Weekly output: Virgin Mobile USA Inner Circle, Microsoft on security, D.C. tech media, Sprint Flex, SMS two-step verification

This week involved a large tech conference, but I didn’t have to go any farther than D.C. for it: Microsoft Inspire ran from Monday to Wednesday at the convention center, with the morning keynotes held at the Verizon Center. The event yielded one post, an idea for another and a sweaty evening at Nationals Park Wednesday, the location of the Carrie Underwood concert that closed out the gathering.

7/10/2017: Virgin Mobile’s iPhone-only plan: What’s the catch?, USA Today

This snakebit column required not one but two corrections. The first remedied my mistake in reading “$1” as this Sprint prepaid brand’s promotional monthly rate when it was the cost for the entire first year of service; minutes later, I saw a reader comment calling out my dumb error in writing “megabits per second” instead of “kilobits per second” when describing a streaming speed limit.

7/12/2017: Microsoft reveals two big ways to stop ransomware attacks, Yahoo Finance

Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith’s keynote Wednesday called for collective action to stop ransomware and other malware outbreaks. But getting companies and organizations to end their long-running abusive relationship with Windows XP won’t be easy; neither will persuading governments to stop hoarding vulnerabilities in favor of promptly disclosing all of them so they can be fixed.

7/12/2017: Working with Tech Media in the Washington D.C. Region, Washington Network Group

I spoke on this panel with the Washington Business Journal’s Andy Medici and FedScoop’s Tajha Chappellet-Lanier (a fellow Washingtonian Tech Titan honoree) about coverage priorities, tech trends and PR pet peeves. Once again, I implored publicists not to follow up by re-sending the original e-mail topped by nothing more than “Any interest?”

7/14/2017: Sprint doesn’t want you to buy your next phone, Yahoo Finance

Sprint gave me an advance on this, but its PR pitch for its new Flex leasing deal didn’t spell out that this move would also end Sprint’s installment-payment pricing on phones. Because I’m slow, I needed a couple of rounds of Q&A to grasp that difference. Sprint, in turn, didn’t clarify the international-unlocking policy under Flex until Friday morning, after its embargo on the news had passed but before it had posted its own press release.

7/14/2017: How a system meant to keep your money safe could put it in danger, Yahoo Finance

I expected to see everybody else jump on this story of a PayPal customer losing money after an AT&T rep let an unknown attacker move his number–the last line of defense on his PayPal account–to a new SIM, since I learned about it on Twitter a week earlier. Instead, I had time to quiz PayPal, AT&T and others; verify that a no-longer-advertised phone-free form of two-factor authentication still worked at PayPal; and have an enlightening chat with Google security product manager Stephan Somogyi about the tradeoffs of different “2FA” methods.

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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.

Weekly output: Apple-Samsung patent fights, Rocky Agrawal, Google Voice

On a trip where I was supposed to be covering other people’s news, I wound up ever-so-slightly in the news myself after my friend Rocky Agrawal had a Twitter meltdown for a few days. I wrote about our meeting Monday night and tried to suggest that onlookers consider more than the past 72 hours in judging his character, and Business Insider ran a story written around my post. (Hi, new readers. Please stick around.)

Yahoo AppSung post5/6/2014: Apple v. Samsung, Unspun: Patent Warfare Is a Slow, Costly Habit with Few Winners, Yahoo Tech

I led off this analysis of the latest Apple v. Samsung verdict by suggesting that the only sure winners were the children of the patent lawyers involved, who could now count on having their college tuition fully covered. A reader countered in a comment: “As the spouse of a former patent litigator, I take issue with the first paragraph. The children of these attorneys do not win in this scenario. The hours spent on this case are hours these parents will never get to spend with their kids. So pretty much everyone loses.” Fair point.

5/9/2014: Concern on Twitter for the mental health of a former PayPal executive, The Columbia Journalist

Freelance journalist and Columbia j-school student Sara Ashley O’Brien interviewed me for this recap of my friend’s situation.

5/11/2014: Google hangs up on Internet calls for many Voice users, USA Today

Google’s imminent end of support for a protocol that let third-party Internet-calling apps hook into its Google Voice service meant I had to explain why advice I’d offered a year ago in my USAT column is no longer operative.

Rocky Agrawal says hi

I woke up Sunday morning to an unexpected e-mail from my Bay Area pal Rakesh Agrawal: Friday afternoon, he’d quit the high-ranking job at PayPal he’d started only weeks earlier and was starting a new company.

A quick check of Google showed that Friday night, he’d gone on some sort of Twitter rampage – a stream of tweets, many incoherent and some talking trash about his now-former colleagues, and of course somebody screen-capped them all before he’d deleted what he said were supposed to be direct messages. Saturday afternoon, PayPal’s Twitter account suggested he’d been canned, reporting that he was “no longer with the company.”

Monday morning, he got on a plane from New Orleans to Newark, after which the Twitter strangeness continued: a string of reports about a phone’s declining battery, veiled insults about former co-workers, requests for a new iPhone, some outright gibberish. After a few lucid tweets following a nap that acknowledged people’s concerns, the tweetstorm got hard to follow all over again. Mutual acquaintances, one of who’s known him much longer than me, started asking about his well-being. I had the same question in mind.

So I met him for dinner with no idea what to expect. I can report that contrary to the Hunter S. Thompson-esque persona he’d been creating, he seemed in command of his wits and confident in the ultimate success of his social-media strategy. In my experience, he has not been a dummy or a newbie on that subject, which has made all of this so confounding to watch. It’s… well, not how I went about publicizing my departure from my old employer.

We talked for a little while about people he’s liked at AOL, Twitter and PayPal and hiring and retention practices he didn’t like at those places–the kind of banter I’ve had more than once with other tech-industry types–and he invited me to record and post that conversation. Have a listen if you want, and please forgive the crummy audio quality caused by recording at a crowded bar:

Note that as he was saying a few nice things about PayPal president David Marcus (whom I met last year at Mobile World Congress and thought a pretty sharp guy), Marcus was posting a note on PayPal’s blog denouncing Rocky’s “mad rants.” My friend no longer seems so fond of his old boss, going by this a.m.’s tweets.

We also discussed the company he’s planning to start up–I can’t report much about that, owing to Rocky revealing so little–and for which he says he has ample funding. There was a vague job offer too. He does not have my answer yet.

10:27 a.m. Revising and extending my remarks to answer one question: So how do I know this guy? Rocky worked at the Post during some of its earliest and more awkward ventures into online publishing, although I didn’t get to know him all that well until years later. If management had listened to people like him who grok user experience and customer behavior (see also: being right about Groupon’s business-model weaknesses way before a lot of other people), my old industry might be in better shape. Don’t count the guy out, in other words.

Weekly output: CableCard, two-step verification

It’s now been a month and a half since my last air travel for work. Crazy, huh? I hope the airline industry can deal with my absence.

Yahoo Tech CableCard post4/22/2014: Dept. of Diminishing Choice: Cable Industry Wants Out of the CableCARD It Invented, Yahoo Tech

I returned to a topic I last covered in an August post for Ars Technica about the emergence of a bill that would weaken the regulatory framework behind the CableCard that TiVo and a few other manufacturers rely on to make cable-compatible hardware.

Notice that I don’t write “Card” in all-caps here: Those four letters aren’t an acronym, so capitalizing them all just plays into some marketer’s idea of text hacking.

4/27/2014: Two-step verification: It’s a trust issue, USA Today

This column began on Tuesday, when a local tech-policy type asked why Google’s two-step verification kept inviting him to mark a computer as trusted and therefore exempt from this security check. I decided that query was too narrow–but that there could be a column looking at the broader topic of how strictly different sites implement this concept.

Tax-time thoughts: now with slightly less incompetent accounting!

I have survived, I think, another tax season as a self-employed individual, and I’m increasingly convinced that if I keep doing this I will someday know what I’m doing.

Misc. incomeOnce again, my worst enemy was my inattentive and sloppy accounting. I was still forgetting to tag some expenses as business transactions in Mint until last spring, and It took me until mid-September to lock in the habit of logging every cash expense within minutes of it happening. Memo to Google: This would be easier if the Google Drive app could edit spreadsheets offline.

For cash transactions not properly noted at the time, I had to recreate records months after the fact. That involved the tedious, time-consuming routine of cross-referencing my calendar, e-mail and Foursquare check-ins.

Importing the credit-card purchases that Mint had recorded automatically was the same as ever, which is not good: Intuit’s site still provides no way to limit a transaction search to a date range short of hand-editing a Web address. Intuit, this is idiotic. Try spending some of the money you sink into astroturfed lobbying into adding this most basic of features.

Last year also saw client income (Sulia and WordAds) arrive via PayPal deposits, a first for me. I liked the invoice-free convenience of those payments, but I made two rookie accounting mistakes. The big one was not identifying all of the subsequent PayPal transfers to my bank as freelance income; the little one was using some of a freelancing-inflated PayPal balance to reimburse my share of an Airbnb apartment rented for Mobile World Congress instead of first moving the sum of those freelance payments to my bank, then covering the lodging expense with a separate withdrawal from my bank.

The fact that I realized most of these errors in late March by itself represented my single biggest accounting failure–I spent too much of 2013 in a financial fog, which is stupid. So after cleaning up last year’s records, I set aside a couple of hours last weekend to do the same for those from the first quarter of this year. Like I said: I do learn, just not quickly.