Weekly output: WiFi help, SpaceX and NASA, cybersecurity issues and the coronavirus (x2), Trump’s social-media executive order (x3)

This weekend has shown some of the ugliest sides of the United States, from systemic racism to abuse of police power to wanton destructiveness. It would have been even worse without Saturday’s reminder from SpaceX and NASA that we can also do great things together.

5/25/2020: Think you are ready for a new router? First, try these free home Wi-Fi fixes, USA Today

I borrowed the expertise of my friends Tom Bridge and Glenn Fleishman for this column about no-cost tweaks to a home network that may improve your experience.

5/27/2020: SpaceX’s Dragon launch ushers in a new era for Americans in space, Fast Company

I’d meant to write this story from the Kennedy Space Center’s press site. Instead, I wrote it from my desk at home–below a picture I took of the last shuttle launch that STS-135 commander Chris Ferguson signed for me at a later NASA Tweetup.

5/27/2020: The Thought Leadership Summit, Webit Virtual

This conference was once going to take place in Spain next month and have me moderate some panels. Webit’s had to go virtual like every other large event, so my first spot involved a panel on cybersecurity issues in the novel-coronavirus pandemic that featured Webit executive chairman Plamen Russev, Siemens chief cybersecurity officer Natalia Oropeza, Inrupt security-architecture chief Bruce Schneier, and VMWare security vice president Tom Corn.

5/27/2020: Trump vs. Twitter, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news network had me on to talk about President Trump’s temper tantrum of executive order that makes a lot of noise about Twitter’s alleged unfairness but contains almost nothing in the way of a legally-valid signal.

5/28/2020: The Leading Media Forum, Webit Virtual

My second appearance for Webit featured an extended discussion about media coverage of cybersecurity issues with Webit’s Russev, Wired Italia’s Luca Zorloni, Forbes’ Monica Melton, and Euronews’ Salim Essaid. The video on this should look much better than the earlier panel, because I realized that my laptop’s camera had the white balance so hideously bad that my navy-blue shirt looked purple. With only a couple of minutes to go before showtime, I grabbed my iPad, braced it between my laptop keyboard and screen, and used that instead.

5/28/2020: Trump’s social-media executive order, Al Araby

My second TV hit about the Trump executive order came right after he signed that document, which meant my interpreter on this Arabic-language network and I had to wait for him to stop talking.

5/29/2020: Trump’s Twitter Tantrum; Hong Kong Crackdown, Bipodisan

My first tweets about the Trump order caught the eye of my friend Robert Schlesinger, who then invited me to join him and his co-host Jean Card on this political podcast. We had much more fun than you might expect from a chat about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Weekly output: small telecom firms dropping pay TV, remote-working security, Facebook bias allegations

This week brought bad news on the client front: Glimmer, the tech-culture publication where I’ve enjoyed writing long features about such wonky topics as Google’s complex relationship with news publishers, did not survive a round of layoffs at its corporate parent Glitch. As crummy as this was for me, it was worse for my editor there who now finds herself unemployed.

5/18/2020: Small TV providers need to hold customers’ hands to exit TV, FierceVideo

This story took much longer to report than I expected, mainly because I had a hard time getting enough of the small number of tiny Internet providers to have dropped pay TV outright to return my calls or e-mails.

5/19/2020: Session 3 Security Panel, Futureproof IT

In my first virtual-conference panel, I talked about security issues with remote-work software (via Zoom, naturally) with Secureframe CEO Shrav Mehta, Splunk senior technology advocate Amélie Erin Koran, and freelance tech journalist Yael Grauer.

5/22/2020: Facebook bias allegations, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news network had me to discuss complaints that Facebook is blocking pro-Palestinian speech. That’s not an allegation I’ve seen confirmed independently–it’s not hard to find pages advocating for Palestine and against Israel’s occupation–but I spent most of my time on air emphasizing the general difficulty of content moderation at scale. I hope my effort at nuance was as persuasive in the interpreter’s rendition.

Weekly output: Google’s relationship with news publishers

This coming week will feature my first conference-speaking gig since February, in the form of a panel I’m moderating (via Zoom) about the security of remote-working systems (such as Zoom) for the Futureproof IT virtual summit.

5/11/2020: Google Searches For What It Can’t Find, Glimmer

I had pitched this tech-culture publication about covering the argument over whether Google (and maybe Facebook too) should pay news publishers for showing snippet-length previews of their content, as any search site would do with any other site it indexes. That’s an issue I’ve been covering since 2012, and this time around I proposed to get the input of some publishers of small news sites instead of the usual industry lobbyists. My editor accepted that pitch almost immediately–then stumbled upon a test of Question Hub, a new feature from Google that invites Web searchers to tell publishers what they looked for but couldn’t find. This made the story even more interesting to write.

Weekly output: password peril, mobile-hotspot help, Facebook’s Oversight Board

I had been holding out hope that I could return to business travel, even if just once before fall or winter, to cover America’s return to launching astronauts to space–SpaceX’s Demo-2 test flight of its Crew Dragon capsule, scheduled for May 27. I’d put in for a press pass and had a confirmed assignment from a name-brand client, and I was willing to figure out how I’d not lose money on the trip later on. But on Monday, I got the e-mail that many other journalists received, saying that NASA could not accommodate me at the Kennedy Space Center because social-distancing dictates required drastically limiting the number of press on site.

I’m not surprised and I’m not that upset. I’ve already seen three launches from the press site at KSC–the penultimate and final Space Shuttle launches and the February 2018 debut of the Falcon Heavy rocket–and that’s three more than I had any reasonable expectation of seeing 10 years ago.

5/5/2020: We still stink at passwords, and there’s really no excuse, Fast Company

I got an advance look at a study published by LastPass, the password-manager service that I used to use. The study confirmed earlier reports that people reuse way too many passwords but reported curiously high adoption of two-step verification–but did not gauge how many of us now employ password managers.

5/8/2020: All of the COVID-19 Data Upgrades That Cell Phone Carriers Are Offering, Wirecutter

I inventoried the ways that the big four wireless carriers as well as their prepaid brands and their major resellers have made it easier to share your smartphone’s bandwidth with nearby devices via its mobile-hotspot function. As you can see in the comments, it looks like I got one service’s information wrong; Google Fi has raised the limit at which it will slow down your connection, but not in a way that will lower most customers’ bills.

5/9/2020: Facebook’s Oversight Board, Al Araby

As one third of a panel discussion on this Arabic-language news network, I talked about Facebook’s new Oversight Board and its odds of changing things at the social network. My main point: While this equivalent of a Supreme Court is empowered to reverse Facebook decisions to take down or keep up content, Facebook’s automated rankings of the priority of content appear to be outside its orbit.

Weekly output: OurStreets for groceries, browser choices and sports-network fees, coronavirus effects on tech

In a fit of optimism two weeks ago, I put together a panel proposal for this fall’s Online News Association conference–which, at the rate things are going, could be my next business trip if I even go anywhere for work over the rest of this year. Over at Patreon, I wrote a post Tuesday for subscribers about how I put together this pitch and recruited two other panelists for it.

4/28/2020: Can’t find toilet paper, eggs, or flour? This app knows where to go, Fast Company

I wrote about the reincarnation of an app that I’d covered first in January as a tool to report bad behavior by drivers. OurStreets now delivers crowd-sourced intelligence about the availability of such staples as toilet paper, bread, milk, eggs and flour. It’s done that impressively well around D.C. in my own experience, but in other cities it’s yet to see the same shopper pickup. (I have to credit my editor Harry McCracken for asking me to go into more detail about this app’s slower adoption outside its launch market of the greater Washington area.)

4/28/2020: This Morning with Gordon Deal April 28, 2020, This Morning With Gordon Deal

I was on this business-news radio show to talk about my USA Today columns on desktop browser choices and sports-network fees on pay TV.

4/30/2020: Moor Insights & Strategy Podcast (4-30-20), Mark Vena

I joined my analyst pal’s podcast with fellow tech freelancers John Quain and Stewart Wolpin to talk about working from home and when we’ll ever get to meet in person again at some tech event. Appropriately enough, our conversation about using collaborative tools to work remotely got interrupted when Stewart mysteriously dropped off the Zoom call.

Weekly output: sports-network fees without sports, astroturfed “reopen” domains

My home-baking experience has gotten more analog this week after our beloved and much-used KitchenAid stand mixer fell off a counter and took enough damage to break some non-user-accessible part of its motor. After hand-kneading the dough for two loaves of bread, a pizza crust and a batch of English muffins, I can report that old-school baking provides a decent upper-arm workout.

4/26/2020: How sporting is this? Sports-network fees stay in the pay-TV lineup despite no live action, USA Today

If you were hoping one tiny upside of the novel-coronavirus pandemic would be a break from regional-sports-network fees on your TV bill, you’re going to have to wait for the leagues involved to announce formally that their 2020 season either won’t happen or will be cut back by a large and defined margin. Sorry!

4/26/2020: Suspicious “reopen” domain names, Al Jazeera

I appeared via Skype on the Arabic-language news network to discuss reports from Domain Tools and my old Post pal Brian Krebs that many of the sites suddenly created to urge reopening the U.S. from coronavirus lockdown were actually created by the same set of sketchy right-wing activists. This led me to ask my producer in AJ’s D.C. bureau how you’d say “astroturfing” in Arabic; he said the closest thing would be “التنجيم” (pronounced “tanjeem”), which apparently has a dictionary translation of “astrology” but has lately picked up other meanings.

Weekly output: your browser choices, how Virginia got suckered by Intuit

I didn’t have to file taxes, file for an extension on taxes, or make quarterly estimated-tax payments this week. So it had that much going for it.

4/14/2020: Chrome, Edge, Safari or Firefox: Which browser won’t crash your computer when working from home?, USA Today

My editor asked if I could assess which browsers would leave the biggest dent in a home computer’s processor and memory, so I tested Chrome, Edge, and Firefox on my Windows laptop, then tested Chrome, Edge, Firefox and Safari slightly less systematically on my Mac desktop. (I wrote up my methodology for Patreon subscribers.)

4/14/2020: Virginia’s free-file fail, The Washington Post

A decade ago, I tried in vain to use my perch at the Post to stop Virginia from signing onto the “Free File” initiative championed by Intuit and other tax-prep firms that would require the state to scrap its good, free iFile tax-prep app. You can treat this piece for the Post’s Local Opinions section as my I-told-you-so revenge, showing how after 10 years the number of commonwealth taxpayers using the income-limited Free File option remains a small fraction of the number that had used iFile. (The Virginia Department of Taxation provided the numbers I requested almost immediately, so you’re also welcome to wonder why we haven’t seen them in stories before.) This story also notes that the non-income-limited Free Fillable Forms Web app Intuit provides to anybody amounts to the stone tablet of spreadsheets. This is what crony capitalism looks like.