Thursday, September 29, 2016

Hybrid fiber-wireless tests by Google and others

Hybrid fiber-wireless technology will improve our access to the Internet and alter infrastructure ownership and business models.

Google Fiber installations run fiber all the way to the premises, but that is costly and the subscription rate has been disappointing, causing Google to slow installation and cut staff. It seems they are looking for a hybrid fiber-wireless connectivity solution.

In an earlier post, I noted that Google was experimenting with high-frequency wireless for possibly providing "last kilometer" links from homes and offices to Google Fiber. In a recent FCC filing, they requested approval for high-speed wireless testing in 24 US cities.

Even more interesting is their recent acquisition of Webpass, a boutique high-speed Internet service provider that has been experimenting with "PCells" an experimental wireless technology developed by Steve Perlman of Artemis Networks. I first heard about PCells when I saw a video of a talk and demo that Perlman gave at Columbia University, but you should start by watching this shorter, more recent demo:

There are other videos and tech papers on the Artemis Web site.

Perlman's demos are impressive -- computers, phones and tablets that are inches apart receive full-speed wireless connectivity and they freely move around without losing contact. Transmission speed slows a bit as they are moved, but full speed resumes as soon as they stop moving.

PCell access points are small and distributed compared to conventional cell towers and, if they turn out to be simple and effective, they could be installed and owned by individual users as well as companies --forming next-generation "street nets," connected to Google's, or anyone else's, fiber.

The jury is still out on PCells, but it is safe to say that they or other fifth generation wireless technology will improve our access to the Internet and alter infrastructure ownership and business models.

A PCell access point

Monday, September 26, 2016

Live streaming of football games and presidential debates, version 1.0

I would also be willing to pay for interaction -- perhaps asking a question or making a comment of my own.

There has been a lot of discussion of the appropriate role of moderators in the presidential debates -- should they challenge the debater's statements if they are false or simply ask questions and let the candidates challenge each other? That will become a moot point in the era of live-streaming on the Internet.

Twitter is streaming Thursday night football games -- you see the game as well as the stream of tweets. I reviewed the experience and concluded that there were too many commercials and that I wanted to be able to filter the tweets. I am not interested in the comments of a million football fans, but would like to be able to follow the live-stream comments of experts like a group of professional football players, sports writers, Las Vegas odds-makers, etc.

Now, let's apply that to the live streaming of a presidential debate. (Note that Twitter is streaming the debates).

There will be plenty of commentary in the tweet stream accompanying Twitter's video and the audience will fact-check the debaters regardless of what the moderator does. But, as in a football game, I don't want to see tweets from every partisan viewer, I want to see informed, factual commentary.

If I could watch the streaming comments of a relatively small group of experts along with the video stream, I would not care whether the moderator challenges the debater's statements or just reads questions and keeps the speakers on schedule. I would also be willing to pay for interaction -- perhaps asking a question or making a comment of my own.

The asynchronous Internet has changed political campaigns just as newspapers, radio and television did. Now we have a new medium -- live streaming over the Internet.

Early movies, like those shown below, were made by filming stage plays. Similarly, today's live coverage of football and presidential debates is just a starting point. Adding expert or crowd-sourced fact checking and commentary would only be a small variation on what Twitter has already done with football games. There will be more changes as the medium co-evolves along with our culture and education system.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Has the Internet enabled lying, crooked Donald?

We are in the early days of the Internet as a political medium and hopefully it will co-evolve along with our society and education system.

Last June, Donald Trump began calling Hillary Clinton "lying, crooked Hillary" and established a Web site of the same name. Leaving Trump's coarseness aside, is the allegation fair? (His coarseness calls for a separate post).

Politifact is a fact-checking Web site run by a Florida newspaper. They rate political statements on a six-level scale ranging from True to Pants on fire:

True – The statement is accurate and there’s nothing significant missing.
Mostly true – The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information.
Half true – The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.
Mostly false – The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.
False – The statement is not accurate.
Pants on fire – The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.
They justify their ratings with reasoned, sourced analysis and have been awarded a Pulitzer Prize. (You can read the details on the rating rubric here).

The following are summaries of the Politifact ratings of statements by President Obama, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. (Click the image to enlarge it).

As you see, Clinton is a bit more honest than President Obama and lies much less frequently than Donald Trump. The ratings of Obama and Clinton have changed little since January. Trump is telling the truth a little more frequently, but over half of his statements were found to be lies.

I retrieved the September ratings from Politifact this morning and retrieved the January ratings using the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.

I guess all politicians lie, but few, if any, lie as frequently as lying, crooked Donald. (The "crooked" part calls for yet another post on his business dealings).

The Internet has changed political campaigns just as newspapers, radio and television did. Candidate's statements are archived and Politifact and others can analyze them, but the Internet also enables the dissemination of lies like this faked image of Hillary Clinton and Osama bin Laden, which can be found on many Web sites:

(To be fair, a lot of democrats shared a fake image showing President Bush holding a picture book upside down at the time he was informed of the 9/11 attacks).

The Internet also increases the odds that we will see lies we might "like." As Eli Pariser points out in his book The Filter Bubble, ad-driven sites like Facebook have an incentive to send us things we agree with to keep us on their sites longer.

The Internet enables us to easily create and disseminate lies and it also enables us to discover and expose them, but does that matter? Has the Internet brought us to what William Davies calls the age of post-truth politics? After all, Politifact shows that over half of Donald Trump's statements are lies, yet millions of Americans are willing to vote for him. While Hillary Clinton and President Obama lie less than Trump, they also have millions of supporters who are ignorant of or indifferent to their lies.

That is discouraging, but remember that we are in the early days of the Internet as a political medium and it may co-evolve along with our society and education system to bring us something better. For perspective, check out this early use of television in a political campaign:

Update 10/23/2016

The Internet facilitates the repetition of lies and exaggerations and we tend to become more polarized as search engines and news services show us things we are likely to agree with. On the other hand, the Internet facilitates fact-checking services and Duke University tracks over 100 such sites:

Interactive map of over 100 fact-check sites

The Internet, like other technologies, can be used for good and bad -- the Internet doesn't tell lies, people tell lies.

Update 11/10/2016

Well, the election is over, so I made a final check at Politifact. Donald Trump ended up with 34% false and 17% pants on fire statements and Hillary Clinton ended up with 10% false and 2% pants on fire. Trump ended up with 4% true and 11% mostly true and Clinton finished with 25% true and 26% mostly true. These were close to their earlier scores, so it seems that lying was not much of a factor in determining the outcome of the election.

I find that disturbing. It is an indication that slogans, groundless claims, incivility and outlandish statements and promises count for more than truth on our attention-deficit Internet.

Update 11/15/2016

Here are the Politifact ratings of statements by Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump after the election. Clinton clearly lied less frequently than Trump.

Ratings of Clinton and Trump during the campaign

We will never know whether Bernie Sanders would have beaten Donald Trump, but Politifact also finds him to be much more honest.

 Bernie Sanders' honesty rating

Update 12/9/2016

University of Havana Professor Armando Camacho has translated this post into Spanish -- read it here.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Football streaming on Twitter -- too many commercials and need to be able to filter tweets -- but like all new media, it will improve.

I watched a bit of Thursday Night Football on Twitter last night. You could watch a small screen with tweets as shown above or go full screen and lose the tweets. I watched it on a laptop with a large, high resolution screen and on a Mac with a 21-inch display and the video was smooth and looked good on both. That was the good news.

The bad news was the commercials. I am not a football fan, so do not know how many commercials a typical broadcast game has, but it seemed like Twitter spent more time on commercials than the game. I would be curious to see statistics on the number of minutes spent on commercials, commentary and game action on Twitter versus broadcast television.

I “cut the cord” years ago, so am used to paying Netflix and others for streamed content without commercials. If I am typical, Twitter will fail with this commercial-based business model. (The Motley Fool Web site says the ads did not pay off in the first game, which was streamed last week).

For a while, I watched both the TV broadcast and the Twitter stream. The Twitter stream was relatively delayed, but the lag time varied and they did not have the same commercials. I wonder how the commercial sales and revenue are handled.

Turning to the user interface – I did not time it, but it seemed like there about 20 tweets every thirty seconds. With that many tweets coming in, I think the best way to watch would be to go full screen during the live play and mute the audio and read tweets during the commercials -- not a good deal for advertisers.

I did not notice any obviously malicious tweets, so I assume there is some automatic or human filtering, but it would be better if they would let the user control the filtering. For example, to let one see only tweets from a selected group of friends or a selected group of experts like professional football players, sports analysts or professional gamblers.

But, lest I seem too negative -- this is their first try at streaming sports. All new media stumble at first, often copying what came before. The first movies were made by filming stage plays and there are many other examples from radio, TV, textbooks, online learning, etc.

Twitter is streaming the US presidential debates next -- let's see how they do on that.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Verizon wouldn't lie to sell phones -- would they?

In previous posts, I have been unkind to my local-monopoly Internet service provider Time Warner cable and the US ISP industry in general. I've also been unkind to Verizon FiOS in their battles with Netflix and criticized their "gentleman's agreement" to abandon fiber to focus on wireless connectivity, leaving me at the mercy Time Warner Cable.

Those stories all had to do with landlines -- what about Verizon mobile? My wife had an unlimited account with a reseller of Verizon mobile service (a "mobile virtual network operator" or MVNO). She no longer needed the unlimited account, so decided to switch to Verizon.

This was shortly before the new iPhones came out, so she wanted to keep using her old phone for a month or so and, since she had been using it on the Verizon network, she assumed it would work after shifting her account from the MVNO.

To be safe, I went online and had the following chat with a Verizon salesman named Brandon:

Chat transcript -- click image to enlarge

As you see, I gave him the phone's mobile equipment ID (MEID) number and he said it was incompatible with the Verizon network and offered to sell me a new phone. I pointed out that the old phone had worked on the Verizon network for years and he suggested that it may have been blacklisted or have the wrong antenna -- like AM versus FM radio. He elaborated, saying it might be compatible with some, but not all, of their network or perhaps my wife had been roaming for five years.

Maybe the phone would not work somewhere on Earth, but it has worked everywhere my wife has been in the United States and abroad for the past five years. (She is not an early adopter :-). Here are the specs (MEID 990001106522642):

I am not a mobile phone geek -- Is there something that would render the phone incompatible with Verizon mobile service?

We ignored Brandon's warning and opened a Verizon account -- the phone worked fine (in southern California) until it was replaced with a new iPhone.

My guess is that Brandon was just telling me what he saw when he queried Verizon's database, so he was not lying. But is the Verizon compatibility database accurate and, if not, is Verizon lying in order to sell new phones? (This reminds me of the Volkswagen smog check shenanigans).

Update 10/10/2016

Let's talk about customer service.

In spite of Verizon saying it was incompatible with their network, my wife has been using her old iPhone 4 on their network without problems. When she transferred her account to Verizon, they said she had to sign up for a billed (post-pay) account, but could then switch to an automatically-charged, pre-paid account (to get a higher data cap) whenever she wanted to.

She did that two days ago. Doing so required that she speak on the phone with three different Verizon employees -- a support person, a sales person and an account verification person. There were long waits on hold before each of those conversations and she had to explain the situation to each of the people -- there was evidently no transfer of information between them. The entire process took well over an hour.

I am posting this for two reasons:
  1. Verizon has sold their FiOS landline service, but it was the lowest ranked company in the lowest-ranked industry (Internet service providers, ISPs) on the American Customer Satisfaction Index before the sale. I've not seen a ranking for mobile ISPs, but based on this experience, I would expect Verizon to look bad.
  2. One frequently hears complaints about poor service from bureaucratic government agencies. Government agencies are large organizations with monopoly power. ISPs are also large organizations in monopoly or oligopoly markets. A large, private organization in a monopoly or oligopoly market is nearly as likely to provide poor service as a government agency.

Update 10/15/2016

The customer-service saga continues.

I made two payments on my wife's pre-paid account. Perhaps because she changed her account from post-paid to pre-paid, Verizon failed to credit one of the payments and does not seem to realize that she is now post-paid and should be getting a higher data cap.

I tried to clear it up by going to the "My Plan" page on the Verizon Web site, but the page was temporarily down:

That was 25 hours ago. The page is still temporarily down.

I also tried to clear this up with a phone call or chat, but could only find sales pages on their Web site. (I got the phone number last week from a Best Buy store clerk).

Verizon is making the folks like the IRS or Department of Motor Vehicles look good.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Internet revolution in perspective

Google, Facebook, self-driving cars, iPhones, etc. are changing our lives, organizations and society, but this is not unprecedented. Similar scientific and technical disruption occurred about 100 years ago. Guglielmo Marconi invented and commercialized electronic wireless communication at that time and, in his review of a book on the life of Marconi, Paul Kennedy writes that in the first decade of the 20th century:

Breakthroughs in science and technology occurred so often that it would be brash to claim that any one of them “changed the world” (which doesn’t stop proponents from doing so). The Wright brothers’ success in aviation in 1903 led to national air forces being created only a few years later. The automobile was becoming reliable, standardized and produced in such numbers as to change urban landscapes. Giant trans-Atlantic liners altered oceanic travel. Electric power was coming to houses and oil-fueled propulsion replacing coal-fired engines. The Dreadnought battleship (1906) made all other warships obsolete.
In his biography of Albert Einstein, Walter Isaacson writes that:
In 1915 Einstein wrested from nature his crowning glory, one of the most beautiful theories in all of science, the general theory of relativity ... His fingerprints are all over today's technologies. Photoelectric cell and lasers, nuclear power, fiber optics, space travel and even semiconductors all trace back to his theories.
This is not intended to diminish the impact of the Internet on our lives, organizations and society, but to lend perspective. The Internet is disruptive, but so were the printing press, number systems, phonetic writing, agriculture, the recognition of natural cycles, spoken language, etc. What else?