Starlinks Impact on Rural America

If you have been following my podcast you will know that 20 months ago I left the land of high-speed internet that I had in Hawaii with a glorious 1000MB down and 35MB up internet speeds. For over 20 years I have enjoyed living where connectivity was never an issue.

Let me say that again for 20 years! But I knew that anytime I would visit the home in the country in southern Michigan that I grew up in the Internet was going to be an issue. To the point for years when I visited I either tethered my phone and or had a hotspot barely being able to send just email. When I moved back to that homestead I entered internet Hell!  Yes, Internet Hell. slow shitty, high latency Internet.

Today I am lucky if I can call it that to pay $89.95 a month for 15MB down and 3MB up only because a 30-foot tower was installed for $4000. With two separate accounts and 2 antennas allowing my sister’s family of 7 which includes my mom on one connection and I paying for a separate connection to my loft on the compound.

While I complain daily about the slow speed at least we have something. My Internet Service provider DMCI is a small company doing their best to deliver broadband to a wide swath of several counties that at least allows us to have some connectivity. My cellphone actually has better speeds and I know my sister’s kids largely tether their phones as sharing 15/3 with 7 people is not pretty.

The US Government has literally spent billions trying to expand high-speed Internet into rural communities. Well like any government handout big ISP’s that have received that money in my opinion have largely squandered it. They essentially used that money to build their networks into the suburbs and have largely done jack shit for true rural areas.

So while I was happy on high-speed internet for 20 years rural America has been shit on and left behind. It is the biggest travesty know to modern man. The sacrifice and putting up with slow speeds in rural America and possibly the world are very close to being over because of one man.

Elon Musk and the beautiful team at Starlink (they are hiring) have to date put about 1000 Starlink satellites of a potential 13,000 or so on this first phase into space. 60 at a time on the reusable Falcon 9. Yesterday I did not put a down payment on a Tesla! No my sister and I both put down payments on Starlink satellite systems. With a projected mid to late 2021 delivery, I am here to tell you the awaited delivery will be worth it!

Let me lay out what we are going to be able to do that is nearly impossible today!

  • Remote Meetings on Zoom etc
  • Stream a 4k Movie for the first time
  • Stream Video without buffering at the same time
  • Effectively run a business
  • Upload videos in minutes versus days
  • Get security updates timely to our PC’s
  • Security cameras with cloud storage
  • Cancel Satellite TV
  • Have full connectivity in all buildings
  • More than 1 child to be able to do remote learning
  • Not drive 12 miles to get a high-speed internet fix.
  • The list is endless!

For those that have high-speed internet connections count your blessings, you will not need to mount a Starlink antenna on your home. But for me, this will be a game-changer. It could allow me to close my office location 13 miles away, save that overhead, and build a new studio here on the compound to allow me to broadcast and stream here.

Will this be a perfect solution no but the price is right, hell we could have a system for each building and still come out ahead. It’s sure cheaper than paying the assholes from the cable company $15,000 to bring cable internet to my home 1.75 miles from where I live today. Imagine living 1.75 miles from the edge of where true high-speed Internet is available around a nearby lake community. The lake communities have the density the cable companies need to be able to make a profit.  But the 11 homes between that point and my home does not have the density needed to make it happen.

Rural Broadband woes are going to be solved by Elon Musk and the Starlink team. There may even be Tesla in my driveway at some point after all we should support companies that actually solve issues. So every Starlink launch will cause me to cheer as I know I am one day closer for the Starlink system to arrive and the availability of true high speed internet

Am I excited? Yes, I am you simply have no idea how much of a game-changer this is. I am also incredibly happy to see all the people who have had zero internet access get the beta first. Although I did see one geek like me get one even though he already had 1GB fiber to his home. It will not be long before every RV has a Starlink antenna and no longer will we be tied to our home. I am sure there will be portable systems and those that will have domes on them.

The expansion of high-speed Internet access will be a game-changer for every person in rural America that has been left behind.  Go Starlink Go!  Follow the Starlink journey here at Geek News Central and the companion Podcast.

EU Wants Google and Facebook to Pay for News

Financial Times reported that the EU has created legislation that would force big tech companies to pay for news. This comes after a similar Code of Conduct was proposed in Australia that would require companies like Google and Facebook to share revenue with the Australian news organizations.

The EU is working on two landmark draft European digital regulations: The Digital Services Act (DSA) and the Digital Markets Act (DMA).

The DSA is a common set of rules on intermediaries’ obligations and accountability across the single market that will open up opportunities to provide digital services across borders, while ensuring a high level of protection to all users, no matter where they live in the EU. The DMA establishes a set of narrowly defined objective criteria for qualifying a large online platform as a so-called “gatekeeper”. This allows the DMA to remain well targeted to the problem that it aims to tackle as regards large, systemic online platforms.

Consequences of non-compliance to the DMA include: fines of up to 10% of the company’s total worldwide annual turnover, periodic penalty payments of up to 5% of the average daily turnover, and additional remedies imposed in the case of systematic infringements of the DMA.

Facebook rejected the proposal by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC). According to The Guardian, Facebook said “If there were no news content available on Facebook in Australia, we are confident the impact on Facebook’s community metrics and revenues in Australia would not be significant”.

In August of 2020, Google started targeting Australians with pop-up ads that linked to an open letter. The letter had a bright yellow caution sign at the top. In my opinion, the letter was intended as a scare tactic to sway Australians against the Code of Conduct. The chair of the ACCC stated that Google’s letter “contains misinformation.”

Based on those responses to the ACCC, I suspect that both Facebook, and Google, are going to issue thinly veiled threats (and, potentially, misinformation) at consumers who live in the EU in an effort to persuade people to turn against the EU’s Digital Services Act. When big companies resort to scare tactics to avoid regulation – it emphasizes just how badly those platforms need to be regulated. They clearly have the money to pay news organizations for their work.

Section 230 is 25! #1506

Section 230 of the Digitally Millenium Copyright Act is 25 today and businesses like mine would not have been able to survive without it. While section 230 reform is going to likely happen we will need to wait and see what Congress does in way of reform with new legislation being introduced now.

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Continue reading Section 230 is 25! #1506

Xiaomi Mi 11 Launches in Europe

Xiaomi might be a recent addition to the USA’s naughty list but this hasn’t stopped the Chinese firm from launching its latest flagship, the Mi 11 5G with an impressive set of specs. The TL;DR version is Snapdragon 888 chipset, 6.8″ screen with 515 ppi, 8GB+128GB/256GB, starting at 749 euros.

The longer version is that Xiaomi has a top-tier phone with specs to take on the best, but it took 25 minutes of global launch presentation to get to the technical details, with the event’s focus on video recording and photography features. Aimed at social media aficionados, this is a lifestyle as much as a flagship device.

(And while Xiaomi were trying to move the conversation away from features, there were plenty of comparisons between the Mi 11 and Apple’s iPhones.)

The Mi 11 is a good-looking smartphone, covered in Corning Gorilla Glass front and back, with curved edges on all sides. The display side has the latest Victus glass giving enhanced drop protection. Two colours were announced at launch, Midnight Gray and Horizon Blue, but more were promised including a future Cloud White model.

The display on the Mi 11 is a 6.8″ WQHD+ display with 3200×1440 pixels giving 515ppi. It’s a 120 Hz AMOLED HDR10+ screen with AdaptiveSync to adjust screen frequency up or down depending on the app’s requirements. Lower frequencies use less power. DisplayMate have awarded the Mi 11’s screen the best smartphone display award along with 13 other accolades.

Under the bonnet is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G. The main octacore CPU is a 5 nm Cortex X-1 supported by new A78 cores and an Adreno 660 GPU, giving an Antutu score of 745,942 and top spot on the leaderboard.

Powering the Mi 11 is a 4,600 mAh battery with high power 55W charging. Using a USB C cable, the phone will go from 0% to 100% in 45 minutes. Wireless charging isn’t much slower, taking 53 minutes to fill the battery. A 55W GaN charger will come in the box.

Camera-wise, the Mi 11 comes with 108 MP primary camera with OIS, a 13 MP 123° ultrawide and a 5 MP telemacro lens. Round the front, it’s a 20 MP in-display camera. Xiaomi have worked hard on low light level photography with Night Mode available on all three rear cameras and Ultra Night Video for filming. Videos can be recorded at 4K HDR10+ and there are six AI cinema modes to give films a certain style. Xiaomi has partnered with cinematographer Reynald Gresset to show off the Mi 11’s features and the showreel is impressive.

The phone’s speakers have been tuned by Harmon Kardon and there’s support for two Bluetooth headphones or a pair of speakers. Size-wise, the Mi 11 is 164.3mm x 74.6mm x 8.06mm and weighs in at 196g.

Up to this point, the Mi 11 has shown itself to be a competent flagship contender albeit with nothing particularly special. Interestingly though, the Mi 11 can use the in-display fingerprint monitor as heart-rate sensor.

Out of the box, the Mi 11 will come with MIUI 12 with a major update to 12.5 in Q2. Xiaomi have been listening to users and MIUI 12.5 will allow the user to uninstall pre-installed apps.

Let’s talk pricing….the Mi 11 will be sold in Europe in two versions, one with 128 GB for storage and the other with 256 GB. The main memory is 8 GB in both versions (though a 12 GB version appears to be available in China.)

  • 8GB+128GB – 749 €
  • 8GB+256GB – 799 €

Exact releases dates for different countries will be announced shortly.

The Mi 11 comes with 2 year warranty plus a 1 year one-time free screen repair, which is a nice touch, and for true fans, a Mi 11 Special Edition will be released later in the year in very limited numbers. Looking forward to seeing that.

The Apps On Your Phone Are Tracking You

We put apps on our phones for many reasons. Some apps are useful – they tell us the weather, the pollen count, and the latest news. Other apps allow us to post things from our phones to social media. The New York Times reported that the apps on your phone are tracking you. Or, more correctly, the marketing industry is tracking you through those apps.

The New York Times received a data set from a source who is being kept anonymous. The data set “followed the smartphones of thousands of Trump supporters, rioters, and passers-by in Washington, D.C., on January 6, as Donald Trump’s political rally turned into a violent insurrection.”

According to The New York Times, the data they were given included about 100,000 location pings for thousands of smartphones, revealing around 130 devices inside the Capitol exactly when Trump supporters were storming the building. About 40 percent of the phones tracked near the rally stage on the National Mall during the speeches were also found in and around the Capitol during the siege – which The New York Times said was “a clear link between those who’d listened to the president and his allies and then marched on the building.” There were no names or phone numbers in the data.

How is this happening? According to The New York Times, it is because of the unique ID that is tied to a smartphone.

The IDs, called mobile advertising identifiers, allow companies to track people across the internet and on apps. They are supposed to be anonymous, and smartphone owners can reset them or disable them entirely. Our findings show the promise of anonymity is a farce. Several companies offer tools to allow anyone with data to match the IDs with other databases.

No matter what your opinion of the people who converged at the Capitol, you should be concerned about how much data is being taken from your smartphone by the “location-tracking industry” (as The New York Times calls them). Location data can be deanonymized. The data set examined by The New York Times included information harvested from phones of “rioters, police officers, lawmakers, and passers-by”.

Based on this, it seems to me that there should be some legislative effort put into stopping the “location-tracking industry” from freely grabbing as much data as they desire. There is a risk that a police officer could wrongly discern this type of data to accuse an innocent person of a crime. According to the New York Times, some location data is accurate to within a few feet, other data is not.

Senators Introduced a Bill to Limit Section 230 Protections

Senators Mark Warner, Mazie Hirono, and Amy Klobuchar introduced a bill called the SAFE TECH Act. The full name of the Act is “Safeguarding Against Fraud, Exploitation, Threats, Extremism, and Consumer Harms Act”. All three of the Senators who introduced the bill are from the Democratic Party. It appears that no Republican Senators took part in this bill.

The purpose of the SAFE TECH ACT is “to amend section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934 to reaffirm civil rights, victims’ rights, and consumer protections.” The bill has not yet been voted on by the full Senate.

Senator Mark Warner said, in a statement: “When Section 230 was enacted in 1996, the internet looked very different than it does today. A law meant to encourage service providers to develop tools and policies to support effective moderation has instead conferred sweeping immunity on online service providers even when they do nothing to address foreseeable, obvious, and repeated misuse of their products and services to cause harm.”

The SAFE TECH Act would make clear that Section 230:

Doesn’t apply to ads or other paid content – ensuring that platforms cannot continue to profit as their services are used to target vulnerable consumers with ads enabling frauds and scams;

Doesn’t bar injunctive relief – allowing victims to seek court orders where misuse of a provider’s services is likely to cause irreparable harm;

Doesn’t impair enforcement of civil rights laws – maintaining the vital and hard-fought protections from discrimination even when activities or services are mediated by internet platforms.

Doesn’t interfere with laws that address stalking/cyber-stalking or harassment and intimidation on the basis of protected classes – ensuring that victims of abuse and targeted harassment can hold platforms accountable when they directly enable harmful activity;

Doesn’t bar wrongful death actions – allowing family of a decedent to bring suit against platforms where they may have directly contributed to a loss of life;

Doesn’t bar suits under the Allen Tort Claims Act – potentially allowing victims of platform-enabled human rights violations abroad (like the survivors of the Rohingya genocide) to seek redress in U.S. courts against U.S. – based platforms.

Gizmodo reported that the SAFE TECH Act was widely endorsed upon announcement by several groups working to curb hate and extremism online, including the Anti-Defamation League and the Center for Countering Digital Hate. The Hill reported that that the NAACP Legal Defense also supported the bill.

Fight for the Future posted a link to a Google Doc that shows a letter which includes a long list of groups that are against the SAFE TECH Act. In a tweet Fight For the Future stated that 70+ human rights groups have sent the letter to Congress and the Biden-Harris Administration warning lawmakers against gutting Section 230.

Techdirt has a long and very detailed post about the SAFE TECH Act. They are very clearly against it.

One paragraph says: “A key thing to recognize is that it’s obvious that the drafters of this bill believe the myth that 230 protects “big” tech companies. The bill is written as if its only talking about Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. Warner handwaves away the idea that the bill would destroy smaller companies in his announcement by ridiculously (and against all evidence to the contrary) saying that all startups are too small to sue, so it would only be used against larger companies.”

Personally, I believe that more should be done to prevent people from being harassed or cyber-stalked online. Social media platforms should be required to do more to uphold civil rights laws. Based on everything I’ve read, it does not appear that the SAFE TECH Act is the solution to these problems.

Microsoft Launched Microsoft Viva for Employees

Microsoft announced that it has launched Microsoft Viva. It is comprised of four modules: Viva Connections, Viva Insights, Viva Learning, and Viva Topics. More modules will be coming.

Microsoft describes Viva Connetions as “a gateway to your digital workplace”. They point out that research from their Work Trend Index shows that nearly 60 percent of workers feel less connected to their team since the move to remote work.

Viva Connections is built on Microsoft 365 capabilities like SharePoint to provide a curated and branded employee destination. Leaders can connect with employees via town halls, and employees can access everything from company news, policies and benefits to employee resource groups or communities they want to join with Microsoft Viva’s integration to Yammer.

Viva Insights gives individuals, managers, and leaders personalized and actionable privacy-protected insights that help everyone in an organization thrive. It brings new personal wellbeing experiences, insights, and recommended actions from Workplace Analytics and MyAnalytics into the flow of people’s work in Microsoft Teams.

Viva Learning “makes learning a natural part of both every employee’s daily work and company culture”. Employees can easily discover and share everything from training courses to micro learning content. Managers get the tools they need to assign learning and track the completion of courses to help foster a learning culture.

Viva Topics enables employees to find an expert, understand company acronyms, or surface the content they need. It connects people to the knowledge, in the apps they use every day. Microsoft explains: “Think of Viva Topics as a Wikipedia with AI superpowers for your organization. It uses AI to automatically organize company-wide content and expertise into relevant categories like “projects”, “products”, “processes” and “customers”.

Microsoft Viva has been integrated with: Microsoft 365, Microsoft Power Platform, Microsoft Dynamics 365, and third-party products and services that will deliver a complete employee experience in the flow of work.

TechCrunch reported that Viva Insights is “to give managers insights into whether their team (but not individual team members) are at risk of burnout.” It also is to help company leaders “address complex challenges and respond to change by shedding light on organizational work patterns and trends.”

Personally, I think this sounds invasive. In my opinion, it sounds like a mean boss could use Viva Insights to punish an entire team for no reason other than the boss saw analytics that implied that at least one person on the team was less productive than the others.

Microsoft also pointed out that a new dashboard has been introduced for Microsoft Viva and LinkedIn’s Glint customers “that map insights about how people work to employee survey data about how people feel.” Part of the dashboard allows an organization to “leverage data from third-party tools like Zoom, Slack, workday, and SAP SuccessFactors”. It is unclear how Microsoft will prevent those third parties from grabbing employee data via Microsoft Viva.