Weekly output: gadget guidance, macOS Sierra’s Calendar, emoji and the law

This week took a lot more out of me than the list below would suggest: I filed two longer features and finished edits on a third, none yet published, after which I sank a lot of time into a story that wound up not working out. And then I spent Friday in a haze of Nats-playoff-exit malaise.

10/11/2016: Electronic Christmas ideas, Greenspring Computer Club

I last gave a talk to the computer club at this retirement community in December 2010, and the kind of gadgets you might give or get as gifts has changed greatly since then. I also didn’t have the Post’s Speakers Bureau to pay me for the appearance this time, but a friendly audience and overdue practice in extended public speaking made the drive worthwhile.

usat-sierra-calendar-search-column10/15/2016: Why the Calendar app in macOS Sierra can show a short memory, USA Today

I got a surprisingly thankful response from Apple PR for reporting the defective search behavior that doesn’t show events more than two years old. (I had to resort to Spotlight to see when I last spoke at Greenspring.) Since a column that amounted to “this is a bug that they say they’ll fix” would run short, I concluded by acknowledging the bipartisan nature of glitchy bundled calendar apps: Windows 10’s somehow doesn’t support time zones. Can you suggest a replacement that does?

109/16/2016: Your silly emojis are going to court, Yahoo Finance

A fascinating DC Legal Hackers panel I attended two weeks ago got me thinking “there’s an article in this,” but I didn’t get around to filing one until Friday. So, yeah, I didn’t exactly keep it 💯 on this story.

So, that happened. Again.

It was past 2 a.m. on a weeknight in October when I started writing a blog post, which has come to mean that my city’s baseball team has lost another postseason series.

The Nationals’ 4-3 loss to the Dodgers did not hurt as badly as 2012’s gut-punch loss to the Cardinals or our 2014 demise at the hands of the Giants, highlighted by an 18-inning defeat at which I had the dubious privilege of being in the stands for every single pitch. We never had the game in the bag, and there was no catastrophic moment of failure. But the output is the same: a need to spend a few minutes “reflecting on everything that’s good about my life.”

(That link doesn’t point to the original ESPN copy of Bill Simmons’ magnificent post on the 2003 ALCS, because some idiotic ad fail makes it unreadable for more than a few seconds. As Simmons has been wont to say: No, I’m not bitter.)

nats-park-2016-nldsOn one level, I know that the cherry blossoms will bloom again next spring, and every team will be in first place on opening day. I will once again enjoy seeing batters leg out triples and fielders turn double plays. And if the Nats are good enough to get into the postseason, anything can happen.

On another level, I want to see my city win a championship while I am alive to enjoy it, and our recent history does not give grounds for optimism. The Capitals have gotten closer than any other local franchise with their 1998 appearance in the Stanley Cup finals, but since then they seem to have developed a postseason glass jaw. The Wizards suffer from the same ailment, plus it’s the NBA and the same handful of teams win the finals anyway. The local NFL franchise looks doomed on multiple karmic metrics, and I’m pretty much checked out of football anyway.

I would love to see Georgetown win the NCAAs more than almost anything, but I don’t think my alma mater is mercenary enough to make that happen. Getting to the Final Four in 2007 was pretty great, but next year brought the calamity I refer to as the “[varying expletive] Easter Sunday game,” and it’s been bad ever since.

That leaves the Nats. I like their odds in the long term, given how open MLB’s postseason is to teams that jump on it–remember, Kansas City won it all last year. But I’d also like to see myself spending an insane amount of money on postseason tickets while the onetime Washington Senators fan who sat next to us last night can enjoy it too.

See you at Nats Park in the spring. This is my home, this is my team. D.C. or nothing.

Weekly output: Google phones (x2), SXSL, e-mail encryption

I just watched the second presidential debate, and I was disappointed but not surprised by the lack of tech-policy banter. You?

yahoo-tech-google-phones-post10/3/2016: Why it matters that Google might be producing its own phones, Yahoo Finance

My suggestion at the end that Google might offer an installment-payment option for the new Pixel and Pixel XL phones–something analyst Jan Dawson suggested to me in an e-mail–panned out when Google introduced just that.

10/4/2016: Google’s new phones, WTOP

I spoke briefly about the Pixel and Pixel XL to the news station. One thing I wish I’d mentioned: These two new phones aren’t waterproof, unlike the iPhone 7 and the Galaxy S7.

10/4/2016: Obama gathers top tech to tackle US problems, Yahoo Finance

I spent most of Monday at the White House, which is not a bad way to while away an afternoon. This South by South Lawn event did not feature free beer (at least during the day) and so fell short of being a D.C. salute to Austin’s South by Southwest festival, but on the other hand SXSW has yet to allow me to see Rep. John Lewis (D.-Ga.) speak.

10/9/2016: How to protect your email from snooping, USA Today

Freelancing for multiple clients can sometimes lead to situations where one client asks you to write about an issue involving another.

Notes on macOS Sierra

I’m now just over a fortnight into using Apple’s macOS Sierra, and I can report that it’s not enough time to get used to that name’s oddball capitalization. The past two weeks have, however, allowed me to come to some conclusions and form some questions about this operating-system update.

macos-sierra-logoThe pleasant disk-space mystery: Both times I’ve installed Sierra–an uneventful 50 minutes on my 2012 MacBook Air, an absurd three hours and change on my 2009 iMac–the OS has rewarded me with multiple gigabytes of free space. The MacBook, which was getting so close to full that I had to delete several gigs’ worth of data to install Sierra at all, gained 17 GB, while the iMac got an extra 18 GB back.

I do have the MacBook set to back up its Documents and Desktop folders to iCloud (neither contain enough data to threaten iCloud’s meager 5 GB quota of free space), but that comes nowhere near explaining the newly-liberated volume. And although Sierra doesn’t count “purgeable” files–synced files and media, rarely-used fonts and dictionaries, and other items that the system can always re-download after deletion–the totals of purgeable data listed in the info boxes for each startup disk don’t come close to explaining the discrepancy either.

macbook-storage-about-boxUniversal Clipboard is kind of magical: When I copy something from my iPad, I can paste it into my MacBook and vice versa. This wireless copy-and-paste feature neatly solves an everyday problem of switching between a mobile device and a “real” computer, and the fact that it’s happened with zero fuss amazes me. (I hope I haven’t just jinxed it.)

My iMac, however, is cut off from Universal Clipboard, as it’s a good three years too old. Once again, Apple: I’ll think about buying a new model when you don’t charge me 2016 prices for designs barely changed from 2014.

Search snafus: On both computers, a search in the Calendar app for events that I know exist–like conferences I’ve attended every year since 2010–now fails to show results older than late 2014 in my Google-hosted calendars. Sierra knows these older events exist, because Spotlight searches still find them. A post in Apple’s tech-support forums cites an unnamed Apple rep as saying this is a bug that should be fixed, which I hope is true. I also hope somebody in Apple PR replies to the e-mail I sent Wednesday asking about this.

Meanwhile, Mail has developed its own annoying habit of bouncing back to the oldest messages in my inbox after I cancel out of a search. I trust that’s a bug too, because I cannot think of many search use cases that conclude with the user thinking “now I would like to see my correspondence from 2011.”

siri-in-sierraStuff I haven’t tried much yet: I know that Siri leads off Apple’s pitch for Sierra, but I only really need one personal-assistant app–and that app serves me best on the device I carry most often, my Android phone. I also have yet to try out Apple Pay on the Web, although that’s mainly a factor of me not buying anything online in the past two weeks aside from one quick Amazon purchase. The new auto-categorization features in Photos sound neat but can’t help the overwhelming majority of my photos taken on my Android phone, which never even show up there. The same goes for the souped-up conversation options in Messages (did I mention I use an Android phone?).

Things unfixed or newly broken: Sierra seems as powerless as its predecessor OS X El Capitan when Safari or Chrome decide they want to gobble up every last morsel of memory on the machine. I sure do wish this operating system would remember that
pre-emptive multitasking” was one of its foundational features. It also annoys me that Photos persists in the user-hostile practice of discarding the title, description and location I added earlier to a photo when I try to export it to Flickr.

Meanwhile, Sierra has broken the GPGMail plug-in I use to encrypt and decrypt the occasional e-mail–something I only realized after I’d installed this OS on both Macs. I e-mailed the developers and got a reply explaining that Apple made non-trivial changes to the Mail app’s internal code (I wouldn’t have guessed, since Mail seems as glitch-prone as ever) that they realized late in the game would require rewriting the plug-in. So if you were going to send me an encrypted e-mail critiquing this post, please hold off until they can ship a Sierra-compatible beta.

Weekly output: HP and ink, cybersecurity, journalism and biz-school PR, unlimited data, EMV chip cards

Once again, the Nationals are headed to the postseason. Since our last two bouts of October baseball ended badly–the excruciating game 5 of the 2012 NLDS still haunts me–and the team has gotten whacked with injuries lately, I’m not super-optimistic about this one. Fortunately, I have the election to distract me by providing an alternate source of stress.

9/26/2016: How HP’s decision to reject some ink cartridges reflects a much bigger problem, Yahoo Finance

First I thought this post would be a great opportunity to use a still image of the printer-execution scene from “Office Space,” then I realized there was a good point to be made about the risks of using automatic security updates to deal with business-model problems. Two days later, HP confessed that it “should have done a better job of communicating” about the software update that disabled some third-party ink cartridges and said it would provide an optional patch to disable the offending feature.

9/27/2016: Here’s the cybersecurity debate Clinton and Trump should have had, Yahoo Finance

I wrote a quick recap of the cybersecurity issues that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump could have gone over during Monday’s debate. Will these topics get a reasoned discussion during the two other debates? I’m going to say no.

bam-media-panels9/29/2016: Media Panel, Business Access Media

My role in this conference for business-school PR and communications types was to speak briefly about what I cover, then answer questions from attendees. As the one freelancer speaking, I could offer a different perspective than my fellow panelists, all full-time staff: Economist finance editor Tom Easton, the BBC’s Anthony Zurcher, CNN national correspondent Ryan Nobles and Marketplace Radio education reporter Amy Scott.

(Zurcher and I not only went to Georgetown, the conference venue, but worked together at the Georgetown Voice. You can imagine my disappointment that nobody in the audience asked “how did you all get into journalism?”)

10/2/2016: Why you may be able to finally ditch that old unlimited plan, USA Today

Right after my editor asked me to revisit this question, I had two different people show per-app data usage details on their iPhones that had not been reset since 2013, making them useless for getting a sense of how much data they should get. Apple, please fix that feature so the count resets once a month.

10/2/2016: Why the chip card isn’t the disaster everybody says it is, Yahoo Finance

I don’t know if I’m going to convince anybody with this, but the small extra wait to have an EMV chip-card payment read–far less time than I lose to checkout lines–doesn’t bother me much. I do, however, appreciate being able to pay with plastic overseas without getting funny looks or (most of the time) having my card rejected by a ticket-vending machine.

Side effect of an aging iMac: Bluetooth mouse rage

Overall, the 2009-vintage iMac that I’m typing this on has aged not just well, but better than any other computer I’ve owned. But every few months, I can expect it to send me into a few hours of powerless rage, all because its Bluetooth mouse keeps making a change of batteries a drama-filled exercise.

imac-mouseIt happens something like this: After a few days of the menu bar flashing a low-battery icon for this “Magic Mouse,” that peripheral will finally go offline–most likely when I’m trying to wrap up an e-mail or a story. I’ll pop open the hatch on its bottom, remove the spent batteries, and pop in a fresh pair of AAs.

And that’s when the green LED on this rodent will either fail to illuminate or blink on and then off. I’ll go through the same troubleshooting steps each time: try different batteries, try cleaning the terminals in the mouse with a Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol, then try cleaning the ends of each battery with the same.

Eventually, this rodent will decide to accept its new power source, and that’s when the Bluetooth battle begins. I don’t know if it’s the age of my iMac or of the mouse, but it seems to take anywhere from a few hours to day of having the Bluetooth link repeatedly drop for no apparent reason before the device pairing sets in–as if it were glue that needed time to cure.

I thought I’d knocked the worst of this wonkiness out of the system this spring when I trashed a batch of preferences files and booting the iMac into “Safe Mode.” But then I had to go through another round of iffy Bluetooth pairing after a battery change a few days ago.

A less stubborn person would buy a new mouse already, but I can’t get too excited about paying $49 for a Magic Mouse 2 that can only be recharged with a Lightning cable that blocks any use of the mouse as a pointing device. And would become instantly redundant when I buy a new desktop computer… should Apple ever get tired of selling models that saw their last update a year or two ago. But that’s a separate gripe.

Whenever Apple does deign to ship a revived iMac or Mac mini, one thing’s for sure: I will order it with a wired keyboard.


Weekly output: EU copyright, ICANN, self-driving cars (x2), MacBook battery

I could have had two other items on this list–Thursday, two different news networks asked if I could comment on camera about Yahoo’s data breach. I told each booker that as somebody who writes for a Yahoo site, it would be just a bit awkward for me to opine on camera about that issue. (Besides, it’s not like I had much free time that day in the first place.)

9/19/2016: The EU’s new copyright reforms could change the internet, Yahoo Finance

I filed this piece–a sequel of sorts to a post I did in 2012 for the Disruptive Competition Project about Europe’s doomed dream of getting search engines to pay newspapers for showing snippets of stories in search results–from the Online News Association’s conference Friday afternoon of the prior week. That scheduling seems to be the only consistently reliable way for me to get a post up on a Monday morning.

9/20/2016: No, Ted Cruz, the US isn’t giving away the internet, Yahoo Finance

I’d had this story on my to-do list for weeks, but finally writing it this week turned out to be good timing: The next day, Donald Trump came out against the planned handover of supervision of the domain name system, doing so with his characteristic lack of knowledge.

yahoo-final-round-interview9/22/2016: Stocks extend Fed-fueled rally, Yahoo Finance

I made my debut on Finance’s 4 p.m. “The Final Round” live show not to talk about the stock market, but to discuss the legal prospects for self-driving cars. I’m on from about 5:00 to 8:00 in the video, talking to host Jen Rogers about things like who might be likely to sue whom when one autonomous car hits another.

9/22/2016: How the government plans to make your self-driving car safer, Yahoo Finance

I wrote about half this story on the train up from D.C., with the remaining half done after watching a panel of lawyers debate this topic at the MarketplaceLive conference in New York. Because I was in Yahoo’s newsroom, I could go over the edits the old-fashioned way: by sitting down next to my editor instead of bouncing messages back and forth in Slack.

9/25/2016: How to prolong your MacBook’s battery life, USA Today

Not for the first time, my own hardware served up a good column topic that helped me learn a new troubleshooting step, which is always nice.