Weekly output: wireless plans (x2), broadband infrastructure, ATSC 3.0, wireless discounts

BARCELONA–I arrived here Saturday morning for my fifth Mobile World Congress trade show. Most of that afternoon was spent wandering around Barcelona and trying to stay awake, while today involved a series of press events scattered around town. The show formally starts tomorrow morning, which is also when I start owing copy to various editors. I’m here through Thursday morning, so if you have questions about upcoming (non-Apple) smartphones, this would be a good time to ask them.

2/20/2017: Unlimited-data plans, WTOP

This interview was supposed to happen, as my conversations with Washington’s news station usually do, over Skype. But the app kept dropping the call within seconds of my clicking to answer it, so the producers punted and called my cell phone instead. Microsoft, please try to make Skype less painful to use.

2/22/2017: Broadband companies can’t build out their networks, and it’s hurting consumers, Yahoo Finance

Not for the first time this week, I got to revisit a topic I’d first covered in any detail several years ago.

Screenshot of story from NYT iPad app2/22/2017: Picking a New Phone Plan? Here Are Your Best Bets, The New York Times

The NYT’s Brian Chen interviewed me, in my role as maintainer of the (Times-owned) Wirecutter’s guide to wireless service, for this story breaking down recent changes to the big four carriers’ rate plans. The analyst he talked to gave recommendations I wouldn’t agree with, but on the other hand Chen gave me the last word in the story.

This, incidentally, represents the second time I’ve been quoted in the Times and the first time I’ve been quoted correctly. That other time happened in 1993, when the NYT’s Frank Prial wrote a feature on how Georgetown University had changed since Bill Clinton’s undergrad days. He interviewed a bunch of students at the Georgetown Voice’s offices and attributed a quote from somebody else (I’m guessing then-photo editor Darren Carroll) to me.

Lest it seem like I’m complaining about my treatment by Timesmen, I should note that looking up that 24-year-old story also led me to a few NYT pieces about my dad’s exploits playing football for Columbia University, including this section-front story about his game-winning field goal against Brown. Yes, they spelled our last name correctly.

2/23/2017: The FCC just gave you a reason to hold off on buying a 4K TV, Yahoo Finance

This post provided this week’s other stroll down memory lane. (Does this column I wrote just after the end of analog broadcasts in 2009 suggest a certain amount of built-up cynicism?) I’m cautiously optimistic about the coming, voluntary transition to “ATSC 3.0” broadcasts. I’m also content in my decision to hold off on buying a new TV until it includes a tuner for this new broadcast standard.

2/26/2017: The hidden wireless discounts you might be missing, USA Today

If you use AT&T, Sprint or Verizon, you may be able to chip 10 percent or so off your bill by taking advantage of your connection to an employer, a school or an association.

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Weekly output: Verizon’s unlimited plan (x3), video-game economic impact, chatbots, broadband competition

Presidents’ Day used to feel like a real holiday–preferably experienced while enjoying views from a chairlift somewhere–but Monday doesn’t feel like much of one. I’m facing an abbreviated workweek, thanks to my Friday departure for Barcelona to cover Mobile World Congress. On the upside, I’m about to spend a few days in Spain for work.

2/13/2017: How Verizon’s new ‘unlimited’ plan compares to the competition, Yahoo Finance

This workweek technically started Sunday afternoon, when Verizon announced that it would once again sell an unlimited–more accurately called “unmetered”–data plan. After I’d filed this post, I got to rewrite a quarter of it to catch up with T-Mobile lifting the two worst restrictions on its own “unlimited” plan.

esa-panel-screengrab2/14/2017: Achievement Unlocked: The Video Game Industry’s Economic Impact, Entertainment Software Association

The nice thing about moderating a panel with members of Congress: They are guaranteed to make you look timely. Rep. Pete Aguilar (D.-Calif.) had to duck out halfway through this discussion, just as Rep. Doug Collins (R.-Ga.) made his belated entrance. You can watch the conversation, also featuring Higher Education Video Game Alliance president Constance Steinkuehler, on Twitch (this is the first and probably the last time I’ll appear on that game-centric network) and see photos from the event at ESA’s Facebook page.

2/15/2017: A Chatbot Is Here to Help, FedTech

I filed this story about the potential of chatbots to ease federal-government services in a simpler time when a Facebook Messenger bot would walk you through sending a message to the president. The Trump administration shut that down; I don’t know why, as my e-mailed inquiry to the White House press office did not yield a response.

2/15/2017: Here are the catches in Verizon’s new plan, USA Today

My editors at USAT asked if I could file my column early, recognizing that something about Verizon advertising unlimited data was driving readers bonkers. The piece now has 27,788 Facebook shares, which suggests they had the right idea.

usat-facebook-live2/17/2017: Unlimited data! But at what cost?, USA Today

My USAT editors also asked if I could do a Facebook Live spot with tech and media reporter Mike Snider. This allowed me to see what USAT’s Tysons Corner newsroom looks like–yes, more than five years after I started writing for the place.

2/18/2017: Wireless carriers are fighting for your cash, and that’s good news, Yahoo Finance

While I was gathering string for a story on broadband infrastructure, I realized I already had almost everything needed to write a post about the wireless industry’s recent display of the benefits of competition–and the equally telling behavior of residential-broadband services that face few or no rivals.

Weekly output: net neutrality, Vizio surveillance, Amazon ads

Our daughter spent the first three workdays of the week home sick with a cold, which had a calamitous effect on my productivity. Especially on Monday, when my wife’s schedule left her unable to take any time off from work.

iPad screengrab of Yahoo post2/7/2017: Open-internet rules look dead. Now what?, Yahoo Finance

This look at the fate of net-neutrality regulations under new Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai benefited from an interview that was supposed to happen during CES. But I could never coordinate my schedule with that of political commentator and TYT Network founder Cenk Uygur during the show, so the publicist who had suggested a CES meeting instead arranged a sit-down when Uygur was in Arlington for a conference last weekend. Since TYT’s news and talk shows depend on Internet distribution, the possible effect on Internet video of weakened open-Internet rules was an obvious topic to discuss.

2/10/2017: FTC’s case against Vizio illuminates terrible tech industry habit, Yahoo Finance

This is a post that I would have written sooner had my workweek not been so thoroughly disrupted. When I finally had some free time, it hit me that Vizio’s deceptive presentation of the “Smart Interactivity” feature that tracked your viewing habits could fairly be called a “dark pattern” user experience–and that I could get an informed ruling on that by asking the guy who coined that term, London-based user-experience designer Harry Brignull.

2/12/2017: How to stop seeing your Amazon searches everywhere, USA Today

The Amazon ad-preferences setting that stops the retail giant’s ads from featuring your recent shopping searches on other sites has been around for a while. But to judge from the appreciative response I’m seeing on Twitter and Facebook to this column, its existence was news to many Amazon shoppers.

Weekly output: switching from Mac to Windows, Comcast Roku app, malware study, Super Bowl vs. “Big Game,” Chromebook security

So, got any favorite Super Bowl ads? I guess all of us, even crestfallen Atlanta fans whom nobody can rightfully expect to show up for work tomorrow, can take some comfort that no advertisers sank to a Nationwide-kid level of awfulness.

Screenshot of Consumer Reports story as seen on an iPad1/30/2017: 5 Things to Know About Switching From Mac to Windows, Consumer Reports

Interesting thing in the comments on this: Readers defended Apple’s software but didn’t mention its hardware, which is one of my primary gripes with the company these days. This explainer got republished on Yahoo later on Monday.

1/31/2017: Comcast now lets you watch cable on your Roku, Yahoo Finance

What I thought was going to be an overwhelmingly positive development turns out to be much less attractive, entirely thanks to Comcast’s Kafkaesque pricing. I didn’t even realize how bad it was until a last round of fact-checking e-mails–with the result being that we didn’t have this story up when Comcast’s 1 p.m. embargo expired, but we did have the numbers right in it.

1/31/2017: Malware study shows people still falling for old tricks, but there’s hope, Yahoo Finance

The most surprising and dismaying part of this Malwarebytes study: That Microsoft Office macro viruses have made a comeback.

2/3/2017: Why the NFL makes companies call the Super Bowl the ‘Big Game’, Yahoo Finance

The NFL’s control-freakery about not just the trademarked name “Super Bowl” but even variations of it is something I should have covered a long time ago.

2/5/2017: How safe are Chromebooks from malware?, USA Today

A reader asked about this on my Facebook page, and I thought it was a good question… especially after my editor passed on a couple of other column ideas.

 

Weekly output: Trump tech policy, cyber attacks, watching Oscar nominees online, security attitudes, Android messaging apps

Like most Americans, I’m a descendant of immigrants. My dad’s grandparents came over from Italy and Croatia and my mom’s father arrived from Gibraltar before WWI, while her mother landed in New York from Ireland in 1923–only months after the end of the Irish Civil War. It is easy to imagine a rule like President Trump’s executive order keeping her out.

1/24/2017: President Trump’s tech policy is a mystery, Yahoo Finance

I’ve been going to the State of the Net conference on and off since 2007, and this was the first time I saw so much confusion over what a new administration would do in so many areas of tech policy.

1/24/2017: Cyber attacks, Al Jazeera

The Arabic news network had me on for a segment about cyber attacks like the Shamoon virus that recently crippled government and business PCs in Saudia Arabia.

Screengrab of Yahoo Finance Oscars post1/26/2017: Why you can’t stream this year’s Oscar nominees on Netflix, Yahoo Finance

One of the first posts I wrote for Yahoo Tech looked at the crummy online availability of the year’s critically-acclaimed movies. I enjoyed a chance to revisit the topic and shed some light on how the industry works.

1/26/2017: Study finds most people are scared they’ll be hacked, but don’t do much about it, Yahoo Finance

The Pew Research Center’s study on Americans’ attitudes on cybersecurity painted a depressing picture–aside from a figure on use of two-step verification that I found more reassuring but also suspiciously high.

1/29/2017: The best Android messaging apps in a crowded field, USA Today

Google’s blog post announcing the revival of its Google Voice apps couldn’t explain the differences between them and the Hangouts apps most GV users had switched to a couple of years ago. That gave me an opportunity to do so and remind readers of other noteworthy Android messaging apps.

Weekly output: CES recap, United fleet site, cybersecurity coverage, wireless phone plans, inauguration wireless coverage, T-Mobile One alternatives

I got a little extra publicity this week from the Columbia Journalism Review when its editors illustrated their open letter to President Trump from the White House press corps with a photo I took of the White House press briefing room. It’s been flattering to see that people actually read photo credits! I would have liked to see CJR link to the original–I believe that’s a condition of the Creative Commons non-commercial-use-allowed license under which I shared it on Flickr–but the reply I got was that their CMS doesn’t support links in photo credits.

That photo, incidentally, comes from 2014’s White House Maker Faire–exactly the sort of event I don’t expect to get invited to over the next four years.

1/17/2017: Techdirt Podcast Episode 105: The CES 2017 Post-Mortem, Techdirt

I talked with Techdirt founder Mike Masnick about my experience at this year’s show. I did the interview using a podcasting Web app I hadn’t tried before, Cast. My verdict: great UX, but that name is horrible SEO.

Screenshot of Air & Space story1/18/2017: Get to Know Your Airliner, Air & Space Magazine

I finally wrote a story for a magazine I’ve been reading on and off since high school, which is pretty great. The subject: the United Airlines Fleet Website, a remarkably useful volunteer-run database of United planes that I’ve gotten in the habit of checking before every UA flight. The story should also be in the February issue, available at newsstands in the next few days.

1/18/2017: What you should really know about every major hacking story, Yahoo Finance

I put on my media-critic hat to write this post about what too many cybersecurity pieces–and too many mass-media conversations on the subject, up to and including those started by Donald Trump–get wrong.

1/19/2017: The Best Cell Phone Plans, The Wirecutter

We decided last summer that having separate guides for the four major wireless carriers and for prepaid and resold phone plans didn’t help readers who should be considering all of their options. That also imposed extra work on me. The result: a single guide that’s much shorter and will be easier to update the next time, say, Sprint rolls out some new price plans.

1/19/2017: How carriers will keep D.C. online during Trump’s inauguration, Yahoo Finance

The real test of the big four networks came not during President Trump’s under-attended inauguration but the Women’s March on Washingtoh the next day. To judge from the experience of my wife and others, the carriers did not acquit themselves too well: Her Verizon iPhone lost data service for part of the day, and I saw friends posting on Facebook that they couldn’t get photos to upload.

1/22/2017: Am I stuck with T-Mobile’s flagship plan?, USA Today

T-Mobile’s decision to limit its postpaid offerings to the unmetered-but-not-unlimited T-Mobile One gave me an opportunity to provide a quick tutorial on the differences between postpaid, prepaid and resold services.

Weekly output: Tom Wheeler’s farewell speech, DirecTV boxes and apps

I tried to take Monday off and only partially succeeded, then got knocked down for most of the next three days by a completely-unsurprising CES cold. That event isn’t just a trade show, it’s a massively-multiplayer biological-warfare experiment.

On the upside, I managed to edit and caption enough of my CES photos to get a Flickr album started.

Screenshot of Yahoo Finance post on Tom Wheeler's farewell speech1/13/2017: Outgoing FCC chair: Don’t go backward on net neutrality, Yahoo Finance

I finally emerged from my home Friday morning to bikeshare over to Dupont and see Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler’s final address. The reporting challenge here was figuring out which sources Wheeler had cited without naming in his defense of net-neutrality regulations–one of which turned out to make a weak case for or against those open-Internet rules.

1/15/2017: No direct way to duck DirecTV’s box rental fee, USA Today

The reader e-mail I got right before CES addressed a topic I’d covered not even a year ago, but since then a Wheeler initiative to require subscription-TV providers to ship no-fee apps to watch their programming has died on the vine. And a pay-TV proposal (yes, signed on by DirecTV) to do much the same on a voluntary basis has yet to result in shipping apps. In DirecTV’s case, it hasn’t even yielded updates to add AirPlay or Chromecast video output to the AT&T-owned service’s existing apps.