Weekly output: WikiLeaks, standard-definition pay-TV channels

This past week was supposed to be downtime visiting family in Boston, but when we booked this I didn’t think to see if it would overlap any major-party conventions. I also didn’t wrap up a longer, not-yet-published feature beforehand as I should–and then people had to go and make news outside the Democratic convention anyway. It was a minor miracle that I only lost two full days to my laptop. And yes, you have read this kind of story before here.

Yahoo Finance WikiLeaks post7/27/2016: If you value privacy, WikiLeaks stopped being your friend years ago, Yahoo Finance

I wrote about WikiLeaks in depth for the first time since maybe late 2010, and even back then I was growing doubtful of that site’s preening self-righteousness. My reward was seeing my Twitter notifications become even more of a nexus of derp than usual, but I did appreciate seeing the kind of company I had in my skeptical assessment of WikiLeaks.

7/31/2016: How to watch TV channels in high definition, USA Today

Once again, a family member’s tech troubles–Fios boxes showing the standard-definition versions of major networks when HD feeds of them were available–turned into column materials. Fortunately, this time around I was able to find a solution for the issue, research how other TV providers handle this, and get the column written and filed considerably earlier than usual.

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Weekly output: mobile payments, FCC regulations, Apple and the FBI, flash drives to North Korea, smart cities, Apple at 40, fiber Internet hardware fees

I wrote three of the stories below before this week–in one case, months before this week–so don’t get the wrong idea about my personal productivity over the last six days.

Yahoo Tech mobile-payments post3/29/2016: Don’t take my money: Why mobile payments haven’t taken off — yet, Yahoo Tech

In what I can only call epic timing, I had to have one of my credit cards reissued only hours after I filed this last week. Some joker had somehow obtained the number and used it for an online transaction at a random Ukrainian merchant. That’s the scenario that mobile payments could have prevented–if the unknown merchant that lost my card’s digits had accepted NFC phone payments, which is nowhere near a sure thing.

3/29/2016: Shining the Spotlight on the FCC: How Rules Impact Consumers and Industries, American Action Forum

I moderated a debate about the Federal Communications Commission’s recent regulatory initiatives with AAF’s Will Rinehart, Public Knowledge’s Meredith Rose and Tech Knowledge’s Fred Campbell. Rose and the other two come at this topic from different perspectives, as you can see below, but we had a civil and entertaining exchange.

3/29/2016: Lessons from the Apple-FBI fight, Yahoo Tech

When I wrote this, it still seemed possible that the FBI might disclose the vulnerability it exploited to unlock the phone used by one of the San Bernardino murderers. That now seems exceedingly unlikely. My hunch is that the Feds have bought themselves a short-term advantage that’s likely to set them back in the long run.

3/30/2016: New use for old flash drives: Subverting the regime in North Korea, Yahoo Tech

This story came about because I set aside a couple of hours on my last day at SXSW to tour the show floor and therefore came across this fascinating demo. The idea of smuggling flash drive into the “Democratic” “People’s” “Republic” of Korea might seem a wildly optimistic exercise in slacktivism, but two experts on North Korea told me it’s worth doing.

3/31/2016: The Internet of Things Drives Smart Transportation Projects, StateTech

I filed this piece about interesting smart-city projects in Chicago and Washington quite some time ago, but the story got held up for various reasons until the appropriate “publish” button was finally clicked this week.

4/1/2016: Apple turns 40, Al Jazeera

The news network’s Arabic channel had me on (overdubbed in Arabic by a translator) to talk about Apple turning 40. I answered a question about the state of the company post-Steve Jobs by saying that its hardware looked as innovative as ever, but its services remain a mess.

4/3/2016: Hardware fees not just for cable Internet, USA Today

Your e-mails asking about cable-modem costs at U-verse (note: not a cable system) got me thinking, and then I realized that AT&T’s mandatory hardware fee for its fiber service makes most cable operators’ price structure look reasonable.

Updated 4/4, 8:26 a.m. to add Friday’s Al Jazeera interview.

I see you all have some questions about your “cable modems”

After I filed my latest USA Today column–a reminder that it’s still generally a waste of money to rent a cable modem–one of my editors said they would play up the post. He and his colleagues may have used some sort of cheat code, as the column has drawn more feedback than almost anything else I’ve written for USAT since starting this column at the end of 2011.

Old coax cable close-upAmong the 100-plus comments and 40 or so e-mails I’ve received since this piece went up Monday morning, the most common queries addressed Internet services that don’t involve any cable-television infrastructure.

AT&T’s U-verse was the most frequent subject of readers’ curiosity, followed by Verizon’s Fios and then CenturyLink’s digital-subscriber-line offering. I didn’t cover them in my cable-modem column because they all branch off the telephone evolutionary tree–AT&T and Verizon use fiber-optic lines built on top of their phone networks, while CenturyLink’s DSL relies on traditional copper phone lines. None depend on the local cable plant; all compete with it at some level.

Am I going to write back to all of these readers to explain that they’ll see my column is properly framed once they understand some first principles about telecom? No.

Many normal people just don’t classify their home Internet service by which regulated local monopoly began building out its infrastructure decades ago or how how high its wires go on a utility pole. The problem isn’t that some think of their phone and cable companies as functional equivalents, it’s that too many others can’t because only their cable operator delivers both television and high-speed broadband.

Besides, AT&T’s policies about U-verse hardware are interesting enough–especially compared to Verizon’s–to justify a follow-up column. Look for that this weekend.