Monthly Archives: October 2005

Hey, SBC, hands off my Interenet

In a “recent interview, Business Week asked SBC CEO Edward Whitacre”:*IUQu7KtOwgA/magazine/content/05_45/b3958092.htm whether he was concerned about “internet upstarts like Google, MSN, Vonage, and others?” Whitacre’s answer is rather odious:

How do you think they’re going to get to customers? Through a broadband pipe. Cable companies have them. We have them. Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain’t going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it. So there’s going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they’re using. Why should they be allowed to use my pipes?

The Internet can’t be free in that sense, because we and the cable companies have made an investment and for a Google or Yahoo! or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes [for] free is nuts!

So, first off, SBC isn’t doing anyone any favors as it is now. Their customers are paying them $30-50/month for DSL service. Second, the only reason SBC and the other decendents of the RBOCs can collect that money at all for internet access is that everone, from Yahoo, Google, MSN, on down to little guys like me, are providing content and services over the net that people in SBC’s territory want. Hell, if it weren’t for that, more and more people in their territory wouldn’t be SBC customers at all. They’d let their land-lines go and use their mobile phones. If this were about fairness, SBC would be kicking me some revenue every time one of their customers read this blog.

Of course, this isn’t about fairness, its about power. SBC holds more power than all the little guys like me. They don’t necessarily hold more power than companies like Google or MSN, or Yahoo. At the very least, said companies have the resources to fight it out with SBC.

This is why Google is investing in rolling out WiFi networks, because it gives them a way to reach customers independant of SBC and their ilk. They don’t actually have to acheive SBCs level of covereage or service either. They just have to create a viable alternative for enough people that they deprive SBC of their pricing power.

This is why we need more alternatives for highspeed internet access than just the phone company and the cable company. It’s why we need WiMax, and broadband over powerlines, and community mesh wifi networks. It’s why the FCC needs to foster a competitive arena with more than two competitors.

SBC and their ilk have to be decisively routed. Anything less will strangle innovation on the Internet. Anything less, and the big guys will all work out their deal with eachother and the little guys, the people with the passion and the great ideas will be locked out.

Other points of view:

“EW Felten”:

Second, if somebody is going to pay somebody in this situation, it’s not clear who should be doing the paying. There is some set of customers who want to use SBC broadband service to access Google. Why should Google pay SBC for this? Why shouldn’t SBC pay Google instead?

“Mike on TechDirt”:

the only reason this is possible now is because there’s less competition in the broadband space, not more. If there were real competition, SBC would never even dare to suggest that they might cut off a Google, Yahoo or Vonage

Django is Cool

I don’t know much ’bout programmin’ ‘n stuff, but I do know that I’m really liking “Django”:

It’s made it easy to iteratively work out a data model for a web application I’m thinking about. Along the way, its given me, for next to no effort, the administrative screens to adding, updating and deleting data. I don’t have any templates to display the data yet, but that looks pretty easy to do too.

We’ll see how it goes, but so far it’s helping me over many of the hurdles that have always stymied my teach-myself-to-code projects:
# Easy to see results: Attempts to do things with Servlets/JSP never went far because it always took me too long to get anything more substantial than “Hello World” to work and other obligations and interests would end up winning out. I tried using frameworks to jump start my efforts, but they were too opaque for my little brain.
# Sense of time well spent: I’ve considered doing things in PHP figuring it would be easy to get something up and running quickly, but part of my mind always resists because of this sense that PHP is going cultivate bad habits on my part. Right or wrong, I have sense that Python encourages good habits. Plus, I feel like the Django examples, by virtue of linuistic pedigree, are good examples to follow.
# The django samples, including the code that runs their site, are relatively easy for me to understand as well. As a result I don’t feel like I’m blundering into the briars, or digging myself a deep hole like I often do when I’m trying to fix bugs or hack new functionality into a C# web application I have to deal with.

Basically, with Django, so far, I feel like the chances I’m taking are well hedged, and as I take them, I find I’m being rewarded at every step. Django is good because it makes me feel good.

We’ll see if the romance holds up as I get in deeper.

Don’t Reward Bad Behavior

A business magazine has just published a cover story on the evils of blogs. I’m not going to name the magazine, because I don’t think their bad behavior deserves attention. The same can not be said for what must be half of the other bloggers in the world, each of whom have written one or more posts criticising the magazine and the story, all of whom have done the magazine a huge favor by naming the magazine and linking too it.

The media, like a dog, or a small child, absolutely craves attention. Most conscientious dog owners and parents know that when a dog or a child acts out to get attention, often the best thing to do is avoid rewarding that bad behavior with attention, even going so far as to turn your back on the offender.

Gods are much the same. They can’t exist without a particular sort of attention called “belief,” and so, sometimes, they act out, they unleash famines, or kill the young and innocent. When god’s act in such a cruel and arbitrary manner, their followers reward their bad behavior by praying to them or offering them sacrifices when what they should be doing is turning their backs on their ill behaving gods.

All those bloggers should be turning their backs on “that magazine” right now. One can’t engage in rational dialog with an ill behaving magazine any better than you can with a dog, a toddler or an unruly God.

Commercialization Of Computer Vision

It looks like there is a new company called “Riya”: that is creating a new photo management application that uses computer vision to help catalog your digital photo collection. The app should be going into very limited alpha in the next day or so.

I’ve been keeping an eye on Computer Vision for a few years now, and I’ve been carrying around an idea for a web app that would make use of it for almost as long. It’s a bit of a bummer seeing it reaching the consumer level, since I’ve been sitting on my ass for so long. On the other hand their service and my idea bare only the most superficial resemblance.

It sounds like Riya’s big feature is facial recognition. The application processes the photos to try to identify all the different people in the photos. You then have to train the application by validating or invalidating some of its guesses about faces from photo to photo. Then you can use the app to tag existing and new photos by the people present in the picture.

What’s both interesting and distrubing is that they are going to share training data across users. Each time a new user joins, they’ll benefit from faces already in the system, something that will be even more valuable as people learn about the service from their freinds, reinforced, no doubt, with weighting due to proximity in their social network.

TechCrunch » First Screen Shots of Riya
Riya leverages potent facial and text recognition technology with an intelligent interface to help people make sense of the thousands of untitled and untagged photos that are building up on their hard drives (and on the web).

Open Source Product Segmentation

I left a comment on a “blog entry about Apple’s new Aperture software”: that got me thinking about the whole issue of product line segmentation and how it applies to open source software.

“Aperture”: is a new photo management and manipulation software package from Apple aimed at professional users. It runs $495. That’s probably not a lot of money for a pro photographer if it can save them 20-30 minutes a day, but it’s a bit of change for an amature who might also have his eye on a nice new wide angle lense. Of course, Apple offers iPhoto as part of the iLife suite for $99. In the past, there might be a chance that Apple would add some features to iPhoto that might address the needs of ambitious amatures on a budget. Now though, they have to worry about blurring the product segmentation between iPhoto and Aperture and eating into Aperture revenue.

Open source software doesn’t generally have these issues. A developer might still want to avoid throwing every possible feature into a piece of open source software for usability or quality control reasons, but they don’t have to worry about protecting profits on a higher-priced version of the software.

This can be a huge boon to the user. A debian linux user doesn’t have to worry about which of the “half million versions of Microsoft Windows Vista”: they need to buy to get the features they want without spending money that might better go elsewhere. An IT manager or software developer using PostgresSQL or mySQL doesn’t have to worry that the particular feature of Oracle or Microsoft SQL server they are thinking of using to save a couple days of dev time might force them into a different licensing tier that might cost them tens of thousand dollars a year in extra license fees.

I want my own personal news editor

Over a decade ago I spend a lot of my free time on Usenet. I learned a lot there.

One of the things that got driven home is that some people are full of shit, no matter what topic they are writing about; other people are worth reading within their area of expertise, even if they don’t have the sense to know their limits; finally, other people are worth reading on just about any topic they decide to write about.

This really shaped my thoughts about the potential for the way the internet would change the way media was created, filtered and consumed.

Almost since my Usenet days, I’ve wanted a way to use computers to help me see all the sides of a story. In my ideal, the software could identify differences in POV between different comentators on the same event and provide excerpts of the differences in opinion. I’m sure that that is a long way off though, so I’d be happy if the computer would just do a decent job of identifying the different commentators for me.

Google News already does this with conventional media sources, to a large extent and “Memorandum”: mades a good go of it with political and technology blogs. Unfortunately, both of them rely on other people’s judgements about which sources of information are actually worth watching in the first place.

What I really want is to have a personal memorandum. I want to define a “personal reading list (using OPML, perhaps?)”: around a broad topic area and let the software scan the feeds and present articles to me a view of the current topics of discussion in that sphere. Furthermore, I want to be able to define other reading lists for other topic areas and get a similar view of those spaces. Even better to bring in points of view on the topics from outside my selection of sources but connected by one degree of separation.

So, when can I have this, or does it already exist?