About robpegoraro

Freelance journalist who covers (and is often vexed by) computers, gadgets and other things that beep.

Weekly output: telecom bargaining (x2), net neutrality, gadget gift guidance, 4K viewing options

The list below would suggest that I spent more time talking about my job this week than actually doing it, but I filed two other stories that you should see Monday.

12/4/2017: Bargaining for lower telecom bills, KTRH

This Houston radio station wanted to interview me about last Sunday’s USA Today advice to bargain for a better rate on your TV and Internet bill. Fortunately, I had spare time during a long connection through Newark and an unusually uncrowded United Club in which to take anchor Scott Crowder’s call. I should probably list this with an asterisk, as I don’t know when or even if KTRH ran the interview; if you happened to tune in Monday and hear my spot, please let me know.

12/5/2017: Total Eclipse of the Net: The End of Net Neutrality?, New America

“I am serving a life sentence of covering net neutrality” was how I began this 90-minute panel hosted by New America’s Open Technology Institute. My conversation partners were Incompas general counsel Angie Kronenberg, economist Hal SingerNational Hispanic Media Coalition policy adviser (and former FCC commissioner) Gloria Tristani, and Free Press policy director Matt Wood.

12/5/2017: This Morning with Gordon Deal December 05, 2017, This Morning with Gordon Deal

A few minutes after my interview with KTRH, I did a second interview about last Sunday’s USAT column. My spot comes up a little after 13 minutes into this episode.

12/6/2017: Holiday gift guide: Shopping for a person who’s hard to shop for? These D.C. locals have you covered., Express

Bryanna Cappadona, entertainment editor at the Washington Post’s free tabloid, quizzed me for this gift guide. I will admit that my suggested purchase is rather nerdy, but it could also spare the recipient major heartache with their Gmail or Facebook account.

12/10/2017: 4K TV: How much Internet bandwidth do you need?, USA Today

This column also notes your primary offline option for watching 4K content–the small minority of Blu-ray discs that offer Ultra High Definition resolution–and the continued absence of 4K in cable-TV lineups and over-the-air broadcasts.

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Ban the panel prep call

Tuesday morning had me moderating a panel discussion, which made the workweek nothing out of the ordinary: I’ve done 20 or so panels so far this year.

I enjoy the exercise–when you only have to ask interesting questions, call out any departures from the truth, throw in the occasional joke and try to end things on time, you’ve got the easiest job of anybody on the stage. But there’s one part I resent: the inevitable request by the event organizers that everybody get on a conference call first to discuss the panel.

If it’s just going to be me interviewing another person and we’re in the same time zone, this need not be too bad. But more often, you have four or five people with widely varying schedules.

That leads to a flurry of e-mails in which the panelists or their PR reps try to pick out a mutually agreeable time–instead of, you know, using the e-mail thread to discuss the panel itself.

The con call itself is likely to run on some 1990s phone-based system, not any sort of online app that would make it easy to tell who’s talking (pro tip: when on a con call, play up whatever regional accent you have). Using a text-based collaboration tool like Slack that would let people on planes or an Amtrak Quiet Car get in on the conversation never seems to come up.

Last month, the only time the organizers offered for the prep call was 5 p.m. on a Friday when I had to get to Dulles Airport for a flight later that night. I replied that this wouldn’t work and suggested we “use e-mail the way God intended,” then wrote up an outline of the talk as I would have needed to do even if I’d hacked out time for a con call. The panel went just fine.

So if you ask me to dial into a con-call service to talk about what we’ll talk about on a panel and I suddenly get cranky, please understand that I’m just trying to act as if we’re doing business in the 21st century.

Weekly output: net neutrality (x2), 2018 security risks, bargaining for a better TV or Internet bill

One of the ways that self-employment has taught me to see the calendar differently: Once you put November in the books, you’ve pretty much put your yearly income in the books too unless you can sell something early in December to a client that pays unusually fast. (See also, a client worth keeping around.)

USAT net-neutrality transparency post11/28/2017: After net neutrality: Up to you to police the ISPs, USA Today

My contribution to USAT’s coverage of Federal Communications Commission chair Ajit Pai’s move to repeal all of 2015’s net-neutrality rules was to unpack the disclosure requirements he would impose on Internet providers. One big catch: An ISP wouldn’t have to post on its own site that it blocks or slows certain sites or charges others for priority delivery of their bits.

11/28/2017: Why the FCC chair says social networks are the real threat to the free internet, Yahoo Finance

Pai gave a speech Tuesday that included some reasonable arguments against the current, proscriptive net-neutrality rules–and then pivoted to the deeply dubious contention that we should really worry about Twitter and other social networks being mean to conservatives.

11/29/2017: How hackers might target you in 2018, Yahoo Finance

I wrote up McAfee Labs’ cybersecurity forecast for next year–which identified the companies selling connected gadgets for your home as a major part of your privacy and security risks.

12/3/2017: Check your cable or Internet bill: After the first year discounts, it’s time to bargain, USA Today

Three weeks ago in San Francisco, I sat down with my USAT editor for the first time after two-plus years of her handling my column to brainstorm tech-support columns that might resonate over the holidays, and this was among them. Conveniently enough, my Thanksgiving tech support a week ago allowed me to inspect my mom’s Fios bill to see how Verizon breaks down its promotional discounts and what you’ll owe after their expiration.

 

Recommended Precision Touchpad settings

I’ve yet to ease into a new computer without having to fuss with some of the default settings, and the HP Spectre x360 laptop sitting on this desk has fit right into the pattern.

Most of the tweaking has involved its touchpad, because I’ve always found the defaults in Windows to be too jumpy. (I’ve said the same about some Mac touchpad defaults.) But after a few days of clicking around the stock Synaptics software, I realized I should first dump that for drivers supporting Microsoft’s more elegant Precision Touchpad software.

The directions I found on Reddit (embedded here after the jump) worked, and then I could easily shut off the touch behaviors I couldn’t stand.

  • “Touchpad sensitivity”: I changed this from the default “Medium” to “Low” because, again, jumpy touchpads bother me. I may try turning it back off to see if disabling the following two options made the standard sensitivity acceptable.
  • “Tap with a single finger to single-click”: This is the one setting I change on every laptop. If I want to click, I’m more than happy to press down so the touchpad makes an audible click; having it treat a stray touch as a click leaves me randomly dumping the cursor into documents and windows and feeling generally stabby as a result.
  • “Press the lower right corner of the touchpad to right-click”: I disabled this because it’s easier for me to remember to tap with two fingers to right-click than to keep track of which side of this invisible line I’m about to tap.

I hope this advice–which should also work on any other laptop running Microsoft’s Precision Touchpad software–makes for a more pleasant laptop computing experience. If you have other suggested settings changes, please share them in the comments.

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Weekly output: Life as a journalist, data-cap calculations, FCC vs. net neutrality, “EC 261” flight-delay compensation

I got through this Thanksgiving without having to write a single gift-guide story. I can’t remember when I could last make that claim.

11/20/2017: EP 57 – What It’s Like To Be a Journalist in This Day and Age, The Lorne Epstein Show

I sat down in the studios of Arlington’s low-power FM station WERA in late August with Epstein and my fellow guest (and Washingtonian Tech Titan honoree) Tajha Chappellet-Lanier to talk shop about my profession. A little while later–Epstein is apparently better at working ahead of time than me–the show aired.

11/21/2017: Internet data caps: Why you end up busting them, USA Today

A reader’s e-mail about being puzzled by Cox telling her she’d exceeded its 1 terabyte data cap led me to revisit data caps and their essential unfairness.

11/21/2017: How the FCC’s plan to kill net neutrality affects you, Yahoo Finance

You can advance a respectable argument against net-neutrality rules by saying that ISPs have given up on trying to block or slow individual sites. Calling a repeal of those regulations on the behavior of corporations alone “restoring Internet freedom” is not that argument.

11/23/2017: Delayed in Europe? How EC 261 Services Can Get Airlines to Pay, The Points Guy

I’ve had this story on my to-do list since seeing AirHelp present at TechCrunch Disrupt NY in 2014. A year later, I finally tasked another company expert in the European Union’s “EC 261” flight-interruption regulation to get Lufthansa to compensate me for the hours-long delay that held up my return from IFA in 2012. The airline sent me a check last March, and then it took me another year and a half to sell a piece about it. That itself only happened when a TPG editor asked if I had other posts in mind after passing on one I’d thought to pitch after seeing a friend’s byline there.

A Thanksgiving baking project: almost-no-work bread

Well over a decade since I got into the habit of baking sandwich bread from scratch, I still remember how nervous I was at first about winding up with a deflated loaf. The recipe I’m sharing here cuts that risk as close to zero as possible; all it asks in return is about 24 hours of time.

Because I, too, am a little hesitant to try out a recipe with that much latency, I waited to try the “No-Work Bread” recipe in my well-read copy of Mark Bittman’s “How To Cook Everything” (which you may have seen in the New York Times as “No-Knead Bread”). I shouldn’t have: This product of Sullivan Street Bakery owner Jim Lahey is the most fault-tolerant bread recipe I know, and if you start it by mid-afternoon Wednesday you can have it ready for Thanksgiving dinner.

(My apologies if you’ll be spending Wednesday afternoon on highways or in the air. Maybe bookmark this for Christmas?)

  • 4 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 2/3 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 cups water, about 70 degrees
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon cornmeal

Mix the flour and salt in a 2-quart bowl. Stir the yeast into the water, and after a few minutes mix that into the dry ingredients for longer than seems necessary. This may look like a mess, but as long as you don’t have any chunky bits left, you should be fine.

(Bittman’s original recipe calls for half a teaspoon of instant yeast, which I never buy because Costco sells regular yeast in a 2-pound package. The last time I made this, I forgot the 1:1.33 instant-to-active-yeast conversion and threw the non-instant yeast in with the dry ingredients. Everything turned out fine; as I said, fault-tolerant.)

Take a 3-quart bowl and coat it with the olive oil. Dump the dough into it, cover with plastic wrap, and leave it alone for about 18 hours. You’ll know it’s done, or close enough, when it’s risen to near the top and it’s covered with bubbles as if they were craters on the surface of the moon.

(While the dough enjoys that long rise, you may want to watch an episode of the Great British Baking Show for motivational purposes.)

Dust a clean surface with flour and pour the soggy dough onto it–taking a moment to enjoy the aroma of the risen, fermented yeast. Fold the dough over a couple of times into a ball, more or less, and cover it with plastic wrap for 15 minutes.

After that rest, scatter more flour on the dough and re-form it into a ball. Scatter the cornmeal on a silicone baking mat, wax paper, or a towel (as in, something that you can grab to lift the dough off the surface) and leave the dough ball there for two hours.

About an hour and 15 minutes into that last rise, put a 3- to 4-quart pot, cover included, into the oven and preheat it to 450 degrees. Half an hour later after hitting 450°, open the oven, remove the lid and dump the dough into the pot.

This is when the results–a damp glob slumped unevenly in the pot, part of it stuck to its side–may look like a culinary catastrophe. Ignore the untidy appearance, put the lid back on, and shove it in the oven for 30 minutes.

Open the oven, remove the lid and you should see that the bread has settled back into a somewhat flattened ball. Set the lid aside, close the oven and bake for another 20 minutes. If the crust looks browned like something in a real bakery, it’s done; otherwise, try another 10 minutes.

Let the bread cool for 30 minutes. Try not to eat it all at once.

Weekly output: 5G possibilities, Comcast-NBC revisited, switching to Windows, big-media serfdom, Face ID hack, online abuse

Good luck with your Thanksgiving family tech support, everybody!

11/13/2017: 5G’s Economic Prospects: Flexibility and Fuzziness, FierceWireless

Researching this piece about possible business models for 5G wireless helped inform me about story angles I’ll want to look into over the next few years. As with my past work for Fierce’s e-book bundles, you’ll have to cough up an e-mail address to read this one.

11/13/2017: Comcast + NBCUniversal Produces Mixed Bag, FierceCable

Disclosure: Comcast’s purchase of NBCUniversal has benefited me directly, in the form of Comcast PR inviting me to NBCUniversal movie screenings in D.C.

11/13/2017: How Apple sold me on buying a Windows laptop, Yahoo Finance

An angle I didn’t have room to address in this post: Windows 10’s “tablet mode” represents a long-delayed fulfillment of the promise of Windows XP’s watching-not-creating Media Center interface.

11/14/2017, Barry Diller says big media will be ‘serfs on the land’ of tech giants, Yahoo Finance

The media mogul’s pessimistic assessment of traditional media’s future was an easy sell from the Internet Association’s Virtuous Circle conference in San Francisco.

11/17/2017: You should still use the iPhone X’s Face ID even though hackers say they beat it, Yahoo Finance

I’ve written a few posts over the past year or two on the theme of “security nihilism”–the unhelpful belief of many infosec types that if a defensive measure can’t protect you from the most experienced and motivated attackers, then it’s worthless. Maybe this was more persuasive than the others?

11/16/2017: Technical and Human Solutions to Problematic Behaviors, Family Online Safety Institute

I moderated this panel at FOSI’s conference about ways to deal with people being jerks online. My thanks to TeenSafe’s Tracy Bennett, Verizon’s Ginelle Brown, Twitter’s Patricia Cartes and the Born This Way Foundation’s Rachel Martin for making me sound smarter on the subject on a day when I had to function on about four hours of sleep after a fuel leak forced my flight back from SFO to divert to Denver, after which I didn’t land at Dulles until after 1 a.m.