Weekly output: encrypted DNS in Firefox (x2), expanding rural broadband, business turnarounds, optimizing business travel, travel tips

My calendar this week is much less cluttered than it was a week ago, between SXSW’s cancellation clearing out Friday and (also coronavirus-related) postponement of the DC Blockchain Summit freeing up Wednesday and Thursday.

3/2/2020: Your internet provider knows where you’ve been. How to keep your browsing more private, USA Today

I tackled a fairly esoteric topic–encrypted domain name service–in this column. I don’t know how many people read it to the end, but at least my tweet about the piece seems to have done well

3/3/2020: Why ‘rural broadband’ may no longer be an oxymoron, Fast Company

I wrote up a new study from the Pew Charitable Trusts that offers reasons for hope about expanding rural broadband, plus useful lessons learned from states that have managed to make progress on that front.

3/3/2020: This Morning with Gordon Deal March 03, 2020, This Morning with Gordon Deal

This business radio show had me on talk about the Firefox browsing-privacy news in my column. My bit starts at the 12:45 mark.

3/4/2020: Four companies that reinvented themselves the right way… and won, Signal 360

A friend edits a newsletter Procter & Gamble publishes and asked if I could write about a few examples of companies turning themselves around. That’s not a genre of story I usually do, so I thought it would be fun to write. The results: this look at how Lego, T-Mobile, Yelp and Best Buy managed to dig themselves out of various holes.

3/8/2020: From Bookings to Bandwidth, How to Supercharge Your Business Travel, Frequent Traveler University

I did this talk with travel blogger Tess Zhao twice: a more beginner-oriented version in the morning for attendees of the Travel & Adventure Show at the Washington Convention Center, and then an expert-mode version in the afternoon for FTU DC ticket holders.

3/8/2020: Closing panel, Frequent Traveler University

This gathering for miles-and-points travel enthusiasts wrapped up with almost all of the FTU DC speakers fielding questions from the audience about various flight and lodging hacks and tips.

Updated 3/9/2020 to add a link the Signal 360 post I didn’t find when I did my usual Google News search for pages featuring my name over the last week. 

Three more erased events: SXSW, Google I/O, Collision

Yet another set of travel plans got sucked into a coronavirus-fueled jet engine this week. On Tuesday, Google announced that it would cancel its annual I/O developer conference, Friday morning saw Web Summit pull the plug on the Collision conference in Toronto, after which Friday afternoon brought the cancellation of SXSW

And now my business-travel schedule for the first quarter of the year looks as empty as it did back in Q1 of 2007.

I expected the I/O news. As an event that draws a global audience and is hosted by a large tech company with preexisting image problems, I/O seemed doomed the second Facebook said it would scrub the F8 developer conference that was set to happen a week before I/O. (Those of you still hoping to go to Apple’s WWDC developer conference would be well advised to book fully-refundable airfare and lodging.) 

I was also prepared for the axe to fall on SXSW, just because of the overriding attention to it as one large conference this month that had yet gotten coronavirus-canceled–and all of the tech companies that had already bailed. But it still took an order from Austin’s government banned events of more than 2,500 people to kill this year’s festival and deprive me of my annual overdose of tacos and BBQ.

Collision, however, surprised me. That conference was scheduled for June 22 through 25, which in a strictly medical sense would have left plenty of time to gauge the situation. But I suspect that the organizers were already considering how many speakers had or would pull out after their employers banned employee travel, and so made the decision early to run the conference online instead.

I told them I’m willing to moderate whatever panels they need, but count me as a skeptic of this approach. A “digital conference”–more accurately read as “webinar”–is no substitute for the unexpected in-person connections you make at a good conference.

I would like to see this event-losing streak end. One of the things I treasure as a self-employed professional is the freedom to go to interesting places for work. I also count on conferences to offset all the Me Time that working from home full-time affords me.

But as the past few weeks have made clear, that’s not up to me. The only travel I have booked that isn’t subject to getting scratched by risk-averse tech corporations is a trip in early April to see my in-laws over our kid’s spring break. Taking off from Dulles that morning will feel like a victory.

Weekly output: spotting fakes in e-mails and text messages

Spending most of this week knocked out by a cold had the predictable effects on my productivity, but at least my schedule was clear. That’s not the case this week, which features one day in which I won’t be able to do any work between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m.–Tuesday, when I’ll be working as an election officer for Arlington.

2/25/2020: Here’s how hard it is to spot a fake email address or phone number, Fast Company

This post started with an interesting talk I saw at the ShmooCon security conference at the start of February. I’d meant to write up this EmailRep system for automatically rating the credibility of e-mail addresses right after, but breaking news kept intruding. That worked out in okay when a pitch from an old PR rep about did not land in my inbox–because Google thought it belonged in my spam filter, thereby providing the perfect demonstration of how hard it can be for software to decide if an e-mail is suspicious or not.

Home sick instead of homesick

Me at this time last week, after realizing the extent of the gap opened in my schedule by MWC’s cancelation: Oh, great, I can finally take a day off to visit a museum or a gallery!

Life: LOL, nope.

Saturday afternoon, I felt a touch of a cold coming on. By Sunday afternoon, that had arrived in force. I then spent Monday staggering around the house and sneezing in between naps, and then my coughing woke me throughout the night. Tuesday was scarcely better, although I did manage to drag myself to a grocery store–feeling an ache around my body as I walked slower than usual.

(At least I didn’t have a fever, something I verified at least twice a day.)

After a night of generic-Nyquil-aided sleep, I decided to own my home-sick status Wednesday by not bothering to shower or shave. Can’t lie: It felt therapeutically cozy to chill in sweatpants, a t-shirt and my bathrobe.

This slacker sick-day experience reminded me of being home with colds as a kid, when I literally had nothing to do and could curl up with a series of books. But with the Internet and social media having arrived over the subsequent 40 years (and my having to work for a living), this week saw me trying too hard to stay on top of occupational things. As in, tending my e-mail to stay in touch with editors and sources and taking part in the perpetual Twitter dialogue, which in practice led to my reading waaayyy too much Coronavirus Twitter and Democratic-Primary Twitter.

I woke up this morning feeling much better, and Friday should be a fully productive and cough-drop-free day. As recent headlines have reminded me, things could have been a whole lot worse. On that note, please wash your hands.

Weekly output: YouTube meets COPPA, LTE and 5G hotspots

I was supposed to be spending today bouncing from one MWC press event to another, but the cancelation of that conference left me at home with an empty schedule. That also meant I could see firsthand the worst thing you can spot in the paper: a death notice for an old friend. My Georgetown classmate and Georgetown Voice colleague Claudine Weber-Hof died last month in Germany, but the sad news somehow took longer to make its way to Washington.

The Munich-based magazine where she worked put together a lovely remembrance, and I want you to read that. That story doesn’t explain what happened, but a public Facebook post by one of Claudine’s friends that I found later this afternoon mourns her “lost battle against anxiety and depression.” Which would mean that for the second time in less than three years, depression has taken somebody I know. It’s too much.

2/19/2020: Will YouTube’s New Privacy Rules Actually Protect Children?, Glimmer

I helped inaugurate this new online publication from Glitch, the Web-app-development firm formerly known as Fog Creek Software. As the date stamp on this suggests, the site was supposed to launch earlier but ran into some late snafus that I’d just as soon not know about. So everybody had to wait another week and change to read my look at the controversy YouTube has made for itself by subjecting creators of content that kids might like to an unusually harsh regime.

2/19/2020: The Best Wi-Fi Hotspot, Wirecutter

Speaking of long-awaited updates, this revision to Wirecutter’s guide to WiFi hotspots brings two new recommendations and my emphatic advice to ignore 5G for now. Especially Verizon’s millimeter-wave 5G, which offers amazingly fast speeds almost nowhere–speeds that the company’s first 5G hotspot can’t share over WiFi with nearby devices.

This weak excuse for a winter

All this month, Facebook has been reminding me of the epic blizzards that hit D.C. a decade ago–as if I needed more reasons to feel cranky about Facebook.

Where February of 2010 saw D.C. get whomped with almost 30 inches of snow in a week, this miserable excuse for a winter has yet to grace my city with an inch of snow total.

I have yet to ski anywhere this season. And with the eroding accumulations at the local ski areas, it looks like I’m either going to have to fly somewhere or hope for a March blizzard to avoid breaking a streak of skiing somewhere and somehow every winter–downhill or cross-country–that dates to 1997.

And what if next year’s winter is just as warm as this one’s? And for every year after? Global warming sucks… and being deprived of local snow sports is one of the least painful elements of this problem we continue to cook up.

Yes, having a Washington winter act more like what passes for that season in the Bay Area has offered some advantages. I’ve biked a lot more than I would expect, including a great ride through Rock Creek Park last Sunday (as seen in the photo above). Our yard is already waking up to spring, with the first lilies already popping out of the ground and arugula and parsley still growing since last fall.

But I’d trade all that for a freeze followed by low clouds dumping six inches of snow all around. Or even four: My cross-country skis are already trashed, so all I really want is an excuse to air them out instead of them collecting more dust in the basement.

Weekly output: Sprint + T-Mobile, WhatsApp vs. NSO Group

This week put me in the unusual position of unwinding travel arrangements that I’d made months ago–then figuring out what to do with the time I would not be spending at the now-canceled MWC trade show. At least I’m getting out of that debacle with almost no money lost (United offered to waive the change fee I’d otherwise owe when applying the credit from my scratched booking), unlike some people I know.

Speaking of trade shows, subscribers at Patreon got to read yesterday about the thought process I put into deciding which company or companies to put on my badge for an event. The answer isn’t always obvious; sometimes, I prefer to go with a more obscure affiliation.

2/12/2020: The Sprint/T-Mobile merger has some real upsides—and plenty of unknowns, Fast Company

Here’s an example of where reporting has led me to change my mind. Several years ago, I didn’t see much upside in combining the networks of those two wireless carriers. But as I’ve spent more time immersing myself in the finer points of 5G, I’ve come around to the idea that lighting up Sprint’s 5G spectrum across T-Mo’s 5G coverage will yield a serious improvement. Other potential upsides of this merger, however, remain less clear to me.

2/13/2020: WhatsApp vs. NSO Group, Al Jazeera

I was on the Arabic-language news network (overdubbed live into Arabic, as usual) to talk about WhatsApp’s lawsuit against the Israeli cybersecurity surveillance firm NSO Group for allegedly hacking into the encrypted communications of journalists and activists using the Facebook-owned messaging application.