Weekly output: Apple-Samsung patent fights, Rocky Agrawal, Google Voice

On a trip where I was supposed to be covering other people’s news, I wound up ever-so-slightly in the news myself after my friend Rocky Agrawal had a Twitter meltdown for a few days. I wrote about our meeting Monday night and tried to suggest that onlookers consider more than the past 72 hours in judging his character, and Business Insider ran a story written around my post. (Hi, new readers. Please stick around.)

Yahoo AppSung post5/6/2014: Apple v. Samsung, Unspun: Patent Warfare Is a Slow, Costly Habit with Few Winners, Yahoo Tech

I led off this analysis of the latest Apple v. Samsung verdict by suggesting that the only sure winners were the children of the patent lawyers involved, who could now count on having their college tuition fully covered. A reader countered in a comment: “As the spouse of a former patent litigator, I take issue with the first paragraph. The children of these attorneys do not win in this scenario. The hours spent on this case are hours these parents will never get to spend with their kids. So pretty much everyone loses.” Fair point.

5/9/2014: Concern on Twitter for the mental health of a former PayPal executive, The Columbia Journalist

Freelance journalist and Columbia j-school student Sara Ashley O’Brien interviewed me for this recap of my friend’s situation.

5/11/2014: Google hangs up on Internet calls for many Voice users, USA Today

Google’s imminent end of support for a protocol that let third-party Internet-calling apps hook into its Google Voice service meant I had to explain why advice I’d offered a year ago in my USAT column is no longer operative.

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Weekly output: Net neutrality, iPhone theft

NEW YORK–I’m writing this much later in the day than usual, on account of having a late Saturday night of WHCD silliness that was followed by a prolonged and pleasant brunch hosted by my client Yahoo. And then the Acela’s WiFi, which has been pretty reliable lately, was barely usable, thwarting my hopes of getting this post done on the way up here: Up next: three days of startup demos, panels and keynotes at TechCrunch Disrupt.

Yahoo net-neutrality post4/29/2014:  The FCC Appears to be Letting ‘Net Neutrality’ Die. Here’s Why That Matters., Yahoo Tech

I was one of a minority of journalists to not crucify FCC chair Tom Wheeler for his proposal to reconstitute a diminished set of net-neutrality regulations that would allow Internet providers to charge sites extra for faster delivery of their content. But I did say that the FCC had to do a much better job of explaining this idea and related proposals, which Wheeler then did in a blog post that afternoon.

5/4/2014: Will Apple’s ‘kill switch’ tamp down iPhone thefts?, USA Today

After two friends had their iPhones stolen in D.C., I had to wonder when the ability of Apple’s Activation Lock to render a stolen phone permanently unusable would start to deter iPhone theft. This column also gave me a chance to note the wireless industry’s recent commitment to offer kill-switch systems for other phones.

Weekly output: tax prep, Google Glass, Heartbleed, Nearby Friends, online banking

This was a multiple-microphone week, and two of my three broadcast appearances involved shows that hadn’t booked me as a guest before. That’s good.

In other news: Happy Easter!

4/15/2014: The Strange and Successful Campaign to Make Taxes More Taxing, Yahoo Tech

A lot of material had to get left out of this already-long column denouncing the crony-capitalism campaign by Intuit and such Washington groups as Americans for Tax Reform and my former client CCIA to stop governments from letting citizens file and pay taxes at their own sites. (For example, these direct-filing sites cost little to run–$80,000 a year at California’s ReadyReturn, $150,000 for Pennsylvania’s soon-to-be-shuttered padirectfile.)  Comments debuted at Yahoo Tech late Tuesday afternoon, and as you can see I did not wait long to show up in them myself.

Speaking of feedback, you might as well see ATR’s latest post opposing IRS-run tax prep and stories, mine included, that suggest it would be a good thing… which, in a coincidence too weird for me not to disclose, was written by the guy who’s done my taxes since 2012.

4/16/2014: Google Glass and privacy, Al Jazeera

The news network’s Arabic-language channel had me on the air to talk about Google Glass and privacy issues. Since I was being translated into Arabic in real time, the producer emphasized that I speak slowly and simply–a challenge when my usual habit is to speak too fast on the air.

To the Point Heartbleed show4/16/2014: Heartbleed and Internet Security, To the Point

KCRW’s news show had me on to discuss the Heartbleed bug and how  open-source development broke down in this case. I wish I’d thought to compare major tech companies’ unwillingness to kick in any money to the OpenSSL Foundation with all the effort they’ve put into finding ways to pipe income to shell corporations in overseas tax havens.

Most of my input happened in the first 20 minutes or so, but keep listening to hear Internet Governance Project founder Milton Mueller discard some silly objections from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation’s Daniel Castro to the government’s proposal to hand over supervision of the DNS root zone.

4/18/2014: Nearby Friends, WTOP

D.C.’s news station had me on the air for a few minutes via Skype to talk about Facebook’s new location-based option, its privacy implications and how it competes with such existing apps as Foursquare and the D.C. startup SocialRadar.

4/20/2014: Safety you can bank on: Chromebook, Linux, phone, USA Today

A relative’s question about whether he should buy a Chromebook for his online banking gave me an opportunity to note a couple of cheaper options to separate your Web financial transactions from your regular use: booting your computer off a Linux CD or flash drive, or using your bank’s app or the built-in browser on your phone or tablet.

Reader suggestions for fixing an iMessage mess

Sunday’s USA Today Q&A about getting one’s mobile number untangled from Apple’s iMessage service looks to be one of the most-read columns I’ve done there. It’s also drawn more than the usual amount of reader feedback–including two reports of remedies that I had not discovered during the week or so I spent digging into this issue.

iPhone Messages settingsOne came from an AT&T subscriber in Minnesota:

A few days before the article I had the same problem and called AT&T.  They had me text the word ‘stop’ to 48369, to which I got the response: “FREE MSG: Apple iCloud ID Verification: You have been unsubscribed and will no longer receive messages. 1-800-275-2273″

I’ve since found one confirmation of that fix in a Reddit comment and a posting on Apple’s tech-support forum. There’s also an Apple tech support notice… which only describes this procedure as a way to stop Apple from sending AppleCare identity-verification messages to a wrong number.

A reader in Washington who said he works “at a major phone retailer” sent in a different suggestion that he said “always” works: Reset your Apple ID password.

Go to https://iforgot.apple.com/password/verify/appleid Enter your Apple ID in the space and just reset your Apple ID password. Even if you don’t have access to that email or security questions, it will remove all Apple registered devices from iMessage instantly.

In case you were wondering: Neither suggestion came up in the background conversations I had with Apple PR, even though one is allegedly endorsed by Apple support.
But that’s not nearly as important as whether either cure can earn an endorsement from you. If you’ve found either one successfully exfiltrated a number from iMessage–or if you have a different fix to share–please leave a comment with the details.

Weekly output: Sprint-T-Mobile, Tech Night Owl, iMessage

I was a lot more productive than usual this week (much of that activity went into a project that’s not ready to post yet), even though I lost all of Monday to travel. Funny how that works…

3/25/2014: Dear Feds: Hang Up on a Sprint/T-Mobile Merger, Yahoo Tech

I still don’t know if Sprint is going to try to go through with what seems a phenomenally bad idea, but I wanted to go on the record about my dislike of further consolidation of the four big wireless carriers. I also thought this was a good time to denounce the idea that government regulators can manage away the risks of mega-mergers by imposing complicated conditions on the conduct of the combined firm; saying “no” is easier, cheaper and permanent.

3/29/2014: March 29, 2014 — Rick Broida, Daniel Eran Dilger and Rob Pegoraro, Tech Night Owl

I made one of my occasional appearances on Gene Steinberg’s Apple-centric podcast; we talked about the arrival of Microsoft Office on the iPad and my column on Sprint-T-Mobile.

USAT column on iMessage mess3/30/2014: iMessage: How to make it stop, USA Today

I’ve been hearing complaints from friends and acquaintances for at least the last year about how switching from an iPhone to a non-Apple device (especially if that switch happens after the loss or theft of the iPhone in question) causes text messages from friends on other iPhones to vanish. I finally looked into this for my column and found things were even worse than I’d thought: You can have messages go down a black hole even if you do things right, Apple’s documentation is woefully incomplete, and the company’s tech support can’t be relied on to play by even the undocumented rules.

Note that until we can get a revision in, the column describes one aspect of iMessage incorrectly: I wrote that iMessage-routed messages appear in green bubbles and regular texts show up in blue when it’s the other way around. If Apple fans seize on that error to call the rest of the column into question–well, they’d be wrong, but it’s still my job to get the details right.

Weekly output: PR pitches, Google I/O (x2), photo-album apps, smartphone multimedia

I spent the workweek in San Francisco–as in, my flight left National Airport at 8 a.m. Monday, and my flight home landed at Dulles around 6:30 p.m. Friday. Next week will also involve a long commute: I’m off to Las Vegas tomorrow for the CTIA 2013 wireless trade show.

5/13/2013: Your Brand Message Sucks: How to Pitch Your “Amazing” Product to Journalists, Influence HR

I spoke on a panel with Reputation Capital’s Mary Ellen Slayter, the Starr Conspiracy’s Lance Haun and Angles PR’s Ania Kubicki about good and bad ways PR types can deal with the press. (What was I doing at an HR-oriented conference? Mary Ellen’s an old friend from the Post and invited me onto the panel.)

I talked to WTOP about Google’s I/O news on Wednesday, but that interview doesn’t seem to have been preserved on the station’s index for that day. Drat!

Google I:O Discovery News post

5/16/2013: Google Probably Knew About This Post Before Me, Discovery News

The headline for this Google I/O recap popped into my head almost fully formed. I’m glad the editors stuck with that; I’m a little disappointed nobody picked up the Suzanne Vega reference in the excerpt that shows up in search results and on D News’ home page.

I was interviewed again that evening–this time at a press reception, along with USA Today’s Ed Baig, by Thai tech journalist Chatpawee Trichachawanwong. I don’t know if that piece has run, or how insightful Ed and I might sound in it. (We didn’t have much time to prepare.)

5/17/2013: Google’s I/O News: A Reminder Of How Apps Don’t Just Write Themselves, Disruptive Competition Project

Here, I tried to put Google’s developer-focused I/O news in the context of iOS’s continued lead in one important area: profit potential for the average developer.

5/19/2013: Q&A: What’s the best basic Windows photo program?, USA Today

A question from a relative looking to prune the assortment of photo apps on his laptop led to this column. It also includes a tip about the difficulty you may have sharing some of the neater multimedia-enhanced photos your phone’s camera can take.

Most of this week’s posts on Sulia covered particular I/O announcements or sessions–for instance, a talk on Android’s design principles, an upcoming fix for buggy Bluetooth, an uncertain detail about Google’s stock-Android version of Samsung’s Galaxy S 4–but I also reviewed the Lyft and SideCar ride-sharing services and described my experience being served, slowly, by a robot bartender.

5/20/2013, 12:52 p.m. And here’s my brief Flickr set from I/O 2013.

Weekly output: phone unlocking, iOS and Android video, Google Calendar sync, Tim Berners-Lee

Work finds me in Austin this weekend for the SXSW Interactive festival. I’ll have more about that over the next few days; for now, here’s what I have to show for myself, professionally speaking.

3/5/2013: Unlock And Load: White House Picks Phone Policy Fight, Disruptive Competition  Project

The White House surprised many people with its favorable response to a petition seeking the legalization of unlocking cell phones without carrier permission–it said “yes” and then endorsed the idea that carriers shouldn’t be denying service to unlocked phones from other operators. The latter is a somewhat novel idea in wireless but has been been the law in wired since the FCC’s underappreciated “Carterfone” ruling of 1968. But there are important caveats to the White House’s statement, and noting them helped push this post past 1,000 words.

3/9/2013: Work around video playback issues on your mobile device, USA Today

Like many of my USAT columns, this one started with a question from one of my relatives–my mother-in-law couldn’t watch a video of her grandson in her Yahoo Mail account on our iPad’s copy of Safari. The piece also has a tip updating advice I gave in November about sychronizing Google Calendar with an iOS device.

TBL BoingBoing post3/9/2013: Tim Berners-Lee: The Web needs to stay open, and Gopher’s still not cool., Boing Boing

The inventor of the Web had some interesting things to say in his talk at SXSW; after tweeting out highlights of the keynote, I pitched my editor at Boing Boing via Twitter direct message (making this my fastest salesmanship ever) and wrote up this recap later that afternoon.

On Sulia, you could have read me noting the White House’s phone-unlocking petition response (and, in retrospect, reading a little too much out of it) drawing a lesson for tech journalists from the outrage over EA’s botched SimCity launch, called out two still-absent features in Google’s updated Maps apps for iOS, and applaud the seemingly-impossible success of the free WiFi at SXSW.

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.

Weekly output: terms of service, CES, Android and iOS printing, long presses

This week was pretty slow. Next week won’t be.

DisCo ToS post1/3/2013: How To Change Your Terms Of Service Without Looking Like A Jerk, Disruptive Competition Project

This expands on the post I did for Discovery about Instagram’s terms-of-service fiasco. Instead of yammering on about what that service and others have done wrong, I suggested a few ways they could communicate ToS changes more clearly to their customers.

(But will some other overconfident dot-com ignore this kind of advice and blunder into yet another PR meltdown within three months? Sure.)

1/4/2013: A Guide To Seeing Past CES Hype, Disruptive Competition Project

After attending CES for 15 straight years, I’ve seen more than enough over-hyped debuts go on to flop at retail or never even make it that far. This curtain-raiser goes over a few factors that I’ve seen sink promising CES launches, but two days later I feel like I should have enriched the piece with more historical examples.

1/6/2013: Tip: How to print from tablet or phone, USA Today

A reader question led to the pleasant surprise that printing from Android and iOS is a lot less restricted than Google and Apple’s own solutions would suggest. It also caused me to realize anew how rarely I use our printer-scanner to put ink on paper; since I switched to mobile boarding passes for almost all of my flights, my number-one use for that Canon device is probably scanning in checks for deposit through our bank’s site.

How a Samsung phone and an iPad mini don’t mix

After accidentally invoking Siri on my iPad mini for the fifth time this morning, it hit me: The proprietary layout of buttons on the Samsung Galaxy Note II that I just reviewed is making me stupider at using Apple’s mobile devices.

ImageSamsung veers from the lineup of Android system buttons that Google established with last year’s Ice Cream Sandwich release: Instead of back, home and recent apps, arranged left to right, Samsung’s Android phones offer menu, home and back buttons. (LG also departs from the Android standard, but its back-home-menu array keeps the back button in the expected place.) To see your open apps, you have to press and hold the home button.

On my iPad mini, that same gesture opens Siri, while I have to tap the home button twice to see open apps.

(Yes, when I first wrote about ICS, I was skeptical about removing the menu button and thought that requiring a long press of home to see open apps was good enough. I was wrong: I rarely miss the menu button, while I hit the recent-apps button all the time.)

It’s an exasperating situation, and if I were to get a Samsung Android phone and keep my iPad I’d have to waste brain cells on memorizing this unnecessary difference. You can’t remap the system buttons on a Samsung phone or change Apple’s home-button behavior;  if you disable Siri a long press of the home button will instead bump you over to iOS’s search.

If, on the other hand, I get a phone with the regular ICS buttons–many vendors alter Google’s interface in other ways but stick with that lineup–I face a lot less confusion. At worst, I’d find myself pressing the phone’s home button twice and having nothing happen, which beats launching an unwanted app and hearing Siri’s “ding-ding” prompt.

So that’s one thing that I know will govern my next phone purchase.