What Good are Libraries?

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 04/04/2013 - 12:38

An interesting article reporting on Lou Zacharilla's comments from his attendance at a conference on the future of libraries. Zacharilla is the co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum. Zacharilla noted that....

a 2012 survey of more than 7,000 libraries in the U.S. revealed that key library services now include computer training, electronic job search skills, how to access online databases and how to deal with e-government. In addition, in more than 60 percent of communities, libraries are the only source of free public access to computers, according to the survey.

Still time to register for Broadband Communities Summit 2013

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 04/04/2013 - 10:13

Broadband Communities Summit ’13 covers the top broadband issues – with outstanding content and top-notch speakers.

There is a new track on Revenue Opportunities that includes a session on Telemedicine, and one on Revenue Opportunities for Networks that will demonstrate how generate the cash flow needed to make networks financially successful.

Design Nine will be there as an exhibitor--stop by and say hello, and I am speaking in a couple of sessions. Last year's conference was terrific--the Broadband Communities folks really work hard to deliver solid content at every session; this is not just a lot of corporate sales presentations.

Hotel rooms are still available at the conference price until Friday--don't wait.

More privacy concerns with Google Glass

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 03/19/2013 - 10:49

The Telegraph has another article on the privacy issues surrounding Google Glass. The problem is that Google Glass will be sending every single interaction that the wearer has to Google, and that data will be added to the massive dossiers that Google already maintains on Internet users. Google has been very quiet about what they intend to do with the massive data streams that will be generated by Google Glass wearers.

Google Glass: pushback on privacy issues

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 03/18/2013 - 09:34

The U.K. MailOnline has an excellent article about privacy concerns swirling around Google's new spectacles with a built in camera and screen. While the ability to get information in real time about where you and what you are doing is interesting and possibly quite useful, the problem many see with Google Glass is the fact that you cannot tell if someone is taking pictures of you and/or recording you on video. So you never know if someone is silently making a record of your statements or activities.

There is no avoiding this new technology. The glasses are expected to cost about $1,500 when they become available for sale later this year, but as the price comes down, they will become more popular. Expect to see jamming devices offered to try to thwart unauthorized recording with these devices and other small, portable recording devices. In related news, try doing a search on "drone jamming" or "drone jammers." There are already companies claiming that they will offer devices that will prevent drones from spying on you in your backyard. I am reminded of Hunter S. Thompson's prophetic statement: "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." We are living in very weird times indeed, and when companies begin to see business opportunities created by this weirdness, they are indeed "going pro."

Google Glass: Cage match with the Apple Watch?

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 02/22/2013 - 13:36

Google Glass is the new wearable computer from Google that can be used with smartphones. The video shows some of the things it can do via voice command, and it's certainly interesting, but it is not clear to me that the heads up display adds a lot to the experience. Most of the video examples show using the gadget to record POV (point of view) video. One problem I see right away: I already wear glasses....will there be something for me that clips onto my existing frames?

I'm inclined to think that the widely rumored Apple Watch will be more functional, less obtrusive, and easier to use. But it's nice to see that there is a lot more disruptive stuff in the technology pipeline.

Can we wait 20 years?

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 02/19/2013 - 09:54

Here is a great article from an analyst in Australia. He correctly identifies that high speed broadband needs to be both available and affordable. Exactly. The incumbents are fond of playing a game of "Look,there's a squirrel!" with legislators by telling them that they (the incumbents) can provide high speed broadband anywhere. But what they always leave out is that the cost of those connections is usually prohibitive, and only large corporate and institutional customers can afford the cost of such fiber circuits.

Who needs Gigabit Nationwide?

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 01/29/2013 - 11:13

The FCC has just released a new challenge to create Gigabit Cities throughout the nation. One might wonder why do we really need Gigabit fiber connections at our homes and businesses.

Here's a very specific example. On Sunday morning, I started to back up a measly 7 Gig of photos from my phone to my Dropbox account in the cloud. Forty-eight hours later, the upload is still going, and it's barely half finished. When the average home upload speed is often 1 megabit/second or even much less, it becomes a monumental task to back up our music, pictures, videos, and files to a remote back up service.

Death of TV: Part XXXVII: Apple TV still in the game

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 01/29/2013 - 08:44

Apple has announced a modest upgrade to its underrated Apple TV box. The thing that caught my interest is that Apple TV now supports wireless Bluetooth keyboards. Why is this important? With the proliferation of special purpose boxes like the Apple TV, users are stuck entering things like userids, passwords, and other information using the extremely tedious and clumsy right/left/up/down arrows on the remote control. That gets old quickly. Being able to enter that information with a keyboard is a major change for the better in user experience. Despite that fact that I really like my Logitech Skype cam, I use it less than I would otherwise just to avoid the data entry. And once you attach a keyboard and mouse to something like Apple TV, well, you have a computer, as we once called them. Suddenly you can handle email, correspondence, light bookkeeping, and other "PC" chores on a box that costs $99 instead of $599. And you can watch what we used to call "TV" on the same $99 box.

Who loses? The cable companies, despite the fact that they have crushed the telephone companies' feeble DSL offerings, are about to collapse. IPTV via inexpensive boxes like Apple TV are about to destroy the cable TV industry.

The spammers have beaten me

Submitted by admin on Thu, 01/24/2013 - 10:10

I have turned off comments on this site. I'm being deluged with spammer requests for userids, and I simply don't have the time to even delete them, much less try to identify the occasional legitimate reader who really wants to post something. Commenting has always been light, so I don't think the quality of the site will suffer much. For those of you that have contributed in the past, my thanks.

Utopia network success story

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 01/24/2013 - 09:52

Here is a short news item on how Utopia, the community-owned fiber network in Utah, helped one business cut costs.

U.S. Broadband: Someday it will be as good as China is now....

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 01/11/2013 - 14:44

The China Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has said that all new residences will be connected to fiber if an existing network is available, starting this spring, and the fiber will be operated on an open access basis, with residents able to choose from several providers.

The death of telephone: Part II

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 01/04/2013 - 09:20

Facebook is about to roll out voice calling between Facebook users, directly from its smartphone apps. Hmmm...lemme see...back of the envelope calculations here.....Facebook has, roughly, one BILLION users. If Facebook enables voice calling, Facebook is about to become the largest phone company in the world.

What does this mean for communities? It means that one more service is moving very quickly to an all-IP platform and away from the antiquated landline network. Telephone is dying, and dying perhaps even faster than TV. Fast, cheap broadband is going to be the community economic development engine, and communities that can't support the emerging array of thousands of new IP-enabled niche services are going to wither. It's a replay of the interstate build out, except that every community can have an exist on the interstate, because broadband is cheaper than roads. It's cheaper than water lines. It's cheaper than sewer systems. And there is plenty of money for broadband; it's just that in communities today, all that money is being stuffed in envelopes every month as payments to the cable and telephone companies, and the money is being carried by the Postal Service out of the community and typically out of the state.

Link: http://www.macrumors.com/2013/01/03/facebook-updates-ios-app-with-voice-messages-testing-voip-calling-in-canada/

Fiber brings a $600 million data center

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 01/02/2013 - 10:37

From the always excellent MuniNetworks, the story of how a tiny community out in the middle of nowhere attracted a $600 million data center. If you have never been to The Dalles, it really is an extremely isolated place. It's a beautiful town on the edge of the Columbia River. Fed up with lousy broadband, the community built its own fiber ring, and coupled with reliable electric power, that brought Google and its $600 million data center to the community.

Startup Blacksburg (#bva) to accelerate business growth

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 12/06/2012 - 10:40

Startup Blacksburg (#bva) met this morning to identify what the region needs to accelerate the creation of jobs and business opportunities in Blacksburg, Montgomery County, and the New River Valley. Using criteria established by Startup America, the area scores surprisingly well on most of the elements needed by startups and high growth potential companies. Montgomery County's Department of Economic Development provided coffee and bagels and has a sharp focus on helping startups and established businesses grow faster. The ED folks have some terrific new marketing materials that really do a great job of highlighting what a great place Montgomery County is to start or to grow a business. Startup Blacksburg is going to continue to meet to help startups and high growth businesses find the resources they need to create jobs and attract capital.

Fiber still has no upper limit

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 12/05/2012 - 11:02

We get asked constantly, "Isn't fiber risky? What if wireless is better?" Fiber is a highly stable, very reliable forty year hard asset that you can take to the bank, because unlike nearly every other kind of community infrastructure (roads, water, sewer), you can increase fiber capacity without digging new ditches or having to hang more fiber on poles. You just change out the equipment at each end, which is a fraction of the cost of building new fiber.

Fiber is future proofing your community and your economic development future.

Wireless, by comparison, once the capacity of the existing radios is reached (which happens every three to four years), you have to replace pretty much everything. Do a fair thirty year life cycle comparison of fiber and wireless, and fiber is cheaper.

Infinera just announced that they have been able to push eight terabits of data across 800 kilometers of fiber, and they expect to be able to do that across 2,500 kilometers of fiber in the near future.

Fiber is a good investment.

Death of Telephone, Part I: LinkedIn offers free voice calling to members

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 12/05/2012 - 10:55

LinkedIn has announced free voice calling for its members. The business directory service has been adding new features recently, layering Facebook and Twitter style features on top of its basic resume and business contact services. In partnership with Plingm, a Swedish mobile VoIP provider (think Skype), any LinkedIn member will be able to initiate a voice call with any other LinkedIn member anywhere in the world. To take advantage of the service, you have to download the Plingm app for your smartphone.

This may or may not turn out to be especially useful, as mobile operators continue to try to discourage using the cellular data network to originate voice calls. If this became popular, who needs a phone number and the $25 to $40 per month cellular voice service? Instead, everyone would just want to drop the hugely profitable voice service and just pay for the cellular data service, which is causing the cellular providers nothing but headaches as they try to keep their networks upgraded to meet the ever-expanding demand.

Traditional phone service is dead, and the telephone companies are firmly determined to keep applying CPR to the rapidly decaying corpse as long as possible.

Is everything going to look like Facebook?

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 11/20/2012 - 16:08

Both LinkedIn and Twitter have been rolling out "enhancements" to their interfaces to make them look, feel, and behave more like Facebook. I'm already suffering from information overload, so giving me even more places to look for and access even more information than I already have seems to me to be more like a bug than a feature. And Facebook fails utterly at coherent interface design, so the mad rush to be "just like Facebook" really is a bug, not a feature.

It is all about power

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 11/20/2012 - 11:51

After Hurricane Sandy, cell phone networks in the affected areas were, by and large, not working. Like the situation after Hurricane Katrina, many cell tower sites had no long term back up power source (i.e. a generator), fuel to keep generators running was not available, or generators were flooded out because they were installed on the ground. In the New Orleans area, it was not the storm that took out networks, it was the flooding. As flood waters rose, the high water drowned the generators, power failed, and the networks went down.

This is not rocket science. Fiber and wireless networks can be engineered to be as reliable in a natural disaster as the old telephone network, but it requires spending money in the right places at the right time (i.e. before the disaster).

Smart phone market is brutal, few winners

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 11/14/2012 - 09:10

Business Insider reports that only Apple, Samsung, and HTC are making any money manufacturing and selling smartphones. All the other makers, including RIM, Nokia, and Motorola are losing money. This means that the cellular companies are able to buy most smartphones for less than the cost of making them; this is called a death spiral. This may explain why Google is trying to prop up Motorola; if they don't, the only Android company left standing is Samsung, which then effectively has Google by the short hairs.

The whole cellular marketplace is a tightly knit mess. As more and more people switch to smartphones, more traffic, often by several orders of magnitude, is dumped onto the cellular networks. With traffic doubling every two years, it means that the cellular companies have to keep dumping more money into upgrading and replacing radios. And pushing smartphones onto their customers accelerates the process.

The vision of a world with "big" broadband provided by the cellular companies is just that: a vision...induced by smoking giant bongs stuffed with baloney. Cellular networks are essential infrastructure....for mobility access. And in a few areas, they serve as a barely adequate stop gap for the lack of fiber connectivity.

But communities need to be playing the long game. If you want to believe you can hitch your community's economic future to wireless, go ahead. But with hundreds of communities now making investments in fiber, trying to attract businesses and trying to retain your existing businesses with the notion that wireless is secure enough and affordable enough for serious business use is weak tea....don't smoke the baloney.

What is your disaster recovery plan?

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 10/30/2012 - 12:47

Apparently some IT firms did not study the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina. What took out most of the phone system and the broadband/Internet networks in and around New Orleans was not the high winds and rain, but rising waters. Many of the network electronics were on high ground (e.g. upper stories of buildings, above flood waters), but the emergency generators were on the ground! The water rose and flooded all the generators, and the networks went dark.

So in New York, the same thing is happening. Major Web sites are going dark because data centers are having power and flooding problems. Anyone that puts a data center in a flood zone (and lower Manhattan is a flood zone) is nuts.

The second lesson from Katrina is that you may need all your data and servers fully duplicated at another location somewhere well away (e.g. several states away) from your primary server location. If the Huffington Post Web site is dark because of power problems in New York City, that tells me they don't have a disaster recovery plan.

As more and more stuff is stored online in "the cloud," there is a growing demand for data centers, and data centers that are away from coastlines, away from flood and hurricane zones, and near high performance open access fiber networks have a distinct advantage.

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