We Know Where Your Cow Lives

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This is not the one. I am kind of too chicken to get out of my car and take a picture of an occupied government security vehicle.

Part of my drive to work each day takes me through the Georgetown section of DC. It’s a pretty tony neighborhood, and I am convinced that someone famous or influential lives along my regular route, because most mornings I see a black Suburban, engine running and with two men in suits in the front seat, on one side of the street and a non-descript minivan on the other side. I see them, and I assume they see me at about the same time each morning, pulling to the same stop at the same intersection in the same car. Maybe that small data is enough to make them think, “Some guy in a red car works or lives nearby.”

Big data, on the other hand, refers to sifting through seemingly endless streams of information and identifying discrete characteristics about their various sources. So, in this example from an article in Ars Technica, the author was able to run through the Oakland, California, police department’s license plate scans and conjecture that subject A who lives at street X either loves beer or has a drinking problem – because his license plate also shows up frequently outside bar Y. These sorts of capabilities have aroused the interest of group such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Big data can also be used to predict or prevent crime; Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey, developed a technique to map criminal activity. A professor at the university’s School of Criminal Justice noted the data illustrated that while some areas in which criminal activity would be expected certainly had there share of problems, others that lacked so-called environmental indicators revealed a need for increased policing.

Big data also has a role in agriculture, assisting with anticipating and responding to weather patterns and soil conditions to tracking animals and food processing. These practices can increase efficiencies; lower costs; produce higher yields; and enable better grasp on market trends and pricing. NTCA’s Smart Rural Community and Foundation for Rural Service will explore the role of broadband in agriculture at an upcoming event on April 22 in Washington. Please join us.

 

Product Review: Power Grabs

IMG_20150317_225021If you have traveled by air in the past 15 years, chances are you have witnessed a phenomenon at the airport: well-dressed and apparently otherwise sensible people sitting cross-legged on the floor while perfectly good seats nearby remain unused. You know the drill – before you board, charge. Tablets, laptops, phones – anything outfitted with port gets plugged.

And, it’s not just air travel. Family day trips or off-site work meetings can leave a drained battery by day’s end. And, to avoid that inability to make the end-of-day call, obtain GPS directions, or take that last photo, we often search for outlets at restaurants or other venues, setting up the risk that we will pay the check and forget our phone or other device.

Several products offer the ability to preempt these problems (for legal preemption issues, please see here). These portable chargers are better alternatives than a spare lithium battery since (1) not every device has an accessible battery, and (2) the charger can be used for a range of devices. These are, essentially, external rechargeable batteries for your smart phone. Read more

Non-Ugly Smartwatches

Apple is releasing the Apple Watch on April 24, 2015, with a range of models that start at $349. This article from the day after its launch event last week notes that the watch, as an industry analyst quoted in the article states, is more like a “remote control for the iPhone.” He also states that it lacks that “killer app” that really is made for the smartwatch itself. The analyst further argues that, in terms of the entire “wearables” industry, “[i]t remains a solution looking for a problem.”

My reaction upon seeing it was, “why is it so ugly?” Really, the Apple Watch and a lot of smartwatches are as ugly and dorky looking as those “calculator watches” from the 80’s. Remember these? I admittedly have a bias against them. I got one for my birthday (11, I think) and thought I was one rocking kid until I got to school. The only way I could have killed my “playground-cred” anymore was if I had shown up to school wearing a pocket protector. I never wore the watch again. Read more

Like the Winter’s Snow, Pay TV Subscribers Continue to Slowly Recede

On the heels of a drop of 95,000 subscribers in 2013, the pay TV industry lost another 125,000 in 2014 according to data compiled by Leichtman Research Group (LRG).

But is this a thing? Perhaps not—given that LRG estimates the top pay TV providers serve in excess of 95 million customers, these losses may amount to no more than a drop in the proverbial bucket.

Telephone companies fared the best according to LRG, adding more than 1 million video subscribers in 2014. DBS providers added 20,000.   These gains were erased by the top cable companies, who lost a collective 1.2 million subscribers, or nearly 2.5% of their customer base. The biggest declines were posted by Cable ONE (down 19%), Mediacom (6%), Cablevision (5%), and Suddenlink (4%.) Comcast lost the fewest customers among the cable companies, down less than 1%. Read more

Apple Watch, Gila River, and Veblen Goods

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Map at Gila River Telecommunications (GRTI) office. The Gila River Indian Community is embarking on a program to irrigate more than 146,000 acres. GRTI General Manager Derek White characterized broadband as “digital irrigation.”

At last month’s meeting of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), a good friend of mine wondered aloud why his money should be spent to enable rural kids to game. He did not mean “to game” in the sense of, “to take unfair advantage” (as in, “gaming the system”) or even a strike at creating a new euphemism for deer hunting. Rather, his statement reflected his corporate worldview that someone was spending other people’s money so that rural youth can MMO or MMOG (multi-player on-line games). I get it – if I were on that side of the aisle, I might also (for the sake of rhetoric) ignore the fact that broadband supports inter-dependent applications that benefit both rural and urban areas simultaneously, such as agriculture or health care. And, in defense of my colleague, he “gets” the rural issue, so I do not begrudge the corporate mantra he articulated. Read more

Coffee Power

I love coffee. I enjoy five or so cups every day. I’m addicted, basically. I become very cranky and get a headache if I don’t get my morning coffee by 8:00 a.m.

Americans love their coffee as well. About 100 million Americans consume coffee every day, and the average American drinks about 2.1 cups per day. About $4 billion per year is spent importing coffee to the United States every year.

All that coffee produces a lot of grounds, although I was unable to find a reliable statistic for that. The article linked in the next paragraph notes that London produces about 200,000 pounds of coffee grounds per year. The point is that all of those grounds must be good for something. Read more

Netflix and ‘House of Cards’: The Numbers Don’t Lie

There’s a reason why the ice storm that struck the D.C. area this past weekend—Mother Nature’s latest insult in this seemingly interminable winter of 2015—didn’t sting quite as much as it might have: on Friday, Netflix made the entirety of the third season of its political thriller “House of Cards” available for viewing. Let the binge watching commence!

The series, which debuted in 2013, marked a significant gamble for Netflix. The company was in the process of morphing from a mail-based DVD distributor to a provider of streaming video content. Yet without a way to differentiate themselves from other online content providers, Netflix’s market share would never be truly secure. The key to the service’s ongoing viability would be coming up with something that nobody else could provide consumers. It rolled the dice with Frank Underwood and “House of Cards.” Read more

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