FCC Eyes Reducing Barriers to Broadband Buildout

FCC Eyes Reducing Barriers to Broadband Buildout:

"Can't come soon enough for the narrowband wastelands and rural notspots."

The case for rural broadband used to be about the enormous benefits it can bring to rural communities. Now it is as much about halting the decline of those communities. The country as a whole is driven increasingly by broadband. Today, when a community lacks access to broadband it is outside mainstream America. Not only that, lack of broadband is pushing communities toward a downward spiral in property values from which it will be increasingly difficult for them to recover.

UK village installs own high speed broadband

Happy New Year!

In 2011 this could be the way to go for many small towns in America. Sounds like they put a DSL enabling switch in the village (getting a fiber feed from British Telecomm) and then were able to serve the local community with DSL.

BBC News - Rutland village installs own high speed broadband.

Bear in mind that English villages tend to be more densely packed than rural towns in America, but still worth investigating since the phone wiring is already in place.

Ross Noble: Ad Lib Improv Standup as Art

UK comedian Ross Noble demonstrates his amazing ability to create hilarious content out of thin air. Truly a gift. And a great way to cheer up your day.

Twitter's New Interface Still Has Issues (API Pop-Up Box Asks Me to Log In)

So, if I was running a social media service like Twitter, one which faces stiff competition, I would place a priority on fixing bugs. After all, if there are other places where people can share what is going on in their lives without bugs, people will tend to share there instead. Which is why it makes no sense to me that Twitter has had a known bug in its new web interface for about a year now.

This bug randomly pops up a dialog box asking for User Name and Password. If that wasn't bad enough, the box seizes focus and suddenly appears over the top of another browser window, which is annoying to say the least. However, that's not quite as annoying as the statement on the Twitter site saying "We are still in the preliminary stage of identifying the causes of this problem."

Great! Six months or more of complaints and you're still in the preliminary stage of finding out what the problem is? What other company gets to treat its customers like this? As a CISSP the headline statement that "Your account is not being phished/compromised" is particularly worrying. I mean a. How do you know? b. What a great scam. Here's how a bad actor intent on stealing user names and passwords could proceed: Create a phishing box that looks like the one that Twitter claims is not a scam. People Google the problem and get assurance from Twitter that this is not a scam, and the scam cheerfully carries on.

For about 15 minutes some 15 days ago I thought the bug was fixed, but n-o-o-o it came back, and it is ugly. It makes the new interface impossible for me to use in Firefox. I'm not going to switch browsers just to use the new interface. It should work in Firefox, which has more users than Twitter. So I am still using the old version of Twitter, which is not a huge inconvenience, but now Twitter has started telling me "You’re using an older version of Twitter that won’t be around for much longer." 

Great! Who would have thought this was a good business plan: Introduce a new version, discover and document bugs, fail to fix them, then make people use the new version. Just in case you think this is me being dumb or curmudgeonly, check out this page where Twitter cheerfully documents the bug as though it was of little concern, and more than 100 people describe their frustration with this ongoing problem.

I was going to supply my own comment but Twitter was over capacity last time I tried. IMHO this is not a sustainable business model, unless the point is to drive Twitter traffic to other interfaces or other social media services such as Facebook (which has never told me it is over capacity and has, despite an awkward interface, relatively few bugs).

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.