Weekly output: mobile payments, Black Hat security, travel tech

I left Black Hat feeling a little overwhelmed–not because of how little time I had to take in things between my arrival in Vegas Tuesday afternoon and my departure Thursday night, but because of how many fascinating briefings I had to miss because I was attending others. And then there’s everything I missed by flying home before DEF CON

8/6/2018: Hang on, Apple: Phone payments still need work, USA Today

Seeing all the hype over Apple announcing that CVS will finally succumb to reality and accept Apple Pay (meaning you can also pay with any non-Apple phone that does NFC payments) got me feeling cranky enough to write this reality-check post. I’ve since received an e-mail from a reader saying he’s had no problem paying for stuff with his iPhone in Mexico, contrary to a statement in the column based on an incorrect reading of Apple and Google support documents. I’ve asked my editors to correct that part.

8/9/2018: Black Hat attendees are surprisingly lax about encryption, The Parallax

As I was putting together my Black Hat schedule, I got an invitation to tour the network operations center supervising the conference’s WiFi. I thought that visit would allow me a chance to look at a lot of blinking lights, but instead it provided up-close evidence of some horrifyingly slack security practices among a minority of Black Hat attendees.

FTU DC badge8/11/2018: Welcome and Keynote with Rob Pegoraro, Frequent Traveler University Washington, DC

After years of profiting from tips shared in various frequent-flyer forums, I had a chance to give back when FTU host Stefan Krasowski asked if I’d like to talk about my travel experiences to open this two-day program of seminars about airline and hotel loyalty programs and other sorts of travel hacking. We had a great conversation about freelance business-trip economics, the gadget accessories I take on the road, two underrated virtues of United elite status, and my worst airport-transit experience ever. My only regret: Since I couldn’t stick around for the rest of the day, I didn’t have a chance to meet the other FTU speakers, a few of whom I’ve been reading for years.

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Notes on macOS Sierra

I’m now just over a fortnight into using Apple’s macOS Sierra, and I can report that it’s not enough time to get used to that name’s oddball capitalization. The past two weeks have, however, allowed me to come to some conclusions and form some questions about this operating-system update.

macos-sierra-logoThe pleasant disk-space mystery: Both times I’ve installed Sierra–an uneventful 50 minutes on my 2012 MacBook Air, an absurd three hours and change on my 2009 iMac–the OS has rewarded me with multiple gigabytes of free space. The MacBook, which was getting so close to full that I had to delete several gigs’ worth of data to install Sierra at all, gained 17 GB, while the iMac got an extra 18 GB back.

I do have the MacBook set to back up its Documents and Desktop folders to iCloud (neither contain enough data to threaten iCloud’s meager 5 GB quota of free space), but that comes nowhere near explaining the newly-liberated volume. And although Sierra doesn’t count “purgeable” files–synced files and media, rarely-used fonts and dictionaries, and other items that the system can always re-download after deletion–the totals of purgeable data listed in the info boxes for each startup disk don’t come close to explaining the discrepancy either.

macbook-storage-about-boxUniversal Clipboard is kind of magical: When I copy something from my iPad, I can paste it into my MacBook and vice versa. This wireless copy-and-paste feature neatly solves an everyday problem of switching between a mobile device and a “real” computer, and the fact that it’s happened with zero fuss amazes me. (I hope I haven’t just jinxed it.)

My iMac, however, is cut off from Universal Clipboard, as it’s a good three years too old. Once again, Apple: I’ll think about buying a new model when you don’t charge me 2016 prices for designs barely changed from 2014.

Search snafus: On both computers, a search in the Calendar app for events that I know exist–like conferences I’ve attended every year since 2010–now fails to show results older than late 2014 in my Google-hosted calendars. Sierra knows these older events exist, because Spotlight searches still find them. A post in Apple’s tech-support forums cites an unnamed Apple rep as saying this is a bug that should be fixed, which I hope is true. I also hope somebody in Apple PR replies to the e-mail I sent Wednesday asking about this.

Meanwhile, Mail has developed its own annoying habit of bouncing back to the oldest messages in my inbox after I cancel out of a search. I trust that’s a bug too, because I cannot think of many search use cases that conclude with the user thinking “now I would like to see my correspondence from 2011.”

siri-in-sierraStuff I haven’t tried much yet: I know that Siri leads off Apple’s pitch for Sierra, but I only really need one personal-assistant app–and that app serves me best on the device I carry most often, my Android phone. I also have yet to try out Apple Pay on the Web, although that’s mainly a factor of me not buying anything online in the past two weeks aside from one quick Amazon purchase. The new auto-categorization features in Photos sound neat but can’t help the overwhelming majority of my photos taken on my Android phone, which never even show up there. The same goes for the souped-up conversation options in Messages (did I mention I use an Android phone?).

Things unfixed or newly broken: Sierra seems as powerless as its predecessor OS X El Capitan when Safari or Chrome decide they want to gobble up every last morsel of memory on the machine. I sure do wish this operating system would remember that
pre-emptive multitasking” was one of its foundational features. It also annoys me that Photos persists in the user-hostile practice of discarding the title, description and location I added earlier to a photo when I try to export it to Flickr.

Meanwhile, Sierra has broken the GPGMail plug-in I use to encrypt and decrypt the occasional e-mail–something I only realized after I’d installed this OS on both Macs. I e-mailed the developers and got a reply explaining that Apple made non-trivial changes to the Mail app’s internal code (I wouldn’t have guessed, since Mail seems as glitch-prone as ever) that they realized late in the game would require rewriting the plug-in. So if you were going to send me an encrypted e-mail critiquing this post, please hold off until they can ship a Sierra-compatible beta.

Weekly output: mobile payments, FCC regulations, Apple and the FBI, flash drives to North Korea, smart cities, Apple at 40, fiber Internet hardware fees

I wrote three of the stories below before this week–in one case, months before this week–so don’t get the wrong idea about my personal productivity over the last six days.

Yahoo Tech mobile-payments post3/29/2016: Don’t take my money: Why mobile payments haven’t taken off — yet, Yahoo Tech

In what I can only call epic timing, I had to have one of my credit cards reissued only hours after I filed this last week. Some joker had somehow obtained the number and used it for an online transaction at a random Ukrainian merchant. That’s the scenario that mobile payments could have prevented–if the unknown merchant that lost my card’s digits had accepted NFC phone payments, which is nowhere near a sure thing.

3/29/2016: Shining the Spotlight on the FCC: How Rules Impact Consumers and Industries, American Action Forum

I moderated a debate about the Federal Communications Commission’s recent regulatory initiatives with AAF’s Will Rinehart, Public Knowledge’s Meredith Rose and Tech Knowledge’s Fred Campbell. Rose and the other two come at this topic from different perspectives, as you can see below, but we had a civil and entertaining exchange.

3/29/2016: Lessons from the Apple-FBI fight, Yahoo Tech

When I wrote this, it still seemed possible that the FBI might disclose the vulnerability it exploited to unlock the phone used by one of the San Bernardino murderers. That now seems exceedingly unlikely. My hunch is that the Feds have bought themselves a short-term advantage that’s likely to set them back in the long run.

3/30/2016: New use for old flash drives: Subverting the regime in North Korea, Yahoo Tech

This story came about because I set aside a couple of hours on my last day at SXSW to tour the show floor and therefore came across this fascinating demo. The idea of smuggling flash drive into the “Democratic” “People’s” “Republic” of Korea might seem a wildly optimistic exercise in slacktivism, but two experts on North Korea told me it’s worth doing.

3/31/2016: The Internet of Things Drives Smart Transportation Projects, StateTech

I filed this piece about interesting smart-city projects in Chicago and Washington quite some time ago, but the story got held up for various reasons until the appropriate “publish” button was finally clicked this week.

4/1/2016: Apple turns 40, Al Jazeera

The news network’s Arabic channel had me on (overdubbed in Arabic by a translator) to talk about Apple turning 40. I answered a question about the state of the company post-Steve Jobs by saying that its hardware looked as innovative as ever, but its services remain a mess.

4/3/2016: Hardware fees not just for cable Internet, USA Today

Your e-mails asking about cable-modem costs at U-verse (note: not a cable system) got me thinking, and then I realized that AT&T’s mandatory hardware fee for its fiber service makes most cable operators’ price structure look reasonable.

Updated 4/4, 8:26 a.m. to add Friday’s Al Jazeera interview.

Weekly output: net-neutrality politics, secure smartphones, wireless charging, MWC, Apple Pay

I gave myself an extra day to explore Mobile World Congress, yet I still ended this year’s pilgrimage to Barcelona wishing I’d had more time to check out all the gadgets/services/apps on display. It appears I need to work on my MWC clock management.

But I did come home with a significantly larger Evernote file and a packed camera memory card (see the results on Flickr), plus some ideas about how I can better cover the show next year.

3/3/2015: How Comcast, Verizon, and the Rest of Big Telecom Blew the Net-Neutrality Battle, Yahoo Tech

I’d had this column in mind since President Obama’s surprising switch to advocating a Title II reclassification of Internet providers as “common carrier” telecom services. Which is another way of saying that I should have had this finished before I got to MWC instead of wrapping it up in the press room Monday afternoon.

Yahoo Tech secure-smartphones post3/4/2015: The Big Problem with the Secure New Smartphones of the Snowden Era: Other Phones, Yahoo Tech

A look at the absence of PGP-encrypted messages in my inbox should be reminder enough about how hard interoperability is. But seeing three different smartphone platforms at MWC that may not be able to talk securely to one another was instructive too.

3/5/2015: Wireless Charging May Not Be Doomed To Irrelevance, Yahoo Tech

MWC left me slightly more optimistic about the prospects for wireless charging being something that people look for in a new mobile gadget, then use regularly once they buy it. And yet: I was able to charge my own, Qi-compatible phone wirelessly all of one time.

3/5/2015: 7 Things We Learned About the Future of Technology at MWC 2015, Yahoo Tech

I contributed a graf or three to this recap of the show. I also had a photo of mine show up in Jason Gilbert’s look back at MWC’s weirder sights.

3/8/2015: Is Apple Pay not NFC?, USA Today

Some grumpiness over press coverage treating Apple Pay as a species separate from NFC payments got me to start asking a few questions, leading to a column in which JetBlue PR essentially left some of its earlier statements inoperative.

 

 

Weekly output: MCX vs. NFC, wireless carriers, OS X Yosemite

I completely spaced on writing this earlier tonight, so this post comes to you early Monday morning instead of in my usual Sunday afternoon/evening timeframe.

10/28/2014: Why Some Stores Won’t Take Apple Pay, and How to Punish Them, Yahoo Tech

Did I mention all the clueless anti-Apple rage directed at this post covering the blocking of NFC mobile payments at CVS and Rite Aid? Yes, I did. I’m still shaking my head about all that. I mean, it’s quite the stretch to say that a story illustrated with a photo of my own Android phone is all about Apple; my own brain is incapable of such gymnastics.

10/30/2014: The Best Wireless Carriers, The Wirecutter

I updated this guide to account for a round of changes in Verizon’s pricing, some price cuts in some of AT&T’s shared-use plans and a few other shifts in the industry.

USAT Yosemite-tips column11/2/2014: Yosemite tips: Turn off translucency, tune up notifications, USA Today

The story I wrote this week that actually was all about Apple wasn’t too complimentary either, since it led off with a suggestion that you undo one of OS X Yosemite’s key visual features. (So far, I am pleased overall with this release, but check back in a month.)

Updated 11/5/14 to add the Wirecutter update that I had missed earlier.

Apple Derangement Syndrome

I thought Tuesday’s Yahoo Tech column about stores blocking Apple Pay and other NFC-payment apps would provoke some emotional reactions from angry iPhone users. I was wrong.

IScratched Apple logonstead, the comments thread, Twitter and my inbox lit up with denunciations of me for being an Apple shill. One typical tweet: “Pathetic apple fanboy. You’re not fooling anyone. How much did apple pay you for that trash?” Another Twitter interlocutor suggested I get Ebola, providing me an overdue opportunity to try Twitter’s block function.

In e-mail, where you don’t have to worry about what onlookers think of your foaming at the mouth, things were even less civil. One fellow whose e-mail signature identified him as a technology consultant decried my enabling “Apple Octopus pot culture,” whatever that is. A particularly incensed reader managed to drop seven f-bombs into the first four sentences.

And all of this was about a column that explained how blocking NFC inconveniences Android and Windows Phone users as well as anybody with an iPhone 6 to 6 Plus, and which led off with a photo of my own Android phone getting rejected at a CVS.

But no, basic logic or reading comprehension isn’t necessary when one is in the grip of Apple Derangement Syndrome. And expecting readers to take a minute to learn that I’ve never owned an iPhone and am responsible for gracing the Washington Post’s site with the sarcastic query “why does Steve Jobs hate America?”… man, that’s just crazy talk.

Yahoo Tech Apple Pay comments countApple has always had people who dislike its products and its attitude, but this full-on, frothing hate seems a more recent development. I can only guess that’s because if you think this phenomenally successful company really will take over the world, it must be stopped by any means necessary and you can’t wait a second longer to act.

I’ve seen the same thing happen with Google many times, most recently when a German media exec suggested the gang in Mountain View applied, I kid you not, North Korean media-manipulation techniques. And only a decade ago, Microsoft Derangement Syndrome was much more of a thing than it is now.

But there’s never been such a thing as Palm Derangement Syndrome, Dell Derangement Syndrome or Nokia Derangement Syndrome. Don’t you feel sorry for those companies now?

Weekly output: iPhone upgrades, iPhone 6 cases, safer retail payment options

Although I was out in the Pacific time zone this week, I didn’t go to Cupertino for Apple’s event Tuesday. I was in Las Vegas instead for CTIA’s Super Mobility Week trade show–but most of the writing I did there was not directly related to the show. It’s been a strange and tiring week, and made more so by the last piece I filed.

9/9/14: Don’t Be That Person Who Buys a New iPhone Every Year, Yahoo Tech

My contribution to Yahoo Tech’s new-iPhone coverage was this column questioning the financial wisdom and basic judgment of rushing to buy a new iPhone, at a real cost of $650 and up, every year. What I didn’t know when I wrote this Monday evening was just how confusing three of the four major wireless carriers could make their iPhone 6 deals–and you may see more about that from me soon.

Yahoo Tech iPhone-cases post9/12/2014: iPhone 6 Cases: The Best-Guess Editions, Yahoo Tech

This is the one story to emerge from all the notes I took in Vegas: a look at how case vendors found it so easy to get advance access to specifications about the size and shape of the iPhone 6 that they could promise to have compatible cases available when that device goes on sale Friday.

9/14/2014: Home Depot breach lesson: Safer payment options, USA Today

This was a worthy topic poorly executed. I didn’t take advantage of chances to quiz mobile-payment experts in person while I was at CTIA’s show, then latched on too readily to one source’s finding of fault in the Softcard NFC-payment service (until recently known by the terrorism-tarnished moniker “Isis”); another expert had made the same critique and it seemed to match Softcard’s public documentation, but Softcard says it ain’t so. And I managed to take my time getting this iffy column to my editor; I filed it after 6:30 on Friday, which even in her West Coast workday is way too late for a story not based on breaking news. Gah!

You know what would have been a better-grounded way to close out the column than a digression about this in-the-weeds issue? A simple reminder that paying with the device-independent, offline-enabled medium known as “cash” also leaves no traceable link to your bank or credit-card accounts.