Thursday, April 30, 2009


A camera that knows who it's photographing

I know a little bit about complex pattern recognition, and it's not easy or straightforward. So my jaw dropped a bit when I read David Pogue's footnotes on his review of the Panasonic Lumix GH-1 camera. What got me was this:

The Lumix doesn't just recognize that something *is* a face; it actually tries to determine *whose* face it is. That way, it can give priority of focus and exposure to your own friends and family, even plucking them out of a crowd.

What the marketing materials don't say is that you first have to register each person you want it to recognize. The camera displays a little on-screen template, basically a box with two eyeholes; you're supposed to take a snapshot of the person, facing front and positioned to match the template. You can even name the person, using an onscreen keyboard; if you register more than one person, you can rank them by priority. (Dealing with the hurt feelings if someone catches you ranking them low is left to you.)

Coming soon, self-tagging photos, a speech-to-text dictation machine, caller ID by voice, nav-by-video cars, et cetera. Sheesh, the future is more evenly distributed every day.

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Robin Chase, one of Time Mag's 100 Influentials

I am very proud of my friend Robin Chase's recognition by Time Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People of 2009!

The story on Robin, written by one Craig Newmark, says, in part,
For years, Robin Chase, a co-founder of Zipcar, has run such a business, in which people share a community-based pool of vehicles. Customers use Zipcar, which rents cars by the day or hour (when public transportation won't quite do the job) and makes smart use of technology like GPS to connect people with autos and trucks that are parked near them.

The Zipcar operation recognizes that people are fundamentally trustworthy. If you trust your customer community, they'll respond by operating in a trustworthy manner, self-policing your operation. Zipcar's success fuels the whole Internet-based sharing culture, and Robin, 50, also uses social media to get car-sharing fans to work together in communities. This implicitly pushes the sharing culture to even more people.
One of the things this tells me is that the rumors of MainStream Media's death are somewhat exaggerated. Way to go Robin! Way to go, Time.

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Broadband without Internet ain't worth squat

Broadband without Internet ain't worth squat
by David S. Isenberg
keynote address delivered at
Broadband Properties Summit 4/28/09

We communications professionals risk forgetting why the
networks we build and run are valuable. We forget what we're
connecting to what. We get so close to the ducts and splices
and boxes and protocols that we lose the big picture.

Somewhere in the back of our mind, we know that we're
building something big and new and fundamental. We know, at
some level, there's more than business and economics at

This talk is a 30,000-foot view of why our work is important.
I'm going to argue that the Internet is the main value
creator here - not our ability to digitize everything, not
high speed networking, not massive storage - the Internet.
With this perspective, maybe you'll you go back to work with
a slight attitude adjustment, and maybe one or two concrete
things to do.

In the big picture, We're building interconnectedness. We're
connecting every person on this planet with every other
person. We're creating new ways to share experience. We're
building new ways for buyers to find sellers, for
manufacturers to find raw materials, for innovators to rub up
against new ideas. We're creating a new means to distribute
our small planet's limited resources.

Let's take a step back from the ducts and splices and boxes
and protocols. Let's go on an armchair voyage in the opposite
direction -- to a strange land . . . to right here, right
now, but without the Internet.

In this world we have all the technology of today, but no
Internet Protocol, that is, there's no packet protocol that
all proprietary networks can understand.

In this alternate reality, every form of information can be
digitized, BUT there's not necessarily a connection between
all this information and all the users and services that
might discover it and use it to their advantage.

This was the world envisioned by the movie, The President's
Analyst, where The Phone Company secretly ran the world. It's
from 1967, the same year that Larry Roberts published the
original ArpaNet spec.

Roll Clip

In a world without the Internet, it's not clear that we'd
actually have a thought transducer in our brain. But if we
did, I'd bet we couldn't program it ourselves. I'd bet we
couldn't shut it off. I'd bet we couldn't decide who could
receive its signal and who could not.

What WOULD we have?

We would have super-clear telephony. We'd have cable TV with
lots and lots of channels. We'd have lower op-ex and higher
def. We'd probably have some kind of telephone-to-TV
integration so we could order from Dominos while we watched
Gunsmoke. Our cell phones would make really, really good
phone calls . . . and we'd have another half-dozen bungled
attempts to convince us that picturephones were the next
great leap forward.

Surprisingly, we might not have email. The first generation
of Internet Researchers only discovered human-to-human email
in 1972 - the subsequent growth of "People-to-People"
applications was a big surprise to them. Now, without email,
there there'd be no reason to invent the Blackberry or the
iPhone. Without the Internet, it would be a voice, voice,
voice, voice world.

This voice, voice, voice would be expensive. Without the
Internet - specifically without Voice over IP -- we'd still
be paying fifteen cents a minute for long distance, because
VocalTec would not have commercialized VOIP, Vonage and Skype
wouldn't exist, and even the major telcos would not have used
VOIP to destroy the international settlement system.

Data service? Think ISDN. Actually, think about a dozen
different so-called Integrated Services Networks, each with
its own access and login, with no good way for one to connect
to another. Metcalfe's Law would suggest there'd be orders of
magnitude less traffic overall.

Would we have Search? Perhaps. Imagine what Encyclopedia
Britannica On Line would look like in a non-Wikipedia world .
. . at a buck a lookup.

Digital photography? Perhaps . . . but medium would be paper
and the biggest company would be Kodak.

What about Amazon? EBay? YouTube? Google Maps?
Travelocity? Yahoo Finance? iTunes? Twitter? Facebook?
CraigsList? Blogging? On-Line Banking?

We wouldn't even have Web sites. Sure we could probably buy
some kind of proprietary on-line presence, but it would be so
expensive that only GE, GM and GQ could afford it, and so
inaccessible they probably wouldn't want to pay.

Web 2.0 - the ability of a single computer to reach across
the Internet in a dozen different directions at once to build
an customized web page on the fly - would be worse than
unavailable, it would be unthinkable.

But it's not all bad. Without the Internet, we would still
get our news from newspapers, the corner bookstore would
still be down on the corner, the Post Office would be
thriving, your friendly travel agent would still be booking
your trips, Dan Rather would still be on TV, perverts would
still get their sick pix in inconvenient plain brown
wrappers, and the NSA would not know the books I bought at
Amazon or who I email with.

Tough. We lost a lot of skilled leather-smiths when they
invented the horseless carriage. We'll find ways to deal with
the Internet's changes too.

Without the Internet, the minor improvements in telephony and
TV certainly would not drive the buildout of a whole new
infrastructure. The best way to do telephony would still be
twisted pair. The best way to do Cable TV would be coax.

Now I'm a huge Fiber to the Home enthusiast! But I'm also
part of the Reality Based Community. So let's face it, even
WITH the Internet, including Verizon's amazingly ambitious
FIOS buildout, the business case for fiber is so weak that 97
percent of US homes still aren't on fiber. We are still in
"Law of Small Numbers" territory. The Internet is the only
thing standing between our limited success and abject

Notice, I have not yet, until now, used the word BROADBAND.

But before I talk about broadband, I want to talk about
Synechdoche. Synecdoche is when you say, "The Clock" but you
mean Time. Synecdoche is when you say, "Eyeballs," but you
mean The Customer's Attention. Synecdoche is when you say,
Dallas, but you mean, "The Mavericks."

Most of the time Broadband is synecdoche. When we say,
"Broadband," most of the time we mean, "High Speed
Connections to the Internet."

I repeat, Most of the time when we say Broadband we mean High
Speed Connections to the Internet. Broadband is synecdoche.

Without the Internet, "Broadband" is just another incremental
improvement. It makes telephony and TV better. It makes the
Internet better too. But the key driver of all the killer
apps we know and love is the Internet, not Broadband. And, of
course, the Internet is enabled by lots of technologies -
computers, storage, software, audio compression, video
display technology, AND high-speed wired and wireless

Now, Broadband is a very important enabler. The United States
has slower, more expensive connections to the Internet than
much of the developed world. And that's embarrassing to me as
a US citizen.

Imagine if a quirk of US policy caused us to have dimmer
displays. That would be a quick fix, unless the display
terminal industry demanded that we disable the Internet in
other ways before it gave us brighter displays. Or insisted
"all your screens are belong to us."

High-speed transmission does not, by itself, turn the wheel
of creative destruction so central to the capitalist process.
The Internet does that. Broadband, by itself, does not fuel
the rise of new companies and the destruction of old ones.
The Internet does that. Broadband by itself is not
disruptive; the Internet is.

The Internet derives its disruptive quality from a very
special property: IT IS PUBLIC. The core of the Internet is a
body of simple, public agreements, called RFCs, that specify
the structure of the Internet Protocol packet. These public
agreements don't need to be ratified or officially approved -
they just need to be widely adopted and used.

The Internet's component technologies - routing, storage,
transmission, etc. - can be improved in private. But the
Internet Protocol itself is hurt by private changes, because
its very strength is its public-ness.

Because it is public, device makers, application makers,
content providers and network providers can make stuff that
works together. The result is completely unprecedented;
instead of a special-purpose network - with telephone wires
on telephone poles that connect telephones to telephone
switches, or a cable network that connects TVs to content -
we have the Internet, a network that connects any application
- love letters, music lessons, credit card payments, doctor's
appointments, fantasy games - to any network - wired,
wireless, twisted pair, coax, fiber, wi-fi, 3G, smoke
signals, carrier pigeon, you name it. Automatically, no extra
services needed. It just works.

This allows several emergent miracles.

First, the Internet grows naturally at its edges, without a
master plan. Anybody can connect their own network, as long
as the connection follows the public spec. Anybody with their
own network can improve it -- in private if they wish, as
long as they follow the public agreement that is the
Internet, the result grows the Internet.

Another miracle: The Internet let's us innovate without
asking anybody's permission. Got an idea? Put it on the
Internet, send it to your friends. Maybe they'll send it to
their friends.

Another miracle: It's a market-discovery machine. Text
messaging wasn't new in 1972. What surprised the Internet
Researchers was email's popularity. Today a band that plays
Parisian cafe music can discover its audience in Japan and
Louisiana and Rio.

It's worth summarizing. The miracles of the Internet -
any-app over any infrastructure,
growth without central planning,
innovation without permission,
and market discovery.
If the Internet Protocol lost its public nature, we'd risk
shutting these miracles off.

One of the public agreements about the Internet Protocol lays
out a process for changing the agreements. If somebody
changes their part of the Internet in private, they put the
Internet's miracles at risk. Comcast tried to do that by
blocking BitTorrent. Fortunately, we persuaded Comcast to
stop. If it had continued, it would have put a whole family
of Internet applications at risk, not only for Comcast
Internet customers, but also for everybody who interacts with
Comcast's customers.

The whole fight over Network Neutrality is about preserving
what's valuable about the Internet - its public-ness.

The Internet threatens the telephone business and the cable
TV business. So of course there's a huge propaganda battle
around the Internet.

The propaganda says Network Neutrality is about treating
every packet exactly the same, but the Internet has never
done that. The propaganda says that Network Neutrality is
about regulating the Internet, but we know that the Internet
exists thanks to the government's ArpaNet, and subsequent
wise government regulation.

Look who's calling for regulation anyway! The only reason
telcos and cablecos exist is that there's a whole body of
franchises and tariffs and licenses and FCCs and PUCs keeping
them in business.

Cut through the propaganda. Network Neutrality is about
preserving the public definition of the Internet Protocol,
the structure of the Internet packet, and the way it is
processed. If there are reasons to change the Internet
Protocol, we can do it in public - that's part of the
Internet too.

It's the Internet, smart people. Your property already has
telephone and TV. So does everybody else's. Broadband without
the Internet isn't worth squat. You're building those fast
connections to The Internet.

So please remember that the essence of the Internet is a body
of public agreements. Anti-Network Neutrality attacks on the
public nature of the Internet are attacks on the value of the
infrastructure improvements you've made to your property. So
you can't be neutral on Network Neutrality. Take a stand.

If you install advanced technology that makes your property
more valuable, you deserve your just rewards. But the
potential of the Internet is much, much bigger than your

Like other great Americans on whose shoulders I stand, I have
a dream. In my dream the Internet becomes so capable that I
am able to be with you as intimately as I am right now
without leaving my home in Connecticut.

In my dream the Internet becomes so good that we think of the
people in Accra or Baghdad or Caracas much as we think of the
people of Albuquerque, Boston and Chicago, as "us" not

In my dream, the climate change problem will be solved thanks
to trillions of smart vehicles, heaters and air conditioners
connected to the Internet to mediate real-time auctions for
energy, carbon credits, and transportation facilities.

In my dream, we discover that one of the two billion who live
on less than dollar a day is so smart as to be another
Einstein, that another is so compassionate as to be another
Gandhi, that another is so charismatic as to be another
Mandella . . . and we will can comment on their blog,
subscribe to their flickr stream and follow their twitter

But I also have a nightmare . . .

In my nightmare, the telephone company has convinced us that
it needs to monitor every Internet transaction, so it can --
quote-unquote -- manage -- what it calls "my pipes".

Maybe it says it needs to stop terrorism, or protect the
children, or pay copyright holders. Maybe there's a genuine
emergency -- a pandemic or a nuclear attack or a 9.0

In my nightmare, whatever the excuse -- or the precipitating
real-world event -- once the telephone company gains the
ability to know which apps are generating which packets, it
begins charging more for applications we value more.

In my nightmare, once the telephone company has some
applications that generate more revenues because they're
subject to management -- and others that don't -- the former
get all the newest, shiniest, fastest network upgrades, while
the latter languish in what soon becomes Yesterday's Network.

In my nightmare, new innovations that need the newest fastest
network, but don't yet have a revenue stream, are consigned
to second-class service. Or they're subject to lengthy
engineering studies and other barriers that keep them off the
market. In other words, in my nightmare, all but the most
mundane innovation dies

So it's up to you. When you make high-speed networks part of
your real estate, if you insist that these connect to the
REAL Internet, the un-mediated, un-filtered publicly defined
Internet, you're part of a global miracle that's much bigger
than your property. Please ask yourself what's valuable in
the long run, and act accordingly.

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Saturday, April 25, 2009


When is normal use a DOS attack?

Answer: when your network is undersized.

Most of us have heard about the iPhone debacle at SXSW Interactive in March, when there were so many iPhone users in Austin that AT&T's network was overwhelmed. Users of iPhones were frustrated, angry and unable to find the good parties.

I'm in Lafayette, Louisiana, at Festival International de Louisiane. It's a music festival, so the iPhone density isn't even close to SXSW. Nevertheless, last night my friends John St. Julien and Geoff Daily were sitting to my left and right. The music was loud. Texting was the way to go. Yet, both had to try numerous times to send messages on their iPhones. The failure message said, "Network unavailable."

[Eventually after multiple attempts, both John and Geoff were able to send their messages.]

Yogi Berra said it best, "so crowded nobody goes there anymore." The iPhone is an amazing advance. But if enough customers use it normally on AT&T's network, it is tantamount to a Denial of Service (DOS) attack.

AT&T, to its credit, is planning a massive cap-ex program for its wireless network. But it should have thought of that sooner. I wonder if AT&T's wireline division is learning anything. Or Time Warner Cable's broadband guys.

Normal use, and lots of it, should be the kind of problem a vendor WANTS to have. It shouldn't hose your service. It shouldn't give your PR face a black eye. It shouldn't require all kinds of post-hoc fixes.

Understanding how one's business is growing and planning accordingly is, in most businesses, an imperative. C'mon folks, WTF? (This stands for, "Where's the fiber?)

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Torture is still wrong

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Portraits by Gwenn Seemel

I was in Portland, Oregon some months ago for a NATOA meeting. I wandered the streets, marvelling at how Portland had changed so much faster than I did in the years between my Corvallis, Oregon, High School days and today. I stumbled across a show of Gwenn Seemel's portraits. I was floored, gasping for air. Gwenn just sent me a notice of her newest show in Eugene. The picture on the left is a sample, but check out her other work here.

Her corpus of portraits is here. Maybe it's just me, and what do I know, but I think she's one of the giant artists of our time.


TWC does the right thing -- again!

[Uh-oh. See update below.]

In response to customer feedback, Time Warner Cable has discontinued its trials of tiered Internet service. [Corporate Announcement here.] It was quite a stuff-storm, but to TWC's credit, they put their finger up, felt the howling gale, and changed course right away.

This is in marked contrast to their larger competitor, Comcast, which did stuff at the application level that was supposed to be about simple traffic metering, did it in secret, lied about it, packed an FCC hearing with paid seat-warmers, lied about that, for months and months, until the FCC told them to cut it out. And did they? I still don't trust them.

TWC, at least, approached the traffic problem head-on, by trying to discourage excess traffic with direct, obvious price signals. At the time, I wrote, Time Warner Cable does the right thing. Unfortunately, they did the right thing the wrong way [my blog post on that] -- their price tiers were very aggressive, it gave the impression they were trying to specifically discourage "over-the-top" Internet video, and it gave the impression they were milking their infrastructure.

If I were TWC, I'd re-start from the assumption that Internet traffic is growing, and today's bandwidth hog just might be tomorrow's median Internet user. I'd announce a much less aggressive -- and limited and temporary -- tiered pricing plan. Simultaneously, I'd announce a capital improvement plan aimed squarely at expanding the TWC distribution infrastructure. Then I'd only implement tiering where my infrastructure was under threat, and I'd implement it in conjunction with a capital improvement program in the same area.

It might not be as lucrative as the tiered pricing system that TWC envisioned, but it would position TWC as a major Internet player in the future. Taking the high road and the long view worked for Verizon. TWC now has a chance to show it is not only responsive, but also visionary.

Disclosure: I have had business dealings with TWC in the past, and perhaps I'll have more in the future, but I have no current business relationship. Nobody at TWC has asked me for my opinion recently, either. In any case, I'm more valuable to TWC if I speak my mind; they know where to hire yes-people if they want them.

UPDATE (4/21 4:56PM): Whoops, apparently they have :-(.

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Monday, April 20, 2009


Somali Piracy: Wash Post confirms origins in fight against illegal ocean use

Once you get past the mis-lede of today's Washington Post story on Somali Piracy, you find this:

Piracy began as a violent reaction to rampant illegal fishing by commercial fishing companies, mostly from European and Asian countries, according to U.N. officials, who say the fishermen often operate with fake licenses.

A Somali man who gave his name only as Ali said he became a pirate in 2004 after several confrontations with commercial fishing vessels operating in Somali waters.

"We used to put our nets at night in the sea and go back in the morning to see our catch, but we'd just see a big ship taking our nets out of the water," said Ali, 25, now a shopkeeper in Nairobi.

When he and his colleagues steered their boat close to the vessel, he said, the crew sprayed them with hot water, and one of them fired bullets. Ali said his friend was injured, their boat was sunk and they had to swim to shore. The next time they went out to sea, he said, they were hauling AK-47 assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
"Our plan was to attack the illegal fishing boats," he said. "We took ransoms to cover our wounded people . . . in all, we took 16 ships."

It confirms what I've been blogging here and here.

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Sunday, April 19, 2009


Quote of Note: Antonin Scalia

“Troposphere, whatever. I told you before I’m not a scientist. That’s why I don’t want to have to deal with global warming, to tell you the truth.”

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, quoted here.

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Lucky, 1995-2009

Lucky and I were tight. I was his human. I missed him deeply when I traveled; my wife and I could email, IM or talk, but Lucky and I were strictly Fur2Fur.

We found him on July 4th weekend at Linden (NJ) airport. We heard him asserting, "I'm here, I'm here, I'm here," until Paula had to go find the source. She came back holding an eight-week kitten with enormous ears and an outsized voice. Where he rubbed against her white t-shirt, he left black marks.

We delayed our trip to take him home. I told him he was lucky to be coming to a house with two incomes and no kids. Paula said, "So let's call him Lucky." Lucky from Linden Airport, Lucky Lindy, OK. As he was growing up, when he stuck his chin out in a certain way, it suggested another name, Lester. In public he remained Lucky, but when it was just me and him he was Lester.

We got him to the vet a few days after he found us. He was fine; no worms, no fleas. He used the cat box right his first day home. Our other cats, Miso and Keiko, kept their distance. One night we heard screaming. Keiko, the biggest, had kitten Lucky in her mouth, on the floor. She wasn't fooling. She had scared the crap out of him, quite literally. She might have killed him if I had not intervened.

For the rest of his life, Lucky and Keiko had almost-daily spats. He became top cat. When he wanted Keiko's spot in the sun he took it. When he wanted her place on the bed he'd get close and stare, she'd hiss and growl, then she'd move.

I was my top cat's top cat. I'd push him over, rub his fur the wrong way, grab his scruff, and pull his ears. I'd chase him upstairs stomping my feet. He'd scamper ahead and hide. Then when I retreated, he'd come back for more. Soon he was mine.

And I was his. I'd carry him around and show him stuff. He wouldn't sit in my lap, but he'd sit close, touching. When I did a project around the house, he'd pad over, sit and watch my hands and the tools in them attentively. I'd explain, "Now you wrap the wire around the screw." Too bad his thumbs were halfway up his forepaws. When I worked on the computer, he'd watch my fingers, then put his chin on my arm and fall asleep.

About 9 months ago he became lethargic. The vet diagnosed kidney failure. We started daily subcutaneous hydration. He did better. When I went to Antarctica for a couple weeks he wasted. I came back to a skinny, tottering, quivering sickly animal. I spent my first three days back crawling on the floor with him, spoon feeding him, scratching his head and pulling his ears. With his human back, Lucky reasserted himself.

That recovery was measured in mere weeks. He, who had used the cat box unfailingly from day one, began to pee outside the box. He'd crouch in a little ball in a full-body shiver. He'd burrow into our bed clothes to keep warm; this was very cute, but not compatible with his urinary problem.

Friday the vet came. Mercifully, it was quick. After the first shot, his tongue stuck out. I said, "Les, put your tongue in." He vomited. We gave him the second shot. The vet said, "Now he's chasing mice in heaven." Nonsense, but the silly image gave me a comforting smile. Lucky's last months had hung heavy.

I pulled his cold ears one last time yesterday and put him in a hole in the garden. He's not watching my fingers as I type this, but there's a warm spot on my left forearm where he used to put his chin.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009


Somali musician: Piracy in my country has a deeper issue

K'naan, an articulate Somali performer, talks about his Op-Ed that he's hoping the New York Times will publish. I wish him luck. Clearly the current media framing of the current rash of piracy could use some readjustment! [K'naan in Wikipedia]

In this video, K'naan says,
"Piracy in my country has a deeper issue . . . there's a reason why this has started. Most Somalis will tell you they can't readily condemn pirates, and the reason why is you've got the nuclear age, right? With nuclear power . . . you have a lot of remainder, which is called nuclear toxic waste. They don't really know what to do with that stuff yet . . . these private companies have been illegally dumping nuclear toxic waste containers on the shores of Somalia."
Watch it here:

Hat tip to Liz Havstad at

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Word of the day

Unfortunately, today I've added teabagging to my vocabulary list.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Another view of Somalia's pirates

From The Independent, January 5, 2009

Johann Hari: You are being lied to about pirates

Pirates have never been quite who we think they are. In the "golden age of piracy" – from 1650 to 1730 – the idea of the pirate as the senseless, savage Bluebeard that lingers today was created by the British government in a great propaganda heave. Many ordinary people believed it was false: pirates were often saved from the gallows by supportive crowds. Why? What did they see that we can't? In his book Villains Of All Nations, the historian Marcus Rediker pores through the evidence.

If you became a merchant or navy sailor then – plucked from the docks of London's East End, young and hungry – you ended up in a floating wooden Hell. You worked all hours on a cramped, half-starved ship, and if you slacked off, the all-powerful captain would whip you with the Cat O' Nine Tails. If you slacked often, you could be thrown overboard. And at the end of months or years of this, you were often cheated of your wages.

Pirates were the first people to rebel against this world . . .


In 1991, the government of Somalia collapsed. Its nine million people have been teetering on starvation ever since – and the ugliest forces in the Western world have seen this as a great opportunity to steal the country's food supply and dump our nuclear waste in their seas.

Yes: nuclear waste. As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died.

Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy to Somalia, tells me: "Somebody is dumping nuclear material here. There is also lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury – you name it." Much of it can be traced back to European hospitals and factories, who seem to be passing it on to the Italian mafia to "dispose" of cheaply. When I asked Mr Ould-Abdallah what European governments were doing about it, he said with a sigh: "Nothing. There has been no clean-up, no compensation, and no prevention."

At the same time, other European ships have been looting Somalia's seas of their greatest resource: seafood. We have destroyed our own fish stocks by overexploitation – and now we have moved on to theirs. More than $300m-worth of tuna, shrimp, and lobster are being stolen every year by illegal trawlers. The local fishermen are now starving. Mohammed Hussein, a fisherman in the town of Marka 100km south of Mogadishu, told Reuters: "If nothing is done, there soon won't be much fish left in our coastal waters."

This is the context in which the "pirates" have emerged.


Thanks to Glenn Hurowitz for the pointer.

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Thursday, April 09, 2009


TWC swims against the tide

Early last year, I wrote a blog post entitled "Time Warner Cable does the right thing" that congratulated TWC for a straightforward solution to a problem it said it had, to wit, a small proportion of customers that used way more than their fair share of network resources. The context was the hypocrisy of Comcast at that time, which had tried to solve its own supposed bandwidth-hog problem by selectively interfering with BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer protocols. TWC's more direct solution was a trial of tiered pricing in Beaumont, Texas.

I did not pay much attention to TWC's initial trial price structure. I had assumed that TWC would experiment with different prices, discover how to discourage bandwidth hogs without raising prices on the vast proportion of its customers and propagate that finding.

Now Time Warner Cable is expanding its "trial" to a bunch more cities. According to this Ars Technica article, it offers 5GB monthly for $30 up to its highest-cap plan, 40GB for $55. (In addition, a 100 GB cap is in the works. [UPDATE 4/11: Yesterday TWC announced a no-cap tier at $150 a month.]) This compares with Comcast's 250 GB cap at $43 a month and no-cap Verizon FIOS service starting at under $50 a month.

This pricing indicates that TWC has subtly changed the reason for its experiment. It's not about discouraging the few anymore. Now it is about paying fairly for what you use. As the TWC COO writes,
When you go to lunch with a friend, do you split the bill in half if he gets the steak and you have a salad?
Ars Technica repostes,
The real question is whether you would even have lunch with a friend at a restaurant that charged $45 for a salad and $200 for a steak.
Indeed. If Time Warner Cable simply wanted to discourage its disproportionate users, it would have set its cap somewhere around where Comcast's cap is. But no. Its new rationale suggests that if you watch two YouTube videos you should pay twice as much as if you watch one.

It would appear as if TWC were trying to discourage people from using high bandwidth apps, such as video, at all. Does TWC have an interest in discouraging its customers from watching video over the Internet? Given its main-line video entertainment business, aka Cable TV, it would appear to be the case. Appearances, in this instance, are critical.

In addition, TWC's new pricing is likely to limit its customers use of the Internet. Analyst Craig Moffett, quoted in Business Week, says, "[T]he decision to limit data consumption can be expected to have profound implications for [consumer] behavior." Studies show that we're using more and more Internet all the time; there are more users, each user is on longer, and the apps we're using require more data. Why is TWC trying to swim against this tide?

The next right thing, it seems to me, would be to retrench to a high cap like Comcast's 250 GB/mo, to make this cap TEMPORARY, and to build, build, build so as to skate Gretsky-like to where the Internet will be in five or ten years. [Note: Verizon, with its FIOS fiber optic program, is now in a position where it says publicly it won't cap, tier or limit non-commercial, residential FIOS use.]

Plan C would be for TWC to realize that it doesn't have the gumption to build tomorrow's Internet infrastructure, and decide to stay with the video entertainment business it knows and exit the money-losing Internet biz.

Plan D, a modest proposal if TWC wished to persist with it's current usage pricing fees, would be that it pay the moving and job-hunting expenses of its customers who wish to find another Internet carrier.

In the interests of full disclosure, I have had past business dealings with TWC, and I hope to have future dealings. But I ain't no homo economicus and I ain't pulling no punches. Notwithstanding, I sure do hope my friends at TWC are still talking to me after they read this. I'd like to think TWC will be a better company by talking to people who genuinely want them to do the right thing.

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009


The 40th Anniversary of RFC #1

My friend Steve Crocker wrote RFC #1 at the dawn of the Internet, long before the letters IETF stood for anything. Now the NY Times has published Steve's Op-Ed commemorating the 40th Anniversary of RFC #1. This history, the story of how RFC #1 (and the RFC system, the IETF and the Internet) came to be, is history that those of us who care about preserving the Internet's most vital properties should know.

Here are several key paragraphs:

The early R.F.C.’s ranged from grand visions to mundane
details, although the latter quickly became the most
common. Less important than the content of those first
documents was that they were available free of charge
and anyone could write one. Instead of authority-based
decision-making, we relied on a process we called “rough
consensus and running code.” Everyone was welcome to
propose ideas, and if enough people liked it and used
it, the design became a standard.

After all, everyone understood there was a practical
value in choosing to do the same task in the same way.
For example, if we wanted to move a file from one
machine to another, and if you were to design the
process one way, and I was to design it another, then
anyone who wanted to talk to both of us would have to
employ two distinct ways of doing the same thing. So
there was plenty of natural pressure to avoid such
hassles. It probably helped that in those days we
avoided patents and other restrictions; without any
financial incentive to control the protocols, it was
much easier to reach agreement.

This was the ultimate in openness in technical design
and that culture of open processes was essential in
enabling the Internet to grow and evolve as
spectacularly as it has. In fact, we probably wouldn’t
have the Web without it.

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Sunday, April 05, 2009


I'm posting this from my car!

My wife just pointed out -- as she drove and I blogged -- that it's entirely unusual that I'm sitting in the right seat blogging away. And that ain't all. Anybody in another car within Wi-Fi reception range could also be using the Wi-Fi signal coming from my Autonet Mobile Router. I should have a bumper sticker that says, "Follow me, I have Wi-Fi."

Woah, I just remembered I've got a one gig cap on my service. What if the guy using my service in the other car was watching video or engaging in a hi-def video interaction? Or uploading his entire Flickr library??? Somebody snarfing my signal could use my whole month's quota in one trip to Boston!

In a future post, I'll tell you more about why quotas stink. I think I already know what Brett Glass would say. I won't get those bumper stickers printed up right away.

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F2C: Live blogging by David W

David Weinberger has developed an impressive skill at live blogging as he listens to lectures. He live-blogged most of the notable events at F2C: Freedom to Connect until he had to leave Tuesday mid-day to go make a living.

Here are pointers to David's posts on such F2C happenings as . . .
Stream and backchannel info
First panel (muni fiber super-session)
Tim Karr, Nathan James, Ellen Miller
Larry Keyes' Tele-health talk
Eva Sollberger's "Stuck in VT" video blog
Learning from previous muni-wifi experiments
Chris Savage, Derek Slater, Jon Peha
James Salter, Terry Huval, Geoff Daily
Commissioner Denton, CRTC
Kevin Werbach and Dan Gillmor

Nice job Dr. Weinberger!

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Friday, April 03, 2009


TR coverage of F2C: Freedom to Connect

Reporter Lynn Stanton, who covered F2C: Freedom to Connect for Telecommunications Reports earlier this week, has arranged TR's permission for me to publish her coverage here. The six stories below are all . . .

Copyright 2009, Telecommunications Reports. Reproduced with permission of Telecommunications Reports.

MARCH 30, 2009

SILVER SPRING, Md. - The question of the relative advantages of wireless and wireline broadband for unserved and underserved areas sparked heated debate during the Freedom to Connect (F2C) conference here this morning.

“Muni supersession” moderator Joanne Hovis, president of Columbia Telecommunications Corp., kicked off the debate by noting that unlike many conference panels, the panelists all agreed that municipal broadband networks were a good idea, and asked whether networks should be wired or wireless.

Dirk van der Woude, program manager-municipal broadband policy for Amsterdam, said that wireless broadband is convenient but slow. “And you need fiber for back haul,” he said.

Tim Nulty, president of ValleyFiber, Inc., a nonprofit telecom company in Vermont, discounted arguments that it is too expensive to bring fiber-to-the-home to rural America. “Every single home in America has a telephone. Why should it be harder to replace copper with fiber than it was [to put the copper in] in the first place? It’s not; it’s easier. The poles are already there,” and the cost of fiber is relatively less now than the price of copper when the copper network was being extended into rural America, he added.

From the audience, Mark Cooper, director-research at the Consumer Federation of America, said, “We’ve been advocating a combination of middle-mile fiber . . . [and] first-mile, cutting-edge wireless.” Using wireless at the network edge “enables you to get farther” for the same amount of money, and it provides a “two-fer” of mobility and connectivity that meets most needs, Mr. Cooper said.

Mr. Nulty responded, “I know the price I have to charge on wireless is twice what I have to charge on fiber.” He added that “giving away money is a bad idea” and that “rural fiber can pay its own way,” while rural wireless cannot. He said that covering 1,000 square miles with a shared 3.6 gigabits per second capacity wireless network would require “at least 200 installations, and 500 miles of fiber for backhaul - we’d only need 1,400 miles to get [fiber] to everybody” living in that 1,000 square miles.

Another panelist, Lev Gonick, chief information officer at Case Western Reserve University and founder of Cleveland’s One Community connectivity project, attempted to smooth over the disagreement. “This is a debate inside the family,” he said, adding, “We’re missing the opportunity of a lifetime” if proponents of ubiquitous broadband allow disagreements over technology to derail current momentum.
Bill Schrier, chief technology officer of the city of Seattle, also tried to smooth over the dispute, saying that wired and wireless broadband are “really symbiotic.”

Mr. Nulty said, “We absolutely intend to put a wireless cloud on top of our fiber network.”

In a separate session, Larry Keyes, a principal with Microdesign Consulting, Inc., demonstrated Telecare for Rural Home Health, a joint undertaking with the University of Vermont funded by the National Institute on Aging, in which senior patients who have fallen or who are at risk for falling receive interactive tai chi instruction over a broadband connection, although only 384 kilobits per second is required, he said. The project uses a set-top box - or DocBox - and participants were provided with broadband connections if they didn’t already have it. The video is shown on patients’ television sets, because “they already know how to use it, and it’s in the largest room in the house,” allowing space to perform the tai chi movements. - Lynn Stanton,

MARCH 30, 2009

SILVER SPRING, Md. - FCC chief technologist Jon Peha - expressing only his own opinions - said today that many of the frequently heard arguments about broadband “seem to me to be based on myths,” including the idea that there is less interest in broadband in rural areas and that the lack of broadband service doesn’t harm communities and those living there.

Speaking at the Freedom to Connect (F2C) conference produced by and, Mr. Peha, who is also a professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, said, “There is fascinating speculation about why a third less households in rural areas would want broadband. . . . [However] if you look at the percentage of households with Internet of any flavor, rural is only slightly behind,” because a larger percentage of subscribers use dial-up connections. “Maybe this means people in rural areas want access to the Internet, but they like it sl-o-o-o-w,” he joked. He noted that “roughly one-third of rural households do not have access to terrestrial broadband at any price, so maybe it’s not surprising that one-third fewer rural households subscribe.”

He also discounted the idea that if the market has produced fewer broadband subscribers in rural communities, the market must be right. He noted that market-based decisions don’t take into account benefits to those other than the purchaser. Communities without broadband miss out on the “spill-over effects,” or positive externalities, of broadband, such as small business creation, job creation, and increased property values, he said. Internet users outside the community also miss out on the ability to communicate via broadband with those in the unserved community.

Mr. Peha said another myth is that “unserved communities may not gain from broadband, but they aren’t harmed by the lack of broadband.” Applications were once optimized for dial-up users, but as broadband becomes more widespread, that changes, so that every year dial-up Internet access becomes less valuable to those without broadband. - Lynn Stanton,

MARCH 30, 2009

SILVER SPRING, Md. - A member of a panel on “muni networking failures” at the Freedom to Connect (F2C) conference here today disagreed with the premise of the session, saying that media reports of such failures have created a widely believed falsehood.

“Earthlink’s model [for a muni network] in Philadelphia failed; Philadelphia hasn’t failed,” said Esme Vos, founder of, which along with produced F2C. “As of December they had 137,000 users,” she said.

Ms. Vos also said that Philadelphia is moving to use the technology to operate wireless parking meters. “Cities aren’t just setting up wireless networks to provide free broadband but because of all these other things you can do,” she added. She cited “smart” water meters in other cities. She said that once people hear that the city broadband technology is going to save them money on their water bills, argument from a private-sector provider about the government competing with the private sector is “going to fall on deaf ears.”

However, Ken Biba, co-founder and chief technology officer of wireless data network advisory firm Novarum, said that the first generation of these municipal networks had failed because of “the impracticality of a free lunch” and “impossible expectations.” He added, “Free is not a sustainable business model.”

Mr. Biba also said, “Wired will always be faster and cheaper than wireless, but it ends where it ends. Wireless is the extension. They cooperate together.”

From the audience, David Young, Verizon Communications, Inc.’s vice president-federal regulatory affairs, asked why cities don’t just use commercially available wireless broad service. Mr. Biba said, “It’s too expensive. You can’t spend $60 a month per police car, and you don’t get uplink video.” - Lynn Stanton,

MARCH 31, 2009

SILVER SPRING, Md. - Speakers at the Freedom to Connect (F2C) conference here today addressed a range of issues, including traffic management, broadband grants and loans, and the changes at the FCC with the new presidential administration.

Kevin Werbach, a professor of legal studies at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School who was also a co-leader of the Obama FCC transition team, said that former FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin “accentuated the siloing of the agency” and that during his tenure “there was a hostility to new ideas coming up from the bottom. . . . He tended to have a very top-down approach.”

Under FCC Chairman-designate Julius Genachowski, “I think there’s going to be a willingness to explore” long-term ideas such as spectrum allocation that would serve future needs, Mr. Werbach offered.

Mr. Werbach said, “There really was a great sense of mission from people I worked with on the transition [such as his transition team co-leader Susan Crawford, who is rumored to be under consideration for a White House technology advisory position, as well as Mr. Genachowski]. Hold them to it. It’s hard to see beyond the fog of the Beltway.” He continued, “We’re going to need the whole country, and not just 52% of the country [to solve these issues].”

Another speaker, Terry Huval, director of Lafayette Utilities System in Lafayette, La., said in response to an audience question that the LUS broadband network, which only recently began offering service, is not prioritizing traffic. Responding to concern that providing cable TV service will lead LUS to behave like a private-sector provider and try to block or interfere with Internet-based video services, he said it was fine with LUS “if everybody in town buys Internet and gets all the video they want that way.”

Also in response to a question, Mr. Huval said LUS pays $50 to $60 per month per megabit per second.

Regarding implementation of the broadband provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Joanne Hovis, president of Columbia Telecommunications Corp., speaking in her role as a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, warned against playing into the hands of those who don’t want to see broadband competition by turning the funding application process into a battle between “metro” and rural interests.

Ms. Hovis also said, “We are a little bit concerned that there is a little bit of a conflict between [the states’] role as an adviser to [the National Telecommunications and Information Administration] and their role as potential applicants and we hope that NTIA will keep that in mind.”

From the audience, Mary Beth Henry of Portland, Ore., said her city hopes to win broadband funding under the ARRA to expand its telehealth application of remote monitoring, which allows the elderly to stay in their homes, to lower-income residents, and to fund a demand-side economic development program that helps small businesses see the benefits of using the Internet, as well as a video connection program on the education side that, among other things, would allow parents to participate in Parent Teacher Association meetings without leaving home.

The issue of wired versus wireless broadband continued to be raised, albeit with less heat than during yesterday’s discussions. Mr. Salter said, “I’m a proponent for fiber because I think you need big bandwidth for all this [demand-side management and other smart grid applications].” However, he acknowledged that the smart grid doesn’t require fiber, and that most companies rolling the technology out are using “hybrid systems, with fiber to a collection point and wireless to the meter.” He added, “I think the applications are going to require more and more bandwidth and that’s why I’m an advocate for fiber.”

The F2C conference was produced by and - Lynn Stanton,

MARCH 31, 2009

SILVER SPRING, Md. - Energy sector issues such as smarter networks, cleaner fuel sources, and demand management present opportunities to extend and boost broadband networks, according to speakers at the Freedom to Connect conference here today.

James Salter, founder of Atlantic Engineering, who spoke about electric utility “smart grids” and flattening peak demand, said, “When you’ve wired up all these houses for smart grid, you’ve wired up every house in America” for broadband Internet access, which has the added benefit of potentially reducing commuting and other transportation.

Billy Ray, chief executive officer of the Glasgow (Ky.) Electric Plant Board, said that a house’s “load shape” (over time) is determined by “the dumbest devices” in the house - thermostats on heaters, water heaters, refrigerators, and freezers, and that the sine wave load shape forces coal-powered plants to power up and power down, rather than operate most efficiently with a constant output.

Mr. Ray said that Glasgow has been putting IP (Internet protocol) addresses on all the thermostats to control them, but has discovered that neither it nor its power supplier - TVA (the Tennessee Valley Authority) - know “what to talk to the thermostats about.” Although he could not reveal the details, he said that Google, Inc., TVA, and Glasgow are working together on software to control the thermostats. “Some of you smart people need to write some software,” he told the audience.

Bill St. Arnaud, of CANARIE, Inc., said that the move to reduce carbon emissions is “an opportunity for our industry, because anything that reduces carbon emissions is eligible” to win some of the money that would be created by a requirement for offset payments, since producers of carbon emissions would pay for solutions to reduce emissions, rather than pay the government for producing emissions. Although there is $7.2 billion for broadband grants and loans in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, “there’s $645 billion if cap-and-trade goes through - that’s the market you want to tap,” he said.

Mr. St. Arnaud suggested that broadband could be used to “reward consumers with free video for reducing their carbon footprints,” noting that consumers are responsible for 65% of carbon emissions. He described a business model in which resellers of electrical and gas power could provide free high-speed Internet and fiber to the home as in incentive to reduce usage, with the added benefit that “the utility does all the billing and collection for you.”

However, Mr. St. Arnaud said, the information and communications technology industry must first “clean up our own act,” since it, too, is a producer of carbon emissions. - Lynn Stanton,

MARCH 31, 2009

SILVER SPRING, Md. - Some speakers at the Freedom to Connect (F2C) conference here this morning argued that opening broadband networks for use by competitors is a good idea for the network owners, although even in this pro-access venue there was some resistance to the idea.

Herman Wagter, chief executive officer of Citynet Amersterdam, said that sharing basic network infrastructure with competitors makes business sense and attracts investments.

Benoit Felten, a principal analyst at Yankee Group, said that, based on a theoretical greenfield business model, it would be virtually impossible to earn back a broadband network investment in less than 10 years unless you reach 30% penetration, or “more reasonably” 40%. Under those circumstances, competition on the incumbents’ network - open access - actually increases penetration because there are multiple sales forces working in the market. “And at 100% you can turn off your copper network, and that’s what really costs you,” he added.

Mr. Felten said that Dutch incumbent telco KPN said recently that it was “stupid in opposing open access 10 years ago” and that open access was actually in its interest.

In response to an audience question, Terry Huval, director of Lafayette Utilities System in Lafayette, La., well-known for its successful battle against private-sector broadband providers to be allowed to build and operate its own broadband network, said, “Until we get all our bonds paid off, our business model is our business model . . . . We’re not going to allow another cable TV provider or switched telephone provider [to operate] on our system.” The questioner, who said he was from UTOPIA (the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency ), said that the wholesale model works for Utopia. - Lynn Stanton,

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