iTunes - Podcasts - DEFCON 3 - Feat. Me

If you are into hardware and software experimentation you might have noticed, with some amazement, that 2012 is the year of DEFCON 20. That's two decades of hacker convention fun and games. I missed the first two but was invited to speak at DEFCON 3 which was held August 4-6th 1995 at the Tropicana in Las Vegas. So I was delighted to encounter this link recently: Past speeches and talks from DEF CON hacking conferences in an iTunes friendly m4b format. I took a listen to my session (on Why Hacking Sucks) and was pleased to find it still sounded pretty sane. A helpful interaction is how I would characterize it, at least for me.

Will Christmas Kindles Torch the Internet and Evaporate the Amazon Cloud?

I got an Amazon Kindle Fire from my wife for Christmas and I'm a bit worried about the effect on the Internet. I should explain that I got my Fire a few weeks ago because my wife and I like to give each other digital gifts before Christmas Day so that by the time Christmas Day arrives we have said devices fully configured and can actually play with them (I got her an iPhone 4S).

The problem I see is that Amazon has been selling about one million of these Fire things a week and many of them may not be fired up, so to speak, until Christmas Day. Here's what happened after I fired up my Kindle Fire: It gave me instructions on how to put my music in the cloud, and store it there for free, and those instructions were very easy to follow, so my laptop was soon engaged in uploading 6,471 files. Engaged as in "I need to spend several days trying to do this."

When it was done, those files added up to over 30 gigabytes of data, sitting in the cloud somewhere, ready for me to listen to them at the tap of a screen. Now imagine 2 million people getting a Fire for Christmas and accepting that invitation to put their music in the cloud. Suppose they each have, on average, 20 gigabytes of music. That's 40 million gigabytes or 40 petabytes added to the cloud and Internet traffic on Christmas Day. I hope Capacity Planning at Amazon.com has been doing some planning. And those folks who manage the tubes, they better be ready to put out some fires.

Mac OS X Help: Specifying criteria in Spotlight

I just updated this post with a Mavericks screenshot, but the basic point holds true for the past few versions of OS X: the Spotlight search tool on Macs can be very powerful, but a surprising number of people don't seem to know how to tap that power (and for a long time that included me).


Apple has a good basic article on Spotlight. Remember that you can always press Command+Spacebar to pop up Spotlight. And you can use the Spotlight pane in System Preferences to change these categories around, their order, and even which categories appear.

You can type calculations into Spotlight and find that 256*2-680 is 168.

You can get the definition of a word by typing it into Spotlight and then checking the Look Up section of the results.

Enjoy!

The Google-SOPA-PIPA-DNS-Copyright-Oil-and-Gas Link

What does copyright infringement have to do with scraping oil from the bottom of a barrel and an acronym soup like SOPA, PIPA, DNS and DNSSEC? The answer lies with Google, not the search engine but the company.

More specifically, the answer lies with Google's Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt, who said the following at the University of Minnesota last week when asked about legislation (SOPA/PIPA) which would--in the name of protection against copyright infirngement--give the U.S. government the power to mess with the Domain Name System (DNS) that forms the backbone of the Internet:
“There are a whole bunch of issues involved with [SOPA] breaking the Internet and the way it works. The correct solution, which we’ve repeatedly said, is to follow the money...Making it more explicitly illegal to make money from that type of content [pirated movies, software, or other counterfeit goods] is what we recommend.”

Mr. Schmidt is entirely correct, and I love the expression "making it more explicitly illegal to make money from..." because it covers a range of actions that governments and law enforcement agencies can take without interfering with the way the Internet works.

For example, the act of distributing pirated movies would be more explicitly illegal if the pirates were identified, arrested, extradited or extracted, imprisoned, tried, convicted, and given 20-year sentences in maximum security facilities without the possibility of parole. The same goes for the makers of malicious software. Let's put a bunch of them in jail with long sentences and see if that reduces the malware problem.

I just don't see a downside to this hardline approach to making something like software piracy or handbag counterfeiting "more explicitly illegal" except that some people will say it costs too much money. Au contraire, if you do this right it will actually make a lot more money than it costs. Consider the numbers put out by supporters* of the Stop Online Piracy Act: "IP theft costs the U.S. economy more than $100 billion annually and results in the loss of thousands of American jobs" (The Austin Statesman).

If you gave me a budget of one percent of that amount ($1 billion), I would most assuredly, and within a period of 12 months, reduce the cost of that theft by at least 15 percent ($15 billion). In other words, backing the effort to crack down on piracy to the tune of $1 billion in fresh money would pay huge dividends, save thousands of U.S. jobs, and actually create jobs (without messing with DNS).

Why am I so sure of this? My answer is not a lot of hot air, but it is a bit oily, as in petroleum production taxes. Thirty years ago I was criss-crossing America auditing the state oil and gas taxes paid by petroleum companies, firms with names like Koch, Hess, Ashland, Texaco, and Hunt. During that time I learned a lot about the ways in which we humans try to cheat each other.

Consider the sludge that forms at the bottom of a crude oil holding tank such as you see next to wells in oil fields where the wells are not connected to a pipeline. Some of that sludge is recoverable oil and, from time to time, someone goes into the tank to suck it out. How much of the sludge is oil? How much gets pumped out? Where is it taken? How much of it gets there? These are all points in the oil production process where numbers and readings and measurements can be fudged, to the advantage of one party and the disadvantage of another.

Not that every case of missing petroleum tax dollars was a case of cheating. Oil companies were sometimes being cheated by employees and contractors. And every time the production output of a well is understated that also cheats the royalty owner, the person who owns the mineral rights to the land from under which the oil and gas is being extracted.

Operating on a shoe string budget my auditing team raked in millions of previously unpaid taxes within the first 12 months of operation. We used no new laws or fancy gimmicks. We just followed the money, which is what Eric Schmidt is saying when it comes to cracking down on copyright infringement. In oil production areas you don't close down the roads in and out of every county where production is apparently going missing. You go to the top of the organization, the people getting the money, and you figure out how they came by it. You examine the paperwork. You audit the heck out of the operation. If the organization is shady, you shed light. If it is in another country then you remind that country of our mutual interests.

We have already seen positive results when private dollars are used to help enforce public laws, as in the Microsoft and Pfizer funded action against the Rustock botnet. (If you're wondering why a drug company got involved, read the story, it really is a big deal.) So why not an anti-infringement posse formed and funded by the likes of Google, eBay Facebook, and Yahoo! The backers of Protect Innovation could really make a lot of friends in high places, and on the High Street, if they were seen to spearhead a new effort to put cyber-criminals behind bars.

* Note: Here are some of the fine companies and trade groups that back SOPA (I respect and admire many of them, I just think they are wrong about SOPA): National Cable and Telecommunications Association, National Association of Manufacturers, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), Business Software Alliance, Screen Actors Guild (SAG), the U.S Chamber of Commerce, Independent Film & Television Alliance (IFTA), National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), Motion Picture Association of America, Inc. (MPAA), American Federation of Musicians (AFM), American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), Directors Guild of America (DGA), International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, (IATSE), International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), Comcast/NBCUniversal, National Songwriters Association, the United States Conference of Mayors, National Sheriffs' Association, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, International Trademark Association.

Security and Privacy Links: Marketing cybersecurity

As some of you know, I hit the ground running when I landed in San Diego at the beginning of September, happy to be back in California, wrestling with my first love, information security.

Okay, so that prose was a trifle purple--not to be confused with a delicious purple trifle--and information security is not, strictly speaking, my first love.

But hopefully you get the point: I was ready to up my game in the fight against digital malfeasance after three fun years focused on the marketing of marketing software to marketers (three highly successful years, I might add, because the marketing software, Monetate, was clearly headed for best of breed from day one and can now be found on major websites from PETCO to QVC).

There were a number of happy congruencies in this latest development. My marketing skills had been honed, my marketing experience broadened, just in time to sell a fresh message of cybersecurity awareness to a deeply digital world. That message goes like this: "The bad guys are badder than ever, better funded, more organized, but there are simple steps we can all take to make cyberspace a lot safer tomorrow than it is today."

For me, this was just the right time to run into ESET, a Slovakian company with a growing presence in North America and a strong commitment to the public good, as evidenced by a pioneering community initiative called Securing Our eCity. I spend part of my time working on this initiative and the rest on research and publication, in all its forms, including blogging, tweeting, and speaking. Here are just a few of my efforts so far:

On TV:



Speaking:



Quoted:



Published:



Bonus Security Video: Malware Delivery Scam:


CyberMonday SmartPhone Shopping Tip: Avoid CA, MA, RI, and maybe others

This is a quick tip for anyone looking to buy a new iPhone or other smartphone this holiday season:

Don't buy in California, Massachusetts, or Rhode Island. 

If you are in one of those states and can cheaply get to another state, or happen to be passing through another state on business or to visit family, you can save $40 or more if you purchase your phone out of state.

Why? The answer is in small print at the Apple store and--possibly in different words--on some mobile provider sites:

In CA, MA, and RI, sales tax is collected on the unbundled price of iPhone. 

In other words, you might be getting a great deal on the phone but these states charge you sales tax as though you did not get a great deal, and that's a bum deal.

Consider that the Apple iPhone 4S series has unbundled prices of $649, $749, and $849 for the 16MB, 32MB, and 64MB models respectively. That means a sales tax of 7.75% on the 16MB 4S you buy from AT&T or Apple for $199 comes in at $50 versus the $15.42 you were probably expecting. That's sticker shock if you have not been through this process before.

RIP: The Golden Age of Unlimited Internet, It's Been Capped

The golden age of unlimited Internet is over, capped usage is now the norm. Alas for uncapped bandwidth, uncapped bandwidth is no more, and this has serious implications for everything from programming to data security and economics.

Soliloquies aside, the pleasure of making a prediction that comes true--I have said for some time that all bandwidth will eventually be capped and metered--is often undermined by the reality of what one predicted. (For example, about every new form of data abuse I have said "Typically, this is going to get worse before it gets better" and I am, sadly too often, correct in that assessment.)

I have written extensively about bandwidth capping in the context of both satellite Internet service and 3G Internet service. I have lived with daily bandwidth caps in the 400 megabyte range, courtesy of HughesNet's premium $80 per month satellite service. I have lived with the AT&T MiFi 3G cap of 5 gigabytes a month or 166 megabytes per day (for $60 per month). Apparently I am now going to live with the 200 gigabytes per month cap of Cox Cable Preferred Internet Service, currently $40 per month. 

Of course, it is clear that 200 gigabytes for $40 is a better deal than 5 for $60 or 12 for $80 (if you multiply the 400 megabytes per day that HughesNet 'gives' you by 30 days you get 12 gigabytes, but in reality you seldom get 12 gigabytes because you keep daily use below that, worried that you will exceed your cap, which costs $10 to reset every time you blow through it with a big download or streaming audio/video).

What is wrong about Cox Cable's cap, and I have to use wrong rather than a softer touch like "questionable" or dubious" or "unfortunate," is that Cox Cable does not disclose its cap before you contract for Cox service. I know this because I just went through the labyrinthine process of getting Cox Cable service in San Diego. While everyone from Cox with whom I have spoken has been very polite, friendly, and helpful, nobody said "That comes with a 200 gigabyte per-month cap and we reserve the right to charge you more money if you go over that."

Nobody. Not the first time I placed my order, nor the second time I placed my order because the first order went astray. In other words, Cox had ample opportunity to mention the cap and the consequences of exceeding it. They did not. Given the otherwise articulate and engaging nature of the service personnel that Cox puts on the line, I tend to assume they are trained not to say anything about the cap. 

So, the cap is here. It is not disclosed. And next I fear, it will be reduced. Once we are all hooked on whatever bandwidth consuming activity floats our boat, be it streaming video, audio, online gaming, hi-def photography, video calls, or something as yet not deployed, the bandwidth providers will start clamping down, shrinking the cap and raising the rates. So here are some potential implications:
  1. Using the Internet will cost more in the future, not less. We will pay per gig, not per month.
  2. Deployment of any security services that use bandwidth will meet resistance or get turned off if people are paying per gig.
  3. The rich will get more Internet than the poor (and of course the poor will get poor and the rich will get richer, a golden rule pretty much everywhere, from the USSR to the US of A).
  4. Programs that use bloated code or content will be penalized by bad reviews.
  5. Apps that are coded efficiently and elegantly will prevail.
I recently had the honor of speaking to a group of computer science students at the Jacobs School of engineering at UCSD. One topic we got into was the need to keep code lean. I mentioned to them a very interesting article that was mentioned to me by my good friend (and computer scientist extraordinaire) David Brussin and written by someone in Australia who also has to deal with bandwidth limitations, Troy Hunt.

The amount of 'bloat' that Troy found in iOS apps will surprise many, but it really wasn't a surprise to me. Why? Because my wife and I have used an iPad on a capped--and thus closely monitored--satellite Internet connection for over a year. We know how far the needle jumps when you add an iPad to your wireless Internet device mix. I fear the time will come when we pay dearly for that, by the megabyte.

p.s. Just noticed this report: Sprint is slowly but surely killing unlimited data

Regulator unveils plan for universal broadband - Science & Technology News

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski proposed a strategy for revamping that government subsidy program to help deploy high-speed Internet service to millions of Americans living in rural and costly-to-serve areas.

Regulator unveils plan for universal broadband - Science & Technology News

So San Diego: Dog bowls and sunsets

So what happened to September? Not a single September post on the Stephen Cobb Blog? That's right, I was busy settling into my new job here in San Diego at ESET North America. I'm part of the research team and, as it  says on my business cards, my job title is Security Evangelist. But I did blog in September, seven times on the ESET Threat Blog.


Working a blog with multiple contributors is one of the many things I'm loving about this new position. Another nice thing about the job is San Diego itself. I'm sure that San Diego has "issues" that I will encounter (and blog about, right here). No city is perfect, but sometimes a city can feel like a perfect match. For someone who loves to travel--like me--San Diego is both a great place to come home to, and a great place to travel from. I can look out the window and see cars, trains, boats, and planes. Okay, so sometimes these are noisy cars, trains, boats, and planes; but like all modes of transportation, they create this great sense of possibility, of going places.


San Diego Dog Bowls at Baja Betty'sAnd sunsets. San Diego has amazing sunsets. Friends and relatives are already getting tired of me emailing them my San diego sunset pictures, so I decided to illustrate this post with something else that is very San Diego: water bowls for your dog. Such bowls are a common site outside San Diego stores and restaurants (many of the latter welcome dogs in the outside eating areas, of which there are many). This particular eatery caught my eye because they had thoughtfully provided bowls in a range of sizes to suit different dogs.


So, in San Diego you can walk your dog to the local restaurant, enjoy great food in the open air, plus canine companionship and, let's face it, watch a great sunset nearly every day.


San Diego Sunset

Quick Tip: How to Change the IE8 Default Search Provider from Bing to Google or Other

This tip is for the relatively small number of people who are running Microsoft Internet Explorer 8 and cannot seem to change the default search provider, that's the one found in the Search box at the top right of the program window. By default this is Bing but I prefer Google.

I recently ran into a problem trying to change this on a system I was using. The process for making the change that was described in the Help for IE8 did not work, but after some digging I found something that did work for me. It is actually a service provided by Microsoft. Basically, you go to the following web page and follow the instructions labeled "Create Your Own" on the right (this can be used to add just about any search engine as your default):

http://www.microsoft.com/windows/ie/searchguide/en-en/default.mspx


You may need to close IE8 and then reload it for the change to take effect. Of course, you might ask why I didn't just upgrade from IE8 to IE9, but this was not my computer, just a computer I was using. However, I would agree there are some good reasons to upgrade to IE9, as described by my brother, Mike Cobb, in this article: Is Internet Explorer 9 security better than alternative browsers?

Cobb on the Trail-er: Hauling butt and taking names

Here's one name to start with, an eating place by called O'Charley's, specifically, the one just off Interstate 40 at 110 Coley Davis Court in Nashville. A great place to stop for a real meal and friendly service should you be passing through the Nashville area. I met up with friends there and had a very relaxing and enjoyable lunch. I was surprised to learn later that O'Charley's is chain, with locations in the Eastern half of the U.S. I would definitely look for one if I was driving in that region again.

Speaking of chains, I was very pleasantly surprised by U-Haul, from whom I rented the trailer for this trip (as trailer towing road warriors know, chains are used as a backup to the trailer hitch). So here's my review of U-Haul customer service.

At first I was not happy with the trailer. There seemed to be some shimmying when I picked it up, but I put that down to lack of LOAD weight. There was also a lack of any obvious way to lock the trailer to the hitch on my Jeep, so I used a pair of padlocks on the safety chains.

Unfortunately, the more miles I drove with the trailer fully loaded, the worse the shimmying became. How bad was it? People were flagging me down, honking horns, following me into rest areas. Apparently it looked a lot worse when you were following me than it did when I was looking in my sideview mirror. So, to all of those Knights of the Road who expressed concern, I say: Thank You!

While such concern from my fellow man was quite uplifting, a major breakdown seemed more and more like a major possibility, which would put a major crimp in my timed-to-the-hour travel plans. So I pushed on but cut my speed, taking heart in the diagnostic opinion of a farmer who checked out the trailer after following me into a rest area. He thought it was the rim and not the axle, because the hub was not hot. By the end of that day I was in Forrest City, Arkansas, staying at a surprisingly comfortable Hampton Inn just a block from a delightful Mexican restaurant.   

After a robust repast of Chile Rellenos at Done Jose, I began to consider my trailer options. My biggest concern should have been breaking down but it was the thought of unpacking and repacking that really bothered me, should the trailer need to be replaced. That and the time involved, which involved, in my mind, a ton of paperwork and sitting around, even if I did manage to find a U-Haul dealer. In the morning caution won out and, bracing for the inevitable hassles, I called the 800 number on my U-Haul contract from the hotel parking lot.

And wow! U-Haul was great! I felt the agent really understood what I was going through. Not only that, they had an authorized garage right there in town, White Motor Company, just a few blocks away. I hauled the trailer over to White Motor and some very cheerful chaps changed out the wheel in a matter of minutes.

I was on my way with no more than 30 minutes of time lost and zero cost or hassle. Shortly after I hit the Interstate the U-Haul agent called to confirm that everything was okay. I am definitely getting a U-Haul next time I need to shift stuff across the country!

Update: The fix worked fine. Made the 3,000 mile trip right on schedule, pulling into San Diego on August 31, with time to unload the trailer and return before heading to the DoubleTree for the night. 

Leaked AT&T Letter Demolishes Case For T-Mobile Merger

Interesting stuff when you compare it to what the AT&T ad campaigns say about the benefits of the deal for rural America.



"Data in the letter undermines AT&T's primary justification for the massive deal, while highlighting how AT&T is willing to pay a huge premium simply to reduce competition and keep T-Mobile out of Sprint's hands."



"AT&T, who has fewer customers and more spectrum than Verizon (or any other company for that matter), has all the resources and spectrum they need for uniform LTE coverage without this deal."



From: Leaked AT&T Letter Demolishes Case For T-Mobile Merger - Lawyer Accidentally Decimates AT&T's #1 Talking Point, as reported on DSLReports.com

Even Stephen Asks: What's in a name?

Starting in September I will be working for ESET, which has it's North American headquarters in San Diego. But I'm sure I won't be the only Stephen Cobb in San Diego. So when my soon-to-be-employer asked how I wanted my name to appear on my business cards I took a moment to think about it. My equivocation brought to mind a recent blog post by my friend and fellow serial entrepreneur, Lucinda Bromwyn Duncalfe. Some people might know Lucinda as Lucinda Holt or Lucinda Duncalfe-Holt but in this blog post she explains why she recently decided to be Lucinda Bromwyn Duncalfe (which I think has a nice ring to it). I can relate to name changing, not because I'm a married woman and have wrestled with male surname adoption, but because I'm a guy who changed his name for a while, not legally, but in practice.

That's right, for nearly 20 years I liked to be called Steve, even though it clearly says Stephen on my birth certificate (FYI, I was not christened or baptized "Stephen" because I've never been subjected to those rituals, but that's another story).

In packing for the move to San Diego I came across my well-worn paperback copy of William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience which I received when I won the King Henry VIII School Prize for English in 1970. Inside was a label that I put in all the books that I took with me to university, first Leeds in England, then McMaster in Canada. The label said: Property of Steve T. Cobb.

I blame Steve McQueen and then my school friend Steve Richardson, my college roommate Steve Donnelly, plus Steve Martin and several other Steves who seemed cooler than Stephens. It was only in the 1980s, when I first moved to California, that I decided to go back to the original Stephen. And that's how my name got recorded as an author at the Library of Congress when I started writing books about computing. Since then I have noticed a proliferation of Stephen Cobbs which frankly surprises me. I grew up in a city of more than 250,000 people and my family were the only Cobbs. Until I was 11 years old there were no other Stephens in the schools I attended.

Another surprise in recent years has been the number of people who see my name written down as Stephen and pronounce it Steffen. This often happens when I check into a hotel. I say "I have a reservation, last name Cobb" and the receptionist says something like "Yes, for one night, Steffen Cobb." I started correcting people by pointing out "My name is Stephen, like in the Bible" assuming people would know the story of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, as described in the New Testament (Acts 6-7).

That strategy really didn't gain much traction and I decided that comparing myself to a saintly martyr seemed a bit presumptuous. So I developed what I thought would be a more amusing way for people to get it right, by referring to what I thought was a well-known Christmas carol: Good King Wenceslas. The opening verse of this carol, which was sung religiously, pun intended, every year in church and school when I was growing up in England, goes as follows:
Good King Wenceslas looked out,
On the feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about,
Deep and crisp and even.

I would then point out that if you pronounce Stephen as Steffen, then change "even" so that it rhymes with Steffen, then the outcome of this verse is quite different, and not very religious (the snow being deep and crisp and effin'). Sadly, this got just as many blank faces as the more direct reference to the martyr. I found myself explaining that the day after Christmas is the feast of Saint Stephen, also known as Boxing Day in England, and that King Wenceslas who was actually a Duke, would himself go on to be a saint, revered in both Bohemia, of which he was Duke, and England, which is where I, Stephen, learned to sing the words you see below. Altogether now, let's hear it G G G A G G D...

King Wenceslas, Duke of Bohemia, and Saint

Staying in Downtown San Diego? The Bristol Hotel could be your best bet

I recently had the pleasure of traveling to San Diego for meetings at a downtown office. My host for this trip booked me into The Bristol Hotel.

Being unfamiliar with this particular establishment, and a trifle miffed that I would not be earning points with one of the 2 hotel brands I normally choose (Hyatt and Marriott), I decided to check out the hotel online.

Nice website, nice pictures, and this view from Google Street View was reassuring (it's so cool that one can now wander the neighborhood around a destination using Street View). The locale was within a couple of blocks of the shops and movie theaters at Horton Plaza. In the other direction is Little Italy and the office I was visiting. All very promising, but the room rates at the Bristol seemed a tad low for an upmarket downtown hotel, so I was still a little wary.

Well, shame on me for doubting my host's taste, The Bristol is an excellent hotel, starting with the friendly staff in the very relaxing lobby. This is equipped with a basic PC workstation and a laser printer, handy for printing out things like boarding passes and last minute reading materials for meetings. BTW, I am not a fan of vast stretches of showy marble and huge shiny chandeliers in hotel lobbies. So when I say relaxing I mean things like comfy seating. Give me the soft and casual touch so I can feel at home.

On the way to my room I started to get a very good feeling--the corridor was wonderfully wide. This boosted my hopes that the room itself would offer what I call "business hotel gold." I'm talking, in hushed tones, about silence, which most frequent business travelers consider truly golden. The main thing I need from a hotel when I'm traveling on business, the thing that beats all manner of other amenities, is a good night's sleep.

Entering the room itself was a revelation: There was a lot of room! A lot more than in a typical cookie-cutter business hotel. This was tastefully decorated space and plenty of it. All behind a solid, sound-deadening door, with a number of nice touches: robes, slippers, lighted magnifying mirror in the well-appointed bathroom, flat-screen TV, big bay windows, and a desk with a proper writing chair (i.e. one that adjusted high enough for me to type in without hunching over).

A great night's sleep was followed by a fine breakfast (one of the best breakfast burritos ever--I confess I could only eat half of it and the staff happily packed the other half to go, which made for an inexpensive supper that evening).

So, I can definitely recommend the Bristol Hotel. Only later did I realize that the Bristol is part of a group of independent hotels, the Greystone Hotels. They have properties in San Diego, San Francisco, Palo Alto, Los Angeles, and Bend, Oregon. I look forward to staying at the Bristol again, and trying some of the other Greystone Hotels.

Road Trip Tip Number 17: "Holding Onto the Night"

Tired of the morning sun waking you up too early when you're staying in a hotel? Annoyed that you went to the trouble, before retiring for the night, of pulling the thick curtains together so that you wouldn't be woken up by the sun, only to find that the drapes didn't overlap enough to block that tall strip of morning glory now slanting across your face?

Welcome to my world, at least until I started making a habit of carrying a few binder clips in my travel bag. They work great for holding the drapes in a fully-overlapped, light-blocking configuration.

But recently I switched to an even simpler solution. Finding myself on the road without my trusty binder clips, I rotated one of the hotel's trouser/pant coat-hangers by ninety degrees: Problem solved. The clips on these hangers are usually padded in some way so that they don't damage your clothes, or the drapes. And I always make sure I take the hanger off the drapes and return it to the closet when I get up, that is: when I am ready to get up.

WARNING: This is a safe "use" of a hotel coat hanger. Do NOT hang any kind of anything from a hotel room sprinkler head. The consequences can be VERY costly. I saw this first hand recently when checking into one of the hotels I had been using for my visits to the new Monetate offices in Conshohocken, just north of Philadelphia, the Spring Hill Suites in Plymouth Meeting. This is a dependable hotel for the business traveler but sadly it is sometimes frequented by young--and occasionally foolish--persons; like the kids who hung up their swimming trunks to dry on a sprinkler head in a third floor room above the lobby, causing it to discharge a bunch of water that pretty much ruined the lobby. I arrived late on a Sunday evening to see carpets and wall coverings and ceilings, torn up, peeled back and generally in a mess.

In other travel news: At the end of August I'm embarking on a major road trip: 2,900 miles across our great land, from top right to lower left, towing a small U-Haul trailer. The Jeep is being prepped and I am packing in my spare time. I hope to share some more tips from the road.

My destination is San Diego, to take up a new position: Security Evangelist for ESET, the anti-virus, anti-cybercrime company.

One of the many things that appealed to me about this opportunity was the fact that ESET is truly a global company. Not only are ESET's information security products sold in more than 180 countries, the company itself is based in Bratislava, Slovakia, with offices in Buenos Aires, Prague, Krakow and Singapore, as well as the distribution center for the Americas in San Diego. Call me a traveling fool but I'm hoping to visit them all. Until then, this old trainspotter will always have the San Diego trolley to ride.

The Apartment With Everything, Now Available Everywhere (Irony Included)

So here's something way more ironic than anything in the Alanis Morissette song of the same name. My wife found a gorgeous apartment to rent in San Diego, for only $1,000 a month (I will explain why she was looking in a moment). The place looked great in the photos and it sounded great in the description on Craigslist:
"2 Bedroom, 2 Bath, fully furnished, modern kitchen and bath, cable TV, Internet wi-fi, electricity, water, local phone included. Nestled in a quiet, almost suburban-like setting, you're just a few minutes away from world-class dining, shopping and the verve of theaters, clubs and nightlife. Great location, great features. All at a location that's exactly right, exactly where you want to be."

All that for $1,000 in San Diego, California? Sounds fantastic, but hardly ironic. So let me add the most interesting thing about this place, something not immediately apparent: it is also for rent in Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, and many other cities in America. But even that's not ironic, that's just another sick cyber-scam.

Apartment ScamLet me add some more data points. My wife and I have spent many years working in the field of information security--where uncovering online scams and other cyber-crime was part of the job--and we are planning to move to San Diego next month, for my new job as Security Evangelist for ESET, a software company dedicated to fighting cyber-crime. We don't need a furnished apartment, but this place looked inviting (and it could lead one to think rent in downtown San Diego is very affordable).

So here's the irony: The apartment that I wanted to rent in order to facilitate my move to a new job fighting cyber-crime turned out to be a cyber-scam!

I was going to provide links to the scam pages (they were mainly on Craigslist) so you could check them out--they were quite professional with fewer typos than your average scam --but after my wife sent Craigslist a description of the scam they pulled it from all the cities mentioned above.

Of course, there may have been other complaints but my wife actually got the scammer to send her an email, which provided further details of the scam that she passed along to Craigslist. Apparently the scammer claims to be out of the country and seeks to get the prospective renter to send her a deposit, presumably before they find out that the whole thing is a fraud.

Notes: I say "her" only because the name most often associated with these fake apartment listings is Amanda Dawson (although I'm pretty sure that is not the scammer's real name). Also note that I think Alanis Morissette is a very good actor and singer, I just don't like the song  "Ironic" because most of it isn't. I don't know why I have a problem with errors in works of art, but I do. For example, the great big hole in Lord of the Flies--you can't use a short-sighted person's glasses to make fire--spoils that book for me (maybe it's because I've been myopic since I was 11 and tried using my glasses to burn paper on several occasions until my father sat me down and told me the facts of light).

My 2001 Jeep Turns 111111

Just a quick post to pay my respects to the vehicle that has faithfully carried me down the road for the past 5 years, the 6 cylinder 2001 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4x4 that I bought at CarMax. I missed the odometer turn over 100K, but somehow 111,111 miles looks even cooler.





White space rural broadband moves one step closer

"The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the organisation that helped ignite the Wi-Fi revolution nearly a decade ago, has published a new wireless standard that promises to bring broadband access to under-served rural areas.

Called IEEE 802.22, the new specification has been designed to take advantage of those portions of the radio frequency spectrum that are increasingly available as digital television switchover schemes make progress around the world.

With support for both VHF (very-high frequency) and UHF (ultra-high frequency) TV bands, sites as far as 100 kilometres away from a single transmitter could enjoy broadband speeds typical of more densely populated areas.

According to the IEEE, each transmitter will be capable of delivering up to 22 Mbit/s per channel “without interfering with reception of existing TV broadcast stations, using the so-called white spaces between the occupied TV channels”."

White space rural broadband moves one step closer

Blood Money: The economics of America's most common deadly genetic disorder

Blood costs money and I know where to get a lot of it, blood that is. Now that might sound callous but it's true and it could save a lot of lives as well as pump more than a billion dollars into the American economy. Please bear with me as I explain, and please pardon the pumping pun.

For several decades now, the supply of fresh human blood in America has been getting tighter, pushing the cost of blood-consuming medical procedures higher and higher. Expanding the nation's blood supply would not only reduce pain and suffering, it would have a positive economic impact. Taking a cold, hard, economic look at anything related to the health and well-being of our fellow beings is bound to bother some people, but the path to sustainable caring-giving within the boundaries of economic reality requires us to acknowledge that things like blood cost money.

While most of the blood supply in America is freely donated, the logistics of blood taking and storage are not free, indeed they are quite expensive. So the cost of a unit of blood is something like $150 or more. Why is that number so vague? Because the cost varies according to supply and demand and those vary by location. In the heartland of America, the supply is high relative to demand but the reverse tends to be true on the coasts. A fairly recent number quoted by a medical facility on the East coast is $175 per unit. That number goes down when supply goes up, but not all the way down since there are fixed costs like testing the blood (there's more detail here).

The extent to which an increase in the supply of blood would reduce the cost to those that need it is hard to determine and I have not yet found any research on that. So let's run with 20% of the $175 number ($35) and find out where the nation can save/make a whole bunch of money. There are probably at least 13 million Americans that have the potential for homozygous or compound heterozygous variations of the HFE gene. In English that means they are at risk of developing toxic levels of iron in their bodies due to "iron overloading" caused by something called hemochromatosis, the most common, potentially-fatal, genetic disorder in America.

The best defense against hemochromatosis is to give blood regularly. Let's say 6 times per year. Suppose that 45% of those 13 million people would become regular blood donors if they found out they had hemochromatosis (that's adjusting down from 100% for those that already know, those that already give blood, and those who have a hard time giving blood). According to my spreadsheet that comes out to $1.25 billion per year, $12.5 billion over the next decade. I can't resist saying that's quite a shot in the arm for our economy.

But that is just the beginning...encouraging more people to give blood in general could have a fantastic prophylactic effect IF blood banks would routinely run an iron panel on donors to screen for iron overload, the most telling sign of possible hemochromatosis. People found to have high iron levels could check in with their doctors and might also elect to get a genetic test to detect hereditary hemochromatosis ($99* from 23andMe). The iron panel is a relatively inexpensive blood test and before 1996 it was fairly routine.

(Don't get me started on the slimy corporate frauds whose greed caused iron to be dropped from the standard blood panel, leading to a significant drop in the rate of hemochromatosis detection and thus a tragically avoidable rise in human suffering.)

The fact is, early detection of hemochromatosis would save our economy billions in avoidable health care costs, disability costs, lost productivity and tax revenues. On top of that, early detection, combined with affordable genetic testing, awareness and counseling, could lead to the eventual disappearance of this condition.

The genetic form of iron overload probably occurred as a natural defense against a diet low in iron and the shift from a nomadic, hunting-based culture to city life made possible by the agrarian-revolution. Now, in a world of iron-rich diets and lifespans that extend past menopause, genetic hemochromatosis has become a life-threatening metabolic disorder. Let's get rid of it and save a lot of money, and a lot of human suffering.
Note:  Due to ignorance, many blood banks throw away blood from hemochromatosis patients or even charge them for “filtering.” This is infuriating, immoral, and should be illegal. The FDA is quite clear that the blood is good, and so is the NIH Clinical Center.

Broadband needs rural boost: Tennessee News

"Job opportunities will elude millions of mostly rural Americans because they lack access to high-speed Internet, according to a new report by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In Tennessee, more than 489,000 residents lack that access."

Broadband needs rural boost on NWTNTODAY.COM

Is Satellite the Answer for Rural Broadband? Free 20 page report

Does your rural community have questions about satellite Internet service? Wondering if satellite connections can fill in for cable, DSL, or fiber? What are the limits of satellite Internet service and how much does it cost? Is satellite the same as broadband?

Just a quick reminder that you can find answers to these questions and more in a free 20-page report from the Rural Mobile and Broadband Alliance or RuMBA, written by veteran information technology expert Stephen Cobb, CISSP.


You can get the report from this page.

FCC: Rural areas still lag in broadband speeds


"More than 28 percent of the rural population in the U.S. lack access to midrange 3Mbps broadband service, according to a new report from two U.S. agencies."

The gaps appear to be closing, but many rural residents "still lack access to the kind of broadband that most Americans take for granted," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement. "That is not acceptable..."

FCC: Rural areas still lag in broadband speeds

WK&T Selects Calix for Large FTTH Project in Kentucky and Tennessee

"The ambitious project will provide this rural region with a broadband infrastructure capable of delivering service speeds of up to 1 Gbps. It will deliver voice, data and IPTV services to 21,000 homes and 99 community anchor institutions across a nine-county service area."

Another example of people finding an alternative to traditional big telco.

WK&T Selects Calix for Large FTTH Project in Kentucky and Tennessee

USDA rural broadband cuts will affect northern New York

"'We do not encourage our people to leave home in order to have what their city-dwelling counterparts have. We fear that this migration to technologically-progressive neighborhoods will decimate our rural landscape,' said Pat McKeown, executive director of the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce."

USDA cuts will affect NNY

Not Happy With AT&T? The network of possible reasons is expanding

As a consumer, few things annoy me as much as TV ads extolling the virtues of something that is currently not working right, like AT&T's 3G data service. About this time yesterday I went to the AT&T web page that tells me how much of the 5 gigabytes-per-month 3G data plan on my MiFi wireless access point I have used. Simply going to this page is a fine example of how to: A. annoy your customers, B. tarnish your brand. Why?

1 .The Mobile Hotspot MiFi 2372 data device for which I paid $100 is treated like a cellphone in all AT&T literature (it is not a cellphone) so I have to log into a secure page to find how much of my $60 per month 5 gigabyte data allowance I have used, even when I am connecting from the device itself.

B. The first thing the page says is that information about my minutes is not available. Duh! This MiFi device has no minutes, it just has data. The info about the data usage is below the fold. This gives me zero confidence that AT&T knows what it is doing when it comes to mobile data services.

C. I have to do this any time I want to check my usage, which is sometimes multiple times a day because AT&T keeps sending me emails warning that I am about to go over my limit even when I am nowhere near my limit. (But they will charge me if I go over the limit).

D. I get logged out of the data usage page after a few minutes "for security reasons" which means that I cannot leave the page on the screen and monitor usage in real time. (Speaking as a CISSP, I see no reason to consider my data usage protected information, and no reason for my provider to deny me constant access to it.)

Even HughesNet, the satellite Internet service provider whose service levels and bandwidth caps I have lambasted in the past, does a better job of keeping me informed, in real time and with little effort, of my bandwidth usage relative to their daily cap.

This might sound like an obscure issue with a niche product, but I believe it is the shape of things to come. Bandwidth caps are the norm for 3G and soon 4G and maybe for other services too. Consumers of capped bandwidth need ways to monitor their usage to avoid additional charges. Putting on my marketing and branding cap I would say that cynical consumers will assume that those providers of capped bandwidth who make it tough to monitor usage are hoping to rake in the extra fees for going over the limit.

Now here's the real kicker: The usage page was down yesterday. That's the page that tells me how much data I have used. And it remains down 24 hours later. Today I got another "High Usage Data Alert" email from AT&T but had to place a voice call to check my usage. It took the AT&T person who assisted me several minutes to figure out what I meant by "How much data have I used?" Then she told me I had nothing to worry about because my monthly usage cycle had started over today, the 12th. To which I replied: "Yes, I know that is what is supposed to happen, but I just got a warning message, at 4PM today, the 12th, telling me my usage was high."

To which she replied "I apologize for that, it was sent because you were nearing your limit yesterday."

This rendered me temporarily speechless because I couldn't decide which aspect of the absurdity I wanted to highlight first. So when she asked "Is there anything else I can help you with?" my response was simply to ask when the web page would be coming back. Her reply: "They're working on it but we have no exact time."

And then I turned on the television to see an AT&T ad about the amazing "network of possibilities" with AT&T data networks. I suppose one possibility is that AT&T may get a clue about how to deliver useful and accurate data to its customers in a timely fashion. Designing a more practical 3G MiFi/WiFi device might also be a possibility. Watch this space for a review of the Novatel 2372, the first device to inflict a five colored LED on color blind computer users.

The Diesel Factor: Europeans are mad or Yanks are wimps

At the conclusion of this weekend's awesome running of 24 Hours at Le Mans, one conclusion was inescapable: Diesel engines rock! As Audi and Peugot battled for leadership in the P1 class during 24 hours of racing--lapping the curvaceous 8.5 mile racetrack at speeds averaging around 145 mph--it was clear that diesel engines are superior to their gasoline counterparts in many ways.

(P1 is open to gas or diesel power, so the fact that diesel-powered cars took the top 5 spots in this classic endurance race is pretty conclusive--although Toyota deserves an honorary mention for powering the Rebellion Racing Lola, the highest finishing petrol-powered P1.)

Mechanically-speaking, victory for the Audi R18 was particularly sweet in this, one of the closest finishes in the history of a race that was first run in 1923. For this was the first Le Mans endurance outing for this Audi engine, a 3.7 litre V6 turbodiesel that produces a whopping 540 bhp and features several design innovations, like a single turbocharger, sitting between the cylinder banks (versus a more traditional twin turbo setup, with one turbocharger per bank of cyclinders).

So diesels rock, and in Europe you can buy just about every model of road car, including Jaguars, Mercs, BMWs, Jeeps and Cadillacs, with a diesel powerplant. But not in America. Why? Because some states, like New York and California, think diesel cars are bad for you.Which leads us back to the headline: Europeans are mad or Yanks are wimps.

In other words, the people who govern New York must believe the Europeans are killing themselves by allowing diesel engines in cars. Californians must regard the steady rise of diesel engines to dominate the family car market in countries like Germany, France and the UK, as sheer madness, a total failure of public health and safety. There is no other way to explain the banning of something that is booming elsewhere in the world.

Maybe California should sue the U.K government for endangering the lives of tourists from California who visit London and other cities that are infested with diesels. Why pick on London? Well now that London uses traffic metering the city center is full of diesel buses and diesel taxicabs (yes, all London cabs are diesel and have been for ages). Or perhaps New Yorkers who attended the last royal wedding can start a class action suit and against the City of London.

Alternatively, the diesel-hating states of America could admit that a ban on diesels is totally absurd and reverse course, thereby ushering in a new era of reduced dependency on foreign oil. Yep, like that is ever going to happen.

Gridline Communications - Consumer Broadband

Gridline Communications - Consumer Broadband: "Gridline Communications, a Broadband communications company, has one simple goal. To utilize our broadband transport networks, deployed for Smart Grid services, to provide communities and their businesses and residents with reliable, cost effective, broadband access to communications, online services, and information."

Electricity lines used in new broadband pilot

Electricity lines used in new broadband pilot: "US firm Gridline Communications has joined forces with Electricity Northwest, which controls the grid in the Shap area, to bring broadband to the 1,000 or so residents in the village."

Millions of Americans Lack Access to Broadband's Economic Benefits

"America may have invented the Internet, but more than 100 million American lack access to broadband and its accompanying economic benefits, according to a new report from the Federal Communications Commission.

Some 26 million Americans in largely rural areas across the nation lack high-speed connections to the Internet, the FCCs Broadband Progress Report to Congress found, cutting them off from broadband-based jobs and other economic opportunities."

Millions of Americans Lack Access to Broadband's Economic Benefits: As reported in AOL Wallet Pop.

Sen. Sanders: Satellite Should NotBe De Facto Cable Competition

"Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders wants the FCC to disallow satellite service from qualifying as effective competition to cable service in his home state."

Sen. Sanders: Satellite Should NotBe De Facto Cable Competition - 2011-05-25 01:48:41 | Broadcasting & Cable

Great Blog to Follow: Cassandra Heyne's Rural TeleCommentary

A wealth of detail on current discussions in rural telecomm regulation, policy, etc., from someone who 'gets' the value of rural broadband:
"Yet, people do live in these areas, and they deserve quality and affordable broadband. I have long argued that these are the people who need broadband the most, because broadband has the potential to transform their lives in ways that it cannot in urban areas simply by opening up the entire world of education, health care, finance, business and culture to individuals who would normally have to drive 300 miles to reach the nearest 'city' to conduct business or even purchase everyday goods and services." -- Cassandra Heyne

Give Back a Bit: Fixing the "Read More" problem in Blogger posts

I just found a problem in Blogger with the Read More jump feature, then I fixed it thanks to some helpful souls out there on the internets. You can see the thing I'm talking about if you view this post on the home page of the blog. The first part of the post appears on the home page of the blog but the rest of the post is not visible until you click the link that says "Click here to read the rest of the story..."

This was just not working on this blog before I fixed it today. The link, referred to as a jump and often denoted by More or Read more, did not appear, so there was no easy way to get from the home page to the rest of the story (you couldn't even see that the rest of the story existed).

Apparently this problem exists with some Blogger templates and not others. Using Google I found a solution and it is listed below the jump on this story. I wanted to thank the person who wrote the fix but his blog seems to have disappeared, so I am repeating the fix and thanking "swathipradeep," whom I assume is Swathi Pradeep, for coming up with this code and sharing it.

If you are having this problem with your Blogger blog then here is how you fix it (instructions created by Swathi Pradeep):

1. Back up your template code by downloading it: Go to the Design tab and select Edit HTML, then click Download Full Template. Save to your hard drive. This allows you to get back to the original template if something goes wrong.

2. After backing up your template, click the Expand Widget Templates check box (or tick the tick box if you're a Brit). Now scan your HTML for the following snippet (I used the Ctrl-F shortcut for Find):
<data:post.body/> 
Once you've located that code, paste the following snippet directly below it:
<b:if cond='data:post.hasJumpLink'> 
<div class='jump-link'>
<a expr:href='data:post.url + "#more"'><data:post.jumpText/></a>
</div>
</b:if >
As I have said before and will probably be saying again: I feel like I don't give back enough when it comes to the zillions of tech tips like these that I need/find/use to do my work/play. So I'm going to try to do better. I came up with GeeBaB as an acronym for Give Back a Bit and I will endeavor to geebab more useful tech learnings in the future.

Ironically, I ran into a problem trying to present the above tip because of Blogger's rather primitive display of code text. How did I get around the problem? I read about a dozen web pages offering solutions and decided the best one was these boxes to display code, as described in this post at BlogKori, Thanks!

Satellite Internet Whitepaper Downloaded Hundreds of Times Already

The launch of the RuMBA whitepaper addressing satellite Internet's suitability for rural broadband access has been going very well  with hundreds of people downloading it already. Here are some of the places on the web that the paper has been hightlighted:
You can download the whitepaper here.

Satellite Broadband Little Help To Rural Areas, Report Says

The new whitepaper is getting some traction in the press. You can download it from here. The following is from an article at ConsumerAffairs.com:

"Given the limitations of satellite Internet service detailed in this report, RuMBA cannot consider satellite a viable solution for rural communities who are increasingly cut off from mainstream America by the lack of access to affordable broadband service," said Luisa Handem, founder and Managing Director of RuMBA USA.

As reported by Consumer Affairs

Reasons Why the Word Broadband Matters: #17 Satellite is not broadband

With over 610,000 subscribers, HughesNet is the largest supplier of satellite Internet service in America. The billion dollar company that owns HughesNet is Hughes Network Systems, LLC, which routinely describes itself as "the world's leading provider of broadband satellite services." You can see this on the company website and in the company's reporting of its first quarter 2011 results.

The problem is that broadband satellite is an oxymoron. The Internet you get from a satellite is not broadband. Just ask anybody who has used both satellite and cable, DSL, or fiber. The broadband functionality that DSL/cable/fiber users take for granted just doesn't work, or doesn't work well, over satellite; we're talking core functionality like automatic software updates, VoIP, VPN, NetFlix movies, website hosting, online backup and shared cloud storage services like Dropbox.

Who says such functionality is not there? The satellite Internet companies themselves, including Hughes. This fact is made clear in a 22-page report just released by the Rural Mobile and Broadband Alliance. Conveniently known as RuMBA USA, this non-profit group seeks to expand the availability of affordable broadband access in rural America.

Although I recommend reading the full report (disclaimer: I wrote it) you really don't have to look any further than the HughesNet website to see what I mean when I say that...

...the word "broadband" matters. The title of the website is: "HughesNet Hi-Speed Satellite Internet Provider." And the site describes a variety of services, all of which are described as high-speed Internet. None of them are described as broadband.

Now switch to the Hughes website and you will see a video titled "Consumer Broadband: A Thriving Market" and plenty of other "broadband" messaging. So why does Hughes talk "broadband satellite" on its corporate website and "hi-speed Satellite Internet" on the HughesNet consumer site, the site that actually sells the satellite service? The answer might be as simple as "truth in advertising."

You can't really fault HughesNet for saying "Enjoy easy, convenient high-speed Internet anywhere, anytime, Get High-Speed Satellite Today!" Based on 2 out of 3 critical speed factors used to describe Internet connectivity, HughesNet satellite Internet service can perform faster than a dialup modem. Indeed, adverts for the service often stress that is it faster than dialup. Headline upload and download speeds offered by the satellite service are certainly higher than the 56Kbps at which a dialup modem maxes out.

Where satellite Internet is not faster than dialup is the time it takes for a single bit of data to get from one computer to another across the network. This is known as latency and it has a big effect on things like signing into your online account and other secure services over the Internet (basically any web page URL that starts with https://). That's because encrypted connections require a "handshake" to take place in which a lot of small pieces of information are exchanged back and forth between the web server and the web client.

You can read more about security handshakes in this 2002 USENIX security paper. But latency affects more than secure connections. The time between sending a request for a web page or a change on a web page and the time that the request reaches the server that is serving up the page is always going to be longer over satellite, about 10X longer than on a true broadband connection. See this early paper that references the problem: Data Coomunications Protocol Performance on Geo-stationary Satellite Links (Hans Kruse, Ohio University, 1996).

As Kruse states, the one-way trip for a data bit to a geo-stationary satellite takes 250 milliseconds (that's 500 for a round trip into space and back). And the laws of physics dictate you can't shorten that time, unless you can get data packets to travel faster than the speed of light. Add some ground station and Network Operations Center overhead and you get a best case satellite Internet latency of around 600ms. This might not sound like a long time but it can mean that logging into a secure site can take minutes, not seconds.

Other activities, such as a typical remote employment task like writing code, are also impacted. Consider this programmer's complaint about cable Internet being slower, at 80ms, than DSL at 20ms. Now compare that to 600ms, which is the best I've seen on satellite, where latency can average 1000ms, or 50 times slower than DSL.

So, satellite is not broadband, and that matters because the federal government has given tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to satellite companies to provide broadband service. As the Hughes Annual Report of 2010 proudly proclaims: "Hughes Wins $58.7 Million Under U.S. Recovery Act Broadband Program." Except it just isn't broadband.

Satellite Internet Service: Amazing technology but not broadband (and why that matters more and more)

A new report on satellite Internet service has just been published by the Rural Mobile and Broadband Alliance, or RuMBA (clever name, huh!). This free whitepaper, full of table, illustrations, and extensive references, is worth reading if you are:
  1. A nerd or geek like me
  2. Ever wondered how this satellite Internet thing worked
  3. Have an interest in computer security
  4. Live in a rural area
  5. Care about the future of rural America
  6. All of the above
Disclaimer: I wrote this paper (all 22 pages of it) in my spare time, as a way to help rural communities like the one in which I live. So there is an agenda in my plugging this white paper, but no financial incentive. RuMBA is a not-for-profit group (and for the moment I'm a fairly unprofitable person).

As I say in the paper, the fact that satellite Internet service works at all is a major technological achievement. I just have a problem with the idea that satellite Internet service is being touted in some quarters as a way to provide rural communities with access to broadband.

I don't want to give anything away, because I really do want people to read this paper, but satellite Internet is not and can never be a substitute for proper broadband service. By "proper broadband service" I mean something that can support a data center or at least deliver a high-availability, low-latency, uncapped connection at speeds of more than 10Mbps.


Satellite might have a role to play as the connection of last resort for people living in truly remote areas far from paved roads and other infrastructure, but I see no good reason why homes and businesses that already have telephone service should not also have broadband connectivity. For example, it makes no sense to me that a village on a state highway less than 50 miles from the capital of New York should not have broadband, especially when it is just a few miles from the nearest broadband connection point and already has a fiber optic cable running right through it. And there are hundreds of examples like this.

As a technologist who also pays taxes I am also very concerned that the federal government has seen fit to give tens of millions of dollars of broadband stimulus money to satellite companies who clearly, according to the definitive and categorical conclusions of this 22-page report, do not deliver broadband.

If you agree with me that broadband access is important for farming families and the people who live in rural areas to support them (doctors, nurses, teachers, merchants, and so on) then please bear in mind that things are only going to get worse if we don't act now to deliver genuine broadband to these folks. Every metric out there points to a coming boom in Internet video and other rick media as a way of interacting with consumers, businesses, schools, and healthcare providers. If communities are hurting right now because they only have dialup or satellite, and I believe they are, there are really going to be hurting a year or two from now.

For example, a Cisco report last October indicated that the average traffic over a broadband connection increased 31% in the previous 12 months, generating 14.9 gigabytes of Internet traffic a month. If that trend continues, and a recovering economy strongly suggests it will, the average traffic number will reach 20 gigabytes a month by the end of this year, way more than most satellite Internet users are allowed (without substantial added cost or inconvenience).

BTW, there is a lot of information on this subject over at the Rural Mobile and Broadband Alliance website. I encourage you to check it out. You may also want to follow RuMBA's founder @HandemRuMBA on Twitter and tune in to the Rural America Radio Show on Blog Talk Radio

Cobb's Satellite Internet Whitepaper Published by Rural Mobile & Broadband Alliance

Update, December 18, 2019: A recent decision by the FCC has put the spotlight on satellite internet service for rural communities in America (see Viasat gets $87.1M for rural broadband). I researched this topic - from a rural home that depended on satellite service for its internet connection - back in 2011. This article describes, and links to, the whitepaper in which I wrote up my research (PDF, 2 megabytes).

Original article:

I'm happy to announce that a document I've been working on for some time now has been published by RuMBA: the Rural Mobile & Broadband Alliance. Here's the full title:

Satellite Internet Connection for Rural Broadband: Is it a viable alternative to wired and wireless connectivity for America's rural communities?

RuMBA Satellite Internet WhitepaperYou can download the whitepaper here (this a 22-page PDF document just under 2 Megabytes in size).

For those who haven't heard of RuMBA, it's a non-profit organization that was launched in February 2009 by Luisa Handem Piette as an advocacy group "seeking to ensure that rural communities are offered the same access to affordable mobile and broadband services available to urban and suburban areas."

I admit that I first got involved with RuMBA for purely selfish reasons: I live in a rural community that has no access to broadband and I like broadband.

Okay, it's more than that. I need broadband to earn a living. Sure, I could go through some sort of retraining program and earn a living as a farmer or lumberjack or trucker, but to keep doing what I've been doing for the last 25 years, researching, writing and publishing, I need broadband.

(I actually think broadband can help you be a more successful farmer, lumberjack, or trucker, so it's not like those careers wouldn't benefit from better access to broadband as well.)

When I found out about RuMBA, a group of people looking to expand rural access to broadband, I signed up. One of the things I like about RuMBA is that it's not just an organization for consumers of broadband. And it's not just a meeting place for suppliers of broadband. RuMBA is a good mix of consumers and suppliers and experts, and a great place to research this field. I have already learned a great deal from RuMBA members about the possibilities and challenges of bringing broadband to un-served or under-served areas.

Which brings me back to satellite Internet. Attentive readers of this blog will know that I've had a lot of experience using satellite Internet over the last 5 years. Until recently it was the only way to connect to the Internet from the cabin in Upstate New York where I live and work IF you wanted speeds above those of an old-fashioned dialup modem.

In fact, the claim "faster than dialup" has been at the heart of marketing efforts by HughesNet and Wildblue, the two largest satellite Internet providers, for many years. What you don't see when you look into signing up for these services on the web is the phrase "satellite broadband." And there is a good reason for that [spoiler alert--the next sentence reveals the primary conclusion of the above-mentioned whitepaper].

Basically, satellite Internet is not broadband. It is not sold to consumers and small businesses as broadband. But it is getting promoted to government agencies and regulators as broadband. Which raises two questions:

  1. Why did I write a 22 page document to make that point?

  2. What's the problem?


Let me state the problem first: The traditional terrestrial Internet providers, the purveyors of DSL, cable, and fiber, do not want the government to require them to serve rural areas in the way that America requires telephone companies to serve rural areas.

Have you ever wondered how it is that your relatives on the farm way in the middle of nowhere North Dakota have a phone line? The answer lies in federal legislation dating back to the 1930s. That's when America decided "to make available, so far as possible, to all the people of the United States a rapid, efficient, nationwide and worldwide wire and radio communication service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges."

One of the principles established back then can be stated like this: If a company wants to run cable or beam waves across this great land of ours, everyone living on this land should get a slice of the service those cables and waves deliver. For example, a great big rope of fiber runs right through my village here in rural New York. My neighbors have to exercise care with their farm equipment so that they don't damage said cable or the power injectors and related fiber-phernalia. It seems only fair, at least in that old-fashioned 1930s way of American thinking, that a slice of said fiber should serve the community through which it passes. Right now it does not.

And one of the arguments that fiber/cable/DSL companies in America make against a universal broadband service requirement is that the country does not need it because: rural folks can always get broadband via satellite. And of course the satellite companies love that; they even got federal broadband money to build out their subscriber base. The telecommunications industry can say: "See, there's no need for universal service requirement because everyone has access to broadband."

Except they don't. That's because Satellite Internet is not broadband. And just so there could be no doubt about that statement I decided to make available an argument-ending document full of facts and references that anyone can print out and hand out and email, something that substantiates that statement in language anyone can understand. (And that answers question 2 above.)

If you would like a copy, it is free, and I encourage to download it now then please, spread it around.

That Sinking Feeling: The effects of not expanding broadband to rural areas


Interesting observation: "The Center for Rural Strategies report concludes that having access to broadband is 'simply treading water or keeping up. Not having it means sinking.' Studies rank the United States overall between 25th and 29th in the world in terms of Internet speed. The report, 'Scholars' Roundtable: The Effects of Expanding Broadband to Rural Areas,' is can be downloaded here www.ruralstrategies.org."

From Public News Service

The Center for Rural Strategies

"The Center for Rural Strategies manages the partnerships and activities of the National Rural Assembly, a coalition made up of over 400 organizations and individuals from 47 states working at local, regional, and national levels to build more opportunity and better policy for rural communities across the country."

Check it out: The Center for Rural Strategies

Queer Codes? All about QR 2D barcodes

Have you noticed more of these strange symbols lately? These are QR codes or 2D bar codes. They store information, a lot of information. Whereas a regular barcode that is made up of lines can store 30 numbers, a 2D QR can store 7,089 numbers!

I happen to know this because of a great article on the subject that I just read: Top 14 Things Marketers Need to Know About QR Codes by fellow Search Engine Watch columnist Angie Schottmuller. This article appears in the April 26 issue of Search Engine Watch and they bill it is as: "a great crash course on tools, tactics, and best practices to confidently help you jumpstart a 2D barcode marketing campaign." And I agree wholeheartedly.

The article is also a good general introduction to the technology and why people are using it. Since one goal of this blog is to make technology more accessible I thought I would highlight Angie's article for that reason. And that makes one less article I have to write, which is good, because I know that someone, at some point, is going to ask me: Stephen, what's a QR code? Now I can simply point them in Angie's direction.