Weekly output: iOS app updates, Twitter abuse, Facebook Messenger encryption, old Fios routers, GOP tech policy

I did not spend last week in Cleveland and I’m not spending this coming week in Philadelphia, but I’m still devoting a great deal of time to following the Republican and Democratic conventions in case speakers at each say anything relevant about tech policy. In other words, I watched Newt Gingrich so you didn’t have to.

iOS-update column screengrab7/18/2016: When an iOS app update starts with an uninstall, USA Today

Seeing USAT’s old iPad app tell me to upgrade it by deleting it and then installing a newer app of the same name led to this column. So it’s only appropriate that I illustrate this with a screengrab of my story as seen in USAT’s current iPad app.

7/20/2016: Twitter won’t solve its harassment problem by banning one jerk, Yahoo Finance

Looking at my earliest coverage of Twitter, it’s funny/alarming how I paid no attention to whether this platform’s mechanics might enable antisocial behavior. Like, say, the torrent of anti-semitic garbage my old Post co-worker Jonathan Weisman endured from neo-Nazi Trump supporters, an episode I wish I’d mentioned in this post.

7/21/2016: Here’s how to make sure no one else can read your Facebook Messages, Yahoo Finance

FYI: Leaving a comment on a story about some new Facebook feature with a version of “I’m not on Facebook” only advertises your colossal lack of creativity.

7/24/2016: Keeping old router on Verizon Fios will cost you, USA Today

That question that yielded this column came from a reader I’ve been corresponding with since 2002, maybe earlier. We’ve both been through a few e-mail addresses in that time.

7/24/2016: Here’s what Republicans (and maybe Trump) think about tech policy, Yahoo Finance

Watching Donald Trump’s dystopian harangue yielded few insights about tech policy–or any other current issues–but the Republican platform had much more to say about technology, including some unexpected overlap with Hillary Clinton’s views.

Twitter reminder: The block button’s there for a reason

The block button on Twitter can get a bad reputation when people in a position of power use to ensure they won’t hear a dissenting but informed voice–even when it might help them do their job or their work outright requires it.

Twitter block buttonThink of investor and Web pioneer Marc Andreessen blocking veteran tech journalist Dan Gillmor this morning, Cleveland Police Department spokeswoman Jennifer Ciaccia blocking  The Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery last week, or Donald Trump social-media director Dan Scavino, Jr., blocking my friend Robert Schlesinger, U.S. News and World Report’s managing editor for opinion, last month.

(Robert told me that getting blocked by one of Trump’s mouthpieces couldn’t quite match his dad Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., landing on Richard Nixon’s enemies list, but he still considered it a badge of honor.)

Seeing that kind of childish behavior makes me want to leave the block function–which stops a user from mentioning you or even seeing your tweets when logged in–to victims of GamerGate-level harassment.

But then I saw my notifications fill Wednesday with irate responses to my Yahoo Finance post about Twitter banning professional jerk Milo Yannopoulus. These tweets were marked by an absence of logic, facts and grammar–and, once I replied to some of them, a general unwillingness to consider that they might not have all of the answers to the universe in their possession.

I enjoy a good argument (you can see I waded into the comments on the post) but I also have a finite number of hours in the day. And being swarmed by trolling replies with no evident interest in an actual debate is properly read as a distributed denial-of-service attack on my attention span. There’s even a term for this kind of behavior: “sea-lioning.”

So I gave fair warning, blocked a handful of the worst offenders, and felt much better afterwards.

Then I politely answered an e-mail from an angry reader about the Milo post and got a more nuanced and understanding reply not long after. I wish that Twitter allowed for that sort of learning–for some testimony from people who have tried to engage with their Twitter trolls, see Ariel Bogle’s post at Mashable–but maybe some people just don’t want to admit in public that they were wrong. I will try not to fall into that habit myself.

Memo to frequent-traveler programs: Kids shouldn’t need their own e-mail addresses

Our almost-six-year-old is already in multiple marketing databases, and it’s all my fault: Once our daughter couldn’t depart with us for free, we started signing her up for frequent-travel programs. The price of miles and points are already baked into the tickets we buy for her, so we might as well take part–and besides, you’ll never hit million-miler status if you don’t start sometime.

JetBlue River Visual viewBut tending these accounts has been more work than I imagined, because some companies have a hard time grasping that children represent a special group of customers who can’t be expected to have their own e-mail addresses.

At first I thought I’d solved this problem with “sub-addressing”creating a new e-mail address on my existing Gmail account by adding a plus sign and additional text to my username. It’s an Internet standard, and I had no issues creating accounts for our daughter at United Airlines, JetBlue, American Airlines, and Amtrak with a “plus-ed” address.

But when I tried logging into our daughter’s United and JetBlue accounts a week ago and was greeted with various errors, I saw that both airlines had stopped accepting sub-addressed e-mails.

The problem was worse at JetBlue, since your TrueBlue ID is your e-mail address. I had to call and provide our kid’s account number and the no-longer-accepted e-mail address; the rep told me she needed her own e-mail address but then accepted a version of my Gmail account with a dot in the middle of my username. It’s weird to have to go through such a workaround when JetBlue’s site has a separate workflow to create a child account.

At United, I could change her e-mail to a dotted version of my Gmail handle after logging in, since MileagePlus account numbers double as usernames. United’s Twitter account then told me I could have put in my own e-mail for her account from the start. I would not have guessed that, since UA’s account-opening UX assumes you’re a grownup–and the e-mails sent to our kid suggesting she jet off to the likes of Australia, Brazil and Israel don’t exactly speak to the under-10 demographic.

Meanwhile, Amtrak and American Airlines still seem to tolerate plus-ed e-mail addresses. (I can’t speak to Delta, as that airline’s network doesn’t work for us.) But after the last week, I won’t be surprised if our little one gets unexpectedly locked out of either account; I just hope I don’t have to spend too much time on the phone to fix that problem.

Weekly output: e-mail security, unlimited 2G wireless data, Verizon’s new plans

This has been an exhausting week in all the wrong ways. I won’t miss it.

Yahoo Finance Clinton e-mail post7/6/2016: The worst thing Hillary Clinton did with her email, Yahoo Finance

I started writing this story months ago as a general guide to staying secure while staying connected overseas, but I kept putting it off. And then FBI director James Comey’s conclusion of the Bureau’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s reliance on a private e-mail server as Secretary of State noted that she used this mail service while traveling “in the territory of sophisticated adversaries.” Boom, news peg.

I tried to make clear in the piece how many mysteries remained about the security of this setup, but all of those subtleties apparently went over the head of the commenters accusing Clinton of treason or worse. (For a while, the comments were topped by a particularly unhinged gem from an avowed 9/11 Truther.) Clinton Derangement Syndrome seems alive and unwell.

7/8/2016: Those massive data overage charges may soon be a thing of the past, Yahoo Finance

Verizon Wireless’ announcement of new price plans that add the option of unlimited 128  kbps data even after you exhaust your data cap reminded me of a thought I’d had at a telecom policy panel this winter: This kind of slow-but-unlimited fallback service represented a content-neutral, user-empowering form of “zero rating.”

7/10/2016: Verizon’s new plans don’t have to cost extra, USA Today

I did the math for those plans and identified a few cases in which a current VzW subscriber could save some money by switching to them. This story, unlike Wednesday’s, featured a non-toxic comments thread that already includes some replies by me.

A hell of a way to follow up on America’s birthday

On Monday, the United States of America celebrated its 240th birthday. Things have gone pretty much downhill for us since.

American flag over Mississippi RiverTuesday, police officers in Baton Rouge shot and killed Alton Sterling outside a convenience store as bystanders Abdullah Muflahi and Arthur Reed recorded it on video.

On Wednesday, St. Anthony, Minn., police officer Jeronimo Yanez shot and killed Philando Castile in the car also occupied by his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds and his four-year-old daughter. Reynolds live-streamed the aftermath on Facebook Live.

I knew I couldn’t unsee those videos but watched them anyway. They can’t tell the whole story, but they all looked way too much like extrajudicial executions of fellow Americans who happened to be of African descent. I have grown to accept that African-Americans have sound reasons to be nervous about getting stopped by police, even as I have never worried about anything more than getting points on my car insurance.

That’s unsettling. So is the thought that the excessive use of force by a minority of police officers vastly predates the existence of technology to publicize it, the efforts of news organizations like the Washington Post to track it, and the rise of protests by people trying to make a point that shouldn’t be that debatable: Black lives matter.

Thursday night, another person decided the answer was to take an AR-15 rifle to the scene of a Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Dallas and murder as many cops as possible. This African-American–I refuse to use his name–killed officers Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa and injured seven others along with two civilians before the Dallas Police Department sent in a robot with a bomb (welcome to the future?) to kill him.

How could we as a country top the killings of two people almost live on camera? That was how.

None of those stories represent the nation I want to live in. Cops keep us safe–I sleep well knowing I’m not even a mile from Arlington’s police headquarters–but the rule of law is a good idea for them too. Don’t like how they do their jobs? Vote, every damn time, for leaders who will change that. Picking up a rock, a knife or a gun against people who volunteered to protect us makes you an enemy of civilization.

At least this rotten week brought two other things that do embody the United States I know. One was the sight of our daughter happily playing with day-camp classmates whose complexions cover most of the colors on the American quilt. The other came Friday, when the fifth anniversary of the final space shuttle launch reminded me that, as Anil Dash wrote, “We can do amazing things! I know because I’ve seen it with my own eyes.” Yes, we still can.

Weekly output: Donald Trump’s e-mails, French startups, Hillary Clinton’s tech policy, Viva Technology Paris (x6), Spotify vs. Apple, wireless resellers

After going 25 years without setting foot in France, I returned to Paris barely a month after May’s horribly-overdue reunion to moderate a round of panels at Viva Technology Paris, a new conference put on by the French business-news group Les Echos and the Paris-based marketing firm Publicis Groupe. They covered my travel costs in return for my not zonking out from jet lag on stage, a commitment I did keep.

6/27/2016: Donald Trump has a big problem with email spam, Yahoo Finance

I filed this last Friday afternoon, but the crush of Brexit coverage at Yahoo left the post farther down the editing queue than normal.

6/27/2016: The thing that holds back French startups? Not the 35-hour work week, Yahoo Finance

I can’t make any jokes about the French work ethic after needing a good month to finish this report from May’s up-close look at the country’s attempts to make itself a tech destination. On the upside, it did inform the very next post I wrote for Yahoo.

6/28/2016: Here’s how Hillary Clinton plans to keep America the world’s tech leader, Yahoo Finance

I hustled to finish this Tuesday afternoon, then found myself with unexpected free time at National Airport as the weather made a mess of my initial itinerary. I wound up going to Paris by way of Frankfurt, but that’s another story in its own right.

Viva Tech panel intro6/30/2016: Building the digital state with data, Viva Technology Paris

I interviewed Rufus Pollock, president and founder of the U.K.-based Open Knowledge group, about how much data stays locked up in proprietary formats and behind paywalls.

6/30/2016: Electricity storage: a new frontier, Viva Technology Paris

Having whole-home batteries like Tesla’s forthcoming Powerwall won’t change how we use electricity as much as having battery-backed homes linked on a neighborhood level. At least, that’s what I learned from my talk with Engie innovation program director Mark Akehurst and Sonnen CEO Christoph Ostermann.

6/30/2016: Open partnerships to design new territories, Viva Technology Paris

The initial description of this smart-cities panel might have sounded a little vague, but I wound up having a good conversation with Vinci Energies innovation and development director Lydia Babaci-Victor and HAL24K founder Jérôme Mol about ways to make our cities and towns more self-aware and efficient.

6/30/2016: Will cellular agriculture help to feed us all?, Viva Technology Paris

Sadly, we had no samples of vat-grown food to share at the talk I had with Gilonne d’Origny of New Harvest and science journalist Marta Zaraska. I enjoyed the conversation anyway.

7/1/2016: How will online medicine change our relationships with doctors?, Viva Technology Paris

My other five (!) panels ran just 20 minutes, but this one featuring Doctolib CEO Stanislas Niox-Chateau, Omixy CEO Lavinia Ionita and Push Doctor CEO Eren Ozagir was booked for 30 minutes. Result: We all started to sweat under the lights in an already-toasty venue.

7/1/2016: 3D simulation and the cities of tomorrow, Viva Technology Paris

My other smart-cities panel of the week, featuring Engie’s Olivier Biancarelli and Siradel CEO Laurent Bouillot, was marred by some dead air when the one-minute videos each had brought to show their 3-D city modeling didn’t play promptly. I should have seen that coming and been prepared to talk through the holdup.

7/1/2016: Spotify just turned up the volume on its latest fight with Apple, Yahoo Finance

I wrote this between Friday afternoon’s panels, then had to revise it again after a letter from Apple’s general counsel to Spotify’s made its way to BuzzFeed’s site.

7/3/2016: Name that network: The carriers behind wireless resellers, USA Today

Not for the first time, a question from a friend led to a column that I hope will draw a good amount of search traffic over time.