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, April 14, 2007

BobF at 1:17 AM [url]:

Whose Network is it Anyway?

In reading a Q&A with Verizon's Brian Whitten I found this striking Q and A:

Q. With a fiber connection being symmetric, many fiber providers such as Paxio (www.paxio.net) are providing symmetric connections such as 5Mbit, 10Mbit, 30Mbit. Why is Verizon keeping this arbitrary asymmetric limit with Fiber?

A. Our products are carefully crafted based on feedback we get from our customers. Indeed, our FTTP network can easily support a symmetric data service. As market dynamics change, we would re-assess the benefit to our customers of introducing a class of symmetric data services.

My reaction is "No thank you, I'd rather do it myself". To understand my reaction you need to recognize the difference between wanting to build my own bridge across a stream and asking why I'm not allowed to cross it myself using my own boat.

What more could we ask for than a company being attentive to its customers needs? Of course we have a right to be cynical because it is being nice to us so we'd buy more product but that's the way markets work. Competition keeps this process in check. You can't satisfy all customers but at least you can try to satisfy most. This is the marketplace at its best.

Yet if we are denied the ability to create our own solutions then this marketplace is dysfunctional. And this is the essence of the problem with today's telecommunications industry – those setting policy seem unaware of what we are being denied. Thus we fall into the trap of creating competition to give us more of what we already have while denying us the ability to do so much better. It's Hobson's choice rather than opportunity.

Perhaps the lessons of FiOSTV will make it clear that in making us dependent upon service providers we risk losing what we already have. This became very clear when I recently subscribed to Verizon's FiOSTV service and discovered that their Actiontec router kept failing because of the way I use my home network to connect with the rest of the Internet. In checking online I find that I am not alone. The Actiontec router is actually a very good router and probably works very well for most people but Verizon makes the naïve assumption that the Internet is just like the phone network and beholden to rigid specifications rather than part of an ongoing process of discovery.

The problem is not in the router itself but in the fact that I don't have an alternative if I am to use the broadband TV service. Fortunately, for now, I can pay extra to buy my video from Comcast while still being able to use Verizon's basic FiOS Internet connectivity. But broadband policy doesn't assure that this will remain true because the Internet is a service defined by the carriers' rather than the users as it was when we used modems. If you look at the broadband specifications it is obvious that it is indeed a service delivery system controlled by the carriers in their role as privileged service providers but is equally clear that they are not competent. According to http://www.mocalliance.com, the Internet was designed for data not video and that's why they need to install their own old-style cumbersome coax in my house. And yet they use it to run the same Internet protocols – huh?

A more realistic explanation is that they must control the network in order to assure that change is managed. While the network in my house went from modem speeds in the early 1990's to gigabit speeds while costing nothing to operate, DSL went from a few megabits in 1987 to a few megabits in 2007. As long as we must rely on a service provider we are assured that there will be little innovation.

By having full control they can use the most expedient solution which has the added bonus of making us entirely dependent upon them thus undermining the key dynamic that has enabled innovation. The end-to-end principle assures that we create solutions outside the network itself thus we are not dependent upon a provider's choice of services and the price demanded for using these services. Understanding how and why this works is central to understanding the nature of the Internet and the dynamic that has given us so much. It is this ability to find solutions ourselves that has enabled demand to create supply. We can choose any transport and are not limited to the high priced choices of a single service provider.

This is the essence of the hyper-growth we associated with Moore's Law.  We might fashion solutions despite broadband but, as I've explained, we can do far more if we didn't have to work so hard just to get past today's gatekeepers. Are we sacrificing our future for the sake of ringtones and some 1995 vintage HDTV??

The question is not whether or not Verizon is acting responsibly, the problem is they are in the role of gatekeeper and we know we can do much better. Broadband Policy forces us to ask "may I? Please?" while denying us the ability to create our own solutions. The tragedy is that we can do it better ourselves. But instead we ask for more of that broadband because that's the way we misspell "Internet".

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

BobF at 4:25 PM [url]:

Homeland Insecurity—911 vs the concept of the Internet

Now that I can quickly post I might as well take advantage of it to quickly respond to Senators mull new taxes to fund 911 Net upgrade. Once again we have a fundamental failure to understand the basic concepts of Internet and instead assume there is a magical thing called "telecommunications" which provides us with the one solution to all problems. I keep point out that we are confusing the conversation (communications) with the transport of bits (the tele part). The absurdity should become obvious when we try to fund an emergency response system by charging for things we call "telephone calls" shows a far deeper failure to understand. Of course today we use the telephone to request assistance but we also use the telephone for just about any conversation. It's as if we taxed dictionaries because that's where words come from. I do need to control myself – there are simply too many bad analogies like putting a 5¢ tax on email to pay for postal mail or taxing yellow point to subsidize corn farming – nonsequitars like taxing phone calls to pay for 911 are funny once you see the absurdity.

It's bad enough that the 911 system itself is an ancient relic. We would do much better if we took advantage of the basic concepts of the Internet to use a common transport for many purposes rather than focusing all emergency services on a single phone number and a single responder. The article mentions IP-enabling the system but gatewaying VoIP calls doesn't change the basic chokepoint model of 911. And, even worse is the proposal to concentrate all emergency services into a single band on the radio spectrum at about 700 Mhz!

I've written about this topic a number of times so you can look at my previous posts for more details. But it's frustrating to see the same misunderstandings arise again and again and it's worrisome that we are redoubling our efforts to implement failed ideas and leaving us more vulnerable. The big lie is that we call this "homeland security" when it leaves us so vulnerable.

BobF at 3:49 PM [url]:

Forget about it and Oyffice 2k7

I feel compelled to try out the new blogging capability in Office 2007. While the new version is pretty I'm still trying to get back to where I was – it seems as if it has more built in capabilities but it's not at all obvious how to do many of the things my way. This includes blogging – it's nice that it's easy to go to "blogger" but how do I post to http://www.frankston.com instead of http://www.satn.org.

I presume I'll get used to the new version but it's also a reminder that this is a very late stage product that is creaking along with new features bolted on the side. This becomes very apparent when I try to use Word while running Outlook. It seems as if I Word goes deaf while Outlook is polling! Putting in locks to prevent bad interactions is a way to prevent failures but it is also a sign of an architectural problem that should be addressed. But in a late stage product with many interacting elements that can be problematic.

Using Outlook also reminds me of an endemic problem in Microsoft's applications and frameworks – settings don't get saved unless you properly shutdown applications. This may have made sense in decades ago when you'd run a program to completion to accomplish a task. It doesn't make sense when you have an ongoing system with interacting applications. You don't shut down applications or even the system – they may go quiet for a while but they don't get shutdown unless you have a system failure or forced restart. And when you recover you discover many of the setting changes were lost because the applications simply don't save them until they exit.

There is no reason for this – years ago in floppy based systems there might have been some overhead in saving settings but no longer. Outlook will save an entire document in case the system crashes but it won't save a simply change to its list of favorites.

Alas, these are the kind of details that get lost when you focus on what's "important". But these details are pervasive annoyances and thus they are important to me even if they don't make the top of the feature list. It's nice to have translucency but we also need transparency – if I change a setting I want to assume it has been changed. The application makes it look as if it did my bidding but in reality it hasn't and only will if I do everything just right and nothing goes wrooonng.

The new Office is user fawning but that isn't the same as doing my bidding the way I want it. The blogging feature is an example – when you go to Microsoft site for help it lists providers but it does not provide a pointer to how to create my own server. I presume I can eventually figure it out but where is the old Microsoft that treated all users like potential and real developers?

So much more to say but for now I'll just take advantage of the features I have rather than the features I want and post this …

But the post failed … now wait, there is no diagnostic information – just a big "can't"!

OK, got it to work by recreating the account. So obviously it was something simple but apparently Word doesn't want to bother my PLH (Pretty Little Head) with enough information to solve my problem but it doesn't provide enough for other to solve it. But maybe I should be fair in recognizing that this is a feature bolted on. Why else would the messages refer to a generic provider without even telling me which. It's as bad as using "this" in error messages that seem to appear with no context – another endemic problem.

I don't want to be too negative – at least in posting blogs Word actually did what I do myself – it removed the excess formatting and just left the basic text. In fact there are many positive aspects to these features but we shouldn't let that make us forget that we need the ability to create our own solutions rather than just waiting for them to be provided to us.

Now to see how I can append these comments – will I have to repost?

Wow – it actually updated the post! Well, enough for now – gotta do other stuff …

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.