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.
I 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.
- I set aside a day during a week’s visit to relatives in London to visit Bletchley Park, then wrote up my tour of that shrine to WWII cryptography for The Parallax with added perspective from a couple of security experts–one of whom I’d last talked to 10 years earlier.
- I took a fuel-cell-powered Honda Clarity for a test drive around L.A., a fascinating experience that left me with this year’s most unusual expense: a $34.05 purchase of compressed, chilled hydrogen gas.
- I researched secure erasure methods for discarded storage by taking a crowbar to a hard drive.
- I used my own experience with a Facebook page to explain Facebook advertising from the inside out.
- I knocked on doors for a crime story, which made me feel like a real cops-and-courts reporter for the first time in a decade or so.
- My alarm at seeing some sketchy Facebook pages in a relative’s News Feed led me to find a bug in Facebook’s iPad app and led Facebook to boot two of the worst offenders, with a combined 3.4 million Likes.
- I returned to my favorite part of Florida, the Kennedy Space Center, to cover SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launch. No reporting this year was more thrilling, no dateline was better, and nothing made me appreciate freelancing more than my ability to essentially self-assign the story and orchestrate my travel on three days’ notice.
Thanks for reading; please keep doing so in 2019.
I created the map below at the Great Circle Mapper site, following the advice of Tiffany Funk at the One Mile At A Time blog. Blue lines represent flights booked through United (which include segments on Air Canada, Brussels Airlines, Lufthansa and TAP), orange lines those on Southwest, red on American and dark blue on Porter Airlines.