usually your own setup at fault. And within minutes of my tweeting about those warnings, I got a reply from the guy who configured the site saying he couldn’t reproduce the problem.

After some quick testing on this computer, my MacBook Air, my iPad and my phone (during which I silently congratulated myself for editing some accusatory sarcasm out of that tweet before posting it), I realized this fault was confined to Safari and Chrome on my two Macs. Every other browser, including Firefox on my iMac, got through to that HTTPS-Only site normally.

Further Twitter conversations pointed me to each Mac’s store of saved site certificates, accessible in the Keychain Access app. For Safari and Chrome to encrypt a connection to that government site, OS X needed to match its digital certificate against a sort of master key, a “root certificate” stored in the system.

old Comodo certificate(For a better description of how the mathematical magic of encrypted browsing happens, consult my friend Glenn Fleishman’s 2011 explainer for the Economist.)

Both Macs had an old copy of Comodo Group’s root certificate, one not listed on Apple’s inventory of trusted root certs. I tried deleting that certificate, figuring it probably wouldn’t make things worse–and that was all it took for the HTTPS-Only site to work as advertised and for one or two other sites to stop coughing up security warnings.

With my encrypted browsing back to normal, I’m left to wonder how my system keychains got tangled up like that. Any theories? Before you ask: Yes, I’ve done a full scan with the ClamXav malware scanner and haven’t found any issues.

Weekly output: Birdly, net neutrality, SXSW’s hot apps, Google moonshots, best LTE hotspot, basic cable on extra TVs

I completed two rites of spring today: editing and uploading my SXSW photos (here’s the Flickr album) and weeding the lawn for the first of many times this year. One of them has left me sore.

Yahoo Tech Birdly recap3/16/2015: This VR Demo Let Me Soar Over San Francisco Like a Bird, Yahoo Tech

My friend and SXSW housemate Dan Pacheco had been telling me about this crazy VR demo/bird flight simulator since at least Saturday, and Monday morning I finally got my introduction. The words practically flew onto the screen as I typed up this recap, which is always a good feeling.

3/16/2015: Take Back Your Internet, Golden Frog

I moderated this Austin secure-Web-services company’s panel about net neutrality. Will all of the panelists–lawyer and activist Marvin Ammori, Data Foundry chief technology officer Edward Henigin, Federal Communications Commission counsel Gigi Sohn, CompTel CEO Chip Pickering, and Computer & Communications Industry Association European vice president James Waterworth–being very much in favor of it, the discussion got a little one-sided. But I did expose a few differences of opinion in issues like the best ways to foster broadband competition.

3/17/2015: Where Are They Now? Hot Apps From Past SXSWs that Didn’t Have Much of a Future, Yahoo Tech

I knew that the apps people had been chattering about at SXSW 2012, my introduction to this festival, hadn’t made much of a dent since. But when I realized that one of them had become the “Nearby Friends” feature on Facebook that has yet to signal the presence of a pal I’m not already talking to, I thought: there’s a column in this.

3/18/2015: Don’t Trust Humans, Wear Fluffy Socks: Wisdom From Google X, Yahoo Tech

I’d seen Google’s “Captain of Moonshots” Astro Teller speak once before, at TechCrunch Disrupt in New York last May, and so making time for his keynote was an easy call. In it, he shared some new details about Google’s ventures into self-driving cars and Internet-broadcasting balloons.

3/20/2105: This Is The Best Wifi Hotspot You Can Buy, Forbes

A month or so back, I filed a condensed version of my update to the Wirecutter’s guide to LTE hotspots, and Forbes’ tech section seems to have been the first place to run it. (I only found out about it a week later when a publicist thanked me for mentioning her client’s product in a Forbes post I had no memory of writing.)

3/22/2015: Basic cable switch on extra TVs not so simple, USA Today

This column revisited a subject I seem to cover at least every two years–your dwindling ability to watch cable TV without a separate box with its own monthly fee. This time around, it doubled as a headline-writing refresher course: The hed I wrote the first time around had not one but two techie abbreviations and failed to describe the core problem my reader had complained about in her e-mail.

Updated 3/25 to add the LTE-hotspots post.

 

A broken MacBook power adapter and crowdsourced charging

I spent my last two days and change at SXSW without a working power adapter for my MacBook Air, and remaining productive on my laptop was far easier than I could have imagined.

Frayed MacBook Air chargerThe insulation around the cable on my 2012 model’s MagSafe 2 charger had started fraying just off the power brick months ago. Sometime Sunday afternoon I realized that the wiring underneath had become entirely exposed, and the thing would only charge if it fell away from the brick at the right angle. By that night, it wouldn’t charge at all.

It’s a testament to the enormous popularity of Apple hardware that keeping my laptop charged over the next few days was so little trouble. It was nothing at all like the horrendous experience I had after forgetting to pack the charger for a Dell laptop on my way to CES 2007, when compatible power bricks for this model were a lot harder to find than Dell’s popularity at the time would have suggested.

Instead, my biggest hangup was properly spacing out my “hey, can I borrow your charger” requests so each of my SXSW pals with a MacBook Air wouldn’t feel too put upon. The closest I came to genuine inconvenience was when my Yahoo Tech colleague Jason Gilbert and I, sitting side by side with depleted laptops, had to take turns with his power adapter: We’d plug in one MacBook, charge it long enough to get its battery gauge out of the red, then plug in the other.

It also helps that laptop battery life has advanced enormously since 2007: Even after two and a half years of charge cycles, my MacBook can still last for four hours, then retain most of its remaining charge while asleep.

I didn’t even bother going to the Apple Store in Austin, far north of downtown, or looking up other computer stores downtown. I saved that errand for when I got home, when I paid $83.74 with tax for a replacement charger. Oof.

I’m not a fan of the minimalist, mono-port design of Apple’s new MacBook, but at least its use of the compact and crafty USB-C standard for charging means its users won’t have to pay those kinds of monopoly prices if they wind up in my situation.

In the meantime: Is there anything I could have done to the charger before it failed completely? The guy at the Apple Store who sold me the replacement said he sees plenty of charger cables shrouded with electrical tape, and it appears that I could have patched the cord with sugru–but of course I had neither of those things handy when the charger still worked, sort of. Sigh.

Weekly output: Apple Watch, smartwatch UX, Hillary Clinton’s e-mail, freeing up disk space

AUSTIN–I’ve been here since Friday afternoon for SXSW. Total number of tacos consumed to date in my fourth trip to this festival: seven. 3/9/2015: Apple Watch, WTOP

I shared a few thoughts about the promise and risks of this smartwatch on the day of its debut.

Yahoo Tech smartwatch-UX post3/10/2015: The One Feature that Wil lDetermine the Quality of the Apple Watch, Yahoo Tech

I drew on months of experience wearing one Android Wear smartwatch or another to write this post explaining how the Apple Watch should not just mirror the notifications popping up on an iPhone.

3/12/2015: Emails From Hillary: So Many Mysteries, Yahoo Tech

I worried that this post about the fundamental weirdness of the former Secretary of State’s private e-mail system would draw a round of uninformed, hateful comments, and the commentariat did not disappoint me.

3/15/2015: How to find space hogs on laptop hard drive, USA Today

 This column started with my own experience of having OS X report that it couldn’t install a security update from Apple because my MacBook Air had run out of space. And then I learned about a handy Windows-file search shortcut that had escaped my attention for years.

The enduring value of answering somebody’s question

Weekends are a slow time around here, but not last weekend. Credit for that goes to the switch back to Daylight Savings Time… and a post I dashed off on my iPad in a fit of nerd rage last summer that I haven’t tried to promote since.

DST how-to page viewsThat rant about the awful interface of my wife’s Timex sports watch shared my hard-earned knowledge of how to change the time on the thing. And because this watch apparently sold reasonably well, I now get a crazy amount of traffic at each time change. Saturday, for example, this blog racked up 2,079 page views, or about 10 times the typical traffic.

I shouldn’t have been surprised to see that happen, though. The single most popular post here is a how-to about setting up Lotus Notes to forward all your mail to a Gmail account. That, too, has benefited from near-zero promotion on my part since I rewrote the instructions I’d published on the Post’s intranet.

The good news here is that Google can work as intended: If you answer somebody’s question accurately, your work will show up in search queries and get read. You don’t need the post to go viral on social media or be endorsed by some influencer; it gets found pretty much on its own.

The bad news is that this doesn’t happen instantly. And in newsrooms where writers are paid based on the traffic they generate, that kind of slow-burn popularity may not show up in the short-term metrics that can put extra dollars in people’s paychecks or leave those same staffers a little closer to being ushered out the door.

Weekly output: net-neutrality politics, secure smartphones, wireless charging, MWC, Apple Pay

I gave myself an extra day to explore Mobile World Congress, yet I still ended this year’s pilgrimage to Barcelona wishing I’d had more time to check out all the gadgets/services/apps on display. It appears I need to work on my MWC clock management.

But I did come home with a significantly larger Evernote file and a packed camera memory card (see the results on Flickr), plus some ideas about how I can better cover the show next year.

3/3/2015: How Comcast, Verizon, and the Rest of Big Telecom Blew the Net-Neutrality Battle, Yahoo Tech

I’d had this column in mind since President Obama’s surprising switch to advocating a Title II reclassification of Internet providers as “common carrier” telecom services. Which is another way of saying that I should have had this finished before I got to MWC instead of wrapping it up in the press room Monday afternoon.

Yahoo Tech secure-smartphones post3/4/2015: The Big Problem with the Secure New Smartphones of the Snowden Era: Other Phones, Yahoo Tech

A look at the absence of PGP-encrypted messages in my inbox should be reminder enough about how hard interoperability is. But seeing three different smartphone platforms at MWC that may not be able to talk securely to one another was instructive too.

3/5/2015: Wireless Charging May Not Be Doomed To Irrelevance, Yahoo Tech

MWC left me slightly more optimistic about the prospects for wireless charging being something that people look for in a new mobile gadget, then use regularly once they buy it. And yet: I was able to charge my own, Qi-compatible phone wirelessly all of one time.

3/5/2015: 7 Things We Learned About the Future of Technology at MWC 2015, Yahoo Tech

I contributed a graf or three to this recap of the show. I also had a photo of mine show up in Jason Gilbert’s look back at MWC’s weirder sights.

3/8/2015: Is Apple Pay not NFC?, USA Today

Some grumpiness over press coverage treating Apple Pay as a species separate from NFC payments got me to start asking a few questions, leading to a column in which JetBlue PR essentially left some of its earlier statements inoperative.