Weekly output: Apple silicon, undermining Facebook’s business model (x2), remote teamwork, cybersecurity and privacy (x2), banning strong encryption, Google paying news sites, Washington Apple Pi

I only had a four-day work week, but Tuesday was no day off for me: I worked my second primary election in Arlington. Turnout was exponentially lower than what I saw in March, between this primary being limited to Republican candidates for Senate and the novel-coronavirus pandemic pushing people to vote by mail, but I still appreciated the work and appreciated the voters who showed up.

Patreon subscribers got an (overdue) post from me in which I recap recent reader reports of bad behavior from Comcast, Google, Spectrum and Sprint.

6/23/2020: No Intel inside? What Apple’s change will mean for your Mac, USA Today

I contributed to USAT’s coverage of Apple’s upcoming switch from Intel to ARM-based processors by quizzing a few Mac software developers about how they thought the transition would play out.

6/23/2020: Giving Facebook less data is a good idea. Even better: Just use it less, Fast Company

I filed this story a week or so earlier, but the delay allowed events to catch up to my topic of undermining Facebook’s business model, in the form of the first big-name advertisers saying they’d pull their ads off Facebook properties in July.

6/23/2020: Is it possible to unite a remote team?, Collision

My first panel at this conference that would have had me in Toronto this week before the pandemic forced its move to a virtual format focused, appropriately enough, on the challenges of remote teamwork. We–meaning myself, Aptum CEO Susan Bowen, Vidyard CEO Michael Litt, and Real Ventures managing partner Janet Bannister–recorded the discussion in advance, so my spending all of Tuesday working the election was not a problem.

6/24/2020: Building a paradigm of trust, Collision

My second pre-recorded Collision panel, this time about new challenges in cybersecurity, featured Akamai chief information officer Mani Sundaram, Sumo Logic chief security officer George Gerchow, and Honeywell chief digital technology officer Sheila Jordan.

6/24/2020: These Senators Want To Force Tech Firms To Give The Cops Keys To Our Encrypted Data, Forbes

I really thought a story about a bill that would ban end-to-end encryption across an enormous range of devices and apps–and that got introduced by its Republican sponsors just as Attorney General Bill Barr’s role as President Trump’s political commissar in the Justice Department became even more obvious–would get more readers. My venture into getting paid per click isn’t off to the best start.

6/25/2020: What is the role of the media in covering online security and privacy matters?, Collision

I hosted a roundtable discussion about press coverage of these issues that wound up not drawing many attendees, but I enjoyed the discussion anyway. Getting to talk about the issues you cover with knowledgeable people you hadn’t met before is one of the things I liked about going to conferences, and this part of Collision reminded me of that.

6/26/2020: Google Says It Will Pay News Sites For Their Work—But Not Yet Here, Forbes

My other post for Forbes this week covered a new initiative by Google to pay news publishers to reproduce their stories on some of its properties. I reported it out by checking in with the news types I’d quizzed for a feature last month about Google’s relationship with news publishers.

6/27/2020: Rob Pegoraro Zooms into the Pi, Washington Apple Pi

I talked to this Apple user group via Zoom instead of appearing in person as I did last June. That meant I couldn’t do my usual giveaway of trade-show swag, but not having to drive anywhere also meant I could mow the lawn before this virtual session.

6/27/2020: Advertisers boycotting Facebook, Al Jazeera

I talked about the growing number of advertisers choosing to pull their ads off of Facebook properties, in some cases off of social media entirely.

Weekly output: small telecom firms dropping pay TV, remote-working security, Facebook bias allegations

This week brought bad news on the client front: Glimmer, the tech-culture publication where I’ve enjoyed writing long features about such wonky topics as Google’s complex relationship with news publishers, did not survive a round of layoffs at its corporate parent Glitch. As crummy as this was for me, it was worse for my editor there who now finds herself unemployed.

5/18/2020: Small TV providers need to hold customers’ hands to exit TV, FierceVideo

This story took much longer to report than I expected, mainly because I had a hard time getting enough of the small number of tiny Internet providers to have dropped pay TV outright to return my calls or e-mails.

5/19/2020: Session 3 Security Panel, Futureproof IT

In my first virtual-conference panel, I talked about security issues with remote-work software (via Zoom, naturally) with Secureframe CEO Shrav Mehta, Splunk senior technology advocate Amélie Erin Koran, and freelance tech journalist Yael Grauer.

5/22/2020: Facebook bias allegations, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news network had me to discuss complaints that Facebook is blocking pro-Palestinian speech. That’s not an allegation I’ve seen confirmed independently–it’s not hard to find pages advocating for Palestine and against Israel’s occupation–but I spent most of my time on air emphasizing the general difficulty of content moderation at scale. I hope my effort at nuance was as persuasive in the interpreter’s rendition.

Updated 6/30/2020 with the screengrab from the Futureproof IT site that I forgot to add the first time.

Weekly output: browser choices, OurStreets for groceries, browser choices and sports-network fees, coronavirus effects on tech

In a fit of optimism two weeks ago, I put together a panel proposal for this fall’s Online News Association conference–which, at the rate things are going, could be my next business trip if I even go anywhere for work over the rest of this year. Over at Patreon, I wrote a post Tuesday for subscribers about how I put together this pitch and recruited two other panelists for it.

4/27/2020: Browsers: Chrome, Safari or Edge?, Talking Tech

My USA Today colleague Jefferson Graham interviewed me for his podcast about my recent column on browser choices.

4/28/2020: Can’t find toilet paper, eggs, or flour? This app knows where to go, Fast Company

I wrote about the reincarnation of an app that I’d covered first in January as a tool to report bad behavior by drivers. OurStreets now delivers crowd-sourced intelligence about the availability of such staples as toilet paper, bread, milk, eggs and flour. It’s done that impressively well around D.C. in my own experience, but in other cities it’s yet to see the same shopper pickup. (I have to credit my editor Harry McCracken for asking me to go into more detail about this app’s slower adoption outside its launch market of the greater Washington area.)

4/28/2020: This Morning with Gordon Deal April 28, 2020, This Morning With Gordon Deal

I was on this business-news radio show to talk about my USA Today columns on desktop browser choices and sports-network fees on pay TV.

4/30/2020: Moor Insights & Strategy Podcast (4-30-20), Mark Vena

I joined my analyst pal’s podcast with fellow tech freelancers John Quain and Stewart Wolpin to talk about working from home and when we’ll ever get to meet in person again at some tech event. Appropriately enough, our conversation about using collaborative tools to work remotely got interrupted when Stewart mysteriously dropped off the Zoom call.

Updated 6/21/2020 to add a link to Jefferson Graham’s podcast, which I’d missed before because he misspelled my last name in the writeup. Yes, this happens fairly often. 

Weekly output: Streaming video vs. ISPs, streaming-TV advice, Twitter takedowns

In an alternate universe, this week would have seen two opening days: the Nationals home game and the year’s first mowing of the lawn. Opening Day has yet to happen, but at least our yard looks a lot nicer, especially after some obsessive weeding this weekend.

Patreon members got an extra this week: my calculations about finally replacing my aging iMac with a now-slightly-less-expensive Mac mini.

3/30/2020: Relax: Netflix binging won’t kill broadband during the COVID-19 crisis, Fast Company

Beyond talking to the usual bandwidth experts about the odds of our connectivity crumpling under all the new work-from-home traffic, I also quizzed people at three small Internet providers that don’t have the resources of a Comcast to deal with a flood of traffic.

4/1/2020: Streaming Services: A U.S. News Guide, U.S. News & World Report

U.S. News contributor Rudi Greenberg interviewed me for this cheat sheet about TV cord cutting.

4/2/2020: Twitter takedowns, Al Jazeera

I appeared via Skype on the Arabic-language news channel to talk about Twitter’s latest takedowns of networks of state-run sockpuppet accounts. I hope my key point came across in overdubbed Arabic: Twitter’s problem is what while it’s learned to catch these influence operations, it can’t catch them as fast as its trending-topics algorithm can boost some of their output.

Weekly output: YouTube in standard definition, tech and the coronavirus

Another Sunday, another week with zero professional events outside my home and only one trip outside my neighborhood. That was a run Monday to a garden center when it looked like that category of retail might have to shut; it turns out that I didn’t need to make that drive and pick out a cherry tree in the rain, but at least this tree seems to be off to a good start in the front yard.

3/25/2020: YouTube switches to standard definition video. Will that make a difference?, USA Today

I filed this two hours and 49 minutes after my editor okayed my column suggestion and asked if I could file it that day. It’s nice to know that I haven’t completely lost my ability to turn around copy that fast–including time to get quotes from four subject-matter experts.

3/26/2020: “Rob Pegoraro on Tech and the Coronavirus” (Two Think Minimum), Tech Policy Institute

I returned to this Washington think tank’s podcast for the first time since 2018 to talk about the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on working and networking, how Internet providers are holding up, and my experience working the March 3 primary election. You can listen to my conversation with TPI’s Scott Wallsten and Sarah Oh–conducted via the Zoom videoconference app instead of in person like the last time–in the SoundCloud embed below.

Weekly output: backup bandwidth for working from home, WFH advice, Twitter coronavirus rules, ISP data caps

The demolition of this spring’s business-travel schedule concluded Friday with the cancellation of the Geoint 2020 Symposium, a late-April conference in Tampa at which I was set to write up talks for the show daily as I did at last year’s event in San Antonio. This will hurt financially in a way that all of my other canceled conferences haven’t–those few days of deadline writing would have yielded a nice big check on top of the paid travel. Yet I feel like I can’t really complain when I look at how much uglier business has gotten for news organizations in just the past few weeks.

(Sorry if I’m getting you down. Please enjoy a picture of cherry blossoms, taken far from any crowds in D.C.)

3/16/2020: Working or learning from home: Telecoms give boost in bandwidth to keep us online, USA Today

I scrambled to write this Friday afternoon as telecoms began announcing moves to liberalize their data caps and other usage restrictions to accommodate all the Americans newly-forced to work or learn from home. Then I filed an update Saturday morning with news about two wireless carriers giving subscribers a lot more mobile-hotspot data.

3/18/2020: Confessions of a Work-from-Home Pro, Presidential Management Alumni Association

I still miss the Web chats I used to do for the Post, so I was happy to accept the invitation of this group for federal workers to do a group Zoom chat about the finer points of working from home. I hope I was able to help, although I don’t know if there are any great answers for people who live in small residences that don’t allow for much of a separate “work” area.

PMAA says they’ll post a recording of the session soon; when they do, I’ll add a link to it here it is.

3/20/2020: Twitter’s new coronavirus rules, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news network had me on via Skype to talk about Twitter’s new rules governing coronavirus disinformation. Although doing this remotely saved me a trip to the D.C. office, it also meant I struggled to hear the translator on top of the anchor; a couple of times, I had to hope I’d correctly heard his rendition of whatever she’d said in Arabic.

3/21/2020: The coronavirus might have just killed ISP data caps, Fast Company

I revisited the news I’d covered for USAT by asking several Internet providers and a few telecom analysts about the odds of now-waived data caps returning; the ISPs didn’t comment, but the analysts all agreed that they were most likely a coronavirus casualty that can’t be revived.

Updated 4/9/2020 to add a link to video of my session in PMAA’s wonderfully-named “Couchella” series. 

Work-from-home advice from a work-from-home regular

My occupational routine of working from home is suddenly in fashion for the dreadful reason of a global pandemic. Employers ranging from Google to the federal government to the Washington Post have been telling people to get out of the office and stay out until some sort of all-clear is declared about the novel coronavirus.

This may be a new and unsettling development to many of you, but it’s been my everyday reality for the past nine years–longer, if you count all the time I’d work from home while at the Post to test one gadget or another.

The joking on Twitter that “the only ones to survive will be freelance writers” may overstate things a bit, but all of this Me Time has left me well versed at staying productive without such traditional work delineations as a commute to a geographically distinct workplace and frequent in-person professional interaction with other human beings.

Here are the best practices I’ve learned since 2011 or so:

  • Have a spot at home that serves as your logical office. Ideally it’s a physically separate room–if you’re self-employed, the home-office deduction is easier to claim that way–but it should be someplace you can associate with work. And can then leave when you’re not on the clock.
  • Get a comfortable chair (I should have followed this advice years ago instead of letting my current chair get even more worn out) and make sure it’s positioned so you can type comfortably for hours at a stretch
  • You don’t need a separate webcam–unless your laptop has one below the screen that treats video callers to an up-nostril perspective of you–but a desktop USB microphone would be a good idea. My client Wirecutter has some useful advice; you should be fine with the budget pick unless you do podcasts for a living.
  • Make sure that your webcam shows a tidy office to the rest of the world. You can still have piles of paper and dirty clothes around; just keep them out of the frame.
  • You will probably spend a lot more time on conference calls, and some con-call systems are more evil and stupid than others. Please try to lead your office away from the ones that date to 1980s telecom and and to apps like Zoom or Uberconference that indicate who’s speaking at any time. Note that the free version of Zoom limits meetings to 40 minutes, which is such a good reason not to pay that I must wonder if this company is trying to go out of business.
  • Does your WiFi offer reliable coverage in your home office? If it doesn’t, you will notice that intensely and often once you’re clocking eight hours a day on that questionable connectivity. And no matter what, you should have all of your important documents cached or copied for offline access.
  • You should know what kinds of backup bandwidth are available–for example, major cable operators say they will open their WiFi hotspot networks to the public, while Sprint and T-Mobile plan to offer their subscribers 20 GB of mobile-hotspot usage.
  • Yes, you still need to shower and get dressed. But you may find that you can use those daily habits as fake deadlines: No showering until I finish this task that I didn’t get done yesterday.
  • Find ways to shut out distractions. If you find yourself wandering down Wikipedia rabbit holes, clean part of your house instead. Or go outside and get in some gardening, if it’s warm enough. If nothing else, walk around pointlessly your home as you would in an office.
  • We all have coworkers who don’t reply to e-mails fast enough. Figure out what comms channel works to bug them when they inevitably leave your last message unanswered: Slack, a text, a call, a direct message on their most common social platform.
  • Don’t eat lunch at your desk. Ever. You’re at home, and you don’t have to do that anymore. While you’re at it, get in the habit of making yourself lunch; you can put the savings into patronizing the restaurants, coffee shops and bars closest to you.
  • It’s okay to run short errands during the day. It’s not like you were that productive over every hour of your in-office workdays anyway.
  • Get to know your neighbors, especially those who have been working from home all along and who may have useful neighborhood-specific advice. Human contact during the day is good.
  • You’ll also soon realize which of your neighbors insist on hiring people to tidy up their yard with noisy, polluting gas-powered leaf blowers.
  • Have some kind of back channel–a text or WhatsApp group, a Facebook Messenger group, a Slack channel, whatever–for personal banter with your favorite fellow cubicle-farm dwellers.
  • Take time to call friends about absolutely nothing.
  • You can swear at your computer as much as it deserves without freaking out co-workers, but please don’t get in that habit anyway. (This is literally me saying “do as I say, not as I do.”) Especially if you’ve got a kid stuck at home too.
  • On the other hand, go ahead and play your preferred productivity playlist through your computer’s speakers. If blasting Kool Moe Dee’s “I Go To Work” or R.E.M.’s “Finest Worksong” gets your day in gear, you don’t need to confine that to headphones. (This is totally me showing my age.)
  • If you’re tired, you’re allowed to nap. You’re at home! Nobody outside can tell you’re enjoying a postprandial snooze.

(My thanks to everybody who replied with further suggestions to the Twitter thread in which I first shared most of these tips.)

Updated 3/18/2020 with a few extra tips.

Playing hooky for home openers

I watched the Nationals lose a winnable baseball game Thursday. I’ve done that a lot since 2005, but this 8-2 defeat wasn’t just any home game. It was the Nats’ home opener–as far as I can figure out, the 13th that I’ve seen in person, starting with our team’s debut at RFK in 2005.

(The exception was 2007. According to an e-mail I sent to my wife, I listened to the game on the radio from home.)

That also makes this spring pastime one of the few consistent examples of me taking advantage of the flexible scheduling that I should theoretically enjoy as a work-from-home freelancer.

As in: When I wandered into this lifestyle, I had delusions of being able to devote the occasional morning or afternoon to a movie or a museum. Nope!

The reality has been one of compressed chores. My schedule affords enough idle time to let me get in some gardening or expedite a Costco run, but tearing myself away from other obligations for a few hours in a row seems impossible… except for this one rite of spring. I should not complain about that, even when the game in question has us getting lit up by the Mets.

Five years of not having a real job

Monday marked five years since I’d last been on the clock for an employer. The continued absence of a salary still doesn’t bother me.

Five years of 1099sA lot has changed since the day that started with my failing to sleep in, then involved the hilarity of filing our taxes and ended with a few retellings of my what-happened story at an Online News Association meetup.

My top sources of income have changed almost every year, so I’ve gotten used to answering such vaguely existential questions as “where are you at?”

I’m no longer incompetent at accounting and have even gone back to doing our taxes, Schedule C and all.

I’ve traveled to places I might have never seen on the Post’s dime. I did enjoy marking the fifth anniversary of my independence in Hong Kong, although I can’t say the same about spending the preceding 16 hours in seat 21K. One contributing factor to all that travel: Sufficient practice at public speaking has begun to pay off with more invitations to moderate a panel or give a talk, and accepting them doesn’t require multiple layers of newsroom approval.

I’ve been able to say what I think on Twitter and Facebook without worrying about running afoul of some newsroom social-media policy intended to fool readers into thinking we have no opinions about what we cover.

And I don’t know if I can call myself a hustler, but I’m definitely a more aggressive capitalist than I was in 2011.

In an alternate universe flipped to a different page in this Choose Your Own Occupational Adventure book, I might have landed another full-time job. I half-expected that to happen within a few months of leaving the Post, but instead a variety of interesting freelance opportunities appeared and I chose to follow them. (Lesson learned that most people unfortunately can’t apply: It’s not that hard to start as a freelancer if you first hold down a column for a major newspaper for over a decade.)

I may yet regret going this route–yes, I have been following the news about Yahoo. But every new round of newsroom layoffs and every job-destroying pivot at a new-media startup reinforces my sense that having a full-time employer provides little more security than cultivating a good set of regular clients that can’t constitute a single point of income failure.

Check back in another five years, and I should be able to report if I was right about that.