Weekly output: TikTok (x3), Apple TV+, social-media satisfaction, AMC, TV metrics, NBCUniversal (x2), 5G flavors, Disney, Fox, tech journalism, Facebook and Twitter vs. Trump, Roku, Instagram Reels, election security, influence operations online

This week was kind of nuts. I knew I’d be busy covering breaking news in the mornings for my trade-pub client FierceVideo while one of their reporters was on vacation, but I didn’t factor in how many entertainment and TV companies would be announcing their quarterly earnings. This put a dent in my ability to follow the now-virtual Black Hat and DEF CON security conferences that, were this a normal year, would have had me in Las Vegas this week. (Hacker summer camp friends, I miss you too and will try to catch up on your talks over the next few days.)

8/3/2020: Microsoft gets Trump green-light to buy TikTok, FierceVideo

I started this week by writing a bit about the biggest story in tech this week.

8/3/2020: Apple TV+ comes to American Airlines flights, FierceVideo

Writing about this addition to AA’s in-flight entertainment gave me an excuse to get a few quotes from one of my favorite avgeek bloggers, Seth Miller.

8/4/2020: Survey Shows Facebook Barely More Satisfying Than Comcast, Forbes

I got an advance look at the latest report from the American Customer Satisfaction Index, allowing me to have this post up right as the ACSI published these findings.

8/4/2020: AMC’s second-quarter earnings could have been worse, FierceVideo

This was the first of four earnings stories.

8/4/2020: Time spent on TV viewing soars, says Samba, FierceVideo

My editor at Fierce pointed me to this study and asked if I’d heard of Samba TV; I said I had, and that a friend had tried to connect me with their CEO at CES last year.

8/4/2020: Layoffs loom at NBCUniversal, FierceVideo

I wrote up a WSJ report about pending layoffs for my third post of Tuesday.

8/5/2020: Thinking of buying a 5G smartphone? Finding your carrier’s flavor of 5G requires a taste for investigation, USA Today

We had to correct this column because I said a study released in May came out last year, an error I could only laugh about once it was brought to my attention.

8/5/2020: After a disaster movie of a quarter, Disney bets on Mulan, FierceVideo

The big news in Disney’s earnings call: It will debut Mulan in September as a $29.99 extra for Disney+ subscribers instead of sticking to a theatrical release.

8/5/2020: Fox forges ahead despite ad-revenue shortfall in Q4, FierceVideo

The optimism Fox executives voiced on their earnings call about sports returning this fall seemed unfounded at the time.

8/5/2020: Tech journalism, Lobsterclass

My friend Rakesh Agrawal (aka rakeshlobster on Twitter) quizzed me about the state of tech journalism and how startup founders might improve their interactions with the media for the latest in a series of product-management classes he began in May. Our Zoom chat got interrupted a couple of times by incoming WhatsApp calls that I couldn’t answer with “sorry, can’t talk right now” messages because my phone was already in use as my Zoom camera.

8/5/2020: Facebook and Twitter suppress Trump coronavirus video, Al Jazeera

The reason behind those calls: AJ’s English-language channel wanted me to opine about the two social networks taking down Trump shares of a Fox News video in which the president said children are “almost immune” to COVID-19. So at 11 p.m., I put my phone back on the tripod for yet another video call.

8/6/2020: Roku Q2: 43 million active accounts, $43 million loss, FierceVideo

I wrapped up my earnings coverage for Fierce by covering Roku’s quarter.

8/6/2020: First take on Instagram’s Reels: Yes, it’s a TikTok clone, FierceVideo

In addition to gathering quotes from a couple of analysts, I cobbled together my own art for this story by taking screenshots of Instagram’s new TikTok-ish feature.

8/7/2020: What becoming a poll worker taught me about securing the 2020 election, Fast Company

Security researcher and Georgetown Law professor Matt Blaze’s Black Hat keynote gave me an opportunity to share my own experience as a poll worker with a larger audience than this blog ever gets. We had to correct one error after posting; the National Vote At Home Institute, a non-profit whose CEO I quoted in the piece, is based in Denver, not D.C. as listed in its Twitter bio.

8/7/2020: From Russia With Lure: Why We’re Still Beset By Bots And Trolls Pushing Disinformation, Forbes

Stanford Internet Observatory researcher Renée DiResta gave an excellent keynote on day two of Black Hat about influence operations online and how China and Russia’s efforts compare.

8/7/2020: Trump issues executive order to ban business with TikTok, FierceVideo

I scrambled to get an explanation of what, exactly, Trump’s order would ban U.S. companies and users from doing with TikTok, and Public Knowledge’s telecom-law guru Harold Feld came through.

8/7/2020: NBCUniversal reshuffles entertainment leadership, FierceVideo

My week filling in at Fierce wrapped up with this recap of a reorg at NBCU.

8/9/2020: TikTok’s suitors, Al Jazeera

I usually don’t shave on Sundays but had to for this appearance on AJ’s Arabic-language channel to talk about why Microsoft and, reportedly, Twitter, might want to buy TikTok.

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.