Weekly output: e-mail privacy, 3-D printing, TV antennas, smartphone competition, sports networks, bargaining over TV bills

It’s not a total coincidence that I wrote as much about TV as I did in the week running up to one of the biggest televised events of the year.

1/28/2013: Why Can’t Web Services Compete To Protect My Data From The Feds?, Disruptive Competition Project

Reporting this one made me feel a little dumb when I realized that I could have had a nice little scoop weeks or months earlier if I’d just asked Google, Microsoft and Yahoo what they require before turning over a user’s e-mail data to the government. It turns out that all three go beyond the strict requirements of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act in requiring a warrant–but that none seemed to think this was something worth bragging about.

1/29/2013: Hold Your Fire Before Freaking Out Over 3-D Printed Guns, Disruptive Competition Project

I started writing this post in December, then decided I didn’t like the last third of it and set it aside. I finally picked it up again after CES. Somewhat to my surprise, it only got one “you want to ban all guns” reply.

Discovery TV antennas review1/30/2013: Two Flat, Stick-On Antennas Tune In Free TV, Discovery News

I revisited the subject of over-the-air TV for the first time in over a year to review a couple of flat, lightweight antennas. Somewhat to my surprise, they worked better than the old set of rabbit ears I had plugged into the set downstairs (and unlike that antenna, I could put each one high enough on the wall to avoid becoming a plaything for our toddler). So I bought one of these models, the Mohu, and am now trying to figure out exactly where on the wall it will get the best reception of the three trickier network affiliates: ABC’s WJLA, CBS’s WUSA and PBS’s WETA.

2/1/2013: Will A Two-Party System Adequately Represent Smartphone Users?, Disruptive Competition Project

BlackBerry has a new operating system, but will it do any better than Microsoft’s Windows Phone? (I’ve been testing Windows Phone 8 on an HTC 8X; there are things I like about it, but the app selection really holds it back.) In this post, I express the possibly-futile hope that either BlackBerry or Microsoft can become a viable alternative to the increasingly entrenched duo of Apple and Google.

2/3/2013: How sports networks inflate your TV bill, USA Today

One of the people on my neighborhood’s mailing list asked about a new fee that Verizon was going to put on her bill to cover regional sports networks. I told her I’d see what else I could find out. The column also includes a reminder that TV rate hikes can, at least sometimes, be negotiable if your service thinks you’ll leave.

Sulia highlights this week included two more rants about the TV business–one on Verizon’s extortionate CableCard rate hike and another about the stupidity of making some Hulu content “Web-only”–and a post noting that the “Apple tax” is real when you look at what it costs to get more storage on an iPad.

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“This is not the day”

Not long after learning of yesterday’s horrible news of a mass shooting, I thought about the post I’d started writing after earlier horrible news of a mass shooting, then finished after still other horrible news of a mass shooting. I referenced it in a tweet, and was promptly called out by a couple of people who objected, strenuously, to bringing up anything with a whiff of politics. Why?

This is not the day.

I should have expected replies like that. But why? What is the logic of that reflexive responseeven from people who don’t support loosening gun regulations–every time some sad individual takes a gun and kills a dozen or more of his fellow human beings?

I am not talking about self-serving commentary by those looking to cash in politically or financially. Think of Mitt Romney grotesquely distorting recent American public diplomacy in the Middle East hours after the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens or, on a lesser level of offensiveness, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D.-N.Y.) demanding publicly that Apple “set the record straight” about the reception of the iPhone 4′s antenna or all of those foolish publicists who think calling out a recent tragedy in a PR pitch will get reporters to cover the client’s product.

No, I am speaking of citizens who want to know what went wrong and what we could have done to prevent it. What other reaction could we possibly have to an atrocity like the murder of 20 children? (As the father of a two-year-old, I was almost shaking with rage at one point yesterday.) Wondering what we could have done differently is, as Maggie Koerth-Baker noted astutely, is part of the bargaining stage of grief.

This is what we’ve done after a hurricane floods subway tunnels and shuts out the lights across much of New York City, a highway bridge collapses, a space shuttle breaks up on reentry, and hijackers fly airplanes into buildings. We would be less than functioning, inquisitive human beings if we did not ask if we could have done anything different, even on The Day.

That may “politicize the tragedy.” But so does attempting to short-circuit any discussion about our options because This Is Not The Day. And in a democracy, politics is how we have to solve some of our biggest problems.

So to those of you who want to use your First Amendment rights to defend your Second Amendment rights the next time, please find another talking point. Because this one does not help your cause. And this discussion could use your reasoned input, not your denial.