XKCD: Twitter is faster than earthquakes

Submitted by acohill on Sun, 11/06/2011 - 11:00



Twitter messages are turning out to be useful for all sorts of real time data collection needs.

Muni Networks mailing list

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 11/02/2011 - 08:49

Muni Networks has an excellent weekly email that summarizes their coverage of community broadband issues during the week. There is a link up on the right hand top of the home page to subscribe.

Longmont, Colorado votes YES on community broadband

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 11/02/2011 - 08:46

The citizens and the City of Longmont, Colorado have been engaged in a long running battle with the incumbent providers over the right of the City to build its own broadband infrastructure. In a referendum held on Tuesday, it appears that by a two to one margin, the referendum has passed. Chris Mitchell at Muni Networks has an excellent summary of the effort.

Danville, Virginia is a 2012 ICF Intelligent Community

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 10/28/2011 - 08:38

Danville, Virginia is a Smart21 Intelligent Community for 2012. The Intelligent Community Forum announced the top 21 communities this week, and next year seven of those communities will be selected for the Smart7 category. Design Nine has been assisting Danville with the design and development of their City-owned open access fiber network since 2006. nDanville subscribers have access to 100 meg, Gigabit, and 10Gig transport and a choice of private sector services. nDanville is beginning construction of Fiber To The Home (FTTH), which will include a triple-play voice/TV/Internet offering.

Siri, What's on TV tonight?

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 10/27/2011 - 13:29

A cryptic reference in the wildly popular biography of Steve Jobs suggests that Apple has something up its sleeve with respect to the TV set. MacRumors reports on a NY Times story that suggests Apple's intelligent agent technology, called Siri, may show up in an Apple-branded TV set. Instead of complicated remotes, we will just talk to our TV and tell it what we want to watch. As someone who never has liked all the effort it takes to program a VCR or DVR to record a few shows, the idea is very appealing. And presumably, the Apple TV would also know how to access other programming, like Netflix and Hulu.

Happy Birthday, iPod!

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/24/2011 - 08:06

The iPod is ten years old today. The iPod was the brainchild of Steve Jobs. There were plenty of other MP3 music players at the time; most of them were much less expensive and smaller than the iPod, but the iPod was easy to use, both from the interface of the iPod itself, but key to the music player's success was the way the iPod synced with iTunes on your computer--a layer of complexity was completely eliminated, and that made all the difference.

The emergence of the iPod was also the death of the music store, but it was neither Jobs nor Apple that was the death of that anachronism, it was the inevitable march of history, or as Schumpeter calls it, "creative destruction." Ancient Greeks decried written language as the ruination of memorization. In the Middle Ages, the printing press was seen by some as a loss of control over knowledge. Time and technology move on. As we speak, tablet-based devices like the iPad are completing the creative destruction of most paper-based materials, especially magazines and newspapers. I think there will always be a place for some paper-based books, but really, paying less than ten bucks for the latest best seller in ebook format is much better than chopping down trees, making energy-intensive paper, and then engaging in the energy-intensive process of printing and hauling millions of tons of those books around. That's also true of music--music used to require enormous amounts of energy to deliver to the buyer, because music was heavy; it had weight. Today, we buy music as a stream of weightless photons.

What else has changed? In the old days, ten years ago, when music was still heavy, you needed a well-designed road system for the trucks and cars that hauled music around. Today, you need a well-designed digital road system to haul music, books, magazines, movies, TV, health care, business services, and hundreds of other emerging services. Is your community building those digital roads?

Daily Yonder: Will revised USF rules benefit rural communities?

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 10/19/2011 - 08:39

The Daily Yonder has a great piece on the challenges rural communities face in getting adequate broadband services. It is a fairly long article, but worth a complete read because there are really two stories in it. The first is how a locally owned service provider was forced out of business by an incumbent, to the detriment of the community and local economic development. The second part of the story is the proposed new rules for the Universal Service Fund (USF). The USF money can be tapped by incumbent phone companies to expand service, but many of them are writing off, selling off, or limiting investment in rural parts of their service territories. The USF money ought to be available to both incumbents and communities that want to make broadband infrastructure investments. Citizens and businesses pay, via taxes, for the USF, and to deny communities the right to use their own money to improve their economic circumstances is troubling. Let's hope the new rules level the playing field for access to those funds.

Apple iPhone 4S breaks all records

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/17/2011 - 19:36

The pundits wailed and moaned that the iPhone 4S was a big disappointment, that it did not have enough new features to interest users, that Apple had a flop on its hands, and that perhaps the company was losing its ability to execute since it was not able to deliver an iPhone 5.

Uh huh.

Apple announced that it sold 4 million iPhone 4S models in the first three days of sales. That is more than double the 1.7 million iPhone 4 sales in the same time period. In other news, Apple stock hit an all time high.

Siri is another Apple game changer

Submitted by acohill on Sun, 10/16/2011 - 16:48

I had a chance to try out an iPhone 4S over the weekend, and I think Siri, the voice recognition service built into the phone, is potentially another Apple game changer, just as the touch interface on the original iPhone was a game changer.

While playing around with the iPhone, I discovered that the little pop up keyboard used to input text in virtually every application on the iPhone has a Siri button. If you tap it, the phone goes into voice dictation mode. Instead of laboriously tapping away on the virtual keyboard, you can just talk. I was able to try only a few sentences, but some of them were quite long, and the transcription was perfect--no mistakes.

Oddly, even Apple is not highlighting this feature. Instead, the ads for the iPhone 4S show the ability of Siri to answer queries like, "What time is it?" or "What is the weather in New York City?" This feature worked, but I was underwhelmed by it, as there is a slight lag while Siri goes to look for the information, and for things like the time or the weather, you can get it faster with a couple of taps. But the dictation is magical, and I can't wait to see Siri available on Macs.

Netflix kills Qwikster

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/10/2011 - 09:12

Netflix has announced that it has abandoned plans to split its business in two and make customers to two different sites, depending on whether they want to rent a DVD or watch something instantly via the Internet. It was actually much worse than that, as they were also going to make customers have two different and separate billing accounts. The invisible hand of the market, when left alone, usually fixes stupidity like this, and it did. The aborted Netflix split will be the fodder of business school case studies for a long time, ranking right behind the "New Coke" introduction as one of the dumbest business decisions ever.

iPhone 4S breaks sales records again

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/10/2011 - 09:07

CNet reports that the new iPhone 4S has broken sales records again, with more than a million pre-orders on the first day. The previous best was 600,000 iPhone 4 orders on day one. This is a bit amusing, because when Apple unveiled the new phone last week, a lot of pundits panned the device, complaining that Apple had fumbled, that it should have been an iPhone 5, that the 4S model did not have enough new features, and basically, that Apple had screwed up. Uh huh. No company has ever sold one million phones in one day. Ever. Some screw up.

Job growth demands business class broadband

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 10/07/2011 - 08:12

If you look at the jobs report released today, it underscores what I have been saying for a decade: neighborhoods are the new business district. CNBC summarizes the September jobs data; the manufacturing sector LOST jobs, but if you go to the household survey, job creation was in the black (modestly).

What does this mean? It means more people are working from home, and that means they need business class broadband, not an "entertainment service," as my cable company quaintly calls our home Internet service.

Rinse and repeat as needed until elected officials get the message:

Neighborhoods are business districts, and business districts need competitive and affordable telecom service options.

Death of TV: Part XXXII -- "Okay"

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 10/06/2011 - 12:32

True story. I discussed the possibility of eliminating our family cable TV subscription and just sticking with Internet. The response was, and I quote exactly, "Okay. Can we get Hulu Plus?" That's the state of cable TV today. It doesn't even merit a 30 second discussion of its value.

RIP: Steve Jobs

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 10/06/2011 - 07:58

Why broadband still matters

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 10/05/2011 - 08:09

Now that the broadband stimulus money has been distributed, and the Google fiber initiative has taken root in the two Kansas Cities, a lot of communities seem to have lost interest in broadband initiatives. The cable companies have done a fairly good job of keeping up with demand, and the telephone companies continue to cling to their share of the broadband market by competing on price rather than on bandwidth.

But this apparent "Remain calm! All is well" approach is the calm before the storm. And the storm is coming to us in a huge cloud. In the past week, Amazon and Apple have rolled out new cloud-based initiatives that will stream content everywhere, all the time. If cloud storage seems like a gimmick, it is not. It is the answer to the utter uselessness of trying to keep all our media content, personal and business, on local hard drives. Music, pictures, movies, and what we used to quaintly call "TV" are driving this problem. Even though you can buy a two terabyte hard drive for $150, you can fill it faster than lickety-split with purchased video. And then you have to figure out how to back it up. Backing it up with a second drive is a good start, but suppose your house or business burns down? Both drives are gone, as is all your data.

Add to that the fact that everyone now wants everything available on every computing device they own, which typically comprises, for many people, FOUR devices: a smartphone, a laptop, a tablet, and a desktop computer. And the portable devices will never have enough storage to keep everything on the device itself. So the cloud is not a typical IT solution in search of a question. We know what the question is, and the cloud is the answer. But streaming everything to everyone all the time is going to create, over the next several years, exponential increases in demand for bandwidth. And that's when the copper-based DSL and cable modem networks will run out of steam.

Communities that have not made plans to ensure a modern fiber-based infrastructure that also supports ubiquitous wireless mobility access will be at a severe disadvantage from an economic development perspective.

Oh, and one more thing. There is another sleeper in the battle for streaming content....Rhapsody (the music service) just bought Napster to try to fight Spotify. Spotify is a streaming music service that is huge in Europe but only recently began operations in the U.S. So the music industry is still undergoing a massive reorganization that is focused on streaming any song ever recorded to anyone, at any time, anywhere. And it is going to be a battle of Titans, with Apple, Amazon, Rhapsody, Spotify, and even tiny Microsoft with its Zune music service all going head to head.

Has the Kindle Fire just redefined the tablet?

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 09/28/2011 - 13:20

Amazon has just announced the Kindle Fire. You won't be able to get your hands on one until November 15th, but you can order one now. If Apple was planning to release an upgraded iPad before the holidays, Amazon just stole all of Apple's thunder.

The Kindle Fire gets rid of the ridiculous chiclet keyboard, adds a color display, and sells for just $199. Can you spell "Christmas present?" The low price is surely going to steal market share from the iPad, as the Fire offers books, magazines, movies, TV shows, Web browsing, email, and some games. Unlike some of the earlier Kindles, this is a WiFi only device, which is not likely to be an issue for most people. You can download your books, videos, and magazines at home, and then read them while you are away from a wireless network.

Amazon also offers free cloud storage for everything you buy. This is another place where Amazon has gotten the jump on Apple. Apple's cloud service is still in beta, and so it is hard to evaluate what it means for the average Apple user.

This will likely force Apple to lower prices on the iPad. The iPad is a much more capable device, but the Kindle Fire is going to be judged as "good enough" by millions. Amazon has a winner. The only thing that could hurt sales is if the early units have technical or usability problems--remember the roll out of the Apple Newton? The Newton was widely ridiculed for some early software issues, which were quickly corrected, but the bad PR sunk the device and it never really recovered.

Death of TV: Part XXXI

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 09/26/2011 - 13:40

According to the LA Times, eighteen years after the commercialization of the Internet, folks in Hollywood have determined that their might actually be something to that InterTubes things.

What brought about that revelation? A 40% decline in the sale of DVDs, a Hollywood cash cow, caught their attention, many many years after I and probably hundreds of other people predicted that Blockbuster was not going to turn out well. But after I read the article in its entirety, I came to the conclusion that the Hollywood moguls probably still don't really get it. The article goes on in some length to describe the horribly complicated schemes for trying to extract every last dollar from a movie. Boiled down, it tends to go something like this:

Nothing like a lack of respect for the customer. Here's an idea: Two months after the theatre run, make it available for 5 bucks on every streaming service on the planet. And watch the cash roll in.

Disintermediation and the Passafire Phenonmenon

Submitted by acohill on Sun, 09/25/2011 - 07:50

Passafire is a Savannah, Georgia based band with some roots on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Their most recent album, Start from Scratch, has zoomed to the top of the iTunes reggae charts to take the number two spot behind perennial number one Bob Marley. What is interesting about this is that the band does not have a contract with a major record label (and "record" is an anachronism these days). Passafire has their own Web site, sells CDs online, but relies primarily on iTunes for their music sales. Oh, yes, and they actually play music in affordable venues. In short, these guys love music, and are able to make a living doing it, because the middle man, the record labels, have been cut out.

Even ten years ago, the members of Passafire would all have been working day jobs and loading a beat up van on Friday and Saturday nights to play a few local gigs. It is only Apple, with its visionary iTunes music store, that has allowed the band to connect with millions of fans in a way that was impossible just a few years ago.

And while some moan about the loss of jobs due to disintermediation, what the whiners forget is that iTunes has created tens of thousands of new jobs, and I would bet that the net jobs in the music industry has increased, and is spread far more equitably around the country, starting with what must surely be thousands of jobs at Apple just running the iTunes store. Then you have all the musicians that can actually market to a worldwide audience via iTunes, increasing their income and for some of them, turning their love of music into a full time job.

Bring the disintermediation on; it creates more opportunity by decentralizing economic power. Next up: the disintermediation of the TV and telephone industries.

Facebook vs. Google+: Competition is a wonderful thing

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 09/23/2011 - 07:59

Facebook rolled out an updated interface and a bunch of new features yesterday, and I spent some time yesterday evening looking at what they had did. There is much buzz about a new music-sharing service, but to me, the most significant change is the addition of "lists," which is the equivalent of Google+ "circles." The concept is identical: you can group your friends and contacts into sets, and you can look at only what is going on in that set of contacts, rather than having to plow through every item that gets posted to your wall.

If you have lots of friends, this is a major improvement in usability. And it probably would not have happened if Google+ had not built a better mousetrap. Facebook was forced to respond, and they did. I have seen some grousing about how long it took Facebook to add the new feature, but as an old applications programmer, I'm impressed that Facebook rolled it out in just about three months, to 750 million users. That's good software and version control management.

Facebook has also changed the way you set your privacy options, and to me, it is also a big improvement--it's much easier to understand now who can see what.

New Coke and the death of Netflix, er, Qwikster

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 09/22/2011 - 09:06

Executives at Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta are probably breaking out the bubbly (2 liter bottles of Coke) and toasting themselves. No longer will the New Coke be considered the dumbest, most asinine product roll out in history. Netflix will now be a source of business case studies in MBA programs for the foreseeable future.

Not only did Netflix hike prices dramatically without warning customers or explaining their rationale in any, um, rational way. To "fix" the problem they created with the price hikes, the president of Netflix, Reed Hastings, wrote the most condescending letter in the history of commerce, managing simultaneously to look stupid, imply that his customers are stupid, AND make the problem much much worse by splitting Netflix in half and creating two completely separate services (Netflix for streaming, Qwikster for DVDs through the mail).

The split of Netflix into two completely separate companies requires customers to now have two bills, maintain two accounts, and completely destroys one of the best things about Netflix--the ability to browse the entire Netflix TV and movie catalogue and effortlessly move titles back and forth between your streaming queue and your DVD queue.

But I say, "Good for Netflix." Netflix has been the 800 pound gorilla in the living room of video on demand, and they just shot themselves, not in the foot, but in the head. Customers are already fleeing for the exits, and new video companies suddenly have marketplace opportunities that did not exist two weeks ago. Competition is a wonderful thing. We will all benefit with better service options, better pricing options, and more choice.

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Design Nine has been selected as a Broadband Properties / Broadband Communities top 100 company from 2008 to 2013.


Smart 21

Designed by Design Nine, the nDanville fiber network has won the Intelligent Community Forum's Smart 21 award for 2010.

Design Nine provides visionary broadband architecture and engineering services to our clients. We have over seventy years of staff experience with telecom and community broadband-more than any other company in the United States.

We have a full range of broadband and telecom planning, design, and project management services.