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

I'm back

The Technology Futures Web site has been moved to its own domain (technologyfutures.info) and has been upgraded. The old news site was using very old blogging software that needed substantial upgrades and security improvements. I've been blogging for nearly twenty years, and it turned out that safely moving thousands of news articles was by itself a major effort.

I will resume writing more regularly now.

Best regards,
Andrew Cohill

Technology News:

Finally, a home assistant that protects privacy

Someone has finally identified the market opportunity to sell a home assistant that protects your privacy. Devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home are sending everything that happens in your home to the Amazon or Google mothership: what music you listen to, what you are talking about, what programs you watch, what you buy....everything. Apple's HomePod also sends everything to Apple for processing, but Apple has a much stronger commitment to protecting customer privacy than Amazon and Google (the latter two don't really promise any privacy protection).

The Mycroft Mark II "Open Voice Assistant" is similar to the other devices in function, but the software uses open source code and more importantly, personal information is not uploaded to a corporate database.

I think we will see more "open" devices like this as people slowly begin to understand the extent of the data collection going on with the corporate devices.

Technology News:

Knowledge Democracy:

5G: Hype and disappointment

Here is a good, very readable article that tries to dissect the hype around 5G without dragging you down into the weeds with a lot of arcane technical data.

The short version of the article is perhaps summed up best by a quote from Former FCC Chief Michael Powell: 5G is "...25 percent technology, 75 percent hype."

Deploying "true" 5G is going to take a lot longer than most of the articles would lead you to believe, because it's not just upgrading radios on existing towers. To deliver 5G in a specific area and provide widely available service requires adding lots of small cell sites on shorter utility poles, lamp posts, and anything else the carriers can strap some ugly boxes to. And that takes time.

And as I have noted before. Most 5G cell sites require FIBER connections to enable the over-hyped, over-promised bandwidth. Fiber is the current and future king of broadband.

Technology News:

Where is all the bandwidth going?

Our use of bandwidth has been doubling every two years since the commercial use of the Internet started in 1993. Depending on whose statistics you believe, it may be doubling every eighteen months. It can't keep doing that forever, but these days, the 25 Meg down/3 Meg up defined by the FCC as "broadband" is setting the bar quite low.

One of the problems is video advertising. Visit almost any Web site in the Internet that carries ads, and you are bombarded with self-playing video. Some of the video ads are embedded on the page, and you have to find some tiny little 'x' to stop them. But the worst are the pop-up videos that follow you from page to page on a site. If you read a three page news article, you might see six or more video ads.

If you don't keep clicking away to get rid of them, you might read a few kilobytes of actual content, while the video ads consume megabytes of data--orders of magnitude more data than the actual content you came to the site to see.

It's a mess, and more so in rural areas of the country where broadband service is very slow. And it is why wireless broadband, while critically important in the short term (the next five to seven years), fiber is the only thing that can tame the bandwidth monster.

Technology News:

Xerox says, "To heck with customers..who needs them?"

Some years back, Xerox had outsourced all of their customer support to overseas call centers full of people who a)barely spoke English, and b)could only read from a canned script. The result was truly awful interactions if you needed to get a copier repaired or tried to order printer supplies.

But they seemed to figure that out, and for some time, if you called Xerox customer service, you got native English speakers who were delightfully helpful.

But the bean counters counter-attacked. At some point in the last couple of years, Xerox out-sourced all their copier and printer supply sales to CDW.

We have generally been happy with our Xerox printers and copiers, and have only bought Xerox supplies--pricey, but work well.

Recently, two very expensive color toner cartridges both failed within days of putting them in the printer. When we tried to return them to CDW, we were told that defective cartridges have to be returned within 30 days of purchase.

Which is ridiculous.

We always keeps spares on hand, so that if a toner cartridge runs out in the middle of an important customer print job, we have a spare. So we buy cartridges and they might sit on the shelf for two or three months before they are put into use.

So far, we have probably spent at least four hours arguing with CDW and Xerox without result. CDW's attitude is that policy is policy and it is Xerox's problem. Xerox "service" people just mindlessly repeat the policy.

So Xerox willfully sticks its customers with defective products and could care less.

Technology News:

SportClips and the loss of privacy

SportClips has decided that it does not really want to cut your hair unless you give them your full name, your email address, your phone number, and your birthdate.

For a haircut.

Some months ago, they instituted an online scheduling system so that you can schedule your haircut. And of course, there's an app for that.

Technically, you can still walk in, but if you do that, you still have to sign in, and the system thoughtfully tells you that you have to get in line behind everyone that scheduled a hair cut, including people that have not even shown up yet. And so, if you walk in, you are usually told there is a very long wait.

The relentless solicitation of personal data like birth date (for a HAIRCUT!!) is not only tiring, it's an insult. Companies that do this, like SportClips, don't see us as customers anymore, they see us as data. The haircut becomes incidental to the data harvesting.

I now get my haircut at a new local establishment with wonderful service. The staff there are all former SportClips workers. They told me today that business is booming.

Technology News:

Knowledge Democracy:

Laugh of the day: Telcos complain there is too much competition

The big incumbent telcos are complaining there is "too much" competition.

...and I have some swampland I want to sell you....

Technology News:

If you have ever wondered what happened to RSS

RSS, which stood for several different things, depending on who you asked (Real Simple Syndication was probably the most popular), has withered away. It was designed in the early days of the Web to make it easy to process and read news articles and blog posts from many different sites. Once you subscribed to a Web site using your RSS reader app, you could easily browse and read all the content from that site.

This article is a very detailed history of the technology. For some of us early users of the Internet, the article is a trip down memory lane.

There are many reasons why RSS has faded away, but Facebook could be primary factor. Facebook provides the same "endless news feed" that RSS does/did, and bundles all sorts of other information for you.

It is unfortunate that RSS never really took off. It gives the user much more control over what you read, unlike Facebook, which shoves all sorts of unwanted stuff into your feed. The Internet's domination by monopoly giants like Facebook, Google, and Amazon has become a corporate playground where users are the product. It's not a good thing.

Technology News:

Knowledge Democracy:

Is your security camera spying on you?

Companies like Amazon and Facebook are selling camera-based products that are designed to be used inside the home and outside the home (e.g. the Ring doorbell).

The problem is that we don't really know what these companies are doing with the video pictures and data that are being collected and processed by these devices. Here is a news article that suggests that the images collected by Amazon Ring devices (doorbell, inside cameras) are easily accessible to Amazon employees and third parties..one of which is in the Ukraine.

So personal data is being distributed worldwide without our knowledge or permission. This will not end well.

Technology News:

Knowledge Democracy:

Will 5G deliver the promises?

This article from PC Mag takes a sober look at the 5G promises. Both the 5G vendors and the big cellular providers want us to believe that "5G" is going to solve all our broadband problems, but like every previous wireless "breakthrough," which typically arrive about every 6-8 years, the promises rarely materialize.

This discusses what 5G might offer for rural areas, and the so-called "rural solution" is actually fiber! The article agrees with what we have been saying for several years--that running fiber down rural roads and then using wireless to connect to homes that may be set well back from the road might be worth looking at.

And we have been studying that in detail. The last time we ran cost estimates to compare fiber drops from the road to the home with wireless from the road to the home, the fiber drops were cheaper. The idea that 5G is ideal for short runs between a fiber cable at the road side and a home set back from the road is almost laughable, since you could do that with existing off the shelf wireless gear for a lot less--probably by an order of magnitude.

Design Nine and WideOpen Networks, our sister company, are not equipment resellers or VARs, so we are free to design networks that meet local conditions and budgets, using the most cost effective equipment.

Technology News:

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