Tuesday, July 31, 2007

One Laptop per Child hardware ships

I previously posted a link to a presentation by Nicholas Negroponte on the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project. OLPC chairman Negroponte downplays focus on the laptop hardware, stressing that this is primarily an education project. However, the laptop has now gone into production, and the BBC has published an article highlighting its engineering innovations.

This is without doubt a significant project. At the very least, it will put a nifty PC and e-book reader in the hands of millions of poor children. Some of the engineering innovations, like a monochrome display mode suitable for use in bright light, may influence mainstream laptop manufacturers (as the new iPhone may inspire cell phone manufacturers).

Built-in mesh networking will be used for connecting to a local server or other laptops. (It will be interesting to see how well the network performs when a laptop is several hops from the server).

But the biggest win will occur if those village servers are Internet gateways connecting to the rest of the world. Connectivity in developing nations is very poor, and we can only hope that backbone infrastructure projects will match the audacity of the OLPC.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Chiniese Internet and the dictator's dilemma

We have discussed the "dictator's dilemma" -- the desire to have the benefits of the Internet without the threat of political instability. How do you give people access to information for health care, education, science, entertainment, commerce, etc. while blocking political and culturally sensitive information? In this interview excerpt, former NPR China Correspondent Rob Gifford describes the Chinese Internet. Gifford feels the people who are economically well enough off to use the Internet are unlikely to use it against the regime.

This excerpt was taken from an Moira Gunn's interview of Gifford.

An excellent interview on outsourcing

Scott Lemon runs an outsourcing firm called HumanXtensions. He discussed his firm in a recent interview with Phil Windley. They talk about Scott's services, the differences between India and the Philippines, the management of oursource projects, the implications of globalization and outsourcing for today's students, etc. (18 minutes 32 seconds). This is an excerpt from a longer interview. This class note shows leading outsourcing nations.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Google wants the FCC to bring the entire Internet to your cell phone

We have contrasted a "dumb," end-to-end network like the Internet, where services are provided by network users, with a "smart" network, where services are provided by the network operator. In two earlier posts, we saw that Tim Wu and business customers have argued that the cellular networks should move to the open, Internet model.

Google has now joined the fray, saying they would bid on the spectrum that will be made available for auction by the FCC when the US converts to all digital television transmission in 2009 if the following were mandated by the FCC:

  • Users should be able to install any software on their phones and PDAs
  • Users should be able to connect any technically compatible device to the network
  • Auction winners should be able to resell bandwidth to third parties
  • The wireless network should connect to other networks
Of course cell phone companies are opposed to this sort of thing. Holy cow -- someone might install Skype on their smart phone and make VOIP calls or download a video from a Web site that was not paying the cell carrier a commission. The cell system is like the early telephone system. Before the 1968 Carterphone decision, we could not connect things to the telephone network -- not modems or computers or even answering machines.

Respected columnist Robert Cringley agrees with Google's goals, but thinks they will fail and have made a serious business mistake. What do you say?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Japanese cell phone service is better than in the US

Someone who moved from the US to Japan compared cell phone service in the two nations in a post on Slashdot. He wrote:

Before I left for Japan about a year ago, I was using a Nokia 3160. It cost me $40 US and I had to sign a one year contract that Cingular later decided was a two-year contract. I was paying about $40 a month for service and had extra fees for SMS messages.

After I got to Kyoto, I quickly ended up at an AU shop and landed a Casio W41CA. It does email, music, pc web browsing, gps, fm radio, tv, phone-wallet, pictures (2megapixel), videos, calculator etc. I walked out of the store for less than ¥5000 (about $41) including activation fees, and I was only paying slightly over ¥4000 (about $33) per month. That included ¥3000 for a voice plan I rarely used and ¥1000 for effectively unlimited data (emails and internet).

Perhaps someone with more knowledge of the costs facing American mobile providers can explain the huge technology and cost gap between the US and Japan. Why are we paying so much for such basic features?
For some answers to his final question, see the discussion below the post on Slashdot. Note that Slashdot has been an excellent source for discussion of networking for many years.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Scientific collaboration -- the first application

During World War II, President Roosevelt's science adviser Vannevar Bush imagined ways a network could facilitate scientific communication and collaboration. His 1945 Atlantic Monthly article As We May Think inspired internetworking pioneers like Doug Engelbart and J. C. R. Licklider. (See our Internet history notes).

Today, when we think of Internet applications, goofy movies on Youtube or downloading music come to mind -- not scientific collaboration. But the Internet is shaping and facilitating science.

John Udell discussed the role of the Internet in science in an interview of Timo Hannay, Director of Web Publishing, Nature Publishing Group. Nature is a leading scientific journal, and Hannay is looking for ways the Internet can facilitate science. For instance, he is interested in publishing data sets as well as articles and producing videos showing how experiments have been done. (See The Journal of Visualized Experiments). Some current examples of Nature's services are:

  • Connotea.org (bookmarks for scientists -- like del.icio.us)
  • Nature Network (A social network for scientists -- like MySpace)
  • Nature Precedings (Preliminary publication and discussion -- like blogs with comments and a rating system)
Hannay is interested in helping scientists communicate with lay people as well as each other, and they are using Podcasts to that end. Check this short excerpt from the interview for their discussion of the advantages of podcasts.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Soundsnap -- free sound effects and loops

I've added a link to Soundsnap.com to our class notes on audio processing. Soundsnap, a growing library of free, user-contributed sound effects and loops, was established by 25 year old Tasos Frantzolas, a Greek sound designer.

Go to Soundsnap for the barking dog, meowing cat or explosion you need for your podcast, and, while you are at it, how about contributing a sound effect of your own to the collection?

Municipal networks and federal apathy in the US

We have seen that access networks in the United States have fallen behind those of many European and Asian nations. There is no federal government effort or planning, and the ISP industry is dominated by telephone and cable companies which were able to defeat Congress' attempt to generate competition in the 1996 Telecommunication Act.

William Kennard, who, as chairman of the United States Federal Communication from 1997-2001 was charged with implementing the Telecommunications Act, stated near the end of his term that “all too often companies work to change the regulations, instead of working to change the market,” and spoke of “regulatory capitalism” in which “companies invest in lawyers, lobbyists and politicians, instead of plant, people and customer service." He went on to remark that regulation is “too often used as a shield, to protect the status quo from new competition - often in the form of smaller, hungrier competitors -- and too infrequently as a sword -- to cut a pathway for new competitors to compete by creating new networks and services.”

In many cases, municpal governments have tried to close the access gap by developing and contracting for Internet access networks. They have a mix of motivations -- use by city employees, narrowing the digital divide, economic stimulation, providing a service to citizens, etc. and a mix of public-private funding and business models.

W2i organizes conferences on municipal networks, and they have compiled a database with 91 case studies. The case studies include an overview, contact information, and presentations on the projects as delivered at W2i conferences.

Muni-Wireless is another excellent source of information on these networks. They also organize conferences, have an excellent blog, and a Web site with sections on technology, applications, initiatives, and other topics.

What are the implications of the US falling behind in access networks?

Monday, July 16, 2007

New design ... content unchanged

I made a minor design and color change in order to take advantage of Blogger's new layout tools. Note that the content has not changed at all -- the Blogger developers have kept content and presentation independent.

One of the trends we highlight is the falling cost of creating and publishing content. The new Blogger layout tools provide an example. With them, creating and modifying a blog like this is quicker and requires less skill than before.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A closer look at HTTP

We have talked about HTTP being a client-server protocol in which clients retrieve Web pages from servers. A page may contain many objects -- text, images, scripts, flash movies, etc. and therefore require many requests. Three simple tools:

break down a page request, showing the retrieval time of each object on the page. These programs can help us understand the HTTP protocol and tune our Web pages for fast download.

Here we see the analysis of the retrieval of our class home page:

It requires three requests:
  1. retrieval of the page
  2. a call on Google Analytics to record the access
  3. a call on Creative Commons to retrieve the small image at the bottom of the page
The entire page takes around 430 milliseconds to load. The yellow bar shows the time to establish a connection to the server, the green shows the time to request the object, and the blue the time to download it.

Note that these programs treat a script file as a single object without analyzing its content. Therefore, it does not give an accurate picture of a site like www.yahoo.com which uses an extensive Javascript.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Small, quick investments in network-based applications -- venture capital 2.0?

Using the Internet as your development platform drastically reduces the cost, time and risk of building an application and starting a company. For an example, check out Techcrunch's discussion of venture firm Bay Partners' investment fund for people building applications on top of the Facebook platform.

Bay Partners is targeting tens of investments from $25,000 to $250,000 using a flexible, fast-track approval process. There will be many folks applying for this funding -- Facebook says 40,000 developers have requested keys to create applications, and over 1,600 have already launched. Many of those 40,000 are just playing around with the platform, but Bay Partners is hoping to find around ten investment-worthy applications.

Is this venture capital 2.0? What are some of the drawbacks to using Facebook as your development platform?

Friday, July 06, 2007

Using Zoho's cool form-creation service

We illustrated a three-tier application using a simple class roster file. It took me a day to develop, debug and document that application using Active Server Pages (ASP). It consists of six ASP pages, and I needed some knowledge of ASP, Visual Basic, and SQL to develop it.

I implemented the class roster application using the form-creation service at Zoho.com. It took me less than an hour to learn to use the service and implement the application. I needed no knowledge of programming -- it was similar to building the application using a simple database management system like Microsoft Access. Note also that the service-based application has powerful features like data export, access control and report sorting that are missing in the bare-bones ASP version.

The advantages of using a service to create this application are abundantly clear, but there are still questions. Will it scale -- how would it perform if we had an application with thousands of records and dozens of forms and views? Will Zoho continue offering this service -- can I count on it as part of my course curriculum? What will they charge for large databases? Would they be better off implementing their service using a file service like Amazon S3?

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Micropayment for storage service

I just received a bill for the very small amount of storage I had used on Amazon's Simple Storage Service (S3) during the month of July. The charge for my storage and data transfer was 4 cents!

We have talked about micropayments for years, but, until now, I had never made one.

This is a terrific example of Web services. S3 is the base service -- offering reliable, infinitely scalable storage in Amazon's data centers. But, I do not deal directly with Amazon. Jungledisk has virtual disk software that makes my S3 store look like a standard disk drive on my computer. They insulate me from S3, pay Amazon, and bill me. My payment is automatic through another service, Paypal.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Organizational uses of wiki technology

Conference panel discussion are usually pretty lame, but this panel on the use of wikis inside organizations is an exception. The panel has both academic and experienced industrial members who give plenty of practical advice and examples. They note that engaging users can be difficult, and find that additive applications like compiling a list of resources are easier than compiling a knowledge base -- a collection of coauthored documents.

The conference audio is here. The panel was at the the 2006 Wikimania Conference. The other conference session recordings are here

The university is an organization -- how might we use wiki technology in our class? For example, might we coauthor a summary of this panel discussion using a wiki?