Weekly output: standalone 5G, Facebook’s outage (x2), cruise-industry information security, Instagram and teens, Mark Vena podcast, startup sustainability, Microsoft report on digital attacks, NSO whitelists U.K. phone numbers

I’ll be spending two days in Philadelphia at the end of this week to attend the Online News Association’s Insights conference there. It’s been more than two years since I’ve met most of my ONA pals, but it’s also somehow been more than 10 years since I last set foot in Philly–and that previous visit only consisted of a connection in PHL on my way home from my final business trip for the Post.

Screenshot of the article as seen in Chrome on an Pixel 3a phone10/4/2021: In a slow race to launch standalone 5G, T-Mobile stands alone for now, Light Reading

My editor suggested I take a closer look at the big three carriers’ plans to deploy standalone 5G–meaning connectivity that doesn’t lean on a carrier’s 4G signal to set up the connection–and that proved to be an excellent suggestion.

10/4/2021: Facebook’s giant outage, Al Jazeera

This happened on sufficiently short notice that I not only didn’t have time to set up my tripod, I also didn’t have time to shoo my cat out of his spot in my office lounge chair. I hope Abel appreciates the exposure.

10/5/2021: Facebook’s Outage Was No Laughing Matter Outside the US, PCMag

In much of the rest of the world, Monday’s Facebook outage would be more accurately described as “Monday’s WhatsApp outage.” I used this post to recap how aggressively Facebook has worked to cement WhatsApp as an e-commerce foundation in markets like India–sort of like WeChat, but not operating subject to the Chinese Communist Party.

10/5/2021: Tabletop exercises with cruise execs needed to tackle data breaches, Seatrade Cruise News

Seatrade’s Holly Payne wrote up the second panel I moderated last week at their conference in Miami Beach.

10/6/2021: Instagram and teens, Al Jazeera

AJ apparently was not tired of my insights about Facebook, so they had me on a second time to discuss the Wall Street Journal’s recent reporting about Facebook studies that found Instagram left a dent in the self-image of about a third of teenage girls.

10/7/2021: S01 E12 – SmartTechCheck Podcast, Mark Vena

I rejoined my industry-analyst friend’s podcast to discuss, among other things, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s testimony on 60 Minutes and before the Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

10/7/2021: How Not to Fail at Scale, Ascent

I returned to the conference at which I spoke IRL in 2019 and virtually in 2020 to interview Chargebee CEO and co-founder Krish Subramanian about how to run a startup for the long term.

10/8/2021: Microsoft: Digital Attacks Are Getting Worse, Russia Bears Much of the Blame, PCMag

More pass-the-vodka bad news about information security.

10/9/2021: NSO spyware no longer targeting U.K. phone numbers, Al Jazeera

AJ called upon me yet again to discuss the Guardian’s report that the Israeli spyware firm NSO blocked its Pegasus software from targeting the U.K.’s 44 country code, an apparent response to Dubai’s ruling sheikh using NSO’s tools to go after his ex-wife and her lawyer in Great Britain. My responses were heavily informed by a Washington Post investigation published in July that showed NSO had no hangups over selling its services to such repellent customers as Hungary’s authoritarian regime.

Weekly output: shipboard IoT, ransomware versus cruise lines, CNN blocks Australia from its Facebook pages

Hello, fourth quarter of 2021; goodbye, Washington Nationals 2021 baseball season.

Photo of a monitor showing the participants of the first panel I moderated at the Seatrade Cruise Global convention in Miami Beach.9/29/2021: IoT: The Future of Operational Efficiency, Seatrade Cruise Global

This hybrid panel–I’m pretty sure it’s the first one I’ve ever done–had Stanislaw Schmal, director of data analytics and AI at Lufthansa Industry Solutions, sitting alongside me on the stage in a room at the Miami Beach Convention Center. Two other cruise-industry executives participated via streaming video: Matthew Denesuk, senior vice president for data analytics & artificial intelligence at Royal Caribbean Group, and Francesco Pugliese, corporate business innovation director for MSC Cruises. We covered many different topics, but as a repeat data-breach victim I most appreciated Schmal’s plea for more companies to practice data minimization.

9/29/2021: Ransomware and Maritime Cyber Security in the Post-Pandemic World, Seatrade Cruise Global

For my second panel at this cruise-industry convention, Mandiant director Pat McCoy spoke in person while Georgios Mortakis, vice president for enterprise technology operations and chief information security officer at NCLH, joined via video. Jairo Orea, global chief information security officer at Royal Caribbean Group, was a last-minute scratch; having enjoyed a prep call with him beforehand, I’m sorry he couldn’t make it.

9/29/2021: CNN Blocks Aussies From Its Facebook Pages, Citing New Liability Ruling, PCMag

I wrote most of this from the speaker room at Seatrade before my two panels, then finished and filed it afterwards before getting lunch. Once again, telling myself “no eating until filing” motivated me to get copy from my screen to an editor’s.

At last, a little taste of Conference Life

This week featured a number of items that last all figured in my routine in early February of 2020: a hotel key, a conference badge, a wireless microphone, a stage, and other people’s business cards.

My brief stay in Miami Beach to moderate two panels at the Seatrade Cruise Global conference–one on the shipboard potential of connected gadgets, the other on risks of ransomware–was one of my shorter business trips ever. But as the first work travel I’d done to speak at a conference since an equally short visit to New York two winters ago, it was still a big deal.

After more than a year of speaking only through my webcam and seeing fellow panelists only as moving pixels on a screen, I loved having a live audience to read. I loved being able to interact like a normal human being with another person on the same stage–even if both panels also featured at least one remote panelist who was only visible as moving pixels on the monitors placed in front of us.

(I had not done a hybrid panel before at all, and I quickly realized that in a discussion with two remote participants, they could not tell which one I had in mind when I gestured to one of their feeds on that screen below me.)

And after each panel, having my fellow in-person speaker shake my hand and offer their congratulations on my job as moderator felt so much better than hearing congrats via Zoom or seeing them in a conference’s Slack channel. Likewise, networking IRL was so much more engaging than the stilted experience you get in well-meaning apps like Remo.

That said, as much as I appreciated getting this speaking invitation and having it include the conference covering my travel costs, I did not accept the offer lightly. I watched the pandemic numbers in Miami-Dade County intently and was relieved to see them drop dramatically in recent weeks. I was much more more relieved to see Seatrade require participants to upload either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test taken within 24 hours prior to arrival–not that I’d expect to find many vaccine skeptics among travel-industry professionals.

And then I saw that almost everybody on the lightly-populated trade-show floor wore a mask–except at the various receptions there Wednesday afternoon. All of the other social events I enjoyed took place outdoors at one venue or another, such as the rooftop bar at which I took the photo above. Having that option be as pleasant as it was in the evenings (as opposed to what outdoor gatherings would have been like at Black Hat in the blast-furnace heat of August in Las Vegas) represented a big point in Miami Beach’s favor.

(If you were going to ask: Although I came home Thursday exceptionally tired from sleeping so badly in a strange bed, I never felt any symptoms. And I just self-administered the BinaxNow antigen test left over from the pair I bought after coming home from Estonia in August; the result was once again negative.)

So I think I found a good excuse to get out of town for a couple of days. One with a small extra bit of personal significance: My American Airlines DCA-MIA flight Tuesday finally introduced me to Miami International Airport exactly 20 years after that was supposed to happen on a Sept. 28, 2001 DCA-MIA flight on American that got cancelled within days after 9/11. Thanks for not minding my late arrival, Miami.