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The "Data Portability" Hoohah

I wrote this as a comment to Nick O’Neill’s excellent post on the ridiculousness of the recent Gillmor Gang podcast on “Data Portability” between some of the Internet’s most vocal folks:

This is a discussion about protocols. The only difference between talking about “data portability” and email is that SMTP was designed by some geeks in a back room and this one is being designed by some geeks with loud mouths.

The truth of the matter is that they want this “ecosystem” to thrive outside of just Facebook, et al. They want social networking features everywhere because they think that it will make money. But it is truly only an echo chamber thusfar and the users just don’t care.

The fact still remains that no one has yet made a dime on any of this except the founders of these companies and they aren’t likely to any time soon. Protocols are all nice, but until there is a true financial incentive for companies to implement them they are only specifications.

Moreover this discussion is as much about egos as anything. The “Gillmor Gang” is only the tip of the iceberg of folks that think their opinion actually matters. It mostly doesn’t. The “rank and file” users of these services plain don’t care if they can sync Facebook, Myspace and Bebo or even use their profiles off-site. So this is, in my opinion, a bunch of self-important folks talking about nonsense in their ever-expanding fight to remain (become?) relevant.

The Internet is so much more than the sum of its parts or the protocols that it is based on. It is itself a community tool and has been since its inception. This seems to have been forgotten by these folks.

Pangea Day at Microsoft

I’m here at the Pangea Day screening at MSStudios’ Studio C. We’re awaiting the start of the event. The folks in LA just recorded the intro for the one-hour summary show and the set looks AMAZING. I’ll be updating this post periodically with my thoughts about the event.

If you aren’t at a screening, I hope that you will check out the streaming feeds on pangeaday.org and get around the “global campfire”

[11:06AM PDT]

It amazes me that this whole thing came out of a TED talk. The cynicism of the world, especially my little geek world, forgets the power of people so often. This event will no doubt be panned by skeptics and cynics alike, but the importance of things like this should not be questioned.

[12:00PM PDT]

The first hour of the show was absolutely stunning. The organizers of this event have done an amazing job finding films that really do get to the heart of the human spirit. From Carl Sagan’s wonderful story “Pale Blue Dot” to a film about soccer balls made from condoms. They have focused on “human universals” — emotions that we all share the world around like Love, Hope and Sorrow. Helping regain perspective and see the world as it is.

[1:00PM PDT]

This hour was much more intense. It started with a montage of people all over the world talking about their dreams and was followed by Gilberto Gil singing. After that, things were about identification of differences and why we might open our minds to ignoring differences.

Then we saw an amazing film from a soldier who simply told a story about a car accident in Iraq. It was simply a sequence of renactment photos with his voice, but the power of his words was unquestionable. We are all capable of feeling for those that we imagine are our enemies. We are all the same and there are no “accidents” in war.

Comcast Hijacks Bandwidth Management

Comcast, one of the US’s largest broadband providers, issued a press release today in which it said it would “undertake a collaborative effort” with BitTorrent  ”to more effectively address issues associated with rich media content and network capacity management”. This is in response to their recently being caught with their ”hand in the cookie jar” of bandwidth management with the BitTorrent and eDonkey file sharing protocols. They have said that they will work to find new ways of managing bandwidth (while still creating an obviously tiered network).

Comcast has done a clever thing with this press release that I have yet to see anyone chime in on. The company has effectively shifted the focus of the debate on bandwidth management away from the core issue of network investment and on to the overlayed problem of file sharing as the source of their woes.  The real issue is that they won’t upgrade the network, not that people are sharing files.

Comcast refuses to upgrade its network to meet the needs of its customers. This is the ultimate in turning “no press is bad press” into reality for Comcast. They have effectively said “we’re not the bad guys here, those file sharers are making you all pay” and put the onus on their own customers to change their behaviors. The customer is never right in this day and age with broadband service. The customer pays Comcast, but Comcast is apparently ceding it’s responsibility to give good service. In lieu of that they punish their customers for using what they pay for.

Where are the customer advocates? Who is yelling about this instead of regurgitating the press release and saying what good boys and girls these people are?

Broadband Wasteland?

I live in one of the most well connected communities in the United States. Redmond, WA is home to my employer Microsoft and countless other large bandwidth-hogging companies. One would think that with all of these high-tech workers in the city of 51,000 it would be pretty easy to get good, reliable broadband at my house. It isn’t.

It appears that in this place, with these consumers and this large number of smart and affluent people that I live in a broadband wasteland. I have had Comcast cable modem since moving here in the middle of last year, and it has been sub-par at best. The quality of the link is good (as measured by upstream signal-to-noise ratio of 34db) and the bandwidth averages about 3mbits down and 256k up at non-peak times, but during peak times it slows to a crawl of less than 1mbit down and 56k up. This sort of service level is intolerable for someone who uses their connection as heavily as I do. I have asked Comcast for different service tiers, had their service tech come out and replace my cable line and even said a prayer over the cable modem. Nothing I have done has had any measurable effect and short of contacting the local authoroties I don’t see what else there is.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to try using our local wireless provider Clearwire, which has been getting good press in the area. I went to Best Buy, bought a modem and hooked it up straight to my laptop. After opening my browser, filling out the signup form and giving away the keys to my bank account I was allowed to use my precious Internet. The link has been solid, if a little pokey for my tastes, at about 2mbits down and 256k up. The fact that the service is wireless means that latency can spike from 50ms to 200ms on a simple ping test over a period of 5 minutes. This spikey behavior can cause havoc on streaming video and large file transfers. I’ve had a few problems, but it’s overall just OK in my opinion.

I’m off to try other options. Over the next few months I hope to try out ADSL2 service from both Verizon and Covad. This should give me the full gamut of what’s available in the area without moving house. I’m not sure what else to check out, considering my upcoming optional accessory and his financial responsibilities. I’m happy to listen to ideas, and stay tuned for your man-on-the-street opinion.

CNN's Ballot Bowl – Fatigue on your TV

Tune in to CNN on Saturday or Sunday or almost any other afternoon for that matter and you’ll see Ballot Bowl, which CNN describes thusly:

CNN Ballot Bowl: CNN brings viewers rare, in-depth access to the people, places and events impacting our world and our lives.

To the naked eye this sounds pretty cool. You get to hear the candidates “Live and unfiltered” and commentary from “The Best Political Team on TV” to boot. Wow. Nice, huh? CNN has taken time out of its busy schedule to show you all the candidates’ stump speeches and press conferences without bothering to edit them. CNN is also letting you hear the latest polls and what “Ordinary Americans” think from their Election Express bus. They must be giving you more information, right? Wrong.

Stump speeches aren’t supposed to give their viewers information. They are designed to excite the audience into action. They are speeches that have been honed and sculpted to get the audience to go out and canvass or give money or evangelize the candidate. They are the ultimate in preaching to the choir. There is no new information given in the typical speech given by any candidate.

The simple act of CNN giving the candidates access to the national TV audience has changed what the stump speech used to be. They still don’t usually convey anything new, but they do speak to a larger audience than those gathered in the room to hear it. Candidates have recently come to “respond” to what the issues of the day are, because they have a national audience in what is essentially an intimate and local affair. This is the case of the Uncertainty Principle in action every day.

I don’t really think this is bad per se, but I do think that it further dilutes the messages of the candidates and contributes to fatigue in the electorate. The US voter is already tired of the elections, and now CNN is helping to make it worse. They aren’t helping people make a better decision for their favorite candidate. They aren’t letting the viewer know any more about what the candidate stands for. They are misrepresenting what they are doing as journalism and informative. The typical US voter doesn’t care about the election until they walk in to the voting booth. They don’t even really make up their mind until their finger is on the button. So piping rhetoric into these addled brains is not really helping much.

This idea about how Obama has no platform to run on and is just spouting hope for hope’s sake is a perfect example of what happens when people hear the same stuff over and over. Obama has all of his position papers and white papers posted handily at his website, the same as all the other candidates. The reason this incorrect rumor persists, I think, is because people hear McCain and Clinton talking about it all day every day on shows like Ballot Bowl.

This just proves to me that TV won’t really set you free. If you’re a voter in the US you have an obligation to vote not only with your heart, but with your mind. You should know who you are voting for and educate yourself independently of any media sources. In the hour you sit down to watch Ballot Bowl, you could read papers on all 3 of the big player’s web sites about an issue that you care about. You could actually know more about these people and what they say. You would be less ignorant and susceptible to rumors like the Obama one and make up your own mind. Go read and understand. Here are the links:

Enjoy yourself!

New Baby Blog

I didn’t want to put the info about our coming baby here, but if you are interested please check out baby.hact.net for pictures and talk from Chrissey and I.

Go Obama!

Friends will know that I am by no means bashful about politics. I am a big democrat and a couple of weeks ago I really decided I loved Barack Obama for president this time around. So tonight I was thrilled when I heard that he had won the Iowa caucuses. This bodes well for him, since many had written him off as running for VP.

The Democrats really did take the spotlight from the Republicans today. The Republicans looked like complete clods with no direction and their only real message being Fear. While the Democrats came out looking like they had a clear direction, a good group of candidates with some real differentiation, but all with a “unity” and iconoclastic message.

I just got home and was reading what Salon had to say about the whole thing, and noticed this in the middle of the article:

Bloomberg Ad

Wow. Interesting. There has been a TON of talk regarding Bloomberg in the press tonight. All of this was no doubt floated by the Republicans and pre-planned in the event that they ended up looking like complete strange people. They need to move the focus off of their failure to capitalize on months and months of press coverage and muddying up the waters with something like Bloomberg is right up their alley. The Republicans are running scared, and that’s really good to see again.

Best Wishes to Om Malik

I’d like to send out my best wishes to Om Malik whom I’ve been working with only a few weeks. We’ve just started to get to know each other, but I know our relationship will grow quickly. For those that don’t know Om suffered from a heart attack on December 28.

 Best of luck to him and the staff at GigaOmniMedia.

Career Stagnation

What is required to move one’s career out of the slumps? How important is it to “move up” or “onwards” in a career path? Is one’s career a reflection of their persona or simply a means to an end?

My thoughts of late have centered on these things. I’ve been a System Administrator since 1993. That’s pretty much my station in life, it appears. I’ve tried doing other things: I’ve been a CTO at a failing company and an infrastructure consultant for Internet companies. But the key is that both of these forays into other career territory have ultimately just brought me back around to being a sysadmin in some way, shape or form. I’m really pretty good at it, not the best but not the worst. I’m proud of my accomplishments and resume. Some would say that from a career standpoint, I’m at the top of my game with a primo Microsoft job.

The problem is that I really hate it. I just don’t care anymore about what I’m doing. I sit at work all day and wish that I was doing something else. My job consists of mainly editing configuration files and dealing with silly politics that have nothing really to do with me. I have a ton of ideas about what Microsoft should be doing (who around here doesn’t), but I know that my ideas, like almost everyone else’s, will ultimately not be heard. I feel like my career has stopped. I make the same amount of money (on par) as I did in 2001. I have approximately the same amount of influence over the company I work for as I did then. I have zero creative outlets at my job, so I get home and I have tons of cool things that I want to do, but my mind is adrift by then and I end up slouching on the sofa and IMming with friends and being a slob. It’s very hard for me not to feel sorry for myself.

I deserve more for myself. I deserve to have my ideas heard. I deserve at least some creativity in my workplace so that when I come home from work, I can feel free to spend time with my wife (and the baby in June) and not think about it. I deserve to make more money. I deserve to be happy and fulfilled in my home and in my work, not just one or the other.

Now what?

There is a major flaw in current reporting around Internet video stemming from the thought that online video (and video on demaind) and the technology used to watch them are inextricably linked. I’ve been using many services lately trying to figure this out and I’m nowhere near an answer.

I have a Tivo HD, Comcast DVR, AppleTV, DVD player and a PC all hooked up to my tv and a Vudu on the way. I use my iPod for music that I buy chiefly off of iTunes. I’ve tried some movies on the thing, but I simply don’t care. It’s not something I’ve been interested in using for video very much. 

The Tivo wins for accessibility for me. It’s easy to use and I can get Rhapsody and Unbox downloads on it in addition to my normal tv/movies from cablecard. I hardly ever use the awful Comcast DVR anymore as there is simply no compelling reason for it to exist. The AppleTV is great for my iTunes library, but to be honest with Rhapsody on the Tivo I hardly ever use it. The PC is great for viewing net content like Netflix streaming, ABC TV shows and the occasional BitTorrented something, but the experience is far from compelling and I highly doubt that a non-geek would touch it. The DVD player still sees quite a bit of use from my Netflix shipments, but ideally it will go away at some point. We’ll see what the Vudu brings to the table. I’m very interested in how it performs and if the video quality is up to snuff. The interface looks quite nice and the remote is nothing short of revolutionary. 

So I’m a high use person, but I still mostly watch Tivo when I want to watch something. Maybe it’s because I’ve been a Tivo user for as long as there has been Tivo, or maybe it’s because the experience is simply amazing. But none of it has to do with the DRM restrictions that Forrester has been fond of quoting for some time. While I dislike it from a philosophical point of view, it doesn’t really matter to me on the practical level. These things have been worked out to the point where they are more or less invisible to me as a consumer of media. If I were to try to take any of this content with me, then I would certainly be more annoyed.

All of these things are helping to evolve entertainment media, but the content companies should learn to understand that fearing them is no longer useful. The delivery medium and how I use the content are not ways of further monitization, they are annoying consumers. They are not even linked.