University of Texas commits to MOOCs

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.

Don't put your back-up power in the basement

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 06/08/2010 - 14:47

Dallas County, Texas lost its IT systems for three days when a broken water main flooded the basement of the building where all the county's servers are housed. The servers were fine--they are located on the fifth floor. But the UPS and other electrical equipment supplying power to those fifty floor servers were located in the basement, where water flooded in from the broken main.

This was a huge problem in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Many data centers were on upper floors of the flood-prone area, so the data equipment was fine. But what knocked out a lot of telecom centers was the fact that the back-up generators were all on the ground, or in other words, under water. When the power went off, the generators were not able to keep things running because they were flooded. Some may remember that one small ISP with its generators on an upper floor kept its Internet connection up during the entire flood. The intrepid group had spouses and wives bringing food in, and other friends and helpers were bringing diesel fuel to their building in fifty-five gallon drums.

Rural broadband is creating job opportunities

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 04/24/2009 - 12:49

From Beaumont, Texas, an interesting article with some good anecdotal data about newly emerging job opportunities where high performance, affordable broadband is available in rural areas. And where it is not, people are actually renting commercial office space to do jobs that could be done from home--a very sad state of affairs. Nationwide, millions of new jobs could open up in rural communities if the right kind of affordable broadband is available.

Space puts west Texas on the map

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 07/06/2006 - 09:39

The emerging Space Economy just keeps chugging along quietly, even though there has not been much news breaking into the mainstream media. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, continues to fund Blue Origin, his space tourism firm. The company is building a reusable launch vehicle (RLV) quite different from Bert Rutan's SpaceShipOne design. The Blue Origin vehicle looks like something from the old 1950s scifi movies. It takes off and lands vertically, and is based on a NASA design that received extensive testing in the 1990s.

If you have ever been to west Texas, you know that there is not much there upon which to base an economy, but it is perfect for a spaceport. It is a great example of thinking outside the box for economic development, and trying to leverage what you do have in terms of local assets, rather than simply continuing to rely primarily on industrial recruitment, which was last effective as a primary economic development strategy in 1983.

Space: The Next Frontier, fueled by dot-commers

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 12/27/2005 - 12:27

Jeff Bezos, the billionaire owner of Amazon.com, is funding a space start up with offices in Texas, and what is likely to become a spaceport in west Texas. Bezos is apparently building a rocket ship that takes off and lands vertically, unlike the space plane designed by Bert Rutan for Virgin Galactic.

What is different about Bezos' plan is that the entrepreneur is looking ahead to colonies in space, where Richard Branscom's Virgin Galactic is focused primarily on space tourism. But the two are complementary, as space tourists need someplace to go, and honeymoons on a space station fitted out like a luxurious hotel are likely to be popular. And hotels need big staffs that have to live nearby.

Texas is the winner; west Texas is dry, dusty, and barely fit for cattle raising. A new high tech space business will bring good paying engineering and support jobs to the region. And there is more synergy--check the map. West Texas is just a short hop from the New Mexico spaceport. Development of the next Silicon Valley may already be underway.

SBC, Verizon, win in Texas

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 08/12/2005 - 09:12

Unlike a lot of other folks, I'm not greatly worried that SBC and Verizon spent millions to influence some new laws in Texas. The Texas legislature, after a lengthy fight, has agreed to give the phone companies a statewide franchise to offer television content in Texas. This saves them the trouble of going to every community in Texas and negotiating individual franchises.

But let me also be perfectly clear--I don't like this, but--but--I'm not greatly worried by it. Two different things.

Here's why I don't like it.

First, it takes authority away from local communities and gives it to the state. This actually has nothing to do with telecom per se; I am always troubled when communities lose decisionmaking power.

A fight brews in Texas

Submitted by acohill on Sun, 03/20/2005 - 17:42

Save Muni Wireless is a Texas Web site set up to provide information about the fight brewing in the Texas legislature over municipal broadband. Like many other states, Texas has been targeted by the telcos--they want laws that take control of community futures away from the community and give it to the telcos.

Note that this is not really a true public sector vs. private sector fight. It's really about several large monopoly telecom providers that want to lock out both public sector investments as well as other competitors. How so? Many communities want to provision open access networks that would let local and regional private sector service providers come in and offer services in competition with the telcos and cable companies.

What's unfortunate is that there are so many legislators unwilling to do any due diligence on the topic. Among the myths be propogated by the phone companies is that "tax dollars" are going to be used for these projects. In twelve years of community telecom work, I've yet to see the first community suggest using tax dollars for any of these efforts, large or small. These projects would be funded with grants, bonds, and other non-tax sources, and the operation of the network would be funded by fees, not tax dollars.

Whatever happened to the common good?

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 03/04/2005 - 10:47

Add Texas to the list of states that has some legislators who want to keep communities from managing their own economic future. This article documents the very successful WiFi project led by technology visionary Will Reed, and the legislators who apparently think "free" broadband somehow subverts capitalism.

But as others have pointed out, "free" street lights did not put light bulb manufacturers out of business, and "free" books at the public library did not put book publishers out of business. The notion that communities can not do anything that someone in the private sector might want to do is, at bottom, just nonsense. This kind of thinking turns the centuries old notion of the common good (as more important at times than individual needs) on its head, and if it prevails, it is the death of communities--communities will be "owned" by private sector special interests.

My comments are not meant to be a blanket indictment of business--this whole discussion is being whipsawed and controlled by a few giant companies that refuse to play fair. All most businesses want is an opportunity to compete, and most businesses understand the concept of the common good and recognize that common good investments like roads actually CREATE business opportunities, not take them away.

More race to space...

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 01/18/2005 - 20:05

SpaceShipOne won the $10 million X Prize by being the first private space vehicle to make a round trip to suborbital space twice in two weeks. But more money has been put up by hotel mogul Robert Bigelow. Fifty million is the next prize, for the first private spaceship to take five people to orbit twice in two weeks.

Bigelow wants bigger spacecraft to fill his space hotels. He's been working on the concept for years. What is really interesting is that much of the private development is being funded by Internet billionaires. Wired has the full article. The Internet is laying the seeds for the greatest economic expansion in the history of the world. When the Space Economy begins to kick in, about ten years from now, the business opportunities and new businesses it will create will dwarf the dot-com expansion. It will also be more solid, because unlike the dot-com companies, you won't be able to go to space with a business plan and a Web site. It will take solid, careful development work and a lot of sweat, tears, risk, and yes, even death. Space has been, is, and will continue to be a risky business. But it won't stop our children, who will have their eyes on the stars.

Texas goes into space

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 01/14/2005 - 09:59

Texas has a foot in the emerging Space Economy with the announcement that Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder of Amazon, is planning a spaceport facility in southwest Texas.

Bezos is from nearby New Mexico, and has been working on this project from Seattle for several years. The most interesting part of this story is that the Bezos ranch, near El Paso, is not really that far from southern New Mexico's spaceport. The two locations are likely to form a "space tech" corridor that will fuel growth in the region for decades.

WiFi in Texas state parks

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 12/28/2004 - 12:07

Texas continues to be a leader in rolling out public WiFi. Several months ago, the state announced it was going to offer WiFi at highway rest stops. Now it will also offer it in some state parks. The reasons are shrewd--state officials have decided to invest to boost tourism among some very narrowly targeted groups that want more access while out in the parks, with birders and "snowbirds," the winter RV crowd among those mentioned.

The article also has some interesting stats on the deployment of WiFi, the costs, and who is using it.

Texas WiFi at rest stops

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/10/2004 - 12:55

A press release from the Texas Dept. of Transportation announces that they are going to put WiFi in all state-managed rest stops in Texas.

They have an interesting rationale. DOT believes it will help get people off the roads more frequently to take a break and rest. It makes sense to me. I drive a lot, and the ability to stop and check my business mail conveniently has a lot of appeal. WiFi marches on.

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