Covid, continued: I’m once again housebound for at least the next few days

My souvenirs of my trip to Brazil last week for Web Summit Rio are no longer limited to my conference badge and a few items of event swag, because it appears that I also imported a case of Covid from that gathering.

My first heads-up that I might have repeated last year’s pattern–go to an event in a new-to-me country, pick up Covid there, test positive at home only after a few days of mild symptoms–came when I got a message Saturday from my fellow Web Summit speaker and Fast Company editor Harry McCracken, saying that he’d just tested positive after feeling some nasal congestion.

A rapid Covid test shows the solid stripe of a positive result, with instructions for this test kit visible behind it.

I felt a little sneezier than usual myself but tested negative Saturday night. With those cold-like symptoms still around, I tested negative a second time Monday morning. Would the streak persist through a third test Wednesday afternoon? No, reader, it did not.

So just like I did last year, I’m isolating at home from my so-far symptom-free wife and kid (it helps that it’s so nice outside that opening every window is not just doable but desirable) and wondering when symptoms that have reached the annoying end of common-cold severity will fade. And how long it will take me to test negative again.

And like last year, I’m wondering when and where I might have picked up this case. Web Summit’s venue, the Riocentro conference center, had what seemed good ventilation, with doors wide open to the outdoors in every exhibit hall and the speaker lounge. But that was not the case for the Riocentro arena and the shuttle vans in which I spent way too much time in traffic–in where I did not wear a mask.

My thinking, presumably like that of the infectious-disease experts who picked up Covid at a Centers for Disease Control conference last month, was that the risk had ebbed far enough. Covid stats are way down worldwide, and I’ve been vaccinated four times–the two original doses in the spring of 2021, a booster in the fall of 2021, and a bivalent booster last fall–on top of last summer’s case.

But that protection might not be as effective if I ran into a new variant–a subject on which researchers may now have a data point from me, thanks to my spending a few minutes at Dulles after arriving Saturday morning to provide a sample at a CDC genomic-surveillance testing station.

And even if I’d masked up more at Web Summit, that still would have left my time indoors at receptions and dinners. There’s only so much you can do to buy down the risk if you’re going to fly to another continent to speak at a conference drawing 21,000-plus attendees from 91 countries, and I decided upfront that the opportunity justified the risk. On in fewer words: Buy the ticket, take the ride.

Unlike last year, this case of Covid isn’t throwing a wrench into any travel plans. It is, however, icing my Mother’s Day agenda for my wife, and I feel lousy about that.


Weekly output: applied AI, open innovation, Mastodon updates, AI equity, 1Password, Signal, Eve Air Mobility, travel tech, travel tips

After getting back from Brazil early Saturday morning, I’ve napped more than usual but have also spoken at an event in D.C., gotten in some gardening, and enjoyed a shorter-than-usual bike ride.

5/1/2023: Companies adopting AI need to move slowly and not break things, Fast Company

I wrote about how two companies I’ve covered elsewhere recently–the satellite-imagery firm Planet and the customer-support platform Intercom–have been deploying AI-based tools a little more cautiously than others.

5/1/2023: How open innovation can drive your organization forward, Web Summit

I led this somewhat-vaguely-titled roundtable discussion at this offsite conference the day before Web Summit’s programming schedule got into gear.

5/2/2023: Mastodon Makes It Easier for Beginners to Get Started, PCMag

I was going to write a reasonably short post about the federated social network Mastodon’s founder deciding that it was time to add quote-posting and text-search features–both of which had been historically unwelcome there–and then realized that PCMag hadn’t written much lately about Bluesky, another interesting, decentralized Twitter alternative.

5/3/3023: AI Can Give Us a Productivity Boost, But Will Everyone Get a Fair Shot at It?, PCMag

I wrote about the talk that Google’s chief design scientist Cassie Kozyrkov gave to close out the conference’s first day, which I found more enlightening than the conference’s description had suggested.

5/3/2023: Goodbye passwords!, Web Summit

I accepted this opportunity to interview 1Password CEO Jeff Shiner about that password-management service’s hopes for no-password passkey authentication, and then Google announced Wednesday morning that it had added passkeys as a login option worldwide.

5/3/2023: Building an app from the ground up, Web Summit

My second panel Wednesday had me interview Signal president Meredith Whittaker about how that encrypted-messaging app could avoid making the privacy mistakes of other competitors in that market.

5/5/2023: This Florida Startup Says It Can Make Electric Air Taxis Happen, PCMag

My longstanding interest in aviation led me to watch and then write up this Thursday-morning panel in which Eve Air Mobility CEO André Stein talked about Eve’s ambitions in electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing (eVTOL) aircraft.

5/6/2023: Will AI Eat Travel? (Clickbait Title for Session on Travel Tech), Frequent Traveler University

In my first appearance at this frequent-flyer gathering since March of 2020 (which feels like 10 years ago), travel blogger Stefan Krasowski quizzed me about the possibilities for conversational AI and many other tech topics. He’s a good onstage interlocutor and I enjoyed the conversation.

5/6/2023: The state of miles and points – what to expect in the next year, Frequent Traveler University

I closed out the day by joining this plus-sized panel featuring other FTU speakers, during which we answered audience questions about things like recent or impending devaluations among frequent-traveler programs.

Starry-eyed in the Southern Hemisphere


A city of almost 7 million people with an attendant level of light pollution isn’t the optimum place to take in the night sky, but I can’t stop doing that here anyway. Because for the first time in my 52 years on this planet, I don’t see the same stars and constellations when I look up after dark.

The Southern Cross hangs in the sky over a building on Rio de Janeiro's waterfront, with Rigil Kentaurus (Alpha Centauri) and Hadar (Beta Centauri) visible below and pointing up at the Southern Cross.

The obvious attraction above is the Southern Cross, a constellation iconic enough to figure in the flags of Brazil, Australia, New Zealand and other Southern Hemisphere nations. I first spot it as a slumped triangle, and after a few minutes for my eyes to adjust I can make out its fourth-brightest star and then the fifth that completes the constellation formally known as Crux.

There’s also the closest star system visible to the unaided eye–which I knew as Alpha Centauri AB as a younger space nerd but now see in my phone’s sky-map app as Rigil Kentaurus.

(Until writing this post, I did not realize how complex stellar nomenclature can get or how it had changed recently as the International Astronomical Union has worked to get more systematic about it.)

The 4.3 light years and change separating our sun from that binary star might as well be walking distance in our galaxy; the closest star visible in the Northern Hemisphere, Sirius, is twice as far away. Meanwhile, Beta Centauri, the triple system visible as a bright star near Rigil Kentaurus (and through which you can visualize a line pointing to the top of Crux) is another 386 light years distant.

I’ve seen less of the brightest star in this hemisphere because Canopus sits lower in the sky here. Above the sky, however, Canopus is unmissable enough to serve as a reference point for star trackers on spacecraft that have helped steer some of them out of the solar system.

Looking up at night far from home on this trip (note: expenses covered by Web Summit in return for my moderating two panels at the new Rio edition of their conference) takes me back to doing the same thing at home in rural New Jersey decades ago, where a clear summer night would treat me to a sky full of stars, with the Milky Way a glowing path arcing overhead behind them. That sight is one thing I still miss about country life, and it remains something I look forward to seeing anew when I have an overnight stay somewhere far from city lights.

Weekly output: Google Authenticator, smartphone-to-satellite call, social-media age-verification bill, climate optimism, “juice jacking” debunked

RIO DE JANEIRO–A year ago, Brazil and the entire Southern Hemisphere did not figure in my near-term travel plans, but then Web Summit announced plans to add a second edition of its flagship conference here. I asked the organizers to keep me in mind, they did, and now I have two panels to moderate Wednesday.

4/24/2023: Google Authenticator Now Syncs Your One-Time Codes Across Devices, PCMag

Writing this allowed me to recycle some choice quotes I got from Google’s security head seven years ago. And then a day later, researchers found that Google doesn’t apply end-to-end encryption to the underlying data. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Authenticator app on my Pixel 5a has yet to get this update.

4/25/2023: AT&T, AST SpaceMobile Claim First Smartphone-to-Satellite Phone Call, PCMag

I got a heads-up about this news from AT&T, which in turn let me engage in further story-notes recycling by using some quotes I’d gathered at the Satellite 2022 show in D.C. in March. And then a post that was supposed to be simple took far more time than I’d expected because AST needed prodding to provide the date when this groundbreaking call happened.

4/27/2023: Senate Bill Would Require Social Media Age Verification for Everyone, PCMag

The buried lede in this bill to require age verification to use a social-media service is its provision for a federal pilot program through which people could get a “secure digital identification credential” to present to social platforms instead of uploading a photo ID or providing a video selfie.

Screenshot of story as seen in Safari for iPadOS; the illustration is a stylized image of wind turbines marching into the distance.4/28/2023: Why some climate experts are optimistic about the future of cleantech, Fast Company

The idea for this story started with watching a SXSW talk–yes, I believe this is the longest I’ve taken to write up anything from that mid-March event. Now that it’s finally written, edited and published, I dearly hope that its optimistic tone will not require a correction later on.

(Patreon readers got a bonus post from leftover SXSW notes about my visit to a nuclear reactor then.)

4/28/2023: The FBI Is Warning About ‘Juice Jacking.’ Are Public Charging Stations Safe?, AARP

Asking the FBI’s public-affairs office about the unsubstantiated warning circulated by the bureau’s Denver field office reminded me of the first time the FBI figured in my copy: the December 1995 cover story I wrote for the Washington Post’s Weekend section about “X-Files” fan culture. This piece also features quotes from two of the people I’ve gotten to know through security conferences, and I’d like to think that it’s the first time a founding member of the L0pht hacker collective has been quoted in a story for AARP.

Weekly output: Speedtest rankings, Starship test launch, new T-Mobile plans, social-media propaganda in Sudan

On Saturday I’m traveling someplace new to me–Rio de Janeiro, where Web Summit is hosting a second annual edition of its conference. My part of it will be interviewing 1Password CEO Jeff Shiner and Signal president Meredith Whittaker; last week, I invited Patreon readers to suggest questions for each of those sessions.

4/17/2023: In Speed Showdown, T-Mobile Leads the Pack, and Not Just in 5G, PCMag

Seeing T-Mobile vault to the head of network-comparison tests like this makes me feel old, because I remember when one of the primary ancestors of that carrier did business as VoiceStream and was nobody’s idea of a threat to AT&T and Verizon.

Screenshot of the PCMag post as seen in Safari for iPadOS; the illustration is a photo showing Starhip ascending from the pad, leaning  slightly to the left.4/20/2023: SpaceX’s Starship Launches Before Exploding 24 Miles Up, PCMag

I once thought I would be able to write this story in early 2022, but I should have given Elon Musk’s optimistic words a much more skeptical hearing. And then the day finally arrived and the giant rocket didn’t make it to staging. I described that as a successful failure, in the sense that SpaceX should now have a wealth of flight data about Starship’s performance, but I didn’t know then that Starship had pulverized part of its launch pad. Or that SpaceX had conducted Starship’s static-fire test in February at only half of the first stage’s thrust.

4/20/2023: T-Mobile Makes a Bid for Hardcore Hotspot Users With New ‘Go5G’ Plans, PCMag

T-Mobile showed up in my coverage again when the carrier introduced two new plans that aren’t named “Magenta” and effectively bracket the previous top-of-the-line Magenta Max plan.

4/23/2023: The war of social media, Al Araby

This Arabic-language news channel had me on to talk about the dueling social-media propaganda campaigns unfolding from both sides of the civil war in Sudan–both of which seem to involve a great deal of deception that benefits from Twitter’s recent “meh” approach to disinformation. I leaned heavily on reports from the Sudanese news site Beam Reports and the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Lab.