A rock and a hard place…

I just did something I swore I never would… I just googled to see if Verizon FIOS is available locally. Luckily, it is not, so I was saved from that conflicted decision.

Long ago, we were very happy with the internet we got from our local cable company. Then they were consumed by Comcast. Shortly after that Comcast started agressively throttling our bandwidth.

We do not do P2P or illegal file sharing. However, there are two IT professionals in the household who often work from the home office and upload and download large files. Comcast did not like that. I wrote about it three years ago when it was happening. Comcast even replied, but could not unthrottle me. It was unliveable. We switched to ATT/Uverse just a little over 3 years ago.

We have been happy with the service. So much so that I have evangelized it locally and convinced many others to change over. Then came the bandwidth cap decision, which has me concerned and is unresolved.

Add to concerns of much higher charges, in the last week Uverse performance has SUCKED. I will be on the phone with them tomorrow, but this is crazy. We will be watching something On Demand or DVR and it will cut out. We either get a “temporarily unavailable” error message or none at all, but booted out to the main menu “Press OK to watch Uverse”.

This is NOT cheap service. we have a nice package and the fastest Internet connectivity available. That does not seem to matter any more.

I am feeling stuck between a rock and a hard place and it is cold and uncomfortable, with something sharp poking me in the ribs.

How bandwidth caps will hurt the economy more

I remember the days of dialup networking well. I don’t mean the old AOL/Geni/Compuserve dialup service, I mean “put your funny shaped, wire tethered phone headset down in a cradle and listen to the funny tones squeal while you wait for a handshake” dial up. When network connectivity was difficult, you saved it for important things. You did not squander precious bits without putting thought into it. Modems evolved, and then became incorporated into computers. It was easier to connect, so we shared small pictures,backgrounds for webpages ( usually tiled), animated images and silly sounds. But the connection was still slow and we paid by the hour. Some people even paid twice.. once to the service/ISP and then again in cost per minute to the phone company for the connection. Things like video and online shopping could not take off because the overhead of paying for the connectivity, and the worry that you would run out of minutes and not be able to continue with basics like email. Then came always on, unlimited bandwidth. No longer did I have to dial up to the ISP, wait for the connection and then carefully count the minutes I was online.
With a bigger pipe and free access, the business model for the web changed. Want to share all 1200 pictures from your last vacation with me? Cool. I have all the time I need to sit and admire them, and I know I will still have bits left over to read my email. Someone put videos on thee web? holy crud. Let’s sit and watch, who cares if there are advertisements on the page, these are funny videos!
Busy at work? Need to get birthday presents for your grandma who lives on the other side of the country? Here.. order flowers online- you can page through the images and select one. Not flowers? How about any one of a million other products you can order online and have easily shipped to her? Maybe you would like to buy her one of those nifty products you saw advertised while you were watching the funny videos.
Like to play games> No need to get up from your computer and go to the store to buy and install discs, just buy them over the internet and download them directly to your PC. Why not to your wii? your PS3? Your Xbox? Download them to your console and then move them to your DS or your PSP.
Too busy to go to the store, buy CDs, load them in your computer and then copy them to your mp3 player? No matter. We have many different services where you can buy music directly over the internet and then just download it. You like to buy music? how about music videos? TV shows? Movies? Don’t download it- you can just stream it. Heck, stream it in high definition- why not? Your bandwidth is virtually free!
Soon, it became easier to shop online than to get in your car, drive and interact with grumpy, rude people at the mall. The price of gas went up- you are saving money by staying home, so you can buy more. Right?
The internet is the ultimate impulse buy.
What happens when we go back to that old dial up mentality and we are worried about how many bits are flowing to and from our houses again? Will you let Spore waste your bandwidth uploading and downloading creatures? Will you continue to directly download audio books from the likes of Audible.com? How many ad-supported video podcasts will you download and watch? Will you let your video game console communicate over the net?
Last month, I spent hours and hours looking at images of dresses on the internet while I was shopping for a wedding dress. If I had a cap on my DSL, I never would have done that. Nor would I have bought the dress online from the merchant I did. What will happen to iPod hardware sales if people are concerned about how much they are downloading from iTunes or Amazon.com to put on it? What about your cell phone that uses a wifi connection when you are at home to save on your cell phone minutes? Will you still let that connect? If not, will you talk less or will you spend money on your cell phone bill instead of something else from a store in your home town?
Personally, I work a lot from my home office. Bandwidth is cheap, I can VPN into the corporate network and do my teleconferences. It saves me gas money from the commute and time to stay caught up on things like laundry. If my bandwidth gets capped, I will be driving into the office again every day to use their bandwidth instead. The money I have to spend on gas will take away from things like eating out, seeing movies, or buying new wii games for the kids.
What other gadgets and habits do you have that eat away at the bits you consume every month. How many purchases will you forgo, if you are worried about being able to read your email at the end of the month? how many youtube or 12second videos will you upload? How many will you watch? Will you Hulu? How useful is that iPod touch if you are not connected to the internet?
Will your highspeed bandwidth provider become the gas companies of the next decade, making big profits to give you virtual mobility at the expense of other businesses and sectors?

Microfunding Research

A couple of months ago, I wrote a piece to kick start some thinking about innovative ways to fund research. One of the ideas was to have a site where you can raise money from several supporters, ala musicians seeking funding to make a record. Seems the site already exists: Fundable.org is a site set up to allow you to request sponsorship. If you get the required pledges by your due date, then they actually charge people and send you a check. If the pledges do not add up, everyone’s pledge is canceled and you are out of luck. This is bordering on “so simple it is brilliant”.

As Kevin Kelly recently pointed out, if you are a musician you can make a decent living with 1,000 True Fans. Since research often involves a little more capital expense, you could probably do good and interesting research with just two to three thousand True Fans. If researchers work together and share capital resources, a little less is not unfeasible.

Can you cure cancer this way? Unlikely. But could new, innovative and interesting discoveries whose investigation government science agencies consider too risky be made this way? Without a doubt. From browsing the site, I have not seen any scientific research projects, but if people can get someone else to pay for their ski trip and their vet bills, someone has to be willing to pay for interesting research.
Who wants to give it a whirl? If we post a project, I will be sure to let you know.

Drop.io tests- come and play please

I have added a Drop.io widget to the page, to test some of the interesting functionality. Feel free to send me something interesting… a poem, a picture of your dog, a virtual gift. Please do NOT upload anything you do not already own the copyright to. It WILL be deleted post haste. This is a public box, so do NOT upload anything you do not want the rest of the world to see( if you don’t care if the rest of the world gets a good glimpse of your latest odd piercing, I don’t mind looking- but others will see). Please remember that this is a public blog and do not upload anything explicit.

I also want to test the voice to mp3 functionality. I will probably be calling later and creating something ya’ll can listen to, but you can try it out as well. Just dial 646-495-9201 x 91355 and leave me a message, or leave a message for the world.

Hmm…. this may turn into an interesting experiment into human nature, graffiti and self control….

Reviews of the technology and the experience in a future blog post. Feel free to comment and leave your thoughts about the user interface/experience.

The blame game: Technology is evil

“Professor Tara Brabazon, from the University of Brighton, said too many young people around the world were taking the easy option when asked to do research and simply repeating the first things they found on internet searches.” So states an article in The Argus earlier today.

This is without a doubt a true statement, what is troubling is her solution :Ban Google and Wikipedia as options for her students doing research projects. I am so very tired of the people playing the blame game and turning the blame around to the newest technology. Yes, too many educators adopt technology without thinking about how/why to use it in their classroom. But many do a great job with it- working hard late at night to update lesson plans to be sure students are learning relevant information, technologies and life skills. The fact that students are being lazy and taking short cuts on their work has nothing at all to do with the technology and everything to do with the nature of students.

Let’s take a little trip back into the way back machine. Way way back when I was in grades 7-10, the xerox copier was becoming much more common place. ( told you I was old) Libraries were starting to make them available to the public for small fees. Usually the fees to copy were small enough that students could easily xerox whole pages from books at once- making the process of note taking very simple. However, some students took the easy way out and were soon turning in research papers that were copies of article out of World Book or Encylopedia Britannica. Others were blindly quoting what third level sources told them without going back and checking facts. Teachers were angry and frustrated at how this new technology was destroying the students ability to write original papers- so they banned the use of xeroxes during library time and you were required to turn in hand written 3X5 index cards with your notes on them to prove that you actually wrote notes and did not just xerox them. In some small percentage of cases, this probably discouraged students from copying whole articles from the encyclopedias- but it never did keep students from blindly quoting and writing the first references that they found and doing fact checking. As a matter of fact, it tended to discourage lots of fact checking, because the process was painfully manual.

The really good teachers incorporated the copy machine into their lesson plans and used it to free up time students would have been manually writing notes and gave lessons in how to be discriminating with sources, do good analysis of opinions and facts stated in articles and spent time helping students learn to find great sources. These teachers focused more on the process of analysis than on the process of hand writing notes.

I do not believe that this was a new story with our generation, either. I have an odd mental picture of University lecturers griping about the deterioration of their student’s memorization abilities, because of the introduction of the printing press.

This is not a new idea- Neil Postman actually addressed this in his book “Amusing ourselves to Death”, in which he posits that the current media format ( specifically television, but also web video, etc..)has considerably eroded our attention span. I do not argue the truth of this, or that it is a mental capability that people need to continue to work on build and enhance. The ability to hold long threads of thought, argument and discourse is part of what allows researchers to innovate and discover new things. However, the solution is NOT to become luddites and ban technology so that we can get our attention span back. There is simply too much information today for very old techniques( memorization, oral tradition) or even moderately old( card catalogs, book indexes, flipping journal pages) to suffice in a comprehensive search of information. A better approach is to first teach effective search technique and then to spend lots of time on the oldest subject around- critique and analysis of sources.

Unlimited(??!!) Streaming downloads from Netflix

The AP reports that Netflix is poised to release news that they will lift the monthly “view instantly” streaming video limits currently on their plans. A quick check over on my Netflix account does not yet show any changes or updates. Perhaps I need to wait until after midnight to see if this helps. This is seen as a presumptive strike against Apple’s anticipated Movie Rental/Download service, expected to be announced at MacWorld this week.

When this service first came out from Netflix, I was very excited. And truth be told, I was really hopped up about it. But the reality quickly set in, and I have never once come close to hitting my maximum hours. This is really no big thrill. I am the perfect candidate for this service. I have a PC with a high speed connection and a Huge wide screen monitor in my bedroom, so I can tune in movies and watch them in bed. Heaven, right? Would be except the movie selection pretty much sucks. OK- corrected statement , you can not say it is full of bad movies when it contains movies like Tootsie and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, these are great movies. There are some great classics on there, but I am not a “watch this movie a million times, because I love it so” kind of gal. I watch a movie once, maybe twice and then not again for years and years. The balance of the selection is filled with Shows from the History Channel and Rock and Roll Documentaries. Again, not all bad– but not the variety that suits the whims of my fickle movie viewing mind.

Then there are the other strange hoops and jumps to watch the movies– first off, it only works on the Windows OS, so if you run Macs or Limux or any other OS.. You are SOL. Then, even if you have a windows box, their player requires that you be using the MS Explorer Browser. I wonder how much MS paid them for that one, or what sort of lazy hack of a programmer sold that as a good idea. Last I checked, 75% of the browser hitting up this Blog were running Firefox.

The article expresses financial concerns for this move by Netflix, as the extra load will cost them more money- but unless they fix a bunch of other things about the service, I see this as no increased burden at all. I would love some data from Netflix, showing how many users currently already max out their allotment and will be excited to hear about this option. Looks more like empty PR smoke to me. Once Apple ( or Amazon, or anyone else) starts allowing download rentals of current movies, with hotter content with an easy, cross platform portable playback option? Netflix downloads are sunk. I will still not stop getting Netflix DVDs in the mail ( at least for now…) but I will be checking out those other rental options.

Rambing, Stumbling Saturday night

I a fairly certain that my Synthroid dosage is too high, leaving me fractured, irritable and easily distracted.. blood work on Monday will show if that is true- in the meantime I am on mad house cleaning/organizing sessions and wild late night tromps around the wilds of the internet. Something good and/or interesting should come out of this, right?

Here are some of the things that might make you stop and ponder the energies that are expended in the great wild web:

I enjoy BSG. I was a big big fan early in the show, then got grumpy about the soap opera-esque turns some of the shows were taking. I admit I missed a few episodes. But this very very cool art and the hints for next season mean that I am going to have to get caught up before the new season in April. It may be marketing, but it just worked…( spoilers if you did not watch all of last season.. big huge jaw dropping ones…)

Since I have teenagers sleeping over at my house tonight, it is likely I will be making waffles from scratch tomorrow morning. ( apparently few moms do this any more, it is highly requested). It would be even more fun if I had this keyboard waffle iron. This is just way way too cool. (I do accept gifts)

If you really like to play with your food, you should consider this “how to” article on making edible Flying Spaghetti Monsters…

I had to add a link to a picture of this very cool art... insanity is about how I feel these last few nights. Imagine 99 wolves, streaming full force in a pack chase… straight into an invisible glass wall. Wow.

Then the art takes a truly twisted turn. ’nuff said.

I am not sure if this qualifies as art or not, but a life sized Christopher Walken Mask, every true fan should have one. If you do not know yet why you should be a Walken fan, comment and I will follow up.

The art having taken me down twisted and dark alleys into fear and despair, I returned to the geek… a T-Shirt from ThinkGeek that has a wi-fi detector built in. Now if we could only get shirts like this with “jerk” detectors in them….

Finally, as the late night munchies and cravings gnaw at my stomach and my mind, I leave you with an excerpt from Michael Pollen’s newest book: In defense of food; whose opening lines I hold dear to my heart: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”


Rather than keeping this test archive floating around on the bottom of every page, I am archiving it here.

ISPs to play big brother ?

Engadget reports that AT&T is talking with the MPAA and the RIAA about implementing network level solutions to filter pirated materials. This is a very parental position, where it has become a matter of “if you can not control your own behavior, we are going to control it for you”. Studies continue to show that the majority of traffic on the internet is P2P( with some numbers as surprisingly high as 80%), and the majority of that is video. As far as I am concerned, video has the majority of the share merely because the files are so much larger. There is no good data ( nor a good way to get it) to tell if the number of music or video files is larger. Number of files would give you a better measure of the incidence of file sharing in each format. But governments, large companies and the RIAA and MPAA look at those numbers and say to themselves “there is no way that is all legal….” and are thus motivated to go after the offenders. Here is where we get into murky ground in my opinion video is split between TV and movies, with often equal splits between the two.

In my mind, Movies are easy. If you buy a movie, you should have the right to copy it to a digital format and watch it in your own home on whatever platform you want. But this in no way gives you the right to share that digital copy for use anywhere other than on your equipment. That is, you are not allowed to then give copies of that movie to your friends, neighbors or strangers on the street- no matter what the format or media you share it in. The only way you are allowed to share is if you lend them your originally purchased disc. It never ceases to amaze me that people who are very loudly supporting the writers strike also think they should have the right to give away copies of movies. Is the irony of this not obvious to everyone else?

TV is trickier. Not trickier according to the written law, of course- trickier in figuring out what the real solution should be. To understand the culture of what is acceptable and how we got here, you have to go back to VHS. The industries had complete meltdowns when home recording equipment was first released on the market, and predicted the end of all time. This end did not, as we see, come. But what happened was the birth of time/place shifting. People started recording the shows they love and watching them later. After some debate, it was determined that recording shows for your own individual usage was completely legal. But then you were at work ( or school) and talking to someone about the big episode that just aired and your cube mate says “dang, I missed that episode”.
“well, didn’t you tape it”
“no, I have not figured out how to work the programming on that yet, and I was not at home”
What is your response?
“well, I taped it- you can watch it and then return the tape to me”.

Returning the tape in those days was important- they were not cheap. Technically, this was illegal. But should it be? Most people would answer no. Their gut tells them this is fair use. What was the difference if they came to your house and watched it with you or if they took it to their house, watched it and then gave it back? There was not much the industry could do to intervene in this sort of activity, so although it was technically illegal it was ignored.

I would contend that that TV portion of P2P is mostly this sort of behavior. Those who know how ( or who have the equipment to) recording TV shows and sharing them. Is it illegal, Yes. Should it be- probably not. The only reason that the industry is pushing for this to be controlled is that they are convinced that if people could not download, they would buy more TV shows on DVD. I contend this is not true. It does not lose them cable subscribers, because 99% of the ISPs out there who provide cable internet require you to subscribe to digital cable TV in order to receive cable internet. if you do not have high bandwidth connections, you are not going to be downloading video files- it is just too painful. The other reason for file sharing of TV shows is unavailability through normal broadcast. Our water cooler has gotten very large. It is not just folks who live in the same neighborhood- it is a global water cooler. And when people are discussing tv shows they watched last night, they want they same things everyone else is talking about. If your teammate at work now happens to be in another country ( mine are), and you are discussing tv, the whole “here, borrow my copy” issue comes up again. Only this time the copy is not a video tape, it is bits and bytes on a hard drive. Be certain, it is not just folks in other places wanting current US shows.. the folks in the US are busy downloading shows from BBC and India and China and….
If the TV portion of video sharing ( about half, give or take some depending on the region) were considered legal, how do we tackle the other half?

Why do people illegally distribute copies of movies? I can come up with a list of reasons why people might download them.. but what is the motivation for uploading them? Have you ever uploaded or illegally shared a movie you own? What was your reason/motivation?

There is a lot of discussion on this still to be had… but I need to bolt to work. Comment and let me know what you think.