Weekly output: Google password manager updates, Android and iOS location-privacy advice, Android developers lawsuit

If you’re visiting my city for the Fourth of July, welcome to the nation’s capital! Please enjoy your stay; if you’re still weighing different options for where to watch the fireworks, I’d like to think my advice from 2015 still holds up.

6/30/2022: Google Updates Password Manager With New Security, Management Tools, PCMag

Writing this quick post reminded me of how often Google struggles to provide feature parity between its Web and mobile apps.

Screenshot of column as seen in USAT's iPad app7/1/2022: How to block – or blur – your location from your smartphone’s apps, USA Today

I think I’d pitched some version of this column to my editors not too many months ago, but having the topic of location privacy come up in my user-group talk last weekend reminded of that story idea and helped me focus it.

7/2/2022: Google offers Android developers $90 million settlement, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news channel had me on (overdubbed live) for the first time in several weeks to talk about Google offering a $90 million settlement to Android developers who had complained about the cut it takes of digital app transactions. I told viewers that while Google has shown a non-trivial amount of greediness in its supervision of the Play Store, at least it allows for alernative app stores–something Apple does not.

The bureaucratic burden of telling clients “pay me”

It’s the first day of a new month, and that can only mean one thing for my e-mail: more .pdf attachments than usual in my outgoing messages, in the form of invoices for one freelance client or another.

Close-up of the 4 / $ key on a Mac keyboard, without which I would struggle to invoice anybody.

Instructing these companies to pay me for work done over the previous month should be easy after 11-plus years of not having a real job, but there’s still some struggle attached to this chore during and after the invoicing process.

The easiest part of it involves longer-running clients, where I just need to open the invoice document from the previous month, change the invoice number and the date, update the work done and the sum due, and attach the new file to an email.

But with less-frequent clients, I need to remember if there’s some wonkiness with a P.O. number or payment instructions that I may or may not have remembered to save in a previous version of the invoice file.

Others require their own format, usually a Google document or form or an Excel spreadsheet. Not knowing what kind of file a company will want me to produce before it will send me money is one of the things that’s kept me from following advice to use a professional accounting app like QuickBooks… another thing being my own apathy.

This routine can get more complicated if I’m away from home, since all of these invoice templates live on my Mac and since my Windows laptop doesn’t have a PDF-editing app equivalent to Apple’s Preview (sorry, Drawboard PDF). But keeping these financial documents in one folder on one computer allows for a simple accounting system: Right before I e-mail an invoice, I save it to an “Invoices – owed” folder, and once it gets paid I move it to an “Invoices – paid” folder.

It’s not the most sophisticated system, but it still seems to work after 11 years and change. At least when I remember to prepare and send the invoice in the first place. Which reminds me that I still have one invoice to finish for one client and a second to create for another, and of course they’re not in the same format.

Weekly output: Best Mobile Networks, Tesla Model 3 notes, digital healthcare innovation, baseball sports networks, Levi’s digital transformation, Boom Supersonic, WAP/PATACS

For the first time in a couple of months, the next month and change of my calendar doesn’t feature any work travel. That’s a good feeling, especially after the last business trip concluded in snakebit form.

6/21/2022: Best Mobile Networks 2022, PCMag

The drive testing that I did across the Pacific Northwest back in May yielded the network data for half of Boise and all of Portland and Seattle. For the second year in a row, PCMag gave its top honors to T-Mobile.

6/21/2022: 4 Things I Hated About Putting 1,700 Miles on a Tesla, PCMag

That road trip also yielded this assessment of the Tesla Model 3 I drove. I loved this battery-electric vehicle’s handling, comfort, range and Supercharger network. But I also hated its touchscreen interface, the inadequate options for music playback, the purist approach to design that evoked the excesses of Apple’s former design chief Jony Ive, and the proprietary Supercharger plug.

A red Collision sign, seen outside that conference's venue.6/21/2022: Tech for good: Unlocking the power of technology to advance human health, Collision

The first panel I did at Collision in Toronto had me interviewing Johnson & Johnson CIO Jim Swanson about upcoming advances in healthtech–and what might need to happen to bring them to reality.

6/21/2022: 5 MLB Sports Networks to Add $19.99 Direct-to-Consumer Streaming, PCMag

I wrote a quick post about five regional sports networks owned by Sinclar Broadcast Group letting fans in those markets–Detroit, Kansas City, Miami, Milwaukee, and Tampa–pay directly for streaming coverage of games instead of having to buy a larger pay-TV bundle.

6/21/2022: Diversity is the key to digital transformation, Collision

For my second Collision panel, I interviewed Katia Walsh, chief global strategy and artificial intelligence officer at Levi’s. Knowing that job title, I had lead off by asking what AI had to do with the cut of a pair of jeans–and I learned a thing or two from her answers.

6/23/2022: Boom Says Commercial Supersonic Air Travel Will Be Viable Again in 2029, PCMag

As a card-carrying avgeek, I had to watch the Collision presentation of Boom Supersonic CEO Blake Scholl, then quiz him at the subsequent press conference.

6/25/2022: Rob Pegoraro returns to Washington Apple Pi, Washington Apple Pi/PATACS

I made my first in-person appearance at a local user group meeting since November of 2019, in this case a joint gathering of Washington Apple Pi and the Potomac Area Technology and Computer Society (PATACS). My ulterior motive was unloading the tech-event swag I’ve had taking up space in my home-office closet, but in addition to serving as a decluttering exercise this event served up some interesting questions about smartphone service and blockchain technology.

Travel delays can be a team sport

After weeks of walking between the raindrops of flight delays and cancellations, I got soaked coming home from Toronto after the Collision conference there. And while Air Canada started things by cancelling my Thursday-evening flight, I managed to compound it with some avoidable clumsiness of my own that ensured I would not arrive at my house until around 12:30 Friday.

Things started going sideways for my YYZ-DCA flight by midday Thursday, when the Flightradar24 app reported that the regional jet assigned to operate it had fallen hours behind schedule as it hopped from Montreal to Atlanta before coming to Toronto. Air Canada’s site kept listing this flight on time, but at 5:52 p.m. the airline texted and e-mailed that it had canceled AC 8786 due to “the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on aviation which includes government entry requirements, travel advisories, crew constraints, and local movement restrictions.”

That e-mail said the airline was “looking for an alternative flight,” after which I soon found one in United’s app: Air Canada’s last YYZ-IAD flight that night. Alas, Air Canada’s phone line dumped me after playing a goodbye-and-good-luck message: “Due to extremely high call volume, we apologize that we are not able to place you on hold.” And while its site had a rebooking tool, it didn’t list the Dulles flight.

An Air Canada CR900 regional jet at Toronto Pearson International Airport, photographed from a boarding ramp.

But Air Canada’s Twitter profile welcomed direct messages, so I tried that before accepting the site’s least-bad alternative, an nonstop to BWI at 8 a.m. Friday. I sent a DM asking for the YYZ-IAD flight and listing my booking code and then didn’t get an acknowledgment–until 14 minutes later, when a rep replied to confirm my requested rebooking.

“You will need to check-in for this flight,” the rep advised.

If only she’d added “in the next 20 minutes.”

I hustled over to Toronto’s Union Station for the next Union Pearson Express train and didn’t start to check in until reaching the UP Express waiting area. That’s when I hit an obstacle I had not experienced checking in via my phone the night before: AC’s mobile site didn’t show any way to upload my phone’s picture of my vaccination card or the SMART QR code generated from those records, instead directing me to take a picture of either.

Unfortunately, I lost my paper vax card a few months ago (which had until then seemed a sentimental-value problem), and I didn’t think to open my laptop and use my phone to take a photo of the picture of the card or the screenshot of the QR code saved in Google Photos. Instead, I selected an option to verify my check-in at the airport, thought I’d try to check in again using a different browser–and then got a message that check-in wasn’t available.

This whole time, I had been assuming I had 60 minutes pre-departure to check in. That’s the rule I’d seen listed before for international flights without checked baggage but had not researched further–leaving me unaware that YYZ’s cut-off time is 90 minutes.

Inwardly cursing my own stupidity as my train pulled out of Union, I switched back to my DM thread with AC, asked if I’d screwed up everything, and had a different rep assure me: “Not to worry, you will be able to complete the check-in at the airport!”

The rep was incorrect and the rule was correct. By the time I got to Pearson and jogged to the check-in area for U.S.-bound flights (while seeing in Flightradar24 that the IAD flight itself would depart hours late, because that incoming aircraft left Chicago three hours behind schedule), nobody was left at Air Canada’s stations except for two reps at a special-assistance desk who had passengers in line ahead of me with their own complex problems.

When my spot came up 20 or so minutes later, a fatigued but still polite agent said the system would not allow her to check me in–and besides, security and customs preclearance for U.S.-bound flights had already closed for the evening.

This agent said she would put me on the 8 a.m. Baltimore flight; having heard her colleague tell another delayed traveler that Air Canada would cover his hotel costs, I asked her if the airline could make the same accommodation in my case. To my pleasant surprise, she said the airline would reimburse me for up to $300.

As she then worked on my flight rebooking, I sat down on the nearest bench, opened my laptop to reserve a hotel, and got into a conversation with an even more frazzled traveler–a Toronto grandmother who had seen a flight cancellation thwart her attempt to visit her son in Alexandria. I described how I’d foolishly thrown away my shot at getting home that night, said it was a rough summer for airlines all over the U.S., and wished her luck getting to my city in the morning.

After a few hours of inadequate sleep in a Marriott Fairfield outside of YYZ and breakfast split between two Air Canada lounges, I finally boarded the Baltimore flight and slept through most of it. I rushed out of the terminal to the stop for the shuttle bus to the BWI rail station–and a minute later, the Toronto woman showed up, tired and unsure about how to get to D.C. I remembered my mother-in-law telling me about having the same experience years ago.

I said I was happy to walk her through what is, objectively speaking, one of the worst airport-to-rail connections in the U.S., and then we could take the train together if that would help. We had a pleasant conversation at the station waiting for the next MARC to D.C. that continued on the ride into Union Station, and then we headed to our separate family reunions.

Lesson learned: A trip interruption, even if partly self-inflicted, that only delays your return by 14 hours and allows you to be of some small service to a fellow passenger is not the worst thing in the traveling world.

Weekly output: Comcast advertising report, FuboTV, Apple TV+ promo, autopay discounts, Apple MLS streaming, investor-founder relationships, Maxio and Skillnet Ireland, fighting disinformation, health and location-data privacy

A month of speaking at conferences–with a one-week break when I came down with a gentle and brief case of Covid–wraps up this week with my short trip to Toronto to lead two panels at Collision.

6/13/2022: Comcast advertising report: Live TV lives on, FierceVideo

I did some fill-in writing at my trade-pub client, starting with this Comcast report on streaming-video advertising.

6/13/2022: FuboTV adds FAST channels from Trusted Media Brands, FierceVideo

My second post at Fierce allowed to mention cat videos in the lede.

6/13/2022: Apple TV+ makes first season of ‘For All Mankind’ free for all, FierceVideo

This day’s work ended with a quick post about one of my favorite Apple TV+ shows.

6/15/2022: Setting up autopay for your broadband or wireless can require careful aim, USA Today

Broadband providers’ inability to document the finer points of their pricing once again served up a story idea for me.

6/15/2022: Apple to Exclusively Stream All Major League Soccer Matches in 2023, PCMag

The story I did for FierceVideo in December of 2019 about D.C. United’s first attempt to go streaming-only looks a little more prescient now that MLS has agreed to have Apple offer live coverage of every match.

6/15/2022: FIRESIDE: Being on speed dial: how founders can best partner with their investors for maximum impact, Dublin Tech Summit

I interviewed Jonathan Heiliger, general partner with Vertex Ventures, about his lessons learned as a founder of tech startups and an investor in tech startups.

Photo of a list of panels on a wall at Dublin Tech Summit, with my second panel of June 15 listed about halfway down.6/15/2022: PANEL: Tales of Digital Transformation, Dublin Tech Summit

My second DTS panel had me quizzing Sally-Ann O’Callaghan, a regional director with the billing-services firm Maxio, and Mark Jordan, chief strategy officer with the tech-training organization Skillnet Ireland.

6/16/2022: Disinformation Experts Warn About US ‘Playbook’ Being Exploited Globally, PCMag

Day two of DTS featured this enlightening discussion between moderator Eric Schurenberg, Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy research director Joan Donovan, Kinzen co-founder Áine Kerr, and Logically CEO Lyric Jain
about the challenges of combating disinformation campaigns.

6/17/2022: Senate Bill Would Bar Data Brokers From Profiting Off Location, Health Data, PCMag

I wrote this post around 3 in the morning after realizing that jet lag wouldn’t have me falling back asleep any time soon–a decision that paid off several hours later when a slow security line and the inefficiency of U.S. customs preclearance at Dublin Airport left me with less free time than I’d expected before my flight back to the States.

Updated 6/26/2022 to add the FierceVideo posts I’d forgotten before, an omission I’m going to blame on jet lag. 

I’m most domestic when I’m post-international

Coming home from the other side of the Atlantic, as I did once again Friday, reliably drop-kicks me into the “do not operate heavy machinery” zone of fatigue. No matter how much sleep I might get over a long day in a pressurized metal tube over the ocean, no matter how poorly I felt like I adjusted to my trip’s destination time zone, 6 p.m. on the East Coast remains 11 p.m., midnight or 1 a.m. where my journey had started somewhere in Europe.

Close up of the dial on an LG washing machine show it set to run a load of laundry on the delicates setting.

But because I know of no better way to get myself back into my home time zone than to stay up until a normal bedtime, this light fugue state also primes me for housework. Chores like doing laundry, washing dishes, baking bread, cleaning countertops, tidying up spaces and taking out the trash or recycling share a few convenient virtues for this scenario: They don’t don’t require exceptional dexterity, any higher-level math, or prolonged concentration. These household tasks also help to keep my jet-lagged brain off social media and, most important, represent tasks that I’d neglected over previous days by being 4,000 miles or so out of place.

And since part of the point of this exercise in tired housework is to make those evening hours go by a little faster, I have to see it as not a bug but a feature that these chores often require an extra level of diligence. Case in point: Before dinner last night, I spent a good 10 minutes walking circles around the house to try to locate my passport, only to realize that it was right in my laptop bag.

Weekly output: sports streaming, Mark Vena podcast, Warner Bros. Discovery hire, U.S. ends Covid test rule, RCS vs. iMessage, federal EV-charging specifications, antique mobile apps

My Covid roller coaster of a week started with a couple of nap-heavy days after last Sunday’s positive test, transitioned to me waiting to see the positive strips in rapid tests start to fade as my cold-like symptoms already had, and wrapped up with that positive strip vanishing faster than I might have hoped. That leaves me free to proceed with my earlier travel plans: flying to Ireland Monday night for Dublin Tech Summit to moderate two panels there and finally use my Irish passport in the country that issued it to me.

6/8/2022: Sports-streaming panel finds no one winning play in key issues, FierceVideo

Instead of speaking at this publication’s Stream TV Show and writing up a couple of panels, I could only cover this discussion about sports streaming, one of a limited set of talks available via streaming at a conference devoted to that very topic.

6/9/2022: S02 E24 – SmartTechCheck Podcast, Mark Vena

This week’s podcast conversation (also on video) focused on Apple’s WWDC news from earlier in the week.

6/10/2022: Warner Bros. Discovery names sports-CEO pick, FierceVideo

My fill-in duty at my trade-pub client, continuing through Monday, included a quick write-up of this hire.

6/10/2022: US Finally Scraps COVID Test Requirement for Inbound International Flights, PCMag

This is a story I’ve been hoping to write for months.

Screenshot of USAT column as seen in Safari on an iPad6/10/2022: Why haven’t iPhone, Android messaging apps evolved to make it easier to talk to each other?, USA Today

I first wrote this after Google I/O last month, then updated it to note how Apple ignored the entire issue of Android-iOS messaging security at WWDC. Alas, that rewriting cycle did not help me catch a stupid mistake that a friend asked about the day after the story was published: I wrote that Apple’s Messages app shows non-iMessage texts in blue bubbles, not the actual green bubbles of shame.

6/11/2022: Biden Admin to Set Standards for Federally Funded EV Charging Stations, PCMag

Writing this post about proposed requirements for electric-car charging stations funded through last year’s infrastructure law took longer than I expected after I got into the weeds reading about the finer points of EV-charging systems. Which is good, because I need to know this stuff in depth.

6/12/2022: Apps can live on in your phone or tablet, even after removed from an app store, USA Today

I wrote this explainer after Apple and Google announced new rules for quasi-neglected apps–and Apple’s first iteration was especially harsh and its revision of them still left app developers a little puzzled.

Updated 6/26/2022 to add the sports-streaming panel; I’m blaming Covid for my forgetting to note that before. 

Testing positive for Covid requires sending a whole lot of notifications

At the start of last weekend, two negative Covid tests in a row had me thinking that my sore throat was the result of too much conference socializing or maybe a summer cold. But then I self-tested one more time Sunday night, because I was set to fly to Denver the next afternoon for the Stream TV Show–and that positive result has since led to my having to notify more people than I might have imagined.

An Abbott Laboratories BinaxNow Covid-19 rapid antigen test shows the two strips that indicate a positive result.

That list started with the toughest case: my wife and my kid, from whom I’d have to isolate at home until no longer testing positive. Fortunately, in-house quarantine is easier to manage in the spring when you can open every window for maximum ventilation and eat every meal on the front or back porch.

Next I had to e-mail the organizers of my now-foregone conference. I said I’d cancel my flights and keep that trip credit handy for their next event, after which I’d complete my outline for my panel and e-mail those notes to whoever might step in for me. They were okay with that.

Then I e-mailed the people I’d spent the most time talking to at last week’s WithSecure conference in Helsinki. (The organizers had covered my airfare and hotel, but I’m not sure I can call that travel “free” now.) None of them have written back to say that they’ve since tested positive, which makes me wonder if I’d been in the wrong square meter of indoor space for the wrong 15 minutes.

After that, I sent a note to the organizers of Dublin Tech Summit, where I’m supposed to speak next week. I advised them that while I was reasonably optimistic that I’d get past this and resume testing negative by this weekend, I couldn’t guarantee that. They wished me luck.

Screenshot of the COVIDWISE app for Android that shows the screen on which you enter an eight-digit verification code to sumit a positive test result.

My last act of notification didn’t invove conversations with actual humans. After getting an official PCR test Monday and receiving the results early Tuesday along with confirmation that they’d been reported to the Virginia Department of Health, I had to share them anonymously with VDH’s COVIDWISE exposure-notification app. That would allow other people with smartphones running Apple and Google’s privacy-optimized Exposure Notifications framework to get warnings of their potential exposure if this software concluded they’d been sufficiently close to me for sufficiently long, as judged by algorithms computing randomized Bluetooth beacons.

The e-mail and text I got from the test operator Curative didn’t say how I would do that. But the app itself explained that I had to visit a VDH page and plug in my last name, birth date and test date to get a verification code that I could then type into the app. That’s “type,” not “copy and paste,” because this Android app refused the latter form of input.

My wife reported that her copy of COVIDWISE pushed a notification of the possible exposure nine hours later. But the more important thing is that no other sort of Covid notification has greeted her or our kid since then. Five days after first testing positive and entering my little house arrest–during which my sore throat and nasal congestion have vanished as the positive strip on my recent tests has begun to look notably lighter than on earlier tests–I remain the only person in the family to have exhibited any symptoms this month or tested positive ever.

Weekly output: Supreme Court stops Texas social-media law, Russian digital attacks, NESN goes DTC, new bipartisan privacy bill

Until a few hours ago, my agenda for the week ahead involved flying to Denver to moderate a panel at the Stream TV Show. But after a few days of feeling a moderately sore throat–and having months ago made a self-test part of my pre-departure routine before any work or personal trip–I broke out one of the antigen tests we got for free from the government. And this time, I got to see in person what a positive test looks like on one of these things.

As a result, the post I wrote this week for Patreon readers about my busy travel schedule this month is now… not inoperative, but certainly less operative.

6/1/2022: Supreme Court Ices Texas Social Media Moderation Ban, PCMag

I filed this the morning after I arrived in Helsinki for WithSecure’s Sphere conference, taking advantage of jet lag having me awake way too early.

Screenshot of the story as seen in Safari for iPadOS, featuring the photo I took of this talk showing Hyppönen standing before a screen showing his talk's title: "Ctrl Z"6/2/2022: Why Russia’s Cyberattacks on Ukraine Have Failed to Make a Significant Dent, PCMag

That event–as in, this event that covered my travel costs–had some enlightening talks. But the only one that I felt yielded a newsworthy post, given the constraints imposed by the conference schedule and my own jet lag, was this talk by WithSecure chief research officer Mikko Hyppönen about why Russia hasn’t been able to leave much of a digital dent in Ukraine.

6/3/2022: Red Sox Regional Sports Network Launches $30 Streaming Service, PCMag

After waking up for no apparent reason before 4 a.m. (have I mentioned how bad jet lag whomped me on this trip?), I decided to take advantage of that sleepless time and bang out a post about NESN finally going direct to consumer (aka “DTC”), giving cord-cutting Red Sox fans an alternative to paying for a traditional pay-TV bundle.

6/4/2022: Legislators Introduce Bipartisan Digital-Privacy Bill That May Not Be Doomed, PCMag

My Saturday work–Friday having been spent nodding off on the two flights that took me home–was reading up on and writing about a new privacy bill that seems like it might offer a workable compromise. I mean, except for the fact that Congress has spent the last decade finding new ways to fumble away opportunities to pass meaningful federal privacy legislation.

Twenty countries and counting… counting slowly

HELSINKI

Arriving here Tuesday afternoon added a new airport to what’s already a very long list of those I’ve flown in or out of–and put a new country on what’s a much shorter list of those I’ve visited.

Finland's flag flies in a breeze on the back of a boat in Helsinki's harbor under a partly-cloudy sky.

As of now, that second list includes only 20 of the world’s roughly 200 states outside the U.S. As grouped by continent, they are:

  • North America: Canada, Mexico
  • Europe: Austria, Belgium, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Netherlands, Portugal, Soviet Union, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom
  • Asia: China, Israel, Japan

That may not be a complete summary; it’s possible that I’m forgetting some long-ago toe-touch of a visit to a tiny European state like Liechtenstein or Andorra, and I’m not counting Vatican City.

But one thing should be clear from that list: what an inveterate Atlanticist I am, even after factoring in my also holding EU citizenship by way of my grandmother being born in Ireland. The scant representation of the rest of the world leaves me scratching my head a bit.

For instance, how have I not gotten to any part of Central America, despite that being so close to the U.S.? Why has my fondness for Asian megacities only led me to two countries there? What’s up with my failure to cross the Equator?

This list also reflects some missed opportunities. One of my best friends from high school spent a few years living in Sydney (unless it was Melbourne) in the 1990s, but I never looked into using what was already a decent accumulation of frequent-flyer miles to see him. And in the summer of 2001, I passed on a chance to join two friends when they visited a college pal living in Cairo at the time; in my defense, I had no clue how complicated U.S. relations with Mideast countries were about to get.

At least I am now once again adding to this list, even if slowly. After spending so many months confined to the D.C. area through 2020 and 2021–and still remembering how little I traveled anywhere in my post-graduation spell of underemployment–I am not taking that freedom for granted.

(Disclosure: I came to Helsinki to cover the security firm WithSecure’s Sphere conference, which in turn covered my travel costs and those of other journalists attending the event.)