Saturday, September 29, 2007

A Little Bit of a Blog and Podcasting Sabbatical

We have a major proposal going in to the National Science Foundation and it is time to dig in and put the finishing touches on it. The proposal is due on October 11 so I will be taking a little break here.
I want to thank all of you that read my blog and I look forward to lots of posting after the 11th.
Appreciated - Gordon

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Broadband Gaming in the Sticks

I'd like to thank Karl Kapp for including my blog in his Blog Book Tour for Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning.

Karl's book takes a look at members of the "just starting to retire" baby boomer generation - highly skilled individuals who will be taking with them all of their expertise. Simultaneously, a new generation of employee (dubbed by Karl and others as "gamers") is entering the workforce with a different focus and learning style. For the first time, our workplace will experience the invasive influence of video games, Internet surfing, blogging, and podcasting. Karl's personal website is linked here, the book website is linked here and you can purchase his excellent book by following this link to Amazon.

In my blog today I take a look at broadband access and availability - critical for gamers and many of the applications Karl discusses in his book. My post is a little different than most that have been posted on the blog tour - I hope it makes sense and you can make the connections to gaming, gamers and Karl's book.

One of my passions is what I refer to as the "broadband divide" - basically the broadband "haves" and "have-nots" in the United States. In today's blog I focus on availability in some of the rural parts of my state - the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Broadband availability and affordability are critical as our online efforts in education (including gaming) move forward - whether it's bandwidth on our campuses or in our student's homes. Residential access is especially important for community colleges since most do not have dorms - students are commuting back and forth from their homes.

Let's get into some of the things going on in my state - I think you may find similar scenarios wherever you live.

When most people think of Massachusetts the first thing they think of is probably Boston and second maybe the Red Sox or New England Patriots. If you've been to Boston and the surrounding area you know, like any big city and its suburbs, it's relatively congested. The fact that it is congested is good in some ways - typically it's great for things like broadband roll out. Houses are close together with short consistent length driveways. Many of the neighborhoods are older and there are still poles carrying power telephone and cable services. It's relatively easy for providers like Verizon to come into a neighborhood and run a piece of aerial fiber down a street and then add relatively short and consistent length drops to homes on the street. As a result, people in these kinds of neighborhoods (including school kids) have lots of bandwidth available for information, education and entertainment.

Those in the more rural parts of Massachusetts (and many other areas in our country) are not so fortunate when it comes to broadband availability. Today, there are 32 towns in rural parts of Massachusetts that have no high-speed Internet, or broadband, access whatsoever. An additional 63 are under-served, with broadband access available in only some areas of the community. Many of these rural town are parts of regional school districts which can present significant problems for students living in these towns. I'll use the beautiful town of Blandford, MA as an example. Blandford is part of a regional school district that services seven towns. Blandford does not have broadband availability (no cable modem or DSL) while others do (although coverage in some of these towns is not complete). Students living in Blandford are at a "broadband disadvantage" when compared to other students that do have access.

In a podcast interview late last month, Stan McGee, Massachusetts Assistant Secretary for Policy and Planning for the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development and also Director of Wireless and Broadband Development (try to get all of that on a business card!) talks with Sharon Gillett, Commissioner of Telecommunications and Cable for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The two discuss Governor Deval Patrick’s recently announced broadband initiative.that will invest up to $25 million over five years, and will seek to make broadband available in all under-served towns in Massachusetts by 2010 and "improve conditions" in many of the under-served communities. Here's a few quotes from the show-notes:

The main elements of the plan include creating a Massachusetts Broadband Incentive Fund. And the fund will be capitalized by the issuance of a $25 million broadband bond. The fund is proposed to be managed by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, a division to be created within the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. Once this management entity is in place, we believe public-private partnership developed here can be extended to under-served regions of the Commonwealth to ensure ongoing broadband equity.
The Commonwealth’s approach will be to invest public funds into essential and long-lived broadband infrastructure assets. These include things like fibers, conduits, or towers for wireless broadband services. By investing in these assets, the Commonwealth will lower the overall cost of deployment for private providers.

Public-private initiatives have worked in some situations and failed in others - several Municipal WiFi projects come to mind off the top of my head. There have also been some successful wireless initiatives in rural areas including an AT&T implementation in Alaska I blogged about recently.

The Massachusetts initiative is referred to as "ambitious" and I'll add challenging but it is something we must do. Here's one of my favorite quotes from the podcast:

We believe that any individual or community without high-speed Internet access today is educationally and economically disadvantaged, and Governor Patrick tasked us early on to prepare a plan that would bridge the digital divide that faces all too many communities across the Commonwealth.

It's great to hear this kind of spirit and ambition and I hope it does not get bogged down in state politics. I do have concerns that $25 million may not be enough to push this to critical mass in Massachusetts. It's a start though - I look forward to the day when all of my students and their families have available and affordable broadband access in their homes.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Verizon Commits to All IP Network in Three Years

Light Reading has an interesting post titled At Age 2, Verizon FiOS Evolves. In the piece Terry Denson, Verizon Vice President of FiOS TV Content Strategy and Acquisition, says the carrier's mission isn't to have exclusive content, but a better network. The piece goes on to describe how the FIOS network will be converted to all IP over the next three years.

Today technically there is not much difference in the way the Cable companies and Verizon's FiOS deliver broadcast video to their customers but that will change as the provider networks (both Telco and Cable) migrate to all IP networks. Here's a quote from the Light Reading piece:

Cable companies and services like Verizon's FiOS send broadcast video to customers, but IPTV, in contrast, runs on a request-and-send architecture. The provider does not have to send 50 Mbit/s of bandwidth to a customer's home if his computer and TVs are off. The old cable architecture, however, is constantly feeding the home whether the consumer is there to use it or not.

IPTV works differently - it runs on a request-and-send delivery system. The consumer requests a channel and the provider delivers it. Denson is quoted in the piece as follows:

"IPTV identifies what is that one piece of content that would compel someone to switch or stay."

"If both cable and us (Verizon) have the World Cup, well then that's not going to be it. It could be Indian cricket or education. The scarcity of some content is an opportunity for us. Take the Food Network for example. Everyone knows it, but not many people watch it. But for some, it’s a key selling point."

What's driving this change? Technology and bandwidth economy of course but sometimes us technical people forget about marketing and advertising. Delivering channels using IP allows an almost infinite number of content possibilities.

Let's use an example to expand the marketing concept. I enjoy saltwater fly fishing, especially for striped bass on Cape Cod and also for snook in Florida. I'm also not a big golfer - nothing personal - I've tried and am just not very good at it! So what right? Here's another quote from Light Reading:

IPTV allows providers to know what its customers are watching. That's scary, to be sure. But it does mean that there will be no excuse for not having the most compelling content on offer -- since, after all, they "know" you.

So, based on what I watch, the provider could eventually assume that I'm not a golfer (because I don't watch golf) but I do like saltwater (not freshwater) fly fishing (not spin casting) for striped bass (not bluefish) on Cape Cod (not Long Island) and snook (not redfish) in the Clearwater, Florida (not Miami) area!

IPTV will allow providers to learn and react to what I watch by providing the kind of content I like and also react by - you got it - sending me targeted ads.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Virtual Credit Cards in Second Life

If you are a Second Life (SL) Resident buying virtual things you may have another option. Most Residents currently obtain SL currency by using their Real Life (RL) credit cards to purchase Linden Dollars, the Second Life Currency but now there's another "plastic" option.

Singapore company First Meta recently launched the MetaCard that members can use in SL to make purchases in Linden Dollars. A standard MetaCard gets you a L$5,000 (read that as 50 thousand Linden dollars) monthly limit which is around $19 U.S. If you are a big spender you can also get a Gold MetaCard with a L$10,000 monthly limit. Both cards carry a L$300 monthly fee that is waived if you spend L$500 that month. The Gold card carries a standard daily percentage yield (DPY) of 0.09% and the standard card has a DPY of 0.06%. There is also a corporate card.

The September 24, 2007 edition of Business Week reported that only about 100 SL members are currently using the cards and there are approximately 140 SL merchants currently accepting them. According to Second Life insider:

It requires signing up with your RL name as well as your SL name, and for the corporate credit card a link to your RL credit card ..... Merchants will pay a fee for their credit card transactions too, just like RL credit cards.

We'll see if this concept takes off!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Book Bags and the Sony Reader

I've been meaning to weigh my daughters book bags for a while now. I've got a 16 year old in 11th grade and a 12 year old in 7th grade and each lug a stuffed bag back and forth every day to school. Here's the weigh-in results:

11th grader
Book Bag Weight = 28 lbs
Her Weight = 105 lbs
Book Bag to Weight Ratio (BBWR) = (28 lbs)/(105 lbs) =

7th Grader
Book Bag Weight = 24 lbs
Her Weight = 75 lbs


Book Bag to Weight Ratio (
BBWR) = (24 lbs)/(75 lbs) = .32

So my oldest is lugging a little over one-quarter of her weight around in her book bag and my youngest is lugging almost one-third of her weight!
In addition they are each commonly carrying one or two other books that won't fit in their bags, adding another 5-10 pounds along with a 5-6 pound violin..... imagine if they each played the tuba........

I'm not sure how you feel about this but to me it is unacceptable. We've tried talking each into roller bags but they are not very popular these days in the middle and high schools..... So - what can we do? Get our kids memberships to a local gym in the summer so they can build up their muscles for the school year? Perhaps chiropractor gift certificates for the holidays?

Sony has a better solution that I'm hoping catches on in the academic community. The Sony Reader is one-half inch thick e-book reader that weighs around 8 ounces. It holds about 80 books worth of content and has a rechargeable battery that lasts approximately 7,500 page turns. It has 64MB of internal memory and an additional memory card slot. The screen is very pleasant on the eyes, using a technology called e Ink® from E Ink Corporation. E Ink uses micro-capsules instead of the glowing LCD cells on computer screens that appear as black or white depending on the charge associated with page content. According to Sony:

"The result is a reading experience that’s similar to paper - high contrast, high resolution, viewable in direct sunlight and at a nearly 180-degree angle, and requiring no power to maintain the image."

It also displays Microsoft Word and PDF documents, blogs, newsfeeds, and JPEGs (just black and white) and plays unsecured MP3 and AAC audio files (like Mike Q and my podcasts !) through an external audio jack.

Here's an interesting video from NY1 News on the Sony Reader.

I've spent some time in the Sony Style Store playing with one and an impressed with the contrast - it has a nice text-on-paper feel that I don't get with other readers that use standard computer screens. It's small when compared to academic textbooks at 6.9” by 4.9” with a 6" screen and would probably not work well for textbooks with lots of illustrations - think biology or physics.

In it's current form factor, I think it would have limited use in the classroom but I'd love to give it a try. Sony appears to be directing marketing towards travelers at this time - I've seen a few ads in airports and airline magazines recently. Right now the cost is $279.99 and comes with 100 book's Classics titles.

In addition to Sony, there have been rumors Amazon has their own e-book reader in the works, the result of the purchase of a couple of years ago.

I'd love to see these kinds of products directed towards the academic market so my kids could both lower their BBWR!

Read Show Notes and listen to Mike Q and my latest Podcast titled Micro-blogging linked here.
Podcasts also free on iTunes.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

AT&T Looking to Close Broadband Divide with WiMax

I've written in the past and Mike Q and I have podcasted about rural areas and how the lack of broadband availability (Cable modem or DSL) can handicap residents including students. WiMax is one of the more promising technologies that can help solve this problem and it looks like AT&T is moving in this direction. The company launched a trial with their Alascom subsidiary in Juneau, Alaska where customers can purchase WiMax service starting at $19.95 a month. Alascom is using Alvarion IEEE 802.16e-based WiMAX equipment to provide speeds up to 1Mbps symmetrical. According to an Alascom press release:

"AT&T Alascom is fully committed to deliver the benefits of broadband Internet service as widely as possible," said Mike Felix, president of AT&T Alascom. "Our deployment of WiMAX-based high speed Internet service in Juneau is the result of years of research into new-generation broadband technologies that are well-suited for deployment in challenging environments such as Alaska. Today, those efforts enable us to deliver a compelling new broadband choice for thousands of Alaskans, including many who have previously not had access to high speed Internet service."

The press release concludes:

"Outside Alaska, AT&T will evaluate opportunities to deploy fixed wireless technologies in other areas of the country based on customer needs and the results of its existing deployments."

DSL Reports Monday quoted anonymous sources saying the company will likely be rolling this out in some areas in the lower 48 - specifically the south:

"AT&T's limited spectrum holdings could make it hard for the operator to take on serious deployment outside of the South"

"Spectrum will also be an issue for AT&T if it wants to deploy outside the South. The 22 2.3 Ghz licenses that it holds come from the BellSouth merger and only cover some of the Southern markets that operator provided service in. AT&T sold off its remaining 2.5 Ghz licenses to Clearwire LLC earlier this year."

I've written about the Sprint/Clearwire WiMax initiative which is directed towards mobile devices (hand held computers, phones, PDAs, etc). This AT&T project appears to be directed as a residential and business broadband alternative - exactly the kind of technology we need to start closing the broadband divide in the U.S.

Read Show Notes and listen to Mike Q and my latest Podcast titled Micro-blogging linked here.
Podcasts also free on iTunes.

Monday, September 17, 2007

New England Patriots Jamming Wireless Frequencies?

Born and raised here I'm pretty much a die-hard New England sports team fan - Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins and Patriots. I've read the reports and listed to the commentary on national TV and a lot of the local radio stations. I found it a little hard to believe the Patriots would break a rule the way they did but it sounds like they did. If you haven't heard the news - here's how I understand it.

Apparently the Patriots had a camera guy taping the defensive coaches as they sent signals out to the team on the field. After each signal recording the guy would pan the camera up to the scoreboard to show the down and yardage. From what I've read the team could then take this after the game and synch up the signals with the down and yardage information. This would potentially allow the Patriots to determining which plays the Jets would run in different situations the next time they play each other.

I'm not sure how much sense this makes - the two teams don't play again until December 16. You would think by then the Jets will have changed their signals in fear of someone over the course of the season figuring out their signals. It only makes sense to mix things up.

Last night, while watching NBC’s Football Night in America before the Patriots played the Chargers I watched the Bob Costas interview with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Goodell had some interesting quotes for Costas - here's a couple taken from a New York Times piece:

“I’ve notified the Patriots that if there’s information that I’ve not been made aware of, or if it’s inconsistent with what I’ve been told, I will revisit” the decision, he told Bob Costas on NBC’s “Football Night in America,” which preceded last night’s San Diego-New England game."

"He said the league was monitoring all the radio frequencies assigned to teams to determine if they were being used properly. NBC showed a crew of frequency coordinators working behind the Patriots’ desk last night."

Why are they monitoring frequencies? Here's more from the Times article:

"Earlier in the day, “Fox N.F.L. Sunday,” which showed a copy of the Patriots’ video that the league confiscated, and CBS’s “The N.F.L. Today” reported that the league may investigate the Patriots’ use of audio receivers to interfere with the Jets’ quarterback-to-coach communications."

"NBC reported that the Patriots might have wired linemen to pick up the Jets’ offensive audibles."

Quarterbacks have been wearing headsets for a while now and I've always wondered if any teams had tried to jam or tap other teams wireless communications. Jamming comes to mind every time I hear a referee try to make a call when his transmitter does not work.

I'm not sure how frequencies are allocated during games but they must be secret. I'm also assuming any communications would be encrypted so listening in could be difficult. It would not be too hard to jam though if you think about it. You are given your frequency and just jam all of the others in the frequency range being used. When it comes to a referee making a call the jammer could temporarily turn the jamming transmitter off.

Looking back on a prior game it would be difficult to prove any kind of jamming of frequencies after the fact unless someone squealed. However, you can bet the NFL will be doing extensive real-time frequency monitoring (and recording) from this point forward.

I'm still a Patriots fan.

Read Show Notes and listen to Mike Q and my latest Podcast titled Micro-blogging linked here.
Podcasts also free on iTunes.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

One Laptop Per Child Project Update

One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), the organization creating an inexpensive computer for international school children that spun out of Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab, released an announcement on Friday about the project. The $100 goal per computer looks like it will not happen, at least for now. The Friday announcement states that the devices will actually cost $188 when they go into the production phase this fall. This is $12 more than an earlier projected price of $176. In addition, OLPC is now describing the $100 price tag as a "long-term goal".

I've written about the OLPC project and laptops in the past - MIT Media Lab founder and Chairman Emeritus Nicholas Negroponte was originally involved in this project and it has continued to be linked to the lab. Here's a video of John Maeda , associate director of the MIT Media Lab. At the lab John also leads the Physical Language Workshop.

OLPC has coined these device as "XO" model computers that use a child friendly version of the Linux based open source operating system, built in low-power wireless networking, a display that can easily be seen in the day, a speaker and microphone and a pull cord for hand recharging. You may recall earlier prototypes had a hand crank for recharging. The first ones are being made by Quanta Computer, a Taiwanese computer manufacturer.

One of the fundamental concepts of this project is to get computers into as many students hands as possible and let them tinker with them in an effort to stimulate and enhance creativity, like many of the educational toys many of us have bought for our children. Cost is critical and even though $188 per computer is still relatively inexpensive, each dollar cost increase is significant. After being given an initial cost estimate of $100, a $188 price tag may prevent some countries from signing on to the project with OLPC.

Associated Press technology writer Brian Bergstein wrote on Friday:

OLPC says it has commitments for at least 3 million of its rugged "XO" computers, though it won't disclose which countries are first in line. Among the nations that have shown interest are Brazil, Libya, Thailand and Uruguay.

Read Show Notes and listen to Mike Q and my latest Podcast titled Micro-blogging linked here.
Podcasts also free on iTunes.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The TENORI-ON - a New Digital Music Performance Instrument

Yamaha has been working with Toshio Iwai (岩井 俊 雄), a Japanese interactive media artist, to develop a new digital music instrument called the TENORI-ON.

You may not have heard of Toshio Iwai but in other parts of the world have. He's created a number of successful commercial video games and has worked in television, music performance, museum design and digital musical instrument design. According to a bio linked here:

He became a cult figure in Japan with his computer generated virtual sets for the science news show Einstein TV(1990-91) and his virtual sets and characters for the immensely popular daily interactive children's show for Fuji Television, UgoUgo Lhuga(1992-94).

If you've
been to the Exploratorium in San Francisco you may remember Iwai's Well of Lights and Music Insects pieces that are housed there in the permanent collection.

The Yamaha website describes the TENORI-ON as...

"...a 16x16 matrix of LED switches that allow anyone to play music intuitively, creating a "visible music" interface. The TENORI-ON is simultaneously both a performance input controller and display. By operating and interacting with the LED buttons and the light they produce you gain access to the TENORI-ON's numerous performance capabilities."

Here's a TENORI-ON product demo video posted on YouTube.

WOW - impressive - the first thing that came to my mind are the potential apps/hacks - should be very interesting.

The TENORI-ON is scheduled to go on sale in the U.K. next month.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Online Video Viewers Growing

From a Telecommunication Industry News Feed:

According to a Study titled Digital Content Unleashed by ABI Research close to 50% of U.S. consumers are watching some kind of video on their personal computers.

Streaming online content is now the most popular form of PC video, with 72% of viewers watching movies in their web browsers, versus only 65% who use their computers to watch DVDs.

The number of viewers who have used a computer to receive pay-TV services, delivered over carrier networks, meanwhile, stands at just 7.1%. This suggests that although subscription web TV has gained some ground in recent years, the overall number of users tuning in is still relatively low.

It looks like it's time to reconsider the production of DVD's - a popular way for some to market things like academic programs and move the content directly to the web. One way to do this would be to setup a free YouTube channel and post video content there.

We've had our National Center for Telecommunications Technologies (NCTT) channel up for a while and are just starting to populate it. Here's the first part of Karl Kapp's keynote presentation at our July Conference in Marlboro, MA.

You can see our channel and other content here: Keep your eyes on it as we post!

Read Show Notes and listen to Mike Q and my latest Podcast titled iPod touch Overview and Impressions linked here.
Podcasts also free on iTunes.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Analog to Digital Mandated Conversion

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is meeting on September 18 to discuss the analog to digital conversion scheduled to go into effect on February 18, 2009. There has been a lot of discussion, disagreement and concern by the FCC, broadcasters, cable operators and industry organizations over this mandated conversion.

Current television signals are delivered in both analog and digital formats but on February 18, 2009, broadcasters will be required by the FCC to drop the analog signals. As a result, people that have analog TV sets and receive signals over the air will have to purchase a digital to analog converter box to continue to use their analog televisions. Cable providers will have the option of converting feeds from digital to analog at cable headends or delivering digital signals to analog TV customers who would use a set top box to convert the digital signals to analog.

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) launched a huge $200 million ad campaign last week basically telling customers they will not be charged for converter boxes or be forced into purchasing more expensive digital service. The NCTA is claiming the FCC is violating industry and consumer civil rights by mandating the change. The NCTA prefers the transition be managed over time by the cable operators and not have an FCC mandated conversion date. The NCTA ads have not been posted on YouTube yet but you can watch them here.

We'll see what happens at the FCC next week.

Read Show Notes and listen to Mike Q and my latest Podcast titled iPod touch Overview and Impressions linked here.
Podcasts also free on iTunes.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Join Us in California at the NCTT Winter Conference

Our 2008 Winter Conference Call for Presentations and Demonstrations is out and we welcome your presentations! Below is the program announcement. Contact myself ( ) or Scott St Onge ( ) or call (413) 755-6550 with any questions. Special thanks to our host - Ann Beheler and Orange Coast College!

National Center for Telecommunications Technologies (NCTT) will conduct its ICT / Convergence Winter Conference at Orange Coast College, Costa Mesa, CA, January 4 - 5, 2008. In awarding grants to the National Center for Telecommunications Technologies (NCTT) and its national network of regional partners, the National Science Foundation has recognized the importance of ICT* (Information and Communications Technologies) and Convergence Technologies to the U.S. economy and its critical role in maintaining global competitiveness. NCTT is leading this national effort to build a pool of knowledgeable and competent technicians to implement, manage and maintain state-of-the-art ICT* systems.

This call for presentations and demonstrations is an effort to showcase best practices, innovation and exemplary work in ICT* and Convergence Technology education, as well as new and emerging technologies. This solicitation seeks to bring together the best and brightest ICT and Convergence Technology educators from around the country to share their educational and technical expertise with like-minded educators and professionals.

We encourage submission of presentations and demonstrations from all facets of ICT*, including enterprise ICT, hands-on ICT labs, classroom application of ICT* in another discipline (biology, business, astronomy), an ICT* enabled industry (biotech, nanotech, supercomputing), emerging or converging technologies, classroom instruction issues and innovations in recruitment and retention. All ideas are welcome! Please take this opportunity to share your ICT* expertise with peers from around the country.

Proposed presentations should be one or two 45-minute segments and include required laboratory, classroom space and audio/visual support. Presentations may be informational/lecture-based, however presenters are strongly encouraged to include interactive, hands-on or lab elements. Hands-on presentations should be 2 segments (90 minutes) to maximize participation.

To submit a presentation proposal, please complete the form at by November 25, 2007. Presenters selected will be notified by December 10, 2007. If you have any questions about appropriate topics or technical content, please email NCTT ( ) or call (413) 755-6550. There is no fee for registering for this workshop.

* INFORMATION & COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGIES (ICT) is a recognized international term for converging voice, video, data, & computer networking communications technologies.
  • Participate in hands-on sessions.
  • Learn the technology your students need.
  • Get materials you can use in the classroom now.
  • Network with faculty from around the United States.
We look forward to seeing you there!

Read Show Notes and listen to Mike Q and my latest Podcast titled iPod touch Overview and Impressions linked here.
Podcasts also free on iTunes.

Friday, September 7, 2007

One Way to Get Out of a Cell Phone Contract

Suzanne Barlyn has an interesting piece in the online version of Wall Street Journal titled How to Dump a Cell Phone Contract. Here's a quote that gets directly to the solution:

...some consumers are now avoiding early-termination fees by relying on a common loophole in many cellphone contracts that allows transferring the remaining term to a third party whom the carrier approves through a credit check.

If you want to terminate a contract with most carriers in the United States you are faced with at least a $150 termination fee. However, if the contract is transferred to a third party, there is no early-termination penalty fee. If you can find somebody to take over your contract you are cell phone contract free!

A number of websites have been setup for cell phone contract transfer. Pay sites reviewed by Suzanne were:, which provides free listing with photo. If you do sell, charges an $18.95 transfer service fee. You also have the option of paying $14.95 up-front for something they call "Power Poster" which provides featured placement and then waives the transfer service fee when you do find someone to pickup your contract. also provides free listing with photo. They get a one time $19.99 fee that allows the seller to access messages from buyers.

Both of these pay sites provided nice user interfaces for both sellers and buyers. Free sites reviewed by Suzanne were:, which allows free advertising with photos. also allows free advertising with photos.

At first I thought sure, it makes sense for someone to want to unload a cell phone and contract but why would someone want to get someones old phone and assume somebodies contract? After looking at the different sites and thinking about it it does make some sense. People can pickup short term contracts with no activation fees and a free phone. In addition sellers often sweeten the pot by adding things like extra chargers and even cash.

I've been asked for termination advice by several students (and a few faculty!) over the past few years that were locked in to contracts they said they really could not afford. The next time I have this kind of conversation I'll be sure to suggest taking a look at these sites.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Micro-Blogging with Twitter

You may have noticed my Twitter Micro-Blog over to the left hand side of the page. Mike Q wrote a blog titled Twitter, Pownce and Jaiku: The Birth of Micro-blogging a couple of months ago that sparked my interest. Mike had an interesting quote in his blog:

"I'm not sure I understand the attraction of these sites - maybe it's generational, but they're very popular and seem to be addictive."

I remember reading it and nodding my head thinking he's right - who's going to do that? Well..... I've started and have found it to be "addictive".

Wikipedia defines micro-blogging as:

"a form of blogging that allows users to write brief text updates (usually less than 200 characters) and publish them, either to be viewed by anyone or by a restricted group which can be chosen by the user. These messages can be submitted by a variety of means, including text messaging, instant messaging, email, MP3 or the web."

I have only been micro-blogging links I find interesting so far. I have not started texting to Twitter (yet?) from my cell phone but I just might.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Getting Ourselves in Sync

A couple of days ago put up an interesting piece titled Programming Grads Meet a Skills Gap in the Real World. Here's a summary quote from the piece written by Darryl K. Taft:

"In short, many people on both sides of the equation—teachers as well as potential employers—say the educational system is not doing enough to keep pace with the ever-changing needs of IT, and that entering the work force often is as much of an educational experience as is college, particularly for programmers".

Ari Zilka, chief technology officer at Terracotta, in San Francisco, is also quoted in the piece, saying he understands the skills gap after having worked his way in the high-tech industry, while attending the University of California, Berkeley. According to Zilka:

"I found that UC Berkeley had an excellent curriculum but not only was my schooling lagging behind work, it became very hard to even go to school because work had me learning the concepts and their applicability and nuances that teachers didn't even seem to know."

The eWeek piece goes on:

"Zilka noted that many of the new hires he's seen during his career continue to echo the same sentiments as he did".

"Some of the things the school didn't teach Zilka and many who are now entering the work force include issues around communication, development skills, and business and product design.

On the communication front, Zilka said, "Presentation skills are critical, and selling and influencing peers is critical."

"Some of the development skills that schools might emphasize more include design patterns, coding style and practices, scalability and performance tuning, and a focus on the entire software development lifecycle, Zilka said. He noted that things like quality assurance, unit testing, and stage and release are not usually taught".

The piece continues with more comments on the skills gap from faculty at Texas A&M, Carnegie Mellon and Monroe College. Most are in agreement and generally comment that programs are changing to close the gap.

Chris Stephenson, executive director of the Computer Science Teachers Association, in New York, has an excellent quote:

".....but what is really exciting is that I have seen more and more educators (both at the K-12 level and the university level) willing to make these skills part of their curriculum."

Stephenson goes on, believing that subjects like Computer Science should no longer be taught as an "isolated discipline":

"There is little effort made to address issues such as effective team work, project planning and time management, and conflict resolution let alone helping students gain the cultural competencies and effective communication skills that are the key to success in a global economy,"

"Also, not enough effort has been made to show students how computing connects to problem solving in the real world,"

"The good news, however, is that an increasing number of educators are building these skills into the classroom experience. Teachers now have students work in teams on real world projects where the failure to plan together, work together, and communicate effectively are a big part of the evaluation that the students receive."

I'll finish the quotes with one that I feel really hits the need/gap on the head from Rawn Shah, IBM developerWorks Community Programs Manager:

" development is becoming much more of a group activity, and there is a lot of sophistication to that in the industry that isn't being replicated in a smaller closed environment like a college," Shah said. "Very often, they simply can't because of the time limitations of the semester-based programs."

If you are an academic - are your students working in teams? Can they communicate effectively with their teams? Are they learning relevant information? Are they ready when they graduate for work? Are there things that you are teaching that are out of date? Are there other courses in your curriculum that could be replaced with more relevant ones? How often do you make revisions to your curriculum? How do you know what you should be teaching?

If you are a business person - how can you help? What can you do to make a difference - to assure graduates you are hiring are properly prepared?

We ask ourselves these kinds of questions daily at our National Science Foundation funded National Center for Telecommunications Technologies - if you would like to learn more feel free to drop me an email at

Read Show Notes and listen to Mike Q and my latest Podcast titled Enterprise 2.0 linked here.
Podcasts also free on iTunes.

Monday, September 3, 2007

FCC Rejects 2155-2175MHz WiFi Proposal

On Friday the Federal Communications Commission released an order dismissing a couple of WiFi applications and petitions from M2Z Networks and NetFreeUS. M2Z's FCC petition is linked here, NetFreeUS's is linked here and the FCC rejection is linked here. The companies had proposed building a network using the 2155-2175MHz frequency band.

M2Z's petition seemed to get more press - let's take a look at it. M2Z proposed ad-supported "free" wireless Internet access at 384 Kbps downstream and 128 Kbps upstream.

[Most consumer Internet services provide more downstream (coming to you) bandwidth because the majority of traffic is coming downstream to you. Think about the way you "surf" - a short address typed in browser menu bar goes upstream to server and the then server sends an entire page of website content to you downstream. For this reason these kinds of services are referred to as "asymmetrical" - in fact the "A" in ADSL is short for "Asymmetrical".]

If you wanted more bandwidth or did not want the filters, M2Z proposed an upgrade to a 3 Mbps premium service for an unspecified cost. In return for use of the spectrum, both companies had proposed giving a percentage of revenue to the U.S. government. These petitions had been sitting at the FCC for a while with M2Z's at the FCC for over 16 months.

The FCC rejection document is interesting - it is good to see the level of attention and detail in it from the FCC. According to

The FCC said it wasn't persuaded that allowing a single company to control the slice of spectrum without first seeking broader comment on how the band should be used would serve the public interest. The regulators concluded that it's preferable to conduct their usual rule-making process to set parameters for the spectrum's use--a move that would begin "shortly," they said.

"Many have suggested that we should auction this spectrum, while still others suggest that due to the high demand for this spectrum we should consider unlicensed use of the band," FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said in a statement. "Each of these proposals has merit, and consideration of either would be inappropriately foreclosed by granting forbearance in this instance."

Regulators commented that the proposed bandwidth was relatively "slow" [I agree - a lot has changed in 16 months and.... it continues to rapidly change] and a consolidation of public interest groups, calling themselves the Media Access Project, had come out very strongly against the M2Z and NetFreeUS petitions. The group especially had First Amendment concerns with regards to content filtering [I agree with this concern also]. Here's a link to Media Access Project's position PDF.

It is unclear what the FCC will do with this spectrum - it could be auctioned or left unlicensed. The rejected companies do have the option of appealing the FCC decision.

Read Show Notes and listen to Mike Q and my latest Podcast titled Enterprise 2.0 linked here.
Podcasts also free on iTunes.