On Net Neutrality

It seems like the fix is in. Tom Wheeler, the FCC chairman was the cable TV industry’s chief lobbyist! He spent too many years selling their points of view to not be biased.

Internet-Service-ProvidersThe whole concept of the Internet is amazingly cool. Each piece of the Internet exists independently from the others. Data packets route themselves to go from computer-to-computer. If part of the Internet crashes the system automatically works around the problem.

There are potential bottlenecks where Internet service providers (ISPs) connect to the Internet’s backbone. Until recently more traffic meant the ISPs would install more equipment, in essence laying broader pipes. Now that’s changed.

Comcast, as an example, has extracted money from Netflix. Otherwise Netflix videos would would be slowed by congestion, becoming unwatchable for Comcast subscribers.

John Oliver did a much better job explaining this than I can. This video is full of NSFW language. Beware.

I had to look up my congressman to write him… twice.

Recently I sent a comment to Congressman Campbell concerning FCC proceeding 14-28, Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet. I am disappointed to have not received any reply from Congressman Campbell’s office–not even confirmation you received my email. I certainly want to know Congressman Campbell’s position.

I am adamantly opposed to any rule change which will allow ISPs to ‘double dip’ by creating fast and slow lanes and charge businesses for access I already pay for.

Geoff Fox

It seems like the fix is in. Tom Wheeler, the FCC chairman (and of whom I wrote in 2007) was the cable TV industry’s chief lobbyist! He spent too many years selling their points of view to not be biased.

Maybe if the stink is big enough actual citizens can stop this travesty from taking place. That would be refreshing.

Comcast And AT&T: Gobble, Gobble, Gobble

Comcast wishes to become a vertically integrated behemoth. They will dictate programming and technology because their fingers are in every pie.

Even today they double dip, charging Netflix for services I’m already paying for. That’s what monopolies do! How can you say no to the company that stands between you and your customers?

New Haven Comcast officeComcast is in the process of swallowing Time-Warner. AT&T has just announced they’re purchasing DirecTV. Maybe I just haven’t looked closely enough, but where is the benefit to citizens?

The biggest trend in American business over the past few decades has been consolidation. Much of it is subject to regulatory approval. It should be subject to regulatory scrutiny. That part seems sorely lacking.

Comcast wishes to become a vertically integrated behemoth. They will dictate programming and technology because their fingers are in every pie.

Even today they double dip, charging Netflix for services I’m already paying for. That’s what monopolies do! How can you say no to the company that stands between you and your customers?

Comcast as every incentive to do more of the same, protecting their legacy businesses through the terms they offer consumers.

Will programming and distribution deals be structured, as many are now, to protect Comcast’s cable TV business? Why do I even ask?

There was a time in America when bigger was better. Charles Erwin Wilson, nominee for Secretary of Defense in the early 1950’s famously tried to hold onto his GM stock while in office&#185.

Because for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.

att_logoAnd maybe, sixty years ago, it was. Employment scaled up as company’s did.

Is there anyone who actually believes the Comcast or AT&T acquisitions will have a positive outcome for America? More choice? More employment? More investment? Better technology?

“This compelling and complementary combination will bring significant benefits to all consumers, shareholders and DIRECTV employees,” said Mike White, president and CEO of DIRECTV. “U.S. consumers will have access to a more competitive bundle; shareholders will benefit from the enhanced value of the combined company; and employees will have the advantage of being part of a stronger, more competitive company, well positioned to meet the evolving video and broadband needs of the 21st century marketplace.” – AT&T press release

The important part is there in the last sentence:

a stronger, more competitive company, well positioned

We’re already dealing with companies treading very close to the anti-trust line. Take the bundling of cable TV services, where I have to buy loads of channels I don’t want to get the ones I do.

Typically, the “tied” product may be a less desirable one that the buyer might not purchase unless required to do so, or may prefer to get from a different seller. If the seller offering the tied products has sufficient market power in the “tying” product, these arrangements can violate the antitrust laws. – Federal Trade Commission

The system is being gamed and these mergers and acquisitions will only make things worse. It’s time to put a stop to it.

&#185 – He sold his stock before his appointment, but after his confirmation hearing.

What Verizon Really Wants Is Well Hidden

When our best interest and Verizon’s best interest conflict who should make the call? Verizon says they should!

Interesting op-ed in Saturday’s New York Times from Lowell C. McAdam, chief executive of Verizon Communications. He argues for releasing and repurposing radio spectrum so new technologies can move forward. He’s worried the Verizon’s of the world will run out of bandwidth.

At issue is the allocation of wireless spectrum, the crucial “real estate” upon which wireless networks are built.

So far, so good. Lots of businesses have bandwidth they’re not using or not using efficiently. Verizon and other wireless providers are voracious user of bandwidth. We need to move forward to serve all our needs.

Here’s my problem. It is buried at the end of a sentence near the end of the op-ed.

In previous auctions, the F.C.C. has excluded potential participants and dictated aspects of a winning bidder’s business plan.

Verizon doesn’t want that!

They’re wary because of a spectrum auction held in 2008. To win Verizon had to make certain open access promises. FreePress.net, an advocacy group, says Verizon has gone back on its promise. They’ve gone so far as to file with the FCC to force Verizon to comply.

When Verizon purchased the spectrum licenses associated with its LTE network, it agreed that it would not “deny, limit, or restrict” the ability of its users to access the applications and devices of their choosing. Recent news reports suggest that at Verizon’s behest, Google has disabled Verizon customers’ access to third-party tethering applications in Google’s Android Market application store. Plainly, Verizon’s actions in disabling access to the tethering applications limit and restrict the ability of users to access those applications. Because users download tethering applications for the express purpose of connecting additional devices to their data connections, Verizon’s actions also limit and restrict the ability of users to connect the devices of their choice to the LTE network. The Commission should immediately investigate this apparent violation of its rules and assess all appropriate penalties.

Should Verizon be allowed to restrict the use of our spectrum because it might compete with their other products? Radio spectrum isn’t owned by companies. It’s owned by us and administered by the FCC. Shouldn’t it be used to serve our collective best interest?

When our best interest and Verizon’s best interest conflict who should make the call? Verizon says they should!

That’s the rub.

Mr. McAdam buried the lede.

I’ve Come To An Internet Epiphany

People are computing with devices like BlackBerrys and iPhones. They’re versatile bits of hardware without being all that powerful. Slowly but surely these smartphones have been pawning off the heavy lifting to ‘the cloud.’

Recently I’ve come to an Internet epiphany. Don’t worry about the word. I looked it up to make sure I was using it correctly.

An epiphany is a moment of sudden insight or understanding.

old_computer-pic.jpgI’d always thought as our use of the Internet progressed we’d need beefier hardware (aka more powerful computers) to get the job done. And certainly, that’s what the last few decades have shown us. Better computing experiences followed better hardware.

Recently there have been all sorts of changes to that conventional model. People are computing with devices like BlackBerrys and iPhones. They’re versatile bits of hardware without being all that powerful. Slowly but surely these smartphones have been pawning off the heavy lifting to ‘the cloud.’

Cloud computing means data travels the Internet and gets processed remotely. A Google search takes place in the cloud. My Gmail account lives there. So does the real work that enables the Dragon Dictation app for my iPhone. I downloaded the Siri app this weekend. That doesn’t fly without the cloud either.

This new era of cloud computing is only available because data pipes are fat. In a few years I may look back at the last sentence as a naive observation, but today we’ve got many multiples of what we had a few years ago. Most of us have all the bandwidth we think we need&#185.

When bandwidth and cloud computing are heavily involved the power of user hardware becomes less critical. Tablet computing like the iPad or tiny netbooks with weak processors survive because there’s less for them to do to get the job done. Most of the job is accomplished in the cloud.

In light of this Wednesday morning’s announcement from Google becomes strikingly important.

We’re planning to build and test ultra high-speed broadband networks in a small number of trial locations across the United States. We’ll deliver Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today with 1 and gigabit per second, fiber-to-the-home connections

That much bandwidth and speed means cloud computing can lift even more weight while the user hardware becomes less critical.

Telcos and cable companies must be quaking in their boots. Certainly this kind of bandwidth can open up new communication devices and methods for delivering video and audio. Even Google who’s come up with the idea expects “uses we can’t yet imagine.”

Mass media has been turned upside down within the last decade by advances in computing. Which sector will pay the price now?

&#185 – In reality bandwidth is like closet space. There’s never enough.

Chutzpah And AT&T

Oh Mr. de la Vega, don’t you understand how business is supposed to work?

apple-iphone-3g.jpgI’m an AT&T subscriber and an iPhone user. Like many iPhone users I’ve experienced weird call drops (mainly while in Las Vegas or New York City–seldom in Connecticut). The prevailing wisdom seems to be there’s not enough capacity to support the voracious appetite of iPhone users.

Hey, AT&T–what exactly did you expect? You’re the ones bragging about the inexhaustible supply of iPhone apps. You’ve empowered us and now your surprised we’re taking advantage? Spare me.

Recently AT&T Mobility’s CEO addressed some of these data/phone concerns and then tossed in a curveball. Here’s part of the Wall Street Journal‘s read on it.

“With about 3% of smart-phone customers driving 40% of data traffic, AT&T is considering incentives to keep those subscribers from hampering the experience for everyone else, he said. “You can rest assured that we’re very sure we can address it in a way that’s consistent with net-neutrality and FCC regulations.”

Many customers don’t know how much bandwidth they’re consuming, Mr. de la Vega added. When AT&T conducted a broadband test, customers often reduced their data use. Longer-term, he said, a pricing scheme based on usage is likely, though it will be determined by industry competition and regulatory guidelines.”

AT&T admits its services “are performing at levels below our standards.” Unfortunately, this is one of those no-fault admissions, because AT&T’s not crediting my account to compensate for this poor service.

Instead they’re saying these issues, while using the service as sold, are largely the fault of their customers! Where I come from we categorize this as “chutzpah.”

Chutzpah? Look it up. There’s an app for that.

Oh Mr. de la Vega, don’t you understand how business is supposed to work?

I plan on using the crap out of my iPhone–using every bit and byte I’m entitled to use. I want to be one of your heaviest customers (the one’s you seem to dislike) until I’m passed by someone who finds even more ways to use it.

Don’t worry, even then I’ll find a way to catch up!

Get used to it Mr. dlV. Like you, we’re interested in seeing the other party in this deal completely fulfill its obligation. We’re going to want more, not less. One day we’ll look back at the data streaming to our phones today the way we look at a 300 baud modem!

It often seems servicing customers is an impediment business doesn’t want. Too bad.

Addendum: If you’ve gotten this far you also need to read FakeSteveJobs take on this. It is masterful. The language is “R” rated, but it’s well worth it.

The New Phone

I’ve got a new phone. Helaine’s got a new phone. Stef’s got a phone, but it’s currently on a UPS truck somewhere between here and college.

I’m not sure this was the most difficult decision I’ve ever made, but it was pretty close. That’s ridiculous, because a cell phone decision should be easy… or at the very least, easier. I think the cell phone companies make sure it’s as difficult as possible to compare plans.

They’re willing to compete. They just don’t want to compete on price.

Yes, my new phone is a toy, but I wanted a PDA type phone. You know the type. It’s got a full QWERTY keyboard and 320×240 pixel screen. I have no business reason for getting one. I still wanted it.

Originally, I had my heart set on a Motorola Q9, a sharp new phone. It was supposed to be out in August, then September, then…. well, it’s not out yet. In the meantime, my Motorola RAZR died (though it has since mysteriously come back to life), rushing the process along.

I finally decided on a Samsung Blackjack. It’s bigger than today’s standard cellphones, but it still fits in my shirt pocket. It is a phone, camera, camcorder, audio recorder, computer. It’s probably got more going for it that I haven’t figure out yet.

More on the phone in a minute. First, the process of getting it.

As it stands now, there’s no way to buy a cell phone and know you’ve gotten the best deal. Seriously. I wanted to stick with AT&T, but they have different prices on the Internet, in their retail stores and from their independent online dealers. And, of course, few of those prices are obtainable.

One online retailer showed my Blackjack earning me $60, on a new contract. Yup, buy a phone and get $60 back.

Hey, that’s for me. My old AT&T contract expired in August. But when I called to get the price, I was told it wasn’t for me.

As a good AT&T customer, I wasn’t eligible for their best price. That was only for switchers. The price for me would be $250 more per phone! I will maintain a bad taste from that for a while and though it was the independent telling me… I’ll blame AT&T, the enabler.

On top of that, AT&T sells the exact same Internet access for a variety of prices. If you’ve got an iPhone, you really get jobbed. There’s also a different price for Blackberries, phones like my Blackjack and standard phones, like my old RAZR.

It’s all the same access. It’s all unlimited access. They’re just differently priced.

A blog reading friend, Pat (who once worked selling cell phones), was incredibly helpful, setting me up with Rob at the AT&T store in Meriden. Rob did what he could, but it still cost me $160 more per phone than that online teaser ad led me to believe.

Rob was the calming influence in all of this. Of all the people I dealt with, he’s the only one who could say the sky was blue without me being tempted to look up and make sure.

This is one very cool phone – though being a phone is only a small part of what it does. I’ve already been online, downloading programs to better web surf, deal with email and upload photos and video.

The video and still image quality is surprisingly good, considering the tiny lens. It’s not going to unseat “Clicky,” but I will be using this functionality. In fact, on our upcoming vacation, I’m planning on doing a little vlogging from the Blackjack.

The phone connects to the Internet on AT&T’s high speed 3G network (available here at work, but not at home). It’s still not like real broadband, but it’s not too bad. Of course the relatively small screen is not well suited for web browsing.

If you’ve never used one of these, you’ve probably looked and said, “those keys are awfully small.” They are. Still, I haven’t had any trouble with the keys. Where my big fingers do cause trouble is with the center navigation switch. For me, it’s very difficult to press it, without pressing what’s next to it.

Some of my trouble is caused by being left handed. There’s a navigation wheel located perfectly for right handed people, but not me. I will learn to use it with time, as lefties learn to use right handed computer mice.

It didn’t take more than a few minutes to start to realize the power this phone possesses. I understand even more why the phone companies are fighting network neutrality. This phone allows you to bypass the cell carriers on many things they want to sell.

For instance, there’s a service sold by some carriers for around $10 a month. It turns your phone into a pretty cool GPS receiver with live traffic reports. Google gives that functionality away for free! It’s tough to sell against free. As far as I can tell, I’m about $40 away from using Google and my phone as a GPS receiver.

I’m curious to hear Stef’s impressions when after she unpacks her phone. I hope she’s as pleased as I am… and I’ve only scratched the surface.

The Guy On Canal Street Directing Traffic

This is one of those strange things that can only happen in New York.

Helaine and Steffie were in a store. I was on the sidewalk. I noticed the collective body language of a cluster of people up the street. It’s funny the signs you subconsciously pick out. Something was going on.

I had my camera, so I made my way to the corner and found a well dressed, middle aged man, directing traffic.

I shot a bunch of pictures and recorded a narration to explain what I saw. Attached is my 80 second documentary, “A Little Slice of New York.”

You’ll have to click the play button to make it start. It should easily stream on any broadband connection. Please let me know if you’re having any trouble, because I’d like to do more of these – and I want to do them right.

Blogger’s note: Do you know this guy? If you do, please let me know. I’m curious who he is.

Daily Nightly

I hate to say something good about a competitor, but I enjoy reading The Daily Nightly, NBC News’ blog which serves to promote NBC Nightly News (and is seen on a competing channel).

I especially enjoy reading Brian Williams entries. They are written in a very conversational tone. You can hear Williams’ voice as you read.

It is interesting to watch the direction of TV news and the Internet. We have a large Internet presence at my station and I think it serves us well. I’m sure what we’re doing now isn’t what we’ll doing a year from now.

I don’t think anyone knows where this is leading, but there’s no doubt the Internet can earn money for content providers. TV station or broadcast networks can provide lots of content. And, altruism aside, that’s why business is done – to make a profit.

Right now the people leading the way are classicly trained in the art of television. That seems to be a good jumping off point. I suspect this medium will become even more powerful, and a preferred choice, as soon as we learn to harness random access and customization.

I have some ideas of my own, but I’m not sure how to implement them or whether they can be implemented at all. I do know a TV station can not discern who is watching and from where. An Internet broadcaster can!&#185 That is the key.

Broadband speed is available in enough places that we’ve reached a sweet spot for video. What you can see on the Internet looks pretty good (Will I eat those words in 5 years? Probably.) But, by and large, we are feeding it as a serial medium. A follows B follows C… and everyone gets the same content in the same order. Or, individual elements can be requested, but only one at a time and with all the choice at the user’s end and not built into the serving software.

We really need to transition into individual channels presenting customized feeds. The more we know about you and where you live, the more customized and germane we can make the content.

Even when all this technology comes on line, good writing, like Brian Williams’, will still have an important place.

&#185 – Here’s a sample of how Internet hits can be physically located. This is based on my IP address and was produced just by reaching a specific website.

Flying With The Blue Angels, Again

Last week, my government called:


I am an Aerospace Physiologist at [removed by request] on board Marine Corps Air Station [removed by request]. As the name/title implies, we are one of the training units of aviation physiology training for the Navy & Marine Corps. Part of that training is a G tolerance improvement program that we teach to Sailors and Marines whose outstanding job performance is rewarded with an opportunity for a one time only flight in the back seat of an F/A-18. We would like to use one or two portions of your video clip about your Blue Angels experience to show them the effects of G forces on someone who has never experienced aircraft induced G forces. Would it be possible to get a downloadable copy of your video?

Thank you for your consideration in assisting the Navy/Marine Corps’ finest.


[removed by request]

Years ago, when I posted my Blue Angels video, the world was a dial-up place. No more. Most of you… actually, considering the sloppy way I code these pages… all of you are on some sort of high speed circuit.

Now that the navy wants it, I’ve taken the opportunity to lovingly remaster it (as they say when they’re trying to sell old TV shows on DVD) for broadband viewing and posted it to the site.

Click here to fly with me and the Navy’s Blue Angels. What a ride!

Blogger’s note: Since my original posting, the writer has asked if I would hide his name and base. Doing this for someone in the active military is the right thing. It is a real email, even without the name.

Google Does Maps

I just got the tip on this tonight. Something news from Google and it’s very cool. They have added their own maps site.

As I remember, until today, entering an address in Google would bring you links to other map sites. Now Google does it themselves… or at least brands it as their own.

The big difference is, this is the first map site that seems designed for higher resolution screens and broadband. There are no little cluttered maps to be found. These are the nicest looking street level maps I’ve seen on the web.

Here’s an example – a map of where I grew up in Queens, and directions from there to my TV station.

If you point and drag, the map follows your mouse. If you click on any part of a trip’s directions a new close-up map appears. It’s quite elegant.

From a web standpoint, the specific information for any map is easily coded into its web address, making this a boon for web designers. On the other hand, it looks like the right mouse button is turned off while you’re over a map making it difficult to ‘scrape’ their content.

A Quick Glance At The Future

I went out to dinner last night with Noah Finz. He’s our sports director at the station, a very nice and smart guy, but a technophobe.

We got to talking about where technology is going, especially as it concerns communications. I was surprised at how interested he was… or how well he feigned interest.

With that in mind, I thought I’d write a little about where I see things going. Please remember, the past has taught us it’s really tough to accurately predict the future. This is even tougher than weather prediction because this part of the future will not replicate past events. And, remember these predictions are coming from someone who loves technology. I’m trying to hold back my bias.

To me, the key to the future is not in speedier processors nor more memory and storage, though certainly those things will enter the picture. The big deal is bandwidth. It is the 500 pound gorilla in the room.

Bandwidth limitations is why you ‘only’ receive 150 TV channels. Bandwidth bottlenecks are why your computer often waits while it is plucking data off websites or the Real player takes so much time caching those first few seconds of video before it starts to play.

With enough bandwidth, television can become a one to one medium – unlimited video on demand. Any show or any video source can be run when you want it. Desperate Housewives Tuesday at 8:41 AM. Why Not?

Already, even if you’re not in their home market, you can still watch your favorite baseball team play, because nearly all the games are available over the Internet. CPTV, here in Connecticut, sells a package of UCONN women’s basketball games for out-of-towners with high speed Internet access.

The radically changes the paradigm of commercial television. Without a mass audience watching the same commercial at the same time, television begins to lose its unique sales appeal. There will have to be another way to pay for this.

It could be commercials, maybe a subscription, or maybe both. We’re not limited by what we’ve seen in the past. Sending video as a digital stream rather than analog allows for the integration of other info.

This ability to receive the programming you want, when you want it, will turn television into a narrowcast medium rather than its current broadcast model. There is a demand for shows on knitting or cars or computers or… well you get the idea. Those sharply targeted programs&#185 will steal audience from today’s broadcasts.

In the pre-cable days there were a lot of shows that, today, look like they were ‘going through the motions’ to fill the time. I’m afraid we’ll look back at what’s on TV now in the same way, as soon as the floodgates open in this new communications world.

The days of high production cost TV production are limited. Gresham’s economic laws will be seen affecting TV. We’re already seeing some of that as networks run more ‘cheaper to produce’ reality shows and re-run more of primetime TV.

Is there a long term viable business model for shot-on-film hour long dramas? I’m not sure.

Today, local television stations serve two general purposes. They produce and distribute local programming, like news, and they act as a distribution channel for nationally networked and syndicated shows. With video on demand, I can’t see why these program producers will need local stations.

Local stations will be forced to be local stations. Those who don’t will be marginalized out of profitability. This has happened in radio over the last 40 years.

That doesn’t mean the economic model of local TV is gone. It just means stations will have to better understand how to produce more content for local consumption. I also think they’ll have to shift their focus from producing programming to fill their air time to being producers of programming for anyone who will distribute it.

Today’s TV stations will have to turn out video streams the way Chinese companies, like Twinhead, turn out laptops. The majority of Twinhead’s products are produced for others with other people’s brands on them. You might be using one now, with no way to tell. Twinhead’s expertise is production… as is today’s TV stations.

A newspaper in Wilmington, DE is already producing video webcasts of local news. The New York Times is expanding their multimedia content online. I think, in the mature model, newspapers will provide the news and a company with video production expertise will package it for them.

All this is happening and we haven’t even hit our stride as far as bandwidth is concerned. My cable modem at home now brings in data nearly three times as fast as it did a year or two ago. It’s getting to the point where it will soon become faster than my home network can handle!

The price of this bandwidth will do nothing but fall for the foreseeable future. There are many factors at work here.

First, there is the onrush of technology which promises to deliver bandwidth wirelessly. That should add another level of competition for the cable and legacy phone companies.

Next, there is a vast network of ‘dark’ fiber – glass lines that have loads of capacity but have never been used. My guess is, the intercity capacity of unlit fiber is a multiple of what’s currently in use.

The people who really need to be worried are the incumbent wireline phone companies. More bandwidth is their enemy. Already they are facing competition from broadband VOIP companies like Vonage, with cable companies jumping in.

When there are wireless access ‘clouds’ of connectivity over most areas, portable VOIP phones will trump cellular and wired phone networks with cheap and probably unmetered, flat rate, phone service.

It is a very exciting, very different world of telecommunications that’s right around the corner.

&#185 – I am having trouble using the word program here because it describes something that might not be. When content becomes very narrow and the viewer becomes very focused on its content, the formality of a ‘program’ may vanish altogether.

My Day in a Spacesuit

It’s been a while since I hosted Inside Space on SciFi. It was a really good show. Maybe I realize that more today than I did then.

Isn’t that always the way? You have a backstage view of the job you’re performing. You know when you’ve executed perfectly and when you didn’t get close. No one else knows, but you do.

A friend sent me an email yesterday and that sent me looking into the archives to find a show he wanted to see. I found one where I’m trying on a spacesuit at Hamilton Standard (now Hamilton Sundstrand) here in Connecticut. They’re made for space, not Earth. You realize that as you put it on… all 150 pounds!

After I had gone in and out of the suit, one of the techs helping out told me a story. Some people panic when they realize getting out of it means going through a rigid, difficult to move, ‘tunnel. It can take hours until they’re comfortable enough to make a move. I’m glad he waited until after I was out to tell me.

One thing Inside Space had going for it was the producer, Dave Brody. Dave is more detail oriented than anyone I’ve ever worked for before or since. He and I would get into fights about syntax and script, but when the shows were finished they were things of beauty. Sometimes, to make a point, the video would be layer upon layer upon layer. Dave’s philosophy of video is similar to Phil Spector’s ‘wall of sound.’ The screen was constantly used to make a point.

As long as I was dubbing it, I put a streaming copy here on the website. Just click to see it on any Windows computer with a broadband connection.

Maybe I Ticked Off Alexander Graham Bell

At the moment our long distance service is working properly. Well, I think it’s working properly. I could always drive over to customer service in India and check.

There is still pending a $40+ long distance bill from Sprint, a company I never asked to be my carrier, who somehow temporarily became my carrier and charged 40&#162 a minute for the privilege. I wrote to Sprint, who stopped the charge and told me (in one of the least friendly form letters I’ve ever seen) to contact my state DPUC, otherwise they’d put the charge back on!

Now, I’m fooling around with VOIP. Instead of plugging my telephone into a phone line, it is connected to a box which is in turn connected to my Internet connection. It works like a real telephone in every way. I can make and receive calls&#185.

The big advantage with VOIP is cost. For $19.95 I can have a phone with every imaginable feature and unlimited long distance. Not bad. It’s well under half what I’m paying now for my phone plus long distance charges.

Until recently one of the things VOIP couldn’t do was 911 service. That’s a big sticking point. As the house is burning, you’d like to be able to get the fire department without looking up the number.

Packet8, the company I decided to go with, said they had solved the 911 problem and our house was within their coverage area. Well, they said that before I got the equipment.

Dear Valued Packet8 Customer,

Thank you for your recent Packet8 order for residential or business telephone service with optional Enhanced 911(E911). Unfortunately we have found that your address is not yet set up for standard supported of E911 services yet. We are adding new E911 service centers everyday so it is likely that your area will be available shortly.

You do not have to take any action and you will be automatically provided the rate center requested without E911 and continue with your packet8 subscription. Your monthly bill will reflect that you are not subscribing to E911 and you will not be charged any fees associated with E911. If you elect to continue subscribing to Packet8 without E911 we will waive any activation fees associated with the optional E911when your area is available due to the inconvenience.

Or, you can cancel your order within 24 hours by contacting our customer service department at 888 898 8733 by referring your customer order number highlighted below. You will be required to also return your purchase to the retailer you recently visited. We urge you to check back frequently, as E911 service centers are regularly being added.

So, it looks like this nice new technology will get sent back. The voice quality was pretty good, though I noticed some distortion on voice peaks and that the background sound would cut out if the person you were speaking to was in a quiet location. I guess the time is not yet right for VOIP for me.

&#185 – Though I can receive calls now, my original correspondence from them had this:


Welcome to the Packet8 broadband telephone service from 8×8. Your

Packet8 account is now activated. You can now begin to enjoy your

Packet8 telephone service.

The following telephone number has been assigned to your account:

Not available

To access your account via the web, please visit http://www.packet8.net

That’s probably a little too unlisted.

Windows XP Service Pack 2

Over the last year or two, the Windows operating system has started to resemble the South Bronx in the early 80s. Yes, it’s intrinsicly valuable, but it’s also become dangerous. The young and innocent must be protected from predators.

Over the weekend, Microsoft slowly rolled out a massive service pack for Windows XP – the latest version of its operating system. Since I have a bunch of machines to update at home, I downloaded the 225mb version and then passed it across my network to all the machines.

The size of the download will certainly keep people with dial-up accounts from getting the pack. It will probably intimidate many broadband users as well. That’s a massive file to download.

I’m taking few chances, so it was installed on my spare machine first. I figure there’s nothing mission critical on this machine so I can survive should the machine be unhappy with what I did.

Microsoft actually expects to see some troubles, though I have seen few specifics. Since it closes holes in certain ports with its new firewall, it’s sure to break programs that communicate in a non-standard way – even if they’re doing so for a perfectly legitimate purpose.

After the download, installation took about 25 minutes. It didn’t ask for my help, other than clicking off on the EULA.

As far as I can tell the installation was a success. I immediately noticed my wireless network, which needed me to manually start it on every reboot, was now finding its own way to operation. I’m not using Internet Explorer or Outlook Express on that machines, and I know that’s where a lot of the security enhancements were aimed.

There are two things which trouble me. First, this service pack doesn’t address problems for people running Windows 98, a perfectly fine and usable operating system. We have two machines at home (Steffie’s desktop and my laptop) which are running Windows 98. Neither machine has the firepower to switch to XP. They will continue to be susceptible to all the same attacks that brought this service pack on in the first place.

My second problem concerns whether Microsoft will allow this patch to be used on systems with bootleg copies of XP. It would seem obvious that they shouldn’t support those who steal from them, except for the fact that many of the ills this service pack stops are passed along to legitimate users. So, no inoculation for them means they may make my computers sick in the long run.

It is certainly a quandary for Microsoft. I don’t know what I’d do if it were me. However, if viruses and spam from zombie machines continues because of Microsoft’s policies, I’ll be ticked.

My Shopper’s Weakness

My wife watches QVC for entertainment. I’ve actually walked in and seen her watching a presentation of crucifixes. Considering we’re Jewish, that’s probably a purchase she won’t be making. But, it gives you an idea of how dedicated she is.

From time-to-time the UPS man pulls up to our front door and drops off something that caught her fancy. Most of the time, I think she watches because she enjoys looking – even when she’s not buying.

I think I’m the same way when it comes to electronics and computer items. I go to techbargains every day and scan the list to see if anyone’s giving anything away. Sometimes they are!

Within the past few weeks I have gotten a free (after rebate) copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator and am waiting for my ‘not-for-resale’ free copy of Visual Basic net – a programming language I’d like to learn.

When I’m really bored, I go to Amazon and look for books on tech subjects I want to pursue. It is amazing how many times I’ve seen a ‘new or used’ price to the right of Amazon’s, clicked the link, and found it’s a new book that’s been remaindered. Usually the price is a tiny fraction of what Amazon is selling the item for. Of course I wouldn’t buy it otherwise.

I look and lust after things I don’t need and won’t buy. I just like looking.

Today, two catalogs came in the mail. I will pour over both, and probably not buy a thing. The first is TigerDirect. Their catalog has computers and components like motherboards and hard drives (I’d like a new hard drive for my Linux machine, if the price would come down, and if it was really cheap… even though I’m nowhere near filling the current drives). I will look at this catalog and then look again… and probably again after that. I have bought at TigerDirect, and their stuff came quickly and was what was promised. I have read their rebates are v-e-r-y slow. I’m waiting for one now.

The second catalog came from DiscMakers. This is a company that duplicates and packages CDROMs and DVDs. In the past I have done some multimedia authoring. I would like to do more. I think there’s a great market in producing multimedia material on disk. It is a very powerful and misunderstood medium, which brings many of the benefits we expect from ‘true broadband’ today.

Considering prices begin in the hundreds of dollars range and only go up from there, I won’t be shopping at DiscMakers right now. But, I could see going to them later, because I’m sure sometime in the near future, I will come up with an idea that needs to be on disk.

In the meantime, window shopping online and in catalogs is fun.