Weekly output: Chris Sacca, Vint Cerf, IoT security, fake news, cheap wireless service, wireless plans, Verizon e-mail

My sixth SXSW ended in one of the least likely ways possible. As I was sipping a cup of coffee at the United Club at AUS Wednesday morning and wondering how I could still be full from Tuesday’s dinner, I spotted an older gentleman in a wheelchair whose white hair, beard and gravelly voice all reminded me of the last SXSW talk I’d watched Tuesday. Then I saw his jacket, covered with the logos of every Apollo mission. Yeah: Buzz Aldrin.

After taking a moment to tell myself “act like you’ve been here before, man,” I walked over and said “Dr. Aldrin?” He looked up, I said I’d enjoyed his talk, we exchanged some pleasantries, and then I shook his hand, said it was an honor, and wished him and his companion safe travels. You know, as one does when meeting anybody who’s walked on the Moon.

3/12/2017: Venture investor on Trump: ‘We are in absolute unmitigated crisis’, Yahoo Finance

I had somehow not seen Chris Sacca speak at a conference before. You should avail yourself of that opportunity if it presents itself.

3/12/2017: Google’s chief internet evangelist seems nervous about Trump’s tech policy, Yahoo Finance

I have seen Vint Cerf speak many times before, most recently last April. But this was the first time I’d watched him opine on President Trump’s tech policy, such as it exists.

3/13/2017: Setting Standards for Digital Privacy, Consumer Reports

CR asked me Friday if I could cover this Monday-morning panel, featuring a CR manager and an initiative CR backs to set standards for the security and privacy of Internet of Things devices. I’m glad they dangled that assignment, since otherwise an insightful discussion on a topic I’ve covered for other clients might have escaped my attention.

3/15/2017: Two fake news writers reveal how they ply their trade, Yahoo Finance

My last file for SXSW covered Yasmin Green’s head-fake of a panel–I thought it would cover her work at Google’s Project Jigsaw to counter violent extremism online. But instead she brought two proprietors of fake news (more accurately called “disinformation”), and then things got weird.

3/16/2017: Dear Wirecutter: What’s the Best Budget Cell Phone and Plan for Limited Data Use?, The Wirecutter

A Wirecutter reader wanted to know which $200-ish smartphone and $25-$30 plan to get. The first question was easy to answer, but the second required going back to the reader to confirm how much data usage they had in mind.

3/16/2017: Best Cell Phone Plans, The Wirecutter

I spent a good chunk of February revising the guide we’d just put through a complete rewrite, all because the four major carriers had to revive or improve their unlimited-data offerings. The result: While the guide still endorses Verizon as the best choice overall (with the understanding that many people don’t use that much data), we recommend T-Mobile for those looking for an unlimited-data plan.

3/17/2017: What Verizon email users need to know about it getting out of email, USA Today

When four or so readers e-mail with the same question within a couple of weeks, you probably have a column topic on your hands. I suggested to my editors that this would be worth posting earlier than the usual Sunday, and I’m glad they agreed.

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Weekly output: SXSW tips, Rudy Giuliani, 5G, WikiLeaks and CIA hacks (x2), SXSW marketing, Entrepreneur, Chris Sacca, Vint Cerf

AUSTIN–Welcome, readers frustrated by adjusting their Timex sport watches for Daylight Saving Time. You’re reading a weekly feature here, in which I recap my various media appearances over the last seven days. Most of this week’s items relate to the South By Southwest conference, which I’m covering for my sixth year in a row. Total number of tacos consumed so far: at least nine.

3/7/2017: 5 Insider Tips for Surviving SXSW, CyberCoders

My friend Andrea Smith interviewed me about how I try to stay on top of this sprawling conference. I was going to forget to pack a travel power strip until reading my own advice in this story–but I haven’t used that gadget here anyway.

3/7/2017: Giuliani talks security, Trump at cybersecurity conference, Yahoo Finance

I did not see the foaming-at-the-mouth Rudy Giuliani of the campaign season; instead, the former mayor drew a diagram to illustrate the cybersecurity contractors a company will need (see Violet Blue’s post on her Patreon page for context on that). He also noted that President Trump has more faith in private-sector cybersecurity efforts than the government’s, which led one reader to inquire on Twitter: “So a private email server would be more secure than a government server?”

3/8/2017: 5G data is coming, and it will supercharge your internet connection, Yahoo Finance

This last Mobile World Congress post explains the next generation of wireless generation–as in, why it’s a couple of years before you should be devoting any mental processor cycles to the topic.

3/10/2017: The real lesson of WikiLeaks’ massive CIA document dump — encryption works, Yahoo Finance

I wrote this largely out of annoyance with first-round coverage that played into the WikiLeaks-promoted storyline that the CIA has broken encryption apps. That group has yet to produce any such evidence, although some readers unaware of its increasingly apparent role as a Russian cut-out don’t seem to recognize that.

3/10/2017: WikiLeaks’ CIA-hacking disclosures, Al Jazeera

My Skype interview ended abruptly when the hotspot I’d been using ran out of battery, and that’s entirely my fault for assuming it had enough of a charge instead of checking beforehand. #fail

3/11/2017: How to avoid the marketing hype at SXSW, USA Today

There’s the SXSW that promises insights about the intersections of technology, society, culture, politics and business, and then there’s the SXSW that is essentially a Marketing Spring Break. Neither one can quite exist without the other.

3/12/2017: A Well-Known Tech Watchdog Dishes on the Writing Beat, Entrepreneur

Jordan French interviewed me in February about my history in the business. I’m not sure about the “well-known” part, but I’m not going to turn that description down either. Note that this story references me speaking at the PR Summit conference, which did not happen.

3/12/2017: Venture investor on Trump: ‘We are in absolute unmitigated crisis’, Yahoo Finance

Chris Sacca’s talk at SXSW was 💯, as the kids say. As a journalist, I had to appreciate his newsroom-level ability to use the f-word as a comma. I was only half-joking when I suggested this headline

3/12/2017: Google’s chief internet evangelist seems nervous about Trump’s tech policy, Yahoo Finance

Cardinal rule of tech journalism: If you have a chance to see the guy who co-wrote the core protocols of the thing you use everyday, you should show up. The payoff for me: a tweet that went slightly viral and a post I enjoyed writing–once I’d decided what parts of Cerf’s wide-ranging talk couldn’t fit in the post.

Travel hack gone awry: the conference that got canceled

AUSTIN–South By Southwest starts today, but I’ve been here since Wednesday. That seemed like a smart way to arrange my travel until last Thursday–when the PR Summit conference here vanished from my schedule.

You can’t tell this from the generic “under construction” page at that address, but I was going to participate in a discussion about communications strategies “in the age of Trump and Twitter.” That’s a fascinating topic I hope to address someday. But last Thursday’s e-mail announcing the conference’s postponement after a sponsor’s withdrawal ensures that time won’t be this week.

I have spoken at a lot of conferences over the past 10 years, and this is the first time one has gotten scrubbed like this. My great experience speaking at 2013’s PR Summit in San Francisco led me to expect this one to go just as smoothly–and since I was heading to Austin anyway, moving up my departure by two days and getting a better deal on airfare in the bargain made sense.

Thing is–not that I’d know this first-hand–putting on a conference requires difficult and prolonged work and demands the support of many third parties with their own interests. I should probably be surprised I haven’t had one implode on me before.

The immediate downsides of having the event cancel were realizing I’d spend two more days away from my family without any business rationale, and that I’d need to find someplace else to stay now that the conference-paid hotel room was gone as well.

But the local PR shop TrendKite put together its own small event Wednesday afternoon, at which it was comforting to realize anew that PR pros can find social media just as much of a game of chance as journalists. I stayed the last two nights with a friend from high school and his wife (cooking dinner for them Wednesday allowed an overdue introduction to the kitchen-newbie-friendly UX of a Blue Apron kit). And having last night free let me catch up over dinner with a college-newspaper friend whom I’d last seen in 2003. I can’t complain about those outcomes.

SXSW FYI

South By Southwest has somehow been on my calendar every March since 2012, which should mean I know what I’m doing in Austin. I don’t really–but with friends coming to SXSW for their first time, I’m due to share what I’ve learned over these five years of practice at hanging out with the unelected hipster elite.

sxsw-microphonePacking: SXSW is properly understood as CES in a more walkable city. Bring your most comfortable shoes and socks, take a jacket you can stuff in a bag (it gets warm during March days in central Texas), and ensure your bag/backpack/purse/satchel always includes a power adapter and external battery for your phone.

If you have a travel power strip and extra USB cables, bring them. Helping other people charge their devices is a recognized good deed at SXSW.

I hear that packing a sufficiently ironic t-shirt can’t hurt, but every year I forget to bring anything from my dwindling collection of ’80s concert attire.

Getting around: With Lyft and Uber having fled Austin after it enacted rules that require fingerprinting drivers, getting around CES may be more complicated as you deal with various smaller-scale ride-hailing services. I haven’t tried those alternatives, but I usually stick to walking back and forth–downtown is compact enough.

For travel from and back to the airport, the 100 bus is an underrated option, especially compared to cab lines on SXSW’s opening day of March 10. The Red Line light rail can be helpful for getting to spots on the east side of town, and if you have a car2go membership, that works in Austin too. The city also has a bike share network, but I’ve yet to try that. If only my Capital Bikeshare membership got me a discount on a day pass…

sxsw-6th-streetPanels and venues: At the risk of sounding like a dweeb, SXSW panels deserve your time. They gather smart people who have learned insightful things about the intersection of technology and culture, and you will learn from them if you pay attention. In the bargain, they provide a valuable opportunity to recharge your devices.

Unfortunately, they are also scattered around Austin. The core venues–the Convention Center, he JW Marriott, the Westin, even the Hilton across the street from the convention center–are placed just far enough apart that running into one random acquaintance will lead you to miss the panel you’d put on your schedule in a fit of optimism. If you’d set out to hit a more distant SXSW location like the Hyatt Regency across the river: good luck!

Get used to tearing up those plans in favor of going to whatever you can make in the next 10 minutes. Besides, randomly running into people is one of the best things about SXSW.

Don’t overlook the compact trade-show floor in the convention center. Last year, that led me to headphones 3D-printed to fit only my ear canals (unable to sell that review hardware to anybody else, I donated its sale value to the nonprofit news organization Pro Publica) and a nonprofit campaign collecting USB flash drives on which to smuggle non-totalitarian information into North Korea.

Eating and drinking: The amount of corporate-subsidized food and beverages available during SXSW is ridiculous. I’ve spent the last five years waiting for all of these marketing managers and brand ambassadors to be held accountable for the expenses they run up, but no such thing has happened. So it’s quite possible to spend all five days of SXSW’s Interactive festival without paying for lunch, dinner or drinks.

Breakfast is another thing. So is the late-night snack that may become necessary after attending a SXSW event with more booze than chow. Either way, you’re in one of America’s food-truck capitals: Fire up your eats-finding app of choice, be prepared to walk a few blocks, and you should be fine.

Weekly output: Google phones (x2), SXSL, e-mail encryption

I just watched the second presidential debate, and I was disappointed but not surprised by the lack of tech-policy banter. You?

yahoo-tech-google-phones-post10/3/2016: Why it matters that Google might be producing its own phones, Yahoo Finance

My suggestion at the end that Google might offer an installment-payment option for the new Pixel and Pixel XL phones–something analyst Jan Dawson suggested to me in an e-mail–panned out when Google introduced just that.

10/4/2016: Google’s new phones, WTOP

I spoke briefly about the Pixel and Pixel XL to the news station. One thing I wish I’d mentioned: These two new phones aren’t waterproof, unlike the iPhone 7 and the Galaxy S7.

10/4/2016: Obama gathers top tech to tackle US problems, Yahoo Finance

I spent most of Monday at the White House, which is not a bad way to while away an afternoon. This South by South Lawn event did not feature free beer (at least during the day) and so fell short of being a D.C. salute to Austin’s South by Southwest festival, but on the other hand SXSW has yet to allow me to see Rep. John Lewis (D.-Ga.) speak.

10/9/2016: How to protect your email from snooping, USA Today

Freelancing for multiple clients can sometimes lead to situations where one client asks you to write about an issue involving another.

Weekly output: Gogo 2Ku, online harassment, Twitter filtering, SXSW

I still haven’t caught up on the sleep deficit and food surplus accumulated at SXSW.

Yahoo Tech Gogo 2Ku post3/15/2016: Taking off soon: Gogo promises in-flight Wi-Fi that you won’t hate, Yahoo Tech

This was the most avgeek-ish post I’ve written since my recap of texting and calling from Gogo’s private jet at SXSW two years ago. For more details about this test of Gogo’s new “2Ku” satellite-based WiFi on that company’s Boeing 737-500, I’ll point you to the writers who sat one row behind me, Gary Leff and Zach Honig.

3/16/2016: At SXSW, talking about online harassment — but is anyone listening?, Yahoo Tech

I found SXSW’s Online Harassment Summit to be a little less depressing, slightly more hopeful and a lot less crowded than I expected.

3/18/2016: Hate it when social networks tinker with your timeline? You’d hate it more if they didn’t, Yahoo Tech

As I type this, the post on my Facebook page linking to this story has been seen by all of 29 people, or barely over 1 percent of the people following my page. So, yeah, I am fully aware that algorithmic filtering of social-media timelines has consequences. Or maybe I just wrote a boring post?

3/20/2016: SXSW 2016: A look back at the highlights, USA Today

After a lot of mental back and forth about how I could so some sort of SXSW recap that wouldn’t duplicate all of USAT’s earlier coverage out of Austin, I realized that I could contrast each highlight of the festival with whatever event I had to skip to attend that panel, Q&A or demo.

Weekly output: iOS updates, Mac ransomware, ISP privacy (x2), wedding gifts, e-mail security

AUSTIN–I’ve been here since Friday morning, and somehow I have not eaten any brisket yet. If you choose to regard that oversight as a character issue, I can’t blame you.

3/7/2016: How to recover from iPhone update gone bad, USA Today

I made a mistake in this column–I misread an Apple tech-support note about restoring an iPhone in an Apple Store as evidence that you could also borrow a computer there to backup your iPhone and then restore it. That’s not the case, as two people pointed out, so I’ve asked my editor to correct the piece.

Yahoo Tech ISP-privacy post3/7/2016: Your ISP might not be spying on you now — but you’d be crazy not to worry that it will, Yahoo Tech

This post started life as a simpler, shorter unpacking of a report about the limits to Internet providers’ visibility of their subscribers’ online activity, but the topic and the word count expanded a bit from there.

3/8/2016: Ransomware on the Mac: Turns out identify theft is a problem for apps, too, Yahoo Tech

After this ran, a friend commented on my Facebook page that he uses the Transmission app but had chosen to skip the update that had been contaminated with a ransomware payload. Yikes.

3/9/2016: Great Wedding Registry Gift Ideas, The Sweethome

As part of this long guide to wedding presents, Casey Johnston interviewed my wife and I about the stand mixer that (I think) some of her parents’ friends gave us, and which I use to make bread every week.

3/11/2016: FCC proposes new broadband-privacy rules — and your ISP probably hates them, Yahoo Tech

Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler proposed some not-too-sweeping proposals to limit what your ISP can do with the data it collects about your online activity, and Big Telecom is not amused.

3/13/2016: How to give your email a security checkup, USA Today

I was pleasantly surprised to see some large Internet providers support IMAP syncing and TLS encryption–but others have horribly obsolete and insecure setups. Think about that when you hear somebody insist that the only way to get a good and reliable service online is to pay for it.