Weekly output: HBO and cord cutting, wireless carriers, two-step verification

This week involved many meetings, but that was okay–I spent a couple of days in New York catching up with my Yahoo Tech colleagues, getting updates about how we’ve done and hearing about future plans. I also successfully installed OS X Yosemite on both of my Macs and cheered on a friend running the Marine Corps Marathon for the first time. Overall: not a bad seven days.

Yahoo Tech post on HBO10/21/2014: Will Sports Learn from HBO’s Grand Online Experiment?, Yahoo Tech

This is a column I’d wanted to write for the past few years, but until recently I didn’t think my chance would come until maybe 2016. The photo illustrating my musings on HBO’s move to sell online-only viewing was an idea that came to me at the last minute, as I was flipping through the paper at the dining table; if only the words could pop into my head so quickly!

10/21/2014: This Is the Best Wireless Carrier for You, Time

The condensed edition of my Wirecutter guide to wireless carriers has run at a few other places (for instance, Fast Company posted its version Sept. 21), but I was tickled more than usual to see it land on the site of the newsmagazine I read almost every week in high school.

10/26/2014: Security update: AOL learns to two-step, and why your ISP may not, USA Today

A friend sent an apologetic e-mail about his AOL account getting hacked (yes, I have some pals who continue to use the site); I was going to tell him to turn on two-step verification and then realized I couldn’t; inquiries with AOL PR led to me breaking the (not-quite-huge) news that it will soon offer two-step verification once again.

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Weekly output: Facebook and Twitter transparency (x2), cord cutting, TV technology, Google Calendar and Microsoft Outlook

This week was looking super-productive until I had two fillings replaced during Wednesday’s visit to the dentist–and then the anesthetic and what looks like an adverse reaction to it had me out of commission for most of the rest of the day.

8/19/2014: Facebook, Twitter, and What a Social Network Owes Its Members, Yahoo Tech

This column followed up on extensive complaints about a perceived lack of visibility of news from Ferguson, Mo., on Facebook by suggesting how much Facebook and Twitter had to learn about being more transparent and accountable in how they filter and display information. The very day it ran, Twitter changed how it presents tweets to include those that had only been favorited by people you follow, plus others that it might deem interesting. And the sole announcement of this major shift was a revised tech-support note–not a blog post, not a tweet. Very funny, Twitter.

8/19/2014: How to Turn Off Facebook’s Algorithm … Temporarily, Yahoo Tech

This sidebar outlines a few ways to opt out of algorithmic filtering on Facebook and Twitter. With Twitter’s shift Tuesday, the post already looks out of date.

NowU cord-cutting post8/19/2014: How to untie yourself from cable TV, NowU

This long explainer is only about the 10th or 15th piece I’ve written about cord cutting, but it also benefits from a lot more experience with getting TV only via an antenna and various Internet sites, services and apps.

8/19/2014: The big picture: Choosing your next TV, NowU

The tl;dr version of this companion piece: Don’t worry too much, most TV sets are pretty good these days.

8/21/2014: Facebook and Twitter, Alice’s Coffee House With Johnny Molson

Listeners in the Springfield, Ill., market got to hear me talk about the transparency of these two social networks on Thursday morning with host Johnny Molson.

8/24/2014: How to get Google Calendar, Outlook to sync up, USA Today

This column–at least the third I’ve written about the changing state of sync between Google Calendar and third-party calendar apps–started with a message a reader sent to my Facebook page. See, I actually do read that stuff!

Weekly output: “TV Everywhere,” changing journalism, ad retargeting

All of the PR pitches for Mobile World Congress exhibits and events should have tipped me off, but it only really hit me this weekend that in two weeks, I’ll be in Barcelona for that show. Which, considering the number of things I’d like to have finished before then, is not entirely convenient.

Yahoo TV Everywhere post2/4/2014: ‘TV Everywhere’ Takes a Trip to Sochi, but Some Viewers Can’t Tag Along, Yahoo Tech

The launch of NBC’s expanded online coverage of the Winter Olympics gave me an opportunity to critique its practice of limiting Internet viewership to people who can authenticate their status as paying TV subscribers. What I didn’t realize at the time I wrote this: That NBC affiliate WRC’s over-the-air signal, once one of the strongest DTV broadcasts in the D.C. area, would be pretty much unwatchable this weekend. I’d like to know what changed there.

2/4/2014: media panel, PR Newswire

With Amy Webb and Edwin Warfield, I talked about the changing nature of journalism and whether I care for some current PR and social-media practices at a Baltimore conference for PR Newswire staffers. (I’m sure our discussion had a less generic title, but I forgot to write it down, and PR Newswire’s blog hasn’t posted the promised recap yet PR Newswire’s blog post, added Feb. 24th, doesn’t cite one either.)

2/9/2014: How does ad ‘retargeting’ work?, USA Today

I’d been thinking of doing an explainer about this increasingly common advertising strategy–where one site shows an ad for something you were viewing on another site minutes earlier–and then a friend’s Facebook comment gave me an excuse to write it.

On Sulia, I offered my first impressions of Facebook’s Paper app, kvetched about a security-certificate bug in OS X that seems to have gone three years without a fix, wondered why it takes so long to answer a call in Google+’s Hangouts app, wrote an insta-review of the Feedly-compatible ReadKit RSS app for OS X, and endorsed a site called CarFreeNearMe.com that plots out real-time info about nearby rail, bus, bikeshare and car-share options.

Weekly output: WiFi refrigerator, social media and government agencies, cord-cutting, QAM encryption, CableWiFi

My workweek had better scenery than usual, courtesy of the drive to and from Shepherdstown, West Virginia for my Thursday appointment.

USAT fridge photo4/8/2013: A refrigerator that thinks?, USA Today

I didn’t write this piece, but a photo I took at CES of Samsung’s WiFi-linked, Evernote-enabled T9000 refrigerator ran with it in print. This is the first time an image I’ve uploaded to Flickr has attracted the notice of a paying customer–which reminds me, I should upload more of the gadget-porn pictures I have cluttering iPhoto.

4/10/2013: Using Social Media to Communicate with the News Media, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

I made that trip to speak on a panel with NBC 4 editor Natasha Copeland and Washington Association of Black Journalists president Donna Walker at the Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Conservation Training Center–a beautiful campus a few miles uphill from town–about how government agencies can tell their story to the press in social media. My key point: Be prepared for the conversation with the general public, even if that means your Twitter presence becomes a tech-support channel. I don’t think they’ve posted video of our chat yet, but I’ll update this if they do. Update, 4/17: The organizers have posted an Adobe Connect recording of our panel.

4/11/2013: Who’s Going To Crack The Cord-Cutting Conundrum?, Disruptive Competition Project

Last weekend’s panel about cord cutting at Free Press’s conference in Denver yielded some useful insights about potential disruptions to the multichannel-TV business that I thought would be worth sharing with a wider audience.

4/14/2013: Tip: Why you need a box for basic cable, USA Today

RCN’s decision to encrypt its entire cable feed–then not offer any cheap way for owners of HDTVs to watch just local channels in high-def–gave me an excuse to revisit a topic I’d last covered for USAT a year earlier. The piece also includes something more positive about the cable industry, a tip about five major services’ initiative to provide free WiFi to all their subscribers.

Sulia highlights for the week: a negative review of WordPress.com’s implementation of two-step verification, a rant about two long-broken features on Intuit’s Mint.com, a note about inexplicable bugginess with Bluetooth file transfer from my Android phone, and an item about how a review phone’s number had come to be included in a long, intensive group-texting thread. (Since I sent my “can you take me off this list?” reply, I haven’t gotten any more messages from that chat.)

Weekly output: e-mail privacy, 3-D printing, TV antennas, smartphone competition, sports networks, bargaining over TV bills

It’s not a total coincidence that I wrote as much about TV as I did in the week running up to one of the biggest televised events of the year.

1/28/2013: Why Can’t Web Services Compete To Protect My Data From The Feds?, Disruptive Competition Project

Reporting this one made me feel a little dumb when I realized that I could have had a nice little scoop weeks or months earlier if I’d just asked Google, Microsoft and Yahoo what they require before turning over a user’s e-mail data to the government. It turns out that all three go beyond the strict requirements of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act in requiring a warrant–but that none seemed to think this was something worth bragging about.

1/29/2013: Hold Your Fire Before Freaking Out Over 3-D Printed Guns, Disruptive Competition Project

I started writing this post in December, then decided I didn’t like the last third of it and set it aside. I finally picked it up again after CES. Somewhat to my surprise, it only got one “you want to ban all guns” reply.

Discovery TV antennas review1/30/2013: Two Flat, Stick-On Antennas Tune In Free TV, Discovery News

I revisited the subject of over-the-air TV for the first time in over a year to review a couple of flat, lightweight antennas. Somewhat to my surprise, they worked better than the old set of rabbit ears I had plugged into the set downstairs (and unlike that antenna, I could put each one high enough on the wall to avoid becoming a plaything for our toddler). So I bought one of these models, the Mohu, and am now trying to figure out exactly where on the wall it will get the best reception of the three trickier network affiliates: ABC’s WJLA, CBS’s WUSA and PBS’s WETA.

2/1/2013: Will A Two-Party System Adequately Represent Smartphone Users?, Disruptive Competition Project

BlackBerry has a new operating system, but will it do any better than Microsoft’s Windows Phone? (I’ve been testing Windows Phone 8 on an HTC 8X; there are things I like about it, but the app selection really holds it back.) In this post, I express the possibly-futile hope that either BlackBerry or Microsoft can become a viable alternative to the increasingly entrenched duo of Apple and Google.

2/3/2013: How sports networks inflate your TV bill, USA Today

One of the people on my neighborhood’s mailing list asked about a new fee that Verizon was going to put on her bill to cover regional sports networks. I told her I’d see what else I could find out. The column also includes a reminder that TV rate hikes can, at least sometimes, be negotiable if your service thinks you’ll leave.

Sulia highlights this week included two more rants about the TV business–one on Verizon’s extortionate CableCard rate hike and another about the stupidity of making some Hulu content “Web-only”–and a post noting that the “Apple tax” is real when you look at what it costs to get more storage on an iPad.

A cord cutter visits the Cable Show

I spent the first half of this week at a place I wasn’t sure I’d be welcome–the Cable Show, the annual convention put on by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. After my wife and I canceled our Dish Network TV service back in October of 2009 and realized we could live without pay TV, I’ve repeatedly suggested that other TV subscribers weigh that option.

ImageFortunately, no bouncer tossed me out of the convention center in Boston (disclosure: one reason I attended was the chance to stay with my brother and catch up with his family), and I learned a few things about the market I’ve been avoiding since 2009.

(Yes, even though one of my clients is cable giant Discovery Communications. The irony is duly noted.)

One was that there is an enormous amount of stuff to watch on TV if you’re willing to pay for it–as JetBlue reminded on my way to and from Boston. Another was that the cable industry has recognized that the cable box is not exactly everybody’s  favorite gadget and is working to streamline its interface and reduce its power consumption. (My wrap-up of that awaits an editor’s attention; my photos of the show are up.)

But I also got a reminder that in some fundamental ways, the cable industry thinks it’s doing fine–NCTA president Michael Powell said in his opening keynote that “this industry has never been content to rest on aging business models”–and doesn’t need a fundamental change of course.

I don’t recall hearing the words “à la carte” spoken at any point, nor did I run into any serious discussions about the lesser step of offering subscribers a wider choice of channel bundles. “AllVid”–a nebulous proposal by the Federal Communications Commission for a unified standard for subscription-TV reception that might open the market for tuning and reception hardware–only came up when I asked an FCC staffer about it after a panel on regulatory issues had failed to mention the topic.

And you can continue to forget about paying for real-time online access to shows without the conventional cable subscription required by such Web-viewing options as HBO Go. The industry sees that and other cable-subscription-first “TV Everywhere” offerings as customer-retention moves, not ways to draw in new viewers.

And as for cord-cutting–a topic that drew me to Boston a year ago, when I led a panel about the topic at Free Press’s media-reform conference–the cable industry doesn’t seem to think it’s a serious issue. Chief executives and lower-ranking staffers all repeated that it’s not losing any viewers it would want to keep. For example, during Tuesday’s opening session, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes said a predicted wave of cord cutting “didn’t happen” except for “economically challenged customers… many of who didn’t even have boadband at home.”

I thought about standing up, waving my hand and shouting “dude, I’m right here!” But I did not.

I might have also said then that my brother and his wife cut the cord last summer (while retaining a Comcast Internet connection). After day one of the show, I went home to my brother’s house and watched a few episodes of NBC’s Community on his paid-for Hulu Plus subscription. After day two, we caught an episode of HBO’s Game Of Thrones that he obtained… somehow.