About robpegoraro

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

Weekly output: Internet-provider privacy (x2), net neutrality, online privacy advice

I spent the first two days of the week commuting to Reston (by Metro and then Bikeshare) for a fascinating conference on drone policy issues. That hasn’t yielded a story yet, but it should soon.

3/28/2017: Congress votes to roll back internet privacy protection, Yahoo Finance

The speed with which Congress moved to dispatch pending FCC regulations that would have stopped Internet providers from selling your browsing history to advertisers without your upfront permission is remarkable, considering how our legislators can’t be bothered to fix actual tech-policy problems that have persisted for decades. It’s also remarkable how blind many people in Washington are to the immense unpopularity of this move.

I’m told this post got a spot on the Yahoo home page, which may explain the 2,796 comments it’s drawn. Would anybody like to summarize them for me?

3/29/2017: Internet providers and privacy, WTOP

The news station interviewed me about this issue. I was supposed to do the interview live, but after I got bumped for breaking news, they recorded me for later airing. How did I sound?

3/31/2017: Trump is going after the open internet next, Yahoo Finance

I have to admit that I missed White House press secretary Sean Spicer using part of his Thursday briefing to denounce the idea of the FCC classifying Internet providers as “common carriers,” which he compared to them being treated “much like a hotel.” That would be because I’ve never made a habit of watching White House press briefings live; it’s a little concerning to see alerts about them splashed atop the Post’s home page.

4/2/2017: Take these 5 steps to help protect your privacy online, USA Today

This story benefited from some fortuitous timing. When I wrote it, USAT’s site had not yet switched on encryption, and so the copy I filed had to note its absence. I asked my editor if she’d heard anything about a move to secure the connection between the site and a reader’s browser. She made some inquiries and learned that this upgrade would go into effect Sunday, my column’s usual publication day.

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See a naturalization ceremony if you can

The day before President Trump signed his cruel travel ban, I re-read my old Post colleague Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s recount of the American fates of Iraqis who had helped Post reporters at enormous risk to their own lives, which (spoiler alert) ends with one of his translators becoming an American citizen.

A day later, I realized how badly I wanted to see a naturalization ceremony myself and then learned that there’s no Web calendar you can consult for your next opportunity to cheer new Americans. So I had to wait.

Two months later, Arlington County’s Twitter account announced one would happen at the Central Library. Of course I’d clear my schedule for that.

The event started with some introductory remarks, a presentation of the flag by a police color guard, and Washington-Lee High School student Mayari Loza belting out and signing the national anthem. FYI, Nationals Park.

Joyce Adams, supervisory immigration services officer with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, led a roll call of the countries represented by the day’s citizenship candidates–from Afghanistan to Vietnam. People clapped and cheered, the candidates waved their miniature American flags, and I wondered inwardly what was left of the homes of the immigrants from Iraq and Syria.

“Each has demonstrated his or her knowledge and understanding of the histories and the principles and the form of government of the United States,” Adams noted. How many native-born citizens could claim as much?

After we all said the Pledge of Allegiance, the candidates raised their right hands and took the oath of allegiance to the United States. It starts with “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty” and ends with “so help me God.”

It also commits new citizens to perform a few tasks I have never been asked to put on my to-do list, like “perform work of national importance under civilian direction.” I’m good for it, America… but can it not be this weekend?

USCIS district director Sarah Taylor announced, “Congratulations, you are America’s newest citizens!”, and another round of cheers and flag-waving broke out. It got a little dusty in the room at that point.

Then all 57 new citizens walked across the stage to get their certificates of naturalization–a college-diploma sized document including a picture of the new citizen. This part could have been a college graduation, except that while some of my new fellow citizens were dressed in suits, others were attired as if they had ducked out of work. And they had waited longer. And, yes, the pronunciations of many people’s names got clobbered in the readout.

The first person to get a certificate, a man wearing his military uniform, paused a moment to give that document a kiss. Everybody posed with theirs for a quick picture. The last one put her hands in the air and said “I’m so excited!” We all were. I still am.

 

Weekly output: cybersecurity knowledge, defending digital rights, app cleanup

I have had a dreadful week, on account of being deprived Monday of one of my best friends in the Post newsroom. I can only hope yours was better.

3/22/2017: You’re not as secure online as you might think, Yahoo Finance

My takeaway from this Pew study of American acquaintance with cybersecurity was that I need to do a better job of coaching readers.

3/24/2017: Digital rights report hits Apple for its secrecy, Yahoo Finance

I had meant to attend Thursday’s presentation of the Ranking Digital Rights survey of how tech companies defend their customers, but I wound up watching the livestream of it–at the cost of missing out on whatever breakfast New America had.

3/26/2017:  It’s time to spring-clean your phone apps, USA Today

I was running on fumes by Friday, so I was glad that my editor had suggested this easy-to-write topic a few weeks before.

Mike Musgrove

This hasn’t been a good month for the extended Washington Post family. Last week, we lost Bill Walsh, and Wednesday inflicted the news that my onetime henchman Mike Musgrove died Monday.

Mike and I both started at the Post as copy aides, which meant we both had to ask ourselves at some point “did I spend four years at college to sort mail and answer phones?” Not long after I stumbled into my escape from mailboxes and then somehow got anointed as an editor (it remains unclear what exactly possessed management to do that), I realized I’d need an assistant.

Mike had been kicking in reviews for months, and this St. John’s College graduate wrote a marvelously un-self-conscious cover letter that name-checked C.S. Lewis and “Baywatch” and ended with “Give me the job.” His references checked out and the other applicants couldn’t string words together like him, so I gave him the job.

Mike wrote with a sly wit, an awareness of the fundamental goofiness of much of the tech industry, and an interest in life outside of gadgets. He had the idea of reviewing the tech-support soundtracks of computer vendors, he had a sideline testing recipes for the Food section, and he reviewed concerts (including Vanilla Ice) for Style.

His insight on the e-book experience, the product of reading Monica Lewinsky’s 1990s testimony on a Rocket eBook, still resonates today:

If the eBook or a product like it ever gets cheap enough, this could definitely fill a niche: beach reading, airport books—books that you only read to kill time. Books that you would only ever read once and don’t particularly want taking up space in your bookcase—books like Monica’s Story, in other words.

He introduced Post readers to the Diamond Rio, the first mass-market MP3 player, and later gave them their first look at Gmail–a piece that I was delighted to see resurfaced on the tenth anniversary of Google’s e-mail service.

Along the way, Mike graduated from moving words to moving the freight, ensuring that reviews would still run when I was out of town. That led to him playing an unwanted role on the worst day of my life.

As in, Mike learned that my dad had died before I did. In that innocent time, I had flown to the Bay Area for a friend’s wedding without a cell phone (because 1999). My mom called my desk line and then Mike, and he left an urgent voicemail to me that I happened to phone in to hear (because 1999). I called Mike, and he suggested that I not get the news of the day from him. “Call your mom,” he said.

Mike’s last role at the Post was a coal-mine canary. He hit the ejection seat a year before me, burned out by too many demands for inconsequential stories and hit with a cruel review that led him to think his odds looked better away from 15th and L.

He had enjoyed some years as a full-time dad, interspersed with writing the occasional book review for the Post. Then he took some classes in Web development (so, unlike me, he could code his way out of a wet paper bag) and picked up work that way.

I knew he had split up with his wife, and I knew he was looking for work after a contract had run out. But I had no idea that Mike saw himself in such a bleak place that he felt compelled to shoot himself. My understanding is that he didn’t leave a note, so I may never know what led my friend to ensure that he would never again hug the daughter he loved.

Not for the first time, I’m left with a Springsteen lyric: “I guess there’s just a meanness in this world “

Weekly output: IoT security, fake news, online video ads (x2), cheap wireless service, wireless plans, Verizon e-mail

My sixth SXSW ended in one of the least likely ways possible. As I was sipping a cup of coffee at the United Club at AUS Wednesday morning and wondering how I could still be full from Tuesday’s dinner, I spotted an older gentleman in a wheelchair whose white hair, beard and gravelly voice all reminded me of the last SXSW talk I’d watched Tuesday. Then I saw his jacket, covered with the logos of every Apollo mission. Yeah: Buzz Aldrin.

After taking a moment to tell myself “act like you’ve been here before, man,” I walked over and said “Dr. Aldrin?” He looked up, I said I’d enjoyed his talk, we exchanged some pleasantries, and then I shook his hand, said it was an honor, and wished him and his companion safe travels. You know, as one does when meeting anybody who’s walked on the Moon.

 

3/13/2017: Setting Standards for Digital Privacy, Consumer Reports

CR asked me Friday if I could cover this Monday-morning panel, featuring a CR manager and an initiative CR backs to set standards for the security and privacy of Internet of Things devices. I’m glad they dangled that assignment, since otherwise an insightful discussion on a topic I’ve covered for other clients might have escaped my attention.

3/15/2017: Two fake news writers reveal how they ply their trade, Yahoo Finance

My last file for SXSW covered Yasmin Green’s head-fake of a panel–I thought it would cover her work at Google’s Project Jigsaw to counter violent extremism online. But instead she brought two proprietors of fake news (more accurately called “disinformation”), and then things got weird.

3/15/2017: How OTT Providers Are Targeting, Tracking And Timing Ads, FierceOnlineVideo

I missed this contribution to a package of stories about “OTT” (short for “over the top,” as in video services that ride on your broadband connection) advertising because I was traveling, then spent another two weeks not realizing it had been posted.

3/15/2017: OTT Ad Delivery Case Study: Hyundai’s ‘Skip’ Ad, FierceOnlineVideo

This case study had me tearing my hair out more than once as I struggled to get a quote out of one of the companies involved. Someday, I will learn to put in my interview requests early when I’m dealing with a company that hasn’t figured in my stories before, but late January was clearly not that time.

3/16/2017: Dear Wirecutter: What’s the Best Budget Cell Phone and Plan for Limited Data Use?, The Wirecutter

A Wirecutter reader wanted to know which $200-ish smartphone and $25-$30 plan to get. The first question was easy to answer, but the second required going back to the reader to confirm how much data usage they had in mind.

3/16/2017: Best Cell Phone Plans, The Wirecutter

I spent a good chunk of February revising the guide we’d just put through a complete rewrite, all because the four major carriers had to revive or improve their unlimited-data offerings. The result: While the guide still endorses Verizon as the best choice overall (with the understanding that many people don’t use that much data), we recommend T-Mobile for those looking for an unlimited-data plan.

3/17/2017: What Verizon email users need to know about it getting out of email, USA Today

When four or so readers e-mail with the same question within a couple of weeks, you probably have a column topic on your hands. I suggested to my editors that this would be worth posting earlier than the usual Sunday, and I’m glad they agreed.

Updated 4/2/2017 with the two online-ads stories I’d missed earlier. And updated again 4/17 to remove links to two posts that I’d already covered in the previous Sunday’s weekly-output post. I guess I was a little tired when I wrote this. 

Bill Walsh would have made this post better

The English language is in rougher shape and the world looks a little meaner and shallower today, because we lost Bill Walsh yesterday. The longtime Washington Post copy editor died of complications of cancer at only 55, which is way too goddamn early.

I got the news on the bus from Dulles to Metro late in the afternoon, and it reduced me to a sobbing lump, slumped against the window. I’d known this news might come since Bill’s Facebook post last summer announcing the news (in which he joked about a possible upside by commenting, “I’ll never be a doddering old man!”). But I didn’t think it would hurt that bad to learn that my friend and former colleague was gone.

Bill was literally a gentleman and a scholar. He wrote with zest and clarity–see, for instance, this 2015 story explaining why the Post would switch from “mike” to mic” and allow the singular “their.” He was unflappable in the newsroom even as buyout after buyout inflated his workload. And Bill influenced my own writing: I don’t use an exclamation point with “Yahoo” or write non-abbreviation corporate or brand names in all caps, because he called those out as tricks to steal a reader’s attention.

Bill was also a cyclist, a gourmet, a photographer and a gambler. He loved tennis and travel. He and his wife Jacqueline Dupree (if you’ve ever looked for details about buildings and food near Nationals Park, you’ve probably been enlightened by her neighborhood-news site JDLand.com) were my favorite Post couple. It is vile of cancer to deprive us and her of Bill’s company.

I can’t close this without saying two other things.

One is about the murderer in this case. Cancer took my friend Anthony’s dad, robbed  journalism of Steve Wildstrom and Steve Buttry, damn near killed my friend Kate’s husband Brad, and menaced my neighbors David and Christine’s son Jason (how do you tell a four-year-old to kick cancer’s ass?) before the doctors at Inova Fairfax beat it into complete remission. There is no disease I hate more than cancer. Fuck cancer.

The other is the last e-mail I got from Bill, which was also the first message I’d received from him in months. He asked if I’d learned of any systematic glitchiness in the Galaxy S7 Edge. A week later, I sent a perfunctory, tech-focused response while at Mobile World Congress when I should have taken another minute to taunt him over my access to delicious ham sandwiches or add some other personal note to convey this idea: “I’m thinking of you, friend.” The next time somebody you care about writes for the first time in a while, please don’t make my mistake.

Weekly output: SXSW tips, Rudy Giuliani, 5G, WikiLeaks and CIA hacks (x2), SXSW marketing, Entrepreneur, Chris Sacca, Vint Cerf

AUSTIN–Welcome, readers frustrated by adjusting their Timex sport watches for Daylight Saving Time. You’re reading a weekly feature here, in which I recap my various media appearances over the last seven days. Most of this week’s items relate to the South By Southwest conference, which I’m covering for my sixth year in a row. Total number of tacos consumed so far: at least nine.

3/7/2017: 5 Insider Tips for Surviving SXSW, CyberCoders

My friend Andrea Smith interviewed me about how I try to stay on top of this sprawling conference. I was going to forget to pack a travel power strip until reading my own advice in this story–but I haven’t used that gadget here anyway.

3/7/2017: Giuliani talks security, Trump at cybersecurity conference, Yahoo Finance

I did not see the foaming-at-the-mouth Rudy Giuliani of the campaign season; instead, the former mayor drew a diagram to illustrate the cybersecurity contractors a company will need (see Violet Blue’s post on her Patreon page for context on that). He also noted that President Trump has more faith in private-sector cybersecurity efforts than the government’s, which led one reader to inquire on Twitter: “So a private email server would be more secure than a government server?”

3/8/2017: 5G data is coming, and it will supercharge your internet connection, Yahoo Finance

This last Mobile World Congress post explains the next generation of wireless generation–as in, why it’s a couple of years before you should be devoting any mental processor cycles to the topic.

3/10/2017: The real lesson of WikiLeaks’ massive CIA document dump — encryption works, Yahoo Finance

I wrote this largely out of annoyance with first-round coverage that played into the WikiLeaks-promoted storyline that the CIA has broken encryption apps. That group has yet to produce any such evidence, although some readers unaware of its increasingly apparent role as a Russian cut-out don’t seem to recognize that.

3/10/2017: WikiLeaks’ CIA-hacking disclosures, Al Jazeera

My Skype interview ended abruptly when the hotspot I’d been using ran out of battery, and that’s entirely my fault for assuming it had enough of a charge instead of checking beforehand. #fail

3/11/2017: How to avoid the marketing hype at SXSW, USA Today

There’s the SXSW that promises insights about the intersections of technology, society, culture, politics and business, and then there’s the SXSW that is essentially a Marketing Spring Break. Neither one can quite exist without the other.

3/12/2017: A Well-Known Tech Watchdog Dishes on the Writing Beat, Entrepreneur

Jordan French interviewed me in February about my history in the business. I’m not sure about the “well-known” part, but I’m not going to turn that description down either. Note that this story references me speaking at the PR Summit conference, which did not happen.

3/12/2017: Venture investor on Trump: ‘We are in absolute unmitigated crisis’, Yahoo Finance

Chris Sacca’s talk at SXSW was 💯, as the kids say. As a journalist, I had to appreciate his newsroom-level ability to use the f-word as a comma. I was only half-joking when I suggested this headline

3/12/2017: Google’s chief internet evangelist seems nervous about Trump’s tech policy, Yahoo Finance

Cardinal rule of tech journalism: If you have a chance to see the guy who co-wrote the core protocols of the thing you use everyday, you should show up. The payoff for me: a tweet that went slightly viral and a post I enjoyed writing–once I’d decided what parts of Cerf’s wide-ranging talk couldn’t fit in the post.