Weekly output: new Macs, online absentee voting, Tech Night Owl, DuckDuckGo

LISBON–I’m here for my fourth Web Summit, which is also my third in a row to have me moderating panels and away from the U.S. during election day. I like this conference, but I’m missing the experience of casting a ballot in person on the big day. American citizens reading this: You will be doing just that Tuesday if you haven’t already voted early or absentee, right? Because if you don’t, you’re inviting the dumbest person in your precinct to vote in your place.

10/29/2018: Why it’s a big deal that Apple is finally updating its computers, Yahoo Finance

When I wrote this curtain-raiser post for Apple’s news this week, I didn’t factor in Apple charging so much more for memory and storage upgrades. I will try to revisit that topic sometime soon.

11/1/2018: Experts disagree on how to secure absentee votes, The Parallax

This article started as questions I had left over after writing a post about the Voatz blockchain absentee-voting app a few weeks ago.

11/3/2018: November 3, 2018 — Rob Pegoraro and Jeff Gamet, Tech Night Owl

I talked to host Gene Steinberg about some puzzling aspects of Apple’s finally-updated computer lineup, along with its decision to stop revealing unit-sales numbers in future earnings releases.

11/4/2018: What it’s like to use a search engine that’s more private than Google, Yahoo Finance

Not for the first time, a topic I tried out as a post here became a separate story for a paying client. Did that piece get you to set the default search in one of your browsers to the privacy-optimized DuckDuckGo? I’ll take your answer in the comments.

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A different default browser with a different default search

Several weeks ago, I switched my laptop to a setting I’d last maintained in the previous decade: Mozilla Firefox as the default browser.

Firefox took the place of Microsoft’s Edge, which I’d decided to give a shot as part of my reintroduction to Windows before seeing Edge crash too often. In another year, I would have made Google’s Chrome the default instead–but a combination of privacy and security trends led me to return to an old favorite.

Firefox had been my default browser in Windows since February of 2004, when it was an obvious pick over the horrific Internet Explorer 6. But a few years after the 2008 introduction of Chrome, Firefox had stopped keeping up, and I began relying on Chrome in Windows.

I kept Safari as the default on my Macs for its better fit with the operating system–although its memory-hogging habits had me close to also dumping it for Chrome until a recent round of improvements.

Last year, however, Mozilla shipped a faster, more memory-efficient version of Firefox. That browser has since finally caught up with Chrome in supporting “U2F” two-step verification, where you plug in a cryptographically signed USB flash drive to confirm a login. And as I realized when writing a browser-comparison columns for USA Today, Firefox comes close to Safari at protecting your privacy across the Web–especially if you install its Facebook Container extension, which blocks Facebook’s tracking at other sites.

This doesn’t mean I’ve dropped Chrome outright. I almost always keep both browsers open, with much of my Chrome tabs devoted to such Google services as Gmail and Google Docs. (Confession: I only learned while writing this that Google Docs’ offline mode now works in Firefox.) Chrome continues to do some things better than Firefox–for instance, while it doesn’t offer a simplified page-display option like Firefox’s Reader View, it’s been more aggressive at disciplining intrusive ads.

When I set Firefox as the default in Windows, I also switched its default search from Google to the privacy-optimized DuckDuckGo. That’s something I’d done in my iPad’s copy of Safari years ago, then recommended to readers last July in a Yahoo post; it seemed a good time to expand that experiment to a browser I use more often.

Since DuckDuckGo doesn’t match such Google features as the option to limit a search to pages published within a range of dates, I’m still flipping over to Chrome reasonably often for more specialized searches. But even there, I’ve reduced my visibility to Google by setting a sync password to encrypt my browsing history.

All this adds up to considerably less Google in my Web life. I can’t say it’s been bad.

Weekly output: a privacy-optimized version of Android, wireless plans, Facebook forced breakup, cryptocurrency insecurity

Monday afternoon kicks off a ridiculous three weeks of travel: I fly to Berlin then for IFA, come home Sunday, fly to Portland for XOXO the following Thursday, return the Monday after that, then two days later fly to Austin for the Online News Association’s conference.

8/20/2018: How a European Commission antitrust ruling could impact Android privacy, The Parallax

Remember when I said I’d eventually get around to writing about the EC’s blockbuster Google fine? That was not an idle threat.

8/23/2018: Some wireless plans have aged better than others. Has yours?, USA Today

Researching this story about good wireless plans you can’t sign up for anymore allowed me to realize what a dope I was in February of 2017 for not jumping on the deal T-Mobile’s offered then.

8/23/2018: Why breaking up Facebook will never work, Yahoo Finance

Writing this post required boiling down some complex arguments to chunks no longer than maybe two hundred words each. I think I did a good job of that, but I did not go a good job of correctly spelling Open Markets Institute fellow Matthew Stoller’s first name. Even after copying and pasting his moniker and title from OMI’s site into my notes, I then called him “Barry Stoller” in the story. Stupid and avoidable mistakes like that are just exasperating.

8/24/2018: Crypto investor: How hackers used my phone number to steal $23.8 million, Yahoo Finance

When I first saw a Reuters story about a cryptocurrency investor suing AT&T for lax account security that helped hackers steal almost $24 million in holdings, I thought “I know this guy!” Then I e-mailed Michael Terpin, and after a few days of e-mail tag we talked at length on the phone. Then I bent over backward to give the various companies involved time to comment on his travails, and none provided a meaningful response.

Weekly output: niche online video, biometric boarding passes, EC vs. Google, Petya, Canada vs. Google, Nexus bootloop, Google diet

I made up for a few slow weeks at Yahoo with this week’s surplus of stories. That represents a lesson learned from last year, when I let some slow months of writing slide on the idea that I could compensate for that shortfall later on.

6/26/2017: Surveying the Field, FierceTelecom

I contributed to another Fierce bundle of stories with this article (e-mail signup required) at how some niche online-video sites try to market themselves to subscribers. Bonus of talking to one of them, Silver Spring-based CuriosityStream: reconnecting with a producer I worked with at ABC News Now in the previous decade, back when that now-vanished network regularly had me as a guest on its tech show “Ahead of the Curve.” Anybody remember watching that?

6/26/2017: Your fingerprints could replace your airline boarding pass, Yahoo Finance

I headed over to National Airport to see how Delta is using Clear’s biometric system to let passengers enter its SkyClub without showing a boarding pass or ID. I can confirm that it worked, and that the Thai chicken soup at that lounge was delicious. NBC Washington’s Adam Tuss also checked out this demo; you can see my face briefly in his report.

6/27/2017: Even a $2.7 billion fine can’t hurt Google, Yahoo Finance

The European Commission’s record-setting fine of Google doesn’t seem to match the actual offense–a search engine, perish the thought, selling ads against user queries. Not that Google’s influence over the industry isn’t troubling…

6/28/2017: Petya attack, Al Jazeera

I had a longer-than-usual spot talking from a windowless, almost airless studio about this new malware outbreak. This was my first appearance on AJ’s Arabic channel since Qatar’s neighbors demanded that the country shut down the news network, a novel sort of business risk for me.

6/29/2017: A ruling against Google in Canada could affect free speech around the world, Yahoo Finance

Another day, another ruling against Google. In this case, Canada’s Supreme Court ordered Google to stop pointing anybody in the world to the site of what looks like a thoroughly sleazy Canadian firm. That is not a good precedent.

7/1/2017: My Android phone crashed and it won’t finish booting up, USA Today

I turned my now-resolved smartphone snafu (yes, Google did fully refund my Nexus 5X purchase as promised) into a column.

7/1/2017: How you can cut Google out of your life … mostly, Yahoo Finance

I’ve had this “how to go on a Google diet” idea in mind for a while, and the EC fine of Google gave me a reason to start writing. I don’t expect this post will get anybody to stop using Google–I certainly won’t–but if even a small fraction of users start to spend some time at alternate search services, I will have done my part for media literacy.

Weekly output: iPhone rumors, remote controls, Kindle Fire, the Cricket iPhone, cable boxes, IE 8, Google alternatives

All three pieces that were on an editor’s screen a week ago went online this week. See how falsely productive I look now? This week’s list includes a new site, CNNMoney. (I enjoy how my freelance situation gives me enough spare time to try to chase down new business and write for different sites and audiences.)

5/29/2012: The Next-iPhone Season Draws Near, So Read Wisely, Discovery News

As you may have read here a year ago, I think obsessing over next-iPhone rumors can be a colossal waste of time, but that doesn’t mean I can’t provide some advice about which of this year’s crop could be true and which seem transparently ridiculous. Just don’t make me write that post every week!

5/30/2012: Your Next Remote May Already Be In Your Pocket, CEA Digital Dialogue

After seeing some interesting experiments in using smartphone and tablet apps to replace remote controls at the Cable Show–which, in turn, followed some similar demos at CES–I thought it was a good time to assess this overdue experimentation in replacing the remote and warn about how it might go awry.

5/31/2012: Rethinking the Kindle Fire, six months later, CNNMoney

Back in January, I had a great conversation with an editor at CNNMoney about the lack of follow-up in tech reviews: If car magazines and sites can set aside the time to write long-term evaluations of cars, why can’t tech sites do the same for gadgets? This six-months-later look at Amazon’s Kindle Fire is the result of that chat. Please compare it to my initial writeup for Discovery–and let me know what other tech products might deserve their own extended eval.

5/31/2012: The ‘Next iPhone’ We Didn’t See Coming, Discovery News

The week’s surprise was seeing Cricket Wireless, the prepaid carrier I reviewed back in 2009 and hadn’t encountered since getting a demo of its Muve music service last spring, get the iPhone. Even more surprising: Learning that Cricket’s version of the iPhone 4S will be unlocked for international use–and then seeing that highly-relevant fact go unmentioned in other stories.

6/3/2012: Off the Grid, Still In the Box: where’s Cable TV headed?, Boing Boing

My Cable Show coverage wrapped up with my second post at Boing Boing, in which I recap some surprisingly positive developments in user interfaces and energy efficiency–and a less-enthralling lack of progress in opening up this market to outside vendors. Having enjoyed the conversation with BB readers in February, my next move after posting this will be to catch up on the feedback I missed earlier today.

6/3/2012: How long should you hang on to IE8?, USA Today

A reader asked if it was okay to keep using Internet Explorer 8 instead of IE 9; as you might expect, I don’t think that’s a great idea. (To answer the “what if you’re still on XP?” replies I’ve already received: That’s not a great idea either. That OS is well past its sell-by date, and I can’t stand to use it myself anymore.) After I endorse Google’s Chrome as a good IE alternative, I explain how to set Chrome to use non-Google search engines as its default.

Last week, I also learned from my site stats here that ABC News’ tech site syndicates these columns. So if the orange highlight atop USAT’s tech section bothers you, maybe the blue-green header at ABC will be more to your liking.