The NFL is so hard to like these days

There’s a football game happening tomorrow night, and like many of you I plan to watch it mainly for the commercials.

Part of that is my scant emotional investment in either team (that said, I’m unquestionably more tired of reading about the Patriots). But the real reason is that the National Football League has become such a difficult corporate entity to support.

I’m not talking about the sport of football overall. It’s a fun game to watch on TV, and I’ve enjoyed the few games I’ve seen in person–some here, courtesy of tickets the Post would occasionally hand out, a few in Charlottesville on pre-parenthood trips with my wife to her alma mater.

NFL ball and ticketBut the NFL itself, that’s another thing. Even by the standards of pro sports in America, there’s so much not to like.

It would be easy to start with the league’s lax responses to the domestic violence committed by some players. Or I could lead off with the player concussions and the league’s decades-long denial of that problem; the more I mull over that, the more I start wondering if (as Tim Carmody wrote persuasively on Friday) football might be the new boxing and on the same path out of the mainstream.

I could begin with the hapless local franchise and everything wrong there: the name, the crummy stadium, the losing records, the abysmal personnel decisions, the deepening despair among a beaten-down fan base, the owner who seems convinced that his own actions bear no relation to all these problems… but that would be too easy.

The NFL’s vaingloriousness also irritates me. We’ll get no end of it tomorrow, but I also see this inflated sense of self-worth on display in things like security-theater rules about what you can bring into an NFL stadium that are to ballpark-access rules what TSA airport security is to boarding Amtrak.

But what really sticks in my craw is how the NFL is the gift that keeps on taking.

Its teams play in enormous stadiums funded at colossal taxpayer expense–$4.7 billion on the 20 new facilities opened since 1997–that usually sit empty except when these largely car-centric properties create massive traffic jams on game day.

On those days, it’s to the NFL’s credit that you can watch on free broadcast TV. But then the league insists on blackout rules that keep games off the air if the team doesn’t sell enough of what are on average the most expensive tickets in pro sports. And it wants the government to back up this business model. A decade ago, the NFL wanted veto power over a new TiVo sharing feature to protect its blackouts, and it only recently lost the Federal Communications Commission’s enforcement of them.

The runup to the Super Bowl has once again shown the effectiveness of the NFL’s control-freak trademark enforcement. Even though it’s legal for advertisers to refer to the Super Bowl in an ad in the same way they might name-check the local franchise, they all call it the “Big Game” lest the NFL’s lawyers send a nastygram. Good thing the NFL gave on trying to trademark the term “Big Game”!

And as the NFL continues to print money, it benefits from non-profit status and the modest tax breaks that entails–something MLB gave up in 2007 and the NBA has never claimed.

So, sure, I’ll watch tomorrow night if for no other reason than maintaining my cultural literacy. But I’ll also be thinking that 18 days later, pitchers and catchers report for spring training.

Weekly output: Kindle Unlimited, international bandwidth, This Week In Law, HDMI CEC vs. Blu-ray

I enjoyed seeing something I wrote on my own time get a little publicity through no effort of my own.

Yahoo Kindle Unlimited post7/22/2014: The Kindle Conundrum: Should You Rent or Buy Digital Stuff?, Yahoo Tech

I compared Amazon’s new subscription-reading option to the D.C. public library’s e-book catalog and found it wanting.

7/25/2014: A SIM Card Can Be Your New Best Friend When Traveling Abroad, NowU

My second piece for this new Gannett site offered advice about getting connected overseas.

7/25/204:#268: Ease Up Dude!, This Week In Law

I talked about e-book DRM, the fair-use defense, and other intersections of the law and technology on my first appearance on this policy-minded podcast since last year.

7/27/2014: Tips on fixing a buggy Blu-ray player, USA Today

This week’s column was more explanation than solution. If you have a fix for a Sony Blu-ray player that turns on by itself when shut down with a disc inside, please enlighten me.

Weekly output: Cable WiFi, travel WiFi, Internet governance, phone lanes, Find My iPhone vs. Android

In one way or another, wireless technology figured in all of my stories this week. But why should this week be any different from others?

7/15/2014: With Cable WiFi, Your Modem Is My Hotspot, Yahoo Tech

I’ve been working on this column for a while–my e-mail correspondence for it goes back weeks–and for once, the news cycle obliged by not throwing any breaking tech news at me on a Monday. I’m still trying to figure out how so many people say they hate the idea of Comcast turning their leased modem into a public hot spot but so few (according to Comcast) opt out of it.

7/15/2014: How to Stop (or Start) Sharing Your Internet Connection with Strangers, Yahoo Tech

To go with the column, I wrote a quick explainer about how to turn off Comcast’s Home Hotspot–or set up an openwireless.org guest account for anybody to use.

NowU domestic-bandwidth story7/15/2014: What You Need to Know About Staying Connected in the U.S., NowU

This Gannett site for empty nesters officially launched on Tuesday, but if you’d thought to visit that site on Sunday you could have read my advice on traveling bandwidth then.

7/16/2014: Issues Raised by New Technology: Policy Slam, Internet Governance Forum USA 2014

This part of this daylong conference at George Washington University was an audience-participation event: People were invited to step up to the podium and share their ideas about Internet-governance issues that we ought to focus on, and then I and the other judges picked ones to debate further and offered our own comments about them.

7/17/2014: Cellphone Talkers Get Their Own Sidewalk Lane in D.C., Yahoo Tech

A bit of an experiment staged for an upcoming National Geographic TV show led to this extra post (so, my thanks to NatGeo for the upcoming extra income). The piece got a blurb on the Yahoo home page, so this may have been seen by more people than anything else I’ve written. And then it got a BeyondDC/Greater Greater Washington writeup, which was also nice.

7/20/2014: Get a browser to work where it’s not welcome, USA Today

This column pretty much wrote itself once I realized Apple’s short-sighted and easily-circumvented decision to block Android browsers from its Find My iPhone page matched the New York Post’s foolish attempt to keep iPad users from reading its Web site.

Weekly output: online movies, transparency reports, Bitcoin, CES (x2), Google Voice MMS

Yahoo Tech launched on Tuesday during Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s CES keynote–for a guide to the site, check out David Pogue’s welcome letter and introductory video, the latter featuring a two-second clip of me saying “hello, world”–which meant that a lot of writing done earlier could finally go public. As for articles written during CES about the show, I didn’t have any this year. You can blame that on my not selling any to paying clients before the show, then getting sick with some kind of bug that had me in a daze for much of Monday and operating at a reduced speed the next day.

(Scroll after the jump for a slideshow of my Flickr photos from CES.)

Yahoo Tech online-movies post1/7/2014: Want To Watch This Year’s Best Movies Online? Too Bad., Yahoo Tech

I repeated an old experiment–seeing how many of a critic’s best movies of the year could be legally streamed or downloaded online–but expanded it to include the previous year’s critic’s picks and the top-grossing movies for those two years. I thought the state of online movie availability would look better with that more generous sample set; I was wrong.

1/7/2014: Verizon And AT&T Are No Longer Blind To Transparency. Get Excited!, Yahoo Tech

Here, I set out to explain why it’s a big deal, and a positive development, for AT&T and Verizon to say they’ll follow the example of Internet companies by posting “transparency reports” documenting how often they field law-enforcement inquiries about their customers.

1/7/2014: Okay, Seriously: What The Heck Is Bitcoin, And Why Do So Many People Prefer It To Dollars And Cents?, Yahoo Tech

My research for this column concluded with my purchase of $5 in Bitcoin via an ATM set up at a CES reception–arguably, one of the sketchier things I’ve done in Vegas.

1/7/2014: 3 Trends From CES Week That Could Soon Change Your Life, The Motley Fool

The Fool’s Rex Moore interviewed me halfway through press-conference day about 4K TVs, curved TVs, wearable devices and other trends at the show.

1/10/2014: Wowed by many things at the Consumer Electronics Show, WTOP

My voice was nearly shot by the time I did this interview at 6:40 local time Friday morning.

1/12/2014: Some carriers allow photo messages on Google Voice, USA Today

Google added support for multimedia messages sent from T-Mobile numbers back in November, and I didn’t even realize it at the time thanks to Google electing to have the news broken by a product manager in a Google+ post.

I used Sulia to share updates from CES: this year’s odd fetish for curved gadgets, Intel’s pledge to ship processors free of conflict minerals, using a 3Doodler pen to draw in three dimensions, eyeballing LG’s revival of webOS as a TV interface, a “capacitive coupling” demo that essentially turned my body into a USB cable, whether connected cars should have their own bandwidth or borrow your phone’s, and ways activity-tracking wristbands can stay relevant when phones can be good-enough activity trackers.

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Weekly output: NSA pushback, Twitter and Facebook abuse

I had meant to write an essay for the Disruptive Competition Project on this week’s Techonomy conference–but the post that seemed easy when I pitched it to my editors turned out to be anything but once I started trying to string words together. After spending about all of Friday bashing the piece into shape over multiple rewrites, I filed it so late that the post would have gone up at news-dump time. Fortunately, management elected to save it for Monday.

(So now I’ll probably take another whack at this post later tonight.)

11/12/2013: Responses To NSA Snooping: Security, Litigiousness And A Little Profanity, Disruptive Competition Project

I’d meant to write something earlier about the “it’s only self-serving, manufactured outrage” critique of tech companies publicizing their disapproval of the NSA’s snooping, and the latest round of creepy revelations (combined with the f-bombs being tossed around in Google+ rants by infuriated Google engineers) gave me an excuse to address this issue.

USAT Twitter and Facebook abuse11/17/2013: How to report an abusive user on Twitter, USA Today

A question from a reader about a Twitter abuser trying to hide the evidence of her misdeeds and a friend’s account of somebody impersonating his dad on Facebook while apparently blocking him from reporting the violation led to this post. Both of these companies need to fix some bugs, or at a minimum revise misleading directions, in their abuse-reporting systems. Since nobody seems to have called out these problems before, I’m a little happier than usual with this post.

On Sulia, I shared details from a couple of interesting talks at Techonomy (one on voting, another on Microsoft security), provided 30 turns of phrase you can use instead of the “disrupt,” shared what it takes to put somebody in my contacts list and explained how a promising feature in OS X Mavericks’ Calendar app turned out to be near-useless to me.

 

Weekly output: flash storage pricing, Tech Night Owl, uninstalling Windows 8.1, Win 8 recovery drives

One of the highlights of my week was not having to write a single story about Twitter’s IPO–a financial story I’m not especially qualified to report, and a financial opportunity in which I can’t ethically participate anyway. I had meant to use some of the time freed up by not blogging obsessively about $TWTR to get another post done… and that didn’t happen.

DisCo flash-memory pricing post11/5/2013: In A Flash, You’ve Overpaid For A Storage Upgrade, Disruptive Competition Project

This post started with some lingering frustration of my own and then seemed confirmed by a Facebook thread about friends about the same topic–but then I had to give the draft another run through the typewriter when it came out as too simplistic and repetitive. (I hope that’s not still the case.)

11/9/2013: Bryan Chaffin, Rob Pegoraro, and Kirk McElhearn, Tech Night Owl

I was one of the guests on Gene Steinberg’s podcast. We talked about Microsoft’s future, OS X Mavericks and its Gmail-sync issues, and the state of the Web-mail market.

11/10/2013: How to uninstall Windows 8.1, USA Today

Reader e-mail after an earlier USAT column about Win 8.1 led to this one. I enjoyed borrowing some insight for this post from my friend Ed Bott, ZDNet’s longtime Windows expert.

On Sulia, I complained yet again about the WinVote electronic voting machines that apparently refuse to die in my county, complimented Apple for posting a detailed transparency report, noted the unexpected emergence of Google+ as Googlers’ favorite place to rant about the NSA, confirmed that an Apple update fixes Gmail synchronization in Mavericks, and revisited HealthCare.gov with unsatisfying results.

How a Samsung phone and an iPad mini don’t mix

After accidentally invoking Siri on my iPad mini for the fifth time this morning, it hit me: The proprietary layout of buttons on the Samsung Galaxy Note II that I just reviewed is making me stupider at using Apple’s mobile devices.

ImageSamsung veers from the lineup of Android system buttons that Google established with last year’s Ice Cream Sandwich release: Instead of back, home and recent apps, arranged left to right, Samsung’s Android phones offer menu, home and back buttons. (LG also departs from the Android standard, but its back-home-menu array keeps the back button in the expected place.) To see your open apps, you have to press and hold the home button.

On my iPad mini, that same gesture opens Siri, while I have to tap the home button twice to see open apps.

(Yes, when I first wrote about ICS, I was skeptical about removing the menu button and thought that requiring a long press of home to see open apps was good enough. I was wrong: I rarely miss the menu button, while I hit the recent-apps button all the time.)

It’s an exasperating situation, and if I were to get a Samsung Android phone and keep my iPad I’d have to waste brain cells on memorizing this unnecessary difference. You can’t remap the system buttons on a Samsung phone or change Apple’s home-button behavior;  if you disable Siri a long press of the home button will instead bump you over to iOS’s search.

If, on the other hand, I get a phone with the regular ICS buttons–many vendors alter Google’s interface in other ways but stick with that lineup–I face a lot less confusion. At worst, I’d find myself pressing the phone’s home button twice and having nothing happen, which beats launching an unwanted app and hearing Siri’s “ding-ding” prompt.

So that’s one thing that I know will govern my next phone purchase.