Submitted by acohill on Wed, 09/23/2015 - 12:34
Apparently it is more dangerous to take a selfie than to swim in shark-infested waters. More people are dying from self-inflicted accidents while taking a selfie than from shark attacks.
Folks, put down the selfie stick and try to acquire some situational awareness.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 09/22/2015 - 07:41
Skype was a great piece of software until Microsoft bought the company. We have been using Skype chat and video for years; it is a very effective and efficient way of managing a company with employees located all over the country.
But once Microsoft started "fixing" it, it slowly became less reliable, with file transfers now so unreliable that we rarely use that feature anymore.
Yesterday, there a major Skype problem that affected many users. It was cleared up after a few hours, but in the meantime we tried to switch to Google chat/video. Two of us spent about twenty minutes trying to connect to each other and finally gave up--and we both have existing Google accounts. Google's minimalist interface design is so obscure that we simply could not tell if something was broken or if we were missing some hidden button somewhere.
In the office, this led to a water cooler discussion about how nothing seems to work anymore. The mad rush to connect everything to everything via "the cloud" has led to dumbing down of features, complicated log in sequences, too many userid/passwords to remember, erratic performance, and long delays because former desktop only apps now have to shove everything through the cloud.
Xkcd, as usual, identifies the mounting problem in one simple graphic.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 09/21/2015 - 16:03
Pundits all over the InnerTubes are predicting that Apple's support of ad blockers is the death of ad-supported Web sites. Maybe so, maybe not. But I have not heard anyone discuss the inverse: the proliferation of ads was killing ad-supported Web sites.
The increase in ads has been a kind of drip-drip-drip....barely noticeable until it seemed to reach a preference cascade for me. Some Web sites had so many ads popping up, over, under and around the content that the site was pretty much unusable on smaller devices like a smartphone or small tablet. So I reluctantly stopped going to those sites unless I was on a desktop.
So it is not really about ad blockers at all. It is really about how content--good content--is going to be supported in the future if there are fewer ads.
The other thing I don't see much discussion of is the supply and demand problem. That is, if there is an infinite supply of ads and ad space (on the Web, this is pretty much true), then the value of placing any single ad approaches zero--basic economics.
What the ad blockers may accomplish could be a return to sanity, with fewer ad spaces on Web sites, and advertisers willing to pay more to get access to that more limited space.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 09/21/2015 - 10:52
A new report from TDG says that 21% of U.S. homes are now using Internet set top boxes for TV content. This is a 63% increase just in the past year. In the important 25-44 year old age group, the penetration rate is 29%, which matches closely an earlier report that 30% of young people have never had a cable TV or satellite TV subscription.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 09/09/2015 - 10:05
I had a call recently from a vendor trying to sell us "user controlled network shaping." I asked him who would want to do that, and he really could not answer the question. He just kept repeating how great it would be when users could configure the network to meet their needs.
I have seen a number of articles recently about "network shaping," and many of them make the pitch that this will be great for customers. I've never thought, "My copper-based phone service would be so much better if I could shape and control the bandwidth allocated for dial tone to my premises."
Very few telecom users care about the network...they care about the service. No one ever called the phone company and ordered three hundred feet of twisted pair, or called the cable company and asked for five hundred and twenty-five feet of coax with a DOCSIS 3 interface.
Users want to be able to choose among a variety of competitively-priced services. Users want to customize and select their services, but they don't want to customize the network. The future is in complete separation of transport and services. All the problems we have now are because transport and services are bundled together, so we get inferior transport (inferior bandwidth) because that's the only way to get the service.
As the Local Transport Provider (LTP) model becomes more common, the benefits will become more apparent. And for those that continue to insist that this is some esoteric and untested approach, it might be worth actually talking to LTP networks that have been in operation in the U.S. for years, like nDanville and The WiredRoad.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 09/08/2015 - 07:35
As sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn (and many many others) try to create shareholder value, the pressure on users of those sites continues to increase. But as always, it is as much about time as it is about utility.
While we use things like Twitter and LinkedIn as part of our marketing strategy for Design Nine and WideOpen Networks, we have low expectations. There is only so much time that any one person can spend on these sites. For example, LinkedIn has done a fair job of aggregating useful information, but it's the proverbial "drinking from a fire hose." You could easily spend many hours a day just reading postings on LinkedIn, and if you have take your job and your work seriously, you just aren't going to do that.
When LinkedIn first introduced the Facebook-style interface, a lot of people began posting, but over time, I watched the frequency of those postings decline until there is very little new content being added in the half dozen or so groups I joined on LinkedIn. Busy, productive people don't have time to "hang out" on Google Hangouts, LinkedIn groups, Twitter feeds, and the myriad of other Web sites clamoring for attention. It's a race to the bottom.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 07/27/2015 - 08:58
As I continue to read "A Great and Shining Road" about the building of the transcontinental railroad in the 1860s, I continue to be amazed at the number of parallels between that project and the effort to get fiber to homes and businesses today.
While the scale of the two projects is different (the railroad was going to span the continent, while fiber needs to be built within towns and cities), the *resistance* to the project is the same.
Some of the fiercest opposition to the proposed transcontinental railroad came from the incumbent railroads, who saw competition as a bad thing. The incumbents got newspapers to print mis-leading articles and they wined and dined legislators and told them there was no need for another railroad. One railroad magnate even grandly pronounced that there was no need for a transcontinental railroad because hardly anyone traveled between the East Coast and the West Coast.
Of course, there were few travelers because there was no easy way to get across the country--sailing around the tip of South America or traversing the Isthmus of Panama (death from yellow fever was common), or braving Indian attach going cross country were the only three options. Today, we have incumbent telecom providers saying the same thing: "No needs a Gig of bandwidth because no one is using a Gig of bandwidth."
Well, you can't use it if you don't have it.
Here we are, more than 150 years later, repeating history, fighting the naysayers and entrenching interests.
Of course, we know how things turned out for the "crazy" concept of a transcontinental railroad: it transformed the nation and unleashed decades of economic growth across the entire country.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 07/23/2015 - 07:52
Vendors who want to roll out home security devices using Apple's HomeKit are complaining. Using the HomeKit API allows customers to control the devices (with many more applications than home security) from their iPhone or iPad.
Apple is requiring a very high level of encryption for HomeKit-enabled devices to prevent hackers from taking over these devices. If the HomeKit-enabled device controls your front door lock or the entire house alarm system, a complex encryption algorithm is a good idea.
The problem is that the very low power "smart" devices have limited processing power to handle the complex encryption, so there is a time lag between the time you send a command or query from your iPhone and the time you get a response. These things are normal developmental problems, but I find it ironic (though not surprising) that home security vendors are blaming Apple for making sure the vendor devices are safe and secure.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 07/22/2015 - 09:29
The Internet of Things (IoT) continues to roll along merrily, with manufacturers sticking a WiFi chip and a poorly designed single purpose Web server into anything with electricity. That is not so bad. What is bad is the complete and utter disregard for testing for security.
Wired has an article about two guys who showed the magazine that they could remotely take control of a Jeep Cherokee, while it was being driven at highway speed, and do things like honk the horn, turn the wipers on and off, or disable the transmission, among many other functions. In the demonstration, the hackers nearly caused an accident when they disabled the transmission, as the Jeep was no longer in control of the driver, who was barely able to steer it onto the side of the highway without power.
Is this unique to Jeeps? Apparently not, as the article mentions similar shortcomings with Fords and Toyotas.
With the Chinese hack of Federal personnel records (millions of them), it is not a stretch to imagine that taking control of just a few thousand automobiles in the U.S., on major highways during rush hour, could cripple the entire transportation system. But hey! Your iPhone syncs nicely with the car music system, so we got that going for us.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 07/21/2015 - 10:09
I've been reading "A Great and Shining Road," by John Williams. It tells the story of the development of the transcontinental railroad, and has much detail in the beginning about the development of rail transportation in the U.S., as it started on the east coast.
The parallels to the last decade of development of fiber networks is remarkable. There was fierce opposition to the railroads from the entrenched canal and toll road owners and operators. It was difficult to get financing for the newfangled railroads because wealthy investors did not want to take any risks; they wanted to stick with the tried and true "old" transportation systems.
Fiber is the transportation system of the 21st century, but it is still seen as a risky investment by many. How is it a transportation system? Here is just one example: music. Music used to require physical roads to deliver records/CDs to customers. Today, music is *transported* by fiber networks directly to customers.
If you substitute the cable and phone companies for the toll road/canal owners of the railroad era, there is an amazing overlap in the issues of economic development, entrenched interests, investment capital, and community infrastructure.
In the end, railroads unleashed a long period of rapid economic growth, but the railroad visionaries had to overcome resistance from many sectors of the government and the economy.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 06/19/2015 - 08:39
Nest, the thermostat people, have been busy branching out by developing (or buying) other home gadgets like smoke detectors and security cameras. The company recently announced the Nest Cam, an Internet of Things (IoT) security camera.
Home security services used to be an expensive service that required steep monthly fees and a landline (and these days, the landline probably costs more than the security service). But lately, every geek with a couple of friends is hoping to catch fire in a bottle with an Internet-based security camera.
I think there is a lot of growth in this area, largely because you can now buy a good security camera with a live Internet feed for under $100. But what caught my eye in the article linked above was at the bottom of the story. Nest is owned by Google, and Nest's user agreement specifies that Nest will share data with Google. Nice. That Internet camera that seems so cool will be sending a video feed to Google, where AI software will be analyzing everything you do so Google can better target ads for you.
And don't even get me started on the hacking implications of having third party access to devices that show you what is going on in your house. There are going to be some spectacular hacks of Internet of Things devices before most people start paying attention and asking themselves if they really want to put a bunch of Internet gadgets in their home.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/18/2015 - 10:50
I have put some of my most popular papers over on the WideOpen Networks site. You can access them here.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 05/19/2015 - 09:32
If you needed still more evidence that the Internet of Things (IoT) has become silly, here is another data point: ReVault, the wearable cloud.
It is a watch thingy that you can strap to your arm and it uses Bluetooth and/or WiFi to automatically back up your smartphone and tablet. Your whole backup plan is based on something that sets off the metal detectors at the airport, so you have to take it off and risk leaving it behind at the security checkpoint.
I have a personal cloud. It is in the basement of my house, and I'm duplicating everything on a second "cloud" device at a friend's house 250 miles away. That's the way you do a personal cloud. What am I using? It's from Transporter, and it works well--no glitches or burps with more than a year of use. And I have no financial connection to the company....just a satisfied customer.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 05/19/2015 - 09:01
LinkedIn has been slowly adjusting its interface to look and behave more like Facebook, and when I checked it this morning, it had changed again. It now looks almost exactly like Facebook.
On the one had, Facebook is a familiar interface, and I had always found LinkedIn features to be obscure (and I'm trying to be generous). LinkedIn started out as a kind of professional address book, and they just kept adding more stuff willy-nilly. At least they have now tried to bring some sanity to the design.
But do we really want everything everywhere to look like Facebook? Facebook has its own interface problems, starting with the infuriating "mouse around until some hidden feature appears" approach that Apple is in love with.
There is some strange and accelerating devolution of software going on that is being driven by the design constraints of smartphone and tablets. Desktop software, even Web-based software, is steadily being dumbed down (stupified?) so that it works on a 4" screen. I have two 23" monitors on my desktop here in the office, and Apple tells me to be happy with an interface designed to work well on the iPhone.
No thanks. But I fear that things are going to get much much worse.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 05/18/2015 - 08:37
The Internet of Things continues to be more hype than substance, and the whole Internet industry is starting to feel like 1998 again, when any Red Bull-addled idea seemed to be able to attract millions in venture capital.
The latest IoT gadget nobody needs is GasWatch, a device that lets you check how much propane is left in your BBQ propane tank.....from your phone.
The device costs $35, and I can buy a tank gauge that requires no batteries, wires, or any other electronics for $15, and it gives me the same information.
If you want to know how much gas is left in your propane tank, I would guess most people do what I do...lift it an inch off the ground and shake it. I don't need an app for that.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 05/13/2015 - 07:56
The always interesting David Strom has a great piece here about the dangers of social media in the business world. He recounts a recent incident where a job applicant who received two job offers decided to ask the whole world which one she should take.
Needless to say, it did not turn out well for the young woman. One of the companies, after seeing her "pros and cons" post about each company, took offense and rescinded their offer. Which might sound sensible, but left the company looking thin-skinned and defensive.
Read the whole thing....there are lessons for both job applicants and companies.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 05/12/2015 - 09:23
I was surprised to hear that Verizon has purchased AOL. I occasionally get a message from someone who still has an AOL email account, but I can't remember the last time I actually went to aol.com...sometime in 1999?
Verizon seems to be trying to imitate the Comcast/NBC merger. Verizon says they are after the AOL OTT (Over The Top) content. Really? I have not met or heard anyone say, "Wow, that show on AOL was really great!"
Vertical integration may work in markets where Verizon/AT&T/Google/Comcast already have a de facto monopoly via their copper or fiber infrastructure, but I remain convinced that the future of entertainment is complete separation of content from infrastructure, which is the WideOpen Networks model.
The incumbents are still stuck on the notion that entertainment is the only thing their customers want, but on open networks, entertainment will be one of hundreds of services available. And on an open network, there will be many entertainment options, including lots of entertainment bundles from new content companies that are building packages specifically to meet consumer interests as opposed to building packages to tie consumers to a monopoly network.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 05/05/2015 - 07:56
The Washington Post is running online ads touting that you can read the newspaper on the Apple Watch. Really? Really? If there is ONE THING that I have never ever wished for, it has to be this: "I wish I could read a newspaper on my watch."
Does it work something like this?
Have we completely lost our minds over these gadgets?
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 04/27/2015 - 11:00
We get asked all the time, "Why do I need a fiber connection at home? My Netflix works fine."
I was trying to do some work from home over the weekend, and I needed to move some relatively small files back and forth between my computer at home and a remote server. I was getting dial up speeds consistently for several hours. File transfers that would finish in a second or two at the office were taking many minutes--long enough that I had time to go do other things and then become more and more annoyed as I would check back and see the file transfer was still not complete.
Why so slow? I have a theory. It rained all weekend, and I think of lot of people (kids?) were streaming video, which can drag down the overall bandwidth and network responsiveness. Or it could be throttling of file transfers by the cable company in an effort to get me to pay extra for "business class" service.
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Submitted by acohill on Fri, 04/24/2015 - 08:04
It's Friday, and I am delinquent in writing about hardware and gadgets. I am mildly interested in the Apple Watch, but I do wonder if anyone besides me thinks that the cheesy plastic strap provided with the entry level models is not only ugly but unpleasant. I have worn watches with a plastic strap, and have found them profoundly uncomfortable, especially in the summer or when exercising. Perspiration builds up under the plastic and the band and watch gets hot and, and how do I put it....sweaty.
I just watched a couple of Apple videos about the Watch, and most of the people depicted in the ads are exercising. I really have trouble with the idea that I have spend hundreds of dollars more just to get a more comfortable leather band. It does appear that it is possible to buy a third party watch strap for the Watch, and maybe this whole cheap strap thing is similar to Apple's similarly inexplicable strategy of providing the world's worst earbuds with iPods. Who knows?
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