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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/29/2012 - 09:40
The storm of the century may have blown over by November 6th, but if power is still out in some places in the northeast, I wonder what the Plan B is for voting if all the local governments have are coal-powered (i.e. electric) voting machines? If all the old manual voting machines have been recycled for scrap, how will they handle the power outage? If they still have the old manual voting machines in storage somewhere, do they have a well-designed contingency plan to haul all those machines to each voting precinct and train the poll tenders to set them up and use them on short notice? If there are no manual voting machines, or if there is not time to get them all moved to the precincts, do they have a paper-based voting system ready to go that can be verified and audited?
Just because you can use a computer to do something does not mean that you should. The convergence of the storm of the century and a presidential election may well expose the weak underbelly of our excessive reliance on electronic gadgets for things that could be done with virtually fail-safe mechanical or manual systems that work even if there is no power.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 10/24/2012 - 08:27
Apple introduced the new iPad mini yesterday, which is an incredible piece of engineering, but to me, the more interesting story is the release of the new iMacs, which seem impossibly thin, largely because Apple has eliminated the DVD drive. Apple has always led on storage media, and the company has a long history of pushing the entire industry in a new direction, including 3.5" floppy drives, CD-ROM drives as standard, DVD drives as standard, solid state drives as standard, and now, elimination of removable media entirely.
The story behind the story is broadband. Only widespread availability of broadband has made it possible to eliminate removable storage from our computers. Apple's Mac App store and the Web have made it possible to buy any software you need directly from the 'net, so who needs a DVD drive? The interesting side effect is that broadband is green....really green. Eliminating hundreds of millions of DVDs also eliminates the cost and energy of manufacturing, storing, and shipping those DVDs. While it is true that data centers storing our content in the cloud use energy, at the same time, broadband and the cloud are eliminating lots of other energy uses.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 10/17/2012 - 08:18
If you are interested in seeing firsthand what happens when a city invests in open fiber, there is still time to register for the Broadband Communities Community Fiber Networks conference in Danville, Virginia in early November. Danville's open access fiber network has been a key part of an enormously successful downtown revitalization effort that has brought hundreds of new jobs to the community and international firms have been re-locating to Danville in part because of the high performance, low cost open access fiber network.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 10/16/2012 - 07:22
A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course. These are online college classes that often have enrollments of many tens of thousands of students in a single class. The concept was pioneered by Harvard and MIT in a joint project called edX, and with the University of Texas joining edX, the movement is going to expand dramatically.
With the cost of a college education now costing many tens of thousands of dollars a year, most college students can't get a four year degree without nearly bankrupting their parents and/or taking on staggering student loans. And employers are not always satisfied with the quality of college graduates as many four year institutions have been spending more on amenities to justify the high tuition while shortchanging actual instruction.
MOOCs have the potential to make getting a good job much less expensive, and the traditional four year colleges had better beware....the dis-intermediation is being caused by high speed broadband. Like the sudden disappearance of music stores, which took only ten years, expect many four year schools to be gone a decade from now, as parents and young people figure out that there are cheaper and better ways to get prepared for the work world.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 10/12/2012 - 14:08
You can now buy the new Logitech HD video camera, called the TV Cam HD. The device combines a high resolution HD video camera, integrated four-microphone sound input, and Zeiss remote control zoom lens. The breakthrough is that Skype is built in, meaning you don't need a computer. The camera can work with your home WiFi or Ethernet network, and an HDMI jack plugs the video and audio right into your existing flat panel TV. The camera also has a built in ringer, so that solves one of the persistent problems with using Skype as a phone replacement...your computer has to be on and awake all the time to be available for a call.
I just had a friend with one of these cameras call, and I can attest that the picture quality, over the network, is really excellent, and we use Skype with webcams on a daily basis...this new device is clearly better.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 10/02/2012 - 10:28
I seem to have crossed some kind of spam tipping point over the weekend, with more spam hitting my Inbox than is being filtered out by two levels of spam filters (one on the server, one on my mail client). There was a time when as much as 90% of the spam was being caught by this two-level approach, but no more. I'm now getting only about 50% of spam trapped by the filters.
Spammers are using two techniques to foil the filters. The first is the relentless use of zombie machines that have been infected to send out email from apparently legitimate source email addresses; they do this so the filters can't "learn" origination email addresses and block them. The second is equally pernicious; they are using increasingly sophisticated phishing techniques to create emails that look exactly like the messages we get routinely from legitimate companies. For example, over the past several weeks, I have apparently ordered at least one thousand large screen TVs from Amazon. The order confirmation message looks EXACTLY like the legitimate order confirmation messages I receive from Amazon. So I can't mark these emails as spam, or the occasional real message will be blocked. I get these phishing emails from US Air, from American Express, from Verizon, from AT&T, and many other companies.
This is a slow motion catastrophe. I would estimate I am now spending as much as 45 to 60 minutes per work day just reviewing and deleting spam from my Inbox. I can typically tell from the subject heading, but it takes me as much as thirty minutes in the morning to delete some 300-600 spams, and then additional time every time I check my email during the day.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 10/02/2012 - 10:08
Gmail can now read many kinds of attachments. It is touted as a benefit to users, as a Gmail user can search not just the text of emails, but also the text of attachments stored on Gmail. But it also means Google will be searching those attachments as well and using the information it finds to fine-tune the kinds of ads it delivers to you.
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