Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Intel RCP -- a packaged rural wireless solution

We discuss wireless communication, and an earlier class used WiFi wireless technology to connect our campus dorms to the Internet. They used 802.11A for the links between the dorm buildings and 802.11G to connect to student's computers in their dorm rooms inside the building.

Intel has taken a similar approach with their Rural Connectivity Program (RCP). (Watch the short video). They have combined the components we used in the dorm into a single, commercial package. An Intel RCP node puts two radios (one using 802.11A for a long distance link and a second using 802.11G for user connectivity) in a weatherproof box along with antennae for local access and a high-gain, focused antenna for the longstance link. They also modify the modulation method to improve communication speed and reliability.

Our dorm buildings are only 100 or so meters apart, whereas Intel intends RCP links to be as much as 60 miles apart. Their goal is to provide a link from a rural village or farm back to an ISP for Internet connectivity. Their target market is developing nations, but many rural areas in the US also lack connectivity.

Can you think of a place where Internet access is not available in the US? Would Intel RCP offer a solution?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Synchronous collaboration -- working in different places at the same time

Several years ago -- before the Web was invented -- I was at the home of a Russian networking pioneer. I noticed that he had a computer in his living room that was connected over dial-up phone line to the Internet connection at his office. He told me he had called the office six months earlier, and, since there was no charge for local calls within Moscow, he never hung up the phone.

The cost of Internet connectivity is fixed -- you pay a flat fee for the month. That fee structure encourages same-time collaboration. Consider the way this programmer describes his work day.

He works with a colleague in a different state, but they remain in constant communication -- as if they were in the same room. Like my colleague in Russia, they open the connection between them when they arrive at work, and leave it open all day. He mentions using several networked applications -- Skype (VOIP), IRC (chat), Wiki (for documentation), and VNC (screen sharing) -- to facilitate collaboration.

(The recorded comment was made by an audience member at a panel discussion on attention).

But, can we have rich, emotional communication over the Internet? In 1980, artists Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz connected larger-than-life video displays in Los Angeles and New York using a satellite link. They called the event "Hole in Space," and it was The Mother of all Video Chats. They demonstrated that, with sufficient bandwidth, emotion and presence could surely be communicated. Here are some video excerpts from their experiment followed by a short public-policy rant.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Characteristics of today's students

We have discussed the Beloit College Mindset List, which characterizes today's incoming freshman class.

Michael Wesch's video Vision of Students Today is similar, but perhaps a bit darker. The video shows students in a large lecture hall holding up signs stating their characteristics.

Many of the characteristics it portrays have to do with the Internet and its implications and applications. For example:

  • I spend 3 1/2 hours a day online.
  • I will write 42 pages for class this semester ... and over 500 pages of email
  • I will read 8 books this year ... and 2,300 Web pages and 1,281 FaceBook profiles.
  • I buy $100 textbooks that I never open.
  • I bring my laptop to class, but I'm not working on class stuff.
  • I FaceBook through most of my classes.
  • This laptop costs more than some people in the world make in a year.
The video was produced by Wesch and his cultural anthropology students at Kansas State University. Visit their Web site for more information.

Last, but not least, check out this Doonesbury cartoon.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Television video is becoming economically feasible

We discuss the notion that new data types become economically feasible as technology improves. A New York Times article indicates that television quality video may soon be common on the Internet.

As shown here, over 100 million videos were streamed from four network Web sites during December, 2007.

The Times also reported that 2.7 million people watched the season four premier of The Office on the Internet and 9.7 watched it on television. (The Office is a dialog-heavy program, better suited to the computer screen than an action program). The article also mentions a survey conducted last October by Nielsen Media Research which found that one in four Internet users had streamed full-length television episodes online during the previous three months.

Note that these surveys were taken in the United States, where connectivity is mediocre by the standards of developed nations.

Have you watched a television episode on the Internet? If not, why not? If so, how was the experience? These surveys refer to television quality video. Would high-definition TV programs or movies be as common on the Internet?

Friday, March 07, 2008

The Beloit College Mindset List -- Technology changes the experience of young people

We cover the implications of technology for individuals. For ten years, Beloit College has published its Mindset List of characteristics of the incoming freshman class. The list for each year has about 70 items, and some of them are relevant to our course. For example, the lists for the classes of 2010 and 2011 include these statements about incoming freshmen:

  • They are wireless, yet always connected.
  • “Google" has always been a verb.
  • Bar codes have always been on everything, from library cards and snail mail to retail items.
  • They have rarely mailed anything using a stamp.
  • Being techno-savvy has always been inversely proportional to age.
  • Music has always been “unplugged.”
  • Thanks to MySpace and Facebook, autobiography can happen in real time.
  • Virtual reality has always been available when the real thing failed.
  • The World Wide Web has been an online tool since they were born.
  • They’re always texting 1 n other.
(Click here for more student characteristics).

Do these and other items on the list accurately describe you? In what ways should our class change to reflect these changes?

37Signals -- excellence in Internet customer relations

We discuss progress in storage, electronics and communication, and it is common knowledge that all three technologies are improving exponentially. Everyone speaks of "Moore's Law." (But few read the short article that gave rise to the term).

What do companies do when better technology cuts their costs? Most grin and watch their profit margin rise. But, another alternative is to create good will by passing some of the savings on to customers.

When I logged on to my 37Signals Basecamp site yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised to see this message:

More storage space for the same price!

Last night we increased file storage space for Personal through Premium plans. Personal plans now get 1 GB (up from 250 MB), Basic plans now get 3GB (up from 500 MB), Plus plans now get 10 GB (up from 3 GB), and Premium plans now get 20 GB (up from 10 GB). Max plans remain at 50 GB for now, but if enough people start to hit that limit we will increase that limit as well. We hope you find the increased storage space useful and thanks again for being our customers!

That, combined with their forthright handling of a recent service interruption, is a case study in good customer relations!

Which do you feel has done a better job of passing technology improvements along to the consumer -- PC companies or telephone companies?