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
Google this week indicated its plans to enter the wireless service market, but hedged expectations that its foray would be limited, emphasizing that the company has no current plans to take powerhouse wireless service providers on in a head-to-head competition.
Google has wireless experience in its line of Nexus devices, which are billed as pure Android: they bear little, if any, manufacturer or carrier modification, including changes to the GUI. In return, Google manages design and development of the products, as well as marketing and post-purchase support.
In remarks at the 2015 Mobile World Congress, Google was coy about its plans, leading to speculation in trade press that it will aim to use both cell and WiFi. U.S. variants of the service are expected to rely upon existing networks, but overseas iterations may utilize Google use of balloons and drones. A launch is expected in several months. Read more
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) this morning voted an historic order on net neutrality. The FCC also voted a controversial order on federal preemption of local laws affecting the ability of municipal governments to provide broadband. Both items were approved on party lines, with Republican Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Reilly offering lengthy oral and written dissents. Unlike many other FCC matters, such as network power back-up requirements, CPNI rules, Part 64 allocations, and radio licensing, the open internet item attracted a packed house to the FCC. The main meeting room was standing room, only, and two overflow rooms down the hall were mostly filled. Security guards enforced strictly the capacity limits in the main room; my two attempts to slip in were thwarted. A small cadre of demonstrators supporting net neutrality set up shop in a vacant lot next door to the FCC; I am not sure whether the numbers seemed low because (a) the vote was a foregone conclusion, anyway, or (b) Washington was hobbled by about three inches of snow this morning. Inside, the crowd was at times raucous. Several times, applause spilled from both the main meeting room and the overflow room across the hall from the room in which I was sitting; I can only surmise that attendees gravitated somewhat mysteriously to the room in which like-minded people were sitting, since no one where I was sitting expressed any sort of animated reaction to what was occurring at the podium. It was, except for the absence of a red carpet fashion review, the agency’s Academy Awards.
A recurring element of advocacy for rural broadband is the positive impact on education. Although the primary arguments are logical, sensible and understandable, the discussion can be improved by adding data that illustrates the empirical facts underlying the debate. The Carsey School of Public Policy, University of New Hampshire, issued a report this month addressing access to Advanced Placement (AP) courses in rural areas. Although the study notes the role of broadband in overcoming identified shortfalls in rural AP availability, certain of the more compelling aspects of the report include descriptions of negative impacts encountered when AP course are not available.
The Carsey School of Public Policy has published numerous reports, many of which address rural-specific issues. Since this is a blog, I will deviate toward the “first person” and note that I have found several of their reports, including those addressing population trends in rural areas, to be particularly helpful in framing research and as sources of data sets. Read more
Magellan SmartGPS 5390
When friends saw the Magellan SmartGPS 5390 that I have been testing, more than one asked, “Don’t you have a phone?” And, indeed, my test of the device evolved to be less a confined examination than a comparison as I drove routes with both my phone and the Magellan running (I will suppress the urge to reach for a joke about two voices giving driving instructions, except to say that it reminded me of certain family trips where various passengers have demonstrated their apparent need to argue with Waze).
What It Is
The Magellan SmartGPS is “cloud connected,” and can be linked via Bluetooth to Apple or Android devices; the Bluetooth link will also connect to a Blackberry, but only for the phone, rather than a dedicated app. The 5390 is a slim device that looks a bit like an iPhone 5, only slightly larger and without the circular home button on the bezel, and in its native configuration provides Yelp and Foursquare reviews.
The screen real estate is great; for those who ask why a phone could not replace it, the short answer is that unless you are using a “phablet,” you probably will not obtain the easy visual read the Magellan’s five-inch screen provides. The maps can be displayed in a variety of formats (3D and variant 2Ds), and the maps can be rotated and manipulated via the touch screen. The longer answer is that the big screen enables users to vary the amount of space dedicated, respectively, to the driving map and supplemental information, such as nearby eateries, attractions, gas stations (including the current price) and traffic alerts. A virtual dial at the top of the screen enables users to adjust the layout of the screen and the relative space given to maps and other information. Read more
(Google purchased YouTube in 2006 in a transaction valued at $1.65 billion.)
Dubbed “YouTube Music Key,” the service is designed to compete with companies such as NetFlix.
Pricing for YouTube Music Key will start at $7.99 per month, and, in addition to removing advertising, will also allow viewers to watch videos offline and listen to music while using other applications. Read more
I lived in California during another drought (the 80’s) and I remember that we were told to stop washing our cars and watering our lawns. I also took a California state focused political science class in college, and the politics of water in that state were interesting. In terms of the state’s massive need for water (the state has approximately 38 million people and has millions of acres of agriculture), I always wondered why technology had not made it possible to affordably tap into the Pacific Ocean.
As is probably obvious to anyone, sea water has too much salt to be fit for human consumption or agricultural use. Desalination is the answer, and it’s an expensive answer at that.
This MIT Technology Review article provides some great background on the desalination process. Sea water is desalinized through a process called “Reverse Osmosis.” This process pushes the seawater through membranes at extremely high pressure and removes approximately 99% of the salts and inorganic matter. The high cost comes from the energy costs of pushing that water through those membranes. There are also environmental concerns with the process, including killing fish eggs, using harsh chemicals to clean the membranes and the salty liquid brine that is pumped back into the sea when the process is completed. Read more