Weekly output: how states are working to expand broadband availability, lessons learned from Estonia’s digital society

This week saw two minor personal milestones: my first in-person attendance at a conference since last March (appropriately enough, it was the Satellite trade show then and now; sadly enough, Richard Branson didn’t say anything nearly as quotable as Elon Musk did last spring), followed by my first reception around town since then (an event at a Rosslyn rooftop with breathtaking views of the city).

Photo of first two pages of the story, held in front of a loop of fiber-optic cable hanging off a utility pole.9/9/2021: How States are Bridging the Digital Divide, Trust

This feature for the Pew Charitable Trusts’ quarterly magazine provided my first print appearance in a while. If you get the mag in paper form yourself, you may have seen it before Thursday–my own comp copies showed up two weeks ago–but the date above reflects the piece’s appearance on Pew’s site.

9/10/2021: This country moved its government online. Here’s why that wouldn’t fly in the U.S., Fast Company

More than three weeks after I set out on my transatlantic journey to Tallinn, this recap of what I learned on that Estonian-government-hosted trip week ran. I used the time after coming home to check in with a few U.S. experts in election security and digital government to get second opinions about Estonia’s digital-society project.

Weekly output: 5G leaders, Mr. Antenna, streaming study, Desi Bundle, Disney’s Star+, Seinfeld coming to Netflix, two-factor authentication, HBO Max on Vizio, Locast logs off, Apple loosens App Store rules for “reader” apps, Nielsen nixed, checking wireless coverage, WhatsApp privacy fine

I worked a volunteer shift at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic Friday, the fourth time I’ve done so. On this occasion, we had far fewer customers than before, most coming for their second round of Pfizer or Moderna. But a few had yet to get any dose, which meant that they got to choose between those two vaccines or Johnson & Johnson’s; the latter needing a single jab made the difference for one man who said he was only getting vaccinated because his job required it. We also had a few under-18 kids who were limited to Pfizer–and one whom had been brought by her mom on her 12th birthday, so we had to take a minute to sing “Happy Birthday” to her.

8/30/2021: The 5G 50 to Watch Top Ten List, Light Reading

I helped write the bios for this list of top telecom industry executives put together by my trade-pub client. Yes, my last name is spelled wrong at the end of the piece.

8/31/2021: OTA antenna service alleges Vegas station refused to air its ads, FierceVideo

I spent most of this week filling in at my other big trade-pub client. I started by covering an allegation by a broadcast-antenna vendor named Mr. Antenna that a Las Vegas station had quit airing its ads because increased broadcast viewing would undercut its cable-TV income.

8/31/2021: New study finds more Americans splitting their streaming budget, FierceVideo

I wrote up a Leichtman Research Group study finding more Americans signing up for at least three streaming services.

8/31/2021: DistroScale streaming bundle serves up free South Asian channels, FierceVideo

If you didn’t know that “desi” is a term for people of South Asian descent before reading this post, you did after.

9/1/2021: Disney debuts Star+ in Latin America, FierceVideo

Writing this led me to dust off my VPN service for the first time in months to see what pricing this new Disney streaming service would show to a viewer in its target Latin American markets–the press releases I saw didn’t list any.

9/1/2021: Seinfeld coming to Netflix Oct. 1—and in 4K, FierceVideo

I only referenced one Seinfeld catch phrase in this piece, which I thought showed remarkable restraint.

Screengrab of column as seen in USAT's iPad app9/1/2021: Why you shouldn’t rely on texts when using two-factor authentication to sign into accounts, USA Today

I could have written this column at any time in the previous two years, but T-Mobile’s latest data breach made it newly relevant.

9/2/2021: HBO Max app comes to Vizio connected TVs, FierceVideo

This post reminded me how much of HBO Max’s early struggles with getting its apps on streaming platforms.

9/2/2021: After hostile court ruling, Locast logs off, FierceVideo

As I tweeted after this story ran, the broadcasters who succeeded in suing Locast offline might not want to gloat too much. Viewers aren’t getting any less weary of endless pay-TV rate hikes, and telling people without good over-the-air reception to stick with cable will only get less persuasive every year.

9/2/2021: Apple to let video apps point users away from its payment system, FierceVideo

Apple deigning to allow “reader” apps to include one link to their own site shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is in the context of that company’s history of App Store control-freakery.

9/3/2021: Media Rating Council suspends Nielsen accreditations, FierceVideo

My last post for Fierce this week covered an industry group snubbing Nielsen’s audience-tracking work.

9/3/2021: Which wireless carrier has the best coverage where you’re going? Here’s how to find out, USA Today

A friend’s query about ways to see if T-Mobile or Verizon would offer better service than AT&T at his home was followed by my realizing that USAT had yet to cover the FCC’s release of a new and surprisingly helpful map of predicted LTE coverage from the major carriers.

9/3/2021: WhatsApp fined under GDPR, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language channel had me on to discuss WhatsApp getting hit with a €225 million fine for violations of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation. The European Data Protection Board’s ruling in this case calls those failures of transparency, but I see the underlying problem as WhatsApp insisting on access to your phone’s contacts list to place a call or send a message to anybody who hasn’t already contacted you in the app.

Weekly output: Fastest Mobile Networks, Mark Vena podcast, streaming-video deals

The first item on this list doesn’t contain a single word written by me.

Screenshot of the Fastest Mobile Networks package as seen in Firefox on a Windows 10 laptop 8/24/2021: Fastest Mobile Networks 2021, PCMag

After years of citing PCMag’s drive testing in my work at Wirecutter and elsewhere, I contributed to it. I picked the test locations and did the driving for half of Baltimore, all of D.C., Raleigh, and Charlotte, and half of Atlanta–plus hundreds of miles, mostly on rural byways, between those cities.

8/25/2021: S01 E07 – SmartTechCheck Podcast by Parks Associates, Mark Vena

I joined my analyst friend’s podcast yet again; my major contribution was explaining my drive-testing work to listeners (or, for those who get the podcast via YouTube, viewers).

8/29/2021: Want to save on your streaming bill? Check your credit card reward, mobile carrier offers, USA Today

If you sign up for any of my Patreon tiers, you’ve been getting cheat sheets from me about which digital services offer cash-back offers through credit cards. This column walks USAT readers through this money-saving option and option and also notes the streaming freebies available on some wireless plans.

Weekly output: Memories management

This week involved more time in airplanes than any other I’ve had since 2019. And then a week from Monday, my kid will be getting on a bus to start a new year of school–another thing that hasn’t happened since 2019.

Screenshot of Verge post as seen in Safari for iPad8/18/2021: How to turn off unwanted ‘memories’ in Apple Photos, Google Photos, and Facebook, The Verge

I thought this how-to about fine-tuning the Memories features in Facebook, Apple’s Photos and Google Photos would be a fairly simple listicle to write. But then the settings in some of these apps proved to be a good deal more complex than I realized. And I probably would have missed one iOS feature had I not checked in with Web developer Eric Meyer, whose writing on what he once called “inadvertent algorithmic cruelty” first made me aware of how these flashback features can go awry.

Weekly output: supply-chain attacks, Mark Vena podcast, password managers, 5G vs. IMSI catchers, fake vaccination cards

TALLINN, Estonia–I’m writing a post from the other side of the Atlantic for the first time since November of 2019 because of a press trip set up for this week by Estonia’s business-development types to show off the country’s tech sector. That sort of thing would be a non-starter were I on anybody’s staff, but I’m not and I’ve gotten a lot out of a few previous trips along these lines. It does help that Estonia is no Las Vegas in its approach to the pandemic. 

Screenshot of the story as seen in Safari on an iPad8/10/2021: More SolarWinds-style attacks are coming. Here’s how to stop them, Fast Company

I wrote up the keynote that opened Black Hat, in which security researcher (and excellent Twitter individual) Matt Tait outlined how getting hostile code into a software supply chain can yield rewards so outsized that attackers have to work extra to focus their attack.

8/11/2021: SmartTechCheck Podcast by Parks Associates, Mark Vena

This week’s edition of my tech-analyst pal’s podcast featured an unusually contentious debate over Apple’s announced plans to do on-device scanning of photos ready to be uploaded to iCloud for matches of known child sexual-abuse material.

8/12/2021: Best Password Managers of 2021, U.S. News & World Report

I contributed an update to the guide I helped write at the start of this year. My work this time includes profiles of 1Password, Bitwarden, Dashlane, Enpass, and LastPass, plus comparisons of 1Password and LastPass, Dashlane and LastPass, and 1Password and Dashlane.

8/13/2021: 5G defends against IMSI catchers – but implementation is critical, Light Reading

My Black Hat coverage-from-afar continued with this writeup of a briefing about 5G’s vulnerability to IMSI catchers, the fake base stations sometimes used by law-enforcement and national-security investigators as well as criminal enterprises to intercept people’s communications.

8/13/2021: Fake vaccination cards, Al Jazeera

I thought the Arabic-language news network would want me to talk about the technical difficulties involved in making counterfeit-proof vaccination cards, but instead they stuck to such big-picture queries as why people would even want to spend $100 or so on fake vax cards sold by random con artists on Telegram.

Weekly output: space tech, Fox earnings

Not going to Las Vegas for Black Hat deprived me of some conference receptions (excluding those that got canceled on account of the resurgent pandemic) and also reminded me of a failure mode specific to virtual events. As in, a speaker’s presentation stalled out on one slide, but he didn’t realize that because he apparently didn’t check the online chat and there was no IRL audience to say “next slide!” at increasing levels of volume.
 
8/3/2021: CES and Space Tech, Clubhouse

I finally opened my mouth on the audio-room app to chat about the intersections of private space-launch firms and next year’s CES with my space-nerd pal Doug Mohney. We had exactly one person show up in the audience, which I guess means we should have led off with cryptocurrency and blockchains.

Screengrab of FierceVideo post as seen in Chrome on an Android phone.8/4/2021: Fox touts Tubi in quarterly earnings, FierceVideo

Fierce asked me to fill in to write up Fox’s quarterly earnings. I found it weirdly fascinating to hear Fox execs voice total confidence in their prospects, pandemic or not–even though some of the most-watched Fox News hosts have repeatedly questioned the utility of mass vaccination against the coronavirus. (I made sure to include that angle in the story.) I hope people who have been suggesting that an ad boycott will bring Fox to its knees will read this story or one like it and be reminded of how much money this company makes from affiliate fees collected from every pay-TV subscriber, even those who never watch a second of Fox News.

Weekly output: Mark Vena podcast, Twitter buys Brief, iMessage mess

Once upon a time, you could count on August to be a slow news month. The Trump administration put an end to that–and even with Trump gone, the pandemic will ensure nobody gets a break from breaking-news alerts anytime soon.

Screengrab of podcast episode page as seen in Chrome for Android7/28/2021: SmartTechCheck Podcast by Parks Associates, Mark Vena

My industry-analyst pal now works at Parks Associates instead of Moor Insights & Strategy, but the podcast he hosts continues to run on the same outlines. My contribution to this week’s episode, once again featuring my fellow tech scribs Stewart Wolpin and John Quain, was to call out the ridiculous pricing Verizon has slapped on its new Fios TV streaming apps.

7/30/2021: Twitter buys Brief, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news channel had me on for a few minutes to discuss Twitter buying the news-recap app Brief.

7/30/2021: Are your iMessage texts disappearing? The answer might just be checking your email, USA Today

Yet another episode of messages from an iPhone-using friend going to my iPad instead of my phone finally pushed me to dig into how Apple’s iMessage routes your chats. This column is paywalled, but the headline basically spells out the fix: If you use an Android phone, remove your regular e-mail address from your Apple ID profile.

Weekly output: Verizon earnings, Netflix casting, Verizon Fios TV apps, Redbox + Wurl, AT&T earnings, Twitter tests downvotes, Locast comes to Pittsburgh

I spent three days filling in at my trade-pub client FierceVideo covering industry developments–which allowed me to spotlight yet another example of customer abuse by a telecom conglomerate.

7/21/2021: Verizon Q2 earnings show video continuing to shrivel, FierceVideo

As I wrote in a Forbes post months ago, the sales pitch awaiting at Verizon’s site suggests this company is already acting like a post-pay-TV provider.

7/21/2021: Netflix launches in-house casting department, FierceVideo

Before writing this post, I would have guessed that Netflix had set up its own casting operation long ago, but I’m not exactly a student of Hollywood’s workings.

Screenshot of the story as seen on an iPad mini's copy of Safari

7/22/2021: Verizon adds Apple TV, Fire TV apps for Fios TV, FierceVideo

I had this story mostly written when I thought I should step through the ordering process on Verizon’s site to see if it would suggest its new Apple TV and Fire TV apps as alternatives to renting its Fios TV boxes–and then I was surprised and annoyed to see the company list a $20 monthly fee for the privilege of using these apps. Verizon’s inability to read the room here–even after it’s seen more than 20% of its TV subscriber base boil away in the last four years–is something to behold.

7/22/2021: Redbox turns to Wurl to boost its free-with-ads streaming TV, FierceVideo

My editor asked me to write up this bit of embargoed news she’d gotten; no problem.

7/22/2021: AT&T continues to shed video subs but touts HBO Max success, FierceVideo

AT&T’s earnings call confused me more than a little when the company spent so much time talking up the HBO Max video business that it will soon spin off into an independent company.

7/22/2021: Twitter tests downvotes, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news network had me on to discuss Twitter’s new experiment in letting some iOS users downvote replies–with that negative feedback only shown to the authors of those replies, not to the general Twitter public.

7/23/2021: Locast lights up Pittsburgh, FierceVideo

My last post for Fierce this week covered the expansion of this non-profit organization’s free streaming of local broadcast stations to the Pittsburgh market, which I used as an opportunity to educate readers about that region’s unusual second-person plural pronoun “yinz.”

Weekly output: out of office

CHARLOTTE, N.C.–For the first time since January of 2019, I have no work to my name over the past week. That’s mainly because I’ve tied down since Tuesday working as one of the drivers for PCMag’s Fastest Mobile Networks report, as I noted here yesterday; days spent clocking a couple of hundred miles between cities or driving in circles around those cities leave little time for outside work. Fortunately, the jaunt through the Southeast that brought me here Saturday afternoon ends Tuesday in Atlanta. I’m looking forward to falling asleep in my own bed and not having to think about where to get breakfast the next morning.