Weekly output: encryption politics, Thanksgiving tech support

I did better than I expected at avoiding work e-mail over this weekend, but I did have to set aside time to revise two Wirecutter pieces. On Monday, the latest iteration of our guide to the major wireless carriers went up, covering price shifts at Sprint and T-Mobile and improved international-roaming options at Sprint and Verizon Wireless. Then on Wednesday, we corrected last week’s guide to prepaid and resold wireless service to explain how our pick, Consumer Cellular, had begun wholesaling T-Mobile’s service as well as AT&T’s. I missed that non-trivial change, and I’m still annoyed about the oversight.

11/24/2015: The Paris Attacks Were Tragic, but Cryptography Isn’t to Blame, Yahoo Tech

I returned to the debate over whether tech companies should be required to build in back doors for law enforcement–my last such post ran in September–to argue that the argument for compromised crypto is even weaker when you look at adversaries like the Paris murderers. Who, by the way, hardly bothered to cover their tracks.

USAT Thanksgiving 2015 tech-support column11/27/2015: How to improve family’s Wi-Fi and other tech support tips, USA Today

My original concept of this column was to write a sort of greatest-hits compilation of earlier pieces, but I soon realized that this story could and should note the ways these consumer-tech problems had gotten better or worse since I’d last covered them for USAT. I’m not sure what made this piece so widely shared on Facebook–though having my column run two days early must have helped–but I’m flattered anyway.

Writing this also reminded me that I was sorely overdue to uninstall Oracle’s Java software off one laptop. I had disconnected that program from my browser long ago, but it still didn’t justify its storage footprint.

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I would like to buy an argument: debating Syrian-refugee paranoia

I’ve spent too much time over the last five days arguing with people who have suddenly decided that Syrian refugees represent such a threat to the United States that we cannot risk admitting any of them, and it’s been wearying work on multiple levels.

First, there’s the bankruptcy of the entire argument that boiled over after the Paris attacks. All of the attackers identified so far were EU nationals, not Syrian refugees; there’s no evidence the craven death cult that has no right to call itself Islamic is even trying to hide itself among refugees fleeing it (none of the 2,200-odd Syrian refugees admitted since Sept. 11, 2001 have been arrested for plotting violent acts); getting into the U.S. as a refugee is a tedious, years-long process; getting in as a Syrian refugee involves even more screening; and said craven death cult wants us to fear Muslim foreigners, so this entire demonization of Syrian refugees fits right into their playbook.

Japanese internment memorial(Before you brush off the previous paragraph as a product of the liberal media conspiracy, please read this debunking of refugee myths by longtime Virginia Republican Brian Schoeneman.)

Then there’s trying to grasp the logic of politicians who were for Syrian refugees before they were against it and now refuse to admit any unless we can guarantee that 100 percent of them don’t embody a threat that appears to be fictional. This devotion to security at all costs would be touching if so many of these same individuals didn’t shrug away such better-documented risks as America’s current gun policy, the death toll on our roads, and global warming.

Lest the last paragraph look like a jab at Republicans, remember that this fear-mongering is a bipartisan sport: The single worst statement on the subject may have come from Roanoke, Virginia’s Democratic mayor David Bowers, who cited the 1940s imprisonment of Japanese-Americans as a reasonable precedent before apologizing two days later.

The second-most trying part of this conversation is what happens when you ask strangers how they came to this reasoning. One conversation on Twitter ended with the fellow in question asserting that “I trust 10,000 Jews before I trust 10 Muslims.” A friend of a friend on Facebook declared that “Any restrictions in Muslims would be based on the fact that they have earned it.”

It would be easy to brush off this hysteria as the product of garden-variety xenophobia and Islamophobia, but then there’s the most difficult part of the deal: Hearing from friends I know to be educated and open-minded who still think we can’t let in any Syrian refugees.

I try not to be a jerk when talking politics with pals, but I probably haven’t lived up to that standard this week. All I can say is this: If I didn’t care what you thought, I wouldn’t waste so many processor cycles trying to convince you otherwise. But I wish I did know where you’re coming from, because you’ve totally lost me on this one.

Oh, and this: If you really do want to hold up the citizens of one country or the adherents of one religion as uniquely suspect, can you please first go to D.C. and spend a few minutes contemplating the Memorial to Japanese-American Patriotism in World War II that commemorates the fear-driven imprisonment of 110,000 to 120,000 people who came from or had ancestors in the wrong country? Then ask yourself: Are you willing to make that same statement in front of this monument to our surrender to bigotry 73 years ago?

Weekly output: data caps, enterprises and startups, semi-anonymous social media, T-Mobile price plans, social media and Paris attacks

I had a fun few days in New York at the Consumer Electronics Association’s Consumer Technology Association’s Innovate conference. I’d also planned to spend some of my time in Manhattan at Fast Company’s Innovation Festival, but learning only hours before that a talk by Apple retail chief Angela Ahrendts had been made off-limits to the press (aside from Fast Company’s Harry McCracken, who himself didn’t know about this rule and his exclusion from it) annoyed me enough to skip the rest of that conference. Here’s a little event-planning FYI: don’t indulge in that sort of control-freakery. You will only annoy the press, and word will get out on social media anyway.

11/11/2015: Cap as Cap Can: Comcast, T-Mobile Redefine Data Limits in Ways You May Not Like, Yahoo Tech

One point I could have made in this post but did not: Comcast’s devotion to fairness apparently stops with business customers, who face no such data tiers.

11/12/2015: Witness the Symbiosis Between Enterprises and Startups, Tech.Co

Tech.Co’s Will Schmidt wrote up the panel I moderated at the Celebrate conference last month. The post also includes full video of our discussion.

CAM Summit panel11/13/2015: How Social is Going Private: Snapchat, Texting and New Platforms, Campaigns & Marketing Summit

I had the easiest job as moderator ever because my panelists–Sherri Anne GreenJenn KauffmanKat Murti, and Emily Rasowsky--knew their stuff, enjoyed debating it and didn’t step over each other’s lines. I hope the organizers post video of our talk at some point.

11/13/2015: T-Mobile’s new deal will mean rate hikes for some users, USA Today

The feedback loop on this one got a little crazy when T-Mobile CEO John Legere tweeted his annoyance at the headline’s suggestion that some T-Mo subscribers would pay more. That’s a fair complaint, since the carrier didn’t touch plans in effect before Sunday–as the story itself makes clear. My editor said we’d take another look at the headline, but as of Sunday night it had not been changed.

11/14/2015: Social media and the Paris attacks, WTOP

The news station had me on to talk about how social media carried news of Friday’s atrocities in Paris and then gave people ways to, as I put it, scream, cry or wonder why. A busy schedule that Saturday meant I had to do the interview sitting in our parked car while our daughter’s soccer team was playing on the adjacent field, which is not an ideal situation in multiple ways.

Je t’aime, Paris

Eiffel Tower in 1991Lesser-known fact about me: For one happy summer in 1990, I qualified as a part-time Parisian. I owed that to my dad, who had first lucked into a transfer to his employer’s Paris office and then–nepotism at its finest!–arranged a summer job for me there.

Each morning, I’d board the train in the suburb of Louveciennes, transfer to the RER, escape from the subterranean, odorous archipelago of the Châtelet – les Halles station, and enjoy a short walk to Dad’s office. I’d plug away at building out a database, then take a long lunch break and explore the city.

I’d come back, immerse myself in Paradox for another few hours and then head home. I felt like I’d won an occupational lottery on top of the life-lottery victory of my parents’ move to France in 1989 and my subsequent spring, summer and winter breaks there.

Paris office viewThe two and a half years my family spent around France’s capital before returning to the States in 1991 gave me the chance to know the city beyond bucket-list tourist attractions: the sculpture garden of modern architecture that is La Défense; quiet, tree-lined streets in the inner arrondissements; the roof of the old opera building that a friend and I somehow made our way to after ditching a tour.

This time also left me with an enduring fondness for baguettes, croissants, Camembert, crêpes, Côtes du Rhône, steak frites, duck breast, any other entrée done up with a pan sauce, and Calvados.

And it taught me to speak French well enough that Parisians stopped automatically replying in English. (I had an unfair advantage at Georgetown’s foreign-language proficiency exam: When my examiner handed me a Le Monde story and asked me to discuss it, I realized I’d read that piece a week before while spending Easter with my family.) That fluency has faded, but I still enjoy dusting off my rusty French to help a visitor like the gentleman at the Walmart near Union Station who needed a prepaid SIM card for his phone.

France passport stampsI wish I were writing this out of idle nostalgia. But I’m not. The city I adored 25 years ago fell victim to a series of monstrous crimes Friday night, apparently committed by the same craven death cult that has murdered thousands more across the Middle East and has no right to call itself “Islamic” or even “human.”

There is nothing I can do to reverse that. But I can say this much after almost a quarter-century apart: Paris, it’s been so long since last we met, but I will return. That’s a promise.