Weekly output: CES recap, cable’s 10G pitch, making Congress smarter about tech policy, whither “GIS”

We’re now more than halfway through this presidential term, which is crazy to think about considering that January 2017 sometimes feels like it happened five years ago.

1/22/2019: Techdirt Podcast Episode 196: The CES 2019 Post-Mortem, Techdirt

For the fourth year in a row, I joined Techdirt editor Mike Masnick on his podcast to compare notes about CES.

1/24/2019: How cable wants to speed up your internet access, Yahoo Finance

The cable industry chose CES week to announce its “10G” initiative for 10-Gbps broadband, which helped ensure that I couldn’t get around to unpacking how much of his plan isn’t new until a couple of weeks later.

1/24/2019: These people are trying to make Congress smarter about tech policy, Yahoo Finance

I’ve had this story on my to-do list for months, but the arrival of a new class of TechCongress fellows finally pushed me to research and write it.

1/25/2019: The Changing Nature of GIS, Trajectory Magazine

I returned to my occasional client to write this wonky article about how cloud services and mobile devices are democratizing geographic information systems in much the same way that they’ve opened up online publishing.

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Weekly output: #DIV/0!

For the first time since two Augusts ago, I have no new bylines in a week. I did file one story, not yet posted, and get much of the reporting done for two others–after losing much of the first two days from having our schools closed after last weekend’s snowstorm–but it’s still annoying to have this post equate to a divide-by-zero error.

And that happened even though I worked for a good chunk of this weekend: I spent most of Saturday at the Shmoocon cybersecurity conference in D.C. I connected with people much better-informed than me, picked up some useful insights that I hope to turn into a post, caught up with an old friend, and enjoyed spotting the hilarious National Security Agency recruitment ad pictured at right. (No, I did not plug in my phone.)

Having this con take place at the Washington Hilton provided a bonus level of amusement. I’ve been at the venue Washingtonians call the Hinckley Hilton for many other events, but none had involved so many people with hair dyed interesting colors and on-message t-shirts (e.g,, “Crypto means cryptography”). That was an excellent change-up from this hotel’s usual overdressed look.

Weekly output: cryptocurrency hack, TV technology (x2), Last Gadget Standing, 2018 cybersecurity forecasts revisited, connected appliances at CES, drones at CES, CES oddities

I never work harder in a week than during CES, so I immensely appreciated the gift of a snowstorm this weekend that let me get in some cross-country skiing, go sledding with my daughter on the nearest suitable hill and think about work very little.

If you’ve already read all of the posts below, please check out my Flickr album from the show.

1/8/2019: True Confessions: ICOs, Crypto, Tokens and VCs, Digital Money

My spot on this panel track was an onstage interview of cryptocurrency investor Michael Terpin about how a SIM-swap hack led to him being robbed of startup tokens worth almost $24 million at the time.

1/9/2019: Your TV could soon have these features that are better than 8K, Yahoo Finance

Just about every one of the 22 consecutive CESes that I’ve covered has led to me writing a report on the state of the TV. This year’s version involves an unusual company: Apple.

1/10/2019: Last Gadget Standing, Living in Digital Times

Once again, I helped judge this gadget competition and introduced one of the contestants–Origami Labs, developer of the Orii smart ring. This year’s contest, however, featured a new emcee. Instead of my former Yahoo colleague David Pogue, my USA Today colleague Jennifer Jolly did the honors.

1/10/2019: How cybersecurity forecasts got 2018 wrong, The Parallax

Having botched enough tech forecasts of my own, I appreciated having a chance to revisit other people’s predictions for the year we just escaped.

1/11/2019: From a smart toilet to ‘Shazam for Food’: CES unveils new connected appliances, Yahoo Finance

Once Samsung explained how this year’s version of their Family Hub fridge automatically identified food inside visible to its three interior cameras, Silicon Valley’s “Shazam for food” plot line immediately jumped into my head. That also led me to think of the role of hacked smart fridges in the HBO comedy–which made the unwillingness of so many CES smart-home exhibitors to talk specifics about security fixes all the more annoying.

1/11/2019: The drones of CES 2019 aren’t all in the air, Yahoo Finance

I wasn’t sure how I’d end this story until finding myself staring at a an enormous John Deere combine–brought to the show floor to exhibit how GPS guidance lets it drive itself to an extraordinary degree of accuracy. That makes it a very large drone that happens to help bring corn and corn-based products to supermarkets, and there I had my ending.

1/12/2019: 8K TVs show the tech industry indulging in a bad habit, USA Today

This take on TV technology revisited some CES flops of a decade and two decades ago: 3-D TV and the would-be CD-upgrade formats DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD.

1/13/2019: The weirdest tech we saw at CES, Yahoo Finance

I wrote this, along with the two prior stories, after landing at Dulles early Friday morning. It turns out that you can be productive after a red-eye flight home if you pass out for almost the entire flight, nap a couple of times during the day and apply caffeine as needed.

Updated 1/24/2019 with video of my interview of Michael Terpin.

Weekly output: privacy-law prospects, switching wireless carriers, cable and broadband fee inflation, Android messages on your computer

ces 2019 badgeOnce again, a Sunday in January finds me in Las Vegas for CES. It’s like I’ve been doing this since 1998 or something…

12/31/2018: Why 2019 might finally bring a national privacy law for the US, Yahoo Finance

Writing a story optimistic about the prospects for a national privacy bill makes me feel like Charlie Brown lining up to the kick the football, so if the year ends with Congress having yanked the ball away I’ll be disappointed but not enormously surprised.

12/31/2018: How to Switch Cell Phone Carriers, Wirecutter

This how-to post started with some banter on Wirecutter’s Slack about the mechanics of switching carriers.

1/1/2019: How your TV or broadband bill might creep up in the new year, Yahoo Finance

Just as I predicted a year ago, cable and broadband companies marked the new year with a round of rate hikes. This time around, I focused on increases to the add-on fees that are usually confined to the fine print of ads.

1/4/2019: You can read your Android phone’s texts on your Mac or PC. Here’s how, USA Today

A couple of readers complained that this column didn’t address third-party solutions for reading your texts on your Mac or PC–for example, MightyText, Pushbullet, Pulse SMS. That, I have to admit, is a fair point.

Updated 1/15/2019 to add a link to the Wirecutter how-to post that I’d missed at the time. 

Weekly output: cloud storage, Facebook’s 2019

I hope your holidays have involved a minimum of tech support–and if they did, it was of the sort that allowed you to declare victory and accept compliments from relatives in time for dinner.

USAT cloud-services post12/25/2018: How to match a cloud service for all your devices, USA Today

I marked my seventh anniversary of writing for USAT in a subpar way. We had to correct this column because I swapped the free-storage allotments of Microsoft and Google, even though I pay each company for extra storage because their no-charge tiers weren’t enough. Then we tweaked it further to reflect Dropbox offering a discount for yearly billing.

12/28/2018: 2 toxic storylines for Facebook won’t go away in 2019, Yahoo Finance

I wrote this year-in-preview post in part to take yet another whack at Facebook for its fumbling responses to its privacy failings and obvious violations of its rules. But along the way, I kept getting angrier about its continued addiction to the Silicon Valley cult of engagement. Facebook–and Google, while I’m at it–needs to stop acting like a startup growth-hacking its way to traction, consequences be damned.

Weekly output: Facebook’s Supreme Court, Twitter data breach, Russian disinformation campaigns, Facebook data partners (x2)

Looking at my last possible day of Christmas shopping reminds me of one evening in pre-Amazon days when I wrapped up the season’s gift procurement on my walk home along Connecticut Avenue–by ducking into the shops I found interesting. That was not a cheaper time, but in some ways it was a simpler time.

Yahoo Facebook-appeals post12/18/2018: Facebook wants to give you a way to fight having your posts taken down, Yahoo Finance

I had meant to write this earlier, but breaking news kept interrupting my progress. Fortunately, Facebook kept getting tripped up by new reports of its erratic enforcement of its own rules.

12/18/2018: Twitter country-code data breach, Al Jazeera

I had my first spot on the Arabic-language news station in a several weeks to talk about Twitter’s disclosure of a data breach that revealed the country codes of the phone numbers of some users–a data point that could have helped certain foreign intelligence agencies. My spot comes up at about 18 minutes into this clip.

12/18/2018: Russian disinformation campaigns, Al Araby

I had a second appearance on an Arabic-language channel this Tuesday, this time to talk about the two reports commissioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee about Russian disinformation campaigns. I’m on at 35 minutes in.

12/20/2018: Facebook’s data partners, Al Jazeera

I returned to AJ to talk about the New York Times report documenting Facebook’s history of poorly-governed data-sharing deals with other companies; I start to discuss this some 19 minutes into this clip.

12/23/2018: No, Netflix and Spotify weren’t spying on your Facebook Messenger account, Yahoo Finance

I thought of one good angle to put into this post about messaging interoperability while I was on my way to Al Jazeera’s studio Thursday: Facebook’s abandoned, now-largely-forgotten plan to turn its messaging service into an email alternative that you could use from any browser.

Weekly output: Google hearings (x2), Microsoft wants facial-recognition rules, Google Maps and Lime scooters, U2F security keys, U.S. newspapers vs. the GDPR

My calendar for the coming week looks strange: There isn’t a single work appointment on it. I plan to celebrate that by not shaving tomorrow.

12/10/2018: Congress will grill Google’s CEO this week — here’s what to expect, Yahoo Finance

The House Judiciary Committee–in particular, certain of its Republican members–obliged me by living up so completely to this preview of Google chief executive Sundar Pichai’s Tuesday appearance there.

12/10/2018: Microsoft is asking the government to regulate the company’s facial recognition tech, Yahoo Finance

Microsoft president Brad Smith came to the Brookings Institution last week to make an unusual plea: Please regulate us before we get dragged into a race to the bottom with ethically-unbounded vendors of facial-recognition technology.

12/13/2018: Google Maps will now help you find Lime scooters, Yahoo Finance

I got an advance on this news from one of Lime’s publicists; by itself, this new feature isn’t a huge development, but covering it allowed me to discuss broader failings in both Google and Apple’s navigation software.

12/13/2018: On privacy, Google CEO’s congressional hearing comes up short, The Parallax

I wrote about several security and privacy questions that should have been asked during Pichai’s grilling but never came up. The single worst omission: Not a single representative even mentioned the name of a non-Google search engine.

12/14/2018: Primer: How to lock your online accounts with a security key, The Parallax

I’ve had the idea of an explainer about “U2F” security keys on my to-do list for a while. In the time it took for me to sell the piece, Microsoft and Apple finally began moving to support this particularly secure two-step verification option.

12/16/2018: Post-Dispatch, Tribune haven’t caught up with EU rules, Gateway Journalism Review

My former Washington Post colleague Jackie Spinner wrote about how the sites of some U.S. newspapers continue to block European readers instead of complying with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation. She gave me a chance to critique this self-defeating practice–I’d earlier griped about it in a Facebook comments thread with her–and I was happy to give her few quotes.