Weekly output: WikiLeaks, standard-definition pay-TV channels

This past week was supposed to be downtime visiting family in Boston, but when we booked this I didn’t think to see if it would overlap any major-party conventions. I also didn’t wrap up a longer, not-yet-published feature beforehand as I should–and then people had to go and make news outside the Democratic convention anyway. It was a minor miracle that I only lost two full days to my laptop. And yes, you have read this kind of story before here.

Yahoo Finance WikiLeaks post7/27/2016: If you value privacy, WikiLeaks stopped being your friend years ago, Yahoo Finance

I wrote about WikiLeaks in depth for the first time since maybe late 2010, and even back then I was growing doubtful of that site’s preening self-righteousness. My reward was seeing my Twitter notifications become even more of a nexus of derp than usual, but I did appreciate seeing the kind of company I had in my skeptical assessment of WikiLeaks.

7/31/2016: How to watch TV channels in high definition, USA Today

Once again, a family member’s tech troubles–Fios boxes showing the standard-definition versions of major networks when HD feeds of them were available–turned into column materials. Fortunately, this time around I was able to find a solution for the issue, research how other TV providers handle this, and get the column written and filed considerably earlier than usual.

Weekly output: Android backups, iOS app subscriptions, WWDC, net neutrality, Comcast vs. Verizon

For weeks now, I’ve been besieged with PR pitches about the right Father’s Day tech gift to get. You know what makes a great Father’s Day present? Letting Dad sleep in and/or get a nap. (That’s also a good Mother’s Day gift; I was glad to do my part to make it happen for my wife.)

USAT Android-backup post6/13/2016: Get back your data after resetting an Android phone, USA Today

I had to try to get a column out of my in-retrospect hilariously-stupid accidental resetting of my own phone at the end of a long notetaking session on the differences between Android’s standard interface and the one Samsung puts on its phones. You may have read it under a different headline; USAT reposted the piece under a new one a day or so after its debut in the midst of news from Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference.

6/13/2016: Apple is doing something generous for app developers — but it may cost you, Yahoo Finance

Apple announced some important changes to subscription-based apps in advance of WWDC. They seem good on the surface, but some details remained unclear when I wrote this–and there’s a history of Apple exercising its App Store oversight in developer-hostile ways that it didn’t think to document upfront.

6/13/2016: 5 previous WWDC debuts Apple might want to forget, Yahoo Finance

Apple is just like Google in one way: Its attempts to tell the technological future don’t always make reality bend in response.

6/14/2016: Big Telecom lost in court, but an open internet won. So did you., Yahoo Finance

I should have had this story written in advance, but I guess I couldn’t convince myself that the D.C. Circuit would ever hand down a net-neutrality ruling. Reader comments appear to be polarized between people who despise Comcast/Verizon/AT&T/Time Warner Cable and those equally upset over the Obama administration.

6/19/2016: How to choose between Comcast and Verizon for Internet service, USA Today

I’m not totally happy with how this came out: As one reader called out in the comments, I didn’t get into upload speeds. Given Comcast’s habit of staying mysterious about them–and the odds of other Internet providers being as cagey–I may need to devote a separate column to that angle. Should I?

Weekly output: mobile payments, FCC regulations, Apple and the FBI, flash drives to North Korea, smart cities, Apple at 40, fiber Internet hardware fees

I wrote three of the stories below before this week–in one case, months before this week–so don’t get the wrong idea about my personal productivity over the last six days.

Yahoo Tech mobile-payments post3/29/2016: Don’t take my money: Why mobile payments haven’t taken off — yet, Yahoo Tech

In what I can only call epic timing, I had to have one of my credit cards reissued only hours after I filed this last week. Some joker had somehow obtained the number and used it for an online transaction at a random Ukrainian merchant. That’s the scenario that mobile payments could have prevented–if the unknown merchant that lost my card’s digits had accepted NFC phone payments, which is nowhere near a sure thing.

3/29/2016: Shining the Spotlight on the FCC: How Rules Impact Consumers and Industries, American Action Forum

I moderated a debate about the Federal Communications Commission’s recent regulatory initiatives with AAF’s Will Rinehart, Public Knowledge’s Meredith Rose and Tech Knowledge’s Fred Campbell. Rose and the other two come at this topic from different perspectives, as you can see below, but we had a civil and entertaining exchange.

3/29/2016: Lessons from the Apple-FBI fight, Yahoo Tech

When I wrote this, it still seemed possible that the FBI might disclose the vulnerability it exploited to unlock the phone used by one of the San Bernardino murderers. That now seems exceedingly unlikely. My hunch is that the Feds have bought themselves a short-term advantage that’s likely to set them back in the long run.

3/30/2016: New use for old flash drives: Subverting the regime in North Korea, Yahoo Tech

This story came about because I set aside a couple of hours on my last day at SXSW to tour the show floor and therefore came across this fascinating demo. The idea of smuggling flash drive into the “Democratic” “People’s” “Republic” of Korea might seem a wildly optimistic exercise in slacktivism, but two experts on North Korea told me it’s worth doing.

3/31/2016: The Internet of Things Drives Smart Transportation Projects, StateTech

I filed this piece about interesting smart-city projects in Chicago and Washington quite some time ago, but the story got held up for various reasons until the appropriate “publish” button was finally clicked this week.

4/1/2016: Apple turns 40, Al Jazeera

The news network’s Arabic channel had me on (overdubbed in Arabic by a translator) to talk about Apple turning 40. I answered a question about the state of the company post-Steve Jobs by saying that its hardware looked as innovative as ever, but its services remain a mess.

4/3/2016: Hardware fees not just for cable Internet, USA Today

Your e-mails asking about cable-modem costs at U-verse (note: not a cable system) got me thinking, and then I realized that AT&T’s mandatory hardware fee for its fiber service makes most cable operators’ price structure look reasonable.

Updated 4/4, 8:26 a.m. to add Friday’s Al Jazeera interview.

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.

Correlation or causation: Verizon, LastPass and last weekend’s USAT column

The reaction to last weekend’s USA Today column has been interesting and a little confusing.

LastPass logoOn one hand, I’ve seen a variety of reader reports–more in reader e-mail and in comments on the post I wrote here first to see if this was a wider problem as well as on the Facebook page post in which I shared the column than in comments on the column itself–of other Verizon login failures.

On the other hand, Verizon is now thinking that this is related to my using LastPass. My PR contact there said that one of his colleagues had noticed the screenshot in my post here revealed that I use that password-manager service and suggested I try disabling its extension in the problematic copy of Safari.

I thought that a somewhat ridiculous suggestion, since each time I’d typed in the password instead of letting LastPass enter it for me. But once I did that, I could log in normally. And when I enabled it again, I got the same login failure as before. There’s correlation here. Causation? I don’t know.

I e-mailed LastPass’s CEO Joe Siegrist (not because I thought this a CEO-level issue, but because we met a few years ago and I’ve always found him quick to reply to a query) to ask his people to look into things.

If they can reproduce and, better yet, document a problematic interaction, that would be good to know and a good thing to add to the column. If they can’t (a distinct possibility considering that the guy I quoted in the column having a similar problem, PhoneScoop editor Rich Brome, told me he doesn’t use LastPass), the mystery will continue.

In the meantime, I’ll throw this question out there: If you use LastPass, have you seen any other cases of a login with a valid password failing?

Weekly output: e-mail privacy, 3-D printing, TV antennas, smartphone competition, sports networks, bargaining over TV bills

It’s not a total coincidence that I wrote as much about TV as I did in the week running up to one of the biggest televised events of the year.

1/28/2013: Why Can’t Web Services Compete To Protect My Data From The Feds?, Disruptive Competition Project

Reporting this one made me feel a little dumb when I realized that I could have had a nice little scoop weeks or months earlier if I’d just asked Google, Microsoft and Yahoo what they require before turning over a user’s e-mail data to the government. It turns out that all three go beyond the strict requirements of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act in requiring a warrant–but that none seemed to think this was something worth bragging about.

1/29/2013: Hold Your Fire Before Freaking Out Over 3-D Printed Guns, Disruptive Competition Project

I started writing this post in December, then decided I didn’t like the last third of it and set it aside. I finally picked it up again after CES. Somewhat to my surprise, it only got one “you want to ban all guns” reply.

Discovery TV antennas review1/30/2013: Two Flat, Stick-On Antennas Tune In Free TV, Discovery News

I revisited the subject of over-the-air TV for the first time in over a year to review a couple of flat, lightweight antennas. Somewhat to my surprise, they worked better than the old set of rabbit ears I had plugged into the set downstairs (and unlike that antenna, I could put each one high enough on the wall to avoid becoming a plaything for our toddler). So I bought one of these models, the Mohu, and am now trying to figure out exactly where on the wall it will get the best reception of the three trickier network affiliates: ABC’s WJLA, CBS’s WUSA and PBS’s WETA.

2/1/2013: Will A Two-Party System Adequately Represent Smartphone Users?, Disruptive Competition Project

BlackBerry has a new operating system, but will it do any better than Microsoft’s Windows Phone? (I’ve been testing Windows Phone 8 on an HTC 8X; there are things I like about it, but the app selection really holds it back.) In this post, I express the possibly-futile hope that either BlackBerry or Microsoft can become a viable alternative to the increasingly entrenched duo of Apple and Google.

2/3/2013: How sports networks inflate your TV bill, USA Today

One of the people on my neighborhood’s mailing list asked about a new fee that Verizon was going to put on her bill to cover regional sports networks. I told her I’d see what else I could find out. The column also includes a reminder that TV rate hikes can, at least sometimes, be negotiable if your service thinks you’ll leave.

Sulia highlights this week included two more rants about the TV business–one on Verizon’s extortionate CableCard rate hike and another about the stupidity of making some Hulu content “Web-only”–and a post noting that the “Apple tax” is real when you look at what it costs to get more storage on an iPad.