Weekly output: Jawbone Up, Google Voice, international phone use

It was another week that ended with a couple of stories filed but not yet posted (look for a long item on the Disruptive Competition Project in the next day or two about the state of competition in browser layout engines). But it’s not every week that sees me finishing it on the other side of the Atlantic–I’m spending the next four days in Barcelona to cover the Mobile World Congress show.

Discovery Jawbone Up review2/21/2013: Jawbone Up Logs Your Days and Nights, Discovery News

I took an unusually long time to try this activity-monitoring wristband–starting after CES. That leisurely pace allowed me to note the recent arrival of a similar background exercise-tracking option in Android’s Google Now app. Something like that won’t replace this wristband’s scrutiny of your sleep, but it could prove good enough for reporting whether you get off your duff often enough.

There are some other devices like this coming out over the next few months–the Fitbit Flex and Withings’ Smart Activity Tracker come to mind–so hopefully I can do a follow-up review of them.

2/24/2012: How do I place a call from my Google Voice number?, USA Today

My annoyance at having two Google Voice calls via Gmail leave the other person sitting there in puzzled silence led to this cheat-sheet guide to dialing out from your GV number. The column concludes with a tip based on a reader’s query on my Facebook page–yes, I really do read the comments there.

On Sulia, I mocked HTC’s new One smartphone for including more resolution than people can see, then shipping an outdated version of Android; called out MBL’s At Bat app for once again not letting fans pay to watch their local teams online; questioned the price of Google’s new Chromebook Pixel laptop; and wondered if news publishers aren’t delighted about all the ink and pixels spent on Sony’s substance-starved introduction of the PlayStation 4

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.

Weekly output: Chromebook, newspapers and search engines, Amtrak, photo spheres, Google Calendar, Gmail

What’s not on this list? Any gift-guide pieces or reports about Black Friday sales. I can’t say I miss those two staples of Thanksgiving-week tech coverage… and yet I feel vaguely guilty about dodging them.

11/19/2012: Google’s cheaper Chromebook: enough of a computer, Boing Boing

Having this fall’s implementation by Samsung of Google’s Chromebook laptop concept priced for half of last summer’s made the results easier to like. But Samsung also gave this $249 model better battery life and faster performance, while Google contributed more offline-compatible Web apps. I’m tempted to pick up one to have as a backup computer, which was not the case a year ago.

11/19/2012: A Business Perspective on the Snippet Tax, Disruptive Competition Project

My second post for this tech-policy blog picked up where a 2009 rant over stupid newspaper publishers whining about news-search sites had left off. Now, it’s news organizations in other countries complaining that Google News and sites like it are taking away readers; I’m not any more persuaded by that logic three years later.

11/20/2012: Amtrak’s New App: Does It Actually Make Travel Easier?, The Atlantic Cities

I like trains, and I like smartphone apps that simplify my life a little. I wasn’t sure that Amtrak’s offering for iOS and Android would be worth keeping around, but after using it to book and manage a round-trip from D.C. to NYC, I see where the railroad is going with it.

On Wednesday, USA Today was kind enough to publish a condensed version of last weekend’s Q&A about adding a Start menu to Windows 8 in its print edition. That was the first time I’ve appeared in a newspaper of any kind since Roll Call ran a version of a post I did for the Consumer Electronics Association just over a year a ago , and my first spot in a general-interest paper since I logged off from the Post in April of 2011.

11/24/2012: Spherical Panoramas from a Phone, Discovery News

Writing about a feature confined to a new Android release that most users of Google’s operating system won’t see for months, or ever, seems unfair, but the 4.2 edition’s “photo sphere” option genuinely intrigued me. Alas, I initially neglected to note that the older iOS app Photosynth–from a Redmond, Wash.-based software developer called Microsoft you may have heard of–can also generate interactive spherical panoramas from a phone’s camera.

11/25/2012: How to sync your Google calendar with your iPad, USA Today

Credit for this Q&A item goes to my wife, who asked me about this problem on her iPad. Credit for the tip about a new Gmail search option goes to the Google Operating System blog, an old favorite of mine, which brought that change to my attention last week.

Weekly output: Outlook.com, the cloud, 8K TV, Activity Monitor, Mac App Store

It took me a while, but I finally managed to have a week in which smartphones did not figure into the lede of any review.

7/31/2012: Microsoft Outlook: Not Hotmail, Not Quite Gmail, Discovery News

I had high expectations for this service when I got an embargoed briefing of it from Microsoft about two weeks ago–finally, I thought, I might have something that would allow me to move my home e-mail from Google. But I didn’t know at the time how limited Exchange ActiveSync support could be: Contrary to my first expectations, this Hotmail successor leaves Mac users no way to sync their e-mail to a desktop client. My review devoted more words to this topic than most; I was glad to see the same issue come up multiple times in the Reddit discussion Microsoft invited, and I hope Outlook.com’s developers take the numerous hints.

8/3/2012: Questions to Clarify Cloud Computing, CEA Digital Dialogue

After reviewing Google Drive and seeing how tightly Apple and Microsoft’s new and upcoming software integrate each company’s cloud services, I realized I wasn’t sure which ones to include or rule out. So I wrote up the questions I’d want to ask of any cloud service for CEA’s blog.

If you’re curious about the photo, it consists of a Nexus 7 tablet resting on the screen of a MacBook Air. It took a few tries to get enough of the cloud cover reflected on each screen.

8/3/2012: ‘8K’ TV: More Pixels Than Can Meet Your Eye, Discovery News

After Comcast invited me to a screening of some “Ultra High Definition” Olympics video (as in, 7,680 by 4,320 pixels, adding up to 33 megapixels and change), I wrote up my impressions of the experience. Not a surprise, considering my earlier writing: I didn’t come away hoping to get something like that in my living room. Actual surprise: a reader wrote in to protest that studies by the Japanese broadcaster NHK showed that people could distinguish the higher resolution of 8K in still images seen at common viewing distances. Since this reader couldn’t get a comment to post, I quoted those e-mails in a comment I added to the post.

8/5/2012: Monitor your Mac’s behind the scenes activity, USA Today

Maybe a day after I’d posted my review of OS X Mountain Lion, I noticed that my iMac (but not the new MacBook Air next to it) was suddenly running low on memory. I checked the Activity Monitor app, saw a CalendarAgent process eating up every last bit of RAM, confirmed that others also had this problem, and force-quit that process. After several tries had apparently beaten this program into submission, wrote a reminder for USAT about the usefulness of Activity Monitor. (It also covered reasons to use or ignore the Mac App Store.) Unfortunately, CalendarAgent resumed its assault on the iMac’s memory and processor after I’d filed this piece; any ideas about what to do next, besides yell at Apple to fix its software?

Phishing hacks e-mail users, not e-mail services

I’ve seen one too many “Gmail hacked” headlines this morning. Yes, Chinese hackers were able to access “hundreds of Gmail accounts, including some belonging to senior U.S. government officials and military personnel,” as the Post’s story puts it (without using the phrase “Gmail hack”).

But those con artists in China did not break into these accounts by exploiting a vulnerability in Google’s systems, the basic definition of a “hack.” They exploited one in the minds of those Gmail users–by fooling them into entering their passwords on a fake Gmail login page. The spear-phishing e-mails sent to these victims encouraged them to click on a link to view an attached file; those links opened a page in their browser that, in at least some older versions of Internet Explorer, appeared to have a valid google.com address.

You can criticize Google for not flagging these messages as phishing, something Gmail tries to do automatically. But without affirmative action by the targeted users–typing a password into the wrong page–these attacks would fail. That’s the point I tried to make on Twitter this morning:

Another former tech columnist, BusinessWeek alumnus Steve Wildstrom, replied by noting that even if the Chinese hackers had targeted software on the victims’ computers, it still would not have represented an attack on Gmail’s own servers:

And yet a lot of stories have ran with the concise, too-convenient “Gmail hacked” or “Google hacked” phrasing. I know that’s eye-catching–especially compared to the lengthy throat-clearing of Google’s bland blog post yesterday–and fits neatly into the ongoing Google-against-China, spy-vs.-spy storyline. But it’s also inaccurate and, by suggesting that mistakes were made where they were not, unhelpful to users trying to stay safe.

Phishing attacks aren’t always obvious. But one thing holds true about all of them: You own your own keystrokes.

(Disclosures: I used “Gmail hacked” as one of the tags for this post. I’ve also been a speaker at Google events, including a panel discussion in January 2010 and an all-day conference next Thursday.)

Edits, 1:01 p.m. Fixed one incorrect link and replaced another with a more useful address.