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Friday, April 08, 2005

BobF at 10:39 PM [url]:

EV-DO � a Taste of Connectivity

It's wonderful to be able to assume I can connect with the rest of the Internet no matter where I am. EV-DO gives me a preview.

EV-DO is Verizon's service that gives me IP-Connectivity via their cellular network. They are rolling it out throughout the country and it's now available in most major cities. It's wonderful in that it gives me connectivity just about anywhere without having to deal with local hotpots. It's also pricey at $80/month. If you need mobility it's invaluable and an alternative to paying for hotspot access. You just put the PCMCIA card in your computer and you're connected.

EV-DO is not an alternative to higher speed access at home or where I need connectivity to transfer significant amounts of data. As PC Magazine has shown in their testing it can also have high latency. This shows up with Skype which works fine if you get past the annoying delays.

Both Bluetooth and EV-DO are borne of the carriers' world where technology is measured in ARPUs (Average Return per User). The functions are defined long before the products reach the market so the innovation cycle is far slower than unfettered technologies. This is why both landline telephony and cable companies are converting to IP internally.

One example of how this plays out is in the mismatch between Bluetooth and EV-DO. I had planned to use Bluetooth as a relay so I could use my phone to access the Internet as I do with 1xRTT (the earlier version of EV-DO) but Bluetooth is too slow! It's just starting to roll out and is already obsolete. The next version of Bluetooth isn't available yet but is still to slow.

EV-DO is wonderful because it gives me casual Internet access from just about everywhere (at least in major cities) but this is only a flavor of Internet access. It's easier than using hot spots. In theory the simpler connection protocol should make it easy to connect devices but the pricing model doesn't support applications that don't contribute to increasing the ARPU.

EV-DO isn't a replacement for high speed connectivity and ultimately will face the same pressures that have caused land connectivity to become an IP-based commodity. Wireless connectivity is going to become a utility rather than a service only available at expensive hotspots. For now EV-DO gives me a taste of ubiquitous connectivity and that's wonderful. I look forward to moving beyond it to just assume connectivity for all my devices.

I am an enthusiastic user of both EV-DO and Bluetooth. I want to encourage others to take advantage of the technology but I am cautious ? people tend to get a stake in an existing technology and resist the newer technologies even if they are much better and we already know that there are better technologies. We've already seen landline connectivity transformed and telephony itself becoming just a minor software application. 802.11 allows for new applications while Bluetooth is stuck in the past. EV-DO and Bluetooth are the best of the past. To go further we'll need to shift to native IP for wireless connectivity just like we are doing for wired connectivity.

You can read more about my experience using EV-DO.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

BobF at 1:59 PM [url]:

Another attempt to do me good

Just saw a blurb for the TBox -- Microsoft's embedded car system. Depressing. At least the ill-fated Auto PC was an open system. At least potentially open because it was a tad too inconvenient to program and I had to give up my car radio to even get to experiment with it.

From the description instead of giving me access to the car, it looks like a closed system that allows that puts Microsoft and the car manufacturers in the position of telling me what I'm going to get in a car rather than letting me have say in it.

I'm much more interested in devices like the CarChip that let's me learn more about what's happening inside my car (and, alas, about my driving style which I don't want monitored!). A computer like the CarBot PC gives me the option of deciding what I want in my car. It is a standard PC setup for installation in the car.

In the short term the closed solutions are very appealing because they answer the familiar questions but they don't give us the opportunity to ask and answer new questions and share the answers. Car navigation is just a starting point, why should I also use Google Maps to learn more and maybe share information with the other cars around me.

So the TBox may be nice but our appetite should be whetted, not just satisfied. But maybe someone will hack the TBox and open it up to the dismay of the car companies.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

BobF at 5:00 AM [url]:

The Filibuster vs the Tyranny of the Faux Majority

This week we are facing an attempt to do away the filibuster. The dictionary describes the "filibuster" as an obstructionist ploy but given that the checks and balances of the US government are being subverted by an alignment of people selected for a philosophical system of moral simplicity we must have a way to raise at least some issues to a level of high importance and require something more than a simple majority. We must rethink the filibuster as a mechanism for demanding extra caution on vital decisions by requiring a super-majority such as a two thirds vote. This isn't a perfect solution but it does provide some protection for minorities in a society that is acting as if it were a theocracy and that the majority's beliefs must be imposed on the rest of us.

I don't believe such a view accurately reflects our diverse society as a whole. Those who seek simple and unambiguous answers to a small set of issues to the exclusion of other considerations gain leverage as the other voices balance each other out. By focusing on primary elections where political parties choose who will run in the full election, the politicians must court the single issue voters if they are to be elected at all. That's a political reality in the current system and leadership is for naught if you don't get elected.

The recent Schiavo circus once again demonstrated a huge disconnect between the demands of these voters and the rest of us. ABC showed 63 to 28 against the government's action, CBS found 85 opposed to the government's action. Jeff Jarvis his shown that the campaign for "decency" is even more out of alignment with people's tolerance. How could protecting us from the sound of "fuck" trump the US Constitution? The mystery to me is why the press amplifies the distortion -- are the guardians of our rights incapable of seeing past the political framing of these moralistic crusades?

It has made me rethink the filibuster. Obstruction is a way to demand extra caution before enacting laws. It's a way of saying that an issue is important enough to require a "super-majority" of two-thirds of the senators. By its nature it is not used casually.

Though it was used to thwart tolerance when civil rights legislation was introduced, the larger societal goals did prevail. Today's attempt to impose morality on all of us is not symmetric. It's not just about intolerance but a fearful retreat from science. After all, science questions the accepted wisdom and raises the possibility that we are merely inhabitants of this world, not simply the masters. At very least, you should read Jared Diamond's Collapse! to understand the dangers of willful ignorance.

Today the filibuster is about the only tool left that protects us from the tyranny of this false majority. If we lose this protection, we will be left with no protection against a judiciary vetted for ideological purity.

BobF at 12:03 AM [url]:

Airport Foibles

I'm a "bottom line" type and generally see whatever is between points A and B as impediments. But I'm also a traveler who believes that actually reaching the destination leaves you empty if you cannot enjoy the journey and, in life, you don't really want to reach that final destination.

My recent conference treks provided a degree of amusement. While a flight delay might be mildly annoying (if I don't have a pressing deadline), there's entertainment value in observing what happens. Why do airports shut down food and other services on a schedule that is unrelated to the real events? The sight of restaurants shutting down when O'Hare is jam-packed with delayed passengers is disturbing -- it's as if I'm observing droids instead of participants -- people who see a job as time not in terms of delivering a service and whose managers don't want it any other way.

I find computer problem in the real world to be a source of amusement -- at least I hope they are simply that. For example, I was flying to F2C from the new Delta Terminal in Boston. The flight was delayed but the people at the counter couldn't figure out how to stop the automatic announcements that assumed the flight was leaving on time. The display screen showed the weather for some unknown days rather than reporting the current conditions. Beautiful but dumb. I'm curious about the system architecture that leads to such problems.

I use the term ballistic automation for systems that operate without reality check or other feedback. I would think such a system would respond to real events rather than just a predefined schedule. Rather then dealing with delays as exceptions, they system would respond to events. I would also expect such information to be generated locally. Perhaps I'm being unfair and the system was operating in fallback mode in the absence of local data while the component subsystems are being connected. But that still wouldn't explain why the wrong weather was being displayed.

Or, perhaps, I'm just assuming modern system design principles in a system still hobbled by its initial design point in the 1960's. After all, it still doesn't support hyphenated names after forty years. This is also the same industry in the grips of superstitious rules about PEDs (Personal Electronic Devices). I've even been told to shut off my digital camera while the plan is taxiing because it may cause the plane to crash. And I trust my life to these systems?

That aside, I had a wonderful view of New York City as I flew from BOS to DCA in the small commuter jet. Too bad I didn't get my GPS working till the return flight because of Bluetooth problems. To get the Delorme GPS to work I had to update the Bluetooth "stacks" on my Toshiba M200. Apparently running automatic updates and also the Toshiba software update utility wasn't enough but I'll write about Bluetooth itself separately.

Apparently "stack" is used as a term for a set of programs piled on top of each other -- another questionable design strategy.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

BobF at 11:12 PM [url]:

At the Movies in 2005

It seems silly to pay for a conference and then just sit in my seat listening. I do like conferences (such as F2C) which have a background screen on which the audience can exchange comments among themselves. It's been called a hecklebot and it can be done using IRC or Wiki technologies. It didn't work all the time at F2C but when it did I could get out my frustrations and make comments which, I hope, entertained the audience and maybe enlightened them. Of course it's problematic for the presenters who must worry about what's being said beyond their back while not being distracted.

While I knew the conference was being held in a movie theater (AFI Silver Theater and Cultural Center) it wasn't until I wandered and got a tour of the projection room and saw the digital projector that I realized that we were using the same equipment used to show movies these days. When digital projectors were first introduced they were a very big deal and very expensive.

I was surprised to be told that their projector was only 1024x768 which isn't very high resolution for a computer yet produced images considered var better than film or at least 35mm used there. That's actually a problem for "cultural" theater since it looks too good for audiences what want the full classic movie experience so they still use jittery film projectors but digital projectors can simulate jitter just like they can convert a film to sepia if that's the necessary illusion.

The projector the theater had probably cost over $100,000 when it was new but unlike film projectors, the digital projectors use the same basic technologies whether they are used in a theater, a meeting room or ones home theater. Moore's Law can thus do its thing. In my naive exploration of projectors with similar specs the list prices seem to be about $50,000 but the street price is $30,000. These projectors are also much smaller. While I may be missing something, the small size and lower prices are indicators that the theaters are being well served by advances in technology.

What was more interesting is that these projectors take standard computer video signals. You can just connect a PC and a hard disk and project a movie. While distributing digital movies was a big deal it's now fairly easy to distribute a few gigabytes over the Internet.

It doesn't make any sense to distribute film anymore -- even if one wants the classic fuzziness that's better done digitally. That assumes that price, quality and ease of use are the prime factors. In practice the difficulty of working with film is an advantage in that it gives Tellywood some control over distribution.

I'm using my term Tellywood because this is more evidence that there is no distinction between Television and Hollywood. It's just a question of whether you watch the video in a large theater with others or at home with fewer others. The distributor arbitrages the marketplace by choosing to release a version to movie houses first and then to a larger audience. The movie version is probably higher resolution though maybe not. When HD-DVDs become available they will probably be the same resolution.

The HD-DVD is another topic -- yes, it's just a DVD with more bits but to Tellywood it's an entirely different beast than the SD-DVD -- but that's yet another topic to explore.

Even with the desire to control distribution it is just too expensive to keep copying and distribution roles of film. They are also too easy to damage so even if theater has film, it makes sense to digitize it. You don't need to maintain an array of film projectors and manage a library of large reels. The entire film repertoire can be stored on a disk farm. A terabyte of disk space is now under $500 and the price is doing down rapidly. DVDs are even less expensive. I'll admit I don't know the business of movie theaters but the economics seem compelling.

What I do know is that this technology makes it very easy for independent films to get theatrical distribution, especially if distribution is more important than maintaining tight control. It should also be easy for a group to rent the theater during off-hours and watch their own choice of movies. Today's HD cameras should be theater quality (even if the cinematography isn't).

Decoupling the theater from the distribution system is another example of the symmetry wrought by technology. It's also a reminder that we shouldn't just look at a given configuration of technology be it a gadget or a service or an experience.

Once again, we can frame it as "opportunity". The theaters have new businesses -- why not rent it out to fans who want to see their college team's opening game?

Those seeking simple rules used to say you watched TV at 6 feet and a computer screen at 1 or 2 feet. That's not true, you mix and match as necessary. The hecklebot is a computer screen at 50 feet while I can carry a 2.5" disk full of DVDs and watch it cramped in my seat on the plane.

It's not convergence it's remixing.

BobF at 10:56 PM [url]:

USB Power!

After a century are we finally getting a universal power plug -- the USB connector! As a data protocol USB will be replaced by IP or a similar successor but USB has one advantage over IP, the specification includes power. Any device that can operate on 5V and within the current (in amps, not time) limitations can take advantage of USB. The big battery in your laptop can charge your phone and other devices! There are also external power packs that sport the USB adaptor.

Some devices, such as a 2.5 drive case I have, use two USB ports to get past the power limitations.

We've seen this kind of opportunity before -- what is now called the accessory jack in a car was originally there for lighting cigarettes which is why the connector is so big on clunky. The airlines piggy backed on this with a smaller power connector.

But today 5 volts rules! The USB connector is relatively small and easy to carry around. Don't leave home without it. I look forward to being able to leave my myriad of wall warts (transformers) whom and being able to charge all my devices with a small number of USB connectors. Even better, if I have power on an airplane I can use my laptop as to redistribute the power. I can also carry extra batteries for the laptop rather than worrying about powering each device.

USB is not an ideal power source -- the power limitations are there and in order to get power for a hub I need another power supply. Perhaps this is an opportunity for an entrepreneur

Perhaps the success of USB as a standard would alert the industry to the opportunity to doing a power standard that addresses the limitations of USB power. Learning from the USB experience, perhaps power over Ethernet could be designed as a successor. "PeE is a misnomer since the power is actually on separate wires.

BobF at 3:24 PM [url]:

1920 × 1080

I recently saw an advertisement for a new computer screen -- 1920�1080. That's perfect for viewing HDTV but a tragedy for computers. I have 1600�1024 screens from when that was the best you could get. There's a big difference between 1600�1024 and 1600�1200. The extra lines mean I can view two full pages side by side quite readably. While 1920�1080 is an improvement over 1280�768, I hope that the LCD industry doesn't forget there are literate people who actually want to read text. Life isn't just about watching wide-screen movies.

Or maybe we should just adjust the language and start writing for the wide screen.

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