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: EMV cards, wearable gadgets, cable-TV apps, Apple, upload speeds

I’m halfway through an obnoxiously transatlantic fortnight: I spent four days in New York this past week for CE Week, and Tuesday I fly to Paris to moderate a handful of panels at the VivaTechnology conference. But when I step off the plane at Dulles a week from today, I’ll have more than a month before my next work trip.

6/20/2016: What Home Depot’s Chip-and-Pin Lawsuit Means to You, Consumer Reports

If you’re wondering why people get so insistent about having a PIN on their credit cards, this story may clear things up for you. (Spoiler alert: It won’t do much for the biggest source of credit-card fraud.)

CE Week wearables panel 20166/23/2016: Is that Tech You’re Wearing?, CE Week

I talked about the design, features and use of wearable gadgets with UNICEF Ventures’ Jeanette Duffy, WARE founder Pamela Kiernan, and ŌURA co-founder Kari Kivelä. Afterwards, GearDiary’s Judie Stanford interviewed the four of us, and the organizers posted that clip next week.

6/23/2016: Big cable has a plan to help you dump the cable box you’re renting, Yahoo Finance

While I was in NYC, I stopped by Yahoo’s offices to record an interview with Yahoo Finance editor-in-chief Andy Serwer about the prospect of replacing cable boxes with cable apps; it runs atop this story.

6/25/2016: Rob Pegoraro on technology, plus a presentation by MacRecycleClinic, Washington Apple Pi

I drove over to the general meeting of this Apple user group to share my thoughts on the state of Apple–and to donate the 2002-vintage iMac I used for four years before handing it off to my mom, who relied on that computer until replacing it with an iPad Air last year.

6/26/2016: How to compare Internet service providers — by upload speed, USA Today

After a reader of last week’s USAT column commented that I should have addressed upload speeds–and some quick searching revealed that many Internet providers treat them as a bit of a state secret–I realized I had a column topic on my hands.

Updated 9/6 to add a link to Stanford’s interview.

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.

I see you all have some questions about your “cable modems”

After I filed my latest USA Today column–a reminder that it’s still generally a waste of money to rent a cable modem–one of my editors said they would play up the post. He and his colleagues may have used some sort of cheat code, as the column has drawn more feedback than almost anything else I’ve written for USAT since starting this column at the end of 2011.

Old coax cable close-upAmong the 100-plus comments and 40 or so e-mails I’ve received since this piece went up Monday morning, the most common queries addressed Internet services that don’t involve any cable-television infrastructure.

AT&T’s U-verse was the most frequent subject of readers’ curiosity, followed by Verizon’s Fios and then CenturyLink’s digital-subscriber-line offering. I didn’t cover them in my cable-modem column because they all branch off the telephone evolutionary tree–AT&T and Verizon use fiber-optic lines built on top of their phone networks, while CenturyLink’s DSL relies on traditional copper phone lines. None depend on the local cable plant; all compete with it at some level.

Am I going to write back to all of these readers to explain that they’ll see my column is properly framed once they understand some first principles about telecom? No.

Many normal people just don’t classify their home Internet service by which regulated local monopoly began building out its infrastructure decades ago or how how high its wires go on a utility pole. The problem isn’t that some think of their phone and cable companies as functional equivalents, it’s that too many others can’t because only their cable operator delivers both television and high-speed broadband.

Besides, AT&T’s policies about U-verse hardware are interesting enough–especially compared to Verizon’s–to justify a follow-up column. Look for that this weekend.