Dave Totten's personal voyage to the land of IT Fluency, and other Digital Governance issues.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Community Wi-Fi update

This might be a sign that the folks who stand to gain from community Wi-Fi may be outrunning those who stand to lose by having free Internet access in public spaces provided by local government. An article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (a fantastic paper) says that Cisco has designed a Wi-Fi access point that is specifically designed to work with community projects. The gear is designed to go on rooftops and does not need to be configured.

So, Google and HP/Cisco on the one hand, and Verizon/Comcast on the other. Assuming the public can keep any more silly legislation from being passed by the telecoms, I predict the hardware & software makers will clobber the access providers.

Verizon does not own the Internet. They are not entitled to a monopoly on access... only the right to provide one possible access route.

Here's the article in the P-I

Meantime, Macedonia, a country with strong connections to GSPIA and Pitt, is rolling out a community Wi-Fi project that will cover more than 1,000 square miles-- talk about a hotspot!

And, down in Texas, a situation similar to Philadelphia's sad affair is playing out in Houston. Like in Philly, Houston mayor Bill White has promissed not to back down, insisting that squabbling telecoms SBC and TimeWarner(AOL) "no good reason to fight it." Unlike Mayor Street in Philly, Mayor White plans to use only private funds to operate the network. He's casting about for a corporate sponsor and has had quite a bit of interest, he says. His goal is not to provide Internet access to the whole city, but to use the network to subsidize access for the poor and to get free services for government agencies.

Check it out in the Houston Chronicle

But, in our nation's capital, legislation is being considered that could throw the whole debate into a tizzy. Quoting from the Chronicle article:

Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, a former SBC employee, has introduced a measure that would forbid city governments from competing in the broadband business.

A bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., supports such direct competition.

Both measures have been referred to committees.

More than a dozen states have considered their own measures to combat municipal WiFi. A measure introduced in Texas that would have banned government-run WiFi here was killed earlier this year.

Viva la WI-FI Revolution!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Fluency Milestone #4: GUI

In Chapert 2, Snyder lays out some of the basics of using a graphical user interface (GUI), like WindowsXP or Mac OSX. He tries to get across the difficult concept that a GUI is a set of metaphors. When someone who has never used a computer before (with low fluency) first looks at a Windows desktop, that person must first try to decipher the metaphor.
A "Desktop" was chosen by Xerox's PARC team because they were office workers. It fit their world-view. They saw file cabinets filled with files, and desks cluttered with tools and papers. The file-cabinet metaphor is even older... CP/M (created by Gary Kildall in 1973), the precursor to Microsoft DOS, also used files in folders (directories).

Aside: Bill Gates and Paul Allen purchased a variation of CP/M from Seattle programmer Tim Patterson in 1980 for less than $100,000. They renamed it MS-DOS and licensed it to IBM and became the richest men in the world. Patterson still owns a software development company and likes to drive race cars in rallies. He seems somewhat philosophical about things. I, for one, hope that Bill Gates remembers the Patterson family generously in his will.

But would other metaphors work better with non-office workers? At this point, I think, the GUI desktop has become the metaphor. The pointing arrow, the MS-Word documents (a piece of paper with a "W" on it means that I've typed something), the minimize/maximize/restore/close buttons... they no longer refer to real-world objects, but to themselves.
But what really happens when you click on a button? That's something that blew me away once I figured it out. I was teaching myself MS Access database programming. I looked carefully at what happened when I created a command button for a form and it suddenly hit me: the computer was watching for "events" and then executing commands that I had programmed. "On click" meant that the computer was just waiting there for me to click the mouse while the pointer was within the set of co-ordinates that corresponded to the picture of the button. I had told the database to run a macro when that happened. Suddenly, I knew that every other part of the Windows GUI was just a more complicated version of what I had just created.
This week, while helping a group of classmates with their database, I took the time out to explain this idea to them. I'm hoping that this may have been a "fluency milestone" for Ron and Emily.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

RANT! Verizon!

Have you noticed Verizon's new ad campaign? They're promoting their cell phone-based Internet service.

"Wi-fi only works in limited locations... Verizon works anywhere."

Rather an ironic statement, isn't it? I mean, considering how hard Verizon has campaigned against community Wi-Fi projects. Verizon and Comcast successfully lobbied the Pennsylvania legislature into passing a law outlawing any publicly organized Wi-Fi, in essense. Governor Rendell signed the bill after Comcast promised to build a new headquarters building in Center City, Philadelphia. That law was written, passed and signed to prevent a Philadelphia plan to spread Wi-Fi over public parks.

In other words, maybe Wi-Fi only works in limited locations because Verizon uses its corporate power to keep it in limited locations. Meantime, their service costs $60/month.

It kind of reminds me of Lessig's discussion of RCA's repression of FM technology. This issue could be one of the biggest threats to the development of the Internet: traditional businesses that are so slow to respond that they feel the need to surpress new technologies to keep their old business models alive. John Dvorak from PC Magazine suggests that the music industry may aim its guns at Apple's iTunes in an effort to protect the record stores.

Have a listen to a discussion of this top on this week's On the Media.