Weekly output: cryptocurrency hack, TV technology (x2), Last Gadget Standing, 2018 cybersecurity forecasts revisited, connected appliances at CES, drones at CES, CES oddities

I never work harder in a week than during CES, so I immensely appreciated the gift of a snowstorm this weekend that let me get in some cross-country skiing, go sledding with my daughter on the nearest suitable hill and think about work very little.

If you’ve already read all of the posts below, please check out my Flickr album from the show.

1/8/2019: True Confessions: ICOs, Crypto, Tokens and VCs, Digital Money

My spot on this panel track was an onstage interview of cryptocurrency investor Michael Terpin about how a SIM-swap hack led to him being robbed of startup tokens worth almost $24 million at the time.

1/9/2019: Your TV could soon have these features that are better than 8K, Yahoo Finance

Just about every one of the 22 consecutive CESes that I’ve covered has led to me writing a report on the state of the TV. This year’s version involves an unusual company: Apple.

1/10/2019: Last Gadget Standing, Living in Digital Times

Once again, I helped judge this gadget competition and introduced one of the contestants–Origami Labs, developer of the Orii smart ring. This year’s contest, however, featured a new emcee. Instead of my former Yahoo colleague David Pogue, my USA Today colleague Jennifer Jolly did the honors.

1/10/2019: How cybersecurity forecasts got 2018 wrong, The Parallax

Having botched enough tech forecasts of my own, I appreciated having a chance to revisit other people’s predictions for the year we just escaped.

1/11/2019: From a smart toilet to ‘Shazam for Food’: CES unveils new connected appliances, Yahoo Finance

Once Samsung explained how this year’s version of their Family Hub fridge automatically identified food inside visible to its three interior cameras, Silicon Valley’s “Shazam for food” plot line immediately jumped into my head. That also led me to think of the role of hacked smart fridges in the HBO comedy–which made the unwillingness of so many CES smart-home exhibitors to talk specifics about security fixes all the more annoying.

1/11/2019: The drones of CES 2019 aren’t all in the air, Yahoo Finance

I wasn’t sure how I’d end this story until finding myself staring at a an enormous John Deere combine–brought to the show floor to exhibit how GPS guidance lets it drive itself to an extraordinary degree of accuracy. That makes it a very large drone that happens to help bring corn and corn-based products to supermarkets, and there I had my ending.

1/12/2019: 8K TVs show the tech industry indulging in a bad habit, USA Today

This take on TV technology revisited some CES flops of a decade and two decades ago: 3-D TV and the would-be CD-upgrade formats DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD.

1/13/2019: The weirdest tech we saw at CES, Yahoo Finance

I wrote this, along with the two prior stories, after landing at Dulles early Friday morning. It turns out that you can be productive after a red-eye flight home if you pass out for almost the entire flight, nap a couple of times during the day and apply caffeine as needed.

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CES 2019 travel-tech report: overcoming oversights

I’ve survived another CES, this time after committing two of the dumber unforced errors possible at an enormous tech trade show.

One was not arranging an update to the Wirecutter LTE-hotspots guide to coincide with CES, such that I’d have to bring a couple of new hotspots to the show. Instead, I was left to cope with intermittently available press-room and press-conference WiFi.

It confounds me that in 2019, anybody would think it okay to host a press event and not provide bandwidth to the press. But that’s CES for you, when either PR professionals or their clients seem to shove common sense into the shredder.

Fortunately, the show press rooms offered wired Internet, so I could fish out my USB-to-Ethernet adapter and get online as I would have 20 years ago. A couple of other times, I tethered off my phone.

On its second CES, my HP Spectre x360 laptop worked fine except for the one morning it blue-screened, then rebooted without a working touchpad. I had to open Device Manager and delete that driver to get it working once again. I also couldn’t help think this doesn’t charge as fast as my old MacBook Air, but I’m still happier with a touchscreen laptop that I can fold up to use as a tablet–and which didn’t gouge me on storage.

My other big CES error was leaving the laptop’s charger in the press room at the Sands. I looked up and realized I had only 30 minutes to get to an appointment at the Las Vegas Convention Center, hurriedly unplugged what I thought was everything, and only realized my oversight an hour later. Fortunately, a call to the Sands press room led to the people there spotting the charger and safeguarding it until I retrieved it the next morning.

Meanwhile, my first-gen Google Pixel declined to act its age. It never froze up or crashed on me, took good pictures and recharged quickly over both its own power adapter and the laptop’s. I am never again buying a phone and laptop that don’t share a charging-cable standard.

I also carried around a brick of an external charger, an 8,000 milliamp-hours battery included in the swag at a security conference in D.C. I covered in October. This helped when I was walking around but didn’t charge the Pixel as quickly, and leaving the charger and phone in my bag usually led to the cable getting jostled out of the Pixel.

The other new tech accessory I brought on this trip made no difference on the show floor but greatly improved my travel to Vegas: a pair of Bose QC25 noise-cancelling headphones that I bought at a steep discount during Amazon’s Prime Day promotion. These things are great, and now I totally get why so many frequent flyers swear by them.

Weekly output: privacy-law prospects, switching wireless carriers, cable and broadband fee inflation, Android messages on your computer

ces 2019 badgeOnce again, a Sunday in January finds me in Las Vegas for CES. It’s like I’ve been doing this since 1998 or something…

12/31/2018: Why 2019 might finally bring a national privacy law for the US, Yahoo Finance

Writing a story optimistic about the prospects for a national privacy bill makes me feel like Charlie Brown lining up to the kick the football, so if the year ends with Congress having yanked the ball away I’ll be disappointed but not enormously surprised.

12/31/2018: How to Switch Cell Phone Carriers, Wirecutter

This how-to post started with some banter on Wirecutter’s Slack about the mechanics of switching carriers.

1/1/2019: How your TV or broadband bill might creep up in the new year, Yahoo Finance

Just as I predicted a year ago, cable and broadband companies marked the new year with a round of rate hikes. This time around, I focused on increases to the add-on fees that are usually confined to the fine print of ads.

1/4/2019: You can read your Android phone’s texts on your Mac or PC. Here’s how, USA Today

A couple of readers complained that this column didn’t address third-party solutions for reading your texts on your Mac or PC–for example, MightyText, Pushbullet, Pulse SMS. That, I have to admit, is a fair point.

Updated 1/15/2019 to add a link to the Wirecutter how-to post that I’d missed at the time. 

2018 in review: security-minded

I spent more time writing about information-security issues in 2018 than in any prior year, which is only fair when I think about the security angles I and many of other people missed in prior years.

Exploring these issues made me realize how fascinating infosec is as a field of study–interface design, business models, human psychology and human villainy all intersect in this area. Plus, there’s real market demand for writing on this topic.

2018 calendarI did much of this writing for Yahoo, but I also picked up a new client that let me get into the weeds on security issues. Well after two friends had separately suggested I start writing for The Parallax–and after an e-mail or two to founder Seth Rosenblatt had gone unanswered–I spotted Seth at the Google I/O press lounge, introduced myself, and came home with a couple of story assignments.

(Lesson re-learned: Sometimes, the biggest ROI from going to conference consists of the business-development conversations you have there.)

Having this extra outlet helped diversify my income, especially during a few months when too many story pitches elsewhere suffered from poor product-market fit. My top priority for 2019 is further diversification: The Parallax is funded by a single sponsor, the Avast security-software firm, which on one hand frees it from the frailty of conventional online advertising but on the other leaves it somewhat brittle.

I’d also like to speak more often at conferences. Despite being half-terrified of public speaking in high school, I’ve become pretty good at what think of as the performance art of journalism. This took me some fun places in 2018, including my overdue introduction to Toronto. (See after the jump for a map of my business travel.)

My focus on online security and privacy extended to my own affairs. In 2018, I made Firefox my default browser and set its default search to DuckDuckGo, cut back on Facebook’s access to my data, and disabled SMS two-step verification on my most important accounts in favor of app or U2F security-key authentication.

At Yahoo, it’s now been more than five years since my first byline there–and with David Pogue’s November departure to return to the New York Times, I’m the last original Yahoo Tech columnist still writing for Yahoo. My streak is even longer at USA Today, where I just hit my seventh anniversary of writing for the site (and sometimes the paper). Permanence of any sort is not a given in freelance journalism, and I appreciate that these two places have not gotten bored with me.

I also appreciate or at least hope that you reading this haven’t gotten bored with me. I’d like to think this short list of my favorite work of 2018 had something to do with that.

Thanks for reading; please keep doing so in 2019.

Continue reading

Weekly output: cloud storage, Facebook’s 2019

I hope your holidays have involved a minimum of tech support–and if they did, it was of the sort that allowed you to declare victory and accept compliments from relatives in time for dinner.

USAT cloud-services post12/25/2018: How to match a cloud service for all your devices, USA Today

I marked my seventh anniversary of writing for USAT in a subpar way. We had to correct this column because I swapped the free-storage allotments of Microsoft and Google, even though I pay each company for extra storage because their no-charge tiers weren’t enough. Then we tweaked it further to reflect Dropbox offering a discount for yearly billing.

12/28/2018: 2 toxic storylines for Facebook won’t go away in 2019, Yahoo Finance

I wrote this year-in-preview post in part to take yet another whack at Facebook for its fumbling responses to its privacy failings and obvious violations of its rules. But along the way, I kept getting angrier about its continued addiction to the Silicon Valley cult of engagement. Facebook–and Google, while I’m at it–needs to stop acting like a startup growth-hacking its way to traction, consequences be damned.

2018 gardening report card: tomatoes! (And rain and rabbits)

After years of complaining that my kitchen-gardening efforts were thwarted by drought, I realized that the opposite scenario can be bad too. D.C.’s rainiest year ever saw much of my attempt at a fall crop go to a watery grave when lettuce, spinach and various herb seedlings couldn’t withstand repeated downpours.

After the weather, the local wildlife was my biggest obstacle this year. The rabbits that scamper throughout our neighborhood may amuse our daughter, but they also found yet another way to get through the netting I’d stretched over a raised bed and devour all the lettuce and green beans in sight. To add to the indignity, one wall of that raised bed then fell apart from rot.

(For reference: my 201720162015, 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011 gardening grades.)

Arugula after rainArugula: A+

If you only try to grow one vegetable, make it this one. Arugula grows prolifically in the spring and fall–the photo at right dates to only last week–it’s great in a salad or on a sandwich, and unlike lettuce you can use it in risotto or an omelette.

Herbs: A

This grade is inflated by how well sage, parsley, and (after a slow start) mint did. Basil, however, was nowhere near as prolific as it was last year, and cilantro underperformed by an even larger margin. Mint, rosemary, dill and oregano did okay, while thyme had no time for me.

Tomatoes in cageTomatoes: B

After years of frustration, I finally got a respectable tomato crop. Lesson learned: There’s no such thing as overengineering your attempts to keep squirrels away from tomato plants. Another lesson learned: There is no tomato more delicious than the one you pluck on a summer afternoon and slice up, still warm from the sun.

Lettuce: B-

A solid spring was not matched by any fall crop, thanks to the aforementioned precipitation.

Spinach: B-

Same problem here. Which is too bad, considering how last year’s spinach survived throughout the winter.

Green beans: D

I thought these were off to a good start, and then those rascally rabbits made short work of them all.

Cucumbers: F

The seeds I planted did not appear to survive contact with dirt. To be fair, I think the seeds were from last year.

Bell peppers: F

These, too, failed to sprout, extending my streak of futility at trying to coax a crop of these out of my garden.

Weekly output: Facebook’s Supreme Court, Twitter data breach, Russian disinformation campaigns, Facebook data partners (x2)

Looking at my last possible day of Christmas shopping reminds me of one evening in pre-Amazon days when I wrapped up the season’s gift procurement on my walk home along Connecticut Avenue–by ducking into the shops I found interesting. That was not a cheaper time, but in some ways it was a simpler time.

Yahoo Facebook-appeals post12/18/2018: Facebook wants to give you a way to fight having your posts taken down, Yahoo Finance

I had meant to write this earlier, but breaking news kept interrupting my progress. Fortunately, Facebook kept getting tripped up by new reports of its erratic enforcement of its own rules.

12/18/2018: Twitter country-code data breach, Al Jazeera

I had my first spot on the Arabic-language news station in a several weeks to talk about Twitter’s disclosure of a data breach that revealed the country codes of the phone numbers of some users–a data point that could have helped certain foreign intelligence agencies. My spot comes up at about 18 minutes into this clip.

12/18/2018: Russian disinformation campaigns, Al Araby

I had a second appearance on an Arabic-language channel this Tuesday, this time to talk about the two reports commissioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee about Russian disinformation campaigns. I’m on at 35 minutes in.

12/20/2018: Facebook’s data partners, Al Jazeera

I returned to AJ to talk about the New York Times report documenting Facebook’s history of poorly-governed data-sharing deals with other companies; I start to discuss this some 19 minutes into this clip.

12/23/2018: No, Netflix and Spotify weren’t spying on your Facebook Messenger account, Yahoo Finance

I thought of one good angle to put into this post about messaging interoperability while I was on my way to Al Jazeera’s studio Thursday: Facebook’s abandoned, now-largely-forgotten plan to turn its messaging service into an email alternative that you could use from any browser.