Tuesday, November 25, 2008


The twenty scariest minutes of TV I've seen this year


H/T to Boing Boing for both.

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The Cost of the Bailout

Cory Doctorow Boings Barry Ritholtz's work that shows the cost of the bailout is more than the SUM of the costs of the Marshall Plan, the Louisiana Purchase, the Race to the Moon, the S&L Crisis, the Korean War, the New Deal, the (first) Iraq Invasion, the Viet Nam War and the lifetime budget of NASA.

Hard to believe. Here's the numbers:
• Marshall Plan: Cost: $12.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $115.3 billion
• Louisiana Purchase: Cost: $15 million, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $217 billion
• Race to the Moon: Cost: $36.4 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $237 billion
• S&L Crisis: Cost: $153 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $256 billion
• Korean War: Cost: $54 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $454 billion
• The New Deal: Cost: $32 billion (Est), Inflation Adjusted Cost: $500 billion (Est)
• Invasion of Iraq: Cost: $551b, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $597 billion
• Vietnam War: Cost: $111 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $698 billion
• NASA: Cost: $416.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $851.2 billion

TOTAL: $3.92 trillion
Cost of Bailout, so far, including recent Citibank numbers: $4.62 trillion.

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Monday, November 24, 2008


Quote of Note: Jonathan Coulton

"A Creative Commons license is like a joy multiplier. The art you create adds to the world whenever someone appreciates it, but you also get karma credit for every new piece of art it inspires. And around and around."

Musician Jonathan Coulton [source].

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Let's make it illegal to flip stocks

How about a law that says if you buy a stock you have to hold it for five years.

This way, buying stocks isn't gambling or speculation. It is ownership.

Under such a law, if you're going to own a stock, you have to act like a business owner and stay in for the long haul. That way, you will take risks appropriate for somebody who wants to grow the business. The kinds of so-called insurance from options, short selling and other derivatives would be unnecessary (and illegal).

Business owners would then succeed or fail on their own merits, the old fashioned way. The market would be less volatile and more value-based. Dividends would matter more. Capital would still go where it was treated well, but it would have to be treated well on a long-term basis. Businesses would opt for long-term growth rather than short-term manipulations.

It seems so simple. Is there something wrong with this idea?

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Sunday, November 16, 2008


Crawford, Werbach, Kohlenberger join Obama Team

My friends Susan Crawford, Kevin Werbach and Jim Kohlenberger have joined the Obama team [announcement here].

Susan and Kevin are listed as, "FCC Review Team Lead." I don't know exactly what that means, but it can only be good news for those of us who care about keeping the Internet open and vital.

Jim Kohlenberger shares National Science Foundation review duties with Henry Rivera. Again, good news; federal scientific efforts badly need renewed focus, and I am sure Jim will give it his all!

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Friday, November 14, 2008


Fiber: Thinking it through

Doc Searls has an essay about bringing fiber optics to every home in America. It is aimed in the right direction, but makes a couple of mistakes on the numbers and falls to ground way short of its target. It troubles me that I appear to be the sole source for Doc's numbers (on the basis of some informal conversation and my Telecom Day speech in Wellington NZ last May).

This post is an attempt to correct the record, and to create one where my previous thinking has been private.

Doc writes:
A typical fiber trunk fits an 864-fiber cable inside a 1.5-inch conduit. Each fiber can carry 10 gigabits of data. The total comes to 1.6 terabits. Here’s how David Isenberg puts that into perspective:

If all 6.5 billion people on earth had a telephone, and if they were all off-hook, generating 64 kilobits a second, and all those conversations were routed to this cable, there would be 100 fibers still dark.
Almost. Each fiber, in fact, can carry 10 gigabits per second **on each of 160 wavelengths** using today's off-the-shelf technology. In other words, each fiber, lit like this, carries 1.6 terabits. The arithmetic shows that 10 gigabits times 864 fibers is 8.64 terabits -- wrong. The actual computed capacity of an 864 fiber cable, lit as described above, is 864 times 1.6 terabits, or 1.4 petabits.

It is very bad to trust me on simple arithmetic; I have been known to think about dividing by six while I divided by four. I have been known to divide when I should be multiplying. And I've made plenty of oversight mistakes. But I've worked this particular problem a few times from scratch, but please check my work . . .

I'll leave it to the reader to calculate whether 6.5 billion people on earth, each generating 64 kbit/s at the same time, with all that traffic going to a fiber cable in which each fiber is carrying 10 gigabits per second on each of 160 wavelengths, whether all that traffic could squeeze into 764 fibers.

Another quibble. Doc writes that a *typical* fiber cable is 864 fibers. Typical? The fiber in front of my house is a 144 fiber Sumitomo cable. I saw it installed. My understanding is that 864 fiber cables are mostly used for long-haul these days. The example of 10 gigabits by 160 lambdas by 864 fibers is only *typical* of what's possible. You can light more than 160 wavelengths, and jam more than 10 gigabits down each one. I saw a Sumitomo fiber cable with 2000 fibers in it in 2004. You can have more **or less** of any of these quantities.

Here's another item from Doc that needs a bit of post-hoc sharpening: Doc writes,
Bringing fiber to homes and offices costs between $1000 to $7000 per “drop.”
Yes and no. I've been using $2000 per urban/suburban home and $6000 per rural home as a rule of thumb, a first approximation average cost. This includes homes hooked up for 50% of the homes passed. It is an impressionistic amalgam of lots of stuff I've been told in private conversation with fiber mavens, and it has been verified as reasonable by several people who have actually built fiber networks. [ By the way, others, telco types and Washington DC policy people, tend to cite lower numbers, closer to $1000 per home, but when I dig, this is only the cost of passing the home, not hooking it up.] But it is also worth noting that the costs can be very much higher than $6000 in individual cases, urban or rural.

So, if you assume 100 million urban and dense-suburban residences in the United States at $2000, and 15 million rural homes at $6000, that's $290 billion. (Heck, the U.S. found $700 Billion in a few days last month cause we had to have it now . . . but we still don't know what we're going to use it for.)

Doc didn't get anything overtly wrong when he wrote:
David Isenberg tells me a good sum to invest is $300 billion. That would be for “every home passed with more density than about four per road mile and a 50% take rate.”
But he sure ignored a lot of relevant detail.

I'm nitpicking, right? Well, how do we know whether Doc missed another factor of 160 (or its conceptual equivalent) when he concludes (perhaps based on another unvetted morsel from another sole source) that a public-private partnership can build all the bandwith for any purpose its users want to use it for, even as it
". . . leave[s] old arguments — about Net Neutrality, bandwidth hogs, and who is to blame for what — outside the door."
Sorry, Doc. We can't pretend there's no incumbent, no installed base or that the market is always right. The intellectual heavy lifting in the Fiber to Every Citizen effort will be in getting the details right. This includes how the new infrastructure is regulated. Yes, regulated with laws that say, "No snooping, no blocking, no discriminatory pricing or treatment, and what goes in is what comes out." We don't need any more Enrons, Blackwaters or AIGs. We need the private companies to partner with the public, not the reverse. We need to get the incentives right. We might even consider whether public-private-partnership is the right model at all. But, in any case, we need to do the math.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Fiber FROM the Home!

Here's a big idea.

The customer-centric view is that the connection between the home and the Internet is the FIRST mile. So it seems obvious that the new frame should be FFTH -- Fiber From The Home -- rather than FTTH. Then the home owner can take his business to various Internet providers and assess their offers of service. It would be a much more two-sided transaction. I spoke with Ken Carter about this idea just a couple of weeks ago. It also fits Doc Searls' notion of Vendor Relations Management (VRM).

Now the New America Foundation's Wireless Futures Program is sponsoring a talk called "Homes With Tails" by Tim Wu, who recently brought us that elegant piece of legal jujitsu called Wireless Carterphone, and Derek Slater, formerly with the Berkman Center, then EFF, and now Google.

Wu and Slater envision that the citizens, information gatherers, homeowners and content producers of the Internet [ahem, "consumers"?] purchase their own fiber first mile and offer their business to the network. They say,
The idea of customer-owned fiber may seem odd at first, but buying items like personal computers, answering machines or even telephones was also unheard of only a few decades ago. Home fiber could someday become a must-have technology.

Slater offers more details here.

Kudos to Wireless Futures regulars Michael Calabrese and Sascha Meinrath for sponsoring this fiber-rich event, to be held a week from Friday, November 21, in Washington DC at the New America Foundation. Details here.

I've got another obligation, darn!

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Pic>1kword: NY Times Front Page I'd like to see

Check out High Speed Internet Hits Fast Track to Appalachia which begins:
WASHINGTON — The Internet Freedom Preservation Act has passed both houses of Congress, thanks in part to overwhelming and well-organized support of millions of Internet users. The act will ensure “net neutrality” — i.e., that all users have equal access to the Internet and that large corporations like Time Warner, AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon can no longer act as gatekeepers, determining which sites go fast and which slow.
[source] Hat tip to Tim Karr!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Smaller, Weaker Twin Wants Higher Fiber (Optic) Diet

UPDATE 13Nov: Now that I've read the original study[.pdf], by Doris Kelley, cited below, I know that
a) Waterloo is bigger than Cedar Falls by population.
b) Historically, Waterloo has been the commercial center and Cedar Falls has been the "bedroom," but with the advent of the municipal network, with first Internet service starting in 1997, the study says that this changed rapidly.
c) Land in technology parks with fiber sold (in 2003, the year of the study) for $5000 to $25,000 more per acre than did land in tech parks without fiber.
d) The study points to a 2002 article in the local paper that says,
Cedar Falls set a Cedar Valley construction record this fiscal year, topping out at more than $101 million…Despite a downturn in the national economy, the city blew away all existing records in the fiscal year ending June 30…Meanwhile, the city of Waterloo failed to escape the stalled economy…Suffering from declining commercial permits and no large industrial projects to boost the value, the city recorded less than $53 million in construction during the last fiscal year --- its lowest total in eight years.
Thanks to Jim Baller for, ahem, strongly suggesting that I go to the source!

Cedar Falls and Waterloo are twin cities in Iowa separated by a city limits sign. The incumbent telco and cableco ignore both. So Cedar Falls decided to build a municipal fiber optic (and residential HFC) network. But Waterloo's citizens voted against it. A study, reported here, found that 11 businesses moved from Waterloo to Cedar falls around the time the network was built. Ouch.

Waterloo Mayor John Rooff complained, "I believe it has hurt us economically to not be able to provide fiber optics to businesses locating in our city."

Waterloo Municipal Telecommunications Utility Board member Doris Kelley exclaimed, "Everyday we're falling farther behind."

A November 2007 story in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reports that a non-profit company, Waterloo Telecom Partners, Inc., has been organized to help Waterloo catch up. Waterloo Telecom Partners is building an open, access, fiber optic network.

Waterloo City Attorney Jim Walsh describes the project like this:
"We're not talking about having millions of dollars available to go out and do another overlay of the whole city . . . We're going to be patching this together one connection at a time."

Walsh continued, "If they don't want it, we'll be out of business shortly, and it won't matter." Indeed.

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Thursday, November 06, 2008


Let's outlaw too-big-to-fail

Let's outlaw being too big to fail. Companies that are so big that they might require a public bailout should be cut down to size. Pre-emptively. Let's hire some economists and give them effective incentives (is there a humane way to do this?) to watch our biggest companies, to do the relevant scenarios, and to force divestment when they're simply too big. Or maybe we could start a futures market where people bet on TBTF, and when the price of the bet reaches a certain threshold, the company must, by law, divest. Seems simple enough. And abundantly obvious.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008


What should President Obama do?

Since yesterday at 11 PM EST, I'm feeling like I'm sitting in the capsule of a rocket ship and they've just said, "Three, two one . . . " . . . I've got butterflies and twitches. I'm waiting for the Gs to kick in. Here's a hint at what the real work is shaping up to be.

The current top ten citizen priorities for President Obama according to whitehouse2.gov are:

Stop the Iraq war
Endorse 203 endorsements

Enact universal, single-payer healthcare
Endorse 174 endorsements

Make the U.S. a leader in green jobs and innovation
Endorse 164 endorsements

Kill the PATRIOT Act
Endorse 147 endorsements

Prosecute George W. Bush for his crimes against humanity
Endorse 140 endorsements

Shut down Guantanamo
Endorse 128 endorsements

Energy Independence in 7 years (2016)
Endorse 127 endorsements

Prosecute criminals in Bush administration
Endorse 106 endorsements

Replace Minimum Wage with Living Wage Law
Endorse 102 endorsements

End corporate welfare
Endorse 99 endorsements

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Net Neutrality is a First Amendment Issue

UPDATE: Here's a story from The Register about Internet censorship in Australia.

Harry Lewis, co-author of _Blown to Bits_, has a great op-ed in the Boston Globe that reminds us what happens when we, each of us, at the edge of the network, abdicates control of what we watch, publish, do online.

Here's an excerpt:

The dangers of Internet censorship
By Harry Lewis
November 5, 2008

SUPPOSE that government regulators proposed to read all postal mail in order to protect families from things they should not see. Anything not legally prohibited would be delivered. Any unlawful words, pictures, or videos would be thrown away.

Sound like Orwell's "1984," or China? Perhaps.

Yet change the technology from ink on paper to bits in wires - the zeroes and ones that flow through the Internet - and these are the plans of significant democracies. France is targeting copyrighted music and movies. Australian officials are going after child pornography - but may check for other bad stuff while they are at it. Objectionable snooping? Both governments say that law-abiding citizens have nothing to worry about.

Could such ubiquitous surveillance gain traction in the United States, with its Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches? A proposal pending before the Federal Communications Commission raises just that possibility. It would provide Internet service to all Americans - with a catch. Content would be censored, free of "any images or text that otherwise would be harmful to teens and adolescents" under 18 years old.

[Whole essay here.]

[Hat tip to Tom Duncan for both stories.]

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With videos like these, we had to win

Obama '08 - Vote For Hope from MC Yogi on Vimeo.
(Hat tip to John P!)

Break Dancing to Old Time Music
(Hat tip to Leslie Nulty)

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Now the work begins . . .

[source] cc licensed by springhill2008

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