Weekly output: Helicopters of D.C., DOJ sues Google, Rocket Lab launch, DirecTV drops Newsmax

Last week featured my second business trip of the year, and also my third trip to the destination in question since the middle of December.

Screenshot of story as seen in Safari on an iPad mini 6, illustrated with a photo of a UH-60 Blackhawk flying with the Washington Monument in the background.1/23/2023: How Crowdsourced Chopper Spotting Helps ID the Helicopters of DC, PCMag

I’ve been following the @HelicoptersofDC Twitter account for two years and change, so it was a treat to see Andrew Logan, the guy behind this aircraft-tracking project, explain how it works and how he’s dealt with obstacles ranging from uncooperative government agencies to Elon Musk.

1/24/2023: DOJ: Google ‘Corrupted Legitimate Competition’ With Ad-Tech Business, PCMag

My take on this antitrust lawsuit targeting Google’s display-ads practices: If people as politically opposed as U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton all think you’re guilty, you’d better lawyer up.

1/25/2023: On Second Try, Rocket Lab’s Electron Leaps to Space From Virginia Coast, PCMag

Almost a month after the first of three road trips to Wallops Island, I got to see a rocket fly to space–the fourth time I’ve done so close enough to hear it, and the first of those times I didn’t have to fly to Florida first. For another take on the experience, see the writeup from Ars Technica’s John Timmer, who had already decided to drive there and back and gave me a lift.

1/25/2023: DirectTV Dumps Newsmax, Citing Fees, Newsmax Cries ‘Censorship’, PCMag

The notion that DirecTV’s owners–gigantic telecom conglomerate AT&T and the private-equity firm TPG–are somehow members of the woke mob is dumb beyond belief. And yet that claim also fits right into a pattern of performative victimhood in the Trumpian part of today’s Republican Party.

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Weekly output: Samsung self-repair, FCC chair’s security concerns, tech-policy forecast, password managers, Google layoffs, electric-car progress, legal risks for security research

This week had me head into D.C. for work events four days in a row, something that last happened in early 2020.

1/17/2023: Samsung ‘Self-Repair’ Program Adds Galaxy S22 Phones, Some Galaxy Books, PCMag

The post I wrote after Samsung gave me an advance copy of their press release noted the limited number of replacement parts offered under this program, but Technica’s Ron Amadeo–who has a lot more experience with Samsung gadgets than I do–went into detail about how much it doesn’t cover.

1/18/2023: FCC Chair: 5G Expansion Creates ‘Broader Attack Surface’ for Cyberattacks, PCMag

I watched a brief but fairly info-dense speech by FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel about privacy and security risks to U.S. wireless networks and their customers.

Screenshot of the story in Safari for iPadOS, illustrated with a photo of the Capitol not long after sunrise.1/18/2023: Is This the Year Congress Finally Tackles Privacy Legislation?, PCMag

Betteridge’s law of headlines suggests that the answer to that question is “no.” A look at the last decade of Congressional inaction on privacy also points to a negative answer.

1/19/2023: Considering an app to manage your passwords? This advice will be key no matter which app you choose., USA Today

This column got published considerably after I filed it, and I don’t exactly know why. Fortunately (or unfortunately, if you’re a LastPass customer), LastPass hasn’t provided any more clarity about its data breach since I wrote the piece.

1/20/2023: Google layoffs, Al Jazeera

I made an in-studio appearance to talk about Google’s layoffs–and made sure to note Google’s aggressive stock buybacks.

1/20/2023: Feds Tout Progress in Electrifying US Fleet, Building Out Car Chargers, PCMag

The Washington Auto Show’s public-policy day didn’t feature an enormous amount of news, but two panels featuring Biden administration representatives yielded some useful details about efforts to electrify government vehicles and support building out hundreds of thousands of new car chargers.

1/22/2023: Good News, Bad News for Security Researchers: Feds Are Less Likely to Charge You, States Are Another Thing, PCMag

Information-security lawyer Harley Geiger gave an amusing and informative talk at the ShmooCon conference about the state of computer-crime laws and how they can menace legitimate security research.

Weekly output: 5G patents, Shazam suggests local concerts, quantum computing, smartphone plans, Mark Vena podcast, Russian hacking

This event treated me to not one but two conferences in D.C.–Satellite 2022 at the convention center, then ShmooCon at the Washington Hilton. I can’t remember when I last used Capital Bikeshare every workday in a week, but it can’t have been more recently than 2019.

Patreon readers got a bonus this week: a recap of my attempt to figure out how a reader’s wife’s browsing activity could have landed a PayPal promotional e-mail in his inbox.

3/22/2022: USPTO study: Everyone’s a winner in 5G patents, Light Reading

I wrote a couple of quick posts last week for my telecom trade-pub client to cover for an editor finally taking a vacation. This one poked yet another hole in the useless “race to 5G” trope.

Screenshot of story as seen in Safari on an iPad; it's illustrated with a photo of a band on stage3/22/2022: Shazam Now Suggests Nearby Concerts, PCMag

Writing this post about how the Apple-owned song-identification app will now show nearby concerts of the artists it recognizes made me miss seeing bands play live. By which I mean, seeing bands play live at Iota.

3/23/2022: Telecom needs to get ready for quantum computing, report warns, Light Reading

I don’t usually write about quantum computing, so this was a neat departure from the usual.

3/24/2022: The Best Cell Phone Plans, Wirecutter

The latest update to the guide that I started working on more than eight years ago covers 5G improvements at AT&T and Verizon, updates to Verizon’s unlimited offerings, and advice about 3G shutdowns at the big three carriers.

3/24/2022: S02 E13 – SmartTechCheck Podcast, Mark Vena

I used my part of this industry analyst’s podcast (also available in video form) to talk about the space-tourism possibilities I heard about at Satellite 2022.

3/25/2022: Department of Justice Reminds Us Russian Hackers Are a Serious Threat, PCMag

The DOJ’s unsealing of two indictments returned last year against Russian government employees came with a reminder to U.S. companies to step up their  own security efforts. Conveniently enough, two ShmooCon speakers had talked the night before about Washington’s latest attempts to warn American firms about Russian hacking, so I ended the post by quoting them.

Updated 3/29/2022 to add the Wirecutter update that had escaped my attention (by which I mean a Google search Sunday for mentions of my name in the last week didn’t surface it). 

Weekly output: spotting fakes in e-mails and text messages

Spending most of this week knocked out by a cold had the predictable effects on my productivity, but at least my schedule was clear. That’s not the case this week, which features one day in which I won’t be able to do any work between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m.–Tuesday, when I’ll be working as an election officer for Arlington.

2/25/2020: Here’s how hard it is to spot a fake email address or phone number, Fast Company

This post started with an interesting talk I saw at the ShmooCon security conference at the start of February. I’d meant to write up this EmailRep system for automatically rating the credibility of e-mail addresses right after, but breaking news kept intruding. That worked out in okay when a pitch from an old PR rep about did not land in my inbox–because Google thought it belonged in my spam filter, thereby providing the perfect demonstration of how hard it can be for software to decide if an e-mail is suspicious or not.

Weekly output: #DIV/0!

For the first time since two Augusts ago, I have no new bylines in a week. I did file one story, not yet posted, and get much of the reporting done for two others–after losing much of the first two days from having our schools closed after last weekend’s snowstorm–but it’s still annoying to have this post equate to a divide-by-zero error.

And that happened even though I worked for a good chunk of this weekend: I spent most of Saturday at the Shmoocon cybersecurity conference in D.C. I connected with people much better-informed than me, picked up some useful insights that I hope to turn into a post, caught up with an old friend, and enjoyed spotting the hilarious National Security Agency recruitment ad pictured at right. (No, I did not plug in my phone.)

Having this con take place at the Washington Hilton provided a bonus level of amusement. I’ve been at the venue Washingtonians call the Hinckley Hilton for many other events, but none had involved so many people with hair dyed interesting colors and on-message t-shirts (e.g,, “Crypto means cryptography”). That was an excellent change-up from this hotel’s usual overdressed look.