Self-Driven Lawnmowers, Hacked Medical Devices

May 2015 160Readers of a certain age might remember Clifford B. Hicks’ The Marvelous Inventions of Alvin Fernald.  In a series of ten books written over a period of nearly 50 years, Hicks chronicled the adventures of an Indiana boy whose inventions and ingenuity were employed to solve mysteries while also sparking the imaginations of young readers (Hicks wrote for Popular Mechanics before he wrote children’s books). Among the inventions Hicks devised (but attributed to Master Fernald) was an automatic lawn mower, created by driving a stake into the center of the lawn and tying a self-propelled lawn mower to the stake, with a generous amount of rope. As the mower moved forward, its path was confined by the length of the rope, which wounds around the stake, creating an ever-decreasing radius of cut grass. Since everything is available on the Internet, the results can be viewed here. Read more

“An Exciting Time for Statistical Agencies . . . Finally”

May 2015 103(Memphis) If I had to choose a title for this post, it would have been, “Shattering Expectations.” But the title of this post, a quote from a session at the 10th international OECD Rural Development Conference, was just too delicious to not headline.

OECD is the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Yes, that is “Organization” with an “s;” it is an international organization (organisation?) representing 34 countries (which explains why it got stuck with the European use of “s”).

This year’s conference was the first hosted by the United States. It was by invitation only, and I somehow managed to parlay my interest into an offer to attend. The conference was small – it appeared to have a roster of about 250 attendees, many from other countries which, by design, layered an international flavor of the program (one A/V technician gave up when a speaker and live interpreter talked over each other for an entire session, rendering each of their words unintelligible).

That international flavor emerged as certain of my parochial expectations met different interpretations. Sufficiently immersed in cyber-security and precision agriculture, I expected a session on “food security” to address network security for broadband-enabled agricultural applications. Instead, the session discussed principles relating to the proposition that access to sufficient food is a bedrock concern of societies; therefore, the imperative to preserve the security of the food supply ranks high among public concerns.

The meeting took off when the conversations turned to using data to support rural advocacy. Stories of rural achievement are abundant; accounts of rural ingenuity compelling; tales of perseverance and prevailing are legion. But in the cold-floor halls of Capitol Hill, notwithstanding the connections that can be made with common experiences, the numbers matter. Somewhere, someone wants to know about ROI. For every friend there is a skeptic who must be won. It is not simply a battle for the heart, but a conquest for the mind. Read more

Someone’s Knocking at the Door, Somebody’s Ringing the Bell…

Tentatively at first, telcos and cable television providers have made modest forays into the potentially lucrative home security market. Now, those efforts are paying off—home security accounts serviced by telcos and cable providers have grown by as much as 140% over the past year, according to Imperial Capital’s latest Security Industry Monitor report.

The report, which utilizes research performed by Barnes Associates, claims that there are currently 1.2 million U.S. home security accounts served by telcos and cable providers (4% of the total market), up from just under 500,000 in early 2014.

“Most of those gains have come from existing cable/telco customers, and, we believe, in competition from small POTS line-based local security companies,” Imperial Capital writes in the report. Many of the home security systems sold by telcos and cable providers rely on broadband and/or wireless connectivity, as opposed to traditional copper telephone lines.

Further, Barnes’ forecasts indicate this latest growth could be merely the tip of the iceberg—telcos and cable companies current market share could grow to 16 million homes by 2020 under the “low case” forecast, and as many as 25 million homes under the “high case” scenario.

But first, the companies must overcome some growing pains affecting their marketing and customer service. But once that is accomplished, Imperial Capital believes the companies will be poised to impose a “serious dislocation” upon the industry.

Independence and Aging in Place

(Memphis) Aging in place is a topic that is making the rounds at NTCA, notably in a white paper by the Foundation for Rural Service, but also in conversations with organizations that represent older Americans as well as those that investigate demographic changes in rural areas, in certain of which the average age is rising.

There are many things we study and about which we learn, but which we do not understand fully until we experience them. These can be cultural experiences: it is one thing to read a play, but quite another to see it performed. Or, history: it is one thing to learn about the Battle of Gettysburg, but quite another to see the endless line of fence that defines the scope of the battlefield. Or, science: learning the definition of torque, or feeling it in action as tires bite into turf.

If you would visit my house, you would see some curious, but not altogether unusual, elements. Many light switches are only 36” from the floor, rather than an older design standard that would have placed them higher; door knobs and faucets are easy to grasp paddles; there are strategically placed grab bars in the shower. One could, through acquired knowledge, deduce that these features are intended to assist those whose grasp might be weaker, or whose balance may be unsteady, or whose ability to reach high might be compromised.

But deduction is not understanding. Understanding in its full, raw, emotional impact is more than the intellectual deduction. Read more

If at First You Don’t Succeed…..


1958 Edsel Corvair

While hardly a fiasco on the scale of the Edsel or New Coke, “success” is not the first word you’d associate with Amazon’s Fire Phone. Launched in late July 2014, Amazon has subsequently announced the write down of $170 million in Fire Phone-associated costs, including more than $80 million in unsold inventory.

Yet give the online retailer points for persistence—rather than walking away from the product, Amazon last week announced a series of improvements to the first generation Fire Phone.

In addition to an updated version of its operating system (Fire OS 4.6.1), users will now have the capability of printing from their phone, changing their home screen wallpaper, and choosing from a number of full-color emojis directly from the keyboard.

That’s the good news. The bad? These features have been available on other phones for quite some time. Read more

Washington as the Minivan

84-86_Plymouth_VoyagerWashington, DC, is a bit like a minivan filled with noisy kids and a dad who wants to listen to the radio: dad increases the volume in order to hear over the din of the kids, and the kids raise their voices to make themselves heard over the radio, and the cycle continues until the cacophony borders on unbearable. Also, minivans, despite common perceptions of boredom, possess impressive utility.

Welcome to Infrastructure Week in Washington. Organizers of private programming will likely, if the past is informative, take shots at a byzantine process of obtaining authority to deploy facilities on Federally-administered lands while government agencies will host events intended to elucidate concerns and agency efforts to balance varying interests. I plan to shuttle between two of these tomorrow: a privately-hosted program in the morning followed by a late slip-in to a full-day workshop at the FCC; the latter will focus on environmental compliance and historical preservation. Read more

FCC Workshop on Broadband Privacy Begs for Clever Headline

Last week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) hosted a public workshop on consumer privacy in the broadband marketplace. The event featured panels moderated by FCC and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) staff, as well as introductory remarks by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and a keynote address by Matt Blaze of the University of Pennsylvania. The day-long event revealed deep yet predictable schisms in viewpoints regarding how consumer data should be managed. (In the interest of full disclosure, I sat on one the panels.)

The issue has emerged because the FCC (re)classified broadband Internet access service (BIAS) as a Title II offering. As such, BIAS is subject to Section 222 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, which governs privacy of telecommunications customers’ data. The statute is the basis for rules that address Customer Proprietary Network Information (CPNI). But, certain of the particular elements covered by CPNI rules do not exist in the BIAS world. And, the sort of consumer data that may be viewed as ripe for regulation under Section 222 may also be held by entities such as Facebook or Google, which would not be subject to common carrier regulation. In that result, an ISP holding certain data could be charged with protecting it, while another non-ISP holding the same data would be subject to FTC, rather than FCC requirements. Read more

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