Weekly output: a fixed Hue vulnerability, techno-optimism, mobile apps versus mobile sites

I’m watching the Oscars as I type this, and a look at this year’s nominees shows I’m even more out of touch with pop culture than usual, having seen only two of the pictures nominated. I’m sure none of you are surprised to learn that I watched one–American Factory–on an airplane.

Speaking of that, if my travel posts here have you interested in hearing more on that subject, I’ll be discussing the finer points of business travel at Frequent Traveler University Washington DC on Sunday, March, 8. Twice: once that morning with travel blogger Tess Zhao (you’ll need a pass to the Travel and Adventure Show happening around FTU DC, $11 in advance for the day), and then an advanced version that afternoon for FTU DC pass holders ($129). For more on this event, I’ll point you to FTU DC speakers Tiffany Funk of One Mile At a Time and Matthew Klint of Live and Let’s Fly.

2/5/2020: Yet another joy of the smart home: Light bulbs at risk from hackers, Fast Company

I got an advance on Check Point’s documentation of an already-fixed vulnerability in the hardware bridge used by many Hue connected light bulbs–as did many other reporters who wrote up this story.  I hope that my critiquing the hopelessly-vague release notes for the patch that closed this “vuln” added some distinct value.

2/7/2020: New Industries & Opportunities: The Case for Techno-optimism, Greater Good Gathering

I headed up to New York Thursday to moderate this panel Friday morning, in which Microsoft Research director Eric Horvitz, Ownable president and CEO Brian Selander, CoverUS co-founder Peter Shanley, and Columbia University engineering professor Vijay Modi spoke about reasons to feel some optimism about where technology is taking us.

Yes, this was another manel for me. Until a week ago, I was supposed to moderate a different panel at this conference at Columbia that would have had some gender balance, but then the organizers had to reshuffle a few speaking slots.

2/9/2020: No, there doesn’t have to be an app for that, USA Today

About that Iowa app: Couldn’t the work of transmitting caucus results have been done much more simply via a mobile-friendly site? Mobile sites have other advantages over mobile apps for users–if not necessarily developers–and I outlined them in this USAT column.

Updated 2/22/2020 to add a YouTube embed of my panel.

We finally got an Amazon Echo

More than four years after I first tried out an Amazon Echo, there’s now one in our house. Even by my late-adopter habits, that’s an exceptionally long time for us to pick up on a tech trend.

But waiting so many years did allow us to get an Echo at a good price: $0.00. Late last year, Verizon added a free Echo to its menu of promotions to new and renewing Fios subscribers, and the company (also the parent firm of my client Yahoo Finance) included us in this offer even though we only pay it for Internet access.

(Even weirder, this free Echo came on top of being offered a lower rate for a faster connection. I guess I should see that as belated compensation for us missing out on other new-customer incentives Verizon’s offered since our fiber-optic connection went live nine years ago today.)

We got the code to redeem for a free second-generation Echo a couple of weeks after our speed upgrade went through, I waited a week to cash it in, and our new voice-controlled gadget arrived Friday. I promptly found a spot for this cybernetic cylinder in our kitchen.

So far, I’ve set up our Echo with only a few skills: it can play Pandora Internet radio, read the news from WAMU and can control our Philips Hue lightbulbs. (The Echo’s role as a smart-home hub is the use case that I utterly ignored in the first-look post I wrote for Yahoo Tech.) I’ve already determined that the Alexa app does not make for a great grocery-list manager, so I’m now going to see if Todoist can better handle that role. And I’ve changed one setting from the default: Because we have an eight-year-old at home, purchasing by voice is off.

There’s a lot to learn, but at least I’m no longer quite so illiterate at such a major tech platform. I just hope I can keep up with our kid, who already talks to Alexa far more than my wife and I combined.