Exploring the impact of broadband and technology on our lives, our businesses, and our communities.

What's happened to Google?

Here is an interesting article from Ars Technica. A senior software developer has quit and written a lengthy critique of what he views as some challenging internal problems at Google. The Ars Technica article is an interesting summary by itself, but if you follow the link in the article to the original blog post, there is even more detail about Google's challenges. One might infer, after reading this, that Google may not always be the top dog in the Internet world. There was a time when IBM seemed invincible, but the company was near collapse in the early 1990s.

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I'm shocked, shocked that there is gambling going on in this establishment!

The quote from the great movie "Casablanca" is evergreen, and can be re-purposed as "I'm shocked, shocked, that the cable companies are fudging their coverage data."

This article details intercepted emails from two different cable companies that admit they were intentionally fudging their service areas to stop public broadband funds from creating competition. In other words, the incumbents want to keep their monopolies, don't want competition, and want to continue owning the customer.

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"I can't do that, Dave"

Microsoft's chatbot, rolled out as part of the Bing search engine, seems to have the same program logic as the spaceship computer in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Tom's Hardware has an article with screen shots of several questions and queries that were posed to the AI chat software, and the responses are described as "an existential breakdown."

People are posting so many wrong answers, nonsensical answers, and just vague "press release" style information that I think many people will quickly recognize that the software cannot reliably provide correct and accurate information.

The idea that a piece of software can "think" is regarded by many computer scientists, including me, as a bit silly. It's just code; very complex and sophisticated code, but code nonetheless. We don't even know how are brains really work and store information, so the idea that we can just create some "smart" code is arrogant, to say the least.

The Dreyfus brothers, in 1986, wrote the book "Mind over Machine. The Power of Human Intuition and Expertise in the Era of the Computer." They were skeptical then of the capabilities of AI, and I suspect they still would be today.

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Data says we are having too many meetings

David Strom reports on data that suggests that company meetings are taking up enormous amounts of business time that could otherwise be focused on getting things done.

Remote working seems to explain part of the phenomenon, and tools like Slack and Teams also seems to encourage more meetings and less work. How much more time are we talking about? Strom reports on a survey of Microsoft Teams users, who reported a 252% increase in weekly meeting time, and a 153% increase in the number of meetings.

Here at WideOpen Networks and Design Nine, I have a pretty strict rule that no meeting is scheduled for than one hour. I've found, over the years, that the longer the meeting, the more off-topic discussion and discussion meandering takes place.

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Will Chat GPT rule the world?

Over the weekend, I decided to try the new experimental AI (Artificial Intelligence) engine called Chat GPT. It is designed to respond to a wide variety of questions and inquiries, and can parse all sorts of conversational queries.

It was interesting. I first posed the question "Tell me about the benefits of open access networks." It answered with a short one sentence overview, then provided several bullet items about what the benefits are of open access networks. It was well done, and could have been written by me. I will note that I've written a lot about open access networks, so it may have been using some of my texts.

I then asked, "Tell what the disadvantages are of open access networks." The result this time was similar in format, with a brief narrative introduction, followed by several bullet items, but the bullet items, while stylistically okay, were just generic blather about broadband networks in general--nothing specific about open access networks.

It will be interesting to see how this new technology service evolves. Some are predicting that it will make higher education irrelevant, since you could just use an AI service to write all your term papers. Well, maybe. What a time to be alive!

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Alexa, how do you spell Ten Billion Dollar Loss?

Amazon's Alexa is ten years old! How time flies! I might have guessed the old girl was seven or eight years old. But she's been around for ten years, and apparently is a big loser--as in "billions and billions."

Amazon expected that Alexa owners would buy more stuff because it was so easy to just "speak" your order. But it turns out most of us not idiots. We want to look at the product, read the reviews, and make an informed decision. You can't do that standing in the kitchen in your bathrobe instructing Alexa to order a pair of pants. Most people, as it turns out, use Alexa to ask about the weather or to play some music, and that's about it. Maybe there are a few commodities like paper towels where you could get Alexa to help: "Alexa, more Bounty--the quicker picker upper!" And she would probably get that order correct.

Google's Assistant reportedly has the same problem....a device sold at cost that does not really generate any revenue. Apple's Siri device is a more expensive audio speaker, so Apple is not losing the same amount of money.

I would never allow any of those devices in my house, as they listen to everything you say and discuss, and it all gets sent back to the Amazon, Google, or Apple mothership. It's none of their business what we talk about at breakfast.

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Online subscription math does not add up

Substack is becoming increasingly popular as a place for a wide range of commentary and information, often in what I would call "long form magazine style" writing, or basically longer articles with deeper dives into whatever the topic of the article happens to be.

However, most Substack sites are behind a paywall, and $60/year seems to be a very popular subscription fee. But if you are interested in several different sites/authors, at $60 a pop you can be spending hundreds of dollars a year very quickly. Most of these sites don't include any advertising (part of the appeal of Substack), so they are entirely supported by their subscribers. As this kind of approach to online publishing matures, it will be interesting to see which business model wins out in the end: many subscribers paying a small fee (e.g. $12/year), or a few subscribers paying a much larger fee (e.g. $60/year).

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Privacy has value

I have maintained for years that privacy has value. It has value to the person or organization who owns their data, and that value can be monetized. Organizations like Facebook monetize in an unfriendly way, selling everything they know about you to the highest bidders. There is no "opt out" option; if you want to use Facebook, you are the product.

But there is another way to monetize privacy. NoteTrac is a new app that offers the typical note-taking and to-do list type features that many other apps offer, but they encrypt everything and promise to sell nothing. I think we will see more services and apps like this as people become increasingly uncomfortable with being the product for Facebook, Instagram, and similar apps.

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Just when you think you have heard it all.....

In Design Nine's planning study work, we began to notice that about three years ago, many ISPs, especially the cable Internet companies, no longer provided any information about upload speeds. They started doing this to help hide the fact that their upload and download speeds were highly asymmetric. This was a marketing ploy that worked fairly well when few people were trying to work from home and there were few distance learning students.

The Covid crisis everything, with huge numbers of people working from home or trying to take classes from home suddenly realized that SYMMETRIC bandwidth was actually important.

Most fiber networks, like the kind that WideOpen Networks designs and builds for our municipal and private sector clients, have symmetric upload and download speeds baked into the network design, and equal upload and download speeds are typically offered at no extra cost.

Now Comcast has come up with an interesting new approach to providing better upload speeds: They are going to let you pay extra for better upload speeds! Amazing! I'm sure that will make their customers very happy.

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Too much fiber in the U.S.?

Here is a guy who thinks we have too much fiber. With even the cable companies reluctantly beginning to deploy fiber in some markets, this has to be an article written to support the wireless industry. The write also suggests the useful life of fiber is only about twenty-five years. He may be basing this on the IRS allowable depreciation schedule of 24 years, but a quick Internet search will turn up many first hand reports of fiber cable operating successfully for thirty years or more.

While the glass fiber does have some very slow signal deterioration, advances in network electronics have been able to not only keep older fiber cables working but actually expand capacity, usually by orders of magnitude.

What the article does not tell you is that broadband and cellular wireless networks require much more frequent upgrades, typically nearly total replacement every five to seven years.

Fiber is still a terrific investment, and yes, it does future proof your community.

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