Weekly output: revisiting the NTSB phone ban, wrapping virtual gifts, Android and Facebook tech support

I filed one of this week’s three stories a few weeks ago, but it finally began making its way to the screens of readers yesterday. Starting a new column can be like that sometimes.

12/19/2011: The NTSB’s Proposed Phone Ban: Tech Policy Goes Off The Road, CEA Digital Dialogue

I’d started writing this post in my head even as I was composing the prior week’s post for Discovery News on the same topic. This time around, I took a broader look at the regulatory and cultural background of the National Transportation Safety Board’s proposal to ban all non-emergency phone use by drivers (including an admission of my own past offenses). I hope it’s clear from the closing paragraphs that I’m not trying to beat up the NTSB here and agree that it has a point in wanting to discourage in-car phone use; I just don’t think that this is a problem that can effectively be solved with a new law.

12/20/2011: How Do You Gift-Wrap An MP3 File?, Discovery News

I’ve thought of writing an essay about this question for a while. I’m fascinated by the ways our analog culture adapts to digital advances, and in this case we haven’t come to any conclusion on how, exactly, we’re supposed to put a ribbon on a string of ones and zeroes–assuming we want to retain some of the traditional ritual of gift giving. Now that I’ve written that essay, though… meh. I feel like I didn’t quite pin down this topic. Writing a thumbsucker of an essay can be like that sometimes.

12/23/2011: Today’s tip: Sort your Facebook friends, USA Today

My first tech-help column for USA Today’s site–what you could think of as the freelance rebirth of the Help File column and PostPoints Tip e-mails I wrote for my former employer–covers two perennial topics in any tech-support feature, Facebook and Android. This week’s tip involves using the “Close Friends” and “Acquaintances” categories Facebook added a few months back to get a better grip on your privacy on the social network; the Q&A section revisits a longstanding weak point of Google’s mobile operating system, its lack of an easy, obvious music-sync option to iTunes.




Weekly output: phoning it in from cars, begging for DMCA exemptions

I’d mean to have a third post on this list, but my attempt to review Facebook’s new Timeline interface was thwarted by the fact that I still don’t have access to Timeline in my own account. (I’ve asked Facebook PR to look into this.) The switchover of my CEA work from the soon-to-close, subscription-required Tech Enthusiast site to its free Digital Dialogue blog also ate up a decent chunk of time. So there’s just two posts to my name for the week.

12/14/2011, New Rule: No Phone Use Behind The Wheel?, Discovery News

One of the more pleasant surprises of writing for Discovery has been how much I enjoy the challenge of coming up with the featured illustration required by its blogging format. In this case, I first thought I’d take a photo of any old cell phone in front of a car dashboard. Then realized I could have some fun with the concept by instead using the vintage Trimline phone I picked up at a yard sale last year, as you can see in the thumbnail at right.

Oh, right, about the post: This was my first take on the National Transportation Safety Board’s proposed ban on any phone use by drivers. (I plan on revisiting the topic at greater length next week for CEA.) In it, I criticize the proposal for its political implausibility and near-impossible enforcement, then suggest three ways that phone vendors could make in-car use safer. I thought the comments would then light up with denunciations of nanny-state behavior, but about half of them favor the phone prohibition. And then there was one person who decided the real problem on the road is cyclists. I was not amused by that: I’ve clocked about 11,000 miles on my bike since 1998 and I’m a member of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.

12/16/2011, DMCA Exemptions: Requesting Permission To Innovate, CEA Digital Dialogue

My first non-paywalled post for CEA covered the kind of out-of-the-headlines tech-policy topic that could be a tough sell at a lot of traffic-driven newsrooms: the current round of requested exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s “anti-circumvention” rules. The whole idea that adding “digital rights management” locks to a copyrighted work deprives a buyer of any right to circumvent that DRM to exercise fair-use rights has always struck me as unfair. I used this post to outline the history of requested exemptions from the DMCA’s anti-circumvention rule, something we’re allowed to ask for every three years; collectively, they do not paint a flattering picture of this law.

Note that CEA’s blog (how happy am I see it’s based on WordPress?) includes a separate feed for my contributions, which I encourage you to subscribe to in the RSS client of your choice. If anybody actually does that anymore…