Apple Watch; An Ironic Morning at NARUC; Revisiting Radio Shack

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Maybe the “R” should stand for “Rugged” – this hardy group met despite the walloping of Washington by about four inches of snow that closed Federal offices for the day.

(Washington) Since The New Edge ordinarily publishes out of NTCA headquarters in Virginia, I feel justified adding the “Washington” dateline to this post since I am writing from a bunker-like ballroom of the Renaissance Washington Hotel in D.C. Yes, it is officially a “snow day” for Feds (whose D.C. offices were closed in anticipation of a major storm that was ultimately much less than expected) and yes, yesterday was Presidents Day. But, NARUC (the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners) Winter Committee Meetings motor on.

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Apple announced that April will see the release of its much anticipated Watch (not “iWatch,” just “Watch”). Somewhat surprisingly, Apple has downplayed the inclusion of health/fitness related sensors; media reports describe interference between hairy wrists and the new state-of-the-art device. Initial views of the watch, which are reportedly already being sported by Apple employees, reveal typical Apple cues in both the case design and user interface. The base Sport model is expected to retail at $349, and trade press anticipate initial manufacturing orders of between five and six million units. Apple stock value ticked upward again this morning, indicating the interest in Apple’s foray into wearable tech. Read more

NYSE to Delist RadioShack; Robot Vacuum Eats Woman’s Hair

IMG_20150209_132244 (2)If you ever told me during the days I biked to RadioShack that I would ever write a headline about a robot vacuum eating a sleeping woman’s hair, I probably would have fallen off my bike. Or pedaled away as quickly as possible. But, both pieces of news this week, including the financial status of RadioShack and why one should never sleep on the floor with a Roomba in the house, illustrate the changing times.

Wired posted a paean to RadioShack last week, and I felt a bit left out not having included my own mawkish recollections. So, to satisfy that need, here they are: the Town & Country RadioShack was exactly 1.7 miles from my house (I Google mapped it this morning). I took the back streets and alleys since riding a bike as a 12 year old on the main drag would have been unthinkable. RadioShack was where I went for all the “gear” that a kid just getting into stereo equipment would need; I still have a shoe box in my basement filled with extension cables, splitters, 1/4″-to-1/8″ headphone plug converters, and all manner of materials ending in an RCA phono jack that I accumulated through high school and probably well into college. It was also the place where I roamed the aisles looking at sound chips and other components of early-computing (TRS-80), and from which I received a free flashlight every December (one of which prompted a phone call from my friend’s neighbor’s mother complaining that Courtney couldn’t sleep because “those boys” were shining their flashlights at her window . . . to be bored middle school students on a Saturday night . . .).

The Wall Street Journal does a great job suggesting that the craft electronics hobbyists served by RadioShack simply have less free time now than they did 30 years ago, since a strict 40-hour work week is disappearing. But, I am not sure how that stacks up against the burgeoning success of stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s, which seem to capitalize on spare weekend hours in which they encourage customers to build everything from a birdhouse to a DIY fallout shelter. Read more

Electric-Telco Partnership Summit Shows Mutual Value in Collaboration

Last week’s Electric-Telco Partnership Summit, orchestrated by the National Rural Telecommunication Cooperative (NRTC), NTCA and others, presented a number of situations where carriers and electric utilities have found mutually beneficial ways to leverage one another’s strengths to expand and improve broadband services to customers. There appears to be an encouraging and growing awareness that rural carriers in particular have unique experience and skills when it comes to deploying, managing and maintaining broadband networks. There are many details to consider, but more carriers and utilities are showing that challenges can often be overcome if both parties decide to work together.

Last week’s summit served as a preview of sorts, as this concept will be covered in depth at the upcoming IP Possibilities Conference and Expo this April in a special track focused on collaboration. Technical and business tracks will also be offered, along with informative general sessions. The conversation on collaboration was initiated at the summit, as a dynamic group of more than 100 attendees, representing both carriers and utilities, heard success stories from around the nation. One of the items covered by presenters was that one of the first hurdles is often initiating a discussion with the right people. If a mutual understanding can be reached, collaborative action leading to results can be implemented. Read more

A Hybrid Pickup Truck?

I love pickup trucks. My first vehicle was a beat up Ford Ranger that had been a house painter’s truck. It was ugly and smelly and paint stained. My mom bought it for $800. I loved it (as did my dog who rode in the back). It got about 12 miles to the gallon. Gas was less than a buck then, so I didn’t care too much. None of the gauges (gas or engine temperature) worked, and so one day it overheated before I realized it and the engine block cracked. It was dead.

My wife’s main objection to getting a truck is the gas mileage. I’ve almost worn her down on the “it’s not practical” nonsense of an argument she raised early on. Being interested in hybrid vehicles, I have been waiting for a hybrid pickup truck. They make hybrid SUVs, but I want a real truck!

So far, my options are limited but growing. VIA is a company based in Utah that retrofits General Motors vans and pickup trucks and turns them into plug-in hybrids. They can travel up to 40 miles on the electric motor alone and then the gas-powered engine can generate electricity to charge the batteries while the truck is moving. They can also be charged with a 240 electrical outlet. A Michigan-based company called ALTe does something similar for Ford pickups and vans. Read more

Peeling the Broadband Onion

Recent studies of the barriers to broadband adoption show that lack of demand—i.e., not feeling as if the Internet has anything of interest to offer the individual—is among the top barriers to adoption, alongside lack of resources, lack of knowledge/experience, and lack of availability. In reality, however, broadband is one of those services that reveals more the deeper you become immersed in it. New adopters often discover numerous life-improving applications that they had never even known about, much less considered, before getting online.

Case in point: a recent study by Parks Associates shows that 25% of U.S. broadband households find the concept of a home energy monitoring service appealing. According to the report, entitled “360 View: Energy Management, Smart Home, and Utility Programs,” 26% of respondents would be interested in an HVAC monitoring service, and 22% an appliance management service.

“The connected home industry is really taking off as customers are seeing the value of added convenience and meaningful energy savings,” said Stuart Lombard, CEO at ecobee, a company that sells Wi-Fi enabled thermostats for residential and commercial applications. “With smart thermostats we’re seeing customers engage with their home’s energy use on a regular basis through an app….customers now have the tools to make smarter choices around their energy consumption.”

A large number of broadband non-adopters likely have no idea how the Internet can help them in their daily lives. Making customers aware of the numerous real world benefits available to them through a broadband connection can be a vital step toward overcoming the stubborn lack of demand barrier and ultimately increasing broadband adoption rates.

Whooo…Lives in a Pineapple, Over-the-Top?

Viacom, Inc. announced last week that toddler and tween favorite Nickelodeon will soon join the growing list of cable channels to be made available as a stand-alone Internet offering. For those of you without pre-teens in your household, Nickleodeon is home to the much beloved Spongebob Squarepants, a slightly hyperactive rectangular sponge who “lives in a pineapple under the sea.”

It is expected that Viacom will formally announce details—including the name of the service and its cost—in the coming weeks. It is a matter of speculation whether the online offering will be identical to the channel currently available to consumers, and whether subscribers will be able to access older Nickelodeon content on demand.

According to Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman, the stand-alone Nickelodeon service “will target the fast-growing mobile market [and] will be very attractive for parents and children.”

A number of other channels have preceded Nickelodeon into the over-the-top world. HBO and Showtime will soon launch their own online offerings. Sony Corporation and Dish Network plan to make available online programming packages that had previously only been available by subscribing to a cable or satellite system. And Sony also plans to offer a special programming package—dubbed “PlayStation Vue”—solely to owners of the company’s PlayStation game consoles.

While purchasing over-the-top programming on an a la carte basis does allow consumers a means of customizing programming to match their specific tastes, the reality is that the cost of multiple individual subscriptions quickly surpasses the price of a traditional bundled package.

Solar-Powered Beer?

Benjamin Franklin supposedly once said that beer is proof that God loves us. Some think he was actually referring to wine. In fact, there is no proof that he actually said that as to wine or beer. The quote probably came from Homer (Simpson, not Homer the Greek poet).

Anyway, while God may not care about beer, the sun is shining upon it. To be more accurate, the power generated by the sun’s rays is powering the brewing of beer in California. A few years ago, brewer MillerCoors installed a massive solar array at its Irwindale, Calif., brewery. It claims that it is the largest solar array to date at a brewery in the United States.

I’m no Birkenstock wearing tree-hugger, but I have long been interested in solar power. (And electric-powered cars, as some New Edge readers may have noticed). I find the idea of alternative energy fascinating. We should be able to take full advantage of every natural resource at our disposal and take advantage of sun and wind the way we have coal and oil. I’m also a beer drinker – in moderation of course – and so the combination of these two topics is interesting to me. Read more

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