Fear and Loathing and Energy Prices

A while back, I read this clickbait from Gizmondo. It’s pretty much data-free, meaning it wasn’t well researched. I made the mistake of clicking on a controversial link, and I am going to follow up by making the fatal mistake of talking about a complex subject on the Internet.

The article states a few grim facts:

  1. Renewable energy infrastructure mandates are going to drive up the price of electricity
  2. Our electrical grid is old, inefficient and fragile. It wastes power and will become more prone to failures
  3. Federal and state mandates for renewable energy will drive adoption of technologies that are very expensive and not nearly as effective as fossil fuels, driving up the price for energy

People who write about energy all advocate for a single solution (wind, solar, nuclear, and so on) or they advocate for energy conservation (fewer cars, locally produced food, and the like). What’s missing from a lot of articles, blog posts, and comments is a holistic view of the problem and its solutions. The problem is quite complex:

  • Global supply chains mean moving things all over the planet, including vitally important things like food. Transportation = petroleum.
  • Even food grown in the U.S. involves the use of petrochemicals for fertilizers and farm equipment. Industrial farming = petroleum.
  • Consumer goods are made almost entirely from plastic. Plastic = petroleum.
  • Manufacturing renewable energy equipment takes energy and plastics. Renewable energy = Coal + Petroleum.
  • Life in the U.S. is built around the automobile. Cars = petroleum.
    • Even electric cars have fiberglass bodies and tires made from petroleum.
    • Electric cars just shift energy needs from oil to coal or natural gas.

What this means is that pretty much everyone is right: we do need to cut energy consumption tremendously while also improving renewable energy technologies. It also means that the gap between the coal and oil we burn now, and the wind and solar tech that is still decades off has to be filled. Possibly by natural gas, but more likely by nuclear. Think of these advances as happening in cycles:

  1. A breakthrough in energy technology makes renewable energy more effective and/or affordable – Like consumer grade solar and wind equipment.
  2. Advances in conservation reduce the need for power making renewable energy better able to offset the use of fossil fuels. Like the LED lightbulb or the hybrid automobile.
  3. Goto step 1 and start over.

The first cycle is the easy stuff, followed by steadily harder and more expensive stuff.

The Dream Phone Initiative(tm) Part 6: The Nightmare Phone(tm)

In part 5, I talked about the mobile communications stack, and how it is jealously guarded by mobile carriers. I ended the piece talking about a doomsday scenario where general purpose computers are replaced by over-grown smartphones. I began to think about the opposite of my Dream Phone(tm) while visiting a friend of mine on the west coast. We sat on her couch, watching BBC space documentaries on Hulu, while I checked my vitals with my little Google tablet, and she did something similar with her giant Sony smartphone. After mistaking her phone for a tablet, I remembered her fondness for large-screened phones. She mentioned that she wished her phone had an even larger screen, and I realized that she was the consumer the smartphone arms race is targeted at: intelligent, young, single, and very active on social media. I am pretty much the opposite of all those things.

Calling a giant smartphone a nightmare isn’t a criticism of my friend’s taste in phones. If anything, it underscores how out of touch I am with people who grew up using mobile phones the way that I stubbornly insist on using computers. I’m a MAWG (Middle-Aged White Guy) and I still do old dorky things like call people on the telephone, or hand my tablet to a two year old to play vocabulary games. I call it The Nightmare Phone(tm) simply because it is the opposite of My Dream Phone(tm): something that connects multiple task specific devices together. You may be thinking to yourself, “didn’t he post like four screeds about tablets a while back?” and “Didn’t he just post something about breaking down the barriers that separate computers, phones and tablets?” and you are correct, I did post all that. The point I am trying to make here is that I like task-specific devices. I like using my smartphone when I am mobile, and I don’t like using it when I’m not mobile. I like using my tablet when I’m not sitting at a table or a desk, and I like using a desktop or a laptop when I am. I want control over the devices that I communicate with so that I get the best possible experience. I like using the right tool for the job, rather than spending my life squinting at my mobile.

To someone like me, The Nightmare Phone(tm) is the antithesis of the task specific device. The Dream Phone(tm) seeks harmony among diverse hardware, software, and connectivity; the Nightmare Phone seeks only monoculture. Where the Dream Phone(tm) encourages you to pick the best tool for each of the many roles you fill (worker, student, blogger, gamer, hacker) the Nightmare Phone is a hammer that encourages you to see every use case as a nail.

I envision the Nightmare Phone(tm) to be a small tablet that you use for all things, personal and professional. Imagine the prototype phone in the video to the right, only with either a 6 or 9 inch screen. Think: way bigger than a smartphone, but way smaller than a laptop, and you have the idea. If that sounds restrictive, have no fear, the Nightmare Phone(tm) is all about options. You have two models to choose from:

  1. The 6 inch phablet model runs Android and uses a SIM for calling and texting. Connecting to a corporate network requires you to remotely access a Real Computer(tm) via an app like Citrix or TeamViewer.
  2. The 9 inch tablet PC model is a Real Computer(tm) that runs Windows and Office, and is able to authenticate to your corporate directory service. It has mobile data connectivity, but also uses WiFi, much like the new crop of mobile VOIP phones from Ting or TextNow! Calling is a bit awkward because holding this monstrosity up to your ear is impossible. You have to place your phone calls using an app and a headset, or using the built in mic and speakers in Yorick mode.

Speaking of options, both models offer an optional Bluetooth keyboard to use the device in laptop mode and a nifty desktop docking station that lets you use a full size keyboard, mouse, and monitor while you’re at work. Other optional adapters lets you plug into an HD television or stereo surround sound system and use a wireless remote. It will replace your laptop, desktop and set top. It’s the center of your digital world so, for the love of god, please don’t leave home without it.

With screen sizes of 6 and 9 inches, neither device is capable of fitting into a pants pocket. The ruggedized case you have might even keep the device out of your cargo pants too. You will definitely want to keep it safe since it’s your lifeline to pretty much everything. You probably have to carry it in a murse or, worse, clip it to your belt with one of those dorky belt holsters. The 9 inch model means you need to wear heavy duty military style belts if you want to avoid using a murse. Going to the gym isn’t so bad. You can set your Nightmare Phone(tm) on the treadmill to watch videos while you walk, but you won’t be able to find an armband that can accommodate such a large screen. When you are hiking or biking you have to use a backpack or a fanny pack if you want to wear anything other than cargo pants. Don’t be self-conscious; fanny packs are cool.

Because your phone spends most of its time in your murse/fannypack, you end up using a variety of Bluetooth gadgets to access it, like a stereo headset and a smart watch that may not even be able to tell time. The watch is pretty cool, it’s basically a tiny $500 version of the giant screen tablet you just bought. That’s $500 on top of the docking station and TV adapters that you also purchased at $150 each. Sure the “small” model is $750 and the “large” model is $1500, but the purchase price is amortized over a two year mobile contract, so you only need to put $500 down at the time of purchase (plus the cost of all your accessories). Before you scoff at the idea of buying a tablet from your mobile carrier instead of the Apple Store or Best Buy, consider the fact that mobile data expenditures have exceeded those for mobile voice and messaging so clearly your mobile carrier will be the place where you buy your next “computer”.

If the nightmare phone sounds pretty cool to you, have no fear. Mobile vendors like Samsung are slowly positioning the market to resemble the video game console market, only with significantly higher price tags. If the thought of replacing your arsenal of “best of breed” gadgetry with both an over-sized smartphone and an under-sized tablet computer strikes fear into your heart, I’m really not sure if there is hope for you. I know that Internet activism can affect politics, but I’m not sure that you can petition the corporate lords with prayer for a dream phone.

Cool tracks from “True Detective”

I cannonballed the whole first season of True Detective during a recent trip to California. The show is great for a litany of reasons, only one of which is the soundtrack. I normally abhor country music, but True Detective is accompanied by these lyrical and gothic country, blues, and southern rock songs. Prior to these tracks, I had really only seen this kind of stuff from the Violent Femmes.

The best example is the opener, “Far From Any Road” by The Handsome Family. After 8 episodes, I hear this song in my sleep. The embedded video is just the lyrics, which are dark and beautiful.

“Meet Me In The Alleyway” is a tremendously gritty blues song.

“Young Men Dead” is an awesome 70′s style southern rock song.

The Newest Edition of Dungeons and Dragons

I have played old school pen and paper RPGs off and on my whole life. I started playing D&D when I was 9, playing with kids in my neighborhood. I played so much D&D in middle and high school that while I was born and raised in Cincinnati, a tiny part of me feels that I actually hail from Waterdeep.

Over the years I have played different games with different systems. I have always loved familiarizing myself with the rules and statistics in order to maximize my characters’ abilities, or just make neat characters. At one point, I was so enamored with D&D that I made a lame fan site and I even wrote some awful fanfiction.

I just read that the newest edition of D&D will be out this summer, and after playing a bit of the 4th edition, I am already unimpressed. Perhaps it’s just my age, but in my mind, progress pretty much peaked with the 3rd edition. Part of the problem with subsequent D&D versions is that they do their best to capture a kind of zeitgeist by emulating the most popular games on the market at the time of their release:

  1. When Wizards Of The Coast first acquired the D&D brand, the 3rd edition came into being. This was when Magic: The Gathering was at the height of its popularity, and the 3E reflected this. Bonuses and abilities became largely standardized, so the game became more balanced than the first and second editions that preceded it. Everything in the game essentially traced back to a skill, feat or a spell. True to M:TG form, people who pored over the rules and were able to think outside the box were rewarded with sneaky bonuses. I was able to menace my friend Tom, who was my DM, with exploits that I found in the rules. In the late 90′s and early 2000′s open source software was also becoming mainstream. Companies like RedHat and VA Linux were posting these huge IPO’s and the world seemed to love open source software. WotC followed suit by making the Open Gaming Licence, a kind of GPL for RPGs.
  2. When the fourth edition came out a few years later, the popularity of MTG had yielded to World of Warcraft. In keeping with WotC’s gaming zeitgeist, the new edition featured many nods to online RPGs. MMO‘s are great fun, but they are a poor substitute for “real” RPGs. I spent a couple of years seriously addicted to Asheron’s Call, and I have gone on to play other MMO’s like City of Heroes and Lord Of The Rings Online. Playing MMO’s is great fun, but it’s nothing like the real thing.

I am not sure what sort of gaming is dominant right now. Part of me hopes that WotC latches on to indie games and implements some sort of crazy indie themed/sandbox type of system that embraces the fact that adult RPGers have busy lives and that getting 5 humans of child bearing age in the same room for 4 contiguous hours on a monthly or weekly basis is a herculean feat of logistics. Part of me is afraid that 5E will attempt to be “console bro friendly” and water the rules (and the math) down even more. My concern is valid because D&D is a platform. It’s a delivery mechanism for good times with your friends, or an ice breaker for making new friends. RPG’ers are social creatures, and we have to play what our friends are playing. People who are disappointed with the current edition still buy in because that’s the edition that people are playing. At least, that was my concern util my recent introduction to Pathfinder. Now I am pointing my interest firmly in another direction, Dungeons and Dragons be damned.

Fortunately, my love of the 3rd edition and the OGL was shared by the folks at Paizo. The 3E lives on in the Pathfinder RPG. The 3E rules have been modified and expanded heavily, and most of my favorite exploits seem to have been patched *sadface*. I have yet to actually play a PF game, but the source material is plentiful and a good deal of the core content is freely available online. There are also freely available mobile apps that provide plenty of rules info. There are also comics and all types of fiction available. The sheer volume of content available from the company is impressive, and I have found it to be incredibly clever as well.

Chromebook + Android = like 80% of your travel computing needs

When I posted about Chromebooks a while back I was confused about Microsoft’s TV FUD campaign against the low cost laptop alternative. I’m not at all concerned for the future of Windows laptops, so I’m still confused by the Microsoft hate. My big 15.6″ “real” laptop is in no real danger of being replaced, but I consider it (and its gear bag) to be luggable rather than portable, and I consider taking it out of town only when I will be driving.

Having taken a few trips with my Chromebook now, I still maintain that it’s a great device to travel with. It’s lightweight, compact, and it has a nice balance of screen and keyboard size. It’s big enough to be comfortable to use, yet small enough to still be portable. It’s built pretty much like a cheaply made ultrabook (plastic, not aluminum), and the $200 dollar price tag was a real selling point. The multi-touch trackpad is pretty weird, but still useful once you get the hang of it.

The Chromebook performs pretty well too. It boots fast, has decent video playback performance, and gets about four hours of battery life on a single charge, more if you disable wifi and crank the brightness down. The 11.6-inch screen is easier to watch videos on than a tablet because a laptop screen on hinges is easier to position than a tablet, especially on a table or desk, or when you are laying down. Watching video on a tablet while laying down means holding the tab in the air with one hand. I have a Moko slim fit case with a strap you can stick your hand through, so I use that, but it’s not great for multiple hours or when you need to keep the tablet plugged in. I also had the opportunity to plug my Chromebook into a flat screen TV via HDMI, which I can’t really do with my tablet without special adapters and stuff.

The Chromebook really beats a tablet when it comes to long form writing. I mentioned in the other post that touch typing on a tablet, even with a Bluetooth keyboard, can be frustrating. I also find that with a touch screen, taking your hand off the keyboard to touch the screen can disrupt the writing process. A laptop keyboard with a touchpad is the next best thing to a full size external keyboard and mouse, which you can also use with the Chromebook, thanks to real USB ports, but I digress.

The use case for me is really specific. When flying, I have tight space constraints, and I do a fair amount of writing. Most of my non-work/non-school related writing is via web-based tools like WordPress. For this, the Chromebook excels. I also watch a fair amount of video when I travel because I don’t sleep much. For this, the Chromebook excels. However, if your work requires you to use a non-Google and non-web-based tool like Citrix, Skype, MS Office, or any one of a million random applications, the Chromebook falls flat.

When it comes to running arbitrary applications and peripherals, it’s pretty tough to beat Windows. I was going to mention Mac and Linux, but when traveling, I have found that my Android tablet does a decent enough job of running most of the arbitrary apps that my Chromebook does not, like Keepass, Teamviewer, and SIP clients. In fact, using Teamviewer to connect to a desktop at home lets me run the rest of those arbitrary apps, albeit suboptimally. I ran into a situation at a hotel where I was watching a TV series and one of the video files was corrupt. I needed a torrent client to download the episode, so I used Teamviewer to connect to my torrent machine, and Dropbox to get the file over the USB stick in my chromebook.

Chromebook + Android is not a drop-in replacement for a laptop running Windows and Linux, but an Android device could do about 70% of what I would need Real Computer(tm) to do, and the Chromebook can handle the hours long writing and video viewing tasks that a tablet isn’t suited for. I don’t recommend buying an Android device if you don’t already have one, but if you are in the market for a laptop, especially one for travel, a Chromebook might be low cost alternative. Speaking of arbitrary apps, I got rid of my iPad because while there are millions of apps in the iTunes store, there weren’t a lot of VOIP, network scanning, and wifi analysis apps that I like to use when traveling.

Samsung Chromebook photo by Marcus Qwertyus CC BY-SA 3.0 cropped and border added by me.

Charlie Stross on the Dystopia of our near future

My friend Dave linked me to this blog post by Charlie Stross about how to write fiction for the near future. Charlie states that there is a bit of a boom in young adult dystopian fiction (the Hunger Games, etc.) and what the near future could look like for people born today as they enter their 30′s. Of course, Charlie discusses the U.K. but the future sounds about right for the U.S. as well.

I have talked a little about our grim future at different times on this blog. I am not ready to stockpile canned food just yet, but when I think about the lives my parents led and I compare it to my own, I do notice a sharp decline in material success. I grew up thinking that if I did what my father did (go to college, get a white collar job, marry a white collar woman) I would enjoy the same success that he did. Given that my father had to overcome a tough rural upbringing and fighting in the Viet Nam war, it was not unreasonable to expect that I could actually see more material success than that of my father.

The key difference between my father’s generation and mine, is that my father’s generation had a direction, and mine really doesn’t. 9/11 proved to me and everyone younger than me just how uncertain the future will be. The results, a decade of economic uncertainty, political polarization, and police statehood have permanently altered the course for me and for my children.

The reason that I’m not in survivalist mode is because I have faith in the maker movement. Inspite of (or perhaps in order to spite) the poor policy decisions made by our myopic oligarchy, I do not fear social collapse. If society as we have come to know it does collapse under its own weight we can use the wreckage as raw material for a new, freer and more open society using open source design, peer-to-peer infrastructure, and old fashioned punk rock DIY ethos. The same goes for the economy. In the vacuum created by another economic collapse, we can use new tools (cryptocurrency, crowdfunding, microfinance) to build a newer and freer economy.

The only thing I fear about the future is timing. I worry that I, and others like me, will not have enough time to spread our ethos.

The Dream Phone Initiative(tm) Part 5: Breaking the Strata of the Communications Stack

In part 4, I wrote at length about the convergence of telephones and computers into the smartphone and the “post-smartphone device”. I criticized mobile carriers for their preoccupation with smartphones, or rather, their campaigns to create the need for mobile subscribers to buy over priced phones and subscribe to overpriced data plans. Another criticism that I have is the way that mobile carriers and Internet messaging providers erect barriers in order to jealously guard their networks from innovation from the outside.

Mobile carriers and handset makers make it difficult to spread your communications over multiple devices, as if all communication should be confined to a single device. The methods by which we contact each other have been stacked on top of each other (SMS on top of mobile calling, instant messaging on top of mobile broadband, etc.) and then solidified into a kind of strata: layers of communications technologies that do not really intersect. This means that you really have no choice in your preferred methods of communication, when you should be able to text, call, email and surf on the devices of your choosing. The devices you use to keep in contact should work together to deliver the best possible experience even if they come from different vendors, and most of the time they really don’t. The reason these devices don’t play so well together is that they represent different “camps”: different technology markets and in some cases, entirely different industries. Software makers, handset makers, and mobile carriers have different priorities. Those priorities aren’t necessarily to deliver a simple and affordable experience to the consumer.

In the mobile handset camp, hardware companies like Apple, Samsung, Moto and Nokia are constantly adding compute power and screen real estate in order to lure you into your next upgrade. Your choice of hardware directly affects your availability of operating system. The latest handset is a several hundred dollar commitment that directly affects which operating system might be available to you. The gadgets that you already have can greatly influence your decision thanks to vendor lock-in. You ought be free to choose the best device for your needs.

In the software camp, Internet titans like Google, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft are looking to hook users into a software ecosystem of applications and services. Your operating system determines the store where you get your apps from, and your selection of apps determines just what you can do with your phone. If your phone, tablet, and computer represent different ecosystems, you may have to choose your apps carefully to be sure they are present in each of your respective app stores. This isn’t hard if you stick with popular apps, but some apps simply aren’t present in a particular store. I got rid of my iPad because of the lack of wifi diagnostic apps. In this day and age, your devices should all integrate together, even if you aren’t fully vested into a given ecosystem.

In the mobile carrier camp, telcos like Verizon, t-Mo, and AT&T look to charge premiums for mobile data and text messaging plans, and to lock users into 24 month contracts by subsidizing costly mobile handset upgrades (which are obsolete in 13 months). They also offer in-network discounts (unlimited calling or text between other customers of the same carrier) in order to encourage customers to choose a carrier based on their social circles. Again, offering discounts and the like is great for the consumer, but this isn’t about competing, it’s about binding a user to a specific carrier, another type of vendor lock-in.

The different barriers arise when the Internet titans collude partner with the handset makers to create a need for ever more powerful phones, and then make these infernal bargains partnerships with the Telcos. The result is strata of carrier-locked hardware, carrier-exclusive handsets, planned obsolescence, locked app stores that censor tethering apps, and arbitrary rules about which apps get to do what on which carriers’ mobile broadband. Looking into other markets around the globe, I suppose Americans should just be thankful that using a computer for telephony isn’t totally illegal like it is in some other countries.

We are starting to see progress. There and there are MVNOs that run VOIP-like services on the Sprint mobile data network (Ting, Republic, TextNow, and VMobile to name a few) which is helping to increase competition for mobile services. Unfortunately it’s primarily price based rather than feature based, but once you can do most of your mobile communicating through a sophisticated app, you should be able to use that app on other devices besides your mobile. Mobile infrastructure is also going open source, so some day there might be whole pirate networks available. Verizon is now doing away with 2 year contracts in favor of (expensive) monthly payment plans with options for annual upgrades. Here are some other things that I would like to see handset makers, service providers, and carriers do in the future:

  • Mobile Carriers Should Embrace Advanced Calling Features – Most VOIP providers offer some form of ring group, hunt group, and call blocking functionality and mobile providers should as well. The whole reason that I insist on using Google Voice as my primary number is that my smartphone often dies or gets left in the last place I plugged it in, so I use multiple calling and messaging apps on my tablet and computer. It would be great if my carrier could see that my phone has gone off the grid and could execute some sort of contingency plan like forwarding calls to my burner or my desk phone at work. I would settle for the ability to set up routes for calls to and from my mobile via a website. If I realize that I have left my phone at home or at work, I would love the ability to log on to the Verizon or T-Mobile website and view missed calls and read on respond to text messages. I could then forward calls and texts to another number. In the absence of such capability, I use Google Voice to Ring All The Things, and forward calls to other phones and apps. This is super easy to do with either VOIP or Google Voice, but is next to impossible with a non-working phone that may not be in your possession. My wife learned this painful lesson when her iPhone died recently, taking all of her contacts and the ability to receive texts and calls with it. The goal of The Dream Phone is to never be reliant on a single device for all of your communication needs.
  • Messaging Providers Should Embrace Open Communications Protocols – Products like Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, and Facebook messenger could all inter-operate if one or two open protocols for chat were adopted, such as XMPP or SIP. The value of a network is determined by the number of its nodes, therefore messaging providers want to maximize the number of people acting as nodes. However, having to run 4 or more messaging apps simultaneously on your device in order to stay connected to all of your friends means that most messaging networks are overvalued by a factor of at least 4. This is known as the walled garden problem, and it’s only getting worse as messaging providers build more walls in order to differentiate their ecosystems. Skype will be doing away with it’s desktop API, thereby rendering all third party accessories and applications useless (bad news for podcasters) and Google will be dumping XMPP access to its Google Voice service, rendering devices like the OBI and apps like Groove IP useless for outbound calling via GV. A simpler way would be to let modernbrofare420@live.com send voice and text messages to gplus.hipster@gmail.com and selfiegirl@facebook.com via XMPP and SIP. This would immediately add value to Skype, Google Hangouts, and Facebook while making life infinitely easier for The Rest Of Us(tm). Then we would only need to run the app that we use most (FB, Skype, Gchat etc.) and we would not need to run 4 separate apps or keep 4 separate tabs open in a browser in order to avoid missing out. With a SIP URI, we could map a PSTN number to our preferred communications app, so that we could also answer telephone calls using our app of choice. As I write this, I have 6 chat windows open on my PC: 3 in Facebook Messenger and 3 in Google Hangouts. For some reason I am using both FB Messenger and Hangouts to chat with the same person. The issue compounds exponentially when you add in emerging messaging apps like Snapchat.
  • Mobile Handset Makers Should Also Think “Fixed” – Years ago the concept of “fixed-mobile convergence” was floated to the business world as a means of extending the corporate VOIP PBX onto the corporate mobile phone. This idea has merit, but most of it can be accomplished by dynamically forwarding calls via the PBX. I wish that fixed-mobile-convergence meant the opposite: using mobile technologies in a fixed application, such as the hybrid mobile+VOIP handsets I mentioned in part 2. It turns out that mobile things don’t have to be actively moving in order to be useful. Here are a few ways that technologies from the mobile world could benefit from being in a fixed location:
    • Mobile carriers should also provide SIP credentials – If you are a mobile carrier like T-Mobile or Verizon, you should let your subscribers opt for SIP credentials that work with their mobile number, for a fee of course. SIP credentials let users use their mobile minutes to make and receive calls using non-mobile devices like Analog Telephone Adapters, VOIP handsets, and soft phones. The benefit to offering SIP credentials are:
      • Mobile phones would become more reliable by virtually eliminating the “no signal in my house” or “no signal in my office” problem that keeps many mobile subscribers from completely cutting the cord. I have friends who recommend using Facebook Messenger instead of SMS to reach them because of this problem. You mobile carriers are really missing the boat on this opportunity.
      • It eliminates the need to use expensive femtocells or signal boosters in situations where mobile service is mission critical. Mobile carriers don’t sell a lot of that equipment, and when they do it doesn’t sell well. A $40 ATA will fix the problem for 80% of your users for significantly less.
      • It could relieve some of the strain on mobile voice networks by offloading a portion of voice and data traffic to another broadband network such as that of the cable company. One of the reasons that people use VOIP services like Vonage is that mobile phones can sometimes be unreliable or they get misplaced easily.
      • It could relieve a lof of the complexity, fear and mistrust that surrounds international mobile roaming. My wife went to Canada recently and we communicated via Skype exclusively for both text and voice messaging because Verizon just doesn’t understand that American non-millionaires also travel to other countries.
    • SIP credentials from your mobile carrier could be a great value add for your business customers who only want one number for both mobile and office use.
      1. SIP credentials offer an opportunity to get into the business VOIP and handset market. Think about it: you could be selling your small business customers smartphones *and* VOIP speakerphones – and believe me them shits ain’t cheap.
      2. A pre-programmed VOIP handset that just plugs into a network and automatically provisions itself would be an awesome product. Here in Cincinnati, our local carrier offers a kludge of business services because there aren’t many competitors, but it’s not really an integrated package. A packaged offering tailored to small businesses would be a real disruptive innovation in my humble opinion.
      3. You could sell your medium and large business customers some form of hosted/managed PBX solution. The big carriers (AT&T and Verizon) already have landline, VOIP and broadband businesses, so it wouldn’t be a huge leap to get into the mobile+VOIP hybrid business as well. It would make your mobile minutes (you know, those things that your customers don’t really use anymore) worth a lot more all of a sudden
  • Broadband Carriers Should Do Apples to Apples Comparisons Of Their Service Offerings – Wireless broadband from mobile carriers like Verizon and wired broadband from local phone and cable companies should be compared head to head as if they were competitive products, BECAUSE THEY ARE. Cable companies offer home phone services, and mobile broadband providers are starting to offer residential broadband via 4G/LTE/WiMax, but it’s not yet an apples to apples comparison because:
    1. Everyone still lies about the word “Unlimited” – your cable company does (and they will *ALL* be instituting transfer caps at some point), your mobile carrier does, anyone who sells broadband is lying about what “unlimited” means.
    2. Everyone lies about their upload and download speeds – your wired providers lie about how fast their services are, and your wireless providers lie about the consistency of their speeds. Time Warner will deliver you 20mbit down, but only from their gear downtown. Past that you will be lucky to get a third of that speed to a major backbone. 4G/LTE is fast, but only in a lab, in a major population center with no mountains or bodies of water, on a clear day, when you aren’t moving.
    3. Everyone lies about how much you are actually paying for their services – I am a filthy scumm pirate living in a house full of gamers, so I completely saturate my network connection 24×7 (~25gb per month, ~$100 for 10mbit down/ 1mbit up, approx $4 per GB). I also pay to host a virtual server and I pay for all transfer in and out ($20/month for the VM with 200gb of transfer, approx $.10 per GB, assuming that my monthly cost is purely for bandwidth provided at cost by the host, which it isn’t). I pay about 40 times as much for transfer at home compared to my hosted box. I get that the last mile is an expensive network to maintain, but is it really 4000% more expensive? My selfish consumption is also offset by a lot of people who pay the same as me and probably use way less bandwidth than I do. My business mobile data plan ran around $40 per month a couple of years ago when I controlled the bill, and I’m sure it costs a lot more now. At my most active I’ve used 2GB in a month (streaming Netflix one night while tethered, sshh don’t tell) so that came out to be something like $20 per GB, or 5 times as much as my home broadband (and 200 times more expensive than transfer to my hosted box). Again, a mobile broadband network is probably way more expensive than a wired residential one, but is it really 500% more expensive?
    4. Everyone Has A Legacy Business They Are Trying To Protect – Land lines, cable TV subscriptions, and mobile messaging and minute plans are these incredible shrinking cash cows. They represent The Old Income that made these monopolies possible. As the world shifts to Everything Over IP, houses won’t really need separate subscriptions for TV, telephone, and security monitoring; they’ll only need power, water, and broadband. They may also not need both wireless and wired varieties of broadband either. Man, competition sucks for people who only know how to run monopolies.
  • Handset and tablet makers need to quit being dicks about handheld storage – The premiums charged for internal storage on smartphones are out of control. Clouds and streams are great until you are stuck on a long flight, or insomnia strikes at the in-laws and you forgot to ask for the WPA key for the wifi. Do the world a favor and add more internal storage, then add micro SD slots. Large tablets should probably have two micro SD slots, just in case. You could also offer some sort of wifi/NFC sync thing where devices act as backups for each other. I get that Android does USB OTG but it’s not the same.
  • Moar Androidz plz – I have spoken at length about crazy phones and tablets that I’d like to see on the market, but the idea of the Android Mobile OS spreading to other gadgets is gaining traction. As far as I am concerned, the more crazy Android devices in the market, the better.
  • Everyone Should Embrace Competition – I get that monopolies hate and fear competition, but I wish that telcos, cable cos, mobile carriers, and Internet companies would offer more services that let them directly compete. Instead of being angry at pure play providers like Skype or Netflix for allegedly running businesses on top of your networks for free connectivity providers should embrace pure play prividers. Pure play apps are why your customers sign up for your service in the first place. If pure play is hurting your bottom line, why don’t telcos offer similar services with convenient billing options? t-Mo could totally offer home telephone service, residential broadband, and even security monitoring services all via their mobile 4G network. They could probably even deliver them cheaper than AT&T or Verizon can over their fiber networks. Sure it won’t be as fast as fiber, but that’s not the point. Even if T-Mo can’t deliver better or cheaper residential services, they could totally deliver them in a self-serve-web-app fashion that would totally appeal to people under the age of 30. Time Warner and Comcast could totally get into the mobile phone business as well, especially if they got creative with wifi the way that Republic Wireless or Ting has. Amazon could do something similar and offer an unlocked smartphone version of its Kindle devices along with convenient ordering and online activation of prepaid SIMs, which is kind of a challenge in the market today. There are lots of reasons why these ventures wouldn’t work, but that’s not competition’s fault.

As I see it, the failings of software makers, handset makers, and mobile carriers are systemic. They all come from an anti-competitive desire to lock users into an entire ecosystem replete with unimaginative devices. What’s even worse is that they are keeping me from having my Dream Phone(tm) that lets me choose which devices I use based on my personal needs. In part 4, I talked about phones mutating to have computer-like powers, computers mutating to have phone-like powers, and how the tablet isn’t so much a third mutation as it is a kind of telecommunications singularity where humans stop having control over their devices. I also extolled the tablet’s virtue as a possible low-cost alternative to the mobile phone and the computer not only in terms of hardware, but also in terms of connectivity, if only small tablets came with 4G connectivity. The trend is fairly clear: general purpose computers are in decline, If we cannot break the strata of the communications stack, we could end up with a market saturated by giant, over priced, one-size-fits-all superphones and little else to choose from in terms of devices. The post-convergence future of devices could be a phablet that is expected to replace all other devices and do all of your computing and communicating via the cloud. Such a device is basically the opposite of the Dream Phone(tm). I call it The Nightmare Phone(tm).

Ironman 3′s Crazy Twitter Meme

Stark Bunny watches quietly.I just discovered this, two years after it happened.

Nerds were drooling over the Ironman 3 trailer when it first came out, like nerds do. Then someone mentioned a giant stuffed bunny that was on screen for a split second. Theories were exchanged, one thing led to another, and the Stark Bunny suddenly had a Twitter feed.

Twitter is home to a lot of its own phenomena, like fake account, weird bots, and trending games. I miss most of these things because I really only check Twitter when I’m waiting for something, I guess this is why the Ironman 3 thing feels like such a great find.