Weekly output: CNET and CBS, Internet Freedom Day, Tech Night Owl, Java, Yahoo Mail

For once, I did not come home from CES with a cold. Instead, I picked up one from our toddler a few days later.

CBS CNET post1/15/2013: CBS, CNET And How To Kill Tech Journalism Through Big-Media Denial, Disruptive Competition Project

This is a story I kind of missed during the show, but it also took me a day or two to realize how dangerous CBS’s rationales for interfering with CNET’s editorial decisions would be for tech journalism in the traditional (read: media conglomerate-owned) media. I was glad this little rant got as much attention as it did; I wish that had been followed by accountability for the twit or twits in CBS’s executive suite who thought this stunt would work.

1/18/2013: Internet Freedom Day’s Unfinished Business, Disruptive Competition Project

Friday marked the first anniversary of the Internet rearing up and kicking Big Copyright in the hindquarters during the battle to quash the Stop Online Piracy Act. That’s worth celebrating, but a week after the death of net-freedom advocate Aaron Swartz I also thought it necessary to point out all the items remaining on the tech-policy to-do list if you value a more open Internet and technology economy. I hope the results doesn’t make me sound like a total Eeyore.

1/19/2013: January 19, 2013 – Kirk McElhearn and Rob Pegoraro, Tech Night Owl Live

I discussed the things I saw at CES, Apple’s stock price and other tech-news topics on Gene Steinberg’s podcast. I haven’t heard Kirk McElhearn‘s segment yet, but I’m sure that Macworld and TidBITS contributor had insightful things to say too.

1/20/2013: Q&A: Is Java safe to use?, USA Today

I returned to the topic I covered in my USAT column last spring, this time with more context about what Java was supposed to do and how it became the nuisance it is–plus a few remaining, non-Web uses for this software I hadn’t addressed in detail in that earlier piece. There’s also a tip about enabling a security feature Yahoo finally added to its Yahoo Mail service, some five years after Google had provided the same option to Gmail users.

I also held forth on the mini-blogging site Sulia, as my experiment with that site continues. Among this week’s posts: a review of Facebook’s new, airtime-free voice-calling service (and one of an Android app that does the same thing through Google Voice); documentation of some new Twitter features; a call for editors and publishers to post those newsroom-wide memos that always wind up getting published elsewhere.

Weekly output: Cookies and IP addresses, memes, Aereo, new iPad, SXSW

First SXSW ate up a chunk of my schedule, then a bizarre laptop malfunction on the way to the conference left me offline for most of a day. (On the first flight Friday, I realized that the keyboard wasn’t registering some keystrokes, then realized that it was no mere freak software malfunction; the entire damn thing is broken. Hi-larious.) So I’ve got less writing to my name than on average, much less compared to a week ago, and this recap comes to you a day late.

3/4/2012:  How Online Marketers Target You, USA Today

This week’s column explains two ways that advertisers can track you–or, more exactly, your computers and individual browsers on them. (Recommended follow-up reading: Atlantic tech writer Alexis Madrigal’s extended analysis of how close ad tracking might get to piercing the veil provided when sites only know us by IP addresses and cookies.) I also endorse using a site called Know Your Meme to figure out what all those crazy kids online are talking about this week.

3/7/2012: The Aereo Scenario: A TV Tune-Up On Trial, CEA Digital Dialogue

This research for this post began almost a year ago. One of my last acts as a Post reporter was a dinner meeting with the founders of a company then called Bamboom Labs, which hoped to bring over-the-air TV to reception-starved New Yorkers via the Internet. Since then the company has launched and drawn the inevitable lawsuits from broadcasters, and I’m not thrilled with the idea of banning a company from trying to sell what amounts to a better antenna. An express-permission-required economy is no formula for innovation.

3/7/2012: Things Unsaid In Apple’s New iPad News, Discovery News

In case you hadn’t heard, Apple sells a popular tablet computer called the iPad, and it announced a new version on Wednesday. Here, I take a look at some of the tradeoffs Apple made to upgrade this thing’s screen and camera resolutions and wireless data speeds–I’m particularly impressed with how much more battery capacity it holds on the inside.

3/10/2012: Why Doesn’t Congress Grok The Internet?, SXSW

Sadly, there’s no transcript or video of my session. But you can follow the real-time recaps of audience members by searching for the two Twitter hashtags the conference organizers suggested, #sxgroknet and #groknet.

Update, 3/24/2012: Since those Twitter links have expired, I used Topsy’s search tool to dig up those tweets; you can now read them in chronological order after the jump.

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Help improve my SXSW panel: Why doesn’t Congress grok the Internet?

My SXSW suckup was not in vain, even if it wasn’t efficient either. After a prolonged round of back-and-forth with the conference’s management, including one outright swap of topics, my panel on “Why Doesn’t Congress Grok the Internet?” is scheduled for 3:30-4:30 this Saturday afternoon in Austin.

The theme is pretty straightforward: Sixteen years after the Communications Decency Act, Congress still comes damn close to passing tech-policy legislation almost as boneheaded as that bill; what gives?

I’ll be discussing that topic with two staffers for Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.): Jayme White, staff director of the Senate Committee on Finance’s Trade, Customs and Global Competitiveness subcommittee and senior tech advisor to Wyden; and Jennifer Hoelzer, deputy chief of staff and communications director for the senator. Both worked on Wyden’s successful opposition to the Stop Online Piracy and Protect IP Acts.

I don’t intend for this panel to be a “Congress sucks” beatdown, as fun as that might be. I want to get into the institutional, political and economic factors that lead to tech-ignorant bills appearing as often as they do. Here are some of the questions I have in mind:

  • The stereotype of Congressional knowledge of the Internet is Ted Stevens’ “series of tubes” monologue. Is that a fair perception these days?
  • Looking at the relative influences of the entertainment and tech industries in Washington, how much of a difference can that make on a relatively obscure tech-policy bill? What about one that’s become a headline item?
  • Describe the feedback your boss’s constituents typically provide about tech-policy issues. How often do they bring up the subject at all?
  • How much does the need to raise campaign funds from people who may have intense interests in these matters tilt the legislative process?
  • How would you grade the traditional media’s coverage of recent tech-policy disputes? Has it been part of the problem or part of the solution?
  • What sort of input did your office get from entertainment and tech-industry types, respectively, in the run-up to SOPA?
  • The revolving door is a reality on Capitol Hill (and, I should note, in many newsrooms). How much can the prospect of more profitable employment in private industry weigh on a staffer’s conduct? Among your former colleagues who worked on tech policy on the Hill, where did most of them end up?
  • Did the way Hollywood got rolled on SOPA and PIPA represent a fundamental change in these debates, or was it the product of good timing and good luck?

Now it’s your turn: What questions would you add to that list? Would you strike any of those above?

Weekly output: Timeline, connected TVs, podcast, passworth myths

Today’s realization: It’s a mistake to wait to write this post until after getting back from a bike ride, when I’d rather take a nap than string together any sentences. Can somebody remind me about that next week?

1/29/2012: Timeline your chance for a Facebook do-over, USA Today

This was an update of the advice about Timeline grooming that I gave in a December post for Discovery News–written with the benefit of a month of seeing how friends have adopted Facebook’s new profile interface. The Q&A part of the piece offered some context on why Adobe Reader will sometimes ask you to restart after installing an update–and, it seems, confused readers unfamiliar with the column’s two-part structure.

1/31/2012: What belongs on your next TV’s app menu?, CEA Digital Dialogue

A critique of the  selection of Internet apps on “connected TVs” was one of the first topics I suggested to the people at CEA; it just took me a few months to get around to writing it. As you can see from the comments thread on Google+, the piece may need to be corrected if it turns out that Vizio–contrary to the info on its site–does include a YouTube app on its connected sets. (I’m waiting to hear back from the company’s PR rep.)

2/1/2012: Rob’s January Podcast: The Successful SOPA Fight and Post-CES Recap, CEA Digital Dialogue

I chatted for a good half an hour with veteran telecom analyst Gary Arlen about the past, present and future of CES and a few trends afoot in the electronics business. Gary’s been going to the show for some 30 years (conveniently enough, his birthday often overlaps it) and has quite a few stories to tell; until we talked, I had forgotten that Apple introduced the Newton at CES. Maybe that’s why the company wants nothing to do with it these days.

2/2/2012: You Didn’t Need To Change Your Password Yesterday, Discovery News

I hope you enjoy the gruesome collage of log-in interfaces I put together to illustrate this post, which critiques three common and incorrect suggestions about creating and maintaining passwords. As you might guess, I’m not a fan of password-expiration policies, especially when coupled with irritating “minimum complexity” rules. But I’m embarrassed to admit how many of my passwords feature the number and symbol substitutions for letters that password-cracking tools already factor in.

Weekly output: Android security, CES answers, SOPA, Web chat, interview

This week was about a million times easier than my post-CES week last year–when two days after coming from Vegas, I was on the 7 a.m. Acela to New York to cover the introduction of the Verizon iPhone, followed by an 8 a.m. TV appearance the next morning. This time, I had time to linger at the State of the Net conference Tuesday and Wednesday (where I did a radio interview about SOPA that, sadly, doesn’t seem to be anywhere online) and edit, sort and caption my CES pictures into a semi-coherent photoset on Flickr.

1/15/2012: Security tip: Assess Android apps wisely, USA Today

The week’s summarizes the ways you can assess the quality of an Android app before installing it on the phone, then shares a lesson learned from my Christmas tech troubleshooting of an iPhoto problem on my mother-in-law’s computer.

1/18/2012: Why The Web Is Sick Of SOPA, Discovery News

Wednesday’s online protests provided a handy news peg to summarize the things I and many other Internet users hate about the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act. One of them is the greedy, control-freak mindset behind these exercises in copyright overreach, as recently documented by News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch in a series of delusional tweets.

1/18/2012: CES 2012: Answers To Your Electronics Questions – Not All That You’ll Like, CEA Digital Dialogue

I’ve done a lot of CES recaps–including last week’s for Discovery–that focus on the new hardware on display at the electronics show. For this one, I opted to assess what sort of answers CES provided to some of the questions I hear most often about gadgets. Sorry, you won’t like the response the show coughed up about the future of smartphone battery life.

1/20/2012: Rob’s CES Recap, CEA Digital Dialogue

I did my first Web chat since my goodbye Q&A at the Post in April for CEA on Friday. (This was also my introduction to the CoverIt Live app I’ve seen used at many other sites.) About 10 minutes in, I realized how much I’d missed the experience–it’s good to be back in the saddle. The plan is to do these once a month at CEA’s site, although if there’s sufficient interest I wouldn’t have a problem with stepping up that frequency.

1/21/2012: January 21, 2012 — Kirk McElhearn, Daniel Eran Dilger, and Rob Pegoraro, Tech Night Owl Live

I was a guest on Gene Steinberg’s Tech Night Owl Live podcast. He interviewed me about Apple’s new iPad e-textbooks initiative (don’t put too much weight on my answers, since we spoke only an hour or so after the announcement and I hadn’t had much time to digest the details) and then my favorite political punching bag, SOPA. (This episode isn’t live on that page yet but should be sometime Saturday night. 1/22, 1:04 p.m. Now it is; I’ve added that link and corrected the title.)

Internet 1, Big Copyright 0

Some 11 and a half years ago, I was mad enough about a story in the news that I stayed up until 3:57 a.m. (according to the timestamp on the file) to write a column about it. That issue was a case called Universal v. Reimerdes, in which a federal judge had ruled it illegal to distribute the DeCSS DVD-unlocking software.

I knew that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s “anti-circumvention” provisions made such a ruling possible. But it was something else to see it applied to a program with obvious fair-use potential–and to have people then act as if it were entirely feasible to halt the distribution of that file over the Internet. I just had to write about something so insultingly unfair and mind-boggingly stupid… assuming I could get the importance of it across to people who had never heard of DeCSS or the DMCA:

Last Thursday, a judge in New York City ruled that an obscure magazine called 2600, based in Middle Island, N.Y., can’t post an equally obscure program, DeCSS, on its Web site, or link to other sites that offer it. Few people have used this software, which unlocks a DVD movie’s encryption, and not many more seem to care.

They should. This lawsuit is all about the mix of fear and greed that is driving the entertainment industry to put tighter and tighter locks on its products–and whether consumers get to do anything about it.

That August 25, 2000 column in the Washington Post was the first of many copyright rants I’ve had occasion to write. A lot has changed since then–DeCSS, of course, never disappeared and has since been replaced by better software that I’ve used to make copies of my DVDs to watch on laptops without optical drives–but one thing had not. The entertainment-industry firms that had lobbied for the passage of the DMCA and cheered the DeCSS verdict had kept on getting their way in Washington. Never mind the larger size of the tech industry; at worst, Big Copyright might lose a round after an egregious overreach, but that setback would then go largely unrecorded.

That changed this week, thanks to a storm of protest over the Stop Online Piracy Act and its Senate counterpart, the Protect IP Act. Both would have turned the Internet’s Domain Name System into a censorship mechanism; the former would have also given copyright owners a financial kill switch for sites accepting user-generated content. And both looked set to sail through Congress until people noticed and started getting righteously fed-up, culminating in yesterday’s blackout protests at sites from Wikipedia to WordPress.com.

Those two bills have since taken a public beating–not just on tech-news sites, but on the evening news–and sponsors of each have been rushing to hit the Undo button on their support.  To judge from the more delusional press releases issued over the last 48 hours, I’m not sure that Hollywood even knows what hit it.

I would have liked to have seen this moment happen back in 2000, but this year will do.

Weekly output: Google directions and social isolation, 2011 in review, telling the tech future

Another holiday-shortened week, another holiday-shortened list of stories. That’s okay: Spending next week at CES should more than make up for my recent idle time.

1/1/2012: Today’s tip: Get the most out of Google Maps, USA Today

Full disclosure: When I leave my house, I carry a Metro SmarTrip card and keys to my house and my bike–plus, as of two weeks ago, one for Capital Bikeshare–but not my car. (Why would I do otherwise? If my car is anywhere but my driveway or our block when I step off the porch, something’s gone wrong.) So I’ve appreciated Google’s moves to provide directions to people traveling by rail, bus or bike. The Q&A part of this week’s column digs into some sociological research and my own experience to offer a non-cynical answer to the question “is technology just isolating us from each other?”

1/4/2012: 7 Tech Stories for 2011 and 2012, CEA Digital Dialogue

The year-in-review column may be a crutch for tech journalists to lean on during the slow week or two between Christmas and CES, but that doesn’t mean it can’t provide a useful opportunity to pull some sense out of the last 12 months’ worth of headlines–and see where those stories might go in the new year. At the risk of ruining whatever suspense this post might contain: Sorry, I think Congress will continue to demonstrate a certain… lack of finesse when it comes to tech policy.

1/5/2012: 5 Tech Advances That Might Arrive In 2012, Discovery News

Speaking of new-year columns, this one outlines five long-hyped technological breakthroughs that people might be able to buy this year: glasses-free 3-D TVs, portable fuel cells, color e-ink displays, battery-friendly LTE smartphones and big-screen OLED TVs. (Whether they’ll want to buy these things is another matter.) To judge from reader reactions and chatter on other sites, fuel cells top many people’s wish lists–but I’ll believe that when I’ve got a review unit ready to take on a weekend out of town.