Weekly output: tech backlash at SXSW, Elon Musk, Avatar XPrize, Austin package bombings, Waymo, Cambridge Analytica and Facebook

Another South By Southwest in the books (see my Flickr album), but despite moments like my getting retweeted by Mark Hamill, this one wasn’t as much fun as the six before it. The fourth item below should explain why.

3/12/2018: Tech gets a skeptical look at SXSW, USA Today

I wrote a longer-than-usual column from Austin about “techlash,” as seen in panels and a few interviews I snagged. The one with Rep. Darrell Issa (R.-Calif.) happened by dumb luck: After having my exit from the Hilton delayed by a scrum of people around Arnold Schwarzenegger (no, really), I realized that the congressman was among them, so I recorded a quick conversation as we walked towards the escalator.

3/12/2018: Elon Musk: Mars will be great, if AI doesn’t kill us first, Yahoo Finance

Musk’s Sunday appearance was a late-breaking addition to the SXSW schedule–the e-mail advising journalists about the 7 a.m. deadline to put in for a press pass landed after 10 p.m. Saturday, when I was not in a fit state to do anything with e-mail. So I watched his appearance as you could have: on the SXSW live stream.

3/13/2018: There’s a $10 million race to build you a robot avatar by 2021, Yahoo Finance

Monday’s talk by XPrize Foundation founder Peter Diamandis was a dose of unadulterated tech utopianism.

3/13/2018: Austin package explosions: City on edge as police seek clues, USA Today

Monday evening, my USAT editor called to ask if I could pitch in to help cover the three package bombings around Austin, so I spent much of Tuesday afternoon taking a car2go to two of those sites and getting quotes from neighbors. The last time I knocked on random doors for a story was in late 2011, and the last time I did any reporting from a law-enforcement situation may have been August of 1998–when a woman survived trying to kill herself by jumping in front of the Metro train I was taking to work.

3/15/2018: Google’s self-driving Waymo cars will be picking you up soon, Yahoo Finance

Although Waymo CEO John Krafcik had a panel Tuesday morning, I waited to write this until after his Tuesday-evening appearance with comedian Adam Carolla–which made the post a lot more fun. Listen to Carolla’s podcast to hear his quizzing of Krafcik, including the “morgue mode” riff I mentioned in the post and a urethra reference that my editor cut to avoid giving our readers the heebie-jeebies.

3/17/2018: Cambridge Analytica and Facebook, Al Jazeera

The Arabic news channel had me on Saturday afternoon to discuss the grotesque abuse of Facebook’s apps regime by a contractor for the Trump-connected research firm Cambridge Analytica. My spot comes up just after the 12-minute walk; if you can speak Arabic, please let me know if the translation adequately conveys my disgust at Facebook’s tardy response.

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Weekly output: Falcon Heavy (x2), family-plan wireless math, Strava privacy, Web-site defacements, Tech Night Owl

This week was more exciting than most: I returned to the Kennedy Space Center for the first time since 2011 to see the liftoff of the most powerful rocket to leave American soil since 1973. I still can’t quite believe that I pulled that off… but I have the photos I took around Launch Complex 39A and the audio of the launch I recorded from the KSC press site to remind me that I did.

2/6/2018: SpaceX successfully launches the world’s most powerful rocket, Yahoo Finance

Two posts about the Falcon Heavy appeared at this Web address. The first was a curtain-raiser I filed late Monday explaining the significance of the Falcon Heavy. The second was a launch story–written in advance so I only had to add descriptions of the liftoff and the subsequent landing of the outer first-stage boosters–that my editors subbed in Tuesday afternoon. I also had a third post mostly ready that you didn’t read: a just-in-case piece about an unsuccessful launch that became irrelevant minutes after 3:45 p.m. Tuesday.

If you didn’t get a chance to see the pre-launch story at Yahoo, you can still read it at the Internet Archive, as shown in the screengrab above.

2/7/2018: The family cell-phone bill: How to find savings on shared wireless plans, USA Today

A reader complained that last week’s USAT column on cheaper alternatives to unlimited data for a smartphone didn’t offer any insight about saving money on shared-use family plans. Dear reader: story assignment accepted.

2/7/2018: The Strava social exercise app can reveal your home address, Yahoo Finance

I was grateful for this chance to redeem my prior Strava coverage: a study by a mobile-security firm that revealed how that exercise-tracking app’s geofenced privacy options can pinpoint a Strava user’s home address instead of obscuring it.

2/10/2018: Kuwait interior-ministry site hacked, Al-Jazeera

The Arabic-language news channel had me on to talk (overdubbed live into Arabic) about a recent episode of a hacker in Saudi Arabia defacing the site of Kuwait’s Interior Ministry. There’s a long history of this kind of digital vandalism, and fortunately the host mainly asked me about that instead of Gulf politics.

2/10/2018: February 10, 2018 — Kirk McElhearn and Rob Pegoraro, Tech Night Owl

I talked with host Gene Steinberg about the Falcon Heavy launch, Strava’s privacy issues and Apple’s new HomePod speaker. Gene’s other guest was Kirk McElhearn, who’s long been among my favorite Apple reporters.

Weekly output: When tech reviews go wrong (x2), TV show streams, Lightning cables

In addition to the stories below, I was on the local news this week–but not for anything related to my work. A WJLA correspondent and cameraman were looking for quotes from passerby in Ballston about the possible sequestration budget cuts, and an optimistic sentence or two from me showed up on Monday’s broadcast.

2/13/2013: When The Gadget You Review Can Also Review Your Work, Disruptive Competition Project

In the first of two posts about Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk’s attack on a negative review of the Model S by New York Times reporter John Broder, I looked at how the rise of social media and the ability of connected devices and apps to log a journalist’s use change the dynamic between reviewer and review. For more thoughts along those lines, see Dan Frommer and Mathew Ingram.

2/15/2013: How Breakthrough Technology Can Get Beaten Up In The Press, Disruptive Competition Project

After reading enough comments accusing Broder of being a liar, a shill or worse (as opposed to placing too much trust in tech support from Tesla executives that normal drivers wouldn’t get anyway), I followed up by unpacking some real reasons why the media can misread disruptive technology so badly. One example: my first review of the iPad.

USAT Web-only TV column2/17/2013: Why are some TV show streams web-only?, USA Today

Months ago, my column briefly mentioned the uselessness of ESPN’s WatchESPN app: Unlike its site of the same name, that program doesn’t let us watch ESPN3. I exchanged a few e-mails with PR reps for the sports network about that, then had an excuse to revisit the gap between Web and app availability of online video after getting annoyed by 30 Rock’s absence from Hulu’s mobile and connected-TV apps.

The column also shares advice (hat tip, MacRumors and Lifehacker) about getting non-Apple Lightning cables for less at Amazon and Monoprice. Why so few alternatives so long after the debut of that connector? Apple engineered Lightning to enforce a sort of DRM on the accessories market, as the New York Times’ Brian X. Chen explained this week.

On Sulia, I shared my skepticism about the latest connected-watch fad (now with more Apple rumors!), discussed the unsettling but unavoidable PR trend of enticing reporters with all the Web traffic the agency or the client’s social-media channels can send to a post, and noted how Microsoft’s checkbook hasn’t been able to buy enough updates to the Windows Phone Foursquare client it hired an outside developer to write. You also would have gotten a preview of Wednesday’s post on Monday; Sulia’s more generous character count made it a better place than Twitter to sketch out that story idea.