Lessons from transatlantic travel during the never-ending pandemic

Returning to Europe for the first time in close to two years reminded me of some aspects of EU life that had faded from my mind, like the endless series of GDPR-mandated privacy dialogs marring familiar news sites.

But my visit to Estonia on a sponsored press trip this week also exposed a newer difference between life here and on the other side of the Atlantic: how people are responding to the pandemic that’s now nearing its third year.

While I did not have to show proof of vaccination or a negative test result to board my flight (I took a PCR test two days prior to departure anyway and got a negative result the evening prior), I didn’t take too many steps after landing in Frankfurt before being asked for those documents to get into a Lufthansa lounge.

In Estonia–where the positive-test rate is lower than here in Virginia, while the vaccination rate is also lower but rising rapidly–I had to present my vaccination card once again to check into the hotel in Tallinn.

I faced more documentation requests to get into restaurants, a museum and a government office building. I’d call it a papers-please ritual except the Europeans among me could display EU-spec digital certificates on their phones that could be verified with a scan of a QR code, while I was left showing my paper card or a photo of it. This left me feeling like a health-tech hick, especially when one official looked at that image and said something like “I’ll have to trust you.”

(I’m told there’s an effort to build out a digital-vaccination-certificate standard across U.S. states, with California already supporting it; yes, consider the story assignment received.)

Mask compliance, however, did not seem great in the few mostly-empty restaurants and bars I ducked into; I did not linger in any crowded indoor spaces unmasked because I felt like I was pushing my luck enough already.

(For the same reason, I bought a BinaxNow antigen test at a CVS this morning and got yet another negative result.)

I had to present a negative test to board my flight home Thursday morning. That itself got checked twice, once before I could get a boarding pass and again before the gate for my flight back to the States from Munich.

And then after a long day of travel, I returned to a United States in which most people never have to produce any sort of confirmation of vaccination or a recent negative test–and some people seem violently opposed to any such mandate, even if that rugged individualism in the face of a pandemic just might put them in the grave.

Weekly output: EU vs. Google, Tech Night Owl, Sprint WiMax resellers

This has been a rotten week for journalism, courtesy of Rolling Stone’s failure to follow the newsroom mantra “if your mother says she loves you, check it out” when reporting a gruesome allegation of gang rape at the University of Virginia. My own week in journalism was better, but I’m not going to say it represented my best work.

12/2/2014: The European Union Wants to Regulate Google —Some More, Yahoo Tech

The EU’s increasingly shrill attacks on Google led to a column in which I sound suspiciously like a Republican (maybe even more than when I’m discussing San Francisco’s screwed-up housing policy). But in retrospect, I should have ended the column on a different note: By acting like the confiscatory villains in an Ayn Rand novel, the EU invites us to dismiss all of its critiques of Google, even the ones that might have a grounding in the facts.

12/6/2014: December 6, 2014 — John Martellaro and Rob Pegoraro, Tech Night Owl

Host Gene Steinberg and I talked about the present and possible future of the Apple TV, net-neutrality politics, Windows 10, 4K TV and a few other things.

USAT column on Sprint Wimax resellers12/7/2014: 4G me not: WiMax isn’t LTE and is going away at Sprint resellers, USA Today

I don’t always get to write my own headlines, but my editor at USAT appreciates the help and I don’t mind making the effort–especially when this kind of wordplay pops into my head. The research involved in this  piece about companies reselling Sprint service will also play into an upcoming story about wireless broadband.

Weekly output: “right to be forgotten” (x2), Facebook privacy, travel bags, Pandora, Tech Night Owl, downloading Flickr and Facebook photos

Two things I’d written a while back–weeks ago in one case, last year in the other–made their appearance this week.

5/20/2014: The ‘Right to be Forgotten’: A Right to Endless Argument, Yahoo Tech

In this week’s column, I tried to untangle the logic behind a European court’s ruling that EU citizens can petition search engines to have unflattering links not be shown in queries for their names.

5/20/2014: How to See Yourself as the Web Sees You: 5 Tips, Yahoo Tech

To go with that column, I wrote a short sidebar about how to check up on the picture of you that search engines and Facebook present to strangers.

5/22/2014: Facebook privacy, WTOP

The news station interviewed me about Facebook’s unprecedented but welcome move to less-public default settings. As I said on the air: With this change, it’s definitely not throwback Thursday at Facebook HQ.

5/23/2014: Nerd Bags: How 5 Yahoo Tech Writers Keep It All Together, Yahoo Tech

Read on to see what kind of bags I and four Yahoo Tech colleagues–Rafe NeedlemanRob WalkerAlyssa Bereznak, and Dan Tynan–use when we travel for business.

Boing Boing Pandora post5/24/2014: Pandora’s “Music Genome Project” explores the cold hard facts of how we interact with music, Boing Boing

This story had an exceptionally prolonged gestation: I waited way too long to file the thing, and then my editor wanted to hold off running it until the site could launch its redesign. That redesign, in turn, took months longer than expected (I don’t know the details, nor do I want to know the details). There are a couple of references in the piece that show its age–for example, iTunes Radio is no longer an “upcoming” product–and should be fixed soon.

5/24/2014: May 24, 2014 — Dorothy Pomerantz, Daniel Eran Dilger and Rob Pegoraro, Tech Night Owl

I talked about the right-to-be-forgotten ruling, AT&T’s proposal to buy DirecTV, and Apple’s “never mind” settlement of a patent suit against Google on Gene Steinberg’s podcast.

5/25/2014: Grab it: Download photos in bulk from Flickr, Facebook, USA Today

I was unpleasantly surprised by the poor quality of the apps I tried for downloading multiple photos from Flickr and Facebook. (Hint: Adobe Flash is not a good middleware layer to build an app on these days.) The tip part of the column suggests that readers take another look at OS X’s Preview utility and the Paint app in Windows for basic image editing.