Humor for the Holidays: Free comic clips from Ross "Duck Lord of Absurd Lib" Noble

As a Christmas New Year Hogmanay holiday gift and/or coping mechanism, British comedian Ross Noble has placed a series of clips from his shows in Australia on YouTube. This one is titled "Duck Lord."

Genetic Self-Gifting: Give yourself DNA self-knowledge

Holiday self-gifting is a term I don't recall hearing last century, so I'm thinking that the idea of giving yourself something for the holidays is a relatively new concept (please add a comment if you think I'm wrong about that).

Also new, relative to the tens of thousands of years that humans have been seeking self-knowledge, is DNA and our genetic makeup.  In this post I'm going to make the case for giving yourself a genetic test, a gift basket of chromosomic revelation (not sure if that's a real word, but hopefully you get the idea).

This gift is available now, specially priced, for a limited time only, at $99 (plus a few extra fees). Of course, I realize that genetic testing is controversial. Some people have strong feelings about genetic testing and not all of them favorable. So let me make some disclaimers right off the bat.

  1. I don't own any stock in, or have any relationship with www.23andme.com which is the site that is offering the genetic test that I talk about in this post.

  2. I don't get any referral fees or other payments if you act on this suggestion.

  3. I don't think you should order a genetic test over the Internet unless you have read at least one book about the human genome, genetic ancestry, or genetic medical conditions, or been through genetic counseling.


The fact is, learning about your genetic makeup can be life-changing, and it can be traumatic. This is not something you do just for kicks. You do it for knowledge, about yourself and, by genetic implication, your family. For example, as attentive readers will know, my wife suffers from a genetic condition that has made her life miserable. It's called hereditary hemochromatosis. But if she had known about this when she was 18, or 21, or 30, there is a good chance her health today would be a lot better than it is. (Technically speaking she couldn't have known about it before 1996, because that's when the genetic connection was established but knowing in 1998 versus 2008 would have made a big difference.)

Human KaryotypeThat's just one of the things that a comprehensive genetic test can do, alert you to genetic conditions that can be treated, enabling you to get treated sooner rather than later, which is almost always the better way to go.

Genetic testing can also tell you where you came from, as in way back before family trees were written down on paper. From previous genetic testing, purchased from Oxford Ancestors, I know it is quite likely my maternal roots go back Ursula, who was probably born about 45,000 years ago in the mountains of Greece.

On the paternal side my roots go back "to 25,000 years ago in the Ukraine." In that particular scheme of things I am Clan Wodan. Men with the same genetic code today are found predominantly in northern and western Europe," although the same coding is also found extensively in Armenia and Georgia where 40% of the inhabitants are members of the Wodan genetic clan.

Has this knowledge made a difference to my life? I think it has, but I couldn't tell you why, not yet. I'm still processing that information. And I'm also waiting to see what ancestral data 23 and Me turns up. For example, there is a story in my family that goes like this: My paternal grandmother once said her own grandmother was a gypsy, as in "smoking a clay pipe on the steps of a painted wooden caravan" person of Romani descent, which I think is awesome if it proves to be genetically plausible.

To put this in context, all the genetic data I have about myself right now suggests a totally European, and predominantly Northern European origin. In the vernacular you might say: Stephen is a pretty much the definition of "white guy" as proven by any photo of him in swimming trunks (these are mercifully rare). However, given the way my views on life have evolved, I think a little diversity in the mix would be very cool. (Not to mention the fact that genetic proof of a Romani connection would alter my family's perception of grandma, whose recollection of her Romani origins is suspected of being a romantic fantasy.)

So here's the deal on getting yourself some genetic self-knowledge: It's $99 plus a 12 month subscription to the 23 and Me Personal Genome Service, which is $5 per month. The normal price for this is close to $500 (I know because I seriously considered buying it about 3 months ago but decided I had higher financial priorities). Here's how 23 and Me works:

  1. You pay $99 online and get your saliva collection kit in the mail about a week later.

  2. You collect your saliva and send it back for the DNA therein to be analyzed.

  3. You get online access to the results in about 7 weeks, make that about 8 or 9 weeks from your order, according to turn-around time on your end and theirs.


So it's not about immediate gratification, but the amount of data you eventually get is impressive. This includes a bunch of ancestral data plus 179 health-related results, including carrier status and disease risk (examples being Cystic Fibrosis, Gaucher Disease, Hemochromatosis, Sickle Cell Anemia & Malaria Resistance, Tay-Sachs Disease, see the list here).

The Personal Genome Service, which will start billing to your credit card at $5 per month only after you get your initial results, provides alerts when new discoveries are made about your DNA--like new markers--plus tools to view raw data and alerts when relatives are discovered (this is optional--you won't be contacted by anyone unless you give explicit permission).

Now, fair warning: I based the above 2 paragraphs on the claims made by 23 and Me on their website. I cannot guarantee satisfaction or that the company will perform as promised. That includes the very important promise to keep your results confidential.

For the record, I should state that I am a very open person. I tend to tell people a lot about myself ("too much" I hear someone say). To me, the security and confidentiality aspect of DNA testing is not too worrying. Could an insurance company get access to my DNA test results and deny me insurance? Frankly, it would not surprise me if they did, but then again I have a low opinion of the ethical standards enforced by insurance companies (which is not the same as saying everyone who works for an insurance company has low morals). Anyway, I'm going to order this test and live with the risk. Why? Because I want to know more about who I am, and there are worse risks out there than other people finding out the truth about me.

Let me be clear. I am of the opinion that the more people know about their DNA, personally and in general, the better. This is consistent with a broad belief I have in the power of transparency. Not everyone feels the same way, but I'd like to change that, through gentle persuasion. So I'm going to report back on my experience with 23 and Me and my DNA discoveries. I'm not promising to reveal everything, but I will share the interesting stuff and let you know what I think of the service.

So, if you don't gift yourself a DNA test for the 2010 holidays, maybe you will be ready by next year, after you read about my adventures in genome-land.

Driveway to Heaven? Snow time for romanticism, plow on

As attentive readers of this blog know, I live up a hill in Upstate New York. In the Winter it snows a lot up here. That means my wife and I have a lot of plowing to do on the long driveway leading from the nearest county road to our cabin. A few years ago I shot some video while taking a run down the drive with our plowing machine, a 4x4 Arctic Cat 400 ATV fitted with a Warn plow. Then I added some music and made it into a holiday greeting. Because I've met a lot of new people since then, I thought I would re-share.



If you don't see a video play button visible in the box above, you can see the video on YouTube by clicking here.

What you are looking at in the video is a driver's eye view of the snow plow going down the middle third of the drive after about 18 inches of accumulated snow fall. Note that this part of the drive faces West, the direction of the prevailing winds here. If the wind had been blowing while I was plowing, which it often does, I would have been too darn cold to do any film work. The ATV is only going about 10 miles an hour, but add a 10 knot wind to that, with a temp of around 15 degrees F (around minus 10 C) and you have a pretty nasty, face-freezing windchill going on. I'm talking tears in the eyes and glasses fogging up if you don't have your face scarf on just right.

So, while we wish you a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year, bear in mind that the winter wonderland you see in this video is not always so wonderful. Here's hoping the world is spared the worst of Old Man Winter in 2011.

Does Verizon's 150 Mbps FiOS Spell Disaster for Rural America

You might not think there could be any downside to Verizon's rollout of150 Mbps FiOS service, but you'd be wrong, at least in the minds of many Americans who, like me, live in rural areas that have no broadband service.

What's the downside? Something I've dubbed the rural death spiral, wherein people leave rural areas because they have no broadband, leading to a decline in property values because very few people want to buy a house that lacks broadband, even if they are not Internet users themselves (few people do, or should, buy a house without thinking of its resale value, which depends, in part, on broad appeal, not just appealing to the few people left in America for whom broadband is unappealing).

And as property values fall, so do local tax revenues, leading to declines in services, schools, and infrastructure maintenance, leading to further population declines, and further property value declines. A spiral headed down.

How does the new Verizon FiOS offering play into this? It highlights the fact that Verizon's focus is on high-end urban broadband, not rural communications. I suspect that Verizon would love to stop providing me and my neighbors with landline phone service if they could (thank Congress there has been a law on the books for decades that requires them to keep the lines working but who knows how long that will withstand lobbying pressure in the new Congress).

The other factor is the push that FiOS gives to broadband assumptions. More and more companies assume that people have more and more broadband. Last week Apple cheerfully issued a 680Mb operating system upgrade as an online patch. Try installing that without broadband!

Our government increasingly employs video and PDF documents to inform its citizenry, assuming they have broadband. I've been paying for a NetFlix "movies-by-mail" account that includes streaming video, which is not going to happen without broadband, and so on. You can forgive rural residents for think faster FiOS is one more nail in the coffin for communities that lack broadband.

Verizon FiOS Speeds Up To 150 Mbps | News & Opinion | PCMag.com

2 Butt-Saving SaaS Keystrokes You Need to Know to Avoid Losing Your Online Work

If you use a computer in your work you have probably noticed that more and more of your time at the computer is spent with a SaaS, as in Software as a Service. And I bet there have been times when that SaaS has bitten you in the @ss...in other words, it has lost the work you were doing. This blog post offers a simple technique that enables you to recover when that happens, whether at work or at home.

The classic example of a business SaaS is Salesforce.com, widely used for the important task of tracking the people with whom you do business. You don't install the Salesforce software on your computer you connect with it through a web browser. The same is true of Google Docs. This is software that lets you do word processing and create spreadsheets and presentations, but it "lives" on Google computers, not your computer.

In fact, blogs like this one are also SaaS. The software that lets me edit and present this blog post is on a Google computer and I operate that computer via a web browser. Even Facebook and Twitter can be considered examples of SaaS, particularly when it comes to trashing your work. What do I mean by that? Here's a scenario to which many can relate:

You spend time crafting a paragraph of words that are being typed into a text box in a web browser. You then click Save or Send or Submit or Update, whatever the button is called for that particular page. And nothing happens, or something happens but it's not good, the page reloads and your carefully crafted paragraph of words has disappeared. Sometimes there is an error displayed, like "Server Error" or "Authentication Failed" or the polite but infuriating: "Sorry, we cannot complete your request at this time." The point is, polite as the site might be, it has lost your work.

So how do you recover from this? I make it a habit to use two keystrokes right before I click Save. These keystrokes are: Ctrl-A and Ctrl-C in Windows; Apple-A and Apple-C on a Mac. These two keystrokes select All the contents of the text entry box and Copy them to the Clipboard, that slice of computer memory you use to copy things from one place to another. Then, if the SaaS that I am using somehow loses the contents that I just asked it to Save, I still have them, preserved in the Clipboard.

I have a second, more advanced strategy for serious work with a SaaS. If I am editing a particularly long piece of text, maybe a major blog post, I use Ctrl-A followed by Ctrl-C, as above, then I switch to an open document file that is local--for example Notepad or TextMate or even OpenOffice Writer--and press Ctrl-V. That pastes the contents of the Clipboard into a document that is independent of the web browser. If the SaaS crashes I still have my work. I could take that a step further and press Ctrl-S for Save after pasting into the document. That enables the work to survive a computer crash, should the SaaS behave really badly.

The whole process can be carried out very quickly, particularly if you are comfortable with the Tab commands for switching applications. So on a Windows machine where you have Firefox and OpenOffice Writer running it would go like this:

Ctrl-A, Ctrl-C while editing the SaaS text box in Firefox
Alt-Tab to switch to OpenOffice
Ctrl-V and Ctrl-S to paste the text and save it.
Alt-Tab to return to the SaaS in Firefox
Execute Save/Submit command in the SaaS

If you are using a Mac the sequence is the same but the keys are even easier:

Apple-A, Apple-C while editing the SaaS text box in Firefox
Apple-Tab to switch to OpenOffice
Apple-V and Apple-S to paste the text and save it.
Apple-Tab to return to the SaaS in Firefox
Execute Save/Submit command in the SaaS

Having lost more typing than I care to remember due to browser-based applications failing to save as instructed, these preventative keystrokes are second nature to me. When the work is a series of paragraphs I may save to the clipboard as I go. BTW, as an added bonus, saving to a local document file is a handy way to keep a record of your work (for example, I write a lot of comments on blog posts and some blogs just seem to lose them or fail to approve them, casting my well-chosen words into the ether, but I have a record of them in my local files).

The risks to your SaaS are not all equal. Some applications that involve extensive text entry perform periodic auto-saving (in the case of Google Docs I find the auto-save is actually too frequent). And a lot of work in programs like Salesforce consists of small pieces of data entered in a series of fields or indicated by radio buttons or checkboxes. These tend to be saved more reliably. It is in places like a "Comments" or "Notes" section that you can spend a lot of time getting your words right only to find you have to write them all over again (unless you used the preventative keystrokes described above).

Narrowband Wastelands? Of rural America, death spirals, and the Narrow Belt

Looking back they will say: "It could have been avoided." They will say: "If only the government had been more effective, if only the telecommunication conglomerates had been less greedy."

Somewhere it will be noted that, back in the Fall of 2010, somebody wrote:

Narrowband wastelandThe fact that tens of millions of people living in America's rural communities lack adequate access to broadband services (data, video, voice over Internet) is painfully apparent when you drive beyond the suburbs.

Some rural communities have broadband, others do not. Some of the latter are waiting to receive expanded broadband access that is being created with the help of federal stimulus spending, others are not.

And for this last group, the places that didn't make the cut for stimulus grants, the places that appear to be of zero interest to the nation's telecomm companies, the future looks grim. Such places may be destined to become narrowband wastelands, stagnant economic backwaters.

The fact is, during the last five years broadband has become an essential part of our national infrastructure, the dominant channel of communication for industry, enterprise, employment, medicine, government, education, and entertainment. Communities that do not have access to broadband are increasingly considered "off the grid" and out of the mainstream. In short, not the kind of place in which your kids or grand-kids will want to live or work.

By 2015 you will have trouble selling or renting any property that does not have access to broadband, and that means lower property values, which means lower tax revenues, which will impact schools and infrastructure, which will further reduce property values. In short, a death spiral.

Those patches and swathes of America's countryside where the only Internet access options are dialup or satellite will become narrowband wastelands: The Narrow Belt. This Narrow Belt faces a spiral of accelerating economic decline at least as pernicious as that which devastated the Rust Belt.

Sure, if you lower your prices you still may be able to sell or rent in the Narrow Belt, but only to members of that increasingly rare group of people who think that Internet technology is just a passing fad, an unnecessary distraction, or a violation of some divine plan. We all know that is a rapidly shrinking pool of potential property buyers (with the possible exception of the Amish, who are expanding their rural holdings).

Furthermore, but often overlooked, there is this fact: Even those people who have no personal interest in broadband are aware that most other people do. Even the unconnected can see that connection adds value, lack of connection subtracts. Face it, as a factor in property valuation, access to broadband is here to stay; confinement to narrowband is now a form of property blight.

We are approaching the fourth quarter of 2010. The federal broadband stimulus funds have been allocated. If your home or community does not yet have access to broadband and is not part of a stimulus-backed broadband build-out, you need to start thinking about the alternatives (if you have not already). As I explore these alternatives, I will keep you posted.

The only way to save rural America from becoming a narrowband wasteland may be for the people who live there to take matters into their own hands. Let us hope they do so in a constructive way.

Notes:

A. Satellite Internet: For a variety of technical reasons, which I will be describing in my forthcoming whitepaper, satellite should be considered narrowband and not broadband. The latency of satellite Internet is worse than dialup and satellite's capacity constraints and bandwidth caps mean high speed data transfers are only available in short bursts. As providers like HughesNet state themselves, satellite is not recommend for, or does not support, five technologies at the core of any functional definition od broadband: streaming video, VPN, VoIP, real-time trading, and large file downloads like security patches and other software updates for operating systems and productivity applications.

B. The Amish: I am not qualified to comment on what the Amish think of the Internet, but I have a strong hunch you will see a correlation between expansion of Amish farms and the narrowband wasteland.

Carrier pigeons are faster than rural broadband!

Brilliant way to demonstrate rural broadband disparities!

Our hats are off to our UK counterparts. I think a walking man carrying a hard drive between two villages in Upstate New York is next. The lack of broadband is stifling life in America's farm country and the telcos should be ashamed to run their cables through here without providing local service.

Carrier pigeons are faster than rural broadband - Telegraph: "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

Not So Big Foot: Time Warner Business Class says "You are outside the TWC footprint "

When we read this email from Time Warner Business Class they might as well have said "You are outside the TWC footprint and man is that going to cost you."

Two months have passed since we got this message informing us that Time Warner Cable Business Class was not going to honor its contract to supply us with broadband (see previous post for more details). So we thought it would be a good idea to publish the email so people can see for themselves the preposterous sum of "over $100,000" quoted for rural broadband access. We assume that they assumed we did not have over $100k on hand.
Time Warner Cable Business Class email
Note that we have obscured contact info to protect the TWC employee who at least had the courtesy to communicate with us (although they managed to spell my name wrong).

Of Nerds and Whitepapers, Satellites and Cynics

You know you are a nerd if...You spend your spare time writing technical whitepapers. And that's what I've been doing. Apparently, it's not nerdy enough that, for the last two years, I have spent at least 40 hours a week--and often many more--working on contract for a software company for whom, among other things, I write whitepapers. No, in my spare time I feel compelled to write more.

Not that the world is papered with my whitepapers. Many don't see the light of day, not because they're not good, but because a whitepaper often has to hit a moving target and few targets move faster than a software startup. However, I will soon be releasing one of my "spare time" whitepapers because the target is, as I see it, frozen in the headlights of public attention.

That target is the terrestrial telcos, the nation's broadband providers, the folks making loads of money delivering big fat juicy bandwidth to urban and suburban consumers, maximizing their profits by avoiding servicing the rural areas through which their bandwidth passes on its way from one profit center to another.

This seems to be a very American problem. In many civilized countries there are universal service requirements with respect to broadband (as there are in America with respect to telephone service). In order to stave off broadband service requirements in America the terrestrial telcos have formed an alliance with the non-terrestrial telcos, that is, the satellite Internet service providers. The strategy? Convince politicians and government regulators that every rural American can get broadband (without the need for running fiber optic cable or coaxial cable or DSL phone lines) because satellite Internet service is available everywhere. The problem I have with this is summed up in the title of my forthcoming whitepaper: SATELLITE IS NOT BROADBAND.

That's right, satellite is not broadband and it never will be. And the terrestrial telcos know this. The non-terrestrial telcos say as much on their own websites. (The short version: there's too much latency and not enough capacity, so satellite Internet cannot realistically support VPN, streaming movies, real-time trading, VoIP, automated software patching, interactive learning systems, or SaaS applications.)

Despite this, the strategy of "Let them eat satellite" is being pursued by lobbyists in state capitals and our nation's capitol. For example, the FCC website at www.broadband.gov now lists satellite as a broadband option, which is like the U.S. Department of Transportation saying motorcycles are an interstate freight delivery option. The bankrolling of this cynical hoax by the terrestrial telcos upsets me for a variety of reasons, the most immediate being:

a. Where I live we can't get proper broadband right now (Time Warner Cable's business division recently told me it would cost "over $100,000" to bring cable to my home office, even though they offer cable service less than 5 miles from here).

b. We can't afford to change where we live (that's not the fault of the terrestrial telcos, although they do seem to be guilty of perpetuating an attitude that says "If you can't get broadband where you live, just move to one of our service areas").

c. I recently committed myself to raising public awareness of a potentially fatal genetic disorder, widespread ignorance of which causes much needless pain and suffering. This project would go a lot better if my current Internet connection didn't suck so badly. (You can see the first phase of the project at www.CelticCurse.org.)

d. My current Internet connection is satellite Internet service, which is NOT broadband.

So, as I prep the presses for this whitepaper, I am marshaling my arguments and rounding up my footnotes. My hope is to provide--in the form of a well-argued and well-documented whitepaper--powerful ammunition for the patriotic forces of fairness and justice now arrayed against the self-interested terrestrial telcos.

ATELLITE IS NOT BROADBAND



Biden announces $1.8 billion broadband stimulus awards

I think the operative word here is begin: because we still have a long way to go and it is now clear that the stimulus money will run out long before all of America's rural communities have access to true broadband connectivity (i.e. something other than over-priced satellite service with its crippling latency and crushing usage caps):
“Today’s investment in broadband technology will create jobs across the country and expand opportunities for millions of Americans and American companies. In addition to bringing 21st century infrastructure to underserved communities and rural areas, these investments will begin to harness the power of broadband to improve education, health care, and public safety,” said Vice President Biden. -- Biden announces $1.8 billion broadband stimulus awards | MuniWireless
Don't get me wrong, I truly appreciate the Obama-Biden Plan putting rural broadband on the national agenda. But until the regulators get serious about making telecommunication companies give more back to the communities they run their cables through, but whose needs they by-pass, well the future will continue to look bleak for millions of rural homes and businesses.

The Cost of Digital Exclusion: Rural Minnesota waits for high-speed Internet

Some great coverage here of how the America's telcos are choking off business for rural Americans:
Bruce Kerfoot summed up an equally pressing issue at the summit. He owns Gunflint Lodge near Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area.

Kerfoot said his family recently decided to vacation in a remote Swiss village. It took them two minutes to make an online reservation at the resort they had chosen. "There is not one person in Europe who can make an online reservation with me," Kerfoot said.

Further, Kerfoot said he hasn't had a foreign visitor all year while half the customers at Canadian wilderness resorts in the Rockies have come from Asia where travelers overwhelmingly prefer to book online.

Living in remote and rugged northeastern Minnesota, Kerfoot is among some 100,000 households in the state that don't have broadband. And he can't get it even if he wants to pay for it.

Federal Government Buys Into a Telco-sponsored Oxymoron: Satellite Broadband

Here's how the federal government perpetuates the myth that satellite internet service is broadband:
Just as satellites orbiting the earth provide necessary links for telephone and television service, they can also provide links for broadband. Satellite broadband is another form of wireless broadband, and is also useful for serving remote or sparsely populated areas. [Satellite is NOT broadband]

Downstream and upstream speeds for satellite broadband depend on several factors, including the provider and service package purchased, the consumer’s line of sight to the orbiting satellite, and the weather. Typically a consumer can expect to receive (download) at a speed of about 500 Kbps and send (upload) at a speed of about 80 Kbps. These speeds may be slower than DSL and cable modem, but they are about 10 times faster than the download speed with dial-up Internet access. Service can be disrupted in extreme weather conditions. [And you cannot use it for real-time commodities trading, VPN, VoIP, or watching videos, movies, TV, etc.]

Types of Broadband Connections - Broadband.gov

List of Rural Broadband Projects Funded August 5

This week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the funding of 126 new Recovery Act broadband infrastructure projects to help create jobs and provide rural residents in 38 states and Native American tribal areas access to improved service.

The announcement is part of the second round of USDA broadband funding through the Recovery Act. A complete list of projects receiving Recovery Act broadband grant awards today can be viewed in full by clicking here. PrecisionAg.com - More Rural Broadband Projects Funded

Rural Poor to Get Poorer? 14 to 24 million Americans lack access to broadband

From International Business Times:
"In March, the FCC introduced the comprehensive National Broadband Plan. The FCC says somewhere in the range of 14 to 24 million Americans lack access to broadband internet connections. Most live in poorer, sparsely populated rural communities." -- FCC's National Broadband Plan Comes Under Fire
Those poorer rural communities are only going to get poorer if they don't get broadband. No broadband = lower property values; apart from the Amish, very few Americans want to live or work or raise a family without broadband. Lower property values = declining tax base = fewer services = poorer schools, and so on in a cycle of decline.

Read the full article for a detailed look at the issues involved. We have to say that between inter-agency wrangling and the lobbying might of the big telcos (who want $20,000 per mile to connect rural users) the outlook is not good.

National Summit Brings Together Technology, Rural Ed Experts to Focus on Solutions

Interesting event:
More than 150 rural education stakeholders and technology experts from 26 states came together to learn from one another and provide feedback to federal officials today at a National Rural Education Technology Summit in Washington, D.C. Federal leaders in education, content, and connectivity held up the work of rural superintendents, school leaders, education service agencies, and researchers as examples for leveraging technology to overcome distance and increase access to high-quality teaching and learning in rural schools. -- U.S. Department of Education
Wonder if they discussed how teachers can assess homework fairly across the digital divide. For example, if half your students have broadband at home and the rest don't, how do you compensate for that when grading homework? This is a problem in a lot of rural schools today.

Back-dated, Scriptified, Testing

I've been working on some video-blogging techniques to show people what some of the malware and malicious activity that we write looks like on screen. Here is an example:

Time Warner Cable Supports "Broadband for America" But Demands $20,000 Per Mile to Deliver

If you are one of the tens of millions of Americans who can't get broadband Internet because it is just not available where you live, and you have looked into the problem of why this might be, you may have encountered BroadbandforAmerica.com. This is an organization that sounds like it might be promoting greater broadband access for Americans, but look a little closer and you will see it is really a bunch of telecommunication and cable companies (telcos) trying to avoid any requirements to provide broadband that might be imposed by local, state or federal government.

That's right folks, it's not a group of people out to help rural communities that can't get anyone to bring them broadband, it's a bunch of corporate and union lobbyists. Indeed, if you read their slogan carefully it says:
Brought to you by over 200 companies and organizations dedicated to expanding the discussion of BROADBAND for AMERICA
They are NOT about expanding the DELIVERY of BROADBAND for AMERICA, they're just about talking about the topic of broadband. And a lot of that talk is just plain nonsense.


Check out the 200 companies and organizations that make up BROADBAND for AMERICA and you will see that they include TWC (Time Warner Cable). As we have previously reported, TWC recently offered to deliver broadband to a rural New York customer for the sum of $100,000. Apparently TWC is happy to expand the coverage of BROADBAND for AMERICA as long as you have $20,000 per mile to give them.

What companies like TWC and the other corporate members of BROADBAND for AMERICA really want is to prevent any kind of universal service requirement for broadband. Such requirements exists in many Western countries and it exists in America in terms of telephone service. That's right, our forefathers in this great land had the foresight to realize that telephone service needed to be universal, available to everyone from big city businesses in New York to farmers and ranchers out on the prairies of North Dakota (after all, it is these farmers who supply the food that the city dwellers consume).

There were and are numerous good reasons for universal service, not least of which is the fact that telpehone companies need to run their wires and beam their signals through rural states in order to connect large population centers. I think most Americans would agree it's not really fair to do that without providing service to the people whose land and air you are using in order to make a profit.

And we are all for making a profit. Even if Time Warner Cable can't run cable for less than $20,000 per mile it would still make, over time, a decent profit from the paying customers it would acquire from doing so. But no, serving Americans who are not immediately and hugely profitable does not appeal to telcos. Sure, they love the federal tax dollars and the free passage they get from states and counties whom they by-pass, but service? Service at anything other than a huge profit is apparently not in their vocabulary.

So, whatever you hear BROADBAND for AMERICA say, in emails and in TV ads (yes, they are using TV ads to try and persuade Americans that 20th century Internet standards are just fine for 21st century America) you should probably regard it with more than a pinch of salt. In fact, why not regard it with about $20,000 worth of salt per word.

Time Warner Cable Wants $20,000 Per Mile to Serve Rural America

That headline is not a typo, we recently discovered that Time Warner Cable is quoting $20,000 per mile to bring broadband Internet service to unserved rural areas. Here's how we found out: We conducted an experiment in rural broadband access.

We went to the Time Warner Cable Business Class website. We wanted to show the company we were serious about buying a big chunk of their service (for the record, we were willing and able to pay any reasonable fees for business class service, indeed we still are). We submitted a request for a quote via the website on May 29. This quote included some heavy duty broadband plus TV plus phone service to a location in rural New York state about 50 miles from the capital, Albany.

As background we should point out that this area produces a lot of the milk and other dairy products that are consumed in cities like Albany and New York (a lot of people don't realize that the state of New York is America's third largest when it comes to producing dairy products).

We got an email confirmation of the website quote right (click the image for a larger view).

A few days later we got a phone call from a nice lady at TWC. She discussed our order and actually got the price down to $199 per month for a 36 month contract, confirmed in an email on June 2 (click the image for a larger view). We were delighted!

(While $199 doesn't match those $89 per month Verizon FIOS deals that city dwellers get in places like Manhattan, this figure is way less than the amount that people in this part of rural New York state are required to pay to get very inferior service. For example, landline + long distance + 238Kbps satellite Internet capped at 350Mb of downloading per day + satellite TV = $285 per month.)

In fact, before we signed the contract we asked for clarification that this number was correct.

After that, things did not go so well. We were told the number was correct but "The problem at this point is that your address populated for the Albany district and you are not in their footprint so we now sent it to the CNY division to see if you are serviceable under that division.  I have not heard back as of yet.

And so we waited, and waited. One week, two weeks; and when we asked why it was taking so long, we were told, on July 6, that: "you are outside the TWC footprint and it would be over 100k to get the services to you.  I thought this was relayed to you and I apologize if they did not."

Over $100,000? The nearest Time Warner customer is only 5 miles from the location for which we requested service. That's at least $20,000 per mile, to string cable? And there are other businesses and homes all along those 5 miles, many of whom are ideal candidates for TWC service.

To add further context, the location for which we requested a quote is not along some season logging road but adjacent to a fully-maintained state highway which already has power lines and telephone lines running along it. (The route even has Verizon fiber optic cable along much of it, but apparently that's for inter-city communications and not for use by rural folk who just get to look at it.)

The target location is less than 5 miles from the nearest existing Time Warner customer in one direction and there is TWC service 7 miles in the other direction, and both directions are along state highways. There are lots of other businesses and residences along these highway, so if Time Warner just ran their cable down this 12 mile stretch of highway they could reach hundreds of eager customers. (Even if they only signed 85 customers at $199 per month; that's still over $200,000 in annual revenue.)

So why the quote of $100,000 to bring cable 5 miles down a road that could yield a lot more than one new customer? Was it just a number they dreamed up to make us go away? Or does it reflect a grossly incompetent mega-company that has such poor controls over its costs that it can't string cable for less than $20,000 a mile?

We don't know the answer those questions. But we do have more questions, like why does the State of New York allow Time Warner to cherry pick its customers? Why does Otsego County, home of Baseball's Hall of Fame, allow Time Warner Cable to criss-cross its lands with wires without serving its residents? And why does Time Warner Cable think it is an acceptable business practice to demand exorbitant fees from the communities that raise the cattle and corn that produce the food and milk that Time Warner's suburban customers buy at such affordable prices. We'd like answers because right now it sounds a lot like another case of little people who just don't matter to the big people.

FCC Finds 14-24 Million Americans Lack Access to Broadband

And we think it's even more than that. Even relatively rich states like New York have so far failed to map their broadband access, despite a succession of promises from a succession of governors. (Apparently the city dwellers don't want the people who supply their milk and eggs to be distracted by streaming video or cheap long distance calls). Here's more of today's report:
"In its newly issued Sixth Broadband Deployment Report, the FCC has found that between 14 and 24 million Americans still lack access to broadband, and the immediate prospects for deployment to them are bleak. Many of these Americans are poor or live in rural areas that will remain unserved without reform of the universal service program and other changes to U.S. broadband policy that spur investment in broadband networks by lowering the cost of deployment."
For more see http://www.convergedigest.com/DSL/lastmilearticle.asp?ID=30957

Zero Privacy: Thoughts on McNealy and Zuckerberg and “privacy statements”

In some of my recent posts about privacy, occasioned by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's apparently dismissive attitude to privacy concerns, I referenced the "infamous" privacy comment that Scott McNealy made in 1999.

At that time, McNealy was the CEO of Sun Microsystems, and Sun was hot. Java was cooking, so to speak. Anyway, McNealy was reported to have said, to a group of reporters, something like: “You already have zero privacy anyway, so get over it.” The rest of this post is what I wrote on this subject in my 2002 book on privacy (which you can always download, for free, if you feel like reading more) followed by a few fresh thoughts.
Light Down Under
When Scott McNealy addressed the National Press Club of Australia in September 2000 he explained what he meant by that zero privacy remark. Here is a verbatim transcript:
“If you get hit by a truck, you want somebody to have your medical records. If you cannot tell them the combination to your safe or where your medical records are kept, you have a problem. In effect you want your medical records to be available online out over the Internet. You want every ambulance driver to be able to unlock it. So that is a little risk you take. Every ambulance driver might be able to tap into your medical records. Get over it. That is better than getting hit by a truck and dying.”
That's not quite the same as simply saying: "You have zero privacy, get over it."

Various versions of the quote—and Mr. McNealy’s last name—rapidly populated articles and presentations about privacy, most of which made no mention of the original context. That context was frustration at announcing a new product, JINI, then having to field questions about the one thing it can’t do—guarantee absolute privacy of personal data—rather than the many things it can do, such as make vital data instantly available across a wide range of hardware, software, and networks.

A lot of people in business can relate to Mr. McNealy’s frustration with those who have turned privacy into an absolute. While the potential to abuse information technology such as Web sites and email is a genuine cause for concern, foolishly equating privacy with anonymity—somehow forgetting that you cannot participate in society unless you share information about yourself—does nobody any good. As I said in Chapter 1, the reason that privacy on the Web is such a big challenge is that nobody yet understands exactly what privacy means in the context of today’s highly interconnected, heavily computerized, data-dependent world. About the best we can say is that privacy in the information age is a work in progress.

Of course, if you are the sort of person who thinks corporate America is only out to steal people’s wallets and ruin their lives, you are unlikely to be swayed by my assertion that most businesses actually want to respect the privacy of their customers, particularly if that is what their customers want. The problem is that we, as a society, simply haven’t finished our homework on this one. In other words, we are not yet at the point where a significant percentage of consumers have articulated specific Web and email privacy demands that businesses have chosen to reject.

As Rob Leathern, a Jupiter Research privacy analyst recently observed, “Neither consumers nor businesses effectively address online privacy issues.” He was reflecting on a Jupiter Media Metrix report that found more than 80 percent of U.S. consumers would give out personal information in exchange for small rewards, while at the same time nearly 70 percent said they were concerned about their privacy online. They might be concerned, but 60 percent admitted that they did not read privacy statements before handing over personal information to Web sites (not helped by the fact that a lot more than half of consumers surveyed found online privacy statements difficult to understand).

Notes from 6/26/2010: A lot has changed since 1999, but a lot remains the same. As Facebook and Twitter attest, digital privacy is still very much a work in progress. And some things never change: CEOs do not have "freedom of speech" any more than their employees. A bank clerk can be fired for mouthing off about the company. A CEO can put his or her job in jeopardy by saying the wrong things in the wrong place, like in email that lives forever or in the presence of a reporter's microphone. What may be new is the extent to which we are all more closely watched, surveilled if you will, which adds a level of transparency to our society, the implications of which we don't yet fully grasp.]

AT&T Apple iPhone 4 Launch More Proof Big Companies Mess Up Big

Tried to pre-order an Apple iPhone 4 lately? I just went to the AT&T web site which proudly proclaims "iPhone 4 This changes everything. Again." Apparently it does not change the tradition of Apple messing up product launches and AT&T failing to deliver on its promises. There's a big button that says "Pre-order Now" but when you click it, you find you can't (the message is "Pre-orders for iPhone temporarily suspended").

Found! The Gyro-X Car on YouTube

Wow! Thanks to John Windsor for contacting me about his amazing find and waking up the Gyro Car Blog. John has the Gyro-X Car! See it running (although not on the gyro-ocntrolled system):

Here it is on YouTube!


Stephen Cobb
The Gyro-X Files


Found! The Gyro-X Car on YouTube

Wow! Thanks to John Windsor for contacting me about his amazing find and waking up the Gyro Car Blog. John has the Gyro-X Car! See it running (although not on the gyro-controlled system):
Apparently someone disabled or removed the gyro stabilization system and put two wheels on the back instead of the original one.

Stephen Cobb
The Gyro-X Files

The SPAM Rule: There is no SPAM in your email

The number of people and companies who abuse the word SPAM continues to amaze me (that's me speaking as someone who started ringing alarm bells about unsolicited bulk email about ten years ago).

I see everyone from well-meaning hi-tech startups to established email companies talking about avoiding email SPAM. The fact is, email SPAM does not exist. It is email spam. The word SPAM is a trademark of Hormel Foods, used for a meat product that comes in a can (and the SPAM on the can in the special font is a registered trademark).

If you want to be taken seriously talking about spam in email you need to follow the rules: There can be spam in my email inbox but never SPAM and seldom Spam. You can say "Remove Spam From Email" but not "Remove SPAM From Email." The only time the stuff in email is SPAM is when it's hanging with a bunch of other capital letters like SPAM IN MY INBOX.

Are we clear now? I hope so.

The "Oilmen Lie" Rule


As a rule, the men who lead the petroleum industry cannot be trusted to tell the truth about their industry. In other words, you should never accept at face value what oilmen tell you about the oil business. And by oilmen I mean the men who run the petroleum business, not the many honest, hard-working folk who risk their lives to bring us the oil and gas products to which our country is sadly addicted. 

(For the record, I am saying "men" quite intentionally, because historically the oil business was started, and is led and run, almost entirely by men, not women. I am not saying that women are incapable of discovering novel uses for naturally occurring substances. Many have. However, while managing a large petroleum-based enterprise with ruthless efficiency and blatant disregard for the environment is not something a woman cannot do, not many have.)

I realize that publicly questioning the moral integrity of the leaders of a large and powerful industry in a blog post is a bit risky. Who knows when someone might be checking out my background—maybe as part of a hiring or employment process—and come across this post. But hey, if you can't get to say what you believe when you're pushing 60, then when?

I'm not just talking about all the lying BP executives have been doing in the last 40 days (and before that when they said they could do deep water drilling without screwing up life as we know it for millions of people). I worked with oilmen for three years back in the 1980s. I was Chief Oil and Gas Tax Auditor for a state that became the tenth largest oil-producer in the Union.

I approached that job as I do most things, with a passion for the past and as a path to the future. I read the history of the oil business. And I went on Petroleum Accounting courses. I did a week-long petroleum auditing boot camp out in Texas Hill Country, courtesy of the Texas Comptroller's office. 

I also did a lot of research for politicians and taxpayers who wanted to see an increase in the state's oil production tax—the one I was tasked with enforcing—from 5% of gross value to 10%. In hearings for those proposed tax increases, the oil industry spokesman told state lawmakers that the oil industry would leave the state if the tax was increased. Eventually the tax was doubled and the state eventually rose from 17th to 10th in the production rankings. That oilman lied. 

He also lied when he said, in about 1983, that there was no need to double the production tax because the price of oil would soon double, from the then current price of $30 per barrel, to $60 a barrel, so the state would soon see a doubling of oil tax revenues without changing the tax rate. Oil did not reach $60 a barrel until about 2006.

A great way to gauge the honesty of oilmen over the years is to read these four books:
  1. The Seven Sisters by Anthony Sampson.
  2. The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power by Daniel Yergin.
  3. Texas Rich: The Hunt Dynasty from the Early Oil Days through the Silver Crash by Harry Hurt III.
  4. Oil! by Upton Sinclair (not the 2007 film “There Will Be Blood”).
Among the interesting things you will learn from these books is the way oilmen lied to Arabs in order to cheat them out of a fair price for their oil. And the fact that controls on the price of oil in America were originally put in place at the request of the oil industry, not imposed by the federal government. This may come as a shock if you grew up with the huge propaganda campaign oilmen mounted in the 1970s to get domestic oil prices deregulated. Yep, a whole lot of lying went on.

BTW, the last of those four books, Oil! may have the shortest title but it is one of the richest reads in twentieth century American literature. Forget the movie for which this book was butchered (There Will Be Blood). This long-neglected novel reveals a lot about American history that they just don't teach in (American) schools. Like the rule I'm citing here: Oilmen lie!

Facebook Tool Might Help With Privacy Settings and Awareness

Using Facebook means sharing personal information with at least some people, but Facebook sometimes makes changes to the way sharing works. Knowing exactly what you share and with whom can be hard to figure out. And at least some of your information is visible to everyone, even people who don't use Facebook, thanks to something called the Graph API. Confused? Fortunately, someone created a web tool that shows you what the Graph API reveals. Here's a sample of my Facebook information, as revealed by this tool:

How revealing is this? In one sense it is no revelation at all. It's no secret that I like Stagecoach Coffee. I've blogged about their great French Toast more than once. But in this screen shot I cropped the full report which shows I like a lot more than just these three things. Frankly, I was not aware that people who are not "on" Facebook could see this information and I am probably not the only person sharing this false assumption.

There are some potentially serious implications. What if you "like" something that is not liked by your boss or perhaps a prospective employer? Maybe you like the idea of legalizing marijuana. Some people could read that the wrong way. "Like" is the new Facebook term for "Fan" and maybe, perhaps a few years ago, you "fanned" some crazy stuff. Do you even remember all the things you fanned? (I had totally forgotten some of my likes).

So, my hat is off to Ka-Ping Yee, the Google.org software engineer and UC Berkeley graduate who created this little application that could have some big implications. (In that sense, he's a good example of a "white hat hacker," a gifted technologist who has shown us some of the pitfalls of a particular technology.) For example, thanks to Graph API you can check out people on Facebook without being logged into Facebook. You can just plug in their Facebook ID and look around. You can even enter random names and ID numbers. Some information is protected by privacy settings, some is not. And the reports that Ka-Ping Yee's web page displays contain live links (e.g. the report above shows a live link to the Stagecoach Coffee page) so you can just click your way from one piece of data to the next.

All of which is a little worrying when you factor in something I have blogged elsewhere, namely Facebook's founder Marc Zuckergerg's alleged indifference towards privacy. The various privacy missteps that Facebook has taken since its inception, and the difficulty many users have trying to keep up with changes to the way Facebook handles privacy settings, tend to add credence to the claim that Mr. Zuckerberg does not care about privacy. Consider what happens when you want to change your privacy settings.

Facebook makes you go through a two-step process if you want the most private of settings. When you want something to be visible to Everyone or Friends of Friends all you need is to select from a pull down list. But making something visible only to yourself is not visible as an option. You have to go through an extra step and choose Customize to see that choice.

That suggests the interface designers are not keen for you to get restrictive with your privacy. Of course, it could be a simple design flaw, but Facebook users are likely to be sensitive to such things these days, particularly when they learn that none of the settings can hide your "likes" from the Graph API and the outside world.

(If I have this wrong, please leave me a comment and let me know. I changed the privacy setting for "Things I Like" to "Only me" but they are still visible to the Graph API, as seen here: http://zesty.ca/facebook/#/stcobb/likes.)

Mark Zuckerberg Faces the Privacy Meter: Facebook trends open book

Face it folks, it's time to dust off the Privacy Meter for a quick check of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. According to an internal source, Mr. Zuckerberg has placed himself in the camp made (in)famous in 1999 by Scott McNealy, the CEO of Sun Microsystems, who was reported to have said: “You already have zero privacy anyway, so get over it.”

Mr. Zuckerberg's position was recently described by a Facebook insider in response to this question: "How does Zuck feel about privacy?" Response: “He doesn’t believe in it.”

The details of this revelation can be read here and I'd have to say it hardly amounts to a public statement by "Zuck" himself (for the record, Scott McNealy's declaration was not a public statement either, and should be placed in context, something I tried to do in my 2002 book on privacy).

I doubt that either Mr. Zuckerberg or Mr. McNealy would say, on the record, that they don't believe in privacy. What both men seem to share is a frustration with privacy concerns as they relate to digital systems. Human beings can be annoyingly inconsistent and hard to predict when it comes to matters of personal information. That makes it inherently difficult to design online communications and online communities that satisfy every shade of sentiment with respect to the sharing of personal information. And that's why I created the Privacy Meter:

Not exactly a high tech device, it nevertheless serves its purpose: to help people assess their own attitude to their personal information. I developed the privacy meter as a teaching tool, specifically to teach Chief Privacy Officers and other C-level execs that:

a. Everyone has a different place on the privacy scale, there is no "correct" score;

b. Entities like companies and agencies cannot handle privacy issues according to one person's views about privacy.

In other words, the fact that you're an open book kind of person does not make it okay to impose an open book approach on people who are more closed book. If you are closed book you can't impose that view either because it could limit your organization's ability to serve its customers. Most importantly, the way you handle other people's private data has to be in accordance with their view, not yours. That principle was established, in the context of computer data, back in 1974, and remains one of the pillars of privacy best practices in the realm of data protection (see Chapter 3 of Privacy for Business, available as a free .pdf file here).

Several years ago I put together a short set of slides on the privacy meter and the potential benefits and problems arising from getting privacy positioning right or wrong. You can click here to download the slides as a .pdf file which I recently updated to include Facebook's current privacy perception problem. That slide is pretty easy to understand:

Just a few hours after Wired puts out the story that your CEO doesn't believe in privacy, PC World publishes a story about the latest privacy invading scam that your system is enabling. Not good. Just the sort thing that can hurt your share price and tarnish your brand. Which is why your personal feelings about privacy should probably remain private when you are running a company.

[BTW, you can now download the full 240 page text of Privacy for Business (2002) as an Adobe Acrobat document from this web site; there's no charge and no registration required.]

New Public/Private Consortium to Drive Small Business Growth With Broadband

Interesting initiative I just spotted: A New Public/Private Consortium to Drive Small Business Growth Through the Access to Broadband
Constant Contact and SCORE “Counselors to America’s Small Business” will help increase small business success with the Broadband Plan, training, tools and resources for high speed Internet use. Learn more at (http://www.score.org/Broadband_event_2010.html).

An Irish View of the Celtic Curse

I was browsing the Iron Disorders Institute web site last night and came across a story about hemochromatosis in an Irish newspaper. Since hemochromatosis is known as the Celtic Curse--on account of its relatively high rate of occurrence in persons of Celtic ancestry--I thought this would be an interesting perspective on my wife's condition (and it could be a story you missed if you searched for hemochromatosis because the spelling of haemochromatosis is used, as in England).

How Irish is the Celtic Curse? Across Europe as a whole the chance of someone experiencing iron overload are one in 400; in Ireland, it's almost five times higher at one in 83. And one in five people in Ireland carry the gene that can lead to this condition. Of course, the problem is not confined to the Emerald Isle. With so many people having emigrated from Ireland to North America over the centuries it shows up pretty widely here as well.

The article is a good introduction to the condition with enough detail to give you a clear picture of the implications without getting too technical. It's also an interesting non-American perspective. What it does not explore in much depth is the distinction between treatment of iron overload and treatment of organs damaged by iron overload.

In other words, it is relatively easy to reduce iron levels through blood donation, not so easy to cure the damage to liver, pancreas, heart, joints, and various parts of the endocrine system. Indeed, some of that damage, due to failure to diagnose hemochromatosis at an early stage, can be permanent and leave a person--as in my wife's case--with a pretty miserable quality of life. That's why there's a great need to increase awareness of the Celtic Curse in the general population and in the medical community.

Which brings me back to the Iron Disorders Institute. It is an institution worthy of support. My wife recently completed a detailed study the Institute is doing on the experiences of hemochromatosis sufferers. My guess is that it will reveal a shocking lack of knowledge about the Celtic Curse in the American medical community, and a dire lack of treatment for all its effects.

Mac Mini RAM Upgrade Tips

I just upgraded the RAM on my Mac Mini and it has made a big difference to performance so I figured I would share some tips on this type of upgrade. (So many people share helpful information on the Web I've been feeling guilty that I have not done more sharing myself, so hopefully this will help make amends.)

Ironically enough, my first tip is to watch someone else's video of how to do a Mac Mini RAM and hard drive upgrade (it may make sense to do both upgrades at once--you have to take the thing apart in both cases, pun intended--but you don't have to do both, the video is helpful either way). This is the best video I saw during a fairly extensive review of what is out there. You can find it here on Vimeo.

I suggest you watch the video and, if you still feel like going forward with an upgrade, consider the tips I have written up here before you start (unfortunately, hardware can be more difficult to work with than it appears in such videos).

My second tip comes after you separate the outer case from the innards: Get a magnetic to use with your screwdriver. I use a magnetic hook. You attach the magnet to the metal shaft of the screwdriver so it will pull the screw out of the hole when I lift the screwdriver (helps to keep screws getting lost inside the case or on the floor). (These magnetic hooks are Neodymium and coated with soft plastic so they don't scratch. They have a holding power of about 9 pounds and I use them for hanging up key rings. You can order them here.)

Third tip is to mark the corner that requires a screw that is longer than the other three. I marked this on the optical drive cover with a thin Sharpie.

My fourth tip concerns removal of the 2-wire power connector as shown in the video. Do this very carefully, prying the black connector out of the socket. do NOT pull on the wires as they may be brittle (I ended up breaking one and fixing it was a pain). I think the key to getting this one right is using good lighting and possibly a magnifying glass.

Next up is the pulling the drive unit out of the innards, so to speak. You need to do this with care because there is a ribbon cable that wires the drive unit to the innards and it must not be strained or disconnected.

Complicating matters is an edge connector that must be pulled out, which means you do need some force to get the two parts apart. Then you will need to support the drive unit while you perform your RAM upgrade. The video glosses over this but the solution is very simple, just place the outer case under the drive unit.

Here you can see the drive unit on the case with the innards exposed ready to proceed. But first, I suggest you carefully place the whole thing on a tray of some kind and take it some place you can blow off the dust with an air can (or suck off the dust if you have a computer vacuum).

What looks like mold growing on the unit in the picture is dust. The fan unit is likely to be full of dust as well. Blow this out carefully, in a well-ventilated area. No point opening the case without performing this bit of preventive maintenance (Mac Minis are known for being super quiet but mine had started to make some noise--this cleanup returned it to quiet mode).

The video has good instructions on changing the RAM. My machine had two 512 megabyte memory cards and I simply replaced the top one with a 2 gigabyte card. This gives me 2.5 gigabytes total and seems to make the Mac Mini work a lot better (programs load faster than I'm not getting so many delays when running multiple programs at once).

Final tips concern re-assembly. Be careful that you thread the BlueTooth antenna cable the right way or it could get pinched. Also make sure that the wires crossing the ribbon cable do so neatly, within the fold of the cable. Finally, as recommended in the video, test things before you put the outer case back on. This has been a habit of mine from my earliest days making PCs out of cloned motherboards. The cover doesn't go on until everything checks out, otherwise you jinx things!

Well, that about does it. One final tip is to make sure you have access to the video while doing this. I downloaded it to my Windows laptop so I could watch it while the Mac was in pieces. Good luck with your upgrade!

My 10 Year-old Jeep Grand Cherokee Turns 100K

Okay, so this is not exactly monumental news from the road, but it is a cool milestone. My ten year-old Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo passed 100,000 miles on my drive back from Philadelphia yesterday evening.

I was going to take a picture of the odometer at precisely the 100,000 mile mark but pulling over on the side of Interstate 81 in the dark for a snapshot didn't feel like a responsible thing to do.

The vehicle is still running smoothly and continues to deliver a very comfortable ride. For those who frown on SUVs I should point out that a. There's no way you can get up and down our driveway in the Winter without a vehicle that has a 4 wheel drive system that can be locked into low range, and b. The carbon footprint of continuing to run this vehicle versus buying a brand new vehicle that is more fuel efficient is an interesting calculation to make.

My "Satellite is Not Broadband" Letter to the Editor, FCC Test Data, and More

dish-ice-200I just noticed that my letter to the editor of the Daily Star about rural broadband was published (back on February 15). I have pasted the letter at the bottom of this post.

The letter is part of my ongoing campaign to evangelize the need for affordable broadband connectivity in rural areas. I truly believe that if affordable broadband is not made available to what are currently "dialup-only" areas, once-thriving villages will eventually become ghost towns. On the other hand, if such connectivity is made available, then many rural areas can be transformed through better jobs, better education, and a variety of digital community-building initiatives that are currently impractical.

fcc-broadband-test-resultSometimes you will hear people say "rural households can get satellite Internet, so they have broadband available to them."

As I have described at length before, my opinion is that satellite Internet service is NOT broadband and never can be. In my letter I try to explain that in plain English in the context of recent efforts by Otsego County to get federal funding for improved broadband access.

On a brighter note, one positive step the federal government is taking in this field showed up recently on the special FCC site called broadband.gov. The agency has posted a test that anyone can use (rural or sub/urban) to check their connection's speed. This test evolved out of growing suspicion that most broadband providers claim to provide higher performance than they actually deliver. (For example, I pay for a download speed of over 1,000kbps but as you can see from my test result, I get nothing like that.)

I urge you to test your own connection. In the meantime, here is my letter titled "Satellite Internet not same as broadband."

Dear Editor,

Your coverage of Otsego County's struggle to provide affordable broadband to rural residents is much appreciated by those of us whose property prices are being hit by the lack of broadband access. ("County's request for Web funding denied," Feb. 4.) I have seen neighbors move already, putting property up for sale because of the lack of broadband.

With all due respect to Rep. Betty Anne Schwerd, whom you quoted, satellite Internet service is not broadband.

A broadband Internet connection should support real-time trading, Voice over IP (like Vonage), video streaming (like YouTube and NetFlix), and Virtual Private Networking (VPN is required for many telecommuting jobs).

Satellite does not support these core broadband functions, as stated on the website of HughesNet, one of Otsego County's two main satellite providers. The other provider, Wild Blue, is not accepting new customers in parts of Otsego County due to capacity issues. These can cause a big drop in performance. As a HughesNet customer, my median download speed is 258kbps, much slower than the "headline rate" of 1.6mbps for which I pay $70 per month.

Cheap dial-up delivers 56kbps plus better latency than satellite (which will always be weak in this regard because every bit travels 45,000 miles into space and back).

Sadly, lobbyists for cable and phone companies, fighting requirements that they serve rural customers, have tricked politicians into thinking that "everyone in rural areas can get broadband thanks to satellite." This is deceptive at best. Satellite Internet is not broadband and, if there's no broadband where you live, you cannot participate in all the opportunities that the Internet affords. As a result, the value of your property, like mine, will continue to decline relative to areas that have broadband.

Stephen Cobb
Cherry Valley

Back to the Futurama: That's the way this Hummer rolls

Congratulations to Brooklyn-based artist Jeremy Dean for realizing his vision: Creating a horse-drawn Hummer as a modern incarnation of the Hoovercart and getting it into a major art show.

back-to-the-futuramaWhen Jeremy says he's going to get something done, it usually gets done. Passengers in this rolling sculpture are treated to leather seats and flatscreens playing a video about oil, excess, and the limits of consumerism.

3 Pleasing Things: Office software, wireless router, and boots to boot

Too often a blog post ends up as a vent or rant about stuff that annoys the blogger (been there, done that). When I started writing this post I was pretty annoyed by a head cold I caught at a trade show last week, but I figured that expressing this in a blog post was not going to make it go away, so I decided to focus on the positive and ask myself: Can you name three things you're pleased with?

OpenOffice.org in Action

Well let's start with Open Office, a suite of software I've been using a lot lately, on both my Mac and my PC. I can definitely say I like this a LOT.

This is great software. If you tried it in the past and found it slightly flaky, you really should give it another go. As far as I am concerned there's no need to buy Microsoft Office any more.

Today, Open Office is what you want for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, document layout, databases, and drawing tools. It really is free, it supports many languages,  and it works well on both Macs and PCs. Here's how the OpenOffice.org web site describes it:
...the leading open-source office software suite for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, databases and more. It is available in many languages and works on all common computers. It stores all your data in an international open standard format and can also read and write files from other common office software packages. It can be downloaded and used completely free of charge for any purpose.

All true. And in some cases it works better than Microsoft Office. I know because I just used Open Office to create a new set of product literature for Monetate. These are pretty fancy documents--like the one shown above--and they are not something I would feel comfortable creating in Microsoft Word. They are made to be downloaded as .pdfs from the company web site but they also get sent to a high-end printing press to create sell sheets for shows.

Watch Out Wall Street and Central Park, the CEO Wagon is Coming

Look for Jeremy Dean's rolling artwork, Back to the Futurama, in New York's Central Park next weekend. Pulled by two white horses, it will be hard to miss this statement about corporate greed, consumerism, sustainability, and human pride.
Look for more pictures on Flickr. And at the blog: Back to the Futurama. If you are in the area, check out the details.

Run Dates: March 4th – March 7th 2010
VIP Reception: Thursday, March 4th, 9am-noon.
Location: Pulse New York art fair Booth #C4
Daily: Thursday- Sunday 12-8pm
Directions: 330 West Street @ West Houston
New York, NY 10014

I've Moved! But I'm still here...

Moving billionsLast night I completed the move of cobbsblog.com to a new hosting service!

Moving a web site is not that hard, but moving a WordPress blog with all that SQL database stuff can be tricky.

So please let me know via the comments if you see anything missing or not working right. Fortunately I found an excellent set of instructions here, for which I am very grateful.

Another factor that can complicate the moving of a web site is the reluctance of the existing web hosting company to let you go (more on that later). However, this move will save money on hosting fees and give me greater control of the site. (It is now on my virtual private server, operated by a hosting company that has proven helpful and reliable over the years: 1&1.)

BTW, the graphic in this post is not the covert transportation of billions of bits that make up my blog but the not-so-covert and ever-so-stupid moving of billions of dollars of cash into Iraq.

Conceptual Artist Deconstructs Hummer, Video Goes Viral: Art World Take Note!

The buzz about Brooklyn-based Jeremy Dean's art project "Back to the Futurama" has now gone viral, with coverage in a wide range of online media. As regular readers will recall, Jeremy is converting a GMC Hummer H2 into a horse-drawn carriage to create a symbol of America's perilously unsustainable lifestyle.

Jeremy has bet the farm on this project, so to speak, and exposure of the project will be vital to its chances of success. A big boost came two weeks ago when influential car expert and automotive journalist John Voelcker wrote about Jeremy's project under a headline that is itself an alliterative classic: "Hummer-Hating Artist Hacks H2 Into Horse Cart, Cites Hoover." This article has already racked up 16,000 views and 285 diggs.

The story spread like exhaust fumes through the automotive blogosphere and there are now over 100,000 Google hits for Hummer Hating Artist Jeremy Dean. The video that Jeremy made of the first cut into the Hummer has been viewed over 16,000 times on YouTube (http://tr.im/humvid) and more in Vimeo ( http://vimeo.com/8962281).

Not to be outdone, the equine community has picked up the story, appearing here in Horse Journal. Maybe some cart horse experts can help Jeremy match power source to completed carriage. Of course, this story was destined for mainstream press coverage from the start. We now see the project making its way into the Huffington Post and it may be on Current TV soon (it's on their web site's Upcoming section).

When us social media mavens talk about something "going viral" there really has to be a global element. The story has to be covered far and wide. Well here it is on a forum in Russia. And getting from the East Coast to New Zealand probably counts. The story was covered there in the equine press.

What is really interesting, from an art perspective, is the lack of coverage [so far] in the art press. When assessing the work of Jeremy Dean, the art world would be wise to take a tip from the film world. Conventional wisdom said Jeremy could not, as a first time film maker, make a documentary about race, not one that could be nominated for an NAACP Image Award. Dare Not Walk Alone did not win that award, but it did get a theatrical release, positive reviews in national press, a spot in Walmart's catalog and, on Tuesday night, there was an Oscar-winning actor in the front row for the screening at the Skirball Community Center in L.A. Immediately after the screening the actor walked up to Jeremy, shook his hand, and said: "Great Film!"

Footnote: Jeremy's art has been mentioned on the influential art blog EAGEAGEAG but I confess it was me that did the mentioning. (Who am I to talk about art? Well not that it really matters, but I do have a minor in Fine Art from the University of Leeds. I started a Master's degree thesis on Hegel's Aethestics at McMaster University and a doctoral thesis on William Blake's Notes on Laoco├Ân. However, don't take my word for any of this "what is art?" stuff, check out the New York gallery show in March and decide for yourself.)