Weekly output: AT&T “unlimited” plans, Helium’s peer-to-peer IoT network

I spent Friday attending a tech-policy event at the Newseum’s conference space. That’s something I’ve done a great many times, but Friday’s visit looks like it might be my last ever, or at best my last for the next four years. The Newseum is closing at the end of the year before Johns Hopkins University starts a lengthy renovation of the building it bought in January, and I have no further events there on my calendar.

11/15/2019: AT&T’s latest smartphone plans offer new ways to limit ‘unlimited’ data, USA Today

My latest in an ongoing series of “here’s what’s up with your wireless carrier’s new sort-of-unlimited plans” columns unpacked recent changes at AT&T. My advice this time: When assessing unlimited-esque plans, the most important limit to assess is the threshold at which your data speeds can be “deprioritized,” followed by the cap on your use of the phone’s mobile-hotspot function.

11/15/2019: This startup wants to pay you—in cryptocurrency—to help build its network, Fast Company

It took a while for me to wrap my head around the cryptocurrency framework meant to underwrite Helium’s peer-to-peer Internet-of-Things wireless network. And then soon after the story went up, I got an e-mail from a Lime publicist asking that we remove the mention of them, because they hadn’t worked with Helium–even though Helium has repeatedly cited Lime as a partner, including a prominent mention on their site’s business page that vanished after I’d filed the post. Helium later responded that Lime had tested their tech before deciding not to pursue it… which still doesn’t square with Lime’s denial of any relationship. One thing I know for sure: I’m glad I thought to e-mail Lime while reporting the story to check up on Helium’s positioning of them. And if Lime’s reply to that message had arrived Thursday instead of Friday, this story would not have read the same.

Advertisements

A better time of year to bikeshare

The arrival of fall around here means three things to me: pears replacing peaches at farmers’ markets, a chance to grow a second crop of arugula, and a notable increase in my Capital Bikeshare mileage.

Between the temperature dropping into the 50s and summer’s stagnant humidity finally lifting, I no longer have to worry about rolling up to my destination glistening dripping with sweat. Meanwhile, the fall colors on the trees has the city looking pretty great, even if the leaves don’t get as vibrant as in New England. So why not bike instead of taking Metro?

Over the last few years, the growing network of bike lanes and the continued expansion of Capital Bikeshare’s network has made this an easier proposition. And when I can dock a bike to end a rental and then take the same bike out–“dock surfing“–I can reach just about anyplace downtown or on Capitol Hill without paying any extra charges. You can’t say that for those increasingly expensive e-scooters.

(My usual stations to daisy-chain free rentals: 24th and Pennsylvania NW if I’m riding to downtown, Lincoln Memorial if I’m headed to the Hill.)

So I’m seeing more of Washington than usual, I’m getting some moderate exercise, and I’m saving money–I’ve already recouped almost all of the $85 annual fee in saved Metro fares. What’s not to like?

Well, the chance that some inattentive driver will hit me. I got a reminder of that risk two weeks ago when one driver merged abruptly into a bike lane ahead of my wife, leading to her stopping abruptly, crashing, and breaking her collarbone. Yes, again. Could you all please try harder to share the road?

Weekly output: megatrends, OneWeb, Andela, Saudi spying at Twitter, Kratsios on Huawei

My last business trip of the year wrapped up Friday when I came home from Lisbon after my fifth Web Summit conference–my fourth as a speaker. The next time I board a plane for work should be January 5, when I’ll head out for my 23rd CES in a row.

11/6/2019: Predicting tomorrow’s megatrends for a better today, Web Summit

I interviewed HP Labs chief technology officer Shane Wall about how he tries to forecast sweeping trends years in advance and what can lead that exercise astray. Along the way, we got to discuss his custom-made shoes. You’ll be able to see how that topic arose whenever the organizers post video of our session.

11/7/2019: OneWeb wants to blanket the planet in high-speed satellite broadband, Fast Company

I had to write this recap of a Web Summit talk by the CEO of this satellite-broadband firm twice after my first attempt didn’t get saved by Fast Company’s Web-based CMS. I should have known not to write directly into a client’s CMS when at a conference.

11/7/2019: How to win over a developer, Web Summit

In my second panel in Lisbon, I talked to Christina Sass, co-founder of the developer-training firm Andela. Unlike my earlier panel, this one featured audience questions–but routed through a Web app called Slido, which let us pick the ones we wanted and paraphrase them as needed. I prefer that to handing a microphone over to somebody in the audience and hoping they don’t ask a question that’s more of a comment.

11/7/2019: Saudi spying at Twitter, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news network had me on to discuss the arrests of two former Twitter employees for allegedly using their insider access to spy on Saudi Arabian dissidents. I made two points via Skype in a vacant conference room at Web Summit: Lots of tech companies give internal employees too much access (remember Uber’s “god view”?), and you’d be crazy not to think that other governments are trying to recruit their own moles inside U.S. tech companies.

11/9/2019: U.S. CTO: Don’t trust Huawei. Edward Snowden: Don’t trust anybody, Fast Company

The last Web Summit talk I watched wound up neatly dovetailing with the first, in that both U.S. chief technology officer Michael Kratsios and NSA leaker Edward Snowden each voiced grave concerns over untrustworthy communications links. They just didn’t agree on the solution to them.

My request of my state legislators: a strong anti-SLAPP statute

This week’s wins by Democrats in Virginia’s House of Delegates and Senate will relegate Republicans to minority status in Richmond and open up progressive possibilities that have been stalled for decades.

But while I look forward to seeing my state pass overdue gun-control legislation, allow localities to scrap Confederate memorials, ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, and promote renewable energy instead of coddling the coal industry, I won’t be writing my state delegate and senator about those issues.

Instead, I will ask them to enact a strong anti-SLAPP statute.

SLAPP stands for “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” which is a concise way of saying “jerks filing defamation lawsuits to make their critics shut up or go bankrupt.” My friend Mike Masnick got hit with one in 2017 for writing at length and with gusto on his Techdirt blog that Cambridge, Mass.-based computer scientist Shiva Ayyadurai did not invent e-mail as he’d claimed.

Ayyadurai–whom independent reports have confirmed did not invent e-mail–responded to Masnick’s exercise of his First Amendment rights by having Gawker-killing lawyer Charles Harder file a $15 million defamation lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Boston.

Judge Dennis Saylor dismissed Ayyadurai’s defamation claims, but the suit didn’t get settled for another 18 expensive months–and while Masnick didn’t have to pay a cent to Ayyadurai, he did have to pay his lawyers. He’s described the experience as “harrowing,” and the risk of the same thing happening to me constitutes a low-level source of existential dread.

Strong anti-SLAPP statutes such as those in California and Washington, D.C., let defendants short-circuit this attack by filing a motion to dismiss that stops the potentially expensive process of discovery and requires action within weeks. Virginia’s anti-SLAPP law starts with the right principles but does not include those protections.

Amending it to allow journalists, activists and other citizens voicing opinions to quash attempts to litigate them into bankruptcy would defend free speech in one of the places where it started. And it shouldn’t have to be a partisan issue: The last attempt to pass a federal anti-SLAPP statute, the SPEAK FREE Act, came from a Texas Republican, then-Rep. Blake Farenthold, in 2015.

That bill drew support from liberals and conservative groups before dying in a subcommittee, much like too many good ideas have in Richmond over the past 25 years. We ought to be able to do better now.

Weekly output: e-scooter privacy, whither Vudu, World Series viewership, Vint Cerf on 5G, Firefox Web-privacy reporting

LISBON–Getting here the day before the start of Web Summit meant having to miss the Nationals’ victory parade downtown and then catch up with video highlights afterwards. Yes, there I go talking about this weird interest of mine. But just watch the clip of Ryan Zimmerman speaking at the parade, his voice cracking, about what it was like to win it all with the only MLB team he’s ever known–“There’s not a team that I would have wanted to do that with more than these guys”–and see if it doesn’t get dusty in the room.

Fast Company Uber-vs.-L.A. post10/31/2019: L.A. wants to know where you ride your scooter, and Uber isn’t happy, Fast Company

This post started with a talk at The Atlantic’s CityLab DC conference in which the general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation expressed her optimism that all the e-scooter firms operating in the city would comply with its requests for location data. That same day, Uber said they’d see the city in court.

11/1/2019: Walmart seeks to unload Vudu: report, FierceVideo

I spent Friday morning pinch-hitting for my occasional client FierceVideo, covering recent news items. This one folded in some analyst quotes about the possibility that Walmart might sell its Vudu video-on-demand service and who might want to buy it.

11/1/2019: World Series game 7 draws almost 23 million viewers, FierceVideo

I told my editors upfront that one my reasons for covering this was the chance to use the phrase “world champion Washington Nationals” in a story.

11/2/2019: This ‘father of the internet’ still isn’t completely sold on 5G, Fast Company

I got a pitch to cover a conference at which TCP/IP co-author Vint Cerf would talk about ways to get America better broadband, and then that turned into a chance to sit down with Cerf and quiz him for a few minutes. Our 12-minute talk yielded almost 2,000 words of transcript (via the Otter service), so I had to edit it aggressively to get the piece down to a three-digit word count.

11/3/2019: Here’s how to see who’s tracking you across the Web right now, USA Today

I decided to test the upgraded tracking-protection features in Mozilla Firefox by seeing what they’d report about my client USA Today’s own site.

Updated 11/4/2019 to add an image that didn’t publish the first time, plus a link to the USAT column.

A World Series title comes home to Washington

World Series celebrations were things for other cities.

That’s what I knew for a fact during the long twilight years when the city I chose didn’t have a baseball team. The next 14 years–first salted with 100-loss futility, then scarred with first-round postseason exits–didn’t shake my fear that I’d live my entire life while watching other places’ players jump on each other on an infield in October.

But that just happened. For my city. In my lifetime.

The Washington Nationals beat the Houston Astros 6-2 in a game 7 that wasn’t supposed to happen after… the team started the season with a 19-31 record… our bullpen was revealed to be built partially out of balsa wood… we had to claw our way into the postseason via a come-from-behind wild-card win against the Brewers… we needed five games to beat Los Angeles in the division series and crush our own postseason curse… we swept St. Louis and jumped to a two-game lead over Houston that we then refunded to find ourselves down 3-2, needing to win two games on the road.

(By then, it looked like the primary accomplishment of our ill-spent World Series homestand would be providing an appropriate and deserved greeting to President Trump. Readers: It’s your right to boo a politician making a public appearance at a baseball game–and if that politician otherwise hides from all unfriendly audiences, booing might be your obligation as a citizen.)

We grabbed game 6 from the Astros, but game 7 saw us staring down eight outs from a second-place finish that I would have accepted. Can’t lie: I thought we were smoked then.

Wrong. We did it. We flipped the script. The Nats are world champions. They can replace the blank white flag that’s flown over the Nationals Park scoreboard since the venue’s 2008 opening with a pennant bearing four digits: 2019.

Weekly output: 5G reality check, Business Access Media, 5G coverage maps

My last business trip of the year–at least, the last one I have on my schedule as of now–starts Saturday when I fly to Lisbon for the Web Summit conference. That’ll be my fifth trip to that event, my fourth as a panel moderator. In the meantime, I need the Washington Nationals to win two baseball games. Not one, not three, exactly two.

10/23/2019: What will 5G mean for you? A reality check on the hype, Fast Company

My first post in a series of twice-a-week “Connected World” posts that’s set to run through the rest of this year covered how the opening keynote at the MWC Los Angeles trade show wound up undermining some of the hype about 5G wireless I’ve seen at previous MWC conventions. No, I was not in L.A. for this; I thought about going but didn’t see how I’d sell enough stories to recoup my travel costs, so I watched the conference livestream instead.

10/24/2019: Business Access Media, Wynne Events

With this panel of journalists–including my fellow ex-Postie Neil Irwin–I spoke to a roomful of business-school PR types about where I look for stories, what kind of information from them might help me do my job and how to reach me. After a brief round of audience Q&A, the organizers of this event hosted at Georgetown University’s business school left the balance of this hour to one-on-one pitching from these publicists. I may have picked up a story idea or two from that.

10/25/2019: Where does your carrier offer 5G? That’s an excellent question!, Fast Company

My second Connected World post for FC covered how three of the four nationwide wireless carriers have yet to put their 5G service into their regular coverage maps. That’s kind of crazy, considering all the time these companies spend talking about how great their 5G is. That’s also yet another reason not to buy a 5G phone just yet.