Is It Time For An REA for the Internet

The death of Senator Bryd at the age of 92, had me thinking about the technical advances he saw in his life time. That the fight to get those advances to the most people was being fought then and continues to be fought today. The battleground may have changed, but the arguments often repeat themselves. Today, the battle is over what is the best way to get broadband to the most people. In the 1930’s it was electricity. While 90% of all urban residents had electricity by the 1930’s only 10% of rural residence did. Electric companies of that time said it was too expensive to supply electricity to sparsely populated rural areas, that they could not justify the cost. Rural residents who were lucky enough to have electricity paid rates two times as high as those in urban areas. This was at a time when items such as refrigeration, the radio and the telephone, all which depended on electricity were coming into their own. Without electricity, rural areas were falling further and further behind their urban counter part.

Despite their unwillingness to build in rural areas, utility companies and their supporters fought against any kind of government involvement, They insisted that the free market would take care of the issue. By 1935 it was clear that the free market system was not working and that something had to be done to get electricity to the rural areas. To deal with the problem the Roosevelt administration, created the Rural Electric Administration. The REA supplied incentives in form of loans to private utilities to build the infrastructure to provide electricity in rural areas. In those areas where private companies could not or would not participate, the government encourage the formation of cooperatives which were established to provide electricity for coop members. By law these electric cooperatives could not compete directly against private companies. By the 1950’s nearly all rural areas had electricity either thru cooperatives or private industries.

My question is is it time for something similar to the REA to get high speed Internet or broadband to areas that are not being covered by private industries. Just as electricity was the backbone to much of the innovation of the 20th century, broadband will be the backbone of much of the innovation of the 21st century. As more and more business and communication is done on line, those who have no or slow Internet connection will get left further and further behind. Do we continue to depend on private industry to provide the broadband or do we consider other alternatives similar to the REA. What do you think

Motorola Sticks It to the iPhone…Again

The Motorola Droid (X in this case) is once again sticking it to the iPhone.  The last time it was Verizon, but now Motorola itself is getting in on the Apple-bashing act.

Remember all of those Verizon ads surrounding the launch of the Droid?  Well, today Motorola themselves took out a full page ad in the New York Times making light of all of the recent bad press surrounding the iPhone’s antenna problems.  You know, the one Steve Jobs called a non-issue?  The one where his advice was “just avoid holding it that way“?

Motorola’s response to that?  In their ad, referring to their antenna, they say “The kind that allows you to hold the phone any way you like”.

Now, I’m not an iPhone owner, and I am not a hater either, but I love a good jab when I see one.  And, this (Android vs iPhone) is shaping up to be a great battle in which the real winner will be all of us consumers.  Every shot taken gives the other one the incentive to improve.  Competition is good, and when it’s humorous it’s even better.

Over 50s Get Online In UK


In a press release today, UKOM revealed that nearly two million more Britons are now online when compared to last year with over half of the increase coming from the over-50s.

The exact figures were that in May 2009 there were 36.9 million people online, growing to 38.8 million in the same month of 2010.  Of this 5% growth, 1 million were over 50.  For comparison, the World Bank reckoned there were about 61.4 million people in the UK in 2008, so that means that a little over 63% of the UK is online.

Interestingly, it was mostly men in the over 50s group, but large rises were also seen in the 12-20 and 21-34 women’s groups, possibly suggesting that they are catching up in Internet use.  There’s actually a great graph in the press release showing the breakdown by age and gender.

If you want to know what the over 50s were up to, UKOM handily provide the top 10 over 50s websites, including RealAge, Flixxy, Saga, WA Shearings, Fifty Plus, FamilySearch, Hand Picked Hotels, Lurpak, Jacquie Lawson and  That pretty much gives a snapshot of what they’re upto on the Internet.

The full press release is here (PDF).

Someone Contact Next of KIN

This will hit the top ten lists of technology that failed.



Microsoft pulled the plug on the Microsoft KIN. Microsoft will turn focus on another failure in Windows Mobile 7.

I personally thought it would have been adopted by the people over at Jitterbug. Maybe it could become the new Medic Alert Bracelet. Dr. C. Everett Coop comes on the air saying he has the KIN, then cut over to an older woman laying on the floor:

Help, I’ve fallen, but at least I can play Farmville until help arrives…

I think the biggest killer of the KIN is the monthly plan price. Maybe a new version that runs WiFi only could be a better option?

Maybe someday we’ll have a low priced smartphone that doesn’t cost that much in data plans.  Just not today

Road Trip!

Hubby, the kids and I are going to be running away for a week in the middle of July.  We’re leaving hot and steamy St. Louis and headed north to Wisconsin to visit friends and family, and spend a day or two in the Dells.  A good old-fashioned American Road Trip.  We love our road trips, and in fact usually travel as a family no other way.  I head down to the local Thrifty Car Rental and pick up a sizable beast of a car, pack a basket of road snacks, load up all the iPods and MP3 players with music and audio books, and away we go.  This trip will be about a seven hour drive, which is tolerable and entertaining, especially when we get to drive by things like this. (For a full run-down on the interesting things we found at the antique mall in Illinois in March, you can check out my personal blog post for our last trip.

In preparation for our trip, I was over on Mapquest looking at driving directions.  We are trying to decide if we want to make a detour near Bloomington, Illinois, or not.  And lo and behold, Mapquest has a new beta out, and making detours or multiple legs of a trip to get more specific directions is a brand spanky new (and useful!) feature on the new Mapquest.  I know I’m a bit of a holdout for using Mapquest to begin with, but I’m kind of a creature of habit, and I like how Mapquest did things, including how they responded to feedback I’ve given over the years about driving routes.  I’ve used Google Maps on occasion, but I still often end up back on Mapquest.

And I have to say, the new Mapquest, still in beta for the moment, is pretty darned nifty!  The logo has changed, which in my mind was probably unnecessary, but beyond that, there are some great functional changes that I like a whole lot.  You are immediately faced with a map on the right, and a text box on your left where you can put in the location you want to find in one single line, ala Google Maps.  Once you enter the location data and hit enter, a new map immediately pops up.  The text box now has a link below it for directions, giving you another text box to put in your other location, and within a second, you have a new map, and full driving directions.  At that point you can “add more stops,” getting a complete set of directions that will take you to multiple places, rather than just a beginning and an end, and needing to start all over again for a second destination if you want to add one.

This is going to be great for our road trip.  I can now map from Missouri to Bloomington, to Baraboo, WI, to the Dells, to House on the Rocks, and back to Missouri, without having to re-enter data and print separate directions and maps.  It also gives us a great overall idea of what our trip will entail, driving wise, something I had to sort of guess at with my terrible math skills before.

Now I’m really in a vacation state of mind, with two more weeks of work to go before we can blow this pop stand and I can test Mapquest’s new mapping features!

The Dark Side of eReaders

Part of my daily job is to be sure that the disabled students on my campus have access to the same resources that any student has access to, regardless of their disability.  Most of us think “big” when we think about disabled people; those with mobility issues, blindness, or deafness.  In reality, there’s a whole host of disabilities, some visible, and some not so visible.  My students range from debilitating disabilities to those that are virtually invisible, but all students receive the same considerations for their disabilities, and are awarded the accommodations they need to bring them on level with non-disabled students.

In my little microcosm, this often involves creating and providing text in an alternative format.  It might be in audio, or tagged xml files (more commonly known as DAISY files), or simple text files that can be manipulated in multiple ways by the user.  Out of hundreds of disabled students I serve on a regular basis, there are dozens of solutions we may use for various disabilities.

You would think eReaders might be a really good solution to some of our accommodation needs.  And you would be wrong.  One of the most inaccessible devices on the planet is the much-hailed and much-loved eBook reader.  Even with some features like enlargement of text and the ability to have the book read in audio, this is not provided in enough depth nor breadth to offer true accessibility.  As one example, while some books on the Kindle can be played using the text-to-speech function, the menus are not in an audible format, so how is a visually impaired person supposed to even get to the book in the first place?  And this is just one issue, and does not cover all of the potential problems with eReaders when it comes to disabled readers.

And to make matters worse, some colleges and universities have bought into the hype and are forcing eBooks onto their student populations, under the assumption that it will save money for students (this is debatable all on its own) and that students will like it better because it’s electronic (this has also been debunked, for the most part).  But in their rush to embrace the new, they didn’t take a good, hard look at what was at stake.

Now the Department of Justice is doing it for them. In a statement released yesterday jointly by the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education, with an endorsement from the Office of Civil Rights, schools are cautioned against recommending, forcing, or prescribing eBook readers for their students.  “It is unacceptable for universities to use emerging technology without insisting that this technology be accessible to all students,” the statement said in part.

Most users of eReaders don’t care that their eReaders are accessible.  But up to 10% of the market share may belong to readers who need such features available to them.  In the world of eReaders, which are now selling like hotcakes, that market share could be significant.

As an educator, I am glad to see the DOJ and DOE taking a stance on this issue, which up until this point was only being addressed in the civil courts.  That’s a huge waste of money, when a simple statement from these two agencies could have put a stop to it long ago.  Disabled students on my campus are happy to know that they will not be forced, anytime soon, to jump on the eReader bandwagon.  Someday, those readers may reach accessibility levels that are appropriate, but until then, my students won’t be forced onto the devices, and that’s good news all around.

Technology leap frog – Developing countries are skipping the PC

leapfrogI have spent the last 10 months in the developing country of India.  You see a combination of 1st and 3rd world lifestyles here.  However the most amazing sight is the technology leapfrog you witness.  Let me explain.  Two years ago I visited here and was amazed at the number of cell phones.  A person could be on an ox-driven cart transporting wood. . . and talking on the cell phone.  On that trip two years ago, the paper ran an article describing the leapfrog.  It detailed a village without power or generators.  The people took turns every few nights walking the 10 kilometers to a neighboring village to charge the mobiles.  Amazing leapfrog.  Never had a land line, television, maybe even radio.  Straight to the cell phone.

Recently at the All Things Digital Conference, Steve Jobs talked of how traditional PC makers, including himself, had to face the uncomfortable truth that the world is going mobile.  For the developed countries that is just the next step.  For most of the world it is giant leapfrog.  In India people still live on $3/day.  They have a cell, but they will never own a computer.  The internet is growing in India, and most of it is on the mobile phone.  Many, perhaps most of the world, will access the internet only on their phones.  They are skipping the PC and not even blinking or thinking twice.

So how important is the mobile OS market?  It will rule the digital world sooner than you think.

Apple’s Customer Service Tested with iPhone4

This is where the rubber meets the road. The top tech company has a quality/design problem despite it’s rigorous testing and Steve Jobs micro-managing. How will the vaunted customer service respond? It’s well-known that Apple weeds out posts from it’s forum if they are too blunt about a weakness. And it is also widely known that Apple is ranked first for quality and warranty response. How is all of this going to come together?

iPhone 4An easy fix for the problem, according to Appleinsider and probably Apple themselves, appears to be the rubber bumper casing. This is something Apple could design, build, and give away for pennies + shipping.  The first problem? Having to admit the mistake. Apple hates to admit anything we all know.  How do you confess to 1.5 million new owners their unit has a fixable problem? The other problem, it would ruin Steve’s perfect industrial design and the phone’s appearance. Dilemma time in Apple offices. Bulk mineral water time in Steve’s office.  Seriously it is action and opportunity time in the Apple offices.

Come on Steve, put on the black mock-turtle neck and show the sadness and humility that the color deserves.  Apologize, give away the bumpers, redesign the casing a bit and start releasing the slightly updated iPhone 4. It hurts the pride, but really this is an opportunity to set your company even further apart from the competitors.  What are the odds?  Whatever you do please don’t fix it by covering the sides in glass as well.  That would be like carrying your grandmothers urn around.  Scary.

Pursuit Of The Ultimate Media Extender

Hacked Apple TVFor some time now I’ve been experimenting with different ways of getting Internet-based video to my widescreen LCD HD televisions.

Often people think, why not simply hook up a regular desktop computer up to the TV. A desktop computer can be set up to play back virtually any video file type. The problem is, desktop and laptop computers are optimized for use on a desktop, not from a living room chair.

Is the ultimate media extender a set top box of some sort? The trouble with most set top boxes is that they are either walled gardens, or they miss the boat in very important ways.

A media extender should be able to play files stored on a home network, as well as be able to easily stream from services such as Netflix, Hulu, etc. Once set up, everything should be accessible through a simple remote control. Also, for my purposes, I’m willing to pay up to $250 for a box for each television in my house. It should also be able to play ripped DVD collection files that have been ripped to a central home server or network attached storage device.

I’ve hit on an interesting combination that seems to do everything I want it to that involves hacking a standard Apple TV and adding Playon TV server software to another computer on my home network. Playon TV software sells for $39.99.

Recently I purchased a commercial Apple TV hack called ATV Flash, which sells for $49.95. You download either the Windows or Mac version and install it on your computer. When you run the program it will ask you to insert an empty USB memory stick that it will write the installation files to. Then you plug the USB memory stick into your Apple TV and power it up. It will upgrade the Apple TV to be able to play a much wider variety of files, as well as adding Boxee and XMBC playback. It also retains all of the standard Apple TV functionality.

Next, I added the Playon TV software to my HP Windows Home Server. It could have easily been any other computer on my home network that meets the software’s minimum performance requirements. Once Playon TV was installed, I added my credentials for my Netflix account, as well as my Hulu account.

Finally, on my hacked Apple TV I simply start the XBMC application and navigate to UpNP devices on my home network, where Playon TV shows up. I now have access to Hulu and Netflix right on my Apple TV.

The Apple TV itself does not have enough processor horsepower to play back Netflix or Hulu Flash streaming without stuttering and freezing. However, playing it through the Playon TV software causes much of the processing to take place on my Windows Home Server machine, which has plenty of horsepower. Playon TV works by converting the Hulu and Netflix Flash streams into UpNP streams that the hacked Apple TV running XMBC can easily play without stuttering.

So, with this setup I’ve got access to all of my regular iTunes material, including HD and SD video podcasts, as well as a wide variety of streaming material from popular services such as Netflix and Hulu. It would be easy for me to buy additional Apple TV units, apply the ATV Flash hack to them, and attach them to other HDTV’s in my house.

Andy McCaskey, Jeffrey Powers Interview Steve Wozniak at HP Technology Forum 2010

Andy and Steve

Andy and Steve

Andy McCaskey of SDR News and Jeffrey Powers of Geekazine had a rare honor as we got to interview Steve Wozniak - now Chief Scientist over at Fusion IO – a company that works with NAND  memory for high speed / High Capacity storage.

There are two parts to the interview. The first one, Jeffrey talks about Fusion IO, Steve’s role and a how the Segway Polo is going. After switching seats with Andy, something amazing happened. The two just started talking. I couldn’t get the video queued fast enough and they didn’t see the queue in. So, I just hit the button and they continued on.

But what we did get was an amazing conversation about education, the future of technology and Steve Wozniak’s new role.

Part I

Podcast: Play in new windowDownload (38.1MB)

Audio Only Version

Part II

Podcast: Play in new windowDownload (68.7MB)

Audio Only Version