Sunday, August 27, 2017

Amazon Web Services

Websites: This week, I've been on vacation, but as a diversion, I've known my hosting subscription for my website is up for renewal and I'd wanted to move the site to AWS, Amazon's Web Services technology, anyway. So perhaps over an hour, spread among perhaps 5 separate settings, I accomplished this move.

What I needed to utilize to accomplish this was the following

  • A better backup mechanism: I'm using Wordpress for my site, and there are a number of backup solutions there, the one I was using was easy to create a backup image of the site content and the database, and store it in a set of files on my Dropbox presence (I wanted a separate store for it) but I had never tried to restore the website from any of these backups. After examining other tools, I finally settled on All-in-One Migration by ; they are also in the plugins library. 

  • Creating an EC2 instance with a marketplace app for Wordpress via Bitnami was straightforward except for the simple instructions I followed on the AWS community noted to ignore the creation of server keypairs (for SSH access). Attempted to create the keypairs later was never successful and I am not really sure why, reinstantiating the instance and reloading my website content but this time creating the keypairs during that instantiation was successful. 

AWS has a free tier (for an initial one year) so if you've never done this before, you should try it. The market place has a number of apps already available for low or no software cost.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Affordable PC

I don't know if you're like me, but I have a bunch of old PC's around the house, I just can't seem to get around to the recycling them, thinking at a minimum that I have data on that hard disk that I need to recover or at least validate that I don't need it anymore.

A little while ago, I ran across this show, revision3, and I thought - I have a few (actually 3) cases with various really old technology inside. I'm talking IDE disk drives here. I can use this idea from revision3, and taking a step in that direction, put modern technology inside an old skin. After all, I don't really care what the outside looks like, what's important is that the stupid thing runs; and runs faster than the last PC I bought (for a bit more money, by the way).

Then my son's PC died and rather than go out and buy something new, I encouraged him to go along with me on this adventure...

Here is what I bought (right from Amazon) shipped right to my door.

  • Intel Pentium Processor G3220 3.0 GHz LGA 1150
    BX80646G3220 $58.99
  • ECS Elitegroup Micro ATX DDR3 1600 LGA 1150 Motherboard
    H81H3-M4 (1.0A) used $34.99
  • Seagate Barracuda 1 TB HDD SATA 6 Gb/s
    NCQ 64MB Cache 3.5-Inch Internal Bare Drive ST1000DM003 $53.99
  • Kingston Value RAM 4GB 1600MHz PC3-12800 DDR3
    Non-ECC CL11 DIMM SR x8 Desktop Memory (KVR16N11S8/4) $39.74
  • EVGA 430W 80PLUS Certified ATX12V/EPS12V Power Supply
    100-W1-0430-KR $34.99
  • Total: $222.70
Yes, like the guys building the gaming PC, I could spend a bit more money and put in a high end graphics card for rendering a PC game fast enough, but I myself don't need any more than this. There is VGA and HDMI on the motherboard. I think my son will finally opt for the graphics card, because he does do games and stuff. (a PNY 750TI is $140 extra)

But for the basics, including for example, the idea of a video recorder (a PVR or DVR) - this is enough. And, what I have also discovered with my son is that this thing is really quiet! Yes, there is a fan on top of the CPU to pull heat away, but outside the case, it is very quiet.

If you have a bunch of cards to put into the PC, maybe this isn't for you. There is one slot for the graphic's card, two slots for memory (the 4gb memory I bought is on one stick). There is power for just about any SATA you would reasonably put inside, 2 hi/2 low SATA connections, 6 different USB connections (inclusive of 2 USB3). All in all, pretty sweet for this price.

You will need a DVD drive to install Windows (which he already had from the old computer) or a bootable ISO copy of the DVD on an external drive and I already had a Windows 7 license to use, otherwise you might have to spring for the Windows software (+ $100). If you're doing Linux, then you won't need that.

Hope this is something useful for you.

Monday, August 12, 2013


Last year, I made reference to the vaccination vs. Autism controversy, which is probably a misnomer, since controversy indicates that there is a difference of opinion. Science is not like that, scientific theory eventually becomes fact through rigorous testing and evidence based analysis.
But parents are not scientists and are swayed by qwacks and disinformation as evidenced by much of what follows the McCarthy b.s.; although with her working on The View may now be in a completely different direction.
Why not vaccinate? These out of left field approaches are very much affecting us all, not just the poor kids that have to struggle through whatever illness that could have been avoided.
Just as the Dawkins article suggests, we need to actively counter the misinformation with facts, such as the thimerosal points in his article.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Autism and vaccines


I just read something about the vaccination vs. autism crap. Please, people... will you stop with the unscientific rants about how you "think" someone is creating vaccines that will "cause" autism.

Go read for yourself, or better yet, do your own analysis. But just repeating this crap because you heard or read about it on the internet - jeez.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

I love slow-motion cameras.

The link, Slinky Drop shows, as Dr. Kolkowitz says, 'surprising insights on ... how studying and measuring even everyday objects can provide results that are "counterintuitive and not what you expect."'

Here at YouTube:

 and the extended video

Thank you, Dr. Kiki, for alerting me to this

Friday, May 28, 2010

Facebook, what to do

There is a lot of talk these days about quitting facebook, and while the humorous attempts, such as this video, suggest substituting obsessions

the real substitute is something of value.

I am reminded that the "The Dunning-Kruger effect" continues to demonstrate the stupidity of the human race. And those guys at Facebook stumbled upon this social behavior, that is utterly a waste of time, but generates a lot of cash for themselves. Granted, there are the marketing aspects of said social medium, or utilizing the Facebook "cattle" to generate your own money for yourselves. But seriously, this is what the human race has become?

Is this worse than the water cooler? A harmless diversion of some productivity? Perhaps, but more likely not, especially if the suggested statistics of 7 hours per day for the average Facebook user is correct. But as the DK Effect research suggests, the only way to really to change the behavior is education, where the user finally sees for themselves that what they are doing is not the best use of their time. Simply "knocking heads" isn't the answer, nor is anything legal (although I'm all for dealing with the privacy issue at Facebook, since their behavior is certainly questionable).

Time will tell, and certainly there is history to write here yet.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

to URL or not to URL, that is the question

Since Phil Windley did an interview with Sachin Agarwal and Garry Tan of Posterous that was recorded June 8th and posted shortly thereafter, I've been playing with Posterous, linking it to my Blogger and Twitter accounts and the simplicity has really dawned on me as to how significant something like Posterous is. Simply: Just email your post to yourself and you have a blog post.

None of this write here or go to this URL "stuff". None of this Wordpress complexity, either. Now granted, for some of us engineering geeks, we like the complexity. But for Mom and Dad, not going to happen. Maybe they can make something like Blogger happen, but then again, maybe all they can handle is email.

Take Twitter for example, pretty simple interface, 140 characters, micro-blogging - call it what you want, but the bottom line - 140 characters and that's it. Some people are filling their accounts with nonsense, like what kind of coffee they are getting or what kind of weather there is where they are. I admit it, I have done some of the same.

The 140 character limit originally came from SMS, the Short Message Service, the text messaging "thing" that your kids are using on their cell phones. It's this short because in the original designs, SMS was carried in the control channel. These days, it's application will eventually head to IP, as all of the carriers figure out how to move the app into the IP world since it will be less expensive to deploy there, especially as the massive SMS apps (which the "reality" shows like Idol caused to happen) continue to have popularity with the masses.

Oh, but "some" have said Twitter can be extended, use SnipUrl and you can put a short link in your twitter feed that will redirect (using the basic HTTP redirect capabilities, that's all SnipUrl is after all is one big mesh of a database of redirect links). And low and behold that's how you are supposed to "post a picture" to or using twitter. This would work for any link you can get to on the world wide web. But this adds complexity to something already simple.

Posterous reminded me about the short URL phenom because if you link your Twitter account to your Posterous blog, then they will automatically create a twitter post with a short url linking back to your Posterous post. Pretty cool, because they are making it simple to use.

Simple is what it's all about.

I had a similar discussion in a slightly different vein with a marketing person for a project I'm working on for her, and I was telling her to be careful on the business case because you can't count on people typing into the URL bar, which she disagreed with. Well, missy, I say, I have kids, so I have a built in test group right in my house, so I tried my little theory out on these two and I found out that neither of them really know what the URL is or what that thing at the top of the browser window is for. I am pretty sure that both of them have typed something in there at some time in their short "internet" lives, but they really prefer not to do anything with it. They both get links in email or forum posts and they set them as favorites/bookmarks and then they navigate back there using that mechanism.

With the movement of mobile devices from phones to "smart" phones, I would (and to my marketing person) strongly suggest that with limited screen real estate and with the urgency of the mobile tasks, people will just naturally gravitate toward using links or bookmarks or widgets or whatever the new technology is at the time. Manually typing in a URL into an address bar is about to be a thing of the past, especially for a mobile device.

That's where I think we are going, to the continued use of bookmarks and linking and a bit less of the " W W W . YOURSITEHERE . com stuff.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Machine Intelligence

Today's NYTimes article on program's designed to thwart machine's and software's ability to "pretend" to be a human reminded me of the entire A.I. field of study from college and years ago when we were trying to sell companies and the government on commercial AI applications.

The article itself is about CAPTCHA and re-Captcha as well as image recognition and how these systems are used by Yahoo, Google and others to keep the "bad guys" from signing up for bogus email accounts and whatever and then spamming us to death. An admirable goal. Even the system's themselves are going good, for example re-CAPTCHA where images that cannot be scanned and OCR'd properly are being "read" by the human populace one or two words at a time as they sign-on or sign-up and the words (actually multiple iterations of the same word from different people in order to ensure fewer errors creep in) are then substituted in the scanned books of libraries and other material and thus improving our ability to read books "at a distance" where maybe only a copy or two exists.

The point of all of these tests is to determine if it's a human behind the "keyboard" rather than a machine cranking out sign-up requests by the thousand's. I have heard that the spammer's themselves were using similar human powered examination of the images to thwart these attempts, in that they rewarded viewers at their porn sites to simply solve the same problem by revealing more and more of a naked lady as the letters of the problem were typed in.

Beyond this is all of the work that has led up to this point... The CAPTCHA acronym itself stands for “completely automated public Turing test to tell computers and humans apart” and is a direct reference to the British mathematician, Alan Turing. (for a fictional counterpoint to all of this, read an excellent novel by Neal Stephenson Crypotnomicon - a 1999 novel which had a side plot about the the Bletchley Park mathematicians in their attempts to crack Axis codes during WW-II.) who has contributed much to be beginning of this field.

The Hollywood machine, with another Terminator movie out, would lead us to believe that much of this is ready, available, and here already. Let's send Jay Leno out to do another "man on the street" interview to see what Americans really know. What he would find would be humorous, because this work is all hard. Even 10 years ago with the beginning of commercialization of this kind AI technology, it's still really hard with only now some specialized things coming out of MIT and other schools/research groups to support some very specific kinds of applications, like an autopilot for a truck or a robot "pack mule". The most recent, big deal AI app I'm aware of was for plane refueling during Desert Storm, where AI's constructed AI's to schedule the mid-air tanker's for all of those fighter jets. None were lost, and at the scale of the operation I'm told we would have been limited or had some flame-outs if the human schedules had continued.

Still, eventually this will all really be commonplace, and probably without the Terminator.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Politics and Technology

Sorry for not posting for so long, I am totally consumed with a project at work. This week, I'm taking some vacation and I promised myself I would post.

Today I just wanted to note, at the eve of the "mother of all bailouts" in the financial industry, that somehow, we need to continue to remain focused on the fact that we don't spend enough time or energy or money working at or thinking about science or technology based projects. I amazes me that for us to have "invented" the internet, not as Al Gore has stated, but literally out of DARPA work so long ago... and the funding for major portions of the infrastructure came out of the budget for the NSF...

Today (and for many of the last 8 years) we are ignoring, as a matter of public policy, money invested in topics such as
  • Stem cell research (think about growing your own bone graft for your own spine, the far right has been successful in creating FUD around this topic)
  • Solar electricity generation (I just installed solar PV on my roof, but it could have been so much less expensive, because Moore's Law effects are not being seen in this industry in spite of the fact that the manufacturing technology is the same as in CPUs and Memory)
  • Solar electricity generation #2 (having read about small solar powered steam generators for the home - they generate electricity) is this worthwhile?
  • Algae that make bio-diesel as a byproduct of "eating" the excrement of fish farms. Did you know that this fish poop stuff is terribly bad for the environment? This would clean it up and provide a stepping stone to getting off oil from countries that politically are not aligned with sensible policy

I am truly speaking investment, because the business climate is bad enough, particularly in solar, that you won't find companies in this country making research decisions along these lines. Just as in sales compensation, you need to provide the incentive to the salesman to sell a product by compensating him to do so, in R&D, sometimes a kick in the pants is needed to get things moving, particularly if the R&D is in the private sector...

Surely, if we can modify the tax code to provide a tax credit for a light truck (or SUV's classified as such) and thus provide the incentive for the small business owner to make that investment in his business, something smarter can come from Washington; like say an investment in PV manufactoring technologies, thus assuring growth rather than stagnation.

I know, the current administration is just about done, what with it's "faith based" initiatives and all, but what are the replacements suggesting? You don't know?

Get involved.

here are links (click here and here) to get you started, from a recent post from none other than Phil Plait on the ScienceDebate2008.
It’s hard to say if this is honesty from them, or whether we should chalk it up to pre-election empty promises. Both say some good things about science policy...

Friday, May 02, 2008

Technorama Last Episode

The last episode of Technorama was today, I'm sorry to hear this, having enjoyed the show for so long and participated a bit as well. My own contribution, that I found on Engadget, for the last show was this strange contraption, the Uno Electric Unicycle:

Monday, March 17, 2008

Interesting uses for the Wiimote

I ran across some of the work of Johnny Lee while listening to Phil Windley's Technometria the other day. You can read (and listen to) more at the Conversations Network, a great resource of ideas and material, or you can click the link above to Johnny's website at Carnegie Mellon University.

Because the Wiimote has bluetooth built in and an infrared camera, you can interact with it via your computer, reverse it's normal gaming orientation to the TV and expose a whole new range of potentials.

Here are some direct links to some of the YouTube video's he's posted regarding potential apps for the Wiimote, yes beyond just gaming...

Low-Cost Multi-touch Whiteboard using the Wiimote (my personal favorite)

also, see more...
Tracking fingers with the Wii Remote

Foldable Displays (tracked with the Wiimote)

Head Tracking for Desktop VR

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Energy Efficiency

I have been listening to these Conversations Network podcasts for a series of lectures by Amory Levins while he was a visiting professor at Stanford University.

According to Amory Lovins, the way to design energy efficient buildings involves "thinking outside the box", or simply just giving up old ways of approaching the problem.

I found this lecture series entertaining and quite informative. The link above, and here pertains to Part 1 of design elements for building or renovating energy efficiency in buildings. This is a good "listen" and I recommend it for anyone interested in helping to solve the energy issues present in our society today.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Volunteer in your community

On November 13, I made a presentation of a check of $750 from the Verizon Foundation to the Woodside Elementary School PFC as a matching contribution for my volunteer hours as one of the parent volunteers in the traffic line, assisting kids to get safely to school each morning.

The Verizon Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Verizon Communications, is committed to improving literacy and K-12 education; fostering awareness and prevention of domestic violence; and promoting the use of technology in health-care delivery. In 2006, the foundation awarded more than $69 million in grants to nonprofit agencies in the United States and abroad. The foundation also matched charitable donations from Verizon employees and retirees, resulting in $29 million in combined contributions.

Under the foundation's Verizon Volunteer initiative, one of the nation's largest employee-volunteer programs, company employees and retirees have also contributed nearly 3 million hours of community service since Verizon's inception in 2000. In 2006 alone, volunteers contributed 600,000 hours. This latter Verizon Volunteer initiative is the grant program that I applied for. For more information on the foundation, visit

Many corporations have similar programs. Does your employer offer such a program that might “double up” the volunteer hours or contributions you may already be providing to the school, the PFC, or elsewhere in the community? Please check. If you are not already, consider volunteering for one of the many positions of the Woodside PFC or elsewhere in our community.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Update on Analog TV

A little bit ago, I reported on the death of analog TV, but one should note what the industry is trying to do... Here is an excellent story on what the future holds.

(this link is to an MP3 file, which will probably play just fine on your computer... You will need speakers to listen to the story)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Analog TV Death Delayed

as reported by SOSF,

This decision will require both network and cable broadcasters to continue providing an analog feed to their customers even though all of them have spent literally multi-millions of dollars gearing up and getting ready for the new digital age of television viewing.

I have analog coming into my home right now, mostly because it's cheaper than digital plus the cable company wanted to charge me a lot of money for "home-runs" to the TV's. At the time I had no digital TV's either.

Today, I don't really have digital TV yet (it's been an expense thing) -- I have a lot of component video and I do IP streaming from the video server near my router to the living room.

Until you get a larger and more recent TV in place, it's hard to justify the extra expense, both to install and recurring.

Once the incoming signal is digital, you will need these digital-to-analog converters for each analog TV you have. At the store, if you have to buy them, it's going to cost you about $20-30. Not counting whatever equipment your cable company wants to charge you (probably built into a set-top-box)

Note that some of the problems with DRM have been reported, and also all of that DRM code in Windows Vista has had various folks up in arms.

Monday, September 03, 2007

DRM strikes yet again

Wil Wheaton (yes that Wil Wheaton) posted problems with his DirectTV-HDMI connectivity. All due to software which "protects the content" from people who have legally paid for the content.

DRM is totally a mess right now, and it's not going to get better until customers speak up and force the content management and delivery mechansims to change.

Wil: How many DirecTV customers are currently hosed by this DRM-related nightmare? I'm not sure, but I can tell you what the number would be if the damn studios and networks weren't so dead set on treating their customers like criminals: zero.

Breakfast Computing

Heard recently on the pod-a-sphere:

"My inbox is full of SPAM and BACN.
I burn my CD's with Toast.
I get my podcasts with Juice.
Are there any other breakfast computing items out there?"

Gavin, forum/member on Buzz Out Loud.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Amazon Web Services

This review of the components of Amazon Web Services is a must "listen" for anyone interested in how to quickly deploy a service without having to make a huge investment in infrastructure... Amazon has done it for you...

Jeff Barr, Senior Manager, Web Services Evangelism at is interviewed by Phil Windley and others for Phil's personal podcast, "Technometria". A great listen, right on the page noted in the link and with further links for more detailed reading.

Monday, August 06, 2007

We need to fund basic science research

As some of you might know, I often write about technology topics in Telecommunications or Electrical Engineering. Today, however, I thought it important to pick a slightly different slant…

This weekend, I was listening to my backlog of podcasts and included in what I listened to were two different podcasts for TechNation where

  • Dr. Moira Gunn (the host) interviews Greg Lucier, the Chairman and CEO of Invitrogen. In the interview, the point that is put across on why society needs to fund basic science research.
  • Science journalist David Ewing Duncan discusses the "The Bio-Issue of the Week" with Dr. Gunn, in which drug spending (R&D) is up, but results in the from approved drugs are down and some drugs are about to come off patents, so revenues for these companies will eventually dry up.

In both cases, as I’m hearing and reading many other articles on diverse topics, it may be because our country doesn’t support the basic science research enough. For example, in the latter podcast, the point was made that there is a mountain of data out of the human genomics project that really needs detailed analysis; e.g. we know what a gene does, what we don’t know is exactly how it does it. Or considered another way, the genes that a human shares with a mouse is really a high percentage, something approaching 98%+, but what makes the difference between the human and the mouse is when and how the gene does it’s job.

Without interested people, without post-doc programs to provide research topics, … well, would you work in a field that is apparently drying up? But, it’s not really drying up, other countries, like Korea, China, and Australia have tremendous programs for this sort of thing. We are giving our best and brightest lost of reasons to leave this country.

The lack of sensible policy at the federal level, the lack of proper funding, in cross-disciplined approaches, to projects that are going to benefit us all, … well, I fear for the future (next couple of decades)…

You might say this isn’t important, but you’d be missing the point. The direct investment that DARPA, NASA, and other agencies had with science and technology research provided some glamour for the space program stuff of the 60’s, but it also lead to communications satellites and other mundane things like cellular telephone networks and devices.

Some like to say that Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise “invented” the cell phone, because of the use of the communicator on each Star Trek episode, but the fact of the matter was that the imagination of a whole generation was sparked, because of the believability of those episodes, and a market demand (for cell phone technology) was later satisfied, not only by companies trying to make money, but by a whole generation of engineering and scientific students that brought a passion to creating not only the mobile phone technologies we take for granted today, but the internet, the progress toward improvements in the cancer situation (many people can live out their lives today in remission, whereas 20 – 30 years ago, cancer was a death sentence) and countless other technologies we so easily take for granted.

We need to continue to improve upon this situation. Can you imagine a world without Diabetes? Did you know, we stand on the brink of figuring out how to accomplish this? This isn’t a would it be nice thing to do, there are huge costs in both medical support and human suffering associated with just this one disease. Make the investment – reap huge benefits; just like we did in mobile phone and internet technologies.

I’d like to ask you today, to write your congressman, tell them this is important to us, as a country, to change this situation. Invest in science. It doesn’t have to be preachy, it doesn’t have to any more than a 1-2 minute phone call or a 1 paragraph email, but do something to be part of the solution to change from an almost anti-science policy to one where, similar to the 60’s, we are on the road to great things.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Sunrocket calls it quits

Just saw (via Reuters) that Sunrocket appears to have closed down.

Recently, I posted about the perils of IP and the US Patent office, and Vonage was still holding on.

Hype has to be balanced with flawless execution, which is certainly a hard thing to do. If you have more money, you can weather some large mistakes. We'll have to see what the news is as this story develops, certainly at this early stage almost anything could be "blamed" for what has happened to Sunrocket. The Truth will probably take some time to come out.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Siemens brings DECT to US

According to The Business VoIP Report, DECT technology is now shipping from Siemens.
Siemens has begun shipping to the U.S. a variety of cordless phones built around the Digital Enhanced Cordless Telephony (DECT) standards. The new Gigaset models include the S450 IP and SX762 WLAN DSL gateway. While DECT phones have been on the European market for over 10 years, the new models represent the first DECT devices Siemens has brought to the U.S. The line includes both IP and non-IP devices, and brings a wide variety of new features and feature-delivery mechanisms to the U.S. market.

Noting other news sources earlier, I had written about this interesting trend (about 8 months ago) in which a European technology innovation was finally getting to our shores after 10 years of maturity. Actually, some early Gigasets where able to be purchased back then, so with a little more fanfare, we have a DECT device offering that is being broadened.
  • Here (where Siemen’s Gigaset was noted as being an example of among the first of the DECT models you could purchase then that is/was coupled with Yahoo! Messenger w/Voice capabilities) and
  • here where more models where announced and expected to be showing up by 3Q2007.

Monday, June 11, 2007


I really, really love the web.

Just about any resource you'd like to find is there, and predictably, someone else will show you the way to find it. In this case, Marc Andreessen, yes that Marc Andreessen.

Link here- Essential HTML, CSS, Javascript, PHP, and miscellaneous cheatsheets

Sunday, June 10, 2007

7 years later, still a good example of what was to come

I was looking for some other piece of information, but stumbled, instead, upon this gem of a film from 7 years ago.

This film, produced in 2000, was 3 minutes long, took 4 months to make, before the kinds of film making tools that are available today. Still, this work, rivaled what the major motion picture studios could produce.

Link here or here

Monday, June 04, 2007

you think you have problems - consider this

Excellent story about the Space Station astronaut's problems after the Columbia Disaster

Tech Nation

from GigaVox,

Dr. Moira Gunn speaks with NASA's Christopher Jones, the Director for Solar System Exploration, about the hair raising return to earth of the astronauts left aboard the International Space Station after the Columbia disaster.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

WAMU - Tech Tuesday – Musings on mobile phone technology

I’m a little behind on my podcast listening, but I caught one just this weekend, The Kojo Nnamdi Show, Tech Tuesday, is a technology review radio show, which is recorded and available for the public as a podcast or a web download. Often, his shows depict the social aspects of technology and how society shapes technology.

A typical Tech Tuesday always includes the political or social implications of any new innovation, and explores the unexpected ways in which change creeps (or steam rolls) into our lives.

This particular show, from 5/22, had a few guests on the program, one gentleman from India and his efforts to bring internet to the public in less than metro areas of India, via wireless internet kiosks (not your typical internet access) for the farmer to provide agricultural product pricing, access to government services, for example… A second man talked about his company’s efforts in Cambodia, to bring a higher class of work to people there, via simple data entry jobs, since the work can be outsourced practically anywhere now…

This piece should remind us that our view of the “internet” resource isn’t necessarily the only one. Even mobile phone technology can be deployed differently in the 3rd world and allow different types of “applications” to be deployed. As an example, forget the “near” 100% coverage we have here in the U.S., think instead about coverage that might be “good enough” – and coupled with lower infrastructure costs as technology has improved, and you have a fixed-wireless phone system that doesn’t rely on mobility so much, but does indeed provide basic telephone service to a rural area, since to provide “real” fixed telephone service, with fiber, copper wires, and traditional telco switches is just too costly, indeed it’s unreasonable to consider in this environment.

Myself, I’m reminded about a deployment of SMS related technology I did for my last company. The scene: an African tribal herdsman. The problem: Moving his herd of cattle from one place to another. Why? Because of hoof and mouth disease, all cattle movement is strictly controlled by the government. The herdsman has to go to a government office, fill out some paperwork, come back the next day for his permit to go from point A to point B with his cattle.

These native African herdsmen are fiercely independent, often they’d rather distrust the government, but the hoof and mouth disease problem is endemic in parts of Africa and the situation does need to be improved upon.

The solution? My company worked with one of the local mobile phone companies to deploy an SMS based forms system that interconnected the farmer with the government. The technology was off the shelf web servers, so that “SMS applications” could be deployed with simple HTML tags in the basic web pages of a web app that already existed. What we added was a network based browser that rendered this HTML, on one side, and interfaced to the mobile provider’s SMS gateways. The special HTML tags identified specifically the text that was meaningful in the SMS messages, whereas the remaining text would be worthwhile to the typical computer screen.

So, how did this all work? Like this…

  • The farmer decides he wants to move his herd. He knows where they are currently and he knows where he wants to go…
  • He pulls out his mobile phone (and they do have and use them there) and sends a text msg to a specific number, for the government’s form for cattle movement.
  • In response, he receives a “fill-in the blanks” msg, which he replies to, which allows him to fill-in the info that the government needs: name, number of cattle, that sort of thing. He sends it back, and receives a separate SMS msg, with an authorization code.
  • The tribesman begins moving his herd.
  • He comes to a government checkpoint, shows his SMS authorization code on his phone to the guard at the checkpoint, the guard sends the code number to the app on his own phone, and now the herdsman can proceed to the next checkpoint.
  • Continuing on his journey, the herdsman repeats the checkpoint process with each guard he has to proceed through.
  • Arriving at this destination, the herdsman sends his own authorization code back, just as the guards have been doing at each checkpoint, which closes out the herdsman’s cattle movement

So, the government gets to monitor herd movement within their country, the herdsman didn’t have to go to any government office, he simply used a tool he already had (his mobile phone). Even the guards didn’t have any paperwork to fill-out and submit. Everyone makes out for the better.

The interesting thing is this was deployed about 10 years ago, with existing SMS technology. Today, people might be thinking about web browsers in the phones, and a traditional web app or a mobilized web app, but the point is – for this service, we used an existing web app, modified HTML slightly, and inserted our network server, which
  • rendered the pages, as if it were a user,
  • extracted the special SMS tags and pertinent textual data,
  • pushed this data onto the SMS gateway,
  • upon response from the gateway, the text from the herdsman is formatted
  • the HTML response is sent back to the application
No “special” phones or WAP browsers, just plain ole text msging.

Now don’t ask me about how the herdsman would charge his phone, while I suspect he had a solar charger, I never did find that out for sure.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

New "terms" in the telephony business

I can't remember where I read this, but now that VoIP is a pretty common technology offering and that more and more of the common man is aware of what it is and what it does, it's fair that new terms are coming to the forefront...
  • "Fuzzing" is essentially a denial-of-service attack against a VoIP system.
  • "Footprinting" is using a search engine to find things like extension listings on the open Internet.
  • "SIP Enumeration" means probing ports on a network to find one that isn't tightly locked down.
Nothing really new here as far as content, these security issues have been discussed before, what's new is the "catchy" terms themselves.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Railroads, Watches, and Sears

Catching the listener feedback for Technorama show 170, timezones and watches, well – it made me think about Richard Sears, who founded, with Alvah Roebuck, the whole Sears, Roebuck & Company mail order catalog industry.

Richard Sears was a station agent for the Railroad that ran through North Redwood, MN, not far from where I grew up. In the 1880’s, when he was in his 20’s, he was intrigued with the idea of products manufactured in one part of the country and sold (and delivered) to people in another part of the country. After all, his job as a station agent was somewhat in a value chain similar to this, in that farmers brought their grain to the railroad (no elevator companies existed right next to the railroad at that time; the grainery elevator's eventual purpose was to “cache” the grain for bulk transport at a later time). Among other things, Sears helped to get that grain shipped by rail to the mill, where it was processed into other grain products, like flour and cereals.

Many give him credit for observing other products being shipped via rail, through his station, and him getting the idea that if people could look at a product on a piece of paper, order it, have it delivered to them, well then such a company could revolutionize commerce. While this is somewhat true in hindsight, my father, who also was a small businessman in Minnesota, often talked about stories his grandmother had talked about when Richard Sears was doing his “thing” a few miles to the north of where I grew up.

Farmers had to get their harvested grain to the railroad, where someone loaded it onto a railroad car, and off it went. Railroads ran on a schedule, farmers ran by the sun, and as this was before cars/trucks; grain arrived via horse drawn cart. Sears had seen companies that were trying to sell pocket watches to the stores along the railway line, but the problem he was trying to solve was making sure the farmers got their grain to the railroad station on time. These watches were the answer, but he couldn’t afford any inventory, no money… so he got this idea of putting pictures of watches, along with a marked up price, in a loose leaf sort of book, which he planned to show to the farmers when they came to the station.

About this same time, a wholesaler had shipped an un-ordered consignment of pocket watches to a local retailer. This was a common practice at the time; wholesalers would then “offer” to sell the goods to a local retailer at a lower price, rather than have the goods shipped back. In this particular case, the retailer refused the entire consignment of pocket watches and Sears stepped in, offering to sell the watches for the wholesaler, but without having to pay for the consignment up-front.

Since he was a railroad station agent and when all the watches were sold, the farmers would look at his pictures of watches, trust him with taking an order, give him the money for the pocket watch, which he, in turn, used to purchase the watches, which were delivered by the railroad to him, and he delivered to the farmer.

He pocketed a profit of about $5,000 (good money at the time) from this consignment business and had these “orders” for more. Eventually, he moved to Minneapolis to start his company, which initially was putting advertisements in farm publications and ultimately developed a standalone publication, the Sears, Roebuck & Company catalog itself.

During this time, merchandising transactions in the United States were very risky (think unscrupulous sellers trying to fleece prospective buyers, ala the eBay issue of today). Bartering was the normal transaction and banks were just starting to come to rural parts of the country to handle larger money transaction exchanges (as escrow services do today).

I think that because of his railroad association, the “Eureka moment” of acting as the middle man between the watch maker and the farmer, and solving a common problem between the railroad and the farmer, this was the impetus for the mail order business becoming launched, indeed almost all commerce where money changes hands first, and goods later. The “deferred transaction” in commerce, where there is a time delay between money and merchandise changing hands, I believe started with Sears. (Of course, the refused consignment and his success at selling those pocket watches first, helped greatly because it gave him a financial "seed".) I have never heard of an earlier example of the deferred transaction model, and I have looked. As you probably know, Sears, Roebuck & Company eventually sold just about everything, including houses.

The famous Sears guarantee and a Cash-On-Delivery option helped to sway those who might be suspicious of unscrupulous merchants. Reputation still counts, after all… Indeed, Sears hired Roebuck at the very beginning in order to repair watches (so the guarantee could be met). Roebuck, of course, later became one of the company founders.

And all this from watches, being on-time, and the railroad.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Those who have ears - ABC Radio National

Excellent program on auditory processing for educators.

So much about science and nature (including the nature of us) is misunderstood. This was a refreshing program outlining work being done in this area.

Brisbane educator Jennifer Riggs discusses children who have serious problems with auditory processing. Studies have shown that a third of us are strongly visual-spatial learners and many children cannot learn through being talked at, but will learn better by seeing and doing. The fundamentals of learning are the five senses, but how many of them do we use in teaching?

Download audio

Saturday, May 12, 2007

New Horizons program on Discovery

Last weekend I saw a program on the New Horizons Spacecraft on the Discovery Channel, and while this was a great program and very informative, I was disappointed about one fact that continued to be misrepresented. I cannot find a link to the show itself on the Discovery Channel website, because I'd like to view the whole program again.

I found the artwork of the spacecraft itself by Mike Derer.

I wrote about the subject matter I was disappointed in back in September, 2006 (here and here) when the whole Pluto is a planet or not stuff was going on. Journalism has a duty to inform the public, but when poor diagrams are utilized, the facts are misinterpreted.

New Horizons lifted off on 1/19/2006 and after a little more than a year, just had a Jupiter flyby in order to gain a speed boost, but trading the increase in speed for a little loss of Jupiter's rotational momentum. It's speed after launch was 16.21 km/s (36,260 mph) making it the fastest spacecraft so far, but as it approached Jupiter at 23 km/s (51,449 mph) relative to the sun. After the Jupiter flyby, on 2/28/2007, the gravity assist increased the spacecraft's speed by nearly 4 km/s (8,947 mph).

Even with the increase in speed, New Horizons will not get to the Pluto flyby until 7/14/2015, a little more than 8 years from now. The program mentioned this, but only stating these facts in passing, sort of letting the viewer figure it out. In fact, the pictures they showed were very similar to the inaccurate ones you used to see in text books, or similar to the planet models your kids make in school.
  • one year to get to Jupiter
  • 8 more years to get to Pluto
  • without the gravity assist from Jupiter, it would have been 10-12 years to get to Pluto
Gee, it must be pretty big distances involved out there...

Well, as a matter of fact, yes they are very big distances... So here was an opportunity to inform the public, be a little more descriptive with the facts, but they didn't quite put the facts out there in the right manner.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Vonage hanging on?

On Monday, the Supreme Court handed down a ruling in KSR vs. Teleflex, finding that the "combination of two commonly known elements into something obvious" is not patentable. While on it's surface this is a good thing, eliminating lots of expense in litigating bogus patents or patents that do not really enhance, as might be expected the next piece of news was:

From FierceVOIP: Vonage has seized on the ruling, asking an appellate court to throw out the verdict against it and order a new trial. Verizon, of course, is opposed. Vonage is already appealing its loss at trial; the appellate court has set a June 25 hearing on that appeal. Vonage wants the appeal to be put on hold pending the results of the new trial. If it loses that second trial, Vonage wants the existing appeals process to resume. Even though Vonage was convicted of infringing three patents, the courts are letting the company operate pretty much as normal while the appeals are being heard.

I need a playbook.

Let's see,
  • I've lost,
  • I'm appealing, but
  • I want my appeal on hold and I want a new trial,
  • but if I lose at that trial, I want my appeal to start again

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Public Service Msg for the Deaf

At this link is a PR regarding AOL and Sprint supporting Deaf people by extending the Sprint IP Relay to AIM users. I've noticed this in the past, since I was working some deaf related issues having to do with supporting TTY in voice mail, but this appears to be another public notice about the availability of this service.

I salute the efforts of both companies to get the word out about this service. I hope each and every deaf person with a computer uses it. Since there are IM clients for mobile phones as well, this just further extends the capabilities...

... Oh, I use Yahoo, I am deaf, I don't want to use AIM ???? For those people, don't forget that there are number of IM programs that support multiple IM services. Check out GAIM (small footprint version at here) and Trillian (here). It's easy to sign up for the extra account on AIM and you won't miss out on much at Yahoo or MSN, either.

Sprint has more than 15 years of experience in providing relay services to persons who are deaf, hard of hearing or deaf-blind, or who have a speech disability to communicate with hearing persons on the phone. Sprint offers relay services through an intelligent platform in 32 states, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, New Zealand and to the federal government.