The Need For Speed

“The Cable Show,” an industry trade show for cable TV is underway in Las Vegas. To a certain extent, I’m surprised this show still exists. There aren’t that many CATV companies left.

Comcast Corp&#185. Chief Executive Brian Roberts dazzled a cable industry audience Tuesday, showing off for the first time in public new technology that enabled a data download speed of 150 megabits per second, or roughly 25 times faster than today’s standard cable modems.

This is huge news. Speed is capacity and no one ever has enough capacity – think closets in your home.

It is easy to think faster cable modems mean getting web pages and videos faster. And, of course that’s true.

More importantly, higher bandwidth changes what a data service can provide. I can’t imagine all the possible applications, but this certainly brings us closer to an environment where everything is on demand. For instance, higher bandwidth could allow all video (TV shows, newscasts, movies, sports, etc) to be individually fed.

Since Verizon is already rolling out its FIOS service, with high speed data directly to the home via fiber optic lines, this cable achievement assures some level of ongoing competition.

My fear continues to be cable and phone companies favoring their own (more profitable) products when it comes to transmission speed to the home. It’s the whole concept of network neutrality. But even that becomes less of a factor when there’s a broader pipe.

&#185 – I own a small position in Comcast as part of my retirement plan.

Tech Support

Wednesday night was tech support night. Between shows I drove to my friend Steve’s home, no more than 10 minutes from the station. He’s a great guy, and his wife is nicer.

He’s my physician, so I fix his computer and he fixes me. It seems like a decent arrangement, though there’s probably more downside risk to me should a problem go unfixed.

He had muddled along in computing for years. With the birth of his first grandchild, his computing needs increased. There were photos to tweak and upload – which led to a scanner and DSL connection (I’m much more a fan of cable modems than DSL, but that’s another story for another day).

What had been a reasonable, older Gateway system has become a problem. The photo work pushes it to its limits – slowing him down. The screen is a 15″ CRT, running at 800×600 resolution. After all the menus and taskbars are drawn on the screen, it’s got the spaciousness of a New York City efficiency.

For most applications, any old PC will do. I hear stories all the time about people buying new computers, sending old ones to the trash heap. It drives me nuts!

I’ve gotten call telling me how a computer is running slower, as if computers atrophied. “Malware” can make a computer slow down, but it’s curable.

The dirty secret of the computing world is, most CPU speed is wasted. For Internet browsing, word processing and email, the vast majority of computers up to four or five years old are fine. All they usually need are a little more memory and hard drive space – both of which are easily added. Why spend big bucks if you don’t have to?

Steve’s computing problem relates to an incompatibility between a driver for his video card and the new scanner. Every time you set the scanner in motion, you get an error message referring to NV4DISP.DRV. Then the program just shuts down, as if nothing had happened.

There is nothing as cryptic as a Windows 98 error message. It offers little information and no hope.

My first line of defense is to go to Usenet via Google. Usenet is where nerds go to find other nerds. NV4DISP.DRV has been cited often on Usenet. Still, my first looks didn’t bring me a solution – and I still don’t have one.

It is possible that this old computer, with the video subsystem an integral part of the motherboard, has a fatal dislike for the scanner and they will never play well together. I don’t have my hopes raised. I will keep trying.