About robpegoraro

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

Weekly output: pay-TV predictions, T-Mobile’s work-from-home bundle

I try to space out the posts here so the blog doesn’t go too many days without an update. Since I write these weekly-output posts on Sundays, in an ideal blogging universe I’d publish each week’s other, less self-promotional post around mid-week. In this imperfect and stressed world, however, I often wind up not getting that second post up until Saturday. And this week, the non-weekly-output post went up Sunday afternoon–because as I rushed to finish writing that ode to two good newsletters Saturday evening, I forgot that the Block Editor here has a confirmation dialog you need to click through before a post gets published.

3/2/2021: Analyst Report: The Pay-TV Bundle Looks Even More Doomed—And Streaming Won’t Save It, Forbes

I wrote up a MoffettNathanson report with grim predictions for pay-TV bundles.

Screenshot of story as seen in an Android phone's Chrome browser.3/5/2021: T-Mobile wants your employer to give you home-office wireless broadband, Fast Company

T-Mobile’s announcement of a new bundle of services for larger government and business customers to buy for their working-from-afar employees glossed over a lot of details. I failed to fill in the blanks about the speeds of the upcoming Home Office Internet 4G/5G service that leads off T-Mobile’s “WFX” offering, but I did manage to document how extensively this fixed-wireless connectivity can block services not obviously related to people’s work. As in, the list of sites cut off by default includes Netflix and Amazon and even T-Mobile’s own T-Vision streaming-TV app.

Daily newsletters I delete every day–only after reading them

If you don’t want your inbox to start filling up with newsletters, you probably shouldn’t become a journalist. Even if you decide not to sign up for daily updates from one organization or another, the PR people at that organization will probably make that decision for you.

But newsletters exist for a reason, that being that they can make it easy to catch up on developments you missed over the last day, week or month. So whether or not I opted in to get somebody’s daily update, I usually don’t click the “unsubscribe” link if the newsletter covers my own occupational interests–and skimming and deleting takes very little out of my time.

Really good newsletters, however, earn not just a quick glance at a subject header and the first headline or two, but start-to-finish reading. I want to talk about two in particular that help keep me current about my fellow scribes.

Morning Consult Tech: Morning Consult, a data-intelligence firm with offices in D.C., New York and San Francisco, puts out this recap of tech-policy headlines before 9 a.m. weekday mornings. It’s an impressively comprehensive summary of recent work that covers publications beyond the usual boldface news names–the left-wing magazine Mother Jones and Vice’s tech-news site Motherboard have each gotten shout-outs. In addition to those two- or three-sentence story blurbs, each message features an events calendar that in the Before Times was a good way to ensure my work social calendar didn’t stay empty as well as a modest amount of self-promotion for the parent firm’s work. My only real complaint is predictably vain: I wish this newsletter would spotlight my own work more often.

Muck Rack Daily: This GIF-laden, moderately gossipy message arrives weekday afternoons from New York-based Muck Rack, which provides tools for PR types, lets journalists post their own portfolios (writing this post reminded me of how overdue I was to update my own), and used to and hopefully once again will host get-togethers for reporters at such events as CES and SXSW. As you can see from Friday’s e-mail, each one revisits the day’s top stories as interpreted through journalists’ tweets–a not-dumb move by the senders to play off of our own vanity–and illustrated by pop-culture GIFs that I occasionally recognize. Here I should note that my father-in-law receives this newsletter, which every now and then leads to him sending me a nice look-who-they-featured e-mail.

If you work on either one of these newsletters, feel free to take a bow. And please don’t be offended when I add that I delete each newsletter after reading, because my inbox is crowded enough already without my squirreling away copies of these and other daily dispatches.

Weekly output: Ranking Digital Rights, COVID-19 exposure-notification apps, mass-media misinformation

This week saw me wrap up writing for one large project that’s at least a few weeks away from publication. Still a good feeling to cross that off the to-do list.

Screenshot of the story, as shown in an iPad's copy of Safari2/24/2021:This new digital rights report flunks the tech giants, Fast Company

Participating in a panel discussion in January that featured Ranking Digital Rights director Jessica Dheere reminded me that this group was working on its latest assessment of how tech and telecom firms around the world support human rights. And then I almost forgot to follow up with RDR a month later to get an advance copy of the report.

2/24/2021: COVID-19 exposure warnings for iPhone, Android phones: Apps still await widespread adoption, USA Today

This column was originally going to run a week earlier, but we set it aside to cover changes to password managers. The numbers I got from the Virginia Department of Health about adoption of a simplified iOS exposure-notification option jumped dramatically over that time; I can’t complain about a delay in publication that gives me a chance to tell more of a story.

2/24/2021: The Point A House Hearing Almost Missed About How TV News Keeps Making Us Angry And Dumb, Forbes

I spent three and a half hours of my Wednesday watching this hearing of the House Energy & Commerce Committee–ostensibly about how pay-TV providers prop up the right-wing propagandists at Newsmax, One America News and the Fox News commentariat, although the members rarely stuck to that script–so you didn’t have to.

My recipe management remains surprisingly analog

All the kitchen time I’ve had over the last year of not going out to eat in restaurants has seriously advanced my cooking, but it has not advanced my recipe management nearly as much.

Yes, I still save recipes on paper, cutting them out of various publications and gluing them into pages in the binder I’ve tended for last 20 years or so. I also keep recipes in digital form–there’s an entire notebook in my Evernote for that–but each time I add one electronically and then cook off of that on-screen copy, I’m reminded of the advantages ink on paper retains in this use case.

Photo of an iPad open to Evernote, showing a list of recipes. Below it sits my recipe binder, showing a handwritten recipe from my mom.

Start with my primary source for new recipes, the Washington Post’s Food section. The Post’s Recipe Finder sites is fantastic, but it provides no way for me to save my favorites like the Recipe Box of the New York Times’ Food section. So each time I hit that page, I have to redo my search or hope the browser’s autocomplete takes me back to a specific recipe page.

As for NYT, my second most-frequent cooking read, it neglects its Recipe Box feature by not providing any obvious way for me to get to it in the Times’ iPad app, much less add a personal shortcut to it. I could fix that by installing the paper’s NYT Cooking app, but I resent the idea of getting a second app from one company to fix a usability problem in its first app.

So in practice, the recipes I find online that I want to keep making go into Evernote. Adding recipes on my desktop isn’t bad, since Evernote’s Web Clipper extension offers a variety of import options that go from pulling in an all of a page to just the text I select. But on the device I use far more often to look up recipes, my iPad, that clipping feature–available via the Share menu–ingests the entire page. Which on foodie blogs mean I get the multi-paragraph opening essay, the affiliate links to buy ingredients or kitchen gadgets, and the comments.

(I don’t mind all that stuff when I’m in recipe-browsing mode–I respect how my fellow indie creators work to monetize their content–but I don’t need it once I’ve got a spatula or a spoon in hand.)

Deboning one of these imported recipes requires an extra, non-obvious step in Evernote: select the clip, tap or click the banner at its top, and tap or click the magic-wand “Simplify & Make Editable” icon. Then I finally have a clean copy of a recipe that I can look up anywhere… well, whenever I’m once again in a position to cook in somebody else’s kitchen.

Finally, consulting a recipe on an iPad gets awkward the moment both of my thumbs get covered in flour, oil, butter or whatever else is going into the recipe–at which point I can no longer unlock the screen via Touch ID once the tablet automatically locks. Unfortunately, iOS doesn’t offer any sort of recipe mode, and it doesn’t appear that I can use a Siri shortcut to keep the screen unlocked for only the next hour or two.

Meanwhile, I have my three-ring binder of recipes. The workflow to add a recipe from the paper is not what I’d call elegant, but breaking out scissors to cut that out of the paper and using a glue stick to attach it to a paper at least exercises arts-and-crafts skills that have mostly gone unused since grade school. (Removing a recipe that’s been added this way is difficult to impossible, so I have a separate folder of recipes that I haven’t yet made enough times to deem them binder-worthy.) More important, this collection also includes recipes that never made it to any screen of mine: handouts from farmers’ markets and restaurant and winery events, printouts from friends, and the occasional handwritten one from my mom.

There’s no search tool in this binder, but it does support a limited sort of favorites functionality that works automatically over time and yet is incompatible with digital storage: stains from sauces and other dripped ingredients.

Weekly output: streaming-video viewers, Facebook vs. Australia, ShowStoppers TV, password managers, Vint Cerf on 6G

In addition to the stories below, my tweet about the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s board-meeting news of an American Express Centurion Lounge coming to National Airport in 2022 got picked up at Gary Leff’s View From The Wing travel blog. As a longtime reader of Gary’s, I had to smile about that.

2/16/2021: OTT providers acknowledge the challenge of holding onto viewers, FierceVideo

I wrote up this online panel about the issues involved in retaining viewers as we emerge from this pandemic. The panel itself suffered its own retention problems, in the form of the moderator dropping offline multiple times.

2/17/2021: Facebook Will Give You Less Koala Content, Among Other Problems With Its Australian News Ban, Forbes

The koala-content angle came to me early on as I wrote this post, so I had to find some file art of a koala to go with the piece.

2/18/2021: ShowStoppers TV, ShowStoppers

I emceed this round of gadget demos, introducing and quizzing the presenters:  Godonut’s smartphone/tablet mount, HoverCam’s eGlass remote-teaching system, and Wacom’s Chromebook-connected drawing tablet.

Screenshot of USA Today column as seen in the paper's iPad app2/18/2021: LastPass to limit its free password manager. Here are other options, including Apple, Google, USA Today

All the research I did about password-manager services at the end of last year for the U.S. News guide that ran in January made this an easier column to write. That work also helped me write a longer post about the relative merits of LastPass, 1Password, Bitwarden and Dashlane for Patreon readers.

2/19/2021: 6G internet? Internet pioneer Vint Cerf isn’t buying the hype, Fast Company

I wrote up an online event hosted by Mitre Corp. on Feb. 11 that featured this interview of Internet pioneer Vint Cerf (whom I previously wrote about for Fast Company when he spoke at a conference in Alexandria in late 2019). Much as Cerf had voiced some sensible skepticism about 5G broadband one winter ago, he declined to get too excited over 6G and instead pointed to the connectivity potential of low-Earth-orbit satellites and ever-cheaper undersea fiber-optic cables.

Where I’m coming from in the Australia-versus-digital-platforms fight

The one thing you can say about any tech-policy dispute involving Facebook is that the ensuing discussion will take a while. Witness this week’s blowup in Australia, where the imminent passage of a bill (“News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code”) mandating a scheme of payments from the largest digital platforms to government-registered news publishers led Facebook to respond Wednesday with a news blackout. Now Australians can’t read or share news links on Facebook, Australian publishers can’t share their stories there, and Facebook users in every other country can’t share Australian news links either.

Photo of an inflatable globe, showing Australia

After writing about that fracas at Forbes on Wednesday, I spent too much time over the next day and a half in what may be my longest-ever tech-policy Twitter discussion. That left me feeling worn out–but also wishing I had taken a little more time to make my views clear. So for future reference, here are several things I think about this entire debate over what, if anything, tech platforms owe news sites.

Link taxes don’t make moral or economic sense. Not only does nobody need permission to link on the Web, a pointer to a news site–whether it’s a Google search result, a Facebook post or the blue text here–does not take from that site in any meaningful way. Well, not unless the nut of the story comes across in the headline and lead image, in which case the same story would likely go unread if seen on a newspaper’s home page. I’ve said this in various ways over more than a decade: the Washington Post in 2009, the Disruptive Competition Project in 2012, at Yahoo Finance in 2018, and at Glitch’s blog Glimmer last spring. (DisCo is a project of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, a trade group that counts Google as a member; as you can see, my judgment didn’t change before or after my one year contributing to its policy blog.)

We don’t need new forms of intellectual property. Trying to solve an economic or societal problem by expanding the reach of intellectual-property rights is almost always a bad idea, whether it’s allowing far more forms of human output to become eligible for patent protection, retroactively extending copyright terms by decades, or criminalizing certain categories of software because they could be used to infringe copyright. Every time, we wind up rewarding the biggest incumbents and giving more work for lawyers while doing much less to promote the progress of science and useful arts–as in, the reason the Constitution gives for Congress to grant these limited rights.

The vast reach of Facebook and Google is a legitimate cause for nervousness. I think both companies exercise more influence over our online lives than is healthy and have written multiple how-to stories (see, for instance, these stories from 2017, 2018, and 2020) to get people to spend less time at each. And I’ve practiced what I preach, including the defaults in my own browsers and the setup of this blog. Yet people keep sticking with Google, even though it’s trivial to change your search site. My WordPress stats show that of the 291,315 search-engine referrals to this blog since its April 2011 launch, 277,850 came from Google. Y’all couldn’t try making DuckDuckGo or Bing the default in even one browser on one device?

Antitrust laws exist for a reason. In retrospect, letting Facebook buy Instagram seems foolish, and waving through Google’s acquisition of a series of ad-tech firms looks like another missed opportunity. But if the underlying problem here is that these two companies have grown too big and too powerful, we already possess the tools to do something about that. Trustbusting may be the preferred remedy of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D.-Mass.), but it was also a key plank of Theodore Roosevelt’s Republican administration. And it’s a group of Republican state attorneys general that have made the most serious charges of anticompetitive behavior by Facebook and Google.

Facebook’s political choices invite particular skepticism about its motives. Over the last five years, we’ve seen Facebook set aside its own rules about misinformation, wave aside obviously inauthentic behavior and reward right-wing outlets like Breitbart to placate the Trump wing of the Republican Party. Now it’s chosen to expel legitimate news for an entire continent, leaving News Feeds there wide open for memes at best, misinformation at worst. Does anybody think much of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s sense of civic obligation after all this?

Online advertising is a big part of the news industry’s problem. The more I look at the machinery behind the online ads that supposedly prop up news sites–meaning the display ads programmatically inserted to match a reader’s perceived interests–the more I hate it. We’ve built a system that requires extensive tracking of people across the Web, somehow involves the work of a large set of intermediaries yet still winds up dominated at multiple levels by Google, struggles to keep out bad actors, and winds up delivering too little money to publishers. You know what doesn’t even touch this problem? Demands for link taxes.

If digital platforms can build new businesses with publishers, that’s not wrong even if it happens under political duress. Google has responded to demands like those in Australia and in Europe with something called the News Showcase, an enhanced news-search site that takes readers direct to stories and pays publishers. It’s ugly and sad that Google is doing this to pay off publishers who would otherwise try to break the open Web, but if it gets money to newsrooms more reliably than digital ads, I’ll take it.

News publishers can be their own worst enemy. Neither Facebook nor Google forced news sites to harangue visitors with solicitations to sign up for browser alerts or newsletters. The tech giants didn’t forbid paywalled newspapers from giving occasional or out-of-town readers some middle ground between opening a subscription and opening a private-browsing window. And they certainly didn’t force newspaper owners to sell out to such civic cancers as the newspaper-strangling hedge fund Alden Global Capital, new owners of the Chicago Tribune and the Tribune Publishing family of papers.

It’s fair to judge a political act by its ability to persuade. All of the above might suggest that I should be cheering on Facebook for defending the open Web against Australia’s intellectual-property land grab. But Facebook chose to respond in the most oafish manner possible short of deleting the accounts of individual Aussie news execs. Facebook didn’t try to target its response to publishers seeking to cash in on this law, subjected users in the rest of the world to an outburst of control-freakery, and can’t be bothered to make a real case to users who post an Australian news link and get an error message. The open Web no more needs this help than the argument over regulating “Big Tech” is helped by the grandstanding of Missouri’s sedition-abetting junior senator. So now I worry that Facebook’s arrogant, clumsy response will only goad legislators in Canberra into pushing this law through, just to show they won’t be bossed around by Zuckerberg.

Updated 2/21/2021 to note that the Australian bill would have the government determine which publishers qualified for these payments, a deeply problematic provision in its own right, clean up some tangled syntax, and to add a paragraph about antitrust that should have been in this post yesterday.

Weekly output: the App Store’s fake-reviews problem

Valentine’s Day is one event that hasn’t changed because of the pandemic. I love to cook, but I’m not so fond of seeing a restaurant at its worst because of Feb. 14 crowds. So this has always been my day to put together a fancy dinner at home.

Screenshot of this post as seen on an iPad mini. 2/12/2021: Lesson Of A Ripoff Roku Remote App: Beware App Store Ratings, Forbes

I started following Kosta Eleftheriou on Twitter a couple of weeks ago after seeing one of his threads unpacking an outrageous level of obvious fraud at Apple’s App Store. His Friday-morning thread about a third-party remote-control app for Roku media players conning people into signing up for $4.99/week subscriptions struck me as a convenient intersection of my longtime interest in app-store governance and my Forbes gig covering the intersection of tech and media.

The ignominious pandemic anniversaries pile up

A year ago today, the novel-coronavirus pandemic got a little more real for me and yet remained nowhere real enough. That’s when I had to cancel my travel plans for MWC in Barcelona after the organizers of that wireless-industry trade show succumbed to a wave of withdrawals by their bigger exhibitors.

The blog post I wrote then about MWC’s scrubbing betrays a stunning refusal to consider what I might not know about the emerging pandemic and the possible inadequacy of our own response to it. So do the e-mails I sent to friends and family that week, in which I blithely talked about plans for work and family trips in March, April and beyond as if the disease would somehow soon go away.

Now the Earth has gone a full orbit around the Sun since those early and excruciatingly bad takes, and the pandemic anniversaries are starting to stack up. Last Friday marked a year since my last time speaking at a conference out of town, last Saturday a year since my last attendance at a sports event. The coming weeks will bring the anniversaries of my last in-person panel, conference reception and indoor dinner at a restaurant.

Since then, we have learned many things the hard way, while almost half a million Americans aren’t around to benefit from those lessons. Tens of thousands more get sick every day; this week’s numbers included an old friend who only today had his temperature drop below 100 degrees after a few tense and agonizing days wracked by this virus.

But as of tonight, just over 50 million Americans have now received at least one dose of the vaccine–my in-laws among them, my mom scheduled next week.

I believe that we have already reached the farthest point of our own orbit away from the Before Times. But after having been wrong so many times in my pandemic predictions, I will not now forecast when this trajectory might land us back on something like the Earth we knew.

Weekly output: Starlink beta testers, Wikipedia code of conduct, Verizon’s 5G play at the Super Bowl

A year ago today, I was in New York to moderate a panel at what turned out to be my last out-of-town conference. I miss leading discussions with people in the same room instead of on the same screen. And I miss NYC–especially now that I could get off the train and exit into Moynihan Train Hall instead of Penn Station’s subterranean squalor.

Screenshot of the story as seen in Safari on an iPad2/1/2021: What Starlink beta testers really think about Elon Musk’s satellite internet, Fast Company

Reddit once again proved to be a good place to find early adopters of a new broadband technology, although I also found one Starlink beta tester on NASASpaceFlight.com’s forums.

2/3/2021: Wikipedia’s New Code Of Conduct Gets One Thing Right; Another Will Be A Struggle, Forbes

This post gave me an excuse to reconnect with two experts on social-media behavior I hadn’t talked to in way too long, Alex Howard and Caroline Sinders.

2/6/2021: Verizon Is Talking A Big Game About 5G At The Super Bowl, Forbes

Out of all of the overhyped use cases for 5G, crowded sports stadiums would actually let the extra capacity of millimeter-wave 5G shine. But with in-person attendance at Raymond James Stadium capped at a third of the venue’s capacity, Verizon is left with an empty demo.

Farewell to a well-traveled passport

The passport I’ve carried for almost 10 years is officially retired now that I’ve put it in the mail with my renewal form, a check, and a photo of me showing a lot more gray hair than the January 2011 shot in my about-to-expire travel document.

The stamps in that worn passport tell an incomplete story of travel on an unprecedented scale for me–something I had no idea would become part of my life when I had no idea that my travel-light job at the Washington Post was in its closing months. Flipping through that passport over the last 11, mostly-grounded months has been one of my ways to remember what Conference Life was like in the Before Times and to think about what it can be like once again as novel-coronavirus vaccination marches on.

Photo of old passport held open to show stamps, with a United Airlines route map in the background

Those stamps show my most frequent arrival and departure airports were Frankfurt and Shanghai (six each), followed by Brussels (five) and Berlin, Munich, and Lisbon (four each), with others from Barcelona, Dublin, Fukuoka, London, Narita, Paris, San Jose del Cabo, Shenzhen, and Zurich.

But those stamps (and the array of security-sticker travel barnacles on the back) only reveal part of my travel timeline because Hong Kong and Israel stamp separate pieces of paper, while Canada no longer stamps U.S. passports at entry ports with electronic kiosks. There are also no stamps from anywhere in Europe since early 2017, when I began using my Irish passport for EU travel; that’s gotten processed electronically every time instead of collecting a little ink.

This collection of travel souvenirs still doesn’t touch what I can see in one of my dad’s passports from the 1960s and 1970s (or those of some of my avgeek friends), but it still represents an enormous leap for me. One of several hundred thousand miles.

Now I get to wait for my new passport to arrive in the mail with strangely-pristine pages–along with the expired passport that I may not be able to consign permanently to a drawer. The Chinese visa in it runs through 2026, so if any future travel will have me going to the People’s Republic, that document will once again come along for the ride.