Weekly output: “responsible encryption,” Flash and Silverlight

It’s been another week with less stories to my name than usual. I’ve done more work than the number of links would suggest–over the past two weeks, I’ve filed three pieces that have not yet been posted–but it does look bad.

10/20/2017: Why the Feds want to make it easier for them to get into your phone, Yahoo Finance

I’ve written dozens of posts about the angst of law-enforcement types over the rise of encrypted devices and apps that they can’t search, so for this one I quizzed a few different sources… and came up with the same overall conclusion as before.

10/22/2017: Why Flash and Microsoft Silverlight frustrations just won’t go away, USA Today

I had what I thought would be a decent column with meaningless quotes from publicists at three sites that still ask their users to install Flash or Silverlight–but then a publicist for Major League Baseball told me that they’d move from Flash to HTML5 video for the 2018 season, a fact they had yet to announce.

 

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Weekly output: Google phones (x2), SXSL, e-mail encryption

I just watched the second presidential debate, and I was disappointed but not surprised by the lack of tech-policy banter. You?

yahoo-tech-google-phones-post10/3/2016: Why it matters that Google might be producing its own phones, Yahoo Finance

My suggestion at the end that Google might offer an installment-payment option for the new Pixel and Pixel XL phones–something analyst Jan Dawson suggested to me in an e-mail–panned out when Google introduced just that.

10/4/2016: Google’s new phones, WTOP

I spoke briefly about the Pixel and Pixel XL to the news station. One thing I wish I’d mentioned: These two new phones aren’t waterproof, unlike the iPhone 7 and the Galaxy S7.

10/4/2016: Obama gathers top tech to tackle US problems, Yahoo Finance

I spent most of Monday at the White House, which is not a bad way to while away an afternoon. This South by South Lawn event did not feature free beer (at least during the day) and so fell short of being a D.C. salute to Austin’s South by Southwest festival, but on the other hand SXSW has yet to allow me to see Rep. John Lewis (D.-Ga.) speak.

10/9/2016: How to protect your email from snooping, USA Today

Freelancing for multiple clients can sometimes lead to situations where one client asks you to write about an issue involving another.

Mail encryption has gotten less cryptic, but some usability glitches linger

I seriously underestimated you all late last year. In a Dec. 7 post about encryption, I wrote that I hadn’t gotten an encrypted e-mail from a reader in years and said I expected that streak to continue.

PGP keysIt did not. Within a week, a dozen or so readers had sent me messages encrypted with my PGP public key (under subject lines like “Have Faith!” and “Challenge Accepted”), and several others have done the same since. That’s taught me that the crypto user experience has, indeed, gotten pretty good in GPG Suite, the Pretty Good Privacy client of choice in OS X.

But at the same time, some awkward moments remain that remind me the woeful state of things in the late 1990s.

Most of the them involved getting a correspondent’s public key, without which I could not encrypt my reply. When it was attached as a file, dragging and dropping that onto the GPG Keychain app had the expected result, but when it came as a block of text in the decrypted message, I (like other users before me) wasted a few mental processor cycles looking for an import-from-clipboard command when I only had to paste that text into GPG Keychain’s window.

I should have also been able to search keyserver sites for a correspondent’s e-mail address, but those queries kept stalling out at the time. One reader did not appear to have a key listed in those databases at all, while I had to remove a subdomain from another’s e-mail address to get his key to turn up in a search.

One more reader had posted his public key on his own site, but line breaks in that block of text prevented GPG Keychain from recognizing it.

The GPGMail plug-in for OS X Mail is in general a pleasure to use. But its default practice of encrypting all drafts meant that I could no longer start a message on my computer and finish it on my phone–and one e-mail that I’d queued up in the outbox while offline went out encrypted, yielding a confused reply from that editor. I’ve since shut off that default.

It’s quite possible that the upcoming stable release of GPG Suite for OS X El Capitan will smooth over those issues. But that version was supposedly almost ready in late September, and there hasn’t been an update on that open-source project’s news page since. I suppose having to wonder about the status of a crucial software component counts as another crypto-usability glitch.

 

Weekly output: encryption explained, OS X autocorrect, DoubleClick dialog

Yes, I did get your CES PR pitch.

Yahoo Tech crypto FAQ12/7/2015: FAQ: How Encryption Works And Why People Are So Freaked Out About It, Yahoo Tech

The 1.0 version of this column was a detailed look at how encryption works in Pretty Good Privacy and in iOS 8; not for the first time, an editor said I’d gotten too far into the weeds and asked for a rewrite. After this 2.0 version ran, I was pleasantly surprised to have several readers send me PGP-encrypted messages.

If you’d like to know more about this issue, including some of the history behind this debate, see Andrea Peterson’s longer FAQ in the Washington Post.

12/11/2015: Tip: Best Way to Fix OS X’s Autocorrect? Turn It Off, Yahoo Tech

With my USA Today column no longer including a weekly tip at the end, Yahoo was happy to run this tip… which was really more of a rant.

12/13/2015: DoubleClick message should have prompted double take, USA Today

A brief snafu at Google’s advertising subsidiary may not have been sufficient material for a column, but I’d like to think that using it to remind people to be wary of strange requests from even familiar Web sites was a worthwhile exercise.

Weekly output: encryption politics, Thanksgiving tech support

I did better than I expected at avoiding work e-mail over this weekend, but I did have to set aside time to revise two Wirecutter pieces. On Monday, the latest iteration of our guide to the major wireless carriers went up, covering price shifts at Sprint and T-Mobile and improved international-roaming options at Sprint and Verizon Wireless. Then on Wednesday, we corrected last week’s guide to prepaid and resold wireless service to explain how our pick, Consumer Cellular, had begun wholesaling T-Mobile’s service as well as AT&T’s. I missed that non-trivial change, and I’m still annoyed about the oversight.

11/24/2015: The Paris Attacks Were Tragic, but Cryptography Isn’t to Blame, Yahoo Tech

I returned to the debate over whether tech companies should be required to build in back doors for law enforcement–my last such post ran in September–to argue that the argument for compromised crypto is even weaker when you look at adversaries like the Paris murderers. Who, by the way, hardly bothered to cover their tracks.

USAT Thanksgiving 2015 tech-support column11/27/2015: How to improve family’s Wi-Fi and other tech support tips, USA Today

My original concept of this column was to write a sort of greatest-hits compilation of earlier pieces, but I soon realized that this story could and should note the ways these consumer-tech problems had gotten better or worse since I’d last covered them for USAT. I’m not sure what made this piece so widely shared on Facebook–though having my column run two days early must have helped–but I’m flattered anyway.

Writing this also reminded me that I was sorely overdue to uninstall Oracle’s Java software off one laptop. I had disconnected that program from my browser long ago, but it still didn’t justify its storage footprint.

Weekly output: encryption, wireless carriers, Gear S2, IFA

I’m home from Germany, but not for long. Tuesday afternoon, I depart for CTIA’s Super Mobility Week show, and two days later I head over to Portland for XOXO. I thought about skipping CTIA’s show, but two nights’ hotel in Vegas and the extra air travel added so little to my trip costs that I decided to go ahead with it. (No, I’m not going to Apple’s event Wednesday in San Francisco; Yahoo and USA Today already have reporters covering it.) Check back next weekend to see if I still think this schedule was a good idea… I already have my doubts.

9/1/2015: What Politicos Don’t Know About Encryption Could Make Us All Less Safe, Yahoo Tech

I filed this somewhat overdue update on the encryption debate (hint: security experts say there’s nothing to debate) Monday evening over one of Canada’s maritime provinces. I’d complain about the WiFi cutting in and out, but it’s important to keep perspective: I wrote from a chair in the sky! With Internet access!

Wirecutter best-carriers guide9/1/2015: The Best Wireless Carriers, The Wirecutter

Didn’t I just update this guide? Yes, I did. But then AT&T revised its prices, Sprint announced it would drop two-year contracts by the end of the year, and some new third-party research came out. I took advantage of the opportunity to redo our usage scenarios to reflect reports of higher average data consumption.

9/3/2015: Hands On: Samsung’s Gear S2 Brings Some Elegance to the Smartwatch, Yahoo Tech

I had about an hour to play with this interesting smartwatch Wednesday evening in Berlin. The lede popped into my head the next morning, in plenty of time for me to file before Samsung’s embargo expired.

9/6/2016: Four trends spotted at the IFA tech conference, USA Today

A few weeks ago, the folks at USAT asked if I could occasionally switch up my column from the usual Q&A format to address issues raised at tech-industry events like IFA. I said that sounded like a reasonable idea, and this is the result. Next weekend will probably see me again hold off on the Q&A to write about whatever I learn about the wireless industry at CTIA’s event.