Sunday, December 30, 2007

My 2008 Top 12 Prediction List

2007 was a busy year and things do not look like they will slow down in 2008. Here's my personal top 12 predictions for the year in no particular order:

  1. Apple announces new 3G iPhone at MacWorld. 3G service will be switchable to conserve battery. New iPhone will also have at least internal storage with SD Card slot.
  2. First generation Google Phone will be OK but just OK as the bugs get worked out. However.......... just wait for the second generation!
  3. Patriots go undefeated and win Super Bowl - how can I resist this one?!
  4. Verizon northern states (Maine, Vermont and New Hamshire) sale to Fairpoint Communications is halted by one of the 3 states.
  5. Google wins 700 MHz spectrum auction. First Google "telephone" trucks appear on Bay area highways.
  6. Celtics win NBA championship - this one is a stretch!
  7. Verizon offers 100 Mbps symmetrical data service to FiOS customers
  8. Google Docs, Spreadsheet and Presenter webware become available offline.
  9. Microsoft goes on buying and marketing spree in an effort to keep up with Google's webware applications.
  10. Red Sox win American League pennant but are upset in the World Series.
  11. Comcast launches DOCSIS 3.0 100 Mbps data service to compete with Verizon's 100 Mbps FiOS service.
  12. Video and image search will go mainstream..... watch for my video podcast interview with Atalasoft President Bill Bither coming soon - it's been shot and is being edited now!
As much as I love hockey I'll skip the Bruins this year....... Looking at these 12 - minus the Sox, Patriots and the Celtics - the web has become the development platform of choice with high bandwidth access and availability required on any connected device......... You ain't developin' if it won't run in a web browser!

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Holidays!

I'm not sure how much I'll be posting this week - lots of relatives and eating and driving and visiting and eating and more eating!

I'm also not sure how you all celebrate but I just can't resist posting my all-time personal favorite holiday song :)

Thank you everyone for reading the past year and Happy Holidays!!!


Read Show Notes and listen to Mike Q and my latest Podcast titled Broadband the AT&T and Qwest Way linked here.
Listen directly in your web browser by clicking here.
Podcasts also free on iTunes.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Vermont Public Service Board Denies FairPoint Communications’ Planned Purchase of Verizon Landline

The Vermont Public Service Board has denied Fairpoint Communications planned purchase of Verizon landlines in the state. The $2.7 billion deal also involves the purchase of Maine and New Hampshire land lines. If one state kills the deal it is dead for all three states.

Here's a piece from the Burlington Free Press:

The Board found that FairPoint had not demonstrated that it would be financially sound as it seeks to operate the newly-acquired territories in Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire — a service territory that has five times the number of access lines as FairPoint presently has. However, the Board also explained that except for the financial risks associated with the transaction, it could approve the merger, subject to a series of conditions.

The Board did say that it was open to FairPoint submitting revisions that addressed its financial concerns.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

FCC 700 MHz Auction Update

Yesterday the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) published a list of 96 accepted and 170 incomplete applications for the upcoming 700 MHz spectrum auction. Google is by far the biggest name on the accepted list. Both AT&T and Verizon currently have a status of Incomplete but are expected to bid. Also currently on the incomplete list are cable company Cox Communications, cell phone technology company Qualcomm and oil company Chevron.

Google is probably the most interesting bidder - a couple of years ago I wrote about Google purchasing $100M of dark fiber here. At the time I was speculating on the company setting up a free national WiFi network.

Recently, I also wrote about the Google Phone.......

Let's think about this...... fiber, WiFi, phones....... Many think, if Google wins the auction, they will sub network construction out to a company experienced in building out wireless networks - examples would be a Verizon or AT&T. I'm have second thoughts and am wondering if we will be seeing telco service trucks driving around with ladders on the roof and a Google decal on the side.

All applications must be completed by January fourth to participate in the auction. A mock auction will be held on January 22 and the real auction held on January 24. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Qwest's FTTN Broadband Plan

I've spent some time blogging and podcasting Verizon's fiber to the premise (FTTP), AT&T's fiber to the node (FTTN) and Cable's DOCSIS 3.0 plans but have not had a chance to discuss what Qwest's plans are for network upgrades and higher bandwidth broadband delivery. Qwest is based in Denver and provides services to 14 states in the western part of the U.S.

Yesterday, Broadband Reports posted an interesting summary of a conference call with new (he started in August) Qwest CEO Ed Mueller. Here's a summary from the Broadband Reports post:

Qwest will spend $300 million over the next two years to bring 20Mbps VDSL to around 1.5 million customers.
- $70-100 million will be spent on FTTN this year and another $200 million next year.

Qwest hopes to see a FTTN/VDSL penetration rate of 40% by 2010.
Upgrades are going to cost the company around $175 per home. Qwest will focus on portions of around twenty un-mentioned markets.

The Denver Post also published an article yesterday outlining the call and indicated the company will not focus on IP video delivery, stating "the $300 million fiber-to-the-node project is not intended as a deployment of IPTV." Qwest currently has a video agreement with DirectTV and it looks like that agreement will stay in place.

The Post article gave a little more detail on deployment, stating the rollout "will focus on 20 markets with the project, 10 of its largest and 10 others." Also according to the article, Qwest has started to upgrade their network in Denver and Colorado Springs.

Second generation VDSL (Very High Speed Digital Subscriber Line), referred to as VDSL2, provides up to 100Mbps over standard copper telephone wires.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Closing the Digital Divide: Vermont's e-State Initiative

On a recent trip to Vermont, while scanning FM radio somewhere near Bellows Falls, I came across an interview with Lieutenant Governor, Brian Dubie. In the interview he described an integrated mobile satellite and terrestrial communications pilot project Vermont is involved with in partnership with TerreStar Networks. This partnership is in response to Vermont Governor Jim Douglas' e-State Initiative to provide universal cellular and broadband coverage everywhere and anywhere within Vermont’s borders.

If you've been to Vermont you know it is rural - basically lots of mountains with homes and businesses spread out across the state. Cell service is poor in many areas along with broadband availability.

The TerreStar Networks project will be an interesting pilot that should provide broadband speeds to even the most rural areas of Vermont. Here's a piece from the company website:

The company's first satellite, TerreStar-I, currently under construction by Space Systems/Loral, will be the world's largest and most powerful commercial satellite ever deployed. With an antenna almost 60 feet across, and up to 500 dynamically-configurable spot beams, TerreStar-I will surpass current satellites in terms of signal sensitivity and the number of spot beams it can generate.

The satellite's powerful antenna will enable TerreStar to deliver services over a broad range of commercially available consumer-style wireless devices utilizing existing commercial chip technology including cell phones, PDAs, laptops and legacy devices such as Land Mobile Radios (LMRs)-effectively outdating bulky and cumbersome satellite phones.

The system will be fourth-generation wireless (4G) all Internet Protocol (IP) based and use two 10-Mhz blocks of contiguous spectrum in the 2 GHz band. TerreStar Networks says the spectrum footprint will cover almost 330 million people across the United States and Canada. TerreStar Networks currently has a Launch on Demand contract with Arianespace that commenced last month (November 2007). The contract includes two additional launch options which TerreStar Networks could use to cover other parts of the world.

According to Brian Dubie, the Vermont pilot project will not require state funds and, once in place, the network will be available for all voice and data service providers currently operating in Vermont, as well as new providers.

If all proceeds on schedule, Vermonters could have access by late 2008 or early 2009.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Going Green: Happy 60th Birthday to the Transistor

On December 16, 1947, William Shockley, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain demonstrated the "transistor effect" at Bell Labs, launching us into the modern solid-state electronics, semiconductor and computer world. The three would go on to win the 1956 Noble Prize in Physics for their invention.

Prior to transistors, computers were made with thousands of vacuum tubes and were huge energy consuming devices. According to In the late 1940's, big computers were built with over 10,000 vacuum tubes and occupied over 93 square meters of space. Transistors replaced these vacuum tubes which leaked, burned out and consumed huge amounts of power.

Over the years, engineers and scientists have figured out how to make electronic devices smaller, lighter and less power hungry using transistors. They've been around for a long time and we tend to forget or take for granted their significance - transistors are the building blocks for "green" (and all other) electronics based technologies. Happy Birthday!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Curt Schilling: Red Sox Pitcher, Roll Playing Game Developer and Academic Challenger

Red Sox pitcher and 38 Pitches blogger Curt Schilling has launched a gaming company in Maynard, Massachusetts called 38 Studios. If you are not a baseball fan - 38 is Curt's uniform number.

The company was started last year and currently has 45 employees. Schilling has funded the company to this point with his own money but in January will announce a second round of funding from "strategic partners" (perhaps with some Red Sox teammates?)

He's brought in some big names from the animation and fantasy business - here's a piece from the 38 Studios website:

38 Studios' first products will feature the artistic vision of world-renowned comic book and toy creator Todd McFarlane ( ) and best-selling fantasy author R. A. Salvatore ( ). To bring this epic world to life, 38 Studios employs skilled and dedicated artists, programmers, designers, writers, and others drawn from the world’s most successful game and entertainment companies, all of whom join 38 Studios with the common goal of creating a most unique entertainment company.

Yesterday, 38 Studios announced an interesting game challenge where teams of 2-3 students from New England area colleges will submit ready to play games they've developed. The development platform/game engine is at the discretion of the team and each submission must include the participant created game source code.

According to the 38 Studios contest website, teams will be judged on the following criteria: degree of overall finished product; originality; visual polish; stability; length of quality game play; and expanded market vision and product strategy.

New England Cable News has a great video interview of Curt describing 38 Studios and the contest linked here.

The first place team wins $3,000, second place $2,000 and third place $1,000.

An exciting opportunity for New England students, the deadline for submissions is February 18, 2008 and winners will be announced on or before April 21, 2008. If interested, be sure to go to the 38 Studios website and download the complete set of contest rules. Go Sox!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Going Green: Vampire Devices and Zigbee

The xchange magazine article titled Telecom's 40 Shades of Green that I referenced on Wednesday includes a small section on "vampire devices". Vampire devices (also referred to as parasitic devices) do not have off switches and include products like DVD players, recorders and game systems. Have you ever walked around your house at night, counted the number of LEDs glowing in the dark and thought about the amount of power they were sucking up? Wouldn't it be great if you could turn some of them off and save a little power? It may not be just a "little power" - the U.S. Department of Energy estimates 5% of all electricity used in the U.S. is consumed by devices in standby mode and predicts this will increase to 20% by 2010!

One technology that has some energy saving potential is Zigbee. Zigbee is a Wireless Personal Area Network (WPAN) technology based on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers(IEEE) 802.15 specification. Zigbee operates at 868 MHz, 902-928 MHz, and 2.4 GHz and allows devices to communicate up to around 50 meters away at up to 250 Kbps. Zigbee was designed to maximize power - battery powered devices using Zigbee can sleep for hours or days. According to the Zigbee Alliance, ZigBee is the only wireless standards-based technology:

- that addresses the unique needs of remote monitoring & control, and sensory network applications.
- that enables broad-based deployment of wireless networks with low cost, low power solutions.

- that provides the ability to run for years on inexpensive primary batteries for a typical monitoring application.

The ZigBee 1.0 specification was ratified in December 2004 and we are starting to see Zigbee products come to market. Greenswitch, a wireless energy control system company, has a good video clip from Ed Begley, Jr's show Living with Ed posted here. In the clip Ed describes how the Greenswitch's Zigbee system can be used to control light switches, wall sockets, air conditioning, heating, etc systems. You'll also find 6 short videos on the Greenswitch site describing a step by step home Zigbee system installation.

Update, 12/18/07:
Mike Q sent along a link to a great Vampire Energy diagram that estimates how much energy is being comsumed by common devices when they are in standby mode. Here's the link:

Thanks Mike!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

w00t: Merriam-Webster's 2007 Word of the Year

Merriam-Webster has announced w00t (spelled w-zero-zero-t) as the word of the year for 2007. Selection is based on visitor votes to the Merriam-Webster web site. With a mix of letters and numbers - is w00t really a word? Here's Merriam-Websters definition:

w00t (interjection)
expressing joy (it could be after a triumph, or for no reason at all); similar in use to the word "yay"

According to Merriam-Webster, the word is part of what gamers refer to as l33t ("leet," or "elite") speak. Check out this link on the Merriam-Webster site to read the full press release and see the top ten vote getters. I can't wait to show this one to my retired english teacher mom!

Going Green: Metcalfe's Law and the Enernet

Bob Metcalfe, the inventor of Ethernet, founder of 3Com and now with Polaris Venture Partners is interviewed by Tara Seals in the December 2007 issue of xchange magazine in an excellent article titled Telecom's 40 Shades of Green. In the article Metcalfe describes what he calls the Enernet, a standardized, networked web for the distribution of energy, much as the Internet distributes information.

Seals refers to Metcalfe’s Law in the article, which Metcalfe first used to describe Ethernet systems, and discusses how it applies to alternative energy systems using sources like solar, wind or bio-fuel. Here's a quote from the article describing Metcalfe's law:

Metcalfe’s Law says that the value of a telecom network is proportional to the square of the number of users of the system; the more distributed users there are on the system, the greater the value of the network and of those endpoints themselves. In other words, it describes a blueprint for an explosion of growth, and explains many networking phenomena we have today, from the Web to social networking. Standards+Metcalfe’s Law = efficient, sustainable, viral, organic networking growth.

Solis Energy is mentioned early in the article - you've probably seen Solis or Solis-like solar generators driving along highways or along airport runways. The companies Solar Power Plant (SPP) series are designed for low wattage telecommunications devices like wireless access points, cameras and security systems. Equipment can be powered directly by 12, 24 or 48 volts DC, by Power over Ethernet (POE) or inverter supplied AC. The company claims, with the right product selection, continuous power for 7 days without sunlight. There are also Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) modules for Solis SPPs that allow status monitoring of temperature, battery, load and photo-voltaic power.

On a much larger scale, Google has installed the largest corporate panel solar panel installation in the U.S. at the Mountain View, CA Googleplex. To date. 9,212 solar panels have been installed on eight buildings and two carports. The system installation company, EI Solutions, has a great fly-over video linked here. Additional panels will be installed to complete the 1,600 kilowatt project. Google has a site up on the web (linked here) that charts energy production for the project.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A New England Beaver Meets a Retired Cable Splice

In the next few blog entries, I’m going to be focusing on green technologies. I know it is stretch but could not resist kicking off the series by writing about “nature’s engineer”.

Our home in Western Massachusetts is surrounded by hundreds of acres of woods and there’s lots of wildlife around including deer, fox, wild turkey, coyotes, black bear and beavers. We try and get out in the woods as much as possible and especially look forward to the winter because the ponds, brooks and swampy areas freeze over, allowing us to walk on the ice and explore places we cannot get to when it is warmer. It’s been cold recently and there is a good 4 inches of ice – more than enough to support the weight of an adult.

We were particularly interested in checking out a beaver pond that we discovered about a year and a half ago. The beavers have built a pretty good size dam and lodge and it’s always fun to walk over the ice, getting a close-up look at their work. Yesterday my daughter and I got right up next to the lodge and got some great pictures. The first picture here is of the lodge and the second is a picture of a hole next to the lodge that they use (it’s thinly frozen over) to get in and out of the water through the ice. The lodge entry is under water so this is also their way in out out of their home. In the second picture you can also see mud they’ve recently dragged up off the bottom to patch and seal the lodge.

Here’s a couple of pictures of trees they’ve cut. The first is the stump of a tree they dropped across our road in August. The second is the stump of a tree they cut within the last week.

In September we first noticed what looked like a cable-splice pedestal box but could not get close to it because it was on a little island in the middle of the flooded area. Yesterday, the ice allowed us to walk to the box and finally get a close up look - here’s a picture. You can see the box is bent and twisted with the cover broken off. I’m guessing the combination of high water and ice last winter twisted and broke the pedestal open – I don’t think the beavers busted it open.

I also don’t believe this cable is active – about 10 years ago Comcast installed a piece of fiber that feeds the coaxial connections to the homes on our road. It’s still interesting to see the kind of damage beaver can cause - I just hope they don’t know where the fiber splices are!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

New York Times on Free Speech in China

On December 2, the New York Times published an editorial titled Yahoo Betrays Free Speech. The piece discussed how Yahoo helped the Chinese government find the identities of two Chinese journalists who both received ten years in jail for "disseminating pro-democracy writings".

Here's a quote from the editorial:

Yahoo’s collaboration is appalling, and Yahoo is not the only American company helping the Chinese government repress its people. Microsoft shut down a blogger at Beijing’s request. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft censor searches in China. Cisco Systems provided hardware used by Beijing to censor and monitor the Internet.

You may have seen the following YouTube piece on the Yahoo settlement (or something similar) last month:

I encourage you to read the New York Times editorial and watch the video clip - good classroom material for discussion from political, legal, business/financial and even technological (how do they do that?) perspectives.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

One Laptop Per Child Update: Birmingham, Alabama

On Wednesday, Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford announced the city would be the first in the United States to provide OLPC computers to students in the public schools. 15,000 laptops will be purchased and distributed on April 15, 2008 to all city students in grades 1-8.

Here's a quote from the Birmingham News:

"Our students will have access to global thinking now," said Birmingham schools Superintendent Stan Mims. "It becomes a tipping point in the digital divide."

If one should become lost, stolen, etc the school system will have the ability to remotely disable the machine.

Friday, December 7, 2007

A Going Green and Disco Music Flashback

I'm working on a "Green" ICT blog series for next week. In the series I'll write about different IT and communications technologies that are reducing energy consumption and pollution. My research has brought back a lot of memories dating back, in some cases, to over 30 years ago. Here's a quick historical outline from my perspective:

Early to Mid-1970's - I was in high school in 1973 when the OPEC oil embargo started (for younger reader's reference - 1973 is just about when disco music became popular). I remember my parents turning down the thermostat (along with the radio) and waiting in line for hours to buy gasoline....... It wasn't all bad news though - it was an exciting time with lots of work being done in the area of energy conservation, alternative fuels, etc. New technologies were in rapid development and moved quickly into production. There was a major push towards fossil fuel alternatives like solar and and renewable fuel technologies. Many community colleges in the country were starting solar technology associate degree programs. Business, industry, education, government....... we were all engaged and focused on moving away from our dependence on foreign oil.

Fast forward a bit to to 1977 - The oil embargo had ended in the spring of 1974, disco was peaking (remember Saturday Night Fever?) and alternative energy businesses and technologies were still hot. Some close friends built an amazing home with a huge thermal mass, solar hot water panels and even a small photovoltaic array. The house was positioned to take maximum advantage of the winter New England sun (at the sacrifice of curb appeal) and was not built with an oil, gas or electric heating system.

The 1980's - Things had changed a bit since the late 1970's. Disco was dead, oil was relatively cheap and solar technology in particular, once so promising and exciting, had fallen off most of our radar screens..... As a result, many college solar technology degree programs were suspended due to lack of interest.

The 1990's and early 2000's - Things like energy conservation and pollution were not part of mainstream discussion and oil (for the most part) was still cheap and available. Low gas mileage SUV's (I admit I still have and drive one) became the rage..... My solar house friends considered "trading up" to a larger, less energy efficient home but decided to stay put. Disco was still dead.

- With the price of oil things have changed. On my way in to work today I listened to a broadcast on some new local construction. The woman designing the development was talking about orienting houses to take advantage of the sun and installing solar hot water systems..... she even mentioned photovoltaic arrays...... Wow - solar is back - can disco be far behind?:)

UPDATE: December 8, 2007
Bruce, a reader from Massachusetts, sent along a picture of his beautiful super energy-efficient geodesic dome home. I've added his message and picture below (picture is clickable for a larger view).
Thanks Bruce!

Hello Gordon: Enjoyed reading your latest blog on "A Going Green and Disco Music". You mention how your friends built a house to maximize solar gain etc., it reminds me on how my wife and I build our house, inspired by Buckminster Fuller, a geodesic dome. Check it out.
Since I'm 50 I can remember first hand what the oil embargo's were like. There's a lot of us "greenies" out there!
Bruce F.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Open WiFi Access Point Concerns

Yesterday the US House of Representatives passed, in a 409 to 2 vote, the Securing Adolescents From Exploitation-Online Act of 2007

If you currently have an open WiFi access point at home, own a business that provides open access, work at a college offering open wireless access, work at a library, etc you should be aware of this Bill. Here's the Bill Summary from the Library of Congress website:

Securing Adolescents From Exploitation-Online Act of 2007 or the SAFE Act of 2007 - Amends the federal criminal code to expand the reporting requirements of electronic communication and remote computing service providers (service providers) with respect to violations of child sexual exploitation and pornography laws. Requires such service providers, in reporting violations of such laws to the CyberTipline of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (Center) to provide:

(1) information on the Internet identity of a suspected sex offender, including the electronic mail address, website address, uniform resource locator, or other identifying information;

(2) the time child pornography was uploaded or discovered;

(3) geographic location information for the offender; and

(4) images of such child pornography.

Requires the Center to forward each report which it receives from a service provider to a designated law enforcement agency.
Requires service providers to preserve images of child pornography for evidentiary purposes.
Authorizes the Center to provide images of child pornography reported to its CyberTipline to service providers to enable such providers to stop further transmissions of of pornographic images.
Grants service providers and the Center immunity from civil claims or criminal charges for complying the requirements of this Act, except for certain intentional or reckless misconduct.

If somebody you know or don't know uses your open network to do something illegal you could be responsible. And..... it's not just WiFi providers that need to be concerned - email account providers, Website hosts, etc will also need to comply.

Initial fines could go as high as $150,000 with additional fines up to $300,000 for repeat offenders. The Bill now goes to the Senate.

The Kindle and The Sony: A Couple of Electronic Book Readers

[Here's a recent piece I wrote for my monthly technology column in La Prensa, a Western Massachusetts Latino newspaper. To read previous La Prensa technology columns go here.]

Amazon recently released a product called the Kindle, a 10.3 ounce electronic reader with a 6 inch grey-scale screen. The Kindle allows users to connect wirelessly and shop the Amazon Kindle store electronically – a computer is not required. According to Amazon, more than 90,000 books are available including 100 of the 112 current New York Times Best Sellers with most selling for $9.99 each. Newspapers are also available including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post along with top magazines including TIME, Atlantic Monthly, and Forbes. Monthly subscriptions to newspapers cost between $5.99 to $14.99 per month and magazines typically cost from $1.25 to $3.49 per month.

The Kindle uses a cell phone data network and works just about everywhere your cell phone works. There are no monthly wireless bills – wireless charges are included in the cost of the content being downloaded. Users can also email documents and pictures to a Kindle. A Kindle is not cheap at $399 for the device.

Sony also has a product called the Sony Reader. The Sony Reader is a 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. The Kindle uses the same E Ink screen technology. 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."

The Sony Reader requires a computer for book purchases and transferring files (via USB cable) to the Reader. The Sony Reader also displays documents, blogs, newsfeeds, and JPEG file pictures (like the Kindle - just black and white) and plays unsecured MP3 and AAC audio files through an external audio jack. Books are primarily purchased by users using Sony’s ebooks website. The Sony Reader is currently selling for around $300 on Amazon.

Back in September I wrote here about the weight of my two daughters book bags and the Sony Reader. In the September post I calculate both of my daughters Book Bag to Weight Ratio (BBWR).

I see great potential for ebook products, especially in our classrooms. If you also have children (or grandchildren or know children) in school you likely have concerns about the weight of books they are carrying around every day in their bookbags. An electronic reader like the Amazon or Sony products could be a perfect solution. However, I don’t think we’ll see widespread use in our classrooms until the price drops and a color screen is included.

UPDATE (12/6/07, 12:30PM): A buddy, John W., wrote to me this morning. Go to eBay and do a search on Kindle - check out those prices!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

A Helicopter Parent at 30,000 Feet

According to the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, the world record for helicopter altitude is 12,442 meters (approximately 40,820 feet) set by Jean Boulet in AĆ©rodrome d'Istres, France on June 21, 2002. Boulet used a SA 315 Lama helicopter to set the record. The SA 315 is a specialized helicopter designed to fly at high altitudes - most helicopters max out below 20,000 feet.

What do helicopters have to do with parents? Helicopter parents are a little different and don't seem to be affected much by altitude. They're defined by many as parents who constantly hover over their children, stepping in whenever there is a problem at school or sports, music, etc. Speaking from experience - the ability to be constantly connected with our children (computers, cell phones, text messaging, email, etc) has made it extremely tempting for us parents to "hover" and our children to (perhaps) overly rely and depend on us parents.

What does 30,000 feet have to do with all this? A couple of weeks ago on a flight I sat next to an interesting guy right around my age. He had a Tablet PC, a scientific calculator and what looked like photocopied pages from a textbook. Being the nosey person I am I would steal a peek at his screen every once in a while as he flipped through the photocopied pages, wrote and erased equations on the Tablet PC and punched away on the calculator. I figured he was kind of old to be taking a course and thought he might be a teacher or professor. Then I realized he was erasing way too much to be faculty and seemed to be pretty frustrated with operating the calculator. His penmanship was beautiful - another tip he was likely not faculty or a student! :)

What did I do? Being curious - I saw my opening and made my move when I recognized the Snell's Law equation on the Tablet PC. Breaking the ice, I asked him if he was taking a course and was amazed at his response. He told me he was an "extremely successful" architect and he was helping his son out by doing his college physics homework. The kid was an undergraduate at a well know university, majoring in pre-med. He told me physics was a "useless" course that his son was required to take for his major. He also told me the kid needed to get a good grade in the class to get into medical school. Much of the work was homework/take-home type assignments and, again (he kept saying it), he was "just helping his kid out".

What exactly was he doing? He was hand writing the solutions on the Tablet PC using the electronic ink feature in Word. Saving the hand written assignments as Word documents, he would email them to his son who would then rewrite (he claimed) the assignments and pass them in to his professor.

He did not ask what kind of work I do and I did not offer. I did tell him I thought that what he was doing was cheating, not fair to the other students in the class, etc. He could not have cared less about my opinion.

How was he doing? I could see that all three of the problems he had completed were wrong - his answers made no sense. From what I could tell (those calculator symbols are small when you are trying to sneak a peek) he had the calculator in radian mode when it should have been in degree mode. I could see his blood pressure rising as he struggled with the calculator.

I did not say a word but would have loved to see the look on his face when Dad got his grade for that assignment back.

Monday, December 3, 2007

One Laptop Per Child - Holiday Giving

Back in September I wrote an update on the One Laptop Per Child Project (OLPC), the brainchild of MIT Media Lab founder and Chairman Emeritus Nicholas Negroponte (who now also serves as chairman of OLPC).

One of the fundamental concepts of the OLPC 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 the educational toys many of us have bought for our children. The initial target cost for the laptops was $100 which was not acheivable - the current XO model runs for around $200 and uses 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.

Since November 12th, OLPC has been offering a Give One Get One program in the United States and Canada. According to the OLPC website:

"For a donation of $399, one XO laptop will be sent to empower a child in a developing nation and one will be sent to the child in your life in recognition of your contribution. $200 of your donation is tax-deductible (your $399 donation minus the fair market value of the XO laptop you will be receiving)."

If you do donate between now and December 31, your donated laptop will go to a child in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Haiti, Mongolia or Rwanda in early 2008 and you will get your XO around the same time. Here's a 30 second video of actor Masi Oka (from the NBC show Heroes) describing the program:

You also may donate laptops via OLPC's Simply Give and Give Many options.

T Mobile has stepped up, offering one year of complimentary HotSpot access to all U.S. donors who participate in the Give One Get One program.

I've asked Santa for an XO - I cannot think of a better gift for this holiday season.