Content and services

Virtual grocery shopping

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 07/09/2012 - 07:37

Shop for groceries at the bus station? That's something you can already do in South Korea, where the traditional grocery store is being nudged out of the way by an interesting new approach to shopping that combines a large "aisle" display and QR codes. A kiosk shows a typical array of products that would be found on one aisle of a grocery store. You hold up your smartphone, scan the QR code of the product you want, and that item gets added to your virtual shopping cart. The groceries are delivered later in the day, after commuters are home from work.

Twitter was down? Who knew?

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 06/22/2012 - 07:44

Twitter was apparently down for some time on Thursday. According to this article, Twitter addicts were devastated: "...my life is over." Really? Your life is over. Here's a clue: You don't have a life.

Twitter is a marvelous service, and it has proven to be extraordinarily useful in unexpected ways, like providing information during weather emergencies, earthquakes, and other kinds of crises. It's been interesting to watch how Twitter has changed the political landscape as well. But Twitter is a kind of information fire hose. I'm baffled by the amount of time some people apparently spend just reading and responding to tweets. I have a job, and I have a life outside work that does not involve tweeting in any significant way. Maybe the comments like "...my life has no meaning any more" are really ironic hipster jokes. I sure hope so, or as a society, we are doomed.

The cloud bubble is inflating

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/21/2012 - 16:09

Someone sent me a link to a new cloud-based service that takes your scanned receipts and stores them all in the cloud. Really? Really? As a long time business owner, I'll cheerfully admit that I do not enjoy keeping track of receipts, but I've never, not even once, thought, "This would all be a lot easier if I stored all these on a server far far away." Because we are reasonably well-organized from a bookkeeping perspective, all the company receipts get filed in one of a handful of file folders. Not even once a month do we need to dig a receipt out. When we do need to find one, it usually takes less than fifteen seconds.

It is starting to feel like deja vu all over again; specifically, it is starting to feel like 1998, when a lot of people were running around promoting some kind of "it's the next great Web idea." By late 2001, virtually all of the 1998 start ups were gone. A bubble is inflated by irrational expectations, and that's what I see happening now. Just because some kind of data or information can be stored in the cloud does not mean it should be. And there are only so many things we can reasonably afford to store in the cloud. Yes, we could scan all our receipts and put them in the cloud. But we'll have to pay for that, monthly, forever. The cost of storing the paper versions is about a buck a year for some new file folders, and a few of inches of space in a bankers storage box for long time storage.

As I have noted before, a lot of people are going to end up losing valuable data when their cloud service goes bankrupt and the servers disappear off the 'net, with no way to get their data back.

Death of TV: Part XXXV: The collapse of the TV business

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 06/05/2012 - 12:52

Here is an interesting article that highlights what Apple might have planned for the Apple TV. Anyone that thinks the cable TV companies are going to automagically solve our broadband problems should read this.

PeekYou tries to aggregate even more "private" public information

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 05/14/2012 - 14:54

Peek You is an information aggregator service that tries to pull together as much publicly available information as possible about someone and package it up neatly. Many of the items it will list take you directly to other sites that provide even more information. The service tries to list all of the available social media connections as well (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, etc.). The service also calculates a PeekScore, which is some kind of weighted value between 1 and 10 that is supposed to indicate how important you are in the online universe. I suspect most of us are going to end up on the low end of the scale. If you want to be nosy, this is a great service. I would expect that advertising and/or fees will eventually be used to support the cost of providing.

Walmart joins the cloud

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 04/17/2012 - 13:30

Walmart has announced a partnership with Vudu. You can take your DVDs and Blu-ray movie discs to Walmart, and pay $2 to have them "converted" and stored in the cloud. If you want an HD (Blu-ray) version, you pay $5. Walmart does not actually read your discs; instead, they verify that you actually have a physical copy, then just enable that movie for your account from a previously stored digital master. Walmart also apparently stamps your physical disk with some mark so that you can just give it to a friend who takes it in a week later. The Walmart/Vudu site has remarkably little information; you have to create a Vudu account to figure out how it works and what the restrictions are.

Of course, if you want to stream your HD movies from the cloud, you better have good broadband at your house.

It's not triple play, it's "century play"

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 04/05/2012 - 07:11

In Sweden, home security offerings have been an important service on their open access networks, and start up companies have very successfully taken business away from the "big" security companies, which were slow to adapt using an IP network rather than phone lines. The network owner (e.g. the community broadband network owner) may only get a couple of bucks a month from provisioning a circuit for a home security customer, but add that to other supplemental $1-2 per month services like meter reading and you can quickly see 50% to 100% increases over the average revenue per user (ARPU) compared to triple play.

I'm still looking for the right term to replace triple play. It's definitely not quadruple play...it is more like "century play"....open access networks are rapidly evolving towards a model not unlike the Apple and Android app stores, where you will be able to buy services from hundreds of providers. We won't all buying 100+ services, but we will have hundreds of choices. Five years from now, most open access networks will probably have at least twenty or thirty providers offering various kinds of computer and data backup services because it is so cheap and easy to offer that kind of service on an open access, high performance network.

The scourge of phishing

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 04/05/2012 - 07:02

A lot of new phishing schemes are popping up....a family member mentioned that she got an email "from US Airways" telling her to check in for a flight....I've gotten hundreds of those in the past week.

I've gotten very official-looking messages from the IRS, from the Better Business Bureau, from AT&T, from Verizon, and other well known companies....all sent by automated bot-nets...Russian, eastern European, and Chinese gangs are using these phishing schemes to try to trick you to log in to a bogus "official" site and capture your user id, validate your email address, get passwords, and to try to trick you into entering your credit card info.

You can check these easily by rolling the mouse pointer over the links in the email. If you wait a second, your computer will pop up a little box with the actual URL of the link. You can usually tell by inspection that it is not an official link. But they are very clever....for example:

I have received a bunch of phony LinkedIn messages.

The correct URL for LinkedIn is www.linkedin.com

the phony URLs have been things like

www.linked.in
www.linkedln.com (the second 'i' is an 'l')

you can also look at the FROM email address. I just got a US Airways spam sent from an IRS.GOV account. I'm pretty sure US Air does not use IRS computers to send out their email.

The lost productivity costs of phishing are enormous. Many of these messages are getting through two layers of spam filtering here, and that means sifting through your IN box, checking each one to make sure it is not legitimate, and then deleting it. It may only be a few extra minutes a day, but multiply that by the millions of people getting these, and it adds up.

What, me worry? Mad Magazine goes digital

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 03/30/2012 - 12:28

In what has to be one of the most important publishing and content stories of the decade, Mad Magazine has announced you will be able to read the magazine on the iPad, beginning April 1st.

Really. April 1st.

The magazine goes to the trouble of assuring readers it is NOT an April Fool's joke.

I, for one, welcome our new Mad Magazine overlords to the digital world.

Death of TV: Part XXXIV -- Will Apple TV put finally put an end to "TV"

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 02/23/2012 - 09:06

The buzz that Apple will introduce an Apple TV sometime this year continues. Speculation about the product includes claims that it will incorporate Siri voice recognition so that you can just talk to it and eliminate the remote control. Other theories include the idea that it will look and behave much like an iPad, and that it will essentially be a big iPad, with the ability to run most iPad apps.

If Apple does introduce a new "TV" device, I am pretty sure it will:

Oh, and one more thing....it will place enormous demands on existing broadband networks, creating even more problems for existing DSL and cable providers.

Comcast launches Steampix to beat Netflix

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 02/23/2012 - 08:58

Comcast has announced its own streaming video service, called Steampix, to compete with Netflix. It only costs $4.99/month, but if you have Comcast's triple play package, you get it for free. Comcast, because it owns the network infrastructure, can dish out streaming video more efficiently and for much less cost than Netflix, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out. But the fact that Comcast is doing this seems to me to be a tacit admission by the cable giant that a lot of people can't be bothered to watch "TV" anymore. I think it is time to start putting "TV" in quotes, because really, it refers to a technology that is long gone.

Where did the cash registers go?

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 02/08/2012 - 16:07

Read this report of a recent visit to an Apple store and how technology is changing the customer experience. Apple has spent a lot of money to focus on helping customers, rather than just ringing up sales at an old-fashioned check out counter. And if you look at Apple's stock price, it is obviously paying off.

Clueless teens dumping Facebook for Twitter

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 01/31/2012 - 15:18

I had to read the first sentence of this article twice because I thought it must be a joke:

Teens, after being friended by parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles on Facebook, have moved to Twitter to get a little more privacy.

Trading Facebook for Twitter? Really?

Apparently those teens have not studied Twitter very carefully, as all tweets are entirely public; so public, in fact, that Twitter recently agreed to hand over all tweets to the Federal government and DHS, which now apparently monitors tweets for subversive activity. DHS recently denied two British tourists entry to the U.S. because of a couple of jokes they had posted on Twitter. Apparently re-posting a quote from the TV show Family Guy now marks you as a terrorist.

It may take a while longer, but I think people will eventually begin to understand that posting every trivial thought and picture from your life online is not the way to gain privacy.

"I think that Facebook is the biggest waste of time..."

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 01/31/2012 - 14:00

A guy named Jake Reilly dropped all electronic communication, including the phone, for ninety days, calling it "The Amish Project." This story is really interesting, as he ran into all sorts of logistical challenges, some of them amusing. For example, he'd meet a girl in a bar, she would give him her phone number, and he'd have to explain he could not call her. And the girl would think he was lying to avoid telling her he did not like her. To keep in touch with friends, he resorted to putting sticky notes in the elevator at work and leaving chalk messages on the sidewalk in front of their office or their home. Perhaps most telling, he realized that Facebook was an enormous drain on his time, and that by staying off it, he had a lot more time to actually visit people in person and talk face to face.

Read the whole thing.

SOPA and PIPA meet OPEN

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:48

The truly awful SOPA and PIPA bills have been stalled, but Rep. Darrell Issa of California has introduced OPEN, the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act, in the House. OPEN has been written more narrowly to target only offshore counterfeit and bootleg sites, and does not give the Federal government the expansive powers to arbitrarily shut down any site; SOPA and PIPA managed to eliminate both due process and free speech in a single bill.

If you click through to this article to get more information, the interesting stuff is at the end, where writer indicates that the bigger picture is that Silicon Valley (i.e. Internet techies) are really in a war with Hollywood (i.e. 20th century film and TV distribution models). The Internet is enabling lots of competition with the traditional Hollywood film and TV studios and distribution companies, and SOPA and PIPA were going to help shut down any perceived competition.

I do not think it is quite that convenient a meme. Instead, I think Hollywood is at war with itself, and right now, the dinosaurs of that industry still have the upper hand. Movie and TV content producers and developers that embrace new distribution forms (which the dinosaurs don't like) have much to gain.

But as I have been saying for years, traditional TV is already dead. Hollywood is still in denial.

SmartFlix: Deconstructing education, one brick at a time

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 01/20/2012 - 10:49

I just stumbled across SmartFlix, which is the education and training version of NetFlix. You can rent a wide variety of training and education DVDs by mail, just like NetFlix. They have many different topics available, ranging from the mundane (cooking videos) to the more sophisticated and esoteric: welding, machine lathe operations, and knifemaking. A lot of the skill-related topics (e.g. welding, machining, etc.) used to be offered as courses in high school and community colleges, but some time in the past twenty years, most of those "live" classes were eliminated. And today, many U.S. manufacturers can't find anyone who knows how to weld or run a lathe.

The future of the Internet is fiber

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 01/20/2012 - 09:40

Here is an interesting statement from the Roku folks:

"Generally we recommend a network speed of at least 1.2 Mbps, but to view live events, like Major League Baseball games, you’ll want at least 3 Mbps. For HD viewing, we recommend 5 Mbps.”

Notice that they are saying a single channel of live HD requires AT LEAST 5 Meg of bandwidth. Roku does not say, "...up to 5 Meg," or "...5 meg when no one else in the neighborhood is sucking all the bandwidth down watching a movie." They are saying, "...if you want to watch live events in HD, you need 5 meg of bandwidth per stream." By per stream, that means if two of you in your home are watching two different live events, you need 5 Meg x 2 = 10 Meg of bandwidth. That will never happen over DSL, and even on cable networks where they are now advertising wildly inflated bandwidth promises ("...up to 15 meg with SuperIncredibleGinormousCableBoost technology...."), just a few people trying to watch an HD broadcast in the same neighborhood are going to slow things to a crawl.

It's worse for business. The ever-increasing cost of travel, coupled with much improved technology is pushing videoconferencing quickly into a "must have" business requirement. Our videoconferences with clients here at Design Nine often includes four different people in four different locations. Using the Roku standard for picture quality, each location would need 4 x 5 Meg = 20 Meg of bandwidth...at each location. Just for a routine business meeting.

Within ten years, 90% of the homes and businesses in America will have fiber, and much of it will NOT be supplied from the incumbent telephone and cable companies.

Facebook gives away private postings

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 01/17/2012 - 11:28

Facebook is now going to give Politico every singe public AND PRIVATE Facebook posting that mentions the name of a Presidential candidate. Supposedly this will be done anonymously, but there is no way to opt out. So either you never discuss anything political anymore or mention a candidate's name in every single post to make the whole exercise worthless.

Death of TV: Part XXXIII -- Netflix just cuts out the studios

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 12/13/2011 - 17:26

Netflix, despite their clumsy handling of price changes, is not stupid. Somewhere along the way, they noticed they could pay outsized royalty fees to the studios every time someone streamed a TV show, or they could just produce their own TV shows and KEEP ALL THE MONEY.

Netflix has cut a deal with Fox to restart the cult favorite TV show Arrested Development, which has been off the air for almost five years. Fox is certainly getting a cut of the profits, but it is surely much less than if Netflix was not involved in financing the venture.

I talked to someone recently who was worried about the complexity of set top boxes needed for some IP TV services. The set top box is going the way of the dodo, and that's good news, because the boxes are a pain in the neck for both customers and IP TV providers.

The whole TV model is collapsing faster than even I imagined, and the cable companies don't have a strategy for saving their business.

Fuzebox: Poor billing practice

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 12/08/2011 - 10:16

Fuzebox is selling a videoconferencing service, and apparently business is so bad that they feel the need to bill customers that don't want their service. We signed up for a free trial some months ago, used it once, and decided it did not meet our needs. Some months after that, they started billing us a huge monthly charge. They claimed they sent out emails notifying us that they were converting the free trial to a paid subscription, but we never received anything. Nor did we receive any other email from them.

This practice is despicable, and I can't recommend this company.

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