Okay, maybe this SXSW commercialism really has gotten out of hand

AUSTIN–SXSW is really two events. One is the long series of panels and keynotes that teach me new things and get wheels turning in my brain for weeks afterward–for instance, yesterday President Obama did a Q&A that was supposed to be a sales pitch for SXSW techies to lend their talents to making government work better but wound up being his most revealing discussion about device encryption ever.

Sixth Street during SXSW(Twitter was not pleased with Obama’s displeasure about “fetishizing our phones above every other value,” to judge from my own timeline.)

But there’s also the Marketing Spring Break that surrounds this conference, in which every other social media manager, PR rep, advertising executive, and brand ambassador in America takes their employer or client’s corporate credit card and goes on a spending spree with restaurants, bars and caterers here.

The result is a schedule crammed with happy hours, receptions and parties, this year even more so than in the four before that I’ve been privileged to attend this event. My own calendar this evening features five events, most overlapping each other’s time slot. I am not sure what I could say to a normal human being’s “I hate you” assessment:

2) “Don’t hate the player, hate the game!”
3) Actually, just go ahead and hate me.

It’s not just tech startups lighting their investors’ money on fire in the hope of repeating Twitter’s 2007 SXSW breakout. The social scene here also features a wide variety of big-name Establishment firms looking to capture “mind share” by giving away free beer, tacos and BBQ–anytime I am overcome with SXSW-scheduling angst over which panel I won’t be able to attend, I can chill at the Scotts Miracle-Gro Connected Yard, the McDonald’s Loft, the Budweiser Beer Garage, or the Comcast Social Media Lounge.

I don’t know how all of these companies can get an acceptable return on their investment. What I do know: I’m not getting out of this place any skinnier.

Weekly output: LTE hotspots, Techdirt, SOTU, password managers, Washington Apple Pi, Tech Night Owl, old IE versions

I had a relaxing week after CES… no, that’s not right.

Wirecutter LTE hotspot guide1/11/2016: Best Wi-Fi Hotspot, The Wirecutter

My overdue update to this guide to LTE hotspots endorsed a Verizon model and gave a secondary endorsement to an AT&T hotspot with lesser battery life. We then revised the update after it posted to note that the Sprint reseller Karma had downgraded an initially-promising unlimited-data option.

1/12/2016: Techdirt Podcast Episode 56: The CES Post-Mortem, Techdirt

I ran into Techdirt’s Mike Masnick at CES, and on our respective ways out of town he suggested I appear on his podcast. I said that would be a great idea.

1/13/2016: State of the Union’s Technology? What Obama Didn’t Say, Yahoo Tech

The tech-policy story about this SOTU address is how little attention tech policy got. I’d still like to know what led Reuters to think that self-driving cars would get a mention in the speech.

1/14/2016: Tip: How to Make Sure Someone Can Access Your Passwords in an Emergency, Yahoo Tech

The 4.0 update LastPass rolled out right before CES added an emergency-access feature, so I used this tip to tell readers about that and Dashlane’s comparable emergency-contacts option.

1/14/2016: Afternoon Learners SIG, Washington Apple Pi

I stopped by a meeting of this Apple users’ group to share my thoughts about CES–and to hand out some PR swag and USB flash drives.

1/16/2016: January 16 2016 — John Martellaro and Rob Pegoraro, Tech Night Owl

I talked to Gene Steinberg about what I saw at CES, from UHD TVs to the Internet of Insecure Things.

1/17/2016: What to do after Microsoft ends support for older browsers, USA Today

The easy answer to Microsoft’s end of support for older Internet Explorer versions is “install IE 11.” But that browser isn’t the same app in Windows 7 as it is in Win 8 and 10, and updating your browser doesn’t end your Web-security chores.

How I went to an event at the White House and didn’t file anything

As you might have seen on Twitter, I was at the White House Tuesday for the Obama administration’s first Demo Day. (Yes, I should have added #humblebrag to some of those tweets.) This event was both a diversity-boosting exercise for the president and a chance for the 32 startups in the spotlight, many not founded by the usual crop of twenty-something white dudes, to get some wider exposure.

White House Demo Day Obama entranceMy Yahoo colleague Alyssa Bereznak was already set to write about the diversity angle–it’s a real problem for the industry, as you can see in the testimony from some of these female and minority founders in her story. I had RSVPed after her but figured I could file something profiling some of the more interesting startups.

But then after 35 minutes spent standing the East Room of the White House and watching live video of President Obama talk to various startups in an adjacent room, then hearing Obama’s speech (key line: “the next Steve Jobs might be named Stephanie or Esteban”) and singing “Happy Birthday” to the president (it being his 54th birthday), we were all ushered out past the startups and back to the press room. Oops.

I did manage to get back in, courtesy of Alyssa and I running into a press contact we knew, but by then some of these companies had packed up their exhibits. I wound up only talking to five of them, just three of which were on my own list of exhibitors to check out, before I was again ushered out. That was less reporting time than I expected–nothing compared to last summer’s Maker Faire at the White House— and did not yield enough material for a story.

Am I bothered by that? Not really. Some of the people I did meet will be worth talking to later on, I was only out $4 and change in Metro fare, and confusing friends by wearing a suit for work was its own reward.

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.

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.