Saturday, February 28, 2009

An Interview With The Cisco Packet Tracer Team

At the National Science Foundation sponsored Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) combined (The Mid Pacific Center for ICT and The National Center for ICT ) winter conference last month held at the City College of San Francisco , I had the opportunity to interview three key members of the Cisco Systems Packet Tracer Team - Dennis Frezzo, Isaac Majerowicz and Mark Chen.

Packet Tracer is a network simulator used by hundreds of thousands of Cisco Networking Academy students around the world. Recently, Packet Tracer version 5.1 was released - here's some info from an FAQ on the product found on the Packet Tracer website:

Packet Tracer (PT) 5.1 is a comprehensive, networking technology teaching and learning program that offers a unique combination of realistic simulation and visualization experiences, assessment and activity authoring capabilities, and opportunities for multiuser collaboration and competition. Innovative features of the PT 5.1 software will help students and teachers collaborate, solve problems, and learn concepts in an engaging and dynamic social environment. Some of the benefits of Packet Tracer 5.1 are as follows:
  • Provides a realistic simulation and visualization learning environment that supplements classroom equipment
  • Enables multiuser, real-time collaboration and competition for dynamic learning
  • Enables authoring and localization of structured learning activities such as labs, demonstrations, quizzes, exams, and games
  • Empowers students to explore concepts, conduct experiments, and test their understanding
  • Allows students and teachers to design, build, configure, and troubleshoot networks using virtual equipment
  • Supports a variety of teaching and learning tasks such as lectures, group and individual labs, homework, and competitions
  • Supports integration with external applications through an API to enhance the functionality of Packet Tracer in areas such as curriculum and assessment delivery, games, accessibility, and interfacing with real equipment.
In the interview, the team describes the Packet Tracer product.

Cisco Packet Tracer Team Interview Part 1 (9 min 15 sec):

Cisco Packet Tracer Team Interview Part 2 (9 min 45 sec):

I'm really excited about version 5.1 - especially when you consider the user base. The ability to integrate Packet Tracer 5.1 with external applications will provide some innovative academic and training solutions. You can find out more about the Cisco Network Academy and Packet Tracer here.

Other ways to access this interview:

You can watch a high-definition stream of the entire 17 minute and 58 second interview by clicking this link:

If you have iTunes installed you can watch and listen to this one, watch and listen to others, and subscribe to our video and audio podcasts by following this link:

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Jill Biden at Northern Virginia Community College

You've probably heard by now that Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, is teaching two English as a Second Language (ESL) courses at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA). Here's a short 2 minute and 47 second clip from the Today Show about her new job.

It's impressive that she selected NOVA - I'm sure she could have had her choice of any of the private four-year universities in the DC area but.... she picked a community college!

Here's a quote from Dr. Biden on the
NOVA website :
“I am thrilled to return to the classroom to continue working with community college students, whom I greatly admire and enjoy teaching,” Biden said. “I have always believed in the power of community colleges to endow students with critical life skills and I am pleased that I can make a difference by doing what I love to do, teaching people who are excited to learn.”

According to the American Association of Community Colleges, 46% of all undergraduate students in the United States attend a community college. Excellent education and - especially in today's economy - community colleges are an excellent alternative to the first two years of a four-year degree.

Congrats Jill Biden on a very wise decision!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

IBM and IBEC Providing Broadband to Rural Markets

There's been a lot of ups and downs in the delivery of broadband services over power lines (Broadband over Power Lines or BPL) here in the United States. Trials have been setup and the technology has been demonstrated to work but really has not gone anywhere.

Here in Western Massachusetts I recall a trial setup by one of the electric companies that delivered broadband services to wireless access points hung on poles. Customers made their connections by logging in wirelessly. That trial was done in a suburb/residential type area where other broadband options were available. The technology worked but I believe, in the end, the power company could not compete price-wise with the cable and telecommunications companies already servicing the area and the trial was dropped.

This scenario has played out across the country - here's an interesting quote from a BPL piece at NetworkWorld :

BPL so far has not caught on as a broadband technology in the United States. As of June 30, 2007, the FCC reported that only 5,420 people in the United States subscribed to broadband over power line, vs. 34 million cable subscribers and 27.5 million asymmetrical DSL subscribers.

Rural areas are different though - what if BPL service was made available to customers that have no option except dial-up? This is the question IBM asked and, as a result, the company signed a $9.6 million agreement with International Broadband Electric Communications (IBEC) to expand broadband services to rural customers. IBM and IBEC plan to roll out BPL service through seven electric cooperatives in Alabama, Indiana, Michigan and Virginia and say they could end up providing broadband connectivity to approximately 200,000 people that otherwise, would not have it.

IBEC's trademarked tag line is "For Underserved and Rural Markets" - exactly what we need in our country. I'm hoping this will be a sign of more good things (broadband) to come.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Broadband and the Stimulus Package

The $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, being signed in Denver today by President Obama, includes $7.2 billion directed towards broadband deployment in rural and other unserved and underserved areas in the United States. I find it especially encouraging to see broadband considered "infrastructure" - just like roads and bridges - in the bill. Here's an interesting USA Today quote from Gene Kimmelman of Consumer Union:

With a baseline established, Kimmelman says, he expects major public policy shifts to follow, with the goal of making broadband available and affordable to all Americans.

I personally believe Kimmelman is right - broadband availability and affordability are critical to our economic recovery and will allow us to better compete with the rest of the world. Not everyone agrees.

To track where your money goes, was launched today. Here's a quote from the site:

The site will include information about Federal grant awards and contracts as well as formula grant allocations. Federal agencies will provide data on how they are using the money, and eventually, prime recipients of Federal funding will provide information on how they are using their Federal funds. On our end, we will use interactive graphics to illustrate where the money is going, as well as estimates of how many jobs are being created, and where they are located. And there will be search capability to make it easier for you to track the funds.

Here's how the funds will be distributed (from

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will receive $4.7 billion to distribute as grants designed to improve broadband deployment in unserved and under-served areas, increase broadband adoption, improve access to broadband by public safety agencies, and stimulate the economy and create jobs.

The remaining $2.5 billion will go to the Rural Utilities Service, which works to connect rural Americans to broadband, allowing them to reach all the services and opportunities the digital age has to offer.

The bill also requires that $350 million of the funding go toward the Broadband Data Improvement Act for mapping and community initiatives, at least $200 million to expand public computer center capacity in libraries and community colleges, and at least $250 million for programs encouraging broadband adoption.

Finally, as part of the stimulus package, the FCC must submit a report to Congress containing a national broadband plan that details the most effective ways to ensure broadband access for all Americans.

We'll be watching.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Convergence Technology Center at Collin College

Last week, I had the privilege of visiting Collin College and attending the National Science Foundation funded Convergence Technology Center (CTC) National Visiting Committee meeting in Frisco, Texas.

Here's some information from the CTC website:

The CTC was established in 2004 at Collin College to meet the growing need for skilled specialists in the area of Convergence Technology and Home Technology Integration. The Center pulls together the strengths of regional and national educational institutions and business and industry partners to create of pool of qualified convergence technicians who can design, build, test, secure and troubleshoot communication infrastructure and devices in the convergence technology arena, both for enterprise and home markets.

This center has four primary goals:

1. Program Improvement: Develop convergence technology and interoperability curriculum to meet workforce needs;
Objective A
: Determine skills required by the region for convergence technology
Objective B: Design convergence technology curriculum

2. Professional Development for Educators: Equip regional faculty to teach convergence technology;
Objective A
: Develop opportunities for educator professional development

3. Recruit and Attract underserved populations into the field of convergence technology;
Objective A
: Recruit and attract underserved into the Convergent Technology programs
Objective B
: Retain/graduate underserved populations in Convergent Technology programs

4. Capacity Building: Function as a Regional Distribution Center.
Objective A
: Provide access to the CTC Convergence lab with regional business and college partners
Objective B
: Serve as a clearinghouse for education materials on convergence technologies

Three college districts drive the work of the Convergence Technology Center, led by:

  • Dr. Ann Beheler, Principal Investigator (PI), Vice President - Academic Affairs, Porterville College
  • Dr. Bette Plog, Co-PI, Professor and Director, Information Technology Institute, Information Technology Programs and Systems Support, El Centro College, Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD)
  • David Keathly, Co-PI, University of North Texas,Computer Science and Engineering Lecturer and Undergraduate Advisor
  • Helen Sullivan, Director, CTC
  • Ann Blackman, Program Manager, CTC

I am always so impressed with this group - the CTC in doing excellent work and we had an excellent meeting. Highlights included a tour of the brand new Frisco Independent School District Career and Technical Education Center.

Additional pictures taken at the meeting are linked here.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Korean ICT Teachers Delegation Visits ICT Center

On Friday we had a great visit from 28 Korean ICT Educators at our National Science Foundation funded National Center for Information and Communications Technologies on the campus of Springfield Technical Community College. The visit involved a presentation on our Center work and then a tour of the Scibelli Enterprise Center. The group is touring the east coast, starting in Washington, DC and finishing in Massachusetts. After they visited us they went on to a similar visit at MIT.

Here's the Powerpoint presentation we used with the group:

We were all so impressed! More pictures of the visit are posted on Flickr linked here and we will be posting video of the event on our ICT Center YouTube channel shortly.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Tell Senators To Keep Broadband Investment In The Stimulus Bill

Today Beth Allen at sent out an email some of you may have received. If you did not get it - here it is:

Dear Speed Matters Activist,

We're getting closer to important new investments in high speed Internet across America.

After hearing from thousands of Speed Matters activists like you, the House of Representatives included funding for broadband infrastructure in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The Senate is debating stimulus legislation this week. But you know what can happen when Congress picks through a piece of legislation -- some parts are added, some parts are removed, and what finally passes can look very different from the original version.

That's why the entire Speed Matters community must send a strong, united message about the importance of broadband investment -- for the sake of our Internet and for the sake of our economy. Make your voice heard by contacting your Senators right now:

Broadband funding in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is a good start on the road to universal high speed Internet access, job creation, and economic growth. Every $5 billion in broadband investment creates an additional 100,000 jobs -- and provides the key infrastructure to keep our economy growing in the long-term.

The Senate stimulus legislation couples flexible grant programs with tax incentives to spur investment in rural areas and high speed networks and encourage job growth. It also includes funding for grants for broadband mapping, setting up community technology teams, and other broadband community outreach efforts. Together, these policies can solve the challenges of expanding broadband access and adoption and upgrading networks -- all while giving a strong boost to our economy.

Universal, affordable broadband also helps us address other pressing concerns, including health care, education, online job search and job training, our environmental crisis, access for people with disabilities, public safety, and civic participation.

Make sure your Senators know about all these benefits of broadband investment. Contact them today:

We've gotten this close to new broadband investment and hundreds of thousands of good jobs -- we can't afford to let up now.


Beth Allen Online Mobilization Coordinator

Sign the digital petition and get a sample letter to send to your Senators at

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Broadband: Can We Catch South Korea?

A couple of months ago I wrote about our poor broadband penetration rate (15th) in the U.S. when compared to the rest of the world. First place last year went to South Korea and in looks like the Koreans will not be sitting back enjoying their lead. A couple of days ago the Korea Communications Commission (KCC) announced plans to increase high-speed Internet and wireless broadband services to rates 10 times faster by the end of 2012.

The proposed network will be all IP-based with a total cost of 34.1 trillion won ($24.6 billion) spread out over the next five years. The Korean government will pitch in 1.3 trillion won ($937.83 million), with the rest being covered by private companies. The KCC estimates the project will create 120,000 jobs. Connected high-speed Internet services will increase to 1 Gbps and wireless services will increase to 10 Mbps. Here's a couple of interesting quotes from the JoongAng Daily:

The KCC said the changes will make high-definition TV images up to 16 times clearer, and interactive TV services such as e-commerce and home schooling will also be possible. The service will also make it possible to watch I-Max films on home TVs.

“This plan will bring innovation to the public’s digital lives,” KCC said in the release. Digital TV coverage will also rise to 96 percent in 2012 from the current 87 percent, according to the plan. The KCC added that the project will help Korea cement its position as one of the world’s leading IT countries. More than 94 percent of Korean households already have access to high-speed Internet services, and Korea has the highest number of subscribers to broadband services in the world as of last year, according to OECD data.

Can we catch them? Let's see. The U.S. Department of State keeps population and area statistics on their website. Here's the latest on South Korea:

Population (2008): 48,379,392
Area: 98,480 sq. km. (38,023 sq. mi.); slightly larger than Indiana.

Doing some quick calculations figuring on the
$937.83 million government input in South Korea:

Korean gov. dollars spent for upgrade per resident: ($937.83 million) / (48,379,392 people) = $19.38 per resident
Korean gov. dollars spent for upgrade per square mile: ($937.83 million) / (38,023 sq. mi.) = $24,664 per sq. mi.

Right now it looks like the Obama stimulus plan has between 6 and 9 Billion dollars tagged for broadband services. Do we have any chance of catching South Korea? Here's some statistics for the U.S.

Population (2008): 303,824,640
Area: 3,537,441 square miles

Let's use the higher $9 billion number and do similar calculations for the U.S.

U.S. gov. dollars spent for upgrade per resident: ($9 billion) / (303,824,640 people) = $29.62 per resident
U.S. gov. dollars spent for upgrade per square mile: ($9 billion) / (3,537,441 sq. mi.) = $2,544.21 per sq. mi.

We're in good shape when we compare dollars spent per resident - we're more than $10 over what South Korea will spend.

What hurts us is the physical size of our country - the South Korean government is spending almost ten times what we would spend per square mile. It looks like we're going to need to do things a little differently if we are serious about catching up.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Google Flags Themselves As Malicious!

Yesterday (Saturday, January 31, 2009) between 9:30 and 10:25 a.m. ET, Google search was doing some pretty weird stuff. Every search result was flagged with the message "This site may harm your computer". Google was even flagging their own site! Here's a screen shot my daughter Gabby sent me of a Google search on the word "google" (click on images for a full screen view):

Clicking on any link in your search resulted in this Forbidden message Gabby also captured and sent to me.

What happened? Here's an explanation from the Official Google Blog:

.... Very simply, human error. Google flags search results with the message "This site may harm your computer" if the site is known to install malicious software in the background or otherwise surreptitiously. We do this to protect our users against visiting sites that could harm their computers. We maintain a list of such sites through both manual and automated methods. We work with a non-profit called to come up with criteria for maintaining this list, and to provide simple processes for webmasters to remove their site from the list.

We periodically update that list and released one such update to the site this morning. Unfortunately (and here's the human error), the URL of '/' was mistakenly checked in as a value to the file and '/' expands to all URLs. Fortunately, our on-call site reliability team found the problem quickly and reverted the file. Since we push these updates in a staggered and rolling fashion, the errors began appearing between 6:27 a.m. and 6:40 a.m. and began disappearing between 7:10 and 7:25 a.m., so the duration of the problem for any particular user was approximately 40 minutes.

Good for a few laughs on a Saturday morning in my house but..... it certainly makes me wonder about how much potential business was lost and really makes me think about the vulnerability of the web.

Thanks for the screen shots Gabby!