Feeling Utterly Disconnected (or, Great Expectations)

I celebrated Black Friday by buying a new Timex. I usually wear a steel case watch that I have owned for about 15 years, but during that time have gone through several Timex (Tim-i?) (I am sure their quality is fine, I just beat the heck  out of them); I like having a less expensive watch for an alarm for travel or vacation.

The new one has three alarms. And a 30- lap stopwatch. And something called an “occasion reminder,” which I guess is some type of a calendar. And, more buttons than any watch I have owned. So, I thought it was pretty sophisticated until I wanted to check the weather this weekend and turned my wrist. And then remembered that my watch does not have a weather ap. Because, after all, it is a just a watch.

And, that’s when it hit me. I have become “one of them.” One of those (we) people who are not content with a phone that has more computing capability than a Cray-1. Or, as this article compares smart phones to NASA capabilities from the Apollo Program, “Seems hard to believe, we know, but it is actually true – a hand-held apparatus on which we fling birds at pigs has greater computational capabilities than the arsenal of machines used for guiding crafts through outer space some 45 years ago.”

Yes, this past weekend I was suddenly too lazy to reach for my belt to check the forecast. Forget about opening a newspaper (horrors) or turning on a radio – I have become so accustomed to accessibility, so trained to believe that every device is connected to another, that I expected my $30 watch to deliver an up-to-the-minute weather forecast.

Fact is, I have multiple devices running at home, and whether they care to or not, they can all speak with each other- my phone talks to the tablet which can send a document for printing from halfway across the house, provided it does not trip over the wireless command from the desktop that is communicating wirelessly with the same printer. And, I am hardly the big tech-geek – if anything, I probably have fewer connected devices than many others, but even a “technanderthal” like me is fast expecting seamless interconnection among devices and blazing fast connectivity for them.

My internal clock is counting down to CES, which begins in just 13 days. If I am feeling like a neophyte now, I can only imagine what will be just a couple of weeks from now.

 

The Vegas Rules of Cybersecurity

For all of the serious business that takes place at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), in Las Vegas, there is a fair share of old-school trade show fun, from the tech demos to the booth games (sink a hole-in-one, take a t-shirt) to the fortune tellers who predict whether visitors will receive a new pair of ear buds (spoiler alert: yes). But, the serious business comes first. I was advised by a colleague to wear a pedometer; it is not unusual to walk several miles in day roaming the rows at the convention facility.

Telehealth and connected devices have occupied a lot of floor space for the past several years. And if you did not think you needed to worry about cyber-security yet, the proliferation of connectivity is compelling a greater need to ensure security at all stages of the transmission process, from the so-called “at rest” points of origination and termination to the “in motion” period of transit when encryption secures against unwanted eyes. At the Black Hat Security Conference last August, researchers presented their findings on smart car hacking (which puts a whole new spin on the old Hollywood device of cutting the brake lines).

Perhaps the biggest current news in hacking is the Sony case (sorry, Home Depot), which has led to such entertaining headlines as “13 Revelations from the Sony hack.” I am not wholly amazed by the information that is being leaked, since it does not stray too far, if at all, from what one would expect an employer to hold. But, it certainly reinforces a piece of advice I have given to anyone who will listen (I have also given it to my kids, but, like I said, “anyone who will listen”): operate as if every email you send will wind up in the hands of your worst enemy.

Cybersecurity is about more than email, of course. The hacking of accounts at major retailers underscores the hazards of moving transactions that contain highly confidential information online. The same concerns abide electronic health records. An article in GigaOM this week advises cloud users to bring their own security; the author compares non-encrypted communications to a post card that anyone can read.

This year’s CES is reportedly set to devote a substantial amount of space and time to security issues. The so-called “zone of privacy” is becoming increasingly important as everything from business transactions to smart home devices transmit to and exchange information in the cloud. As CES unpacks this topic next month, the maxim of “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” may be an apt metaphor — “What happens on your network, stays on your network — unless it is encrypted.”

Energy Efficient Donuts

I like donuts. A lot. Too much. I have gained a few pounds since a Dunkin’ Donuts opened near the office. My love of those tasty treats dates to childhood and time spent with my grandfather. I spent the summers at my grandparents’ house in Michigan and my grandfather was a regular at the local donut place. Think Norm from Cheers. I think of him every time I walk into a donut place.

So, for my last New Edge of 2014 I thought a piece on donuts and technology would be appropriate. Making donuts is not the most technology-intensive endeavor, but the Dunkin’ Donuts Corporation is trying to use technology to be a greener company.

It’s called DD Green. It’s a push to make its franchises greener. Specifically, it’s a green building certification program that encourages the installment by franchisees of energy efficient technology and building materials, like LED lighting and water-conserving plumbing and water facilities. DD Green provides franchisees with a blueprint on how to be more energy efficient. The goal is to have 100 DD Green certified Dunkin’ Donuts locations by the end of 2016.

The first store to win a DD Green certification is in Long Beach, Calif. The franchise owner estimated that the building costs to be more energy efficient were only 1% to 3% higher.

The company is a bit behind Starbucks and others in this area, but the DD Green initiative is a great start. They hope to get rid of all of their foam cups in two years. In the meantime, I can feel just a bit better about my frequent visits to the DD, knowing that they are doing their best to be green corporate citizens.

Survey: NTCA Members Face Challenges in Providing Wireless Service

More of the nation’s small, independent telecommunications providers are planning to begin offering wireless service as part of continuing efforts to round out their communications offerings to consumers, but competition and negotiating roaming agreements with large national carriers continues to pose significant challenges, according to a new survey by NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association.

The association’s “2014 Wireless Survey Report” found that 66% of respondents are providing wireless service to their customers. Eighty percent of those providing wireless service offer fixed broadband, 48% mobile voice, 41% mobile broadband and 23% fixed voice. Fifty-one percent of survey respondents indicated that they hold at least one wireless license below 2.3 GHz; 20% hold at least one license above 2.3 GHz. Thirty-five percent of survey respondents not currently offering wireless service are considering doing so.

However, survey respondents indicated that the pressures created by national carriers and the ability to negotiate roaming agreements with such carriers are among the most significant challenges affecting smaller competitors. Specifically, 73% of all respondents indicated that competition from nationwide carriers was their greatest concern, with 45% also citing the ability to negotiate roaming agreements.

Small wireless providers have little leverage in negotiating roaming agreements with larger carriers, as nearly half of survey respondents indicated that obtaining roaming agreements remains an ongoing concern. Many of those who are able to enter into an agreement end up paying the price—approximately one-third of survey respondents indicated they pay more for roaming than they themselves are paid.

NTCA’s wireless survey was conducted in the fall of 2014. More than 100 NTCA member companies participated.

A Wi-Fi Field of Dreams

“If you build it, he will come,” a disembodied voice told Kevin Costner in the 1989 movie “Field of Dreams.”

That same voice—communicating wirelessly—might today advise, “If you build it better, many more will come.”

That message was also delivered by a recent Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) survey of the Wi-Fi hotspot market. Seventy percent of survey respondents indicated that a key motivation for deploying carrier-grade Wi-Fi in their systems would be to improve customer experience and thus increase subscriber retention.

The survey also found that 56.7% of respondents were more confident about investing in public Wi-Fi than a year prior, up from 52% in 2013, and 43% in 2012.

“Carrier Wi-Fi has experienced a revolution over the past year and is now being embraced by an ever growing number of carriers,” said WBA CEO Shrikant Shenwai. “This research underlies the growing momentum behind Wi-Fi that is increasing year-on-year, driven by the ecosystem coming together to develop the technology and promote its wide ranging benefits.”

Approximately half of all survey respondents indicated that stadiums and shopping malls would be significant drivers of Wi-Fi traffic growth, followed by travel hubs such as airports (48%) and connectivity on board transportation (41%.)

The survey was conducted in the third quarter of 2014, and had a total of 210 respondents. Just under half of those were operators. Other significant respondent groups were Wi-Fi equipment and device vendors (25%) and consultants/integrators (19%).

Lasers on Trains, An Airless Tube Train, and Cars That See Pedestrians

I’ve had a few interesting days in terms of transportation in our nation’s capital. On Saturday, I almost ran over a gentleman when he jaywalked right into the path of my car. I honked and he raised a certain finger at me (it was not a thumbs up, BTW). Then, this morning, there was yet another disabled train on the DC Metro system that added 45 minutes to my commute. Sigh.

That got me thinking about technology and trains and driverless cars. While stuck on Metro, I was hoping to research a topic for this week’s installment of New Edge, but I couldn’t get service on my phone. We don’t have Wi-Fi on our subway system, unlike other cities’ train systems. When I finally arrived at work, I came across this article about an experiment in the Netherlands that will mount lasers to trains to use in cleaning debris off the tracks. (This did make me think of a certain scene from an Austin Powers movie). Apparently, leaves on train tracks form a Teflon-like coating that can make it difficult for train wheels to maintain a strong grip on the rail. The lasers do not harm the rails at all, unlike other cleaning solutions that can degrade the steel and cause the rails to crack. Many a cracked rail has slowed down our system here in DC, so maybe this is something DC Metro should look at.

As part of my continuing obsession with Tesla, I’ve been following another Elon Musk venture: the Hyperloop train. He claims that a trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles (about 380 miles) will take 35 minutes. The train is actually a capsule that travels on a cushion of air inside a tube at 700 mph. Whether it’s realistic is a judgment better left to others, but Tesla was panned early on and is doing okay, so we’ll see.

As to pedestrians that walk in front of your car and then act rudely when you honk, here is an article on Ford motor company’s “Ford Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection” technology. It’s a radar and camera system that detects objects that a driver should avoid and issues a warning. If that warning is not acted upon by the driver, the car eventually applies the brakes. I was actually paying attention when I almost hit that guy this weekend (or else I would have done some damage to the hood of my car) but I see so many pedestrians walk right into traffic, often while talking on their phones, that I hope this technology becomes standard very soon.

Mileposts and Milestones

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Somewhere in North Dakota between Bismarck and Hazen.

Readers who paid close attention to my post last week might have noticed that it was datelined Bismarck, North Dakota. It was my first visit to the Roughrider State, and fairly unremarkable in a welcome way: during the previous week, the temperatures had dipped well below zero, but while I was visiting, the actual temperatures never fell too far into the negatives (wind chill and “real feel” temps, however, were another story). There was snow on the ground, but not a lot; the roads were clear; and during a drive to Hazen, I was able to see enough countryside to get a decent dose of windshield time.

It’s been a while since I have had that kind of windshield time. I took a nearly 1,000 mile road trip during the summer, but nothing I saw (or did not see) on that drive made me think, “How far is it really to the next gas station?” The drives in North Dakota reminded me of something I knew, but which I had not experienced in a while: there is a big difference between rural and urban, and descriptive words are a thin alternative to actual experience. I could probably describe a horizon that never ends, or a road that seems to continue forever, but I never really “got it” until I took that first glance at a gas gauge, glanced at the landscape, and wondered whether I had a enough in the tank to get to the next fill-up. Read more

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