Thursday, October 30, 2008

"LCG’s new high-tech Gadget"

Just-a-Note

The Independent blog has a post on Lafayette CIO Keith Thibodaux's latest tech toy: a google gadget that encapsulates the city's webcams and traffic alerts and puts them into a neat little app that sits on a web page--ideally your browser's default home page. But you can also drop the "gadget" (a simple html/javascript program that sucks up dyanmic data from rss feeds or other standard data sources) into any web page. Like so:




Pretty neat, eh? This sort of thing is a great example of what could be done if the community were given access to some standard data structures...take rss feeds, for example. If we could get access to the traffic alerts in the form of rss feeds it would be dead easy to hack together a little google gadget to display just the ones that interest you on your igoogle homepage or webpage or draw it into your smartphone. (By dead easy I mean I could hack together an ugly version...and if I could do that almost anyone at all technically oriented could.)

At any rate this gadget is a lot of fun and is handsomely designed. I look forward to the pothole identification gadget for the iPhone and other GPS-enabled smartphones that Keith promises. (How classic a local government problem is that? You gotta smile.)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Keeping Our Children Home

Ok, Long-term readers will harken back to the day of the Fiber Fight in 05 (Gads!) and recall that a central theme of the successful campaign was "keeping our children home." The idea that building our own advanced telecom infrastructure was the best way our community could build a Lafayette that would keep the voter's children and grandchildren here was a hugely popular theme that, in my judgment, did more to win the day than technological razzle-dazzle or earnest pro-development pitches. The effective meat in all those messages is the human one: making a place in the future for our children. That's the only serious job of real adults and Lafayette took the charge seriously when it voted in fiber.

This is all recalled to mind by a message from David Isenberg (he of "the dumb network" and isenblog fame) that linked to a video of a Vermont high tech/creatives job fair aimed at keeping Vermont's kids home. He advocates LUS and the city doing something similar to that depicted in the video below. I think he's absolutely right. Take a look and see what you think.


Local Goverments in Court over Telecom Law

Louisiana's parishes and small cities are in court this week defending local property rights against what was once known as "BellSouth's Law" according to a short in Advocate. The law, passed by the state legislature, contained something for every corporation: BellSouth, now AT&T, got to ignore local property rights and get permission to build out a cable network without negotiating with the local governments that actually own and maintain the rights-of-way they want to use and the cable companies got the right to simply cancel contracts with local governments. (More coverage at LPF: on the most recent version of the law (especially); some on the first attempt in 06 which was wisely vetoed by Governor Blanco: 1, 2)

The current lawsuit (there promise to be more, Lafayette, for instance, has a separate beef) is about that latter clause–the one that lets cable companies cancel legal contracts without the permission of the local community. The state constitution expressly forbids new laws that abrogate existing contracts. The local governments are using that entrĂ©e to try and invalidate the whole law.

It'd be a good thing if they'd succeed. Moving control away from local hands and up the governmental ladder is generally a bad idea. The argument that AT&T and the cable companies use that claims that such a law would enable competition is simply wrong: competition was always possible, exclusive contracts are illegal under FEDERAL law, and NO local government would dare stand in the way of any competitor to the poltically despised cable company. From a purely practical point of view more competition usually means more business and more business means more income for local governments... So the idea that local governments would somehow want to impede competition is purest nonsense and was always meant for the rubes in the legislature. I suspect laying that claim before a judge is a mistake.

Here's to hoping that the judge shows good judgment. I'm not particularly counting on it.

Monday, October 27, 2008

"Cox to launch cellphone service" (updated)

Cox wants to be your phone company...cellular that is. (Or so says USAToday.)

There's been a real question for quite a while now as to what Cox was going to do with the (expensive) wireless bandwidth it bought in the 700 mhz band. The possibilities bandied about have ranged from advanced data services to mobile TV to, well, cellular service. That last is what Cox is leading with but makes it clear that it intends to do bits of the others:

Cox, which expects to eventually manage all aspects of its service, also will test faster 4G technologies that use the international Long Term Evolution (LTE) standard...

Cox also says that subscribers will be able to watch TV shows, and possibly full-time channels, on their handsets. The company wouldn't say what video will be available, how much consumers will pay for cellphone service, which markets will get it first, or how long it will take before it's available in all its territories.

So what does that mean in Lafayette? Well, it's pretty clear that Cox, as I've been saying for some time, is shaping up to be the Verizon of cable companies, that is: the company which is willing to invest real money in an intelligent long-term vision. Moving into the wireless space is smart and a will be a real challenge to LUS and the community's new network. I do think an even smarter play for Cox, especially in Lafayette but everywhere, would have been to emphasize data and go with broad, open data structures like WiMax rather than tie themselves to a one wing of a narrow, cell-industry standard (LTE). Data is where the future is and flexibility is the key to success in the long run. Cox is apparently still locked in to their "old-world" mentality of providing "services" rather than access or communications. If they push much video at all over their wireless connection they will eat up bandwidth with proprietary, costly-to-consumer content. The cable model...in a world where they are competing against any real data-driven competitors it is a model with limited life. (And in Lafayette, though in few other places currently, they will have a data-driven competitor.)

Wireless services will enable integration with Cox's other phone and video services; in addition to watching some TV shows on their mobile phone:
..subscribers will be able to use the phones to program home DVRs. They'll also be able to access e-mail and voice mail that they receive at home.
Network integration is the holy grail of modern networking. It increases overall usages and tends to lock consumers into your product line. (Oh, and real people find it useful.) Just how that integration is accomplished is the question: via proprietary pipelined services or via open networkable data standards. Cox is going with proprietary services, as one would expect given their history and DNA.

LUS and Lafayette will also, readers will recall, have a wireless play. In Lafayette that will be a wifi network hung off the fiber and made available to all who purchase network connectivity from the new division. Current testing shows the wifi network pushing high bandwidth--in the neighborhood of 10 megs. That's a lot of bandwidth, more than enough for 2-way video at mobile device resolutions for instance, and there's no reason it couldn't be more. LUS' play will be a pure data play, the basic internet protocols will be the hook on which the whole thing will be hung. As such it will be robust, flexible, and adapative. LUS has been pretty coy on just when this will officially launch and how much additional (if any) it will cost. Getting that sort of information along with what protocols the new network will support in terms of infrastructure will be crucial to encouraging development for the new fiber-n-wireless network we'll be seeing in Lafayette.

All very interesting.

Update: Mike passes on the URL to a Light Reading article on Cox's wireless ambitions in light of the recent announcement. If you're interested in the topic it shows the signs of being written by a reporter with real background knowledge; understanding what other cable companies are doing and what the history of wireless moves has been in the cable world...worth the click.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

App-Rising on CampFiber

Mea Culpa, folks: I've fallen far behind in my posting. One thing I must get to soon is some reflections on Saturday's CampFiber. It was both invigorating and informative—"in" in the best sense.

Happily, Geoff Daily over at App-Rising has had a series of commments trying to come to grips with the event. (1,2,3) His last post, though, comes really close to hitting it on the head. Geoff's long been an advoate of Big Broadband and has recently refocused on the idea that filling the big pipe is a "problem." Discussion at CampFiber has had the effect of making him rethink that basic question once again:
...one of the more interesting takeaways I got from CampFiber. It made me realize that the goal isn't filling up the pipe, it's figuring out how not having to worry about capacity constraints can free the minds of developers to worry less about compression and squeezing things down and more about the functionality, usability, and overall impact of their apps on improving society.
That comes very close, IMHO: Big Broadband is all about, or should be all about, destroying the constraints we currently suffer under—reconfiguring the playing field to make it more radically generative. A big fiber pipe is only a precondition and enabler for the fuller transformation. A necessary precondition, without any doubt, but a waystation on the path, not the final end in itself.

The next steps really need to be aimed not at filling a pipe or spending X amount of dollars to generate some mythical "killer app" but to increase the numbers of people that are participating and dramatically enhance the utility of the network for them. We've got a big leg up here in Lafayette on that score and it is not surprising that Lafayette developers immediately focused on some issues that initially surprised Geoff: the settop box and mobile computing....the big pipe is already accepted as a done deal here in the city. We will have that. We trust LUS to follow through. We trust LUS to lower the cost as much as possible so as to build usage in the most obvious way. Onto: "Next problem." And the next problem is expanding the user base and expanding the range of things that can be done over the network: Set top box and wireless. Penetration and ubiquity.

We're shockingly far down the road. But we need to recognize just how far out front we are least we squander our lead by imitating those who won't really catch up for a decade.

But more on this in my next post..........I promise.

Friday, October 03, 2008

CampFiber: Tomorrow!

CampFiber, the informal-but-organized meeting that will explore what we do with all the bandwidth that is coming to Lafayette when LUS launches the fiber network, will start tomorrow, Saturday the fourth of October. Be there or be square! This meeting (with more promised) will focus on discussions with and between local developers. Developers will present their ideas with the intention of soliciting input and collaboration from their peers and folks from education and community media (and any others that come!—Registration is open.) will push the developer community to meet some of their unmet needs.

As readers may recall I've promoted CampFiber on these pages before. Geoff Daily, the national blogger on big broadband issues who has chronicled and promoted much of Lafayette's recent developments, organized the event with the help of local worthies like Terry Huval (LUS) and Abigail Ransonet (Abacus). They have put together an event help push the community toward finding uses for all that fiber-based bandwidth.

Geoff recently sent out an email describing the late lineup for tomorrow's meeting. Extracts from the letter:
  • We're opening the doors at 8:30am on Saturday and will kick off at 9am with remarks from Mayor Durel.
  • CampFiber will be held in the media room at the Travis Technology Center at 110 Travis St. If you have any trouble finding it, call me at 202-834-0121.
  • If you know of anyone who's not on this email list but should be attending, please forward them this email and encourage them to come. The more the merrier!
  • We've got 5 people signed up to do presentations so far:
    • David Goodwyn showing of his Emmersive Training app
    • Aaron Lozier showing off a project management app that blends the web and desktop experiences
    • Eric Credeur discussing what excites him about virtualization and in-network app delivery through Abacus
    • Matt Turland discussing the evolution of standards and apps for web services in high bandwidth environments
    • Geoff Daily discussing the need to focus on usability when creating apps for the masses
  • If there's a discussion you want to lead or app you want to show off, either that you've built yourself or just that you think is cool, please come prepared to do so. These are informal discussions so no need for big Powerpoint presentations, it's more about sharing information and ideas. If you can please notify me of your interest, but also know that if you come with something to talk about we'll be able to find time to do so.
  • Also, we're going to attempt to webcast this CampFiber. I don't yet have the link for people to go to to watch, but I'll be posting it through Twitter, on our wiki, and on my site App-Rising.com as soon as we do. Once we get that together please feel encouraged to share it with whoever might be interested but is unavailable to join us in person.
Sounds great! Please plan to attend if this seems down your alley at all.