Weekly output: Trump tech policy, cyber attacks, watching Oscar nominees online, security attitudes, Android messaging apps

Like most Americans, I’m a descendant of immigrants. My dad’s grandparents came over from Italy and Croatia and my mom’s father arrived from Gibraltar before WWI, while her mother landed in New York from Ireland in 1923–only months after the end of the Irish Civil War. It is easy to imagine a rule like President Trump’s executive order keeping her out.

1/24/2017: President Trump’s tech policy is a mystery, Yahoo Finance

I’ve been going to the State of the Net conference on and off since 2007, and this was the first time I saw so much confusion over what a new administration would do in so many areas of tech policy.

1/24/2017: Cyber attacks, Al Jazeera

The Arabic news network had me on for a segment about cyber attacks like the Shamoon virus that recently crippled government and business PCs in Saudia Arabia.

Screengrab of Yahoo Finance Oscars post1/26/2017: Why you can’t stream this year’s Oscar nominees on Netflix, Yahoo Finance

One of the first posts I wrote for Yahoo Tech looked at the crummy online availability of the year’s critically-acclaimed movies. I enjoyed a chance to revisit the topic and shed some light on how the industry works.

1/26/2017: Study finds most people are scared they’ll be hacked, but don’t do much about it, Yahoo Finance

The Pew Research Center’s study on Americans’ attitudes on cybersecurity painted a depressing picture–aside from a figure on use of two-step verification that I found more reassuring but also suspiciously high.

1/29/2017: The best Android messaging apps in a crowded field, USA Today

Google’s blog post announcing the revival of its Google Voice apps couldn’t explain the differences between them and the Hangouts apps most GV users had switched to a couple of years ago. That gave me an opportunity to do so and remind readers of other noteworthy Android messaging apps.

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Weekly output: gig economy, building a bot, pro tablets, social media vs. terrorism, video-chat apps

It’s hard to believe that I only have one full work week left in this year.

12/5/2016: Why Trump is bad news for America’s freelancers, Yahoo Finance

This look at the increasing role of independent workers in the U.S. economy–and what nuking the Affordable Care Act without readying an effective replacement would do to self-employed types–really got started with one of the panels I moderated at Web Summit. Then a couple of new studies of the “gig economy” gave me good reasons to revisit it. Should you be tempted to click the “View Reactions” button at the end of the story, be advised that the comments are more spittle-flecked than usual.

12/7/2016: I built a bot, and now I want more bots, Yahoo Finance

On day one of the Future.Today conference I attended in New York, I got my overdue introduction to building a simple, scripted bot. The experience made me wish I could put bots to work for me instead of just having them exist as somebody else’s customer-service representative.

wirecutter-pro-tablets-guide12/8/2016: Can an iPad Pro or Surface Pro 4 Tablet Replace Your Laptop?, The Wirecutter

This guide to pro tablets has been in the works for months–if you saw me at Google I/O in May and wondered why I had a Surface Pro 4, this is why. And after all those months of testing–and quizzing pro-tablet users about what draws them to these devices–I’m just not sold on the category. I am, however, sold on having my next laptop be a convertible model that I can use folded up in a tablet mode.

12/8/2016: Social media vs. terrorism, Al Jazeera

The interview–as usual, with me overdubbed into Arabic–that was originally scheduled for Wednesday in NYC happened the next day in D.C. The subject was the initiative Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft announced Dec. 5 to share digital fingerprints of terrorist media that each could then use to scrub those files from their networks. I said that deciding what messages count as recruitment messages will be tricky. What, if, say, people circulate vile lies about a child-sex-trafficking ring run out of a D.C. pizza restaurant that lead one nutcase to show up at the place with an AR-15? Does that count as terrorist propaganda under this initiative, or do the messengers have to be brown and Muslim?

12/11/2016: How to choose the best video-calling app, USA Today

A question I got for my October talk to a local retirement community’s computer club led to this column.

A phone meltdown, a reset, a tedious reconstruction

My phone’s weekend ended badly: Sunday evening, it went off on a tear, opening and switching between apps faster than any human could do, and the only way I could get it to stop was to shut it down.

(If you got a gibberish text or a random phone call from me then: Sorry.)

Phone reset buttonI was pretty sure my aging Nexus 4 hadn’t been hacked, but seeing it race out of control was still one of the more terrifying smartphone experiences I’ve had. And multiple restarts didn’t quash this behavior.

When I got home, quick research revealed a few posts recounting similar meltdowns and suggesting a hard reset in case the problem wasn’t a failure of the digitizer that makes the touchscreen work.

Fair enough, I thought; I had already been considering a factory data reset after the phone had locked up a few times. I plugged the thing into my desktop, copied over a few application settings files that I thought Android’s app backup might not get, and took a breath before tapping the big, gray “RESET PHONE” button.

What did I not think to do before that irrevocable step? Change the setting in Google’s Hangouts app that would have made it the default SMS app and copied over all of my older messages. I also spaced about running the SMS Backup+ app, which would have backed up those texts to a folder in my Gmail account and would have been doing so automatically all along had I changed one setting there.

When the phone rebooted into factory-fresh, apparently stable condition, I realized how little Android’s standard online backup had covered. My screen wallpaper was intact and my old apps quickly downloaded, but I needed to redo almost everything else. That included at least 25 different app logins, three of which also required redoing Google Authenticator two-step verification.

And the phone and messaging apps were devoid of data, with no way to restore anything lost since I’d last run SMS Backup+ several months ago. I’m not too beat up over the call log, since… wait for it… the NSA has that backed up anyway. But I am upset about losing those texts. I suppose that being humbled this way is a healthy episode for anybody handing down tech advice.

I’m told that in Android 6.0, the backup system actually works as you’d expect it to. And it looks like I’ll have the chance to experience that sooner rather than later: This phone’s screen has run amok twice since Sunday (and its relatively recent habit of unlocking itself in my pocket now looks like another symptom of a degrading digitizer), so a new phone is no longer just a good idea but an outright requirement.