Weekly output: Disney CEO swap, streaming devices, adtech deal, Comcast freebies, robocall punishment, T-Mobile updates, World Cup ratings, Black Friday streaming deals, Musk touts Twitter growth

I had an exceedingly busy three days to start the week–as in, it was a good thing my flight Wednesday wasn’t until 3:15 in the afternoon–then managed to keep my hands off a keyboard for most of the rest of the week.

Patreon readers got a bonus post Wednesday afternoon about my struggles getting Verizon to document where it’s expanded its C-band 5G service this year.

11/21/2022: Disney CEO recycling sees Chapek go and Iger return, Fierce Video

The lede for this story about Disney replacing CEO Bob Chapek with his predecessor Bob Iger–“Meet the new Bob, same as the old Bob”–popped into my head almost immediately, and then I checked Twitter and saw that I was not alone in thinking of that turn of phrase.

11/21/2022: U.S. total of streaming video devices topped 1 billion last year, Fierce Video

Before you react in disbelief to that number, remember that the authors of the report I wrote up are counting not just TVs and streaming-media players but also phones and computers.

11/22/2022: Amagi buys data-aggregation vendor Streamwise, Fierce Video

My work filling in at this video-industry news site continued with this writeup of one infrastructure company buying another.

11/22/2022: Comcast offers a week of streaming freebies to video subscribers, Fierce Video

Subscribers to Comcast’s video services are getting some extra stuff to watch without paying extra.

11/23/2022: Robocall-Enabling Provider Gets the Digital Death Penalty From the FCC, PCMag

If you’re a telecom provider subject to the Federal Communications Commission’s regulations, you should probably not answer an FCC query about your non-compliance by writing back “We are not needing this certification.”

Screenshot of the story as it appeared in Safari for macOS.11/23/2022: T-Mobile execs open a door to mmWave FWA, Light Reading

I wrote up my conversation at Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Summit with two T-Mobile network executives, during which I learned a few things about the carrier’s fixed-wireless-access efforts.

11/23/2022: U.S.-Wales World Cup match draws 11.7 million viewers, Fierce Video

After writing this post, I felt bad for not watching any of that match live–oh, wait, the video services I pay for don’t include Fox Sports.

11/23/2022: Black Friday deals at streaming vendors, retailers and services, Fierce Video

After looking up all of these discounts, I then made it through the weekend without buying any streaming-media gadgets. My only purchase that Friday happened at a grocery store.

11/27/2022: Elon Musk touts Twitter growth, Al Jazeera

I did a quick hit via Skype to talk about Musk’s claims of rising numbers for total users and engagement on Twitter, telling the audience (as translated live into Arabic) that if Musk though Twitter had a bot problem before he bought the company, Twitter almost certainly had a worse bot problem after Musk had fired far more than half of Twitter’s employees.

Whither Twitter

Twitter has occupied an embarrassingly large part of my online existence since the spring of 2008–a span of years that somehow exceeds my active tenure on Usenet. But the past two weeks of Twitter leave me a lot less certain about how much time I will or should spend on that service.

I did not have high expectations in April when Elon Musk–who, never forget, already has two full-time jobs at just Tesla and SpaceX–offered to buy Twitter. He had already revealed a low-resolution understanding of content moderation on social platforms but took the advice of a clique of tech bros and told Twitter’s board that he had the answers: “Twitter has extraordinary potential. I will unlock it.”

Photo of Twitter's site showing the "fail whale" error graphic and a "Twitter is over capacity" message, as seen in a phone's Web browser at CES 2010.

Seeing Musk then spend months and what could be $100 million in legal fees trying to squirm out of his accepted, above-market offer of $54.20 a share did not elevate those expectations.

Just before a court case he probably would have lost, Musk gave in, threw $44 billion ($13 billion borrowed) on the table and took over Twitter on Oct. 28. He quickly sacked a handful of top executives before firing about half of the workforce with careless cruelty. One friend figured he’d gotten canned when he couldn’t log into his work laptop.

Things have skidded downhill since. On Twitter, Musk keeps showing himself an easy mark for far-right conspiracy liars and the phony complaints of online trolls; in its offices, he’s ordered a rushed rollout of an $8/month subscription scheme that grants the blue-circled checkmark of a verified account, on the assumption that credit-card payment processors will catch fraudsters.

The predictable result: a wave of fake but “verified” accounts impersonating the likes of Eli Lilly, Nintendo, George W. Bush, Lockheed Martin, Telsa and Musk himself.

Also predictable: Twitter advertisers reacting to this chaos and their fear of wobbly content moderation (rejected by Musk) by smashing the Esc key on their spending plans until they can figure out what’s going on. Musk has responded by whining that companies pausing ad campaigns amounts to them “trying to destroy free speech in America.”

As for legacy verified accounts like my own, Musk has oscillated from saying that they’d require the same $8/month charge to suggesting they’d continue to saying they will be dropped–while also introducing, yanking and then resurfacing gray-checkmark icons for certain larger organizations over a 36-hour period. Oh, and not paying your $8 a month might mean your tweets fall down a bit bucket.

After a Thursday that saw Twitter’s chief information security officer, chief privacy officer, and chief complaince officer resign by early morning, Musk told the remaining employees at an all-hands meeting that “Bankruptcy isn’t out of the question.” Since Twitter now owes more than $1 billion a year in interest on the debt from Musk’s acquisition, that warning seems reasonable.

I am not writing this out of schadenfreude. As much as Twitter can drive me nuts (what is it with the militantly stupid people in my replies?), I’ve found it enormously helpful as a public notebook, a shortcut to subject-matter experts, an on-demand focus group, and an ongoing exercise in short-form prose. As (I think) my Washington Post colleague Frank Ahrens once observed, Twitter lets journalists write the New York City tabloid headlines we couldn’t get away with in our own newsrooms.

A "Keep Calm and Tweet #ONA12" badge from the 2012 Online News Association conference.

If Twitter really does implode, which now seems a much more real possibility even if a roundtrip through Chapter 11 is more likely, I don’t know how I’d replace it.

Many of the people I follow there are advancing evacuation plans on a federated, non-commercial, somewhat confusing social platform–not Usenet, but Mastodon.

I have taken tentative steps to do likewise, in the sense that I created one account on the well-known server Mastodon.Social and then realized I’d created a separate account on the xoxo.zone server in 2018 after hearing Mastodon talked up at a meetup during the XOXO conference in Portland. Now I need to decide which account to keep and which one to migrate, and indecision over that makes it easier to stay on Twitter and watch it burn.

Meanwhile, seeing Musk’s stark, public display of incompetence continues to leave me baffled when I compare that to the Musk venture I know best, SpaceX. If Musk ran SpaceX this impulsively and with this little willingness to learn from others, multiple launch pads at Cape Canaveral would be smoking holes in the ground.

Instead, SpaceX is the leading provider of launch services in the world, sending Falcon 9 rockets to space and landing their first stages for reuse on a better-than-weekly basis. “Transformational” is not too strong of a word for what SpaceX has accomplished since it first orbited a prototype Dragon capsule in December of 2010; this part of Musk’s career ought to be Presidential Medal of Freedom material, with bipartisan applause.

(I got to see that reentry-singed Dragon capsule up close in July of 2011 when NASA hosted a Tweetup at the Kennedy Space Center for the final Space Shuttle launch, yet another experience I owe in some way to Twitter.)

I keep hoping that I will see this sort of steely-eyed focus in Musk’s stewardship of Twitter. Instead, he appears to be off to an even worse start than I could have imagined. And I can imagine quite a bit.

Weekly output: chip shortage (x2), cybersecurity survey, satellite broadband, soccer-playing robot, Xfinity Mobile, Elon Musk bought Twitter, MRI mind reading

I’m off to Lisbon tonight for Web Summit–the eighth time I’ve covered this conference and the seventh time I’ve traveled to it as a speaker (with the organizers picking up lodging and airfare). This, however, is the first time in my experience that the conference doesn’t overlap with Election Day.

I gave Patreon readers got an advance look at my agenda in a post there Friday; the rest of y’all will get to find out as the week progresses.

Screenshot of the column as seen in USAT's iPad app, illustrated with a close-up picture of a chip on a green circuit board.10/24/2022: As chip shortage starts to ease, factory-level fixes will take longer, USA Today

Usually, I suggest story topics to my USAT editors, but this time one of them asked if I could tackle this topic.

10/24/2022: People Still Think Their Smart Speakers Are Eavesdropping on Conversations, PCMag

I got an advance look at a survey the Chubb insurance company had done, which both revealed some disturbing beliefs and practices among respondents and shared some dubious security advice.

10/26/2022: Do We Need to Rethink Existing Rules About Satellite Internet Interference?, PCMag

I went to a lunchtime panel Tuesday at the New America think tank about this wonky topic and came away with both a free lunch and notes for this post.

10/27/2022: And The Chip Shortage Lingers – What It Means For Your Next Car Purchase, KTRH

This Houston radio station wanted to quiz me about the USAT column. The link here points to a story they did based in part on a quick phone interview I did Wednesday morning with KTRH’s Jeff Biggs, but I assume H-town listeners also heard me on the air at some point.

10/25/2022: Soccer-playing robot, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news channel had me–in their D.C. studio for my first time since early 2020–to discuss an IEEE Spectrum story with the eye-catching headline “Goalkeeping Robot Dog Tends Its Net Like a Pro”

10/27/2022: Comcast Puts Up ‘Over 5 Million Served’ Sign for Xfinity Mobile, PCMag

I wrote about a Comcast service that people seem to really, really like.

10/29/2022: Elon Musk owns Twitter now, Al Jazeera

I returned to AJ’s studio for a spot about the possible ramifications and downsides of the world’s richest man owning Twitter.

10/30/2022: mind reading via MRI, Al Jazeera

Researchers at the University of Texas demonstrated an ability to reconstruct the mental language of subjects via MRI measurements–just not word for word. The anchors wanted to know if this technology could be abused by tyrannical governments; I said that since you need to have the subject inside an MRI machine, the government would need to detain the person first, and tyrannical governments already have ways to compel people to talk. The researchers also found that “subject cooperation is required both to train and to apply the decoder.”

Weekly output: EU Digital Services and Digital Markets Acts, bringing blockchain technology to land titles, Mark Vena podcast, FCC goes after auto-warranty robocall enablers, Elon Musk tries to back out of buying Twitter

I much enjoyed not going any farther than a neighborhood friend’s house for the Fourth of July; if you traveled further for the holiday, I hope the trip did not involve any unwanted bonus airport time.

7/5/2022: Sweeping EU Bills May Require Major Changes at US Tech Firms, PCMag

Writing this post took longer than I expected because digesting the text of the European Union’s Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act took longer than I expected.

Screengrab of the story as seen in the Brave browser for Windows7/6/2022: This Virginia county is trying to use blockchain-like tech to store land titles, Fast Company

I started working on this story months ago–after learning about Wise County’s project from a story by Cardinal News, a local non-profit covering southwest Virginia–but didn’t get all the quotes I needed until hearing one expert talk at Collision and meeting another at that conference in Toronto a few weeks ago.

7/7/2022: S02 E28 – SmartTechCheck Podcast, Mark Vena

I joined my usual podcast partners for the first time in a few weeks to discuss TikTok privacy concerns, Netflix’s recent headwinds, and more. If you watch the video version of the podcast, you can see me sporting a Washington Apple Pi shirt.

7/8/2022: FCC Goes After Voice Providers Enabling 8 Billion Auto-Warranty Robocalls, PCMag

Just like you, the members of Federal Communications Commission are sick of people trying to reach them concerning their cars’ extended warranties.

7/9/2022: Elon Musk tries to back out of buying Twitter, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news network had me on in overdubbed form to talk about the billionaire’s belated buyer’s remorse.