About robpegoraro

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

Weekly output: WikiLeaks, standard-definition pay-TV channels

This past week was supposed to be downtime visiting family in Boston, but when we booked this I didn’t think to see if it would overlap any major-party conventions. I also didn’t wrap up a longer, not-yet-published feature beforehand as I should–and then people had to go and make news outside the Democratic convention anyway. It was a minor miracle that I only lost two full days to my laptop. And yes, you have read this kind of story before here.

Yahoo Finance WikiLeaks post7/27/2016: If you value privacy, WikiLeaks stopped being your friend years ago, Yahoo Finance

I wrote about WikiLeaks in depth for the first time since maybe late 2010, and even back then I was growing doubtful of that site’s preening self-righteousness. My reward was seeing my Twitter notifications become even more of a nexus of derp than usual, but I did appreciate seeing the kind of company I had in my skeptical assessment of WikiLeaks.

7/31/2016: How to watch TV channels in high definition, USA Today

Once again, a family member’s tech troubles–Fios boxes showing the standard-definition versions of major networks when HD feeds of them were available–turned into column materials. Fortunately, this time around I was able to find a solution for the issue, research how other TV providers handle this, and get the column written and filed considerably earlier than usual.

Sparring with a 3-million-plus-follower Twitter account

I expected angry feedback to Wednesday’s post about WikiLeaks and its increasing recklessness, but I didn’t know how that would play out. The @WikiLeaks Twitter account has 3.33 million followers and a history of jabbing at critics, and the story of WikiLeaks posting a trove of Democratic National Committee e-mails–with zero attempt to blank out personal data like Social Security numbers–intersected with the angst of Bernie Sanders fans who are themselves not known for social-media silence.

WikiLeaks Twitter interactionThe WikiLeaks account quickly took exception to my post (and supportive tweets) in responses ranging from boastful–“The Hill, Gawker and others published alleged DNC docouments months ago. Only WikiLeaks had impact.”–to dorm-room BS–“Sure. Anyone who exposes the estabishment by telling you the truth is not your friend. We got it.”

Many of those three-million-plus followers then started liking and retweeting those tweets. I’m not used to seeing my notifications fill left-to-right from so many people clicking on the same tweet.

My new interlocutors came from different places. Some were hardcore WikiLeaks defenders. Some backed Donald Trump and so were in favor of anything making Democrats’ lives more difficult. Some were Bernie Sanders fans convinced that the DNC had stolen the election from him, despite the absence of proof.

(Sorry, Bernie fans: The Democratic Party–especially the woefully-mismanaged DNC–is nowhere near organized to pull that off. Also, you might want to think about where your militant confusion of a party bureaucracy’s dislike of your candidate with “rigging an election” might end up taking you.)

I tried to reply to the tweets directed at me but soon lost count, leading to me feeling I was reliving Seinfeld’s “jerk store” episode when I saw rebuttal-worthy material half a day too late.

But I did not have to answer any hateful crap attacking my gender, race, ethnicity or religion. Every time that happens, I think I’m playing this game with a WHT PRVLG cheat code.

After a day of this amusement, it was nice to see Edward Snowden come to the same basic conclusion as me and then get his own moralizing response.

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.