New FCC Chairman Is Still Lobbying For The Telco Monopolies

I read a post today at ArsTechnica by Jon Brodkin, who I know from my work with NetworkWorld, linked here: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2013/12/fcc-chair-isps-should-be-able-to-charge-netflix-for-internet-fast-lane/ which describes the new FCC chairman taking back/down DECADES of work many of us have spent in keeping Internet service neutrality truly neutral. NetFlix, Amazon Prime, no one should have better access. This is a way to stanch the capital costs needed to upgrade our third world Internet speed, and reward telco shareholders– rather than the general public who the FCC is SUPPOSED TO SERVE. It’s abhorent.

The Internet started to die today. I grieve; I mourn.

The Obfuscation of Retail-Site Search Engines

On eBay, I search for various items. A search box query on a good day, is limited, and eBay searches only parts of a listing.

Take an example this query: verizon galaxy s3 iii -broken -bad -parts

Little after the first argument of -broken is sorted correctly. Qualifying searches is abysmal, causing lots of time qualifying returned listings into the ones that I want. It’s maddening and frustrating. That default query items can’t be stored and re-applied is just plain sloth.

But Amazon is worse. Amazon ignores most all arguments in a query. The same query will bring up other brands, and the arguments are generally ignored, making Amazon less than useless for doing commandline queries. Why doesn’t Amazon get more business from me? This very reason.

Now I’m wondering– who does queries correctly? Why do they fail at such simple logic? Why do they throw these obstacles in the way of potential purchasers? The mind reels.

Eight CES IT Headaches in the making

You’ve probably have heard that Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer no longer keynote at CES. Instead, the top cheese keynoter is Dr Paul Jacobs of Qualcomm. The days of Windows dominance is done, and mobility now rides into battle. IT warriors are already starting to see the challenges. I think that the CE industry is completely giddy that the computer industry doesn’t dominate CE anymore. The times have changed.

Here are a few thoughts for my IT colleagues, about some of the short-term implications of it all.

Challenge #1: Mobility Without Thought

There were more than two hundred companies showing literally thousands of different tablet models. Some had game controls. Others had 10-point gesture control that works only with new vintages of Windows 8. All of them are a minefield called BYOD. Although there are Mobile Device Management applications that can control mobile device authentication, app sources, malware/viruses, and loss/theft control, only a handful of tablet makers I interviewed even knew what MDM or mobile application control software was. Many could speak English but didn’t know what ActiveSync was. The attitude was: cool tablet first, connectivity, security, authentication, audit control, policy enforcement, app payload control later on. Consumers don’t need that stuff.

Challenge #2: 4K Video, The Network Plumber’s Nightmare

The 4K video standard produces incredibly beautiful and vivid video displays, and it will sell 10GB network routers like hot cakes. Video used to be something quaint, like a 640×480 pixel matrix with maybe 256 colors. We’ve zoomed through HD video at 1080i pretty quickly. If you thought 1080i had a data rate that only a network engineer could love, wait until you taste 4K. Your lights will dim: the 4K DCP standard of 4096 x 2160 will yield a 1.9 aspect ratio, meaning new and fantastically expensive monitors. Of course, they’ll look really, really good. But the 4K standard has a huge raster and number of frames per second. The chintzy YouTube videos that utilize heal-grinding CODECs probably clog your networks now. But 4K has data rates that can range from 946-1460+ gigabytes per hour in raw format. One RAW-format uncompressed instance will largely crater most GBE networks at 253 to 405 megabytes/sec transfer rates. The CODECs that will ultimately arrive and compress data streams are still largely in their infancy and licensing of reasonable CODECs isn’t simple and aren’t included with anyone’s operating system, at this point. Only larger RAID systems will be able to handle the first copy, let alone backups or in-process edits.

Challenge #3: Data Devolution By Convenient Cloud Storage for JAAOD

CES was chocked full of cloud storage synchronization and storage services. On one hand, we should cheer. We’ve been begging the user community to do backups for three decades, and now that you can backup 5-50gigs for almost (and occasionally) nothing, users are doing it. The problem is: the cloud storage vendors don’t care where the data came from, and it’s up to user controls to ensure that it’s not valuable corporate data that’s being (possibly illegally) stored into a cloud storage account protected with a flimsy password. This Means You, DropBox. More than two dozen online services don’t care if your corporate financials are being stored behind the password (GoPackers!). Mobility and BYOD has put enormous pressure to allow utilization of Just About Any Old Device (JAAOD). Multifactor cloud storage authentication? With what? You must be joking.

Challenge #4: Death by GPS

The GPS technologies and map sources are now a big deal at CES. NAVTEQ and Google are vying for the top spots along with the traditional discrete GPS device makers. But the question then arises: if the maps or sources are wrong, and someone dies, who has the most liability insurance? Can you direct someone safely? If you move them onto busy thoroughfares instead of thru bad neighborhoods, what are the implications? This was the easiest way found to take a babbling GPS booth salesperson and have them become suddenly and completely quiet.

Challenge #5: Connecting Your Stuff to “The Cloud”

IBM announced a way to connect your household, along with various sensors to the cloud (see http://www.networkworld.com/news/2013/011013-ces-ibm-home-cloud-265725.html?hpg1=bn) and the next step is: connect all of your branch offices and locales (with all varieties of fascinating sensors) to the cloud. There is of course, no standard of how domicile or branch office data will be handled, and so the possibilities are rife for monolithic vendor implementations that will make changing cloud vendors tremendously difficult, if not impossible. It would be lovely to have uniform controls to check on various home/branch office/remote locale characteristics. Is it on fire? Good. Water on the floor? Oh geez. Spy camera in the kitchen? Grandma’s busy again. Want to change from IBM to ADT? Good luck.

Challenge #6: Tech Health Care Gadgets

Some applaud the action of helping coworkers become more cognizant of exercise and their health. We saw at CES, several attempts at well-being, including a “hapifork” (http://www.cesweb.org/Awards/CES-Innovations-Awards/2013.aspx?category=HealthandWellness) that warns users of overeating, and a blood-oxygen sensor for iPhones. In the case of the fork, it only measures motions, not calories. Dawdle and fiddle, and it will tell its user to stop early. The blood-ox sensor might be helpful in some circumstances, but if the patient is laying on the floor, passed out, there ought to be triage protocols in place to deal with emergency situations. Injecting various potentially gimmicky health tracking devices into situations is unlikely to improve outcomes.

Challenge #7: The Drones Are Here

Certainly one of the most compelling demonstrations occurred in the South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center at CES 2013: dancing drones. Less than 14″ across, these four-prop helicopters were choreographed to a variety of music styles, moving back and forth as easily as big bumblebees. Not easily seen were the cameras attached to the drones as they flipped back and forth, doing 180′s and 360′s. Yes, those drones can come up to your fifth floor skunk works and take very high resolution pictures of your 2015 product plans. Yes, you can still buy black paint, and the laws regarding drones hovering by your R&D and Sales offices are still unknown, as are the rules about model rocket launchers poised nearby.

Challenge #8: Your 3D Printing Debacle

The 3D printer is ever-so-tempting for a wide audience. Have an artistic streak? Need to have that Aston Martin Logo on your file cabinet? More users then engineers think they’re engineers. The 3D printers use a filament of substance, often ABS plastic, to print at amazingly good resolutions. More resolution often means: more money spent. However, temptations will be oppressive. There are indeed standards and prototyping labs and skunkworks can rapidly become effective at printing small components, 3D logos, and even silly things like paperclips, guitar picks, and busts-of-the-boss. The problem is: finding an actual business purpose that has a return on investment. 3D parts made from printers are extremely expensive to demonstrate ROI to an actual CPA, but the spirit of something cool, now connected to network resources, will become an overwhelming temptation and IT will end up supporting its use, in many cases.

What did I like? The kewl new breeze of: consumers believing they’re in control.

Things that make me stroke my chin….

* People that tweet football games, almost play by play.
* Coconut oil. Do I, or don’t i?
* How Monsanto gets away with it.
* Why they tax Nicorette like tobacco in some states
* Why there isn’t a list of taxes for everything
* Why we can’t see the budgets of government from townships to the US budget
* Why there are 8 million people with secret clearances
* Why it takes seven emails and five phone calls to prod United to credit my FF account with the correct number of miles
* Why there are so many competing gas stations, when they all charge the same price
* Why anti-trust laws are so difficult to enforce
* How the influence of the John Birch Society came to represent the fears now embedded in the Tea Party Philosophy
* Why they don’t call rebates “bribes”
* If 2013 will be a year of progress or decline
* Whether the clouds will evaporate, or become indelible within computing

I wonder.

The Chewbacca Abomination

I drove by the white-over-blue 2003 Mini Cooper S for at least a month, perhaps longer. It sat on the dealer’s lot waiting for me. I needed a car. My old one, The Blueberry, had to be sold.

The Blueberry is a 1993 Geo Metro got 41mpg, had three cylinders, and great brakes. It’s air conditioning was dead, and it was pretty ugly. Most people didn’t notice the fact that the driver’s side window was permanently cracked open about a half-inch. It was frozen there. In rain, snow, sleet, the window was still a half-inch open. Go to an ATM? Open the door. Sigh. I fixed the brakes, fixed lots of stuff, but the door would take time and I have no garage. Nice, inexpensive, very ugly if barely functional. So it had to go.

Luckily, I had money coming in from lots of work. The Mini grew tastier looking. I test drove it, and it was magnificent. Its supercharger is strong and responsive. Blue (my official color) leather seats. You point the wheel, and it goes there. Lots of nice controls. Some of the controls are on the steering wheel so you don’t have to take your hands off the wheel to change the radio. It had a six speed to get it over my mandate of 30mpg+. It gets 35mpg if I’m light-footed. That’s difficult. But I get 31mpg regularly. Yes, I bought it.

But there are abominations. If you should lose the key, the one with the remote on it, the replacement cost is $283 from a dealer. There is no USB connector that allows you to program it that way– that would be too easy. You need the VIN of the car to make a “valet key” and then, using a USB-OBDII connector, you get info from the actual car, and tell the car to accept the new key. The Valet Key is $60. Both, are abomination.

Wait– there’s more. I noticed that the car, a scant 85K miles on it, made a strange sound when cold, when starting from stopped, in first gear. It chirped. Shuddered. It’s gotten progressively noisier, and while our recent 100F weather reduced it, cooler weather now makes it a bit more pronounced. It kind of screeches, then shudders, then engages. If, at low RPM, one puts one’s foot into it (gas pedal), then the one can produce the same noise, especially if the car hasn’t warmed. Later, the noise and the problem go away.

A check with official dealers say that the clutch requires about $2500 in expense. A how-to video found online shows why: you must essentially remove most of the front of the car, lift the engine, and do it correctly, for the clutch to be revealed and fixed. It is a high-labor proposition. Forboding, too. It cannot be done by anything close to a “shade tree mechanic”. A local repair outfit looked in their standard repair guide, and came up with $2500. Maybe more. This came from a nationwide chain known for quality repairs.

I searched for more answers. The noise, it turns out (with apologies to LucasFilm) is called the “Chewbacca Noise” and there are various explanations for it. The one that sounds the most plausible to me, has to do with the clutch and flywheel not meshing very well. What I’m told happens is that the flywheel, which itself is somewhat unique to Minis, gets glazed. As the car and engine warms, the grip gets better and the noise subsequently goes away. The reason for the glaze may be in part due to the unique two-piece flywheel (they’re normally a solid, machined “plain old” gear). To reduce vibration, the two-piece design is used because the engine has a lot of torque (muscle) and the two-piece design is supposed to reduce vibration. It does that. It also is the likely source of the noise. The Mini Cooper Service writer that I spoke to knows nothing of it. They’ll look at it for $90, and perhaps may or may not be accurate in their diagnosis.

Mini could sponsor a forum where they tell their clientele, hey, this is what we’ve found so far. They don’t do that. Opportunities they have to make their clientele feel warmer, are often missed. The Mini is a brand, and isn’t BMW, although a shocking number of Mini dealers are suspiciously close to a BMW, perhaps even with the Same Name! That’s the case in Indianapolis, the closest dealer to me.

I took the Mini to another German car repair facility in my locale, nearby in fact. I asked them what THEY charged for a new clutch and flywheel. The number was considerably less, so much so that I wondered about it. How much for a solid flywheel, I wondered? They knew about this repair instantly, making me suspect they’d encountered this same problem before. Not that much more, although the right flywheel, a solid one, costs more than the bizarre two-piece one. Quite a bit more. I’m not sure where this goes, except, I need to drive my car.

Mini: you’re losing here. Let me warn potential purchasers that the repair costs are unusual, and that key replacement costs are embarrassing. They should be ashamed. Boorish capitalistic prices in the name of someone’s engineering fantasy is no excuse. A key for $60 is bad enough, in the high $200s isn’t reasonable. At.All.

Update #1: The key came apart, and while the doors would open, the ignition wouldn’t switch on. No remote anything. The back cover to the key was found (thank you, Donna) and there’s a module inside of it that apparently allows the key to work and the ignition starts. I’m still getting a new one.