Project MAC, where we met S at MIT A the Software Arts building where we worked together T and the attic N where VisiCalc was written
Other writings on our personal sites:

RSS Feeds:



Comments from Frankston, Reed, and Friends

Saturday, July 09, 2005

BobF at 5:42 PM [url]:

An i730 Clarification and an EVDO Comment

I continue to be fascinated by the Samsung i730 because it's a prototype for the connected communicating device even if Verizon wants it to be just a phone and Microsoft thinks of it as just a PDA. The marketplace will become more interesting when we see full Unix-based phones become available.

As to the i730, you can indeed receive phone calls while using Wi-Fi. You get a notification and can disable Wi-Fi as part of answering the call. This isn't ideal but there is some compensation in that you can continue to browse using EVDO (if it is available, of course). This is because the web sites typically do not maintain state based on the IP address. This is a good idea -- the IP address is just a temporary handle.

Skype works on the phone pretty well but since the sound doesn't go through the Bluetooth headset there is some interplay between the speaker and the microphone.

Skype does highlight the difference between the dial-up model and pervasive connectivity. Skype itself doesn't automatically initiate a connection because the connection isn't "just there". You need to explicitly cause one to be made, i.e., "dialed". You can do this by, for example, invoking the Internet Explorer. Programmers should include a call to ConnMgrEstablishConnectionSync (or Async) in the PPC versions of their programs. While this should be transparent at least we can work around the problem in this case.

Not being persistently connected does mean that you can't always receive Skype calls. But if you do have an EVDO connection active (or, perhaps, dormant) you can receive Skype calls.

Too bad all this drains the battery ... as they say, speak softly but carry a big big battery. Or better, a fuel cell.

Friday, July 08, 2005

BobF at 4:29 PM [url]:

The Samsung i730 — the Saga Continues

It's useful to write down my impressions as I learn about a product before the truly weird becomes almost normal. I tend to view products not just in terms of themselves but as indicators of marketplaces and the fates of the companies involved.

I did buy an i730 and it took a while to figure out things like how to get it into the charger and how to turn it on.

I then tried out the Bluetooth capability only to find it doesn't even synch with my iPhono headset even though the HP-6315 does (albeit as a low fidelity headset). The i730 did find my Plantronics. Strange — of course those conversant in the particular vagaries of BT would be able to "explain" it but as a user I just see it as perverse.

Not as perverse as the fact that the media player doesn't go through the headset! Again, unlike the HP-6315. Neither does voice dialing though http://www.pdaphonehome.com has a long work-around.

While on the subject of sound -- this is a reminder of the endemic problem of treating sound as something special instead of another kind of stream. What I want on both the PC and the PPC is the ability to connect sources and sinks (destinations) for sound streams. Maybe I want to listen to a headset for music while using letting the passengers in the car use the "hands-free" speaker to carry on a conversation.

This is also a problem with BT because once I can stream I want to do it over the network so I can, for example, use my PC's speakers instead of my headphones. As an aside this starts to bring into question the concept of a phone call but that's another topic.

I do want to get this to work. It has potential but it's really trying to be smarter than I am. I still have a lot to learn such as how to put the keyboard into "num lock" mode and how to work around the various foibles. I haven't even tried using Wi-Fi. So I expect to say more in the future but if I don't post comments now I'll try to hard and may never get around to it.

I've been using the HP-6315 to listen to podcasts while exercising so I'm disappointed that I can't use the i730 in that way. The current Podcast is a talk by Clayton Christensen talking about his Innovator's Solution. In particular how companies get attacked from below. These small computing platforms are great example. Verizon is maintaining control so that it is little more than a network peripheral. Microsoft isn't much better in keeping the PPC as an enfeebled device overly dependent upon the PC. Both incumbents seem to be oblivious to the real potential as a platform owned by the user. I can understand why Verizon fears this. I'm more puzzled by Microsoft -- here we have a device that is far more capable than the devices that made the company what it is today but they seem to be fixated on today's "big iron" and are missing the idea of personal computing.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

BobF at 5:25 PM [url]:

More Cellphony Dependency

This week's (7-July-2005) NY Times Circuits section (Music to Your Cellphone) had a paragraph which helps understand why people are so passive:

With high-speed cellular networks soon to be widely available, wireless operators are exploring new ways to deliver not only over-the-air music downloads, but also music videos, streaming and other new products tied to music

This is a "duh" moment -- you just go to the stuff you're interested with your browser and view it. Oh, you don't have a browser? Well that's just silly? Why not? Why do you accept having to beg for content when a simple generic browser would solve the problem? Worse, not only are you dependent but you also pay outrageous prices each time you do anything. That's the poverty cycle, instead of owning you keep paying and paying and the carriers have a big stake in keep you dependent upon their eye and ear candy in order to pay of the billions of debt they are accumulating as they spend lavishly to maintain control.

To be fair, even with these phones you can usually transfer your own content to the phone using a special cable or maybe via a storage card or even Bluetooth but that only solves a small part of the problem. You are still denied access to the real Internet. Buying music is the least of what we can't do � such is the price of dependency.

BobF at 2:56 PM [url]:

Verizon vs Users – The Samsung i730

I've been excited about the Samsung i730. It was a step towards what I've been looking for -- a connected PC that could also connect to other devices. Like my HP-6315 phone it has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi and a data connection I can use to connect to the Internet. I also have a Samsung i700 which is similar to the i730 but lacks Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. It does support a data connection and I can use the USB cable to connect my PC to the Internet via the phone using the 1xRTT protocol at "up to" 150kbps.

The i730 supports EV-DO for the same price as the much slower 1xRTT. I've been using EV-DO via a PCMCIA card on my laptop and it actually is quite nice to be able to connect just about everywhere.

The i730 has been eagerly anticipated and discussed on web sites. The big question has been what Verizon will do to screw it up. Now we know. I don't have the phone yet but in reading the documentation on Samsung's site and on Verizon's it's clear that Verizon has defanged the phone by crippling the ability to use it to connect to the Internet!

This reminds me of the days when the cable companies said I wasn't allowed to have a home network -- they wanted a fee for each device in my house! The whole point of the Internet is that I define the meaning of the bits and the transport just carries them. It doesn't charge me based on the value of what I'm doing with the network. This has permitted the discovery of new applications like the Web which would not be possible if I were only allowed to use high value applications.

This is the same thing that killed ISDN -- the Telcos saw it as a way to skim money from valuable applications so all the innovation fled to the analog network. This is why EV-DO is so dangerous. It is indeed better than not being connected at all and the speed does make many applications accessible but the pricing doesn't permit the development of new applications that take advantage of casual connectivity. It would be very nice to have a small local radio on my wrist that could relay via the higher power one in my pocket. Even better if I could touch the screen (or buttons on the side) to respond. Samsung touts the GPS capability for the phone but it doesn't give the user the GPS information -- it's just used to meet an FCC requirement for E911 on a cell phone. At least a US version. People rarely think globally when setting these policies.

Too bad Microsoft's SPOT watch was done with an orifice model -- they make money by being the gatekeeper and charging for the traffic. Thus the watch is crippled by being a listen-only device. At least it is programmable using C# though they have yet to release the developer's toolkit. Even a simple application like showing SMS messaging and incoming caller-ID would be so useful. Suunto has a version of the watch with a second radio for monitoring the heart rate during exercise -- too bad I can't relay that and use other software for analysis and tracking. I would be surprised if the watch has met Microsoft's expectations -- I hope they become emboldened to make it an open platform. It's unfortunate that Microsoft seems to be acting like a carrier in defining and limiting the user experience. The early Microsoft created opportunities and we all benefited from users' innovations.

Too bad the i730 has been denied the ability to participate in such applications. If I use Wi-Fi the phone is disabled. At very least EV-DO is disabled though the Samsung site says I can't make phone calls. That seems so pointless that I was ready to give Verizon the benefit of the doubt since even they can't be that stupid -- can they? It turns out, in reading only comments, that that is indeed the case. I can only surmise that this was a panic reaction at the last minute by someone at Verizon who wanted a quick lock-down of the phone.

The Bluetooth DUN protocol is glaringly missing as per the policy. DUN, or Dial Up Networking, is a weird retro protocol. It harkens back to the pre-internet model of dialing up over the phone network and making a single connection. I can't share the connection between my laptop and my phone. I did try to use DUN with my HP-6315 but ? I presume that with enough effort I can get it to work.

The tragedy is that there is so much potential for this technology yet Verizon is holding it hostage for short term revenue. But then they are a phone company selling phone calls and trying to maximize their ARPU (Average Return Per User). The revenue is based on the value of the service whereas connectivity is a commodity. Connectivity is a very different concept from point the point circuits that DUN provides.

What we need is a Connectivity Utility just like we have utilities for other services and commodities that are public goods. The billing model is especially damaging because it leads the carriers to constrain the users and leads to pricing policies that thwarts innovation by making new applications too expensive. This is a pricing policy and doesn't reflect the costs -- after all the same companies that limit the use of their network connections have no problems encouraging people to watch "TV" over the phone.

It's too bad people accept the notion that they must get services from a big company be it a phone call via a special device called a phone or email via a Blackberry. We now associate iPods with music. In the case of iPods it's brand loyalty though at the extreme it does prevent innovative competitors from gaining a foothold but it does provide stability that enables investment.

In the case of the carriers it's beyond the extreme since competition is not permitted. The cellular phone system is locked down in a way that the landline phones weren't. The red/green wire interface was too simple and the Supreme Court understood this which led to the break up of ATT. Today wired connectivity is rapidly becoming a commodity with VoIP becoming increasingly common. Even Verizon is getting competitive with their new 15mbps and 30mbps offerings.

The real problem is that we still think of wired connectivity in terms of computers with web browsing being the primary application. Even when I am connected it's difficult to make effective use of the Internet from PDA because it's considered a phone with limited capabilities. A relatively tiny percentage of the phone users take advantage of the capabilities.

The Internet itself should disappear -- it should just be assumed. If you're driving, your car should simply warn you about traffic problems without you having to listen to a traffic report every 10 minutes if it is available at all. If you have a medical problem you should able to just assume you alert bracelet can "call home". If you do get a message you should able to able to simply glance at your watch (or the heads up display on your glasses as I suggested in my 1989 story, Rush Hour 1997).

As long as the carriers have a stake in enfeebling you so they can charge you for their services they will have a stake in frustrating innovation.

They can't hold off change -- even as they try to limit these devices it's possible to program around the limitations. Too bad the devices are still too expensive for the students and others who have the time to innovate but not the money. As with the PC, a generic connected portable computing platform would give us so much and, given our experience with the marketplace, would be very inexpensive.

I've said this all before and will continue to say it in hopes I can generate some of the demand and rage necessary to accelerate change. Taking the Samsung i730 hostage is just another reminder of the damage a tight orifice can inflict on us.

"Stay tuned" for The Revenge of the i730 users. For those who want to learn more there is an FAQ posted on http://www.pdaphonehome.com/ on the i730. There is already a post on http://www.wmphones.com/ which explains how to connect via the USB cable even if Verizon doesn't seem to want you to -- this is just what happened with the i700. The difference is that with i700 it was a sin of omission but in the case of the i730 they purposely left out DUN and, most offensive and strange, is the inability to use the phone while using Wi-Fi. This addresses one of my major complaints. It reinforces my assumption that while the carriers may try to lock everything down they will ultimately fail. I hope they will not behave like Sony which keeps updating the software for their handheld PSP to frustrate those trying to run their own applications.

As I prepare to post this essay I notice that the http://www.pdaphonehome.com/ is reporting that their server is getting too many connections. Today is the day the i730 is supposed to go on sale. Could it be that there are lots of people who want to take control of their i730?

While I do ascribe the most evil motives to Verizon there is another explanation which is more a sin of omission than commission. The Audiovox 6600 shipped without a camera and later a version with the camera became available. Corporate customers often want phones without a camera because they are viewed as ways to "steal" information. It is possible that the use of the phone as a gateway is also anathema to the corporate buyers who want to define the telephone for their employees. It is possible that Verizon is meeting the demands of these users and made these last minute changes. Even then, disabling the phone while using Wi-Fi is still strange -- perhaps a quick kludge patched on at the last minute that may be easy to undo via a registry setting in the phones (the same registry used to track information in Windows).

The problem is that Samsung's customer is Verizon rather than me the user. If the motivation is less to "protect" their network then Verizon may remove the restrictions in the near future but, of course, they don't deign to tell me because, in their view, it's none of my business. As to companies which demand such restrictions, they creating the illusion of security and no more. The laptop sitting in my closed briefcase has a PCMCIA card with both Wi-Fi and an EV-DO connection. Unlike a phone, it also has powerful software.

I'm using Verizon as my example because of the i730. While the details may vary among carriers the basic problem is that they are trying to make money by selling me valuable services while I, as a user, want to do it myself and take advantage of raw connectivity.

I do have a choice. Rather than isolate myself I will take advantage of the opportunities like i730, even if limited, while demanding more and helping others see beyond today's "offerings".

PS: I decided to get the phone because I can workaround at least some of the problems -- more once I've actually played with it.

BobF at 10:17 AM [url]:

Essays on Evolution and Other Topics

The controversy over teaching "evolution" is about far more than a particular biological process. It's about the search for meaning and, perhaps, comfort. It's about whether science is a well-defined process of discovering (or revealing?) the "one truth" or is it simply the willingness to testing our ideas to find their limits.

It's unfortunate that the teaching of evolution is locked into an educational system that seems to be regressing into teaching testable facts as if they are mantras to be memorized rather than educating people so they can be effective contributors in a constantly changing and thus evolving society.

We see the same problem in geometry classes that require students memorize "facts" like how many degrees the angles of a triangle as it were important. The real lesson should be how to do proofs and how to think logically and critically.

Science is typically taught as a six step process but even as a student I realized that was wrong. Science is really about being willing to test ideas and accept that our understanding is always tentative.

More subtle is that the notion of "proof" in mathematics doesn't really apply to science because the results are always tentative. Even a simple notion like how long is the coast of North American doesn't have a "true" answer - it depends on the purpose and how tightly we follow the coast.

Evolution itself is a basic process that occurs when we have a system that can regenerate what works and discard what doesn't and has a mechanism to provide some perturbation (mutations) that act as a source of diverse potential solutions. I call this digital at scale.

When we teach evolution in biology we lose this simplicity because biological systems are so complex and our own biology is fraught with emotion.

Rather than imparting an understanding of how systems work and giving students the tools to apply their understanding to new situations we turn out citizens who do well on tests. It's harder to recognize what they lack because that can't be easily measured.

It's not about "Intelligent Design" vs evolution - it's about understanding how systems work. It's about public policies that can tolerate risk rather than impose uniformity. It's about challenging accepted wisdom to discover new possibilities and judging others wanting. It's about tolerating a diversity of approaches because there isn't one true answer.

While I'm excited about looking ahead and explaining how systems work I can't do it all in a single essay. My own understanding of the ideas and explanations evolve.

Since I'm not going to get it right the first time I'm going to post a series I'm going to try to write a series of incomplete, imperfect and, ideally, shorter essays.

I'm starting with an essay "Evolution is Simple and Fundamental" ?

Monday, July 04, 2005

BobF at 8:07 PM [url]:

Selling Candy to Children

The industry that brought you 900 numbers is at it again with SMS. I just saw an ad on TV for SMS-a-Joke. OK, that's not its real name but what struck is that all you have to do is SMS them the word "JOKE" and they start sending you jokes at 59� a pop. If you notice the small type you'll see that you can tell them to stop by sending the word "STOP".

What strikes me is how easy it is subscribe to such services. It's basically a credit card purchase with no explicit authorization. Services like this and ring tones at a dollar for a few bars (not even the whole tune) appeal to kids who don't have a sense how easily it is to run up a $100 or more per year for each service.

While these companies aren't taking candy from babies they are selling candy to children. Couple that with the increased charge for SMS messages the carriers have a wonderful setup. Unlike 900 numbers where charges of $10/minute were very obvious, they are collecting small amounts of money each time so it's not as visible and doesn't have the moralistic taint of pornography.

No wonder the carriers need to maintain such tight control. In a real marketplace the carrier wouldn't get a cut of the retail traffic. For that matter who would be paying almost a buck ($1) a joke or ring tone when it would be so easy to get them for free and exchange them among friends.

But as long as they can sell candy to children and get away with it they have a strong stake in maintaining their tight control.

Messaging has so many possibilities -- too bad it's priced so that the only viable business is essentially selling candy to children. At least with the Blackberry they are selling candy to addicted adults.

For more, see the Archive.

© Copyright 2002-2008 by Daniel Bricklin, Bob Frankston, and David P. Reed
All Rights Reserved.

Comments to: webmaster at satn.org, danb at satn.org, bobf at satn.org, or dpreed at satn.org.

The weblog part of this web site is authored with Blogger.