Leaf Raking and Net Neutrality

spin_prod_220169901I have a Craftsman combination lawn vacuum/leaf blower which features a safety switch that kills the engine if a shield is not deployed. It is a fairly rudimentary affair: both the collection bag and side discharge chute feature a metal plate that complete a circuit when attached, allowing the engine to run. If either is not installed (leaving access to the whirling leaf and stick chipping blades open), the engine stops.

I thought about this yesterday when I was raking (or, blowing, or vacuuming) leaves; I only know about the design element because a lawnmower repairman showed me how to jump the circuit when we were trying to repair an older model that I owned. And, with 20 or so years between that model and the one I now own, I began thinking about spare parts availability and how when something is designed right from the outset, the life-cycle of spare parts is extended because the useful lifespan of any particular component is extended. Or, stated differently, how getting it right the first time can make a difference in the long term.

The Communications Act of 1934, as amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, is a study in how technological advancement may have outstripped a statute. But, it is also a study in how careful drafting can accommodate then-unforeseen circumstances. Whether applying interconnection frameworks to IP networks or universal service ideals to emerging platforms, the principles can often provide more guidance than their specific derivative rules. Read more

Sony Unveils PlayStation-Based TV Service

Sony last week announced its long-anticipated online TV service, which the company hopes will pose a formidable challenge to cable and satellite providers.

Dubbed PlayStation Vue, the service initially will offer approximately 75 channels. These will reportedly include CBS, NBC and FOX, as well as USA, FX, Discovery, MTV, the Food Network, Bravo and Comedy Central. Conspicuously absent are ABC’s networks (including the Disney Channel and ESPN) and Time Warner’s channels (which include HBO).

The service initially will be delivered through Sony’s PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 game consoles.

While a specific price point has not been publicly announced, it is speculated that PlayStation Vue will cost approximately $60 per month, with no long-term commitment. This price point would make it extremely competitive with cable and satellite service.

“Everyday TV is about to become extraordinary,” Sony Computer Entertainment Group CEO Andrew House said in a statement. “PlayStation Vue reinvents the traditional viewing experience so your programming effortlessly finds you, enabling you to watch much more of what you want and search a lot less.”

Sony plans to offer the service to selected beta testers in the New York area, before expanding to testers in other major markets. PlayStation Vue is expected to be widely available in early 2015.

Crowdsourcing Apps

This weekend I came across this article on crowdsourcing apps. It has some great examples of such apps and also points to an early example of the crowdsourcing of data.

As the article notes, the Oxford English Dictionary is possibly the earliest known example of the crowdsourcing of data. In the mid-19th century, the authors issued a public call for volunteers to send in words and usage examples. The dictionary’s authors received about six million submissions from the public.

As for more modern examples of the crowdsourcing of data with technology, my favorite example in the article is an app called Rainforest Connection. Rainforest Connection is an organization that uses recycled cellphones to combat illegal rainforest logging. They do this by connecting phones to small solar power cells, mounting them in trees, and using the phones to listen to the sounds of the forest. When they hear the distinctive sounds of a chainsaw, forest rangers are alerted. This article discusses all of the negative implications of illegal logging, if you’re interested.

I also love this one: Stereopublic, “Crowdsourcing Quiet.” This app has users go to a specific spot in their city and record the noise (or lack of noise, as may be the case) and send it to Stereopublic. The crowdsourced data creates a map of how noisy various sections of your city are. I love living in a major urban area with lots to do and lots of shopping and dining in proximity to my house, but at night I need some quiet. I can imagine using this when my wife and I start looking for a new house.

These are just a few examples of the crowdsourcing data apps in the article, but they show how technology and the data it can deliver to us can make a real difference in our lives, and even in keeping our planet healthy.

Consumer Cord Cutting Continues

Nearly one in seven broadband adopters does not subscribe to a pay-TV service, a new study finds. This marks a dramatic increase from one in 11 in 2011.

The study, “Pay TV Refugees, 2014,” was prepared by The Diffusion Group (TDG). In it, TDG estimates that 14% of broadband households do not subscribe to a pay-TV service, up from 12% a year ago and 9% in 2010.

“Today, residential broadband services are used in 75% of U.S. households, meaning 13 million broadband households are currently doing without a traditional pay-TV service,” said TDG president and author of the report Michael Greeson. While bad news for many pay-TV providers, the report’s findings illustrate “an excellent opportunity for new video purveyors, whether pure-play online ventures like Netflix or the growing list of television networks going direct-to-consumer,” he said. “Minimizing damage and maximizing opportunity presupposes an understanding of who these consumers are, what drives their decisions and what they expect from a pay-TV service, be it legacy or online.”

TDG further predicts that in the coming months the number of home broadband subscriptions will surpass the number of home pay-TV subscriptions for the first time ever.

TDG separates the non-subscribers into two distinct categories: cord cutters and cord nevers. The two groups exhibit completely different demand patterns and demographics. TDG warns that reaching these consumers will require distinctly different and sharply focused marketing techniques on the part of video service providers.

Home Bandwidth Needs Projected to Increase, Hopefully Not to Accomodate Unsecured Webcams

A new study sponsored by network firm Ciena finds that growing demand for over the top (OTT) video will increase household bandwidth needs by 31%; current 2.9 Mbps peak hour average household usage is expected to increase to 7.3 Mbps. The impact is identified as arising out of streaming video that is unicast to multiple devices. A Ciena press release on the findings also list Ciena products that can address the anticipated growth. The firm will host a webinar on December 2 to explore the study and its findings. The findings, as reported, corroborate rural industry statements that video is driving broadband take-rates, and that bandwidth capacity to accommodate video remains a vital component of network planning and policy formulations.

Hopefully, increased demand will not arise from streaming of unsecured webcams. Read more

Bike Safety Technology

In the nation’s capital, where I live, bicycle usage is way up: in 2012, Washington, D.C., jumped ahead of San Francisco and Seattle for the America’s number three spot for bike commuting.  What’s also up: accidents and the inevitable friction between cyclists, drivers and pedestrians. Each group here in D.C. has a beef with the other group and much of it comes down to each group thinks the other has no regard for traffic laws or the safety of others. Myself, I think that bicyclists have an annoying habit of ignoring stop signs. But, I take great pains to watch carefully for cyclists, as I would feel pretty bad if I hit one (most of them anyway, more on that later).

When shopping online for a shed to store my bike in my backyard, I came across this: Hovding, an airbag for cyclists. It’s worn around your neck and looks like a thick scarf, but when it detects an impact, it deploys like a car airbag and protects your head and neck. It can distinguish between small impacts, like riding over rough terrain and an actual crash, to prevent false deployments. It costs about $500, but a Swedish insurance company says that it’s more effective than a traditional helmet. Read more

A Bump in the Road for Apple Pay?

Last week, I wrote about the Apple Pay, Apple’s new electronic payment technology that promised to bolster the security of vulnerable consumer financial data.

A few days later, the fledgling service took a hit when two major retailers officially announced that they would not be using Apple Pay: Rite Aid and CVS.

While neither officially issued a reason for their decision, it is widely known that both Rite Aid and CVS are part of a coalition of retailers working on the development of their own mobile payment system. The coalition—which also includes Walmart, Lowe’s, Best Buy and Dunkin’ Donuts—is known as the Merchant Customer Exchange, or MCX. Their mobile payment system, dubbed CurrentC, is scheduled for rollout sometime in 2015. Read more

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