Weekly output: AirDrop harassment, killer AI, Verizon “unlimited” data (x2), Washington Apple Pi

This week started better than it ended. Monday brought the magical sight of a partial solar eclipse–something I’d only seen before through thick clouds in 1994 in D.C., and which our daughter pledged to remember forever–but Friday saw my wife sent to the disabled list with a broken clavicle, courtesy of an idiot driver who almost ran into her.

And Monday I’m off to Berlin for the IFA electronics trade show. I offered to cancel the trip, but my wife declined. Why? We live in an eminently walkable neighborhood, and we have a great support system in our neighbors. Now if the cops could only catch the asshole who thinks he/she has priority access to every road before their wheels…

8/21/2017: How to prevent creeps from using Apple’s AirDrop to ‘cyber flash’, USA Today

This column started with a Facebook post frsm a friend of mine; closer inspection led me to wonder if this isn’t yet another case of a tech company being oblivious to the fact that bad people exist on the Internet. Bonus question to anybody reading this who works at Apple: What was the gender breakdown on the AirDrop development team?

8/22/2017: Killer AI, Al Jazeera

I got called in to offer some insight on Elon Musk’s call for a ban on killer artificial-intelligence robots, which led me to note that we’ve had autonomous killing machines for decades in the form of land and sea mines, not to mention the IEDs that I’m happy didn’t kill two of my cousins on their tours of duty in Iraq. FYI, there’s no link to the interview itself, as it was overdubbed live into Arabic and not archived.

8/23/2017: Verizon’s cheaper ‘unlimited’ data plan means serious tradeoffs, USA Today

Verizon’s unexpected move to gut its unlimited-data plan led my editor to ask me to write this weekend’s column early. I had to revise it when I realized that I’d missed Verizon’s sneaky move to limit the resolution of streaming video on existing plans.

8/24/2017: Making sense of Verizon’s new wireless plans, USA Today

I talked to USAT’s Jefferson Graham about Verizon’s new plans for the paper’s podcast.

8/26/2017:  Rob Pegoraro: What’s next for Apple?, Washington Apple Pi

I talked to the D.C. area’s Apple user group about what I think Apple is doing right and wrong. Attendees got a hardware bonus: random trade-show swag that I gave away during the Q&A part of my talk.

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Weekly output: Chris Vickery, post-phishing advice, hyperloop competition

It was a back-to-work week after the previous week’s time off. In addition to what you see here, I filed a USA Today column that should go up tomorrow morning and a thousand-word feature that won’t run for a few more weeks.

8/15/2017: How companies leave your data online without your knowledge, Yahoo Finance

This post was the product of my one work appointment while on vacation in the Bay Area, a conversation with data-breach detective Chris Vickery.

8/17/2017: These college students are vying to build Elon Musk’s hyperloop, Yahoo Finance

I drove up to College Park Tuesday morning to see the test hyperloop pod that this UMD team is taking to a SpaceX-hosted hyperloop competition at the end of this month, then used part of my resulting writeup to discuss the overall feasibility of the hyperloop concept for transporting people. In the process, I got to employ a quote that I’ve had sitting in Evernote since last November.

8/18/2017: You got phished. Now what?, USA Today

This ran about a week after I filed it, thanks to my original e-mail not being addressed to the right editor and the right editor a) missing my re-send of that e-mail and b) being really busy. Fortunately, phishing and e-mail security in general are both evergreen topics, so this summary of the advice I gave to a friend’s dad was at no real risk of getting scooped.

 

Weekly output: null

I finally managed to end a week with not a mere one or two stories, but absolutely nothing to my name. I spent last Saturday to this Saturday in the Bay Area with my wife’s family, and I did as much of nothing as I could manage–in between gawking at county-fair exhibits, visiting a winery or two and touring a nature preserve that offered the unadvertised benefit of zero wireless coverage. I napped at least once every day, I read a couple of books (on paper, even) that were not about current consumer-tech trends, and I ate too much.

I didn’t completely unplug; I sent out some queries for stories, answered some time-sensitive messages, and allotted a few minutes most days to flip through my RSS headlines. And I set aside one morning for an in-person conversation about security issues that led to a post I filed Friday. But that story and another piece I wrote this week have not gotten posted yet. Nothing to do about that now but get back to work Monday morning…

Weekly output: AI anxiety, iOS VPNs in China, side effects of unlimited data, Googling Islam, GDPR and data portability, leaving family wireless plans

I take a little pride in having made it through all of July without once writing about iPhone 8 rumors.

7/31/2017: AI worries, Al Jazeera

I talked about the recent argument between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg about the possible threat of highly competent, extraordinarily capable artificial intelligences. My take: The machines probably won’t kill us, but they may take some of our jobs.

Yahoo iOS VPN apps post7/31/2017: Apple’s decision to drop privacy apps in China might not be the last of its kind, Yahoo Finance

The eviction of VPN apps from the Chinese-market App Store is something anybody could have seen coming. And as long as Apple leaves itself as the only judge of which apps most users can install on iOS devices, we’ll keep seeing this kind of story play out.

8/2/2017: Study shows unlimited data plans are slowing wireless carrier speeds, Yahoo Finance

A lot of other sites ran with OpenSignal’s new study finding slower speeds at AT&T and Verizon Wireless after their belated reintroduction of unmetered-data plans, but most others didn’t try to compare that firm’s findings with those of other recent tests of the big four wireless carriers.

8/2/2017: Google and searches on Islam, Al Jazeera

My producer asked if I could talk about some recent controversy over Google favoring Islamophobic pages in results for some common queries about Islam. I have to admit I’d missed some of that news, but on closer inspection it fit with past episodes of Holocaust denial creeping up in Google results.

8/2/2017: A massive EU privacy rule could bring an unexpected benefit for US consumers, Yahoo Finance

I hadn’t paid much attention to the European Union’s upcoming General Data Protection Regulation until moderating a panel about privacy issues at CES. But once I started looking at “GDPR” I realized that these EU rules could make a difference here by requiring social networks–hi, Instagram and Tumblr–to let their users take their data with them. I can only hope that this data-portability angle resonated with some readers.

8/6/2017: Options available when it’s time to leave the wireless-family-plan nest, USA Today

I would have filed this column a little earlier if AT&T still had the simple rate-planning tool that let visitors get estimates of different wireless plans; now, you have to step through signing up for service to see what you might pay.

Weekly output: Adobe Flash’s farewell, white-spaces broadband, People You May Know

Two of this week’s three articles (there weren’t more because I was visiting family for most of the week and trying to approximate being on vacation) involve topics that I’ve been following for more than a decade. That has me feeling my age, as does today’s lack of a nap.

7/25/2017: Why everybody should be happy that Flash is finally dying, Yahoo Finance

Writing this post about Adobe’s announcement that it will officially retire Flash at the end of 2020 had me re-reading stuff I wrote seven or eight years ago, not all of which looks too prescient today.

7/27/2017: How Microsoft wants to bring broadband to rural Americans, Yahoo Finance

I had meant to file this story the previous week, but it took multiple phone calls and e-mails to pin down the pricing and features of an upcoming wireless-broadband service built on “white spaces” technology. For all the griping I do about PR people, sometimes you run across a company that would communicate its message much more effectively with professional help.

7/30/2017: Why Facebook’s ‘People You May Know’ makes some weird suggestions, USA Today

This Q&A involved its own game of e-mail tag, but it was worth that effort to document Facebook’s friend suggestions in more detail than the social network’s own online help.

 

Weekly output: Virgin Mobile USA Inner Circle, Microsoft on security, D.C. tech media, Sprint Flex, SMS two-step verification

This week involved a large tech conference, but I didn’t have to go any farther than D.C. for it: Microsoft Inspire ran from Monday to Wednesday at the convention center, with the morning keynotes held at the Verizon Center. The event yielded one post, an idea for another and a sweaty evening at Nationals Park Wednesday, the location of the Carrie Underwood concert that closed out the gathering.

7/10/2017: Virgin Mobile’s iPhone-only plan: What’s the catch?, USA Today

This snakebit column required not one but two corrections. The first remedied my mistake in reading “$1” as this Sprint prepaid brand’s promotional monthly rate when it was the cost for the entire first year of service; minutes later, I saw a reader comment calling out my dumb error in writing “megabits per second” instead of “kilobits per second” when describing a streaming speed limit.

7/12/2017: Microsoft reveals two big ways to stop ransomware attacks, Yahoo Finance

Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith’s keynote Wednesday called for collective action to stop ransomware and other malware outbreaks. But getting companies and organizations to end their long-running abusive relationship with Windows XP won’t be easy; neither will persuading governments to stop hoarding vulnerabilities in favor of promptly disclosing all of them so they can be fixed.

7/12/2017: Working with Tech Media in the Washington D.C. Region, Washington Network Group

I spoke on this panel with the Washington Business Journal’s Andy Medici and FedScoop’s Tajha Chappellet-Lanier (a fellow Washingtonian Tech Titan honoree) about coverage priorities, tech trends and PR pet peeves. Once again, I implored publicists not to follow up by re-sending the original e-mail topped by nothing more than “Any interest?”

7/14/2017: Sprint doesn’t want you to buy your next phone, Yahoo Finance

Sprint gave me an advance on this, but its PR pitch for its new Flex leasing deal didn’t spell out that this move would also end Sprint’s installment-payment pricing on phones. Because I’m slow, I needed a couple of rounds of Q&A to grasp that difference. Sprint, in turn, didn’t clarify the international-unlocking policy under Flex until Friday morning, after its embargo on the news had passed but before it had posted its own press release.

7/14/2017: How a system meant to keep your money safe could put it in danger, Yahoo Finance

I expected to see everybody else jump on this story of a PayPal customer losing money after an AT&T rep let an unknown attacker move his number–the last line of defense on his PayPal account–to a new SIM, since I learned about it on Twitter a week earlier. Instead, I had time to quiz PayPal, AT&T and others; verify that a no-longer-advertised phone-free form of two-factor authentication still worked at PayPal; and have an enlightening chat with Google security product manager Stephan Somogyi about the tradeoffs of different “2FA” methods.