Submitted by acohill on Thu, 08/25/2011 - 09:49
"Oh, what a tangled web we weave."
Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook
No, wait, that was William Shakespeare. I'm trying to take a little vacation this week, and so I set an auto-responder on my business email account that automatically sends out an email to anyone who emails me, noting that I won't be in the office until next Monday. But I forgot that my only lightly used Facebook account has my business email address.
I also did not know notice that when Facebook sends you an email telling you someone has posted something of interest, that you can just reply to that email, rather than logging in to Facebook. Facebook takes your reply email and posts it on your wall or as a comment on someone else's wall.
Two handy little pieces of code, each handily doing their own thing. Until the two pieces of code meet each other. In a thread about my upcoming high school reunion, almost a dozen of my "I'm on vacation" notices have been posted in the last three days. Everytime someone comments on that thread, I get an email, and my vacation auto-responder responds, and my vacation notice gets posted yet again.
The fix was simple enough. I changed my Facebook email to my personal email account. But the complexity of our software continues to grow, and occasionally produces unpredictable results. Good testing of software is more important than ever.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 08/23/2011 - 19:22
What do Lowe's, Home Depot, PacSun, and Nordstrom all have in common? All these major retailers are starting to deploy iPads in place of cash registers. The firms are finding that putting iPads in the hands of customer sales reps roaming the floors of the store increases both the average size of a sale and increases the number of sales processed per day per employee. The increase in worker productivity is so substantial that the cost of making the change to iPads pays for itself very quickly.
Expect to see even relatively small retailers begin to use tablets in place of cash registers, and as this kind of automation becomes more common, highly reliable, affordable business class broadband will become even more important than it is today.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 08/23/2011 - 14:41
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 08/23/2011 - 13:30
Design Nine has been working for the 47 towns that make up the WiredWest region of western Massachusetts since early 2010. Last week, 22 of those towns officially formed a municipal coop, as allowed by state law. This is the first step towards the WiredWest vision of fiber everywhere in western Massachusetts.
Design Nine helped the WiredWest steering committee with financial planning, organizational and governance planning, network architecture, and funding strategies.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 08/23/2011 - 13:26
United Airlines is replacing paper-based pilot flight manuals and charts with iPads. Each iPad will replace 38 pounds of paper distributed to each pilot over the course of year, amounting to some 16 million pieces of paper.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 08/18/2011 - 08:53
Back in 2006, with the help of Design Nine, the City of Danville made the decision to open their city-owned fiber for commercial use. The first customers were connected in 2007. The self-funded project has grown slowly, has spent carefully, and manages more than one hundred and fifty miles of fiber with just two dedicated staff. The City had an early advantage because Danville is an electric city--they own many of the utility poles, and electric utility line crews have done much of the construction and maintenance work. Some specialized work, like fiber splicing, is still outsourced.
This article in Virginia Business highlights the slow but steady changes that the municipally-owned fiber have brought to the community.
nDanville's early focus has been on serving businesses, and every lot in all five business parks in the area are passed by nDanville fiber. Many other commercial areas of the City are also passed by nDanville fiber, and all the substations in the 500 square mile electric service area are managed with nDanville fiber. But the project has just announced their first fiber to the home initiative, starting with a 250 home pilot project.
The City of Danville, which once had the highest unemployment in Virginia, now looks like the best place for a technology business in the Commonwealth. What other Virginia community can offer:
City leaders have taken the slow and steady approach on a wide variety of economic revitalization initiatives, but it is fiber that has, quite literally, connected the dots for Danville.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 08/17/2011 - 07:34
The Harvard Business Review says that Groupon is failing. The half price coupon service has apparently burned through nearly a billion dollars in venture capital and needs just a measly three-quarters of a billion to keep going. Apparently there were some VC folks and business managers who learned nothing during the dot-com era. Groupon apparently spent on growth without attending to a fundamental business requirement: you actually have to make money. So they outspent their revenue by a large margin in the naive belief there is no top to their market opportunity.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 08/17/2011 - 07:26
Business Insider reports that the HP TouchPad is a dud. Best Buy has more than 200,000 unsold tablets from Hewlett-Packard, and they want to return them. Meanwhile, Best Buy can't keep Apple iPads in stock. In our local Best Buy, I chatted up one of the sales people, who said they don't even bother to keep a demo unit on the floor. He told me the stores get a weekly allocation of usually an unknown but small quantity, and they sell out within hours. It's too bad, actually, because the software that powers the TouchPad, WebOS, is pretty good. HP bought the software from the old Palm. HP has a long history of designing excellent products that are priced wrong and/or lack the sales and technical support needed to make them successful.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 08/08/2011 - 12:47
Skype has rolled out HD videoconferencing for Macs--it's been available on the Windows platform for a while. Here at Design Nine, we just upgraded our own business videoconferencing software to include multi-party video. We use Skype videoconferencing daily for internal communications in our three geographically distant locations, which saves us money on our landline phone bill. We use Go To Meeting for client meetings, and find the screen-sharing particularly productive when trying to discuss something like a spreadsheet financial model. If you are interested in making more use of IP video, don't scrimp on the Web cam. We have found that the better cameras, with integrated, high quality lenses and microphones perform much better--plan to spend $80 to $100. You won't regret it.
Required broadband comment: If you want to make good use of the HD quality, you'll need symmetric bandwidth of at least 1.5 megabits. What does that mean? It means it won't necessarily work as well with asymmetric services like DSL and cable modems.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 08/03/2011 - 17:07
Here in Virginia, Roanoke County and the City of Salem are struggling with the same problem that many other localities in the country have: cable companies that won't renew franchise agreements. Comcast purchased an aging cable system from Adelphia a few years ago when Adelphia went bankrupt. At the time, Comcast promised the localities it would upgrade the old system so it could support improved Internet access. But the upgrade never happened, and so there is little competition, high prices, and poor service for broadband in Salem and parts of Roanoke County.
One of the problems that the cable companies have is that both their physical plant and their business model is obsolete. The fifty year old business model does not generate enough revenue to justify replacement of the old analog copper/coax infrastructure. So the companies are understandably reluctant to continue to make franchise payments and/or to make expensive upgrades.
To make matters worse, companies like Netflix, Amazon, and Apple are all eating away at the cable company customer base with better services that are not based on "500 channels and nothing to watch." If Apple, which has only been dabbling in streaming video, decides to throw the full weight of the company behind a serious streaming service, Amazon and Netflix will finally have some real competition. Apple did not build a 1 million square foot data center in North Carolina just so Apple users could back up their iPhoto baby pictures.
If the cable companies embraced the open access business model, they could turn things around very quickly, but so far, the cable industry has been unwilling to listen. Not so with some phone companies, who could also make a lot more money embracing open access; I've at least been able to have a conversation with some incumbents, but mid-level managers at the companies are still digging in their heels and refusing to change. So senior staff are stuck with a corporate culture that would rather have the company go bankrupt than change and prosper.
Submitted by acohill on Sun, 07/31/2011 - 10:26
Eldo Telecom has an excellent critique of the proposed USF reform. My concern with any USF reform is that it should allow community-owned broadband efforts access to USF funds. There is no reason why a community that builds its own open access infrastructure should be forced to channel their portion of USF funds to legacy networks.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 07/25/2011 - 10:17
Stephen Hardy, an editor at Lightwave, calls our aging DSL and cable modem networks "zombie broadband," as in "...it is the broadband everyone wishes would die, but won't." I think we need a Twitter hashtag anytime we talk about these obsolete technologies: #zombiebroadband
Submitted by acohill on Sat, 07/23/2011 - 10:57
In an interview about smartphone sales, the COO of Verizon had this to say:
Later in the CNBC interview, McAdam discusses Verizon's switch to tiered data plans for smartphones, noting that streaming video is the main reason they dropped unlimited data plans:
"We just converted over to tiered pricing, data tiered pricing, because we see a huge wave of video coming. That's going to take a lot more capacity in the individual networks, and so I think for a lot of customers that won't be an issue from a revenue perspective. But, for the heavy users, we do see the revenue go up significantly."
"...a huge wave of video..."
And that huge wave is also engulfing existing landline networks, not just cellular. It's why AT&T just called DSL "obsolete." With airline tickets for business travel now routinely topping $1,000, almost any business can recover the cost of a $3,000 or $4,000 HD videoconferencing system in just a couple of months.
Fiber everywhere isn't just about making it easier to watch a Netflix movie in the evening, as some elected officials stubbornly maintain, it's about enabling commerce and supporting economic development.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 07/22/2011 - 13:14
Byte has an article with some detail about Amazon's 9" tablet that will supposedly be released this fall (just in time for Christmas shopping season). Amazon has some pieces in place that Apple does not, including free 3G wireless connectivity (from the Kindle platform) and Amazon's well-tested and already popular cloud storage could give Apple's untested cloud storage trouble. Apple has done very well by bundling lots of well-integrated apps and services, and Amazon may be the one company ready to compete. That's good for everyone, as it will make Apple work harder and be more responsive to customers.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 07/21/2011 - 14:23
Apple has passed Nokia to become the world's biggest smartphone vendor. Nokia was very late to the game in releasing smartphones, as was RIM, the maker of the Blackberry. Apple has now passed both companies in total shipments.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 07/21/2011 - 08:33
Connected Planet comments on a Forbes blogger has ignited a rich discussion online by saying that broadband in rural areas is a waste of time and money.
It really is about roads--digital roads. Many rural communities will not survive without improved access to affordable, high performance broadband infrastructure. The Forbes article fails utterly to differentiate between what we call "little broadband," meaning DSL, cable modem, and wireless, and "big broadband," which is fiber to customer, starting at 100 megabit capacity and now moving quickly to Gigabit.
The incumbents use a circular argument to "prove" rural areas don't need big broadband by claiming that they don't see any of their customers using it, but how can you use it if you don't have it. For the past eighteen years, anytime broadband capacity has been increased, customers find new ways to use it that pushes the limits of that technology. AT&T recently indicated that their smartphone customers use as much as 1000x more bandwidth than "dumb" cellphone customers, and nationally, cell tower saturation is above 70%. When that number hits 80%, the network is at full capacity because of demand spikes.
As the interstate highway system was built out, rural communities that were bypassed often withered away. Rural towns face the same prospect as more and more business activities are conducted via high capacity broadband: if the rural town does not have affordable access to competitively priced broadband services, businesses will leave and new businesses will not move there. The good news is that, unlike the interstate highway system, high performance broadband is much less expensive and every rural community can have the equivalent of an exit off the interstate.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 07/20/2011 - 13:24
The CEO of AT&T has stated that DSL is "obsolete." In a speech on Tuesday in Los Angeles, Randall Stephenson said the telephone giant invested in DSL in the nineties to compete with the cable companies. AT&T is now concentrating on wireless and it's fiber to neighborhood offering called Uverse. Uverse continues to use copper from a neighborhood cabinet to the premises, making it less capable than fiber to the premises.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 07/20/2011 - 13:17
Apple released the latest version of its Macintosh operating system today (OS X Lion). The software is available only via a download right now, and you better have a good, high capacity broadband connection if you want it, as the download is four gigabytes. Apple also announced that it will sell a version of the software on a USB thumb drive next month. In other words, no DVD version, not now, not ever. Apple has consistently led the way in media, including the 3.5 inch floppy, the CD drive, the DVD drive, USB ports, and Firewire, among others. If Apple is dropping the DVD, expect other computer makers to follow.
But note also that this shift to encouraging downloads of major pieces of software also highlights the need for homes and businesses to have adequate and affordable broadband connections, or be left behind.
Even more interesting, new Macs come with the ability to install the latest operating system from an entirely blank hard drive--as long as you have an adequate Internet connection.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 07/15/2011 - 10:47
Long time readers of this blog know that I have a running joke about comparing the state of U.S. broadband infrastructure to other countries. The latest insult is Northern Balochistan (part of Pakistan), which is getting a 1,100 kilometre fiber build. Meanwhile, our rather measly national goal is 4 meg down, 1 meg up, which won't support work and business from home applications and is barely adequate for Netflix.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 07/14/2011 - 09:54
Netflix has raised prices. I got my notice via email yesterday. They have unbundled streaming from the traditional DVD via mail, and you now can buy one service, the other, or both. The DVD service is still more expensive than streaming, which suggests that the cost of mailing DVDs remains significant compared to the cost of buying bandwidth to drag streaming content across the Internet. The pricing change also suggests that many customers have largely transitioned away from DVDs to streaming content, and Netflix is giving those customers, that don't care about getting DVDs, a break on price.
Services like Netflix, Roku, and Hulu are going to continue to put tremendous pressure on the providers of "little broadband:" the DSL, cable, and wireless providers. These old systems are running out capacity, and it's a race to the bottom for these firms. They can keep trying to upgrade the old systems, but the more they spend, the faster their customers use up the bandwidth.
Don't believe that? Take a look at the cellular data services market. AT&T and Verizon have abandoned their unlimited data plans and have put bandwidth caps on their services because they can't keep up with customer bandwidth usage otherwise. This makes the concept that rural communities will all get their broadband via the cellular providers rather silly, unless you subscribe to the notion that rural folks should be relegated to what amounts to the 21st century version of dial-up.
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