Weekly output: Life as a journalist, data-cap calculations, FCC vs. net neutrality, “EC 261” flight-delay compensation

I got through this Thanksgiving without having to write a single gift-guide story. I can’t remember when I could last make that claim.

11/20/2017: EP 57 – What It’s Like To Be a Journalist in This Day and Age, The Lorne Epstein Show

I sat down in the studios of Arlington’s low-power FM station WERA in late August with Epstein and my fellow guest (and Washingtonian Tech Titan honoree) Tajha Chappellet-Lanier to talk shop about my profession. A little while later–Epstein is apparently better at working ahead of time than me–the show aired.

11/21/2017: Internet data caps: Why you end up busting them, USA Today

A reader’s e-mail about being puzzled by Cox telling her she’d exceeded its 1 terabyte data cap led me to revisit data caps and their essential unfairness.

11/21/2017: How the FCC’s plan to kill net neutrality affects you, Yahoo Finance

You can advance a respectable argument against net-neutrality rules by saying that ISPs have given up on trying to block or slow individual sites. Calling a repeal of those regulations on the behavior of corporations alone “restoring Internet freedom” is not that argument.

11/23/2017: Delayed in Europe? How EC 261 Services Can Get Airlines to Pay, The Points Guy

I’ve had this story on my to-do list since seeing AirHelp present at TechCrunch Disrupt NY in 2014. A year later, I finally tasked another company expert in the European Union’s “EC 261” flight-interruption regulation to get Lufthansa to compensate me for the hours-long delay that held up my return from IFA in 2012. The airline sent me a check last March, and then it took me another year and a half to sell a piece about it. That itself only happened when a TPG editor asked if I had other posts in mind after passing on one I’d thought to pitch after seeing a friend’s byline there.

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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.

Re-reading my first iPhone review: I was right about the AT&T problem

A decade ago today, Apple’s first iPhone went on sale and the Internet lost its collective mind for the first of many times.

My review of this device had to wait for another six days, on account of Apple PR only providing me with a review unit at the iPhone’s retail arrival and it being a simpler time before gadget-unboxing videos were a thing.

Ten years later, that write-up isn’t too embarrassing to revisit… if you read the right paragraphs.

This isn’t among them:

Other gadgets in this category function as extensions of business products: office e-mail servers for the BlackBerry, Microsoft’s Outlook personal-information manager for Windows Mobile devices. But the iPhone’s ancestry stretches back to Apple’s iTunes software and iPod music player — things people use for fun.

Yes, I complemented iTunes. Didn’t I say it was a simpler time?

This didn’t age well either:

But you can’t replace the battery yourself when it wears out. The company suggests that will take years; after 400 recharges, an iPhone battery should retain 80 percent of its original capacity.

In my defense, at the time I’d been using a Palm Treo 650 for two years or so and didn’t think it too obsolete compared to other phones available on Verizon then. Who knew walking around with a 1.5-year-old phone could so soon invite device shaming?

I was right to call out the “barely-faster-than-dialup” AT&T data service available. But sometimes I wonder about that when I travel overseas and see that T-Mobile’s free EDGE roaming remains good enough for recreational use.

The bits I wrote that hold up best address AT&T’s tight-fisted treatment of the iPhone:

The iPhone also comes locked to prevent use with other wireless services. If you travel overseas, you can’t duck AT&T’s roaming fees — 59 cents to $4.99 a minute — by replacing the iPhone’s removable subscriber identity module card with another carrier’s card.

My review also noted the lack of multimedia-messaging support, although I had no idea that AT&T would make its subscribers wait months after others to be able to send picture messages. Likewise, I would not have guessed that Apple would take until 2011 to bring the iPhone to another carrier.

The most embarrassing part of my first iPhone review isn’t in the story at all. That would be the whiny, do-you-know-who-I-am voice-mail I left with somebody at Apple PR after realizing that I’d have to wait to get review hardware after the likes of Walt Mossberg. Lordy, I hope there aren’t tapes.

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: 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: DSL speeds, Uber economics, Windows 10 setup, tech policy in 2017

Merry Christmas! Today is five years and a day from the start of my USA Today column. They never did get around to putting a “#Help” title on the column (though I still use that on my invoices) and they’ve cut back on its length (shrinking its share of my income), but they have kept running it and paying me for it within two weeks of each invoice, which is what counts.

12/20/2016: FCC study shows DSL is terrible, but it doesn’t have to be, Yahoo Finance

This study came out at the start of the month, but it took me a little longer to consult some experts about the potential of digital-subscriber-line connections to compete with cable and fiber. It’s there, but not if phone-based Internet providers choose to forego investing in it. If those same ISPs–hi, Verizon–also forgo expanding fiber into new markets, we have a bigger problem.

yahoo-uber-study-post12/21/2016: 3 ways Uber can help its drivers, Yahoo Finance

Years ago, a mobile-development shop called Proteus had space in a building across the street from the Post, and I’d occasionally lean on its CEO Patrick McQuown for background guidance about the business. Years later, I’m finally quoting him directly in his role as a professor at Brown University who just published a study of the economics of Uber from a driver’s perspective.

12/24/2016: You’ve got a new PC. Now what?, USA Today

When I wrote about Windows 10’s Anniversary Update this summer, a few readers got on my case for not covering their concerns about privacy in Win 10’s operating system. I read up on the subject and took detailed notes as I set up a couple of different Win 10 tablets from scratch, and this column resulted.

12/25/2016: A 2017 tech-policy forecast: Washington slams the ‘undo’ button, Yahoo Finance

I am not optimistic about the state of tech policy under President Trump, and I’ve yet to hear anybody advance a cogent explanation of why I should feel any different. Congress’s history of failing to reform laws that govern law-enforcement access to stored e-mail privacy and enable patent trolling doesn’t improve my forecast.

 

Weekly output: sketchy pop-ups, DirecTV Now, environmentalism under Trump, iCloud calendar spam

I’m in the middle of what I trust is my final lap of business travel for the year, which started with a conference at MIT’s Media Lab Saturday and will include another in New York Tuesday and Wednesday. The chance to see family and friends in Boston and NYC was not irrelevant to my booking this travel.

usat-icloud-spam-post11/28/2016: Don’t let sketchy pop-up ads scare you, USA Today

This column started with a question posted by a friend on Facebook. Spammy pop-ups on the Web aren’t exactly news (I should confess that I may have just seen one spawned by an ad on this blog), but it doesn’t hurt to remind readers that they’re almost always lies.

11/29/2016: AT&T’s DirecTV Now challenges Sling TV, PlayStation Vue…and DirecTV, Yahoo Finance

My unpacking of AT&T’s new over-the-top video service was held up slightly when the company spent 45 minutes touting the service without saying which channels would be available on which price plans. That PR foolishness and DirecTV Now’s initial glitches aside, I still think it’s a big deal for one wired subscription-TV provider to start selling video service into the markets of others–witness how then-Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt completely dodged my question about that possibility in 2011.

12/2/2016: Why Trump’s election hasn’t crushed the hopes of environmentalists, Yahoo Finance

A visit to New York three weeks ago for yet another conference got me thinking about how environmentalists might do well to shift their attention after Jan. 20 from the White House to large companies that, whatever their other faults, accept the scientific consensus around climate change instead of saying it’s a hoax cooked up by the Chinese government.

12/4/2016: How to squelch iCloud calendar spam, USA Today

My contribution to the growing genre of stories about this problem, most quoting the exact same statement by Apple PR, advised readers that Apple has known about this issue since at least July. I also reminded them that while iCloud’s site will normally brush off mobile browsers, iOS and Android let you work around that restriction to change the setting allowing spam invitations to pollute your iCloud schedules.