I see you all have some questions about your “cable modems”

After I filed my latest USA Today column–a reminder that it’s still generally a waste of money to rent a cable modem–one of my editors said they would play up the post. He and his colleagues may have used some sort of cheat code, as the column has drawn more feedback than almost anything else I’ve written for USAT since starting this column at the end of 2011.

Old coax cable close-upAmong the 100-plus comments and 40 or so e-mails I’ve received since this piece went up Monday morning, the most common queries addressed Internet services that don’t involve any cable-television infrastructure.

AT&T’s U-verse was the most frequent subject of readers’ curiosity, followed by Verizon’s Fios and then CenturyLink’s digital-subscriber-line offering. I didn’t cover them in my cable-modem column because they all branch off the telephone evolutionary tree–AT&T and Verizon use fiber-optic lines built on top of their phone networks, while CenturyLink’s DSL relies on traditional copper phone lines. None depend on the local cable plant; all compete with it at some level.

Am I going to write back to all of these readers to explain that they’ll see my column is properly framed once they understand some first principles about telecom? No.

Many normal people just don’t classify their home Internet service by which regulated local monopoly began building out its infrastructure decades ago or how how high its wires go on a utility pole. The problem isn’t that some think of their phone and cable companies as functional equivalents, it’s that too many others can’t because only their cable operator delivers both television and high-speed broadband.

Besides, AT&T’s policies about U-verse hardware are interesting enough–especially compared to Verizon’s–to justify a follow-up column. Look for that this weekend.

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Weekly output: iPhone SIM locks, VLC, Sonic.net (2x), big-screen phones, saving energy,

Remember when I wrote a few weeks ago that I’d been working on some longer features? The results of that effort surfaced this week, adding up to 6,620 words published under my byline and making me look far more productive than I was.

I also gave a talk about e-book DRM Tuesday, one of Lisa Schaefer’s ongoing “Future of Books” meetups around the D.C. area, but there doesn’t seem to be a transcript or recording of that.

2/26/2012: How to unlock your iPhone 4S for world travel, USA Today

This was going to be my contribution to the paper’s site two weeks ago, but Verizon needed more time to get its story straight. To answer the “why didn’t you just tell people to jailbreak their iPhones” question: USAT is a general-interest publication, and I don’t know of any jailbreak that works on the iPhone 4S with the current 5.1 version of iOS–your odds seem iffy even on the 5.01 release. This column also endorses using the open-source VLC to play DVDs purchased overseas…which, I admit, may not exactly be a general-interest topic.

2/26/2012: Gigabit Internet for $70: the unlikely success of California’s Sonic.net, Ars Technica

One typo aside, I enjoyed the hell out of reporting this story. Knocking on doors to talk to strangers, multiple rounds of interviews with sources, writing dozens of column inches’ worth of copy, having some material left over in my notes afterwards–this felt more like traditional newspaper journalism than anything I did at the Post in my last few years there. It was also a treat to write for a site that I’ve cited and appreciated for such a long time. (Trivia: I quoted Ars Technica founder Ken Fisher in a July 28, 2000 column for the Post about the joys of upgrading one’s computer.)

I then went on to write a few hundred words more responding to comments about the site on Ars and in Reddit’s thread about the piece.

2/29/2012: Big Screens Are For TVs, Not Phones, CEA Digital Dialogue

If you think oversized smartphones like the Galaxy Note I took to task last week are an aberration, prepare to be surprised. Manufacturers are gearing up to ship a lot more phones with screens 4.5 inches or larger, as I found out after consulting a DisplaySearch analyst. (That conversation also yielded a useful tip about extending battery life on devices with OLED screens, which you may soon see in my USA Today column.) For those curious about the measuring implement in the photo I took: It’s an old printer’s ruler, which puts the Note’s screen at 32 picas.

2/29/2012: Surfing at a Billion Bits Per Second, Discovery News

I used some of those leftover notes from the Ars piece for this shorter post for Discovery about the experience of using that connection, based on my own tests in late December and subsequent e-mails with some of subscribers. As I was writing this, I posted the photos I took back then to Flickr so I could link to one in the story. When foxnews.com showed up as a referrer in my stats there a day later, I discovered that Fox (with which Discovery has a content-sharing arrangement) had reposted the piece.

2/29/2012: Gamification: Green tech makes energy use a game—and we all win, Ars Technica

When I first pitched Ars on the idea of doing a feature on Sonic, I didn’t know they were already preparing to ask me if I’d be interested in writing a feature on the topic of how better data and game mechanics might help us save energy. This was a lot of fun to put together as well… I guess I’d forgotten about the rewards of long-form journalism. I’m glad that I now have the time to do these things.