Monday, November 22, 2010

The “Joy” of Proprietary Markets

I’m not fan of being locked into what a provider decides I want.  Apple’s Mac architecture, while certainly very good, is so closed up that it makes Windows look almost open source by comparison.  I’ve refused the Nook, and the Kindle, in favor of the Sony Reader because I don’t want to be locked to Amazon, or Barnes & Noble.  But I can go to both, should I choose.

And when the iPhone came out, I have to say that its capabilities impressed me.  And then I saw how Apple was locking it down, fighting the crowd that wanted to “jailbreak” it and make it a phone they could use on any carrier.  And let’s not forget how Apps are locked out if Apple does not deign to include them in iTunes.

Blackberry and Windows Mobile have been far more open to adjustment.  I could go to literally hundreds of sites and find the software that I wanted at (almost literally) whatever price I was or was not willing to pay.  App store?  Pshaw!  Handango has been around since before 3G was a term for cellular data.

Sadly, Microsoft and RIM seem to be learning all the wrong lessons from Apple, as they start to “provide” app stores of their own, and to make it ever harder to “sideload” applications from independent sites.  Google has earned my trust with Android’s relative openness, but I see AT&T locking down certain Android phones to only the Google Market Place, and I despair.  Fingers crossed on Windows Phone 7, but we’ll see.

And then I read a blog article over at MSNBC about Apple’s iOS 4.2 update.  Seems Apple has advertised all sorts of new features and functions… but there are caveats.  Special hardware to buy, and limited forms of same.

It’s almost enough to send me back to “dumb” phones.



Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Going Out On My Own

Neticulars has not been a big venture for me. As my posting history shows, I've gone whole months without an entry. As I move into the New Year, I've decided that 2010 will be the year that (among other things) I start taking this seriously. One of the things I've already done to make that so is that I've acquired the domain "" and I'll be running the blog from there from now on.

Soon, if Blogger permits, I'll be redirecting this there, although Wordpress is already setup and running on So head on over. I hope to start doing some other stuff there, too. We'll see. from now on.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Fighting For The Connected World

It seems like end users and service providers have had near-constant tension as mobile Internet technology has come to the forefront of the business. The iPhone launched to mega-hype and mega-anticipation, with users lined up 'round the block on launch day. Although it *does* seem like the lines are getting shorter with each new iteration. But AT&T has been putting out increasingly aggressive language relating to a 5GB monthly data traffic limitation on iPhone data plans. This limitation has been in place for some time on their USB and hardware integrated data devices. And while 5GB is no small amount of data, the simple fact is that this world is becoming increasingly expectant of data basically anywhere and everywhere people go. Likewise, Verizon Wireless has issued a statement that it is raising it's ETF (Early Termination Fee), the fee a customer must pay to break service before said customer has completed a previously agreed contract commitment, usually two years, and who purchases a so-called "advanced" device with them.

AT&T's efforts to limit data usage are nothing new, except in now applying it to iPhone users. It seems that the various apps available for the iPhone has encouraged a small but significant population to vastly exceed that 5GB limit, and that, according to AT&T, is what led to the limitation, which it (along with the other four nationwide, and most of the regional and/or virtual network operators like Cricket, US Cellular, and so on) already had in place for other devices and plans. However, I should point out that net books and other portable PC's with either integrated or add-on devices (i.e. USB and ExpressCard data cards) could just as easily outdistance this, to me, arbitrary limit, and do so even more easily than the iPhone. Increasingly, netbooks and similar laptop PC's are coming with integrated microphones, speakers, and even Web cameras, all inviting greater and more frequent mobile communications right through the PC's own Internet connection.

Sprint has been noted for already refusing to match Verizon's ETF increase. Another note is that, as "4G" Wimax service is launched in various cities, the Wimax service plan is quite explicit in announcing that this service is unlimited. It's even quite clear in pointing out that, where a device is also capable of 3G data service (via Sprint's EV-DO/Cellular network), the 3G remains with a 5GB monthly cap. In fact, Wimax just launched in my area, Chicago. I'm tempted to sign up and try it out.

I'm curious to see how long the unlimited option on Wimax will hold. There is some uncertainty among industry experts whether people will purchase that plan. Of particular note is that Wimax is basically an independent wireless service designed to be data-only, although rumors persist that Wimax phones are on the way. I'm not clear whether that refers to Sprint cell phones with an extra radio for Wimax access, or if the phones will oeprate exclusively on Wimax where available.

What is clear, however, is that cellular providers do not view their networks as capable of supporting the kind of mobile usage that netbooks and increasingly sophisticated smartphones seem to be bringing end users to expect. Unless and until such tension between service providers and service users is relieved in some fashion, I suspect the mobile data industry is headed for a period of stagnation. Users aren't likely to widely adopt what they perceive to be an unsatisfactorily limited data service, and carriers seem unwilling to engage in the kinds of network infrastructure that would be able to support such a demand. Let's not forget, either, that many communities remain in NIMBY mode when it comes to permitting carriers to carry out that infrastructure work.

In the end, it's not a simple case of blaming carriers *or* end users. Blame, even if properly assigned, isn't going to resolve this tension. So an answer is the right direction to take. Perhaps that answer lies in the extended service range of a service like Wimax. Perhaps it lies in higher bandwidth cellular options like LTE or (the virtually dead) EV-DV. Perhaps another wireless technology is waiting in the wings somewhere. Or, more likely in my opinion, users and carriers need to work together to match expectations with technologies. Because, I suspect, there is a fairly vast void between the two right now, and the carriers have found themselves on the wrong side of those expectations. Regardless if why that is so, it is in carriers' own best interests to work with customers, rather than implementing punitive policies like Verizon's new ETF (which, by the way, is drawing FCC ire).


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Flash vs Substance

I like to keep up on currents and trends in tech. I want to read up on where Information Technology is going, not going, selling, developing, and so on. But I want substance in that information. And, lately, I'm not getting it. What am I getting?

Slideshows. 5 important technologies, 15 books to read, I can't go a full business day without another email with a link to another slideshow. Another Flash slideshow. Not flashy, although I'm sure that the Web developers think otherwise. Flash. See, it appears that some genius in some editorial back room decided that, since a picture is worth 1,000 words, what do 10 pictures do for us?

As it turns out, not much at all. Using Flash to tie together some grouping of uninformative pictures with two or three sentences off to one side, that's not reporting, or journalism. It's a way to squeeze 10,000 useless words into some vapid, ADHD-induced puppet show that says nothing, informs no one, and leaves the reader with time they will never get back, and that accomplished nothing.

Ziff-Davis, CNET, and all the magazines you Borg'd into your respective organizations, what exactly is the business you're in? If it's to simply toss content out into the Internet and see what people will click on, keep on keeping on. You're there. If, instead, you're looking to be a relevant source of Information Technology insight and relevant information, someone needs to be fired in your editorial department.

I said above that I can't go one day without another vapid link to another vapid slideshow built in Flash. Actually, I lied. I've just gone a week without an email like that.

I unsubscribed to everything ZD, CNET, et al, put out. I haven't had to sit through a slide show in more than a week.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Let the Jihad Continue

I’m a Windows guy, I must admit.  I realize that Microsoft is a flawed company, and in some very big ways in certain criteria.  Likewise, Windows has some serious flaws.  But Without Microsoft, and Windows, the personal computer industry, if it survived at all, would be a two-player game, IBM and Apple.  Where would open source be now if that had held true?

Now, having said that, there’s some good reasoning behind the Crusade of Open vs Closed source.  Some of it even shows up in this editorial at Ziff-Davis.  Like when Dana Blankenhorn states:

In many open source companies, especially early stage open source companies, programmers have enormous power. Getting a project committer onto your team is a real coup for an open source company trying to monetize that project with support contracts.

Some of the best open source companies out there are led by project leaders. And some programmers do drink Jolt Cola.

But just because salesmen wear alligator shoes and some programmers wear Crocs does not mean that open source is being run by hippies. Mario Batali likes Crocs and he’s as serious a businessman as you’ll find.

OK, fair ‘nuff.  There’s some stereotyping in play among the analyst press.  But, wait, are we really going to complain about straw men when this very same editorial tries to tell us:

It costs nothing to try open source, so instead of selling you’re converting users into buyers of service.

Open source is also a big enemy of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD), which often defined success in the 1980s. It’s hard to talk about what you might offer when everyone can see what you do offer and add to it if they want.

It costs nothing?  Wrong.  It takes time, effort, learning, training, and sometimes, as with the Vyatta open source router I’m trying to implement, it takes searching through informal user forums and waiting 24+ hours for email responses to make progress.

There’s a cost, alright.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but don’t tell me it doesn’t exist.  And try not to complain about straw men while positioning a few of your own.

And so the Jihad continues.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Relying on Tech to Save a Life

A story out of Iowa recounts the experience of a woman who lost her husband to a heart attack.  A sad outcome, a sad story.  I feel for her.  But…

[The woman] claims instead of going to the Cerro Gordo County Dispatch Center, the call was routed to a 911 call center in Cedar Rapids.

The lawsuit claims valuable time was lost getting Rick Poole to Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa due to the rerouting of the 911 call.

Minutes *do* matter in times like this.  Seconds, even.  So I can appreciate this woman’s situation, and her feelings.  As I understand Iowa, Cedar Rapids is about 150 miles from where her husband had his heart attack.  I don’t think this counts as a frivolous lawsuit, though I equally an unsure she deserves to win, just based on the merits of her argument.

See, I think we forget sometimes just how huge the United States really is.  We pick up this tiny piece of electronics, press a few buttons, and we are speaking with someone who may more than a thousand miles away.  And we’re used to that.

But the technology that goes into making that happen is very complex, and it’s not all a technical issue, either.  Decisions have to be made in a way that everyone agrees is a proper method for splitting this entire country up into appropriate routing zones (CSA’s and MSA’s).  Most of us now never grew up in a system where the distance over which your call was sent played a role in the cost of that call.

And in this case, another part of the problem is that it’s not just up to cell phone carriers to get this right.  The 911 centers are run by state and local authorities that have to make the necessary upgrades to participate in this kind of technology.  Was the “Cerro Gordo County Dispatch Center” configured with the necessary systems?  This might all come out as this proceeds.  IF it proceeds.  US Cellular just might choose to settle rather than fight it out in court.  And maybe that’s not unreasonable.

But maybe it *is* unreasonable that we take that kind of technology for granted like that.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Copyright Isn’t Just About Filesharing

When I first went online as an AOL newbie, one of the first discussions I got into was about copyright.  It wasn’t a long discussion.  3, maybe 4 posts back and forth with someone.  A person had written something to one of the discussion boards on AOL, and I said I was going to steal it.  I was reminded that AOL Terms of Service at that time reserved copyright to anything posted to their boards.  Only the person who wrote the item had license to use it beyond that board.

That got my attention.  I’m no lawyer, and I couldn’t even begin to start citing all the legal precedents surrounding copyright law.  But that wakeup served as a kind of “shot across the bow” to me, made me realize that this wonderful online world of sharing information was also going to be a hotbed of controversy around the idea of “owning” ideas.

While I think the “battle” between music listeners and the recording industry, and movie watchers and the movie industry both provide clear illustrations of this, I’m much more concerned with the ownership of the written word.  Everyone’s written word.  At issue is what right you have to (potentially or actually) profit from, and retain ownership of, the ideas and opinions that you express.

Some time ago, US Copyright Law was changed such that you didn’t have to actively obtain the registered “license” known as a copyright to have copyright ownership of the materials you produce.  Here’s a link that provides some good explanation of the how’s and why’s of registration.  If copyright infringement comes to a lawsuit, that’s important information.  It affects what you do and don’t get even if you win such a suit.

But, more important, I think, is an associated concept called “Fair Use.”  This is not a clear-cut and easily defined right.  As a layman advocate for Fair Use, I generally use the US Copyright Office, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation for guidance.  Fair Use rights give us some limited rights to borrow a bit of someone else’s published work for the purposes of education, discussion, and debate.  But the right has limits.  We cannot use the entire work.  Not even if we provide full reference (ISBN number, URL/Web Link, etc).  And we have to… well… to discuss it, talk about it.  We can’t simply paste it somewhere cite the source, and that’s it.

And this is something we the users, the talkers, have to discuss.  In many ways, Web site operators with user discussion forums, they’re shielded by something called the Digitial Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA).  There’s a “Service Provider Exemption” (my term, not theirs) that protects the forum operator, as long as the operator has a policy and a system in place for dealing with copyright violations.  So the original publisher isn’t going to sue Delphi Forums, or Howardforums, or  They are going to sue you.  If it gets to that.

Fair Use isn’t a well-defined legal code.  How much of a published work can you use, for example?  From what I understand, the law is all over the place on that.  There isn’t a percent, or number of words standard for it.  Just realize that the more you cite of someone’s work, even if you give them proper credit, the closer you come to violating this.  And Web site operators who ignore this run the risk of losing that DMCA shield I mentioned above.  So it’s worth everyone’s effort to at least be familiar with Fair Use, and gain an understanding of what it clearly does, and does not, permit.