Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sonic Spectrum Widget

I'm a huge fan of Robert Moore's Sonic Spectrum, and I stumbled across this widget to provide access to all his Present Magazine podcasts.

Paranoia at Work: DTV Switchover Delay

The government has been handing out coupons for people to convert their analog televisions to digital for months, but the numbers suggest alternatively either that no one knows or has noticed what is coming, or that far more are requesting coupons than previously expected.

Cringely warned us about "The Coming DTV Nightmare" back in early January. Apparently the Senate listened and passed a bill to delay the switchover another four months.

Ordinarily I take Cringely's word as gospel. But on this one, his commenters show us the light:

Bob, do you really think the same 2 million lazy people who ignored all the DTV annoucements for a decade are going to rise up and write their congressman? I think not. This will be a non-event much like Y2K.

The delay might be a mix of consumer laziness, consumers attempting to "wait and see" what DTV is like after the switchover, or groups of consumers who know that DTV won't be any good for them, and so have opted out. It's implausible to me that it's from ignorance, since the advertising has been dense. I avoid television commercials as much as possible, but I've seen the ads. (Anyone who hasn't seen the ads probably doesn't watch television, and doesn't really need to know.) None of these groups are going to riot after the switch, and none of them are going to change their behavior if the switch is delayed.

Another commenter on Cringely's post points to the real worry, that the switchover itself will segregate access to television. Responding to the fact that DTV antennas get terrible reception indoors, and that a lot of people in this country live in apartments...
Bottom line — you can watch analog TV in [the city] — it sucks, you get ghosting but it is watchable. You can not watch digital TV unless you own your own building in which case you already have cable anyway.

On the other hand, we're at the beginning of a new class of devices exploiting the 700 MHz spectrum. Everyone knows these pipes are more useful on 21st century devices, delaying the switchover screws the players in those auctions and diminishes the prices the government will get in the next round of auctions. Mostly it delays the key innovations that we will actually care about in a few years. Cringely is generally smart, and knows TV is on death's door, so why is he so scared of government give it a kick out the door?

Nonevent, or unavoidable class warfare. Either way, Cringely's wrong, and the delay is idiotic. My prediction: in four months Congress abandons the switchover, and the government has to pay billions of dollars in damages to companies that won the auction.

Friday, January 23, 2009


I highly recommend blip.fm.

Twitter somehow makes far more sense if you are sharing songs with every message.

(Subtext: Join and give me props.)

The Rural Coverage Problem

In Defense of Abandoning the Red States

The NY Times criticizes Obama's plan to increase broadband penetration through public spending, since better broadband is already on the way without government intervention (via tech improvements like DOCSIS 3.0).

Running a new fiber-optic cable to every American home may well increase competition in broadband providers, but it isn’t needed to deliver high-speed Internet service. Current cable modems use just one of the more than 100 channels on a typical cable system and can often offer speeds of 16 megabits per second or more. The next generation of modems, using a technology called Docsis 3, allows several of those video channels to be combined to offer what ultimately can be Internet service as fast as 1 gigabit per second — 10 times faster than is offered in Japan, which generally is regarded as having the fastest broadband infrastructure.
This read like deja vu. Not long ago, Cringely wrote:
Ten years ago, the United States had the fastest and cheapest residential Internet service in the world. Today U.S. residential Internet service, especially broadband, is among the slowest and most expensive. ... [B]andwidth has not been lacking for U.S. cable ISPs, which typically devote to Internet service the bandwidth of one analog channel... By adding a second data channel... cable ISPs have plenty of aggregate bandwidth at their disposal...
DSL Reports criticizes the NY Times editorial. DSL Reports gives a few obviously bad reasons why the NY Times editorial is wrong, and one subtly bad reason.

Bad Reason Number 1) Japanese carriers already have fiber lines as fast as DOCSIS 3.0, so it's not so hot.

Japan is a global leader in fast and cheap internet. If we're talking about developments that make us merely "as good as" Tokyo or even those upstarts in Seoul, consumers won't feel slighted by government.

Bad Reason Number 2) DOCSIS 3.0 will be prohibitively expensive under Comcast.

Competition will pull this price down over time, and the lower tiers will benefit simultaneously. Right now, AT&T will give you 8 Mbps internet where I am for $40 or $50 per month. The 1.5 Mbps offering is $10 cheaper, and the 768 Kbps offering is $10 cheaper than that. When DOCSIS 3.0 rolls out, we'll see the same price tiers, but probably for 50 Mbps, 25 Mbps, and 10 Mbps (albeit AT&T will probably lose out to Time Warner). Most cable internet subscribers will see the changes sooner than later, since the physical upgrade costs are not prohibitive.

Bad Reason Number 3) Comcast will be using this technology to mask aggressive throttling and capping on its subscribers.

Throttling and capping aren't so new. If anything, the caps and throttles will become less of a problem over time.

The most complex complaint with the NY Times editorial deals with broadband penetration of rural areas, which will lag radically behind in this new high speed era.

No surprise here. This "new high speed era" is just like the last high speed era, and the any speed era immediately before that. Rural penetration lags behind with every advance of technology. The reason is simple: Rural amenities are HARD.

Delivering services to 100 people is just easier the closer those people live to one another.

As much as this bodes poorly for a Kansas resident like myself, I'm not so sure urban prioritization is such a bad thing. People in rural areas should lag behind here a bit, because every dollar spent helping one rural citizen get "equal access" to the internet could get 10 people in the city "better access" to the internet.

If you can help far more people far more quickly, or fewer people more slowly, which should you do? The ethics aren't difficult here. Push for bleeding edge technological deployment in the most densely populated areas and letting people in rural areas catch up as they can and we will help more people to a greater degree.

Rural areas are emptying anyway. The cheapest way to get everyone connected might just involve a little relocation assistance.

White House Blog

The White House has a blog now but I'm not going to add it to the blogroll until someone writes "fuck" on it or calls Mitch McConnell the "Honorable Douchebag from Kentucky".

Internet standards of decency creeping into the institution would be refreshing. I'm also holding out for something akin to e-petitions, as I mention almost constantly.

Bush on Security

Marc Thiessen joins an echo from the right describing Bush's number one accomplishment: preventing another 9/11.

At first I thought this was a bit like claiming that the best thing about Bush's presidency was that there were no zombie attacks. (Though I suppose a slightly better analogy would be that the best thing about Bush's presidency was that there was only 1 zombie attack.)

In a BBC World interview (which I have not yet tracked down), Thiessen discusses how advanced interrogation techniques directly prevented attacks on Heathrow and on the Library tower in Los Angeles.

First I heard of that. I recently saw a PBS breakfast in Washington panel (which I can similarly only reference obliquely due to my poor search foo). Bruce Schneier snuck in a question as an audience member, and, more on point, a former Reagan advisor claimed the Bush presidency didn't markedly deviate from the foreign policy of the Clinton or prior administrations, but described Bush's unique inadequacy in explaining his decisions to the public.

Is it possible that Bush was secretly balancing difficult utilitarian priorities and choosing torture over massive civilian casualties? Could that be possible?

If there is a choice between torture and massive civilian casualties, Sam Harris has a great argument on that score.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Yay for "Barack"!

Via the Kansas City Star:

GooseGrade.com, a popular Web 2.0 startup that lets readers find mistakes and suggest corrections to bloggers and other online authors, estimates that there are at least 60 million pages on the Internet containing a misspelling of Obama's first name. Leading the pack is "Barak", followed closely by "Barrak" and then "Barrack".

Having read the above this morning I was filled with trepidation as I realized I wasn't sure if I had been spelling the President's name "Barack" or "Barrack". Major kudos to our site, as the last two posts show the correct spelling, saving me face for at least one more day.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Tale of Two Supporters

I realized today while checking my Facebook page that there are two types of Barack Obama supporters: those who are happy that they chose to vote in Barack Obama for President, and those that appear to support the immediate creation of 'Barack Obama Day'. I think it is abundantly clear in which group I fall.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Shooting Sparks Riots

San Francisco is currently descending into riots, inspired by the embedded footage. It is not an easy thing to watch.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Wait a minute, THE Eliot Spitzer?

Yes... THE Eliot Spitzer, is a columnist for Slate. While it is mildly surprising that he is employed by Slate, it should come as no surprise that his pieces are insightful and lucid. In his recent piece, he makes a plea to Obama to use his planned "infrastructure/stimulus package" to build the American infrastructure of the future, not patch up the infrastructure of the past.

Spitzer focuses on the following items, but refuses to declare that the list is complete or static: smart meters (adjusting pricing per peak demand), alternative energy infrastructure (hydrogen, natural gas for transportation), electronic medical records (increased efficiency + accuracy), Internet services upgrades, robotics teams for every high school (and competitions that are funded to near equivalency of sports teams).

The robotics teams sounds enjoyable, but not feasible. Electronic medical records have been on the table for years, and is probably the most realistic (money + time invested). The first two seem to be the most intriguing to me, if only because the U.S. energy policy seems to be the one area that most people are willing to change.