Weekly output: Black Hat hacks and security fixes, T-Mobile news, self-driving-car security, voting-machine security, fear of robots

Most of this week’s copy was reported and written the previous week at the Black Hat security conference in Vegas. Considering my own frequently-elastic interpretations of deadlines, I can’t complain about editors with their own crowded calendars taking a day or two to give their full attention to my own work.

8/13/2018: Hacks of Macs, Microsoft Cortana are two more reasons why you should install updates, USA Today

I used this column to synthesize my notes from a few different Black Hat talks that intersected to yield the same lesson: You are safer overall if you install security fixes for your apps and devices when they arrive instead of playing IT department and deciding which ones should wait.

8/13/2018: What could T-Mobile uncap for its next Un-carrier news?, Fierce Wireless

I wrote this curtain-raiser for T-Mobile’s Wednesday announcement twice when a late reply from one analyst and my tardy queries to others led me to file a 1.0 version that would make it into Fierce’s mid-day newsletter. The one you can read now includes quotes from those additional experts–none correctly forecasting that T-Mobile would make its next big push better customer service.

8/13/2018: How two car hackers plan to keep GM’s self-driving cars safe, Yahoo Finance

The single most entertaining talk at Black Hat was this presentation from Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek. You may remember them as the guys who hacked a Jeep Cherokee in 2015 to seize control of it with Wired writer Andy Greenberg at the wheel. The two now work for the GM subsidiary Cruise Automation, and at Black Hat they explained how they plan to stop the likes of them from remotely exploiting Cruise’s fleet of self-driving vehicles–in part by removing such attack surfaces as Bluetooth wireless and the FM radio.

8/14/2018: There’s more to election integrity than secure voting machines, The Parallax

Another Black Hat talk gave me one more chance to take a whack at the WinVote voting machines that infested polling places across Virginia–mine included–for a decade. This time around, I checked back with a couple of the experts I’d consulted for earlier coverage of electronic voting machines and learned that both wished they’d paid more attention before to such separate election-integrity issues as voter registration systems.

8/15/2018: Robot workers or human employees, Al Jazeera

I got a request from my usual guy in AJ’s D.C. bureau asking if I could talk about the prospect of robots taking human jobs–both in the private and defense sectors. I was in Boston at the time visiting family, but that proved to be no problem. Instead of them sending a car to my house to take me to their D.C. studios, they ran me over to a studio in downtown Boston, where I did my talking-head duty (overdubbed live into Arabic) wearing one of my brother’s jackets. Since I knew I’d only appear on camera from the torso up, I didn’t bother changing out of the shorts and sandals I’d put on that morning.

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Weekly output: Verizon WiFi testing, cord cutting, Sprint + T-Mobile, Sprint unlimited plans

Not that the weather around here ever takes me up on any suggestions, but it sure would be nice to have a little rain every other day instead of having a few weeks of drought followed by a week of almost nonstop downpours.

7/17/2018: Inside Verizon’s unique approach to Wi-Fi testing, FierceWireless

I had a field trip two weeks ago to Ashburn to check out some of the testing facilities Verizon has set up there. Verizon PR offered to have an Uber fetch me from home, but instead of subjecting a driver and myself to morning I-66 traffic, I asked if they could move that pickup to the current end of the Silver Line–which let me get some work done on the train and then gawk at Silver Line Phase II construction on my way to Loudoun County.

7/18/2018: Cord-cutting will cost cable companies $5.5B this year: Survey, Yahoo Finance

I wrote up a new survey of cord cutting from the NYC-based management consultancy cg42. Some of the numbers in this survey looked a little out there, and quizzing cg42’s managing partner Stephen Beck revealed some reasons why.

7/19/2018: Why the Sprint and T-Mobile merger could be good for you, Yahoo Finance

My default attitude towards giant telecom mergers remains skepticism. But when two different studies of wireless network performance suggested that a combination of Sprint and T-Mobile would yield significantly better results than a simple addition of their coverage maps would suggest, I had to put that in the story–while noting that the effects of such a combination on pricing are another issue.

7/22/2018: How to tell if Sprint’s new unlimited data plans are worth the upgrade, USA Today

Speaking of wireless, yet another reshuffling of plans at Sprint led to this piece advising readers how to compare that carrier’s two new unlimited-data (read: unlimited on-phone data) plans. The column also takes yet another whack at Apple for shipping a data-usage meter in iOS that doesn’t break down bandwidth consumption by month.

Weekly output: Verizon’s unlimited plan (x3), video-game economic impact, chatbots, broadband competition

Presidents’ Day used to feel like a real holiday–preferably experienced while enjoying views from a chairlift somewhere–but Monday doesn’t feel like much of one. I’m facing an abbreviated workweek, thanks to my Friday departure for Barcelona to cover Mobile World Congress. On the upside, I’m about to spend a few days in Spain for work.

2/13/2017: How Verizon’s new ‘unlimited’ plan compares to the competition, Yahoo Finance

This workweek technically started Sunday afternoon, when Verizon announced that it would once again sell an unlimited–more accurately called “unmetered”–data plan. After I’d filed this post, I got to rewrite a quarter of it to catch up with T-Mobile lifting the two worst restrictions on its own “unlimited” plan.

esa-panel-screengrab2/14/2017: Achievement Unlocked: The Video Game Industry’s Economic Impact, Entertainment Software Association

The nice thing about moderating a panel with members of Congress: They are guaranteed to make you look timely. Rep. Pete Aguilar (D.-Calif.) had to duck out halfway through this discussion, just as Rep. Doug Collins (R.-Ga.) made his belated entrance. You can watch the conversation, also featuring Higher Education Video Game Alliance president Constance Steinkuehler, on Twitch (this is the first and probably the last time I’ll appear on that game-centric network) and see photos from the event at ESA’s Facebook page.

2/15/2017: A Chatbot Is Here to Help, FedTech

I filed this story about the potential of chatbots to ease federal-government services in a simpler time when a Facebook Messenger bot would walk you through sending a message to the president. The Trump administration shut that down; I don’t know why, as my e-mailed inquiry to the White House press office did not yield a response.

2/15/2017: Here are the catches in Verizon’s new plan, USA Today

My editors at USAT asked if I could file my column early, recognizing that something about Verizon advertising unlimited data was driving readers bonkers. The piece now has 27,788 Facebook shares, which suggests they had the right idea.

usat-facebook-live2/17/2017: Unlimited data! But at what cost?, USA Today

My USAT editors also asked if I could do a Facebook Live spot with tech and media reporter Mike Snider. This allowed me to see what USAT’s Tysons Corner newsroom looks like–yes, more than five years after I started writing for the place.

2/18/2017: Wireless carriers are fighting for your cash, and that’s good news, Yahoo Finance

While I was gathering string for a story on broadband infrastructure, I realized I already had almost everything needed to write a post about the wireless industry’s recent display of the benefits of competition–and the equally telling behavior of residential-broadband services that face few or no rivals.

Weekly output: CES recap, United fleet site, cybersecurity coverage, wireless phone plans, inauguration wireless coverage, T-Mobile One alternatives

I got a little extra publicity this week from the Columbia Journalism Review when its editors illustrated their open letter to President Trump from the White House press corps with a photo I took of the White House press briefing room. It’s been flattering to see that people actually read photo credits! I would have liked to see CJR link to the original–I believe that’s a condition of the Creative Commons non-commercial-use-allowed license under which I shared it on Flickr–but the reply I got was that their CMS doesn’t support links in photo credits.

That photo, incidentally, comes from 2014’s White House Maker Faire–exactly the sort of event I don’t expect to get invited to over the next four years.

1/17/2017: Techdirt Podcast Episode 105: The CES 2017 Post-Mortem, Techdirt

I talked with Techdirt founder Mike Masnick about my experience at this year’s show. I did the interview using a podcasting Web app I hadn’t tried before, Cast. My verdict: great UX, but that name is horrible SEO.

Screenshot of Air & Space story1/18/2017: Get to Know Your Airliner, Air & Space Magazine

I finally wrote a story for a magazine I’ve been reading on and off since high school, which is pretty great. The subject: the United Airlines Fleet Website, a remarkably useful volunteer-run database of United planes that I’ve gotten in the habit of checking before every UA flight. The story should also be in the February issue, available at newsstands in the next few days.

1/18/2017: What you should really know about every major hacking story, Yahoo Finance

I put on my media-critic hat to write this post about what too many cybersecurity pieces–and too many mass-media conversations on the subject, up to and including those started by Donald Trump–get wrong.

1/19/2017: The Best Cell Phone Plans, The Wirecutter

We decided last summer that having separate guides for the four major wireless carriers and for prepaid and resold phone plans didn’t help readers who should be considering all of their options. That also imposed extra work on me. The result: a single guide that’s much shorter and will be easier to update the next time, say, Sprint rolls out some new price plans.

1/19/2017: How carriers will keep D.C. online during Trump’s inauguration, Yahoo Finance

The real test of the big four networks came not during President Trump’s under-attended inauguration but the Women’s March on Washingtoh the next day. To judge from the experience of my wife and others, the carriers did not acquit themselves too well: Her Verizon iPhone lost data service for part of the day, and I saw friends posting on Facebook that they couldn’t get photos to upload.

1/22/2017: Am I stuck with T-Mobile’s flagship plan?, USA Today

T-Mobile’s decision to limit its postpaid offerings to the unmetered-but-not-unlimited T-Mobile One gave me an opportunity to provide a quick tutorial on the differences between postpaid, prepaid and resold services.

Weekly output: social-media mimicry, T-Mobile’s network, Windows 10 and Android notifications, Windows 10’s reception

Last week, I had Bernie Sanders dead-enders and WikiLeaks zealots angry at me. This week, it’s Windows 7 users. I have to imagine that some of these embittered Microsoft customers also voted for Sanders and have WikiLeaks bookmarked, which I guess means they’re now shopping for voodoo dolls to name after me.

8/3/2016: 3 features that social networks should never, ever borrow from one another, Yahoo Finance

I had been sketching out an essay along these lines for a while when Instagram copied a Snapchat feature almost wholesale, giving me a news peg on which to hang this post.

Yahoo Finance T-Mobile network post8/4/2016: T-Mobile now has America’s second-best availability, new ranking says, Yahoo Finance

We changed the headline on this after AT&T PR complained about the use of the word “coverage” in it when OpenSignal takes care to say they only track LTE availability over time, not over geography. That struck me as a fair objection, so we revised the hed.

8/7/2016: Get Windows 10 in touch with your Android phone, USA Today

I was working on a different topic, which you may read next weekend or the week after, when I decided I could get this week’s column done quicker by devoting it to a walk-through of a nifty cross-platform notification system available in Windows 10’s new Anniversary Update, an upgrade I’d just installed with zero issues on two tablets I’m testing for an upcoming story.

8/7/2016: Windows 10 isn’t perfect — but it’s time to let go of Windows 7, Yahoo Finance

Reader reaction has been pretty negative to this piece. Some of it is fair–like objecting to Microsoft’s problem-monitoring telemetry or the company’s pushy presentation of this update–but to call the 2009-era Win 7 a better fit for the hardware and Internet of today strikes me as a serious reach. If you had an update to Windows 10 hobble your computer, I’m sorry for your loss. But I’ve heard that complaint about every single Windows release ever, and my own experience and the prior reader input I’ve seen suggests Win 10 is a less risky upgrade than its predecessors

The apps that finally pushed me past my data plan’s limit

For the first time in years, maybe ever, I maxed out the data plan on my phone. Fortunately, racking up 3.68 gigabytes of data when I’d only paid T-Mobile for 3 GB didn’t cost me anything–the leftover data from earlier months socked away in my Data Stash covered the overage, and I still have more than 5 GB in the bank.

Android data usageBut the experience did remind me that you can burn through mobile bandwidth surprisingly fast. And since I’m always asking readers who have had the same experience “what apps did you in,” I should answer the same question myself.

So here are the top 10 offenders listed in Android’s Data Usage screen:

• Twitter: 1.91 GB. This one stands out not just because it’s at the top of the list–that’s a quasi-obscene amount of data for a social network originally designed to function over SMS. Tapping that entry revealed that Twitter ate up almost half of that data, 855 megabytes, while running in the background; I guess that’s why Android has a “Restrict app background data” control.

• Chrome: 723 MB. This didn’t surprise me much, since I haven’t switched on this browser’s Data Saver option. I’m glad it’s there, though.

• Facebook: 244 MB. I expected more, considering how I spend almost as much time in this app as I do in Twitter. The developers at the social network may deserve a little more credit for keeping their app quasi-efficient in its bandwidth use.

• Android OS: 109 MB. Picture me shrugging as I realize how little this entry just told me.

• Gmail: 92.6 MB. I thought this would be higher, considering I have this app syncing three different e-mail accounts.

• Google App: 63.11 MB. This is all Google Now, right?

• Google Play services: 62.55 MB. Here we have another catchall item–this Android library does chores for a vast variety of apps on a phone.

• Vine: 55.79 MB. While Twitter’s primarily text-based app binged on bandwidth, its video-only offshoot sipped this little. Picture me once again shrugging.

• Snapchat: 53.13 MB. I don’t even use this app in any meaningful way (a fuller account of my Snapchat incompetence will require a separate post), so I don’t know how it burned through that much data.

• Flickr: 48.02 MB. This would have been vastly higher had I not set Yahoo’s photo-sharing app to upload photos only over WiFi. The Play Store accounts for a tiny share of my bandwidth for the same reason.

If you don’t mind sharing, what apps top your own phone’s data-usage screen? I realize that in iOS, you can’t get a month-by-month breakdown (the upcoming iOS 10 doesn’t fix that, to judge from the peek I got at it last month), but even the running total iOS keeps should still yield some useful insights.

Weekly output: customer satisfaction, net neutrality, Facebook interest-based ads

Having a holiday shorten this work week was much appreciated. So was the chance to catch up with some of my college-newspaper friends Saturday; my unpaid, no-course-credits-granted time at the Georgetown Voice remains the most career-relevant thing I did in college.

Yahoo Finance ACSI post6/1/2016: New customer service survey says Comcast is no longer the worst, Yahoo Finance

This was the first story I’ve written in an actual newsroom in quite some time, thanks to me visiting Yahoo Finance’s NYC offices for the day.

6/5/2016: The FCC’s ‘power grab’ on net neutrality still hasn’t burned your broadband provider, Yahoo Finance

I was working on another story when I saw that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit had yet again failed to cough up a ruling on the suit challenging the Federal Communications Commission’s net-neutrality regulations. I decided that I was tired of waiting on that court to write my next post about the net-neutrality argument and cranked out this over a couple of hours.

6/5/2016: Status with Facebook ‘interest-based’ ads is complicated, USA Today

This was yet another piece that I didn’t have on my list of story ideas at the start of the week. My summary to my editor after spending two hours bouncing e-mails back and forth with Facebook PR to discern the privacy models behind two of the social network’s ad systems: “This was one of the bigger reporting hairballs I’ve had to eat.”