About robpegoraro

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

Weekly output: Google’s “security hold,” how to read wireless-carrier rankings

Both posts this week had me circling back to topics I’ve covered before and learning something new, which is always nice.

7/25/2019: Locked out of your Google account? Why it can sometimes take days to get back in, USA Today

Once again, I tried to shed some light on how Google goes about resolving a forgotten password for a Google account. This time, I got the company to document a hitherto-undocumented “security hold.” Alas, much of the process here remains mysterious, and the reader in question here may have only gotten her account back so quickly because I inquired on her behalf.

7/26/2019: Why so many wireless carriers seem to have “America’s best network”, Fast Company

My work updating the Wirecutter guide to smartphone service required me to spend a lot of time with studies ranking the performance of the big four wireless carriers, so I decided to write an explainer about how these surveys get their results and how you should interpret their findings. That effort revealed a couple of finer points about these projects that I was able to add to the Wirecutter update, which should be up any day now.

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What to expect from me on Twitter

A few years ago, the sci-fi author John Scalzi decided to write an explanation of how he uses Twitter, then pinned a tweet linking to that post to his profile so anybody thinking of following him could easily find it. That’s a good idea, so I am stealing it.

Birds want to fly.

What I tweet about: I’ve often used the phrase “public notebook” to describe my tweets–in the sense that I share observations about the things I’m writing about as I learn them. Twitter remains highly useful for that, and for learning about various tech accomplishments and failures as other people report them.

I don’t just stick to tech, though. You will also find me rambling on about politics (writing freelance means I can ignore any stupid newsroom verdicts asking reporters to pretend they don’t think about the issues they cover), food, travel, gardening, space, sports (usually baseball), transportation, architecture, music, and parenting. Yes, there will be dad jokes.

Whom I follow: Most of the nearly 1,000 people I follow have some connection to the tech industry–they’re other tech journalists, analysts, policy advocates or industry executives. I also follow many politicians, in some cases because I think they have notable things to say about tech policy and other cases because I kind of have to (trust me, I’d rather not have Donald Trump’s rants in my timeline). Some companies are in my following list for customer-support purposes, and some friends are there because I like hearing from them. And in one case, I followed a reader by accident after fat-fingering the “follow” button, then decided to let that stand.

Why I might not follow you: While I’ve overcome my early snobbishness about cluttering my timeline with too many people, I’m still not going to follow somebody just because they ask. And “follow me back so I can DM you” is the worst kind of follow-me request. My e-mail address is in my bio for a reason, people!

I use the block button: I still don’t block people all that often, but if somebody is wasting my time with bad-faith arguments, I don’t owe them my attention. And tweeting nutcase conspiracy theories at me–about Seth Rich’s murder, to name the most common–will get you blocked almost immediately.

My DMs aren’t open: Direct messages can be useful as a replacement for text-message banter, but I don’t have my DMs open for everybody for the same reason I don’t invite the world to text me–I don’t need my life to be any more interrupt-driven. So if you were thinking of sending me a PR pitch via DM: My e-mail address is in my bio for a reason.

Retweets might be endorsements: Retweets always mean I want the original tweet to get a wider exposure, but that doesn’t mean I think highly of them. You can be sure that I hate a tweet if I share a screengrab of it to avoid accidentally popularizing that tweet or its author (and I wish more of you would do that instead of having Twitter’s algorithm think some idiot’s output deserves broader publicity). If, however, I retweet without adding any commentary, I probably do approve of that message.

Other notes: I’m frequently sarcastic, which can go over poorly in a medium that destroys context. I often live-tweet events like tech conferences, which can make my feed really busy. I have almost never done any live video on Twitter but probably should. And because I am a sci-fi nerd, my proudest moment on Twitter just might be getting retweeted by Mark Hamill.

Weekly output: Nvidia’s Apollo 11 shout-out

I hope you all have been staying cool over this hot weekend.

7/19/2019: Nvidia returns us to the moon in time for Apollo 11’s 50th anniversary, Yahoo Finance

I used this opportunity to write about the graphics-technology firm’s recreation of Apollo 11’s landing to remind readers of how primitive video technology was 50 years ago, when NASA couldn’t get the live video feed from the moon directly to TV screens. Fun fact: This is the second time I’ve covered a pop-culture release featuring Apollo 11 lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin, the first being a review of the CD-ROM version of Buzz Aldrin’s Race Into Space that I wrote for the Post almost 25 years ago.

An unpersuasive PR follow-up: “any interest?”

I’m terrible at answering e-mail on a timely basis, so I don’t complain when PR types follow up on their pitches. But I do wish they could be a little more creative in how they try to regain my attention.

Instead, the typical follow-up consists of the body of the first e-mail topped by a two-word query: “Any interest?”

That’s it. There’s no attempt to expand on the prior pitch, no hint of new developments with the PR firm’s client, no suggestion that anything the world has changed to make the subject more interesting. Maybe the service picked up another 80,000 users, maybe the app just got a round of bug fixes, maybe the CEO beat the charges–but “any interest?” tells me none of those things.

(Even worse: When the sender chooses to prefix the follow-up e-mail’s subject with the unfortunate abbreviation “F/U”.)

Meanwhile, freelancing has taught me that “any interest?” is the weakest possible follow-up with an editor. If my first e-mail didn’t get catch that person’s eye, I have to provide something more–a data point or two that suggests this story is moving and the editor would be well-served to have me chase it.

I’ve been making this point over and over when I talk to PR professionals, and yet I keep getting any-interest-ed in e-mail. There must be some outside factors to explain the persistence of this habit, and I should really try to sell a more in-depth story about it somewhere. Assignment editors reading this: Any interest?

Weekly output: Trump’s Twitter blocking, Facebook ad transparency, Facebook’s $5 billion fine

If you’ve been meaning to ask me “say, when are you ever going to update the Wirecutter guide to smartphone wireless service?”–that is what took up a good share of this week. So if you want to spring an intensely involved question about wireless rate plans, I’m now much better positioned than usual to answer it.

7/9/2019: Court rules Trump can’t block Twitter followers, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news channel had me on to explain a federal appeals court ruling that President Trump can’t block people from following his Twitter account. I think the court was right to rule that by using this Twitter account to announce government decisions, Trump turned it into a government outlet… but my bigger issue with Trump’s Twitter presence remains its ignorant, hateful and bigoted content.

7/13/2019: How you can see which companies found you on Facebook, USA Today

I wrote this post in about an hour Thursday at a privacy conference hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. That event fortuitously featured an executive from one of the data brokers revealed to me by Facebook’s new ad-transparency feature (as seen in the screengrab at right), and this LiveRamp executive’s talk gave me a couple of good quotes with which to end the column.

7/13/2019: Facebook faces $5 billion fine, Al Jazeera

I returned to AJ to provide some context on the widely-reported move by the Federal Trade Commission to fine Facebook $5 billion for its failings in the Cambridge Analytica data heist. My main points: That’s a huge amount of money compared to past FTC actions, but it’s nothing to Facebook, so we’ll have to see what conditions and restrictions the FTC imposes with that penalty.

News sites, can you at least stop nagging distant readers to get your local-update newsletters?

With my industry becalmed in its current horrid economic state, you’d expect news sites to strive to make new readers welcome. Instead, they keep resorting to clingy, creepy behavior that must send a large fraction of those new readers lunging for the back button.

I’m speaking, of course, of the giant sign-up-for-our-newsletter dialog that pops up as you’ve read a third or half of a story, encouraging you to get that site’s latest updates in your inbox.

This is dumb on strict user-experience grounds–at a minimum, you shouldn’t see this until you’ve read to the end of the story. Would you like NPR affiliates to run their pledge drives by sounding an air horn in the middle of Morning Edition and then asking for your money? No, you would not.

But the newsletter nag looks especially dumb when a local newspaper greets a distant reader with this interruption. The odds that I’m going to want daily updates about developments in Richmond, Buffalo (as seen above), or some other place where I do not live are just about zero. And the fact that I’m reading hundreds or thousands of miles away should be obvious to every one of these sites via basic Internet Protocol address geolocation.

I’m willing to click or tap those dialogs closed and keep reading, because I don’t want to sandbag the journalism business any further. But it’s hard to blame readers who instead respond by switching to the stripped-down reader-view option of Safari or Firefox. Or by running an ad blocker.

Weekly output: sneaky Android apps

My extended July 4 weekend involved a possibly dangerous quantity of backyard fireworks, too much grilled food, three baseball games, and one World Cup victory for the United States. (U.S. Soccer, pay the women more.) I hope your holiday was comparable.

7/3/2019: These are the sneaky new ways that Android apps are tracking you, Fast Company

My first post for a publication that I’ve eyed for a while covers a presentation of a study on Android app privacy that I watched two weeks ago at a Federal Trade Commission event in Washington. On one hand, I was happy that this study and a second outlined at this FTC event found no evidence that Facebook’s apps were surreptitiously listening to people. On the other hand, I was angry to see so much deceit involved in apps trying to capture a phone’s location or identity. Who involved thought that kind of creeptacular sneaking around would be a sustainable business strategy?