I welcome our robot overlords...

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 11/09/2017 - 17:21

Two stories today suggest the future may be exciting, but not in a good way.

In Las Vegas, a driver-less shuttle bus had an accident less than a hour after starting service. No one was hurt, but the bus failed to notice that a large truck was backing up and failed to move out of its way.

In Germany, while the owner of an apartment was out late, his Alexa device (the Amazon "smart home" widget) turned itself on at 2 AM and started playing music so loudly it woke all the neighbors. Police couldn't get anyone to answer the door, so they called a locksmith to break in. They turned off Alexa, changed the locks, and left. The owner was stuck with the locksmith bill and no clue as to why the Alexa gadget did what it did.

Is the dumbphone now smart to own?

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 11/08/2017 - 14:26

According to this article, some people are ditching their smartphones and replacing them with "dumbphones." The typical dumbphone offers phone calls and texting, and that's it. All of the distractions and "there's an app for that" are gone.

If this trend gets people back to using the phone to actually talk to people again, it would be good thing.

In other news, Apple's iPhone X, which costs $1,000, is selling like hotcakes. So I don't hold out much hope for the dumbphone trend.

5G wireless is going to deliver the promises

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 11/08/2017 - 14:18

This article is long but readable, and it is a real eye opener. Many have been hoping that fiber could be ditched in favor of 5G wireless. The cable companies have been testing a variety of "5G" frequencies, and found that they all have significant shortcomings. The much-touted "...5G will deliver near Gigabit speeds..." turns out to be "mostly true" in a Billy Crystal "mostly dead" kind of way. If you are more than 150 feet from the tower and have any foliage in the way, the speed drops by about 90%.

The higher frequency millimeter wave systems are drastically attenuated by rain, snow, windows, and leaves. And yes, pine needles are still very bad.

In the next couple of years, expect to see some companies using the 5G radio systems to eliminate fiber drops from the street to the home--both Google and AT&T have been talking about doing this. But the short distances involved means lots of radios on the street, and to get the throughput up, you need those radios connected to fiber. And what everyone forgets is that everyone of those radios has to be connected to electric power.

We see that as a major issue. You need to get the radios as high as possible on existing utility poles, but that means putting them in the electric space, which raises the cost of installation and the cost of maintenance. If the electric service is underground, you have to install poles, which is also expensive.

The decline of the West: cellphone airbags

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 10/31/2017 - 09:55

In a sure sign of decline, the city of Salzburg, Austria is putting airbags on lamp posts on city streets because so many people were bumping into them while looking down at their cellphones.

Yes, it is a publicity stunt to raise awareness of the problem of "smartphone zombie," but even having to use that phrase is an sad indictment of our culture, in which we are so obsessed with our technology that we can't walk down the street without bumping into something.

Happy birthday, iPod!

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/23/2017 - 12:47

The iPod is ten years old, and in that short time, the concept of a multi-function device that fits in your pocket has transformed the way we work and play--not necessarily always for the better. There were other pocket size music devices before the iPod, but Apple provided easy to use software (iTunes) with an easy to use interface on the iPod itself that lent itself to rapid and easy browsing of your music library.

The original iPod had a 5 Gig hard drive--an actual rotating device, that was replaced in just a few years with solid state hard drives with no moving parts and much lower power consumption for longer battery life. The iPod led directly to the iPhone, which has largely rendered stand along music players obsolete--Apple only offers one iPod model now--the iPod Touch.

Here is the first commercial for the iPod.

Death of TV: Part LXXIX: Google drops TV

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/09/2017 - 10:24

Google Fiber has announced that it is dropping TV packages from its content offerings in Louisville and San Antonio. The wide range of content available from OTT services like Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Netflix, Hulu, and other services makes the traditional cable/satellite TV packages seem quaint by comparison.

iPhone 8, iPhone X, Apple TV, and LTE, cellular

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 09/13/2017 - 12:54

Apple announced new iPhones yesterday. Faster, brighter displays, and better cameras. Ho hum.

What interested me was the Apple TV announcement--the new Apple TV supports 4K video, which uses FOUR TIMES more bandwidth than HD video. Apple continues to improve the user experience with its products, but many Internet services are not going to be able to deliver 4K streaming video, or at best, only one stream at a time. Meanwhile, the average household has more than ten Internet-connected devices, and that is going to keep growing.

T-Mobile is not happy with iPhone X because it does not support T-Mobile's new LTE frequencies.

In the race to try to squeeze more bandwidth out of wireless radio systems, more frequencies are being used, which means device manufacturers like Apple and Samsung have to build more radio technology into their devices, which means more weight, poorer battery life, and less space for other stuff.

What phone do I use? I'm still completely happy with a three year old iPhone 5S. Fits in my pocket, has long battery life, and rings every time someone calls me. I don't need much more than that.

Eldo Telecom: Rural copper won't be replaced by small cells

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 08/07/2017 - 13:10

Eldo Telecom points to an article that suggests that small cell cellular access points won't be the cure-all for rural residents.

The emerging Space Economy

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 06/27/2017 - 13:25

It's been a long time since I wrote anything about the Space Economy. I was, perhaps, overly optimistic about the timing, but lately all the signs are that the private sector now has sufficiently mature payload to space technology to completely change the nature of space research and business.

SpaceX seems well ahead of competitors, with two launches in a just a few days, and both times, the first stage booster returned successfully to the launch pad.

In other developments, Virgin Galactic is apparently nearing final development of its near space tourism offering. Bigelow Aerospace, an early entrant, has signed a contract to supply NASA with inflatable space habitats. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin round trip space vehicle continues advanced testing, and NASA and the European Space Agency continue to pursue their own plans.

Space really is starting to look like the final frontier.

Google will stop reading your email

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 06/26/2017 - 09:27

In a win for personal privacy, Google has announced that the company will no longer read the email of their personal Gmail account users.

Google has been scanning Gmail email to identify what kind of ads to place in Web browsers for its users.

Although a lawsuit seems to have pushed them to do this, my guess is that it is no longer necessary. They are probably getting better, more accurate information by simply vacuuming every Web site you visit. I've never had a Gmail account and don't use Google for search, but within a few seconds of doing some online shopping/searching, the ads I see in my browser change to the product(s) I was shopping for.

Death of TV: Part LXXVIII: More churn in the TV space

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 06/23/2017 - 09:45

YouTube (part of Google) has launched a streaming TV service, making the whole video on demand space an even more confusing array of services and options, which include Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Roku, offerings directly from some of the alphabet networks, and many others. But competition is a wonderful thing. As buyers of entertainment, we have a wide array of choices that most of us never dreamed of fifteen years ago, and the growth of the Game of Thrones-style miniseries is producing some really good TV, although the term "TV" is really an anachronism these days.

As more and more homes cut the cord to the traditional cable TV package, the importance of having a high performance fiber connection will only increase.

The tragic state of the telecom industry

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/22/2017 - 07:25

This article has a lot of inside baseball and makes for dense reading, but the bottom line is that telecom industry has learned nothing in the past twenty years.

The article discusses how the cellular carriers are in a race to build more fiber to cell towers, and in doing so are putting price pressure on the independent fiber carriers large and small.

One way to understand this is to go back to the roads analogy. Verizon wants to build private (fiber) roads to all its cell towers. AT&T wants to build a fully duplicated set of (fiber) roads to its cell towers. Sprint wants to build private (fiber) roads to its cell towers. And so on.

If local governments recognized that fiber is just another form of roads, they could build a shared (fiber) road system past ALL cell towers and reap some very interesting revenue.

The Xerox nightmare

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 06/19/2017 - 10:55

Design Nine has a tiny service contract for an old Xerox printer. I had a billing question about a late fee that was assessed for the first time in more than twelve years. I wasted more than forty minutes on the phone with various Xerox reps, none of whom were helpful. Of the forty minutes on the phone, I spent about twenty-five minutes on hold, and I had to call three different numbers and had to talk to four different people.

None of them spoke English as a first language, and none of them were authorized to do anything but apologize for their inability to do anything. If I had a nickle for every time one of them said, "I apologize" I could have paid off the late fee. They had to keep apologizing because they literally could not do anything but apologize.

Xerox makes good printers, and we just did buy one to replace the one going off contract, but Xerox apparently does not care that we've spent thousands and thousands of dollars with them for more than a decade.

Apple's Augmented Reality software very near

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 06/14/2017 - 09:35

Apple announced the availability of its new augmented reality software for the iPhone and iPad at its recent Worldwide Developers Conference. The software kit enables third party app developers to place computer-generated information over real-time images. For example, map information could be superimposed over a live camera feed on an iPhone pointed out the front of a vehicle.

The recent Pokemon Go craze is an early example of augmented reality, and while it is likely that gaming apps will be early users of Apple's new technology, we'll see many other applications and uses as more developers begin integrating the software into their apps.

Here's why bricks and mortar retail is shrinking

Submitted by acohill on Sun, 04/30/2017 - 14:26

I needed a halogen bulb for an under-cabinet light in the kitchen. I spent more than an hour traveling to three different stores, including two big box home improvement stores, and never did find the bulb. I did notice that similar bulbs were selling for about eight dollars.

Once I got home, I looked on Amazon. I found the bulb I needed, in a four pack for twelve dollars, or about $3/bulb instead of eight. I have an Amazon Prime subscription, so the bulbs will be delivered to my front door in two days.

In the bulb hunt, I easily burned up two or three gallons of gas, or more than the cost of the bulb. It's more efficient to buy some things online. And as a side note, Walmart is giving Amazon a run for it's money. Something that was out of stock on Amazon I recently found on the Walmart Web site for 30% less, and got two day free delivery without having to pay for an annual subscription. Competition is a wonderful thing.

Work from home continues to increase

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 04/28/2017 - 08:37

In our work, we are seeing steadily rising numbers of people trying to work from home part or full time. In both the public and private sector, many businesses and agencies now routinely allow employees to work from home one or two days per week, which can have a huge impact on transportation spending. If most commuters stayed home to work just one day a week, you are looking at taking 15% or more of cars off the road, reducing road wear/maintenance, reducing traffic congestion, and shortening commutes.

One rarely discussed challenge is that few homes have the kind of "business class" broadband needed to work efficiently from home. The most common complaint we hear is "I can't use my company VPN from home." The low bandwidth DSL connections don't provide enough capacity, and the highly asymmetric cable Internet services and their highly variable bandwidth play havoc with VPNs.

We're designing and building new, modern networks designed specifically to support work from home and business from home activities. Our work in communities like Bozeman, Montana (www.bozemanfiber.com) is bringing world class, business class networks with true competition to areas of the country that have been largely ignored by the incumbents. Bozeman's community-owned network has five (5) service providers competing for customers.

Is LinkedIn dying?

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 03/02/2017 - 14:37

LinkedIn may not be entirely dead, but in the past several months, I've received nothing but "business friend" requests from sales people and consultants trolling for business. LinkedIn has enabled "lazy" sales work. Just browse LinkedIn for keyword matches for whatever you are selling, and then send a "link" request. I turn them all down.

I was a very early LinkedIn user, and have yet to find it particularly useful. I've never let it have access to my address book, and I rarely use it reach out to people I already know--email and the phone are far more efficient.

LinkedIn is basically Facebook for business people, and aside from the news feeds, it does not offer me much functionality.

Death of TV: Part LXXVII: Is it really over?

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 03/01/2017 - 12:01

I've been writing about the death of TV since 2005, and twelve years later, the body may be finally in rigor mortis, or close to it. YouTube has announced a $35/month TV service that includes Fox, ABC, NBC, CBS, Disney, and....ESPN. It's ESPN that may finally break the back of the traditional cable subscription business model. We've heard very consistently that a lot of residential customers have not given up their cable or satellite subscription because they want to watch sports. YouTube seems ready to give them a viable option.

Bio-diversity on the Internet is a good thing

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 03/01/2017 - 11:53

Bio-diversity on the Internet is a good thing, just like bio-diversity in the real world is a good thing. The Amazon S3 failure yesterday caused major disruptions in a lot of Internet services, particularly on the east coast of the U.S.

As companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google hold and manage every-increasing portions of Internet content and services, the potential for an service outage to cause major disruptions becomes greater as well. Technology fails, and it is dangerous for any company (or individual) to keep all data in one "basket." There is still nothing safer than a couple of external hard drives, stored in two different locations (e.g. not your business or your home) with your valuable data. Putting it all in the cloud puts it all at risk.

Virginia communities defeat the death star bill

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 02/09/2017 - 15:08

In a clear sign that the incumbent telephone and cable companies are playing a long game in their fight against competition, a draft bill began circulating in the current legislative session in Virginia.

It was quickly dubbed "the death star bill" because it would have made it nearly impossible for Virginia localities to make any investments in broadband infrastructure. Purportedly, the intent of the bill was to protect taxpayers from "wasting" public money on broadband infrastructure. But it had many restrictions that seemed very similar to the restrictions passed by the North Carolina legislature some years ago.

But Virginia has a wide variety of communities that have already made substantial investments in bringing competitive broadband services into their mostly rural areas, and there was rapid mobilization to fight the bill.

According to ars technica, the bill was replaced by a different bill that only codified some bookkeeping transparency requirements--the rebels won again.

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