RandomNeuronsFiring.com – now live!

I have reworked my blog so that the primary domain name is “Random Neurons Firing” (instead of the pedestrian richb-hanover.com). Same content, but a better name.

I’m also adding a new topic to those I’ve previously covered (“Software, Networking, Life”). Over the last two years, I have gone to many planning and zoning conferences to learn more about how to provide attractive housing within communities. I’ll post my notes from those conferences and workshops here. I need to note that these will be my own opinions, and not those of any public boards to which I might belong.

Feel free to share this post on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or email by clicking one of the icons below. Any opinions expressed here are solely my own, and not those of any public bodies, such as the Lyme Planning Board or the Lyme Community Development Committee, where I am/have been a member. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

Internet Identity, Nationwide Bank, and the Post Office

Dave Winer wrote about “internet identity” and that several companies were probably thinking about solving the problem. Specifically, he said:

But because money is so central to identity, it’s surprising that there isn’t a Google or Amazon of identity. Seems there’s money to be made here. An organization with physical branches everywhere, with people in them who can help with indentity (sic) problems.

This reminded me of the proposal to have US Post Offices become banks (for example, here and a zillion other places.)

The advantages:

  • There are post offices everywhere. The postal system is constitutionally mandated to be present, so it’s useful for them to have a valuable mission even as the volume of paper mail declines.
  • The “Bank of the US Post Office” could provide an ATM at each branch. You could withdraw cash without fees anywhere in the US.
  • They could provide a low cost (no cost?) saving/checking accounts for the traditionally “unbanked”, instead making people use check cashing services, payday lenders, etc. who siphon off a percentage of the transaction.
  • Postal employees have a strong ethos of caring for the transactions, and already have procedures for handling cash.
  • Post Offices are accustomed to handling critical, private matters in a timely way.

Identity management seems another valuable service that the USPS might provide.

Taxpayer-Funded Networks – all that bad?

I saw an article fretting about taxpayer-funded broadband projects in Texas Monitor. It cites a “study” by the Taxpayer Protection Alliance Foundation that purports to show a wide swath of “failed taxpayer-funded networks”.

A little research on the site led me to realize that it’s not first-rate work – outdated, incorrect information – so I left the following comment on the Texas Monitor site:

I decided to check the “Broadband Boondoggles” site to see what information they provide. First off, the copyright date on the site’s footer says 2017 – are they even updating it?

More specifically, I found that they disparage the local ECFiber.net project (in VT) of which I have personal knowledge. They state that as of January 2015 ECFiber has spent $9M to connect 1,200 subscribers (“an astounding $7,500 per customer.”)

Well, that may be true – as of that date. If they had bothered to follow up with ECFiber’s progress (https://www.ecfiber.net/history/) they would have learned:

  • As of January 2018 they have connected over 2000 customers (cost per subscriber is now roughly half that reported number)
  • They’re hampered by the pole “make ready” process by the incumbent monopoly carriers who are slow to respond. They could connect subscribers faster if the carriers would follow their legal make-ready obligations.
  • ECFiber is a private community effort, entirely funded with grants and private equity/loans, so I’m curious how they could even have filed a FOIA request.
  • They’ve now raised $23M capital (from the private markets), to reach 20,000 subscribers.
  • This gives a system-wide average cost of $1,150/subscriber – a very attractive cost.

I’m sure there are false starts and overruns for many municipal projects, but if this outdated information is typical of the remainder of the TPAF site, then I would be reluctant to accept any of its conclusions without doing my own research.

Fake News News

I went to a terrific talk at the Lyme Library earlier this week.

Randall Mikkelsen from Reuters spoke on the topic, “Fake News: What’s the Real Story?”. In it, he presented The Chart which is an analysis of popular web sites showing their bias (left, center, right) with a measure of their reliability/believability. It’s useful to check your reading habits to see if they match your expectations.

That site also has Six Flags to Identify a Conspiracy Theory Article. This is an easy way to check your reading matter to see if it’s “actual news” or just somebody writing to get you fired up. (I also included a comment – what do you think?)

How to Write Wiki Pages So People Will Read Them

So you’ve just learned something cool on a new subject, and you want to let the world know about your discovery. You go to the project’s wiki, and jot it all down. But how can you help people read what you’ve written?

When I look at pages on a wiki, I use three criteria to determine whether I want to spend the time to read a page. If I’m convinced that the page has the info I’m seeking, I’ll work hard to understand it. But if I can’t tell whether it’s any good, it’s just faster to post a query to the forum. Here are the questions I ask:

  1. Is this page for me? Does it apply to my situation?

    There are a lot of cues to whether a page “is for me”. Obviously the title/heading of the page is important. But when I’m seeking information, I’m not usually an expert in the subject. I need help to understand the topic, and I look for a description that tells what the page is about. I also look for cues to see if it’s up to date. Finally, I love a page that has an introductory section that talks about the kinds of info that I’ll find on the page.

  2. Does the author know more than I do?

    A number of factors influence this judgement. As you’re aware, there’s a huge range of knowledge level of wiki page authors – from expert to the newcomer who’s excited to document his first discovery. As I scan through a page, I’m looking for facts that confirm what I already know (proving the author has some skill), and then things that I don’t (showing they know more.) Finally, it helps to know that the author is aware of the conventions of the wiki – does it look like other wiki pages? If so, I get some comfort that the author is aware of the way other wiki pages work/look.

  3. Can I figure out what to do?

    My final question about whether a page is useful is whether I can use the information. If it’s a tutorial/howto, I want the steps clearly stated – “step 1, step 2, step 3, then you’re done” If it’s a reference page, is the information organized in a comprehensible fashion? Is it really long? Can I pick out what’s important from incidental info?

The challenge I put to every author is to organize the information in a way that presents the most frequently-sought info first, then figure out what to do with the rest. You might move sections around, or move some information onto its own separate page, coalesce it into an existing/similar wiki pages, or even create forum articles (instead of a wiki page) if the subject is rapidly evolving.

Net Neutrality – Contacting the Congress (update)

The Battle for the Net site https://www.battleforthenet.com/ no longer seems to have the telephone form(!)

But… Boing Boing does. Go to https://boingboing.net/. You’ll see a popup window with a place to enter your phone number. Click OK, and they pop up a script on-screen.

They call you, you answer, then you supply your zip code.

Then they place calls to each of your legislators (in the House and Senate), then if you have time, they call the offices of Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer, and other leaders, so you can deliver the message.

I say my name, home town, and then ask that the FCC preserve the current Title II Net Neutrality rules. The staffer who answers is gonna be busy – you might chat them up though to see if they’re getting slammed. (Mitch McConnell’s office wasn’t even answering(!))

Monopoly ISPs are a Fallacy?

Although I usually agree with him, one of my favorite bloggers, Dave Winer, recently said this:

One of the ideas circulating is that your ISP has a monopoly, owns the only way for you to get to the Internet, but that’s an old idea, it’s no longer true. Where I live the wireless vendors are just as fast as the wired ISP. The cost is still prohibitive, I still need wifi, but given an economic incentive to replace Comcast and Spectrum et al, some wireless vendor is going to step in, probably the smaller ones who aren’t yet owned by one of the big ISPs. Google could buy Sprint for example, and provide a route-around.

I wish I had the same competitive landscape that Dave enjoys. I wish this were true for the rest of the country. But the FCC’s own report from June 2016 (see page 8) shows that 58% of the country’s census blocks have 0 or 1 provider of 25/3 Mbps internet service. This seems a lot like a monopoly.

Let me tell you about the facts on the ground in my town of 1700 people in rural New Hampshire. My conversations with others in the region indicate these conditions hold in huge numbers of communities throughout much of New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine.

  • The best internet service in town is from Fairpoint. It’s possible to get DSL service to any home, but it’s still just DSL (and often very slow): they’re the only game in town.
  • There is a wireless ISP, but the hilly terrain means their service is OK (10/1 Mbps) if you can get it, but only selected areas can be served.
  • What about cable? Comcast finagled their claim to serve the entire zip code by providing service to one cluster of homes on the southern town border. They refuse to provide cable/internet service to the town center, let alone any place a mile away from there.
  • And cell service? There’s only one bar in the center of town. You can’t make a phone call, so you sure couldn’t use the cell service for data.

So our incumbent ISP (Fairpoint) has a de facto monopoly position, with no alternatives in sight.

I wish that we could rely on the entrepreneurial impetus to sweep away bad, monopolistic ISPs. But we can’t – at least not in any reasonable time frame. The incumbents have rigged the system. NH law (instituted at the behest of the incumbent providers) prevents towns and cities from bonding to create their own municipal networks.

Back to the initial point: The FCC is making rules that seem to assume that we can “just switch carriers” if we don’t like their offering. Yet they fail to provide evidence that any such competitive service exists.

I say, leave the Net Neutrality rules alone until there’s a far better competitive landscape that would allow me to shop around for an ISP that provides options I might care for.

End of the Internet? Help us prevent it!

Hat tip to Ro Khanna‏ (@RoKhanna on Twitter) for this…

A Portugal ISP (with no net neutrality constraints) appears to be charging 4.99€ (about US$5.86) per month for access to social media. And another 4.99€ for streaming video (Youtube, Netflix, etc). Oh, and another 4.99€ for streaming music. And additional charges for other kinds of network traffic. Here’s a link to their web page. which I ran through Google Translate to make it easier to read.

Telemoval page from Portuguese ISP

The FCC has proposed to end the rules that prevent ISPs from slicing and dicing up your access to the entire internet.

The FCC rules (released this week) are scheduled to be voted into effect on 14 Dec 2017.

This will be really bad for consumers. But it’ll be worse for entrepreneurs who’re not big companies (yet), and could easily be left “below any horizon”, and simply not visible to general customers.

What can I do?

John Oliver’s TV shows generated over 22 million comments on the FCC site, but they chose to disregard the public’s sentiment.

However, the Congress can tell the FCC not to issue these rules. But they need to know that people really care. The easiest way to make your voice heard is to call Congress directly. It sounds like a hassle, but it really isn’t…

The folks at Battle for the Net make it super easy. Give them your phone number, then they dial up your congressperson’s office, then ring your phone. They even give you a script to tell the staffer (who’ll probably answer the phone) and you tell them what you’re thinking. A 30-second call would be enough to let them know your thoughts.

Update: VW TDI Diesel Goodwill

A couple news items on the VW Diesel Goodwill Package:

  • I did get my 2.0L Goodwill package. It took about four weeks to arrive, and then I promptly used more than half of it on transmission service at VW. Sigh.
  • They have announced a Goodwill Package for owners of 3.0L diesel engines. That program expires on 31 July 2016 – hurry up!
  • There’s a hearing on the settlement package scheduled for 26 July 2016. If the judge approves it (highly likely), then the buyback/cash payments/other benefits will be available to TDI owners “in fall 2016.” See the announcements at vwdieselinfo.com.

VW Diesel Goodwill Package Expires Soon!

I’m one of the “lucky ones”… A “proud” owner of a 2010 VW Jetta Diesel 2.0 Liter engine. I’m afraid to look at the loss of value in the Kelley Blue Book from a year ago.

I signed up today for the Goodwill Package. As partial compensation for the loss of value and hassle, VW provides a $500 prepaid card to spend anywhere, a $500 card to use at a VW dealership, plus three years of Roadside Assistance.

So I’m going to use the cards to pay for needed repairs to the Jetta: one at my local garage that I trust, and one for (still other) repairs at the local VW dealer. Regrettably, I don’t think either card will cover all the expense 🙁

But… I guess I am sort of lucky – I just squeaked by the deadline. The expiration for the Goodwill Package is the end of this month – 30 April 2016. All you Jetta owners – get on the stick! Go to https://www.vwdieselinfo.com/goodwill_package/ and type in your VIN.