Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
April 20, 2014

Posts in "Techie"

April 1, 2014

Pols Chime In on Capitol Bells

A former House staffer turned civic-engagement evangelist, Ted Henderson has amplified his efforts to connect Congress with constituents by introducing a new way to stake out personal positions: virtual “motions.”

The former aide to ome-time Michigan Democratic Rep. Dale E. Kildee told HOH that a fair amount of Hill types — 9,500 total users, including 6,800 House vote alert subscribers  (versus the 250 currently seeking Senate vote updates) — have taken notice of his fledgling tool.

Henderson estimates that roughly 200 to 250 House members and their staffers are utilizing the smartphone app (and companion website) to keep tabs on the issues folks from their home districts are rallying for/against online.

Lawmakers have begun taking their own stands by utilizing the app’s nascent motion-writing feature.

Pols Chime In on Capitol Bells

(Screenshot)

Instead of simply voting a certain issue up or down, the “motion” function gives CB users the opportunity to post a brief statement (up to 200 characters) that can then be shared on other social media platforms.

Per Henderson, the abbreviated stump speeches should help politicians cut through the legislative noise by injecting easily digestible appeals into the conversation.

“Here’s who I am. Here’s what I’m working on … and it’s all translated into regular English,” he said.

Some early adopters have already hopped on their virtual soapboxes, Henderson said, including Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright (the first to pen a “motion”) and Colorado Democratic Rep. Jared Polis (“a huge supporter”).

Moving forward, Henderson hopes to maximize CB’s vote matching capabilities — it currently only compares users’ positions to members from their home-state delegation — by opening up the cross-referencing to presidential and congressional candidates.

And he’s determined to draw even more lawmakers into the feedback loop.

“I want people to use it anytime they’re talking about a bill online … [because] it’s adding that gateway to constituent engagement,” Henderson asserted.

He plans to continue making his case to the online masses next week via Reddit’s “Ask Me Anything” forum  (perhaps as early as April 7).

March 28, 2014

Ron Kind Puts LinkedIn Perk to Work

As opposed to those in the social mediaverse who routinely threaten to unfriend/unfollow/disown pals who perpetually pepper them with invites to join the professional networking set, Rep. Ron Kind has not only found a use for LinkedIn, he’s been ushered into an elite club: the “Influencers.”

Ron Kind Puts LinkedIn Perk to Work

(Screenshot)

The nascent program, which appears to have launched in late 2012, provides LI “thought leaders” the opportunity to exponentially grow their audience by giving them maximum exposure on the platform’s newsy “Pulse” pages.

“The LinkedIn Influencer program invites top voices in the professional world to reach professionals across LinkedIn. This is an invitation-only program, so Influencers must be invited by LinkedIn to participate,” the company explains in a recent post.

A Kind aide confirmed that the Wisconsin Democrat joined the ranks of the megaphone-enabled commenters last summer. Full story

By Warren Rojas Posted at 3:22 p.m.
media, Reps, Techie

March 14, 2014

Foster, Holt Fete Pi Day With Pastries

Resident Capitol Hill physicists Reps. Bill Foster, D-Ill., and Rush D. Holt, D-N.J., are doing their small part Friday (3/14) to commemorate the infinitesimal mathematical construct known as pi — by dishing out homemade baked goods.

Foster, Holt Fete Pi Day With Pastries

(CQ Roll Call archives)

Pi Day,” the annual celebration of the non-repeating, never-ending figure revered by “mathletes” the world over, has become a cultural happening involving food, fashion and pop culture references.

Holt and Foster are feeding into the phenomenon by offering guests the chance to fill their belles while expanding their minds.

“We’ll have a variety of homemade pies … [and] a competition to see who can recite the most digits of pi,” a Foster aide said of the scientific shindig scheduled to take place at noon in Longworth 1224.

All are welcome. (But you may wanna download a scientific calculator app on your phone on your way over.)

March 13, 2014

Members of Congress Sum Up SXSWi — in 3 Words

South By Southwest Interactive wrapped up Tuesday, just as the madding crowds for the music festival were arriving in Austin, Texas. Roll Call correspondent Grace Dobush was in town along with a surprising number of congressmen — 12 by our count. In addition to attending the panels they spoke on, covering topics from patent trolls to tech innovation, she caught up with a handful of members to get their sense of the experience — in three words.

Read more about Washington’s takeover of SXSWi (and see a photo of Darrell Issa testing out a new Microsoft dance game) here.

February 11, 2014

Relief Agencies Share Hardware, Liquid Courage With Congress

Assuming Mother Nature doesn’t orchestrate her own brand of government shutdown over the next 48 hours, staffers should prepare to get their geek on Thursday during the “Innovation at the U.N.” reception.

The science-fair-themed gathering, organized by the Better World Campaign, is scheduled to take place Thursday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Rayburn foyer. Those interested in participating are encouraged to RSVP to events@UNfoundation.org.

An event promoter told HOH the plan is to highlight the tools relief groups such as the U.N. Foundation, U.N. Development Programme, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, World Food Programme, UNICEF and UNESCO are deploying around the globe. Attendees will be able to inspect one of those innovations, an Ikea-designed “refugee housing unit” designed with expediency (no tools required), longevity and sustainability (potential to be outfitted with solar power sources) in mind.

Too wonky for your tastes?

The party is also expected to feature “bartenders wearing lab coats/goggles” serving (what else?) “fizzy drinks in test tubes.”

“There will be blue cocktails dubbed ‘Ban Ki-moon blasts’!” our source said of the boozy entertainment named after the current UN secretary general. Those looking to lap up the experimental libation should expect splashes of vodka, lime juice and blue Curacao.

January 21, 2014

A Capitol Police Crackdown on 24/7 Texting?

We suspect most people are treading extra carefully now that D.C. streets and sidewalks are slowly but surely disappearing beneath a blanket of steadily falling snow.

A Capitol Police Crackdown on 24/7 Texting?

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, distracted walker? (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

But Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer wishes everyone — particularly social-media-obsessed reporters — would be just as mindful about digital distractions.

A colleague told HOH that a Capitol Police officer recently chided her for texting while on the move, a practice pretty much mandated by the confluence of rolling deadlines and a desire to be first among fleet-fingered fellow tweeters. Other reporters have, apparently, also been warned about racing around with their faces glued to lightly glowing screens.

Per Gainer, the situation has not yet reached actionable status. But he certainly sounds disappointed by the state of media affairs.

“In general there is no policy against distracted walking but one misses so many opportunities to meet and talk with others, explore the beauty of the Capitol corridors or report suspicious activity to say nothing of the increased likelihood of colliding with another distracted walker,” Gainer warned in an email.

He went on to wax philosophic about the profession as a whole, arguing, “Isn’t there a basic journalistic ethos demanding eagle-eye vigilance while out and about, walking the beat therefore requiring no rule but only self actualization?”

(Um, yeah. What he said.)

January 6, 2014

Jared Polis’ Punctuation Push

Rep. Jared Polis has as of late been having some trouble squeezing in everything he wants to share on social media.

But the Colorado Democrat has a plan to streamline overly wordy thoughts: tildes.

The Education and the Workforce Committee member floated his idea about recasting the summarily ignored squiggly sign to his Twitter flock after perusing an ongoing discussion on an etymological message board about how best to offset paraphrased content.

“It is challenging to condense quotes from articles into 140 characters,” Polis said in an email regarding his struggles with concise, but still cogent microblogging. Per his unsatisfactory research, Polis found far-from-definitive advice urging content shrinkers to employ everything from multicolored fonts to plain brackets. Full story

November 26, 2013

Senator Wants Chatty Future Air Travelers to Get Off His Lawn

Bad news potentially promiscuous air travelers: Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., doesn’t want to know about your “last night’s love life.”

Senator Wants Chatty Future Air Travelers to Get Off His Lawn

Alexander: Not a fan of cellphone use on planes. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Alexander issued a statement on the eve of one of the busiest air travel days of the year urging Federal Communications Commission heads to ban phone calls on planes, even as the Federal Aviation Administration announced it would ease its cellphone policy.
The old-man statement — which this HOH scribe endorses and thinks you will, too — is too good not to publish in its entirety: Full story

November 20, 2013

Jim Cooper Muses About App Replacing the Newspapers It Depends on

Jim Cooper Muses About App Replacing the Newspapers It Depends on

(Anna Giaritelli/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., believes government shortcomings and a concerned print news industry will soon be transformed into something more efficient.

“Our newspapers are dying. Dead tree products like this are having a hard time economically. The business model is not working and it needs to be replaced with something like iCitizen so that people can get the news they need,” said Cooper at  launch party for the new iCitizen app.

iCitizen combines data from a variety of news sources to inform users on issues, legislation and how to correspond with public officials.

A number of Nashville health care professionals, members and former members, including former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., rallied support for the product debut at the Ronald Reagan Building Pavilion on Tuesday night.

Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn, another Tennessean, talked about the frustrations she has heard from constituents about the lack of reporting on select issues, but also noted the importance of community papers.

“I find it very interesting in my district, community newspapers that are specific to one area are very popular,” Blackburn said.

Interesting, too, that iCitizen relies on many “dying” organizations to provide news to users.

CEO Rod Massey listed the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and Tennessee Tribune as examples of sources for iCitizen’s 8,900 separate data feeds.

“We’re just in our infancy as far as the sources we’re incorporating. … As we integrate more diverse sources, I absolutely see us bringing that from a variety of different venues,” Massey said.

Honk if You’re Driverless | Madisonville

Vehicles that accelerate, brake and park themselves. Lane markers that keep cars on the straight and narrow. Children alone in a car that drives itself. No more accidents from fatigue, drunkenness or distraction.

Even in the presence of technology that would allow every American to watch C-SPAN on the road, members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Highways and Transit Subcommittee didn’t know what to make of the Brave New World seminar on driverless cars on Tuesday.

Honk if Youre Driverless | Madisonville“I envision the day we’ll have these vehicles, like the Flintstones, or something,” said Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. Nevada Democrat Dina Titus provided him with a verbal poke: Didn’t he mean the the Jetsons? Ah, yes, Cohen replied: “Who? The Jetsons? Yeah, that’s the opposite.”

Cohen then showed that something driverless can keep moving. “I got a ticket — and I went to court on it, which was a mistake, I guess, for parking more than 12 inches from the curb, which I didn’t know was even the law. And I don’t think I did it. The car’s going to know 12 inches? I mean, how’s the car going to know the Memphis city code?”

New Jersey Democrat Albio Sires and Illinois Republican Rodney Davis saw a similar problem but from opposite ends. Davis worries that the autonomous car industry will overlook rural drivers. Sires wonders if the industry is too optimistic about urban areas.

“It’s hard for me to fathom a car in New York City being without a driver,” Sires said. This worry conjures up questions about whether these cars can scream obscenities without human assistance. Or what amount of body damage will an autonomous taxi consider acceptable to cross three lanes of traffic to pick up a fare?

“I used to have a ’65 Mustang that I did a lot of work on,” Sires said, taking the path of greatest nostalgia to another point, about the loss of backyard tinkering. “I can’t imagine anybody doing any work on these cars that are so sophisticated. I think it’s just going to put people out of work.”

Texas Republican Roger Williams, a car dealer no less, may know something about the market that advocates of autonomous cars overlooked. “Something like this is going to have to be able pull a horse trailer,” he said.

Publius Valerius Publicola

November 19, 2013

New App Vies to Become ‘Yelp for Politicians’

Rod Massey, the CEO of iCitizen, is excited about getting his new civic engagement platform into the rapidly texting hands of responsive voters and the social-media-savvy pols they most care about.

“It will show them how their constituents feel about the actions they’re taking,” Massey told HOH of the fledgling application that allows folks to keep tabs on what their elected officials are up to and “rate” the legislators accordingly.

Per Massey, the initial version of the new tracing tool — feted at 6:30 p.m. tonight at an invitation-only soiree (free cocktails and hors d’oeuvres) at the Ronald Reagan Building at 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW — is configured to work on iOS 7-enabled iPhones. He said the company hopes to launch an Android version in early 2014.

Currently, users are able to select overall ratings for individuals on a scale of 1 to 5 stars. But those scores can fluctuate based on different impressions, new legislative actions or plain old buyer’s remorse.

“Individuals have the ability to change that at any time. So think it more as a flag,” he suggested.

That’s why his programmers are hard at work on an iPad version designed specifically to provide elected officials with real time data (an “analytics dashboard,” Massey called it) to chew on. Once released, most likely in early 2014, registered lawmakers will be able to view how their ratings have risen or fallen over time — a snapshot of reactions to their every political move.

“We’re more like social media with a purpose,” Massey said. Full story

October 22, 2013

Social Media Shill Sabotages Congressional Email

First the government shuts them out of their offices. Now, a corporate vendor has robbed congressional staffers of sleep and rendered their inboxes unnavigable.

According to various House aides the latest affront happened early Tuesday morning, when an introductory email from 4PIA CEO Rani Yadav-Ranjan wreaked havoc on the Hill.

The cookie-cutter message, one would assume, was intended to plug the product (a daily report about Twitter mentions and related social media activity) by showcasing a custom report for each individual member of Congress.

The only problem is that the company sent EACH report to EVERY member office.

“We got hit with 500-something emails, each one directed to a different [representative] or senator. They starting dinging on my BlackBerry and woke me up at 2:00 this morning, and I had to silence the ringer before I could get back to sleep,” one Democratic aide said of the disruptive experience.

“It was unreal,” affirmed a GOP aide, who said the deluge created a serious backlog in the office. “Nothing like going to bed and waking up to 600 unread email messages.”

A 4PIA aide offered no explanation for the spam surge.

“We tested this system multiple times without a glitch,” the appointment setter assured HOH. “Our tech teams are still trying to understand what happened.”

To wit, the 4PIA aide said some offices had taken the bait and signed up for the service.

“Would Roll Call like to be on the list?” the shameless saleslady inquired.

No thanks. We have enough trouble sleeping already.

August 12, 2013

Need a Lyft? New Car Service Aims for Good Vibes

Living in the District means having a car isn’t exactly a necessity, until it is.

Uber swooped into Washington hoping to fill the void with its mobile app connecting the carless-but-connected with its uberTaxi, uberBlack and uberSUV services. The D.C. Taxicab Commission didn’t take kindly to Uber, although the Federal Trade Commission has warned the local commission that coming down hard on Uber and other Web-based car services could stifle innovation.

Against that backdrop, Lyft, a car-sharing service that started in San Francisco, has decided to drive on in.

Lyft, which held a “top-secret kick-off party” earlier this month at 1776-The Penthouse, promises to be “your friend with a car,” complete with its trademark pink fluffy mustache and encouraged driver-driven bonding. Why a pink mustache, you ask? There’s actually a good story behind it.

The pink mustache is a smile, its website says. Its goal is for you to be a little happier at the end of your ride than you were at the beginning.

“What really sets Lyft apart from other services is the community experience,” said Erin Simpson of Lyft. “Riders can sit up front with the drivers, choose the music and have really good conversation.

“We also go above and beyond in the matter of safety,” Simpson said. “Potential drivers are screened through criminal background checks, DMV records, followed by in-person interviews.”

Lyft also has a first-of-its-kind, $1 million per occurrence excess liability insurance policy. Once a ride is complete, passengers are prompted to pay through the app to the extent they’ve enjoyed the experience.

Riders also will  give feedback about drivers, so anyone who isn’t providing comfortable trips will get dumped from the system.

July 8, 2013

John Dingell Google-Glasses Himself

Congress’s longest-serving member, Rep. John D. Dingell, D-Mich., can now find his favorite Chinese restaurant using only a pair of glasses.

Google stopped by Dingell’s office three weeks ago to show the 29-term congressman one of its newest products, Google Glass. Dingell, who turned 87 today, posted a video of his Glass experience on his Facebook page, saying near the end of the 55-second video, “This is quite a machine.”

Google, which has an office in the congressman’s district in Ann Arbor, Mich., launched Google Glass last June at Google I/O 2012, using skydivers and other extreme sport athletes to showcase the product’s capabilities.

Check out Dingell’s Google experience below:

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