Weekly output: Rocket Lab booster catch, passwordless logins, Mark Vena podcast, Chris Krebs cybersecurity-policy assessment, Facebook to end background location tracking

Friday marked two years since we adopted our cat. Abel still ignores us when we tell him not to jump on the dining-room table but is a sweetie in most other ways. And every time I expand the online world’s inventory of cat photos by posting one of him, I feel like I am being a good citizen of the Internet.

Screenshot of the PCMag post in Safari for iPadOS, showing the screengrab I took of Rocket Lab's stream showing the Electron booster and its parachute at right, with the helicopter's cable at left.5/3/2022: Watch a Helicopter Catch an Electron Booster Rocket, PCMag

I watched a helicopter catch and briefly hold a spent first stage of a rocket as it descended under a parachute, a first-time experience for me, and then tuned into Rocket Lab’s press conference hours later to get some quotes from Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck for this story.

5/5/2022: Google lines up with Apple and Microsoft to nix passwords in favor of nearby-device authentication, Fast Company

I got an advance on this three-company news announcement from Google, so all the quotes in this post are from two Googlers. If you’d like to read more about this initiative, please turn your attention to Dan Goodin’s writeup at Ars Technica.

5/5/2022: S02 E19 – SmartTechCheck Podcast, Mark Vena

I rejoined this podcast after missing it last week due to travel.

5/6/2022: Ex-CISA Chief: Biden Cybersecurity EO ‘Raises the Standard’ on IT Vendors, PCMag

I wrote up the closing session at the Hack the Capitol event in D.C., in which former Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Administration director Chris Krebs shared his insights about the state of information-security policy.

5/6/2022: Facebook Unfollows ‘Nearby Friends,’ Other Background Location Features

Facebook bulk-erasing everybody’s location history will be its biggest data-minimization move since scrapping its facial-recognition database. And yet the company’s sole announcement of this move Friday was in-app prompts and e-mails for some users.

Weekly output: Nielson streaming-spend study, Apple TV+ + MLB, SpaceX so far, FIFA+, Netflix double thumbs-up, CNN+ viewership, VR interest, Stellantis + Qualcomm, Mark Vena podcast, new Amazon CEO shareholder letter

Happy Easter! I hope this holiday’s message of reborn life resonates in Ukraine in particular.

(Patreon FYI: Readers there got a bonus post about a few shopping tactics that can let you buy an Apple gadget below list price.)

4/11/2022: Nielsen study shows most streaming viewers spend $30 or less, FierceVideo

I spent the first three days of the week filling in at my trade-pub video-industry client, starting with this writeup of some Nielsen research.

4/11/2022: Apple TV+ debuts Friday Night Baseball, FierceVideo

I used this post to share my own review of Apple’s baseball-coverage venture, as viewed during Friday’s Nationals-Mets game.

Fast Company SpaceX history post4/12/2022: How SpaceX came to dominate the launch business, Fast Company

I knew that a lot of aerospace-establishment types were skeptical of SpaceX a dozen years ago, but digging up their actual quotes was something else.

4/12/2022: FIFA makes a new bid for soccer fans with FIFA+ streaming, FierceVideo

If any sports organization can afford to bankroll a streaming service and then let anybody watch for free, it would be FIFA.

4/12/2022: Netflix adds double-thumbs-up option for rave reviews, FierceVideo

Remember: Don’t call this new Netflix review option “two thumbs up,” because that’s a trademarked Ebert & Siskel phrase.

4/13/2022: Report cites fewer than 10,000 daily viewers for CNN+, FierceVideo

Maybe CNN’s subscription streaming service would have more paying viewers if the news was less depressing?

4/13/2022: Adults remain uninterested in VR live events, FierceVideo

The Morning Consult survey that I wrote up referred to virtual reality as “the metaverse,” but I was not going to use Facebook’s preferred word in the headline or lede if I could help it.

4/14/2022, Stellantis Partners With Qualcomm for 5G-Connected Cars, PCMag

Writing up this connected-car news allowed me to use some leftover notes from Qualcomm’s Tech Summit and then from CES.

4/14/2022: S02 E16 – SmartTechCheck Podcast, Mark Vena

I joined this podcast (also available in video form) via my laptop, once again using my phone’s camera in place of the laptop’s webcam.

4/15/2022: In First Shareholder Letter, Amazon CEO Sticks With the Bezos Playbook, PCMag

I made a point of noting the things new Amazon CEO Andy Jassy didn’t mention in his first letter to shareholders.

Weekly output: 5G patents, Shazam suggests local concerts, quantum computing, smartphone plans, Mark Vena podcast, Russian hacking

This event treated me to not one but two conferences in D.C.–Satellite 2022 at the convention center, then ShmooCon at the Washington Hilton. I can’t remember when I last used Capital Bikeshare every workday in a week, but it can’t have been more recently than 2019.

Patreon readers got a bonus this week: a recap of my attempt to figure out how a reader’s wife’s browsing activity could have landed a PayPal promotional e-mail in his inbox.

3/22/2022: USPTO study: Everyone’s a winner in 5G patents, Light Reading

I wrote a couple of quick posts last week for my telecom trade-pub client to cover for an editor finally taking a vacation. This one poked yet another hole in the useless “race to 5G” trope.

Screenshot of story as seen in Safari on an iPad; it's illustrated with a photo of a band on stage3/22/2022: Shazam Now Suggests Nearby Concerts, PCMag

Writing this post about how the Apple-owned song-identification app will now show nearby concerts of the artists it recognizes made me miss seeing bands play live. By which I mean, seeing bands play live at Iota.

3/23/2022: Telecom needs to get ready for quantum computing, report warns, Light Reading

I don’t usually write about quantum computing, so this was a neat departure from the usual.

3/24/2022: The Best Cell Phone Plans, Wirecutter

The latest update to the guide that I started working on more than eight years ago covers 5G improvements at AT&T and Verizon, updates to Verizon’s unlimited offerings, and advice about 3G shutdowns at the big three carriers.

3/24/2022: S02 E13 – SmartTechCheck Podcast, Mark Vena

I used my part of this industry analyst’s podcast (also available in video form) to talk about the space-tourism possibilities I heard about at Satellite 2022.

3/25/2022: Department of Justice Reminds Us Russian Hackers Are a Serious Threat, PCMag

The DOJ’s unsealing of two indictments returned last year against Russian government employees came with a reminder to U.S. companies to step up their  own security efforts. Conveniently enough, two ShmooCon speakers had talked the night before about Washington’s latest attempts to warn American firms about Russian hacking, so I ended the post by quoting them.

Updated 3/29/2022 to add the Wirecutter update that had escaped my attention (by which I mean a Google search Sunday for mentions of my name in the last week didn’t surface it). 

Weekly output: satellite laser links, Twitter’s tech-policy outline, Facebook blacklists, Mark Vena podcast, algorithmic accountability

In addition to affording me two days together with my fellow pixel-stained wretches of the Online News Association, this week had me writing and speaking at the following places.

Screenshot of the story as seen on Safari on an iPad mini10/11/2021: Why Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites are beaming data by laser, Fast Company

This story is a belated result of my brief attendance at the Satellite 2021 conference last month.

10/13/2021: Twitter Has Some Ideas on How Congress Should Overhaul Social Media, PCMag

Twitter posted a short list of principles it wants to see inform any rewrite of laws governing social-media networks, and I had to read part of it as a subtweet of Facebook’s ongoing campaign for “updated Internet regulations.”

10/13/2021: Facebook blacklist, Al Araby

This Arabic-language news network had me on, overdubbed live, to discuss Sam Biddle’s reporting in The Intercept about an extensive list of “dangerous” individuals and organizations.

10/13/2021: S01 E13 – SmartTechCheck PodcastS01 E13, Mark Vena

I was on this industry analyst’s podcast once again; my contribution to the discussion was to note the amazingly low-key arrival of Windows 11.

10/14/2021: Lawmakers Want to Hold Social Networks Responsible for ‘Malicious Algorithms’, PCMag

I wrote up a brief bill that would make yet another revision to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, in this case lifting that law’s limited immunity for social forums if their algorithms amplify content that contributes to “physical or severe emotional injury.”

Weekly output: Starlink to exit beta, Mark Vena podcast, Texas social-media law challenged, iOS 15/iPadOS 15 help

This coming week has something unusual on it: business travel to a conference. I’m flying to Miami to moderate two panels at Seatrade Cruise Global, a cruise-industry gathering at which I was supposed to speak last spring before the pandemic forced its cancellation. Then I led one video panel at Seatrade’s virtual gathering in April, which went well enough for the organizers to bring me to Florida.

9/20/2021: Elon Musk says his Starlink satellite internet is coming out of beta, Fast Company

Since pretty much every other tech-news site was also covering SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announcing (in a reply to somebody else’s tweet) that Starlink would exit its beta status in October, I took some time in this piece to compare this broadband satellite constellation’s progress to the slower pace of OneWeb and Amazon’s yet-to-launch Project Kuiper.

9/22/2021: S01 E10 – SmartTechCheck Podcast by Parks Associates, Mark Vena

I rejoined this industry analyst’s podcast with fellow tech journalists Stewart Wolpin and John Quain to talk about Apple and Google knuckling under to Russia by removing the “smart voting” app of dissident Alexei Navalny’s party, Starlink’s service, commercial space travel, and Apple’s iOS 15 and iPadOS 15.

Screenshot of the story as seen in Safari on an iPad mini 5.9/23/2021: Tech Policy Groups Mess With Texas, Sue Over ‘Unconstitutional’ Social Media Law, PCMag

This is the first thing I’ve written for PCMag in several years, but you won’t have to wait nearly as long to read my next piece there. I’m now going to be writing short explainers about tech-policy news at that site. Yes, this debut item on two tech-policy groups suing to overturn the blatantly-unconstitutional Texas law banning large social media platforms from most forms of content moderation runs about 700 words, which is not exactly short even if a lot of it consists of extended quotations from the law and the lawsuit filed by the Computer & Communications Industry Association and NetChoice. I’ll try to be more economical with my prose the next time.

9/25/2021: How to fix some foibles of iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, USA Today

After seeing the reaction to my cranky tweet about iPadOS 15 wrecking my carefully tended arrangement of app icons (even before the Verge’s Chris Welch lent it some extra publicity by embedding it in a story), I pitched my editors at USAT about a column offering advice to people irked by some of the changes in this release. One angle I had to cut from the piece: how the iPhone and iPad versions of Safari are in some ways catching up to mobile browsers like Firefox (which moved its controls to the bottom last August) and Chrome (which added tab groups last May).

Weekly output: Mark Vena podcast, Twitter buys Brief, iMessage mess

Once upon a time, you could count on August to be a slow news month. The Trump administration put an end to that–and even with Trump gone, the pandemic will ensure nobody gets a break from breaking-news alerts anytime soon.

Screengrab of podcast episode page as seen in Chrome for Android7/28/2021: SmartTechCheck Podcast by Parks Associates, Mark Vena

My industry-analyst pal now works at Parks Associates instead of Moor Insights & Strategy, but the podcast he hosts continues to run on the same outlines. My contribution to this week’s episode, once again featuring my fellow tech scribs Stewart Wolpin and John Quain, was to call out the ridiculous pricing Verizon has slapped on its new Fios TV streaming apps.

7/30/2021: Twitter buys Brief, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news channel had me on for a few minutes to discuss Twitter buying the news-recap app Brief.

7/30/2021: Are your iMessage texts disappearing? The answer might just be checking your email, USA Today

Yet another episode of messages from an iPhone-using friend going to my iPad instead of my phone finally pushed me to dig into how Apple’s iMessage routes your chats. This column is paywalled, but the headline basically spells out the fix: If you use an Android phone, remove your regular e-mail address from your Apple ID profile.

Weekly output: Mark Vena podcast, Firefox’s redesign

My work calendar for this coming week has a strange event: meeting another person, in-person, to get lunch. It also has me spending all of Tuesday (Virginians, y’all do know we have a primary election then, right?) working once again as an election officer.

6/1/2021: SmartTechCheck Podcast (6-1-21), Mark Vena

My major contribution to this week’s edition of the podcast hosted by Vena, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, was unpacking Google’s move to start charging for Google Photos storage after you hit the 15 GB cap on your account’s storage. I am okay with the idea of charging for storage, but I do think Google could provide more useful tools for people looking to keep their picture archives under that limit. We (meaning my analyst friend as well as fellow tech scribes John Quain and Stewart Wolpin) also talked about the ongoing ransomware epidemic, Roku’s fight with Google, and the Apple WWDC event that kicks off Monday; in addition to the audio of our banter at the above link, you can watch a video version on YouTube.

Firefox story as seen in Firefox, with the browser's privacy report card for Fast Company's site displayed6/4/2021: Firefox still wants to be the ‘Anti-Chrome.’ Can it beat Edge, too?, Fast Company

The release of a fairly major update to Mozilla Firefox’s desktop interface gave me an opportunity to look at how this browser compares to the competition–by which I really mean Microsoft Edge, the other major privacy-optimized browser that you can run in Windows, macOS, Android and iOS. I still find Firefox a better product on privacy grounds; for example, Firefox displays a more comprehensive privacy report card for sites, as seen in the screengrab here, and uses end-to-end encryption to synchronize your search and browsing history between computers while Edge does not. But Microsoft is putting serious effort into the browser that already represents a bigger competitive threat to Google’s Chrome. And it can bring exponentially more resources that Mozilla to closing any feature gaps.

Weekly output: Celona, streaming TV, social media moderation, Android 12, Google’s privacy pitch, Mark Vena podcast

This afternoon, I went to a baseball game for the first time since Oct. 27, 2019. I also brought a much better camera than usual, thanks to my neighbor across the street loaning me a Panasonic point-and-shoot model with a 30x zoom, and you can now see the results in the Flickr album I just posted.

5/18/2021: Celona unveils ‘edgeless enterprise’ architecture, Light Reading

My new trade-pub client asked me to write up embargoed news from this business-wireless firm, allowing me to reacquaint myself with that branch of industry jargon.

5/19/2021: Streaming Services, WWL First News with Tommy Tucker

I spent about 40 minutes talking about streaming-TV services with this New Orleans radio station. A major theme of the host’s questions: Why is all this so complicated?

5/19/2021: Social media moderation, Al Jazeera

I made a rare phone-only appearance on the Arabic-language news channel to talk about reports of social-media companies suppressing Palestinian and Arabic voices.  I emphasized, as I have before, that on one hand, content moderation gets increasingly difficult as social platforms get larger; on the other hand, Facebook has a history of waiving its own rules only for right-wing voices in the U.S.

Screen grab of the article as seen in an Android phone's Chrome browser5/20/2021: Here’s what’s new in Android 12, from big changes to subtle tweaks, Fast Company

Google’s I/O developer conference returned in an online-only form after last year’s pandemic-forced cancellation, and in this post I covered the key features in the next version of its Android mobile operating system. The screen grab you see here was taken in a loaner Pixel 4 XL phone on which I’d installed the beta release of Android 12; if you have any questions about how this release works, please ask and I’ll try to answer them here.

5/20/2021: Google touts ‘privacy by design’ at I/O conference, but privacy from whom?, USA Today

Two years ago, I wrote a USAT column about the somewhat nebulous privacy pitch at Google I/O 2019; this column advances that story and finds more cause for optimism in Android than in Chrome.

5/21/2021: SmartTechCheck Podcast (5-20-21), Mark Vena

This week’s edition of this podcast from my tech-analyst pal at Moor Insights & Strategy initially featured two other tech journalists, but John Quain’s Starlink satellite-Internet connection dropped out too many times, leading Vena to decide to continue the podcast with just me and my fellow tech journalist (and baseball fan) Stewart Wolpin.

Weekly output: Mark Vena podcast, Discovery’s streaming video ambitions

Ten years ago today, I finally crossed “see a space launch” off my to-do list, and I’m still working on the best words to describe what it was like to see, hear and feel Endeavour rocket into a cloudy Florida sky. Sometimes, I can’t quite believe that I did that–or that I’ve since had the immense privilege of returning to the Kennedy Space Center’s press site for two other launches. Fortunately, I have a framed print of the photo I took of the shuttle’s liftoff hanging on the far wall of my home office to remind me that I really did accomplish the goal I’d had in my head since I was 10.

5/11/2021: SmartTechCheck Podcast (5-11-21), Mark Vena

After a couple of weeks off, I returned to this podcast to talk about the tech business with our host from Moor Insights & Strategy and fellow tech scribes John Quain and Stewart Wolpin. Among this week’s topics: the legal battle between Apple and Epic over the former’s App Store governance, a newly announced smart-home standard, and the plague of ransomware.

Screenshot of the article as seen on an iPad5/12/2021: Discovery CEO says SVOD success won’t end its TV-bundle role, FierceVideo

My trade-pub client asked me to write up Discovery CEO David Zaslav’s interview at a conference hosted by the market-analysis firm MoffettNathanson. I figured Zaslav would wax optimistic about the company’s Discovery+ subscription video on demand (SVOD) service, but I didn’t expect him to explain that Discovery makes as much or more money off a D+ streaming subscriber than a cable or satellite viewer–and yet he expects no pay-TV provider will be able to get away with dropping Discovery from its lineup. I don’t imagine that many of you are feeling terribly sorry for those cable and satellite operators at this point.

Weekly output: 2021 pay-TV trends, 2020 in review, Comcast drops Norton security bundle

Today is Jan. 3, 2021, but I can’t blame you if it may feel more like Dec. 34, 2020.

12/30/2020: Four Pay-TV Plot Twists To Watch In 2021—And For Pay TV To Hate, Forbes

My last Forbes post for 2020 looked at possible future developments in both traditional and streaming pay TV, most of which are bad.

12/31/2020: SmartTechCheck Podcast (12-31-20), Mark Vena

I joined the podcast of this Moor Insights & Strategy analyst with my fellow tech journalists John Quain and Stewart Wolpin to discuss what pandemic-wracked 2020 taught us about the state of tech. Early on, we pointed to the ability of video calling to replace some face-to-face meetings–and then we kept running into video or audio glitches.

1/3/2021: As Comcast drops one computer security plan, what – if anything – should you replace it with?, USA Today

This column started with an e-mail from a reader asking what he should do about Comcast ending its free bundle of Norton anti-malware apps. I’d seen the advice of my Wirecutter colleagues that paying for anti-virus software is no longer a good idea, but I turned to my friend Sean Gallagher–who edited a little of my earlier writing at Ars Technica and now works as a threat researcher for the security firm Sophos–for added context. The result: a column about a Comcast policy change that can’t really fault everybody’s favorite cable giant for taking something away from subscribers, because it wasn’t doing them that much of a favor in the first place.