Weekly output: drones (x2), White House Maker Faire, proxy servers and online video

I went to the White House this week for the first time since visiting it as a tourist sometime in high school–this time around, with a press pass. That was kind of neat.

6/17/2014: Regulations Could Ground Drones Before Takeoff, Yahoo Tech

I wrote about the completely inconsistent regulatory climate around drones–recreational use is essentially wide open below 400 feet altitude, but commercial use is banned outright. The fearful if not paranoid nature of many readers’ comments bugged me, as you may tell from the tone of my replies. Thought I had afterwards: “I’ve been around drones enough, and all of the drone users I know play by the rules. Is this what it’s like to be a responsible gun owner and have strangers see you as a loon like Wayne LaPierre?”

6/17/2014: 4 Ways to Use Drones for Good (None of Which Is Amazon Delivery), Yahoo Tech

I talked to a few people–including my long-ago Washington Post colleague Dan Pacheco, now a journalism professor at Syracuse–about peaceful, profitable uses for drones that tend to get overlooked as people throw around the specter of snooping in people’s backyards.

Yahoo Tech White House Maker Faire report6/18/2014: White House Hosts Its First Maker Faire, with Robotic Giraffe in Attendance, Yahoo Tech

I covered the White House’s debut Maker Faire–somehow, also the first story I’ve written around a presidential speech–with this photo gallery. There’s more in my Flickr album.

6/22/2014: Geo-fakeout: Use a proxy for online video, USA Today

A neighbor wanted to know how he could have watched Netflix during a recent trip to Morroco; answering that also allowed me to give a tutorial in using proxy servers to watch World Cup coverage online. There’s also a tip about checking for “TLS” encryption at your mail service (something I covered at greater length at Yahoo Tech the other week), making this one of the more technically involved columns I’ve written for USAT.

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Don’t blame this nonsense on “Washington” or “Congress”

Most of the federal government shut down at midnight, and that sucks for multiple reasons. (Beyond the basic breakdown in democratic government on display, the shutdown has cut off a few friends from their next paychecks.) But spare me the ritual outrage over the evils of “Washington” or “Congress.”

Capitol stop-sign barrierThe former is not just a political abstraction but a city of 632,323 people. Most of the residents of the District of Columbia have nothing to do with Congress, and none have voting representation there.

As for the latter, there’s a great deal to dislike in the deliberative body that meets and occasionally gets actual work done a few blocks south of Union Station. But it’s an epic feat of false equivalency to blame the shutdown on some bipartisan failure to cooperate.

One part of one party in one house of Congress made it happen. That segment of House Republicans deeply loathes the Affordable Care Act (would that all these advocates of individual liberty were also at the barricades over the NSA’s subversion of the Fourth Amendment), have already staged dozens of stunt votes against it, and yesterday led the rest of the House GOP to hold up the entire federal budget over a policy that won a mandate in two presidential elections and survived the Supreme Court’s scrutiny.

That won’t work, on account of the simple math of a Democratic majority in the Senate and the absence of a veto-proof Republican majority in the House. That’s normally a cue to compromise. So is the political reality that every minute that ACA insurance signups continue in overwhelming numbers–oh, yes, that’s one thing the government shutdown didn’t stop–Obamacare collects more constituents.

In days or weeks, I trust that enough of the House will realize this–hopefully before the true  believers there shove the country into default. In the meantime, don’t mistake those in the grip of a preexisting condition some have diagnosed as Obamacare Derangement Syndrome for the entirety of Congress, and please leave the good city of Washington right out of this.

Weekly output: RapidShare, tech policy, e-mail privacy, Windows 8

There’s a new client in my list this week: a blog called the Disruptive Competition Project, set up this summer by the Computer & Communications Industry Association. (Back then, GigaOM and Techdirt separately noted its launch in the context of other attempts to connect the tech industry to Washington.) I’m going to be writing a couple of posts a week there about various aspects of tech policy through at least the end of the year.

11/13/2012: In Conversation: Daniel Raimer of RapidShare, Future of Music Summit

I’ve been going to and occasionally speaking at the Future of Music Coalition’s annual summits since their debut in 2001. This year, I got a chance to interview the chief legal officer of the Swiss data-locker service RapidShare–a company that has gotten a lot of heat for enabling copyright infringement but says it’s working to stop people from employing it for that purpose. I had to condense my questions after Raimer took too long with his PowerPoint, but I did hit the points I wanted in the time I had left (beginning at about 13:50 in the clip below).

11/13/2012: Patents, Broadband, Privacy: Now That The Election’s Over, Can We Talk About Tech Policy?, Disruptive Competition Project

Back in 2008, candidates Barack Obama and John McCain put together lengthy, detailed descriptions of their tech-policy goals; this year, Obama and Mitt Romney barely mentioned the subject. This has been bothering me all year (earlier this fall, I unsuccessfully pitched an article along these lines to a couple of sites); in this post, I tried to outline where the absence of a campaign conversation on tech policy leaves us in three key areas.

11/16/2012: How Your Secret E-Mail Can Give You Up, Discovery News

I wrote this in part because e-mail security has been catapulted into the headlines, courtesy of the Petraeus/Broadwell scandal, but also because I thought it was a good idea to remind people that no technology measure can stop the recipient of your message from doing whatever he or she wants with it, while also summing up other risks to your privacy in e-mail. But I should have spelled out how encrypting your e-mail won’t close most of these vulnerabilities (even if most people can’t be bothered to try that).

11/17/2012: How to add a Start menu to Windows 8, USA Today

This is the first Windows-centric piece I’ve written for USAT in a while. It leads off with advice about ways Windows 8 users can either replicate the program-launching functions of the Start menu or outright restore that feature (for what it’s worth, I will see if I can get by with filling out the taskbar with shortcuts to programs), then wraps up with a tip about Win 8’s helpful system-refresh and reset tools.

Why we vote

Because you want your candidate to win.

Because you want the other candidate to lose.

Because you can express your distaste for everybody on the ballot by writing in somebody else. Even yourself.

Because voting for the winning candidate can feel pretty good.

Because lining up to vote for the candidate who’s going to lose anyway demands a degree of stubbornness that should serve you well in other pursuits.

Because it’s not hard, and outside of presidential elections it rarely takes much time.

Because in state elections, you can do your small part to head off a lot of the nonsense that happens in state legislatures–like, say, attempts to make voting as bureaucratic and litigious as possible to stop the fictitious problem of in-person voter fraud.

Because in local elections, you have good odds of talking to the candidates directly, and you may even know some of them.

Because you may have the chance to vote on state constitutional amendments that will tie the government’s hands in ways you do or not want–or that may outright shame your state.

Because Americans have been beaten, jailed and killed trying to defend their right to vote. Our overcoming our worst instincts is part of our story as a country; honor it.

Because it’s your damn job as a citizen of the United States of America.

Because if you don’t vote, you invite the stupidest voter in your precinct to cast a ballot on your behalf.

Because if you can’t be bothered to vote, why should anybody care about what you think about the state of the country?

11/6, 8:13 a.m. Added one more reason to this list.

The campaign-distraction factor

We have only 17 days until Election Day, which is good. I don’t think I can stand any more of this.

Compared to earlier presidential campaign seasons, I held off the obsessive news-gathering stage for a long time this year. But the combination of the advancing calendar and shifting, contrary poll results has finally pulled me in; there’s no way I won’t be less productive through November 6. Possibly the 7th, depending on how long election night runs before somebody calls a winner.

This isn’t the first presidential campaign that I could follow to an unhelpful degree: 2000, 2004 and 2008 took large bites out of my schedule. (There were probably intense discussions on Usenet about Dole and Clinton in ’96 that have since escaped my memory.) But in each of those years, I spent most of my workdays in an office, while mobile Web access ranged from nonexistent to underdeveloped.

Now, however, there’s nobody sitting next to my desk to ask why I’m checking Talking Points Memo or FiveThirtyEight for the fifth or eighth time in the workday. And stepping out to run an errand doesn’t mean I can’t get that fix of political updates–even if they amount to little more than noise.

The other difference this time is that, unbound by delusional social-media guidelines, I don’t have to pretend that I have no interest in the outcome. So I’m a little more open about what I think on Twitter. And on Friday, I went to President Obama’s rally at George Mason University (photo above), which allowed me to hear “Romnesia” make its debut in this year’s headlines. Fact: campaign rallies can be fun if you support the person running. I didn’t know that before, having never gone to one until Friday.

(That support doesn’t extend to donating money or my labor. Working on behalf of a candidate goes way beyond making a little noise in the stands.)

The wait on election night to see if things go my way may not be so much fun. I like the president’s odds–but as a Nats fan, I know how the score can change unexpectedly and unpleasantly if your team loses focus. Seventeen more days.

Weekly output: Google Now directions, Super PAC App, cheap smartphone tethering, phone discounts

This week’s list has a new site: The Atlantic’s excellent Atlantic Cities, which allowed me a chance to indulge my picky taste in transit user interfaces. I also filed a piece for CEA about a bill that aims to disrupt the patent-troll business model, but it hasn’t been posted yet.

8/22/2012: How Well Will ‘Google Now’ Get You Around? So Far, Not Very, The Atlantic Cities

I though the Google Now software in the Jelly Bean version of Android had a weird fixation on driving everywhere, but it doesn’t–this program just doesn’t know to recommend the fastest route regardless of mode. Then again, so do other navigation apps–and since Apple’s iOS 6 will exile transit and bicycling directions from its own Maps program, this problem will get worse.

The post also breaks a little news: Fairfax County’s Connector bus system has finally recognized the user-hostility of offering directions only through Metro’s clumsy Trip Planner site and will instead publish a GTFS schedule feed. That should let you look up Fairfax Connector service on third-party mapping sites–but not, it seems, Google. As GreaterGreaterWashington contributor Michael Perkins reminded me in an e-mail, the county has not signed a questionable legal agreement Google requires.

8/24/2012: App Tries to Name, Shame Campaign Ads, Discovery News

The Super PAC App iPhone program attempts to identify presidential TV ads by their soundtrack, then identify their source and provide links to stories that provide context and critiques of the ad’s claims. Great idea, but it could be more direct about indicating a spot’s trustworthiness, given the number of outright lies out there.

8/26/2012: Two ways to save on wireless data, USA Today

The weekly column addresses a question I’ve seen more than once: What’s the cheapest way to combine mobile phone service and residential broadband? It also offers a tip that I (ahem) should have acted upon months ago: Check to see if your wireless carrier offers a discount based on your employer, current or former school or even union membership or credit-union account.