Can’t Get Here Fast Enough

Can’t Get Here Fast Enough (reprinted from the Metro Spirit 4-24-14)

The race to a gigabit Internet is now officially underway.

For the past couple of years, Google has been building gigabit services in selected cities.  The system first went live in Kansas City in 2012, and it’s currently in development in Provo, UT and Austin, TX.  The conventional wisdom was that this was simply another Google “out-of-the-box” effort to funnel more business to its advertising services.  Given the resources of Google, the conventional Internet providers couldn’t dismiss the effort outright.  But could an advertising network make a serious attempt to provide fiber services to every house in the country?  That would seem very unlikely.

Then a couple of months ago, Google announced that the company is expanding its services to up to 34 different metropolitan areas, including communities in the Atlanta area.

I guess that was just too much to ignore.

This past week, AT&T announced that it was going to bring its fiber network to up to 100 candidate cities.  The announcement states that the fiber network will deliver broadband speeds of up to 1 Gigabit per second.  (As a very important aside, AT&T has properly included Augusta on the list of candidate cities.)  Like Google, AT&T is requesting the communities demonstrate a commitment to the services and present arguments as to why a city (like Augusta) is more deserving than another city (like Cleveland, as if that needs an explanation).

I guess that are some wondering why we would need gigabit Internet to our homes.  A number of Internet services don’t perform effectively at current cable modem speeds.  The first service that comes to mind is streaming movies.  Instead of pausing every few minutes waiting for Netflix to buffer, a high-definition movie will fully download in less than 2 minutes.

The next application that will greatly benefit is videoconferencing.  Whether you are using Skype, FaceTime or some other application, gigabit Internet allows for the higher resolutions and frame rates that are needed for a truly immersive interaction.

And, finally, let’s not forget about online gaming.  Be honest.  What wouldn’t you give for an extra split second right after you’ve figured out that you’ve become the target?

Bottom line, instead of sucking up all the household bandwidth with one app and listening to everyone whine, I can catch up on “Game of Thrones” and “Breaking Bad” while my wife does a videochat with her mom and sister in Austin and my kids play online “Minecraft” with their friends from school.

Granted, there may be more productive uses – streaming religious services to homebound individuals, participating in online college lectures, or enhancing work-at-home programs for working mothers – but don’t discount the positive impact of a calm and happy household.  As Bill Cosby once said, it’s not about the justice, it’s about the quiet.

If gigabit Internet can bring quiet, it can’t get here fast enough.

Until next time, I’m off the grid@gregory_a_baker

Something Old, Something New

Something Old, Something New (reprinted from the Metro Spirit, 4-10-14)

Something Old – On April 8, 2014, Microsoft officially ends support for its venerable flagship operating system, Windows XP, and productivity package, Office 2003.  To many, this software still defines desktop computing and provides a comforting and reliable platform to perform daily tasks.  In retrospect, though, Windows XP’s days were always numbered.  The first iPod was released a mere two-days after Windows XP, opening the path to mobile devices and forever changing how we interact with electronic devices.

While we are all sad that such a reliable and stable system has reached end of life, it’s time to move on.  Windows 7 is a great upgrade, a solid performer in its own right.  Other great alternatives are right around the corner.

Something New – Interestingly, on April 8, 2014, Microsoft also releases the newest update to its current desktop operating system.  Windows 8.1 Update provides both internal and user interface changes.  The internal changes skinnies down the operating system, allowing it to run with 1 GB RAM and 16 GB mass storage.  This change facilitates use on lower end tablet hardware.

The user interface updates continues the trend of making the operating system mouse and keyboard friendly.  The new functionality is incremental – addition of a power button, new right click behavior, new screen edge behavior – and I do find it more intuitive.  (The screen edge stuff is still difficult to use in virtual environments.)  Oh, and by the way, if you’re not using a touch screen, this update will boot directly to the desktop.  With all that, the big change is still coming.  In a future update, Microsoft will introduce a new and improved start menu.  (Yea!)

Something Borrowed – In what seemed unthinkable just a few short month’s ago, Microsoft continues to borrow business strategies from Apple and Google.  At its annual build conference, Microsoft announced changes that are nothing short of remarkable (for Microsoft, at least).  First of all, the Windows Phone operating system will be provided free to device makers for use on devices of less than nine inches.  While this move is somewhat routed in survival rather than forward thinking, the end result is very positive.  Device makers will now have a compelling and competitive alternative to Google’s Android.

More importantly (and more shocking), Microsoft released a significant portion of its .NET Development Environment as open source software.  This action marks a complete turn around from Microsoft’s 20-year battle against open source.  The thought process behind this move is simple – if you want developers to create for your platform (see Windows Phone above), then you need to make it easy for the developers to build.  The release includes a large number of .NET libraries and Microsoft’s Roslyn compiler for building C# and Visual Basic .NET executables.

Here’s the cool part.  The organization chartered to support the open source .NET includes Xamarin, a software company that specializes in building .NET applications for Andriod and iOS.  Just think – it was only a short time ago that Microsoft wouldn’t release Office for the iPad because they were afraid it would hurt tablet sales.  Now Microsoft is making all the right moves to transform into a true cloud player.

Something Blue – The IBM System/360 was announced 50-years ago this past week.  The System/360 was the leading computational platform of its day.  In its initial press release, IBM boosted the “System/360 is a single system spanning the performance range of virtually all current IBM computers.  It was developed to perform information-handling jobs encompassing all types of applications.

The entry-level system came with 8 Kbytes of RAM and performed 0.0018 MIPS (million instructions per second). The system “scaled-up” to 8 Mbytes of RAM and 0.034 MIPS, but only those with deep pockets could afford the top-of-the-line system and it’s $5.5M price tag.  (Note that’s in 1964 dollars.)

By comparison, an iPhone 5s has 64 GBytes of RAM and performs about 20,000 MIPS.  All for a very affordable $400

Until next time, I’m off the grid.  @gregory_a_baker

That’s No Moon Pie

That’s No Moon Pie (reprinted from the Metro Spirit 4-3-14)

Freshly off our celebration of PI day, and as we come to the end of PI month, I hope that you’ve taken the opportunity to ponder over PI.  PI is a magical quantity, and its importance cannot be understated.

We would be remiss, however, if we didn’t recognize that PI has its flaws.  First of all, PI originates from the analysis of a two-dimensional object.  Simply put, PI lacks depth.  We live in a world of three-dimensions.  A certain amount of volume is needed to fill up all that space.  PI cannot take us where we need to go.

We need cake.

And when I say we need cake, I’m not referring to miniatures.  Nothing against Delightful Bites or Neapolitan — we love you greatly.  But deep down, I’m old school.  Individual servings of cake come in the form of slices, not cups.   Also, 2D projections are so last millennium.  Don’t doubt that we think the Boll Weevil is awesome, but let’s face it.  No matter how many layers you add on, it’s still just a thick circle.  Cylinders are out.  The new standard is the sphere.

Actually, it’s the Spherical Concentric Layer Cake to be precise.  These amazing cakes created by self-taught cake decorator Rhiannon are featured her blog  She’s created two science-based cakes – the Earth and Jupiter.  The layers in each of these cakes illustrate the different parts of the planet’s core.  Rhiannon provides an instructional video of the process so others can attempt to recreate Mars, Europa or any of the other celestial bodies.  Of course, the concept isn’t limited to planets or moons.  I’m wondering if anyone could make me a Death Star cake for my birthday.  I can hear Obi-Wan now…

“That’s no moon pie.  It’s a cake-station.”

Wind Power (That May Actually Work)

Go ahead and let me have it if you will, but I’m not a big fan of green energy.  At least not right now.  The science behind green energy has not matured to the point where it’s economically viable.  I believe that we would be better served by putting resources into improving the efficiency and safety of conventional sources (coal, oil, nuclear) rather than forcing adoption of energy sources that just aren’t ready for prime time.

That is, except for maybe the Altaeros Energies’ Buoyant Airborne Turbine (BAT).  This platform utilizes lighter-than-air flight technology to lift a turbine to an altitude of up to 2000 feet.  At that altitude, the turbine operates in a steady, high-speed wind stream that doesn’t exist on the surface.  In addition, the platform does not depend on a fixed-base station.  The BAT can be transported to rural areas not served by infrastructure power or to areas where infrastructure power has been critically damaged (i.e., a natural disaster).  The Altaeros Energies’ website provides no power specifications for the BAT, but a typical wind turbine provides enough electricity to power approximately 500-1000 households.  In addition to power, radio equipment could be attached to the platform to provide communications over a relatively wide area.  Given the right situation, this platform would provide a great benefit for first responders or any other team that needs to operation away from civilization.

Until next time, I’m off the grid @gregory_a_baker