Podcast Thirty Eight: Nothing But Net

A warning shot across the bow about the upcoming Text Nothing Day on Sunday, March 15th and every 15th of the month following. See smsless.com for details.
A simplified and metaphorical look at net neutrality.
And, finally, how the annotated bibliography has been replaced by the favicons on your bookmark bar.

lovehate: Net Neutrality for Dummies (by one)

Alright, here's the deal. For those people who don't know or care much about net neutrality here are some basic facts and analogies you can use to understand it or explain it to your friends. And while I know that many of you do know this stuff, and will find this interpretation minimalistic at best, just remember: Celebrity Psychic Puppet Babies

The Basics

Net Neutrality says that data is data... I know, it sounds like an Aristotelian irreducable primary, but apparently Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and mobility providers don't seem to agree. Even if I asked the average 18 month old to put a picture of a cookie beside a picture of a like cookie, they could do it. Conclusion One: CEOs at ISPs are younger than 18 months old, violating innumerable child labor laws and human rights.

When your PC's data is EVIL

When you pay for your internet connection, you are allowed to view hundreds of thousands of webpages every month and your internet service provider allows you download on your merry way. If, however, your ISP detects that you are using peer-to-peer technologies (Limewire, Bit Torrent, etc.) they will throttle your throughput without even knowing what you're downloading. Much like arresting you for travelling with an old Adidas gym bag because drug dealers often use old Adidas gym bags, ISPs are punishing you for your choice of delivery device instead of what's inside. Conclusion Two: ISP Execs are psychic because they know you must be breaking the law. Forget about the copyrighted text you could be reprinting in MS-Word or the html code you could be cutting and pasting into your new website via Notepad.

Thank you Psychic Babies may I have another?

When you pay for a data package on your cellphone or like mobile device, you would expect that all data would be included for the 20 bucks or so that you might be forking over. You would be wrong. Even though SMS/text messages are just data, you are asked and willing to pay for the extra service. In fact, the overcharge of 15 cents to send and 15 cents to receive a 160 byte text message equates to an obscene overcharge. How obscene? I will borrow the math from the fine folks at rantblogger.com.

"Let’s assume that all text messages sent in the U.S. are exactly the maximum size allowed, 160 characters. That translates to 160 bytes of storage space per message. One terabyte is equal to 1,099,511,627,776 bytes and a terabyte costs $100 to store. Therefore, the cost of storing and transmitting one text message is approximately $0.00000001. If carriers charge $.20 per text message, that means the markup is almost 20,000,000%!"

Now, you may say that the transmission of the text message is where the real cost is buried, but according to University of Waterloo professor Srinivasan Keshav, "it doesn't cost the carrier much more to transmit a hundred million messages than a million."

I'll try and reduce this math down to a manageable work-a-day example. Imagine you pay a dollar for a Happy Birthday sign at your local Dollar Store. You're more than happy that the sign which probably was made for two cents in labor and five cents in packaging, with twenty cents in shipping and a wholesaler markup of twenty-five cents is only costing you a buck. Can you imagine feeling grateful if you walked into the Two Hundred Thousand Dollar Store and bought the same sign? Guess what? If you and a friend are paying fifteen cents out and in, you just bought a $200,000 sign and loved doing it. Conclusion Three: You would think that this would make the Psychic Babies evil, but instead it just makes them like celebrities. A Hollywood A-lister can ask anyone to do anything for them and get away with it.

The Puppet Masters

But you can't have a Celebrity Psychic Baby without a scheming manager. If you're wondering how the government allows all of this to happen, it's due to The Puppet Masters who ply politicians with megabucks. If I represent a record label or movie studio that knows some people are pirating songs and movies, and using peer-to-peer software to do it, I want to convince ISPs to punish people for using the software with a blanket practice instead of actually doing the work and confirming who the pirates are. If I, as the head of a multi-national mobile technology concern, can convince government regulators like the FCC and CRTC to look the other way as I gouge customers for ridiculous amounts, why wouldn't I - especially when people are lining up to pay? 

The Not-So-Basics

So, to sum up, the self-evident equation A = A or data = data is what the advocates of net neutrality are proposing. In such a world, your bandwidth would be wide open no matter what you were using it for, your text messages would all be included in existing data plans, and the Ones and Zeroes that make up the data streams would not be discriminated against because their names were P2P or SMS. If you would be outraged that you could only go half the speed in your minivan because all minivans can hold more illegal goods when used in a criminal enterprises, you should be supporting net neutrality initiatives. If you think that a bank giving you a penny change for a $1000 bill is somewhat unfair, you could text all your friends about it, but instead you should support net neutrality. If you believe data = data, buy into the logic by taking action.

If you remember only one thing from this deconstruction of net neutrality, make it this: Celebrity Psychic Puppet Babies are costing you money and controlling your internet and mobile phone experiences. Fight the Celebrity Psychic Puppet Babies. So say we all.

thinglets: Oh, the Blinking Lights

I remember, as a child, watching Close Encounters of the Third Kind and being in partial disbelief that any intelligent alien species could expect humans to derive message from the synthesized light show echoed by the mothership. (See video clip below if you have no idea what I'm talking about.) I'm starting to think that, alone at my desk, the concept of the blinking light has become a de facto medium that we derive a whole bunch of message from even though we do not realize it.

My television, cable box, and surround sound system all have a steady red light on to indicate they're off (a bit paradoxical don't you think?) My cable modem has alternating flashing and steady green and orange lights to indicate throughput and connection, and even in the dark without seeing or remembering the faint, small abbreviations underneath each light, I can usually determine the health of the connection. My wifi router has a more cosmic icon set of cerullean blue symbols of which I recognize the unclosed circle and vertical line indicating power and the radiating wifi waves, but there are several I have no clue about except that I think I would be able to tell if and when something bad was happening.

My monitor has a steady green and my mouse a steady red. The USB hub and microphone mixer are congruous in a solitary steady blue indicator. My USB microphone has a small rectangular steady red peering into my soul like the HAL9000 on a vision quest. The cordless phone a steady red. The PC, as a small solar system snapshot, of a large blue circle overtop the flashing smaller red circle which indicated hard drive workload.

All of this light, all of these icons, all of this meaning create a sort of inverse to Plato's cave analogy. If this room was bathed in ambient light the indicators would become less noticeable and lose some of their meaning. Instead, the darkness has focused the knowledge and the message.

I somehow have the urge to craft a model of a mountain from my mashed potatoes.

Impromptu Podcast 28: Flipping Bell the Bird

Those of you in the US probably haven't been following the #belltwit hashtag on Twitter to know that Bell Mobility in Canada has been giving us an example of how NOT to market to a web-savvy generation.
After Twitter removing SMS updates in Canada a few months back (to great dismay) Bell scooped up the monopoly on SMS tweets only to announce that there would be a 15 cent in and out charge ON TOP of existing text plans as tweets were considered "premium".
That was modified 18 hours ago to only include outgoing (which is still ridiculous). Just earlier this evening the issue was finally resolved in Bell "cutting a deal" with Twitter to use its API in a way that would cost any additional amount to those already on text message plans.
Please check out smsless.com to find the real disturbing stats on the price gouging that occurs with SMS/text messaging and join "Text Nothing Day" on the 15th of each month.

lovehate: Blograffiti

While I've been blogging, in one form or another, for a few years now, my serious efforts at trying to maintain a site based largely on blog entries has really only been going in earnest for about six months. In that time, in addition to writing, discovering, encapsulating and reporting on things from significant to pop culture minutae, I've also been taking a critical look at other blogs and trying to uncover the archetypes and patterns which make them up.

I would never try to assert myself as some sort of grand vizier of blogging, but I do have a background in arts and media studies, and the patterns I am familiar with from traditional media aren't too foreign when trying to overlay them on new media. One of the claims I'm quite comfortable making after dabbling in the medium for this time is that blogging is web graffiti.

In the same way that most of us look around our cities and shirk and scowl when we see a building or statue defaced, I often feel the same way when trolling from blog to blog looking for content. Graffiti suffers the fate of being incredibly easy to do, but incredibly difficult to do well. Anyone can pick up an aerosol wand and wisp their grey matter onto concrete, but how many instances of such unburdened creativity do we find of any use or interest?

For every hundred or so pieces of bloated misshapen letter on boxcars, storage units or overpasses, there is the rare instance that captures our eye. Whether its style or message, graffiti as an art form is only complained about because the process of experimentation, which takes place in private with other art forms, is obscenely public in its most nascent and phrenetic stages. Where a sculptor may shape and reshape a dozen time with the same piece of clay, the graffiti artist pepper the community with every failed incarnation of a vision that often becomes, itself, a long-standing indicator of failure or incompetence.

Quite simply, blogs are a medium rarely well-done.

Blogging has become the lowest common denominator of the collective thoughts of New Media. Anyone can contribute, and they do. There is insufferable dreck to be mined through before reaching even a nugget of gold, but the mines are endless and the intent is telling. 

And while I loathe the concept of "lifecasting" (at least in a dedicated form) and deride (yet am often engrossed in) the parasitic viscious cycle of tech blogging, the single subject blog (no matter if the subject is person, place or thing) has become sterile to my wandering eye. I can certainly give ten seconds of my time to peruse the "blog" entries on Gizmodo, Engadget, TechCrunch, CNET or Lifehacker every day or two and often find a link that's worth clicking, but such sites are essentially webmags. The jewels come from the chaotic style that is wrought from personal insights and bridging gaps between things that seem inconsequential.

I firmly believe the growing popularity of Twitter and like microblogging services is largely due, not to the improved quality of ideas on the part of the users, but, instead, the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff in an economic manner. Instead of sifting through twelve pages to find interest, now I can flash twelve tweets on one screen and complete the task in mere seconds. But this strength of microblogging is also it greatest weakness in terms of providing entertainment value.

The appeal of a socially-poignant piece of graffiti lies in the message behind the art. There is little art to microblogging - sure it takes a certain amount of skill to craft a cogent message in 140 characters, but essentially it's caption writing. In most cases, I would never ascribe an artistic sense to blogging, there is most definitely a style that accompanies the content.

I love words. I love using words to manufacture meaning. While I can find some relief in a well-crafted "report" on an event or a product, it's the writer that breaches parameters that I seek and try to become. Lifecasting is best realized not through the physical report but the mental. Try Mindcasting. On a day to day basis I am impacted by countless things that I can draw together and present in a unique fashion. I want to enjoy the ride of expressing these connections. I hope that others enjoy the ride of reading some of them, but the mindcast exists for its own sake: thought, creativity, expression - what makes an alluring piece of graffiti, makes an engaging blog.

message graffiti

thinglets: SMS/Text Message Gouging Explained

from smsless.com

In this article from the NY Times, we get a comprehensive explanation of how the economy of SMS/text messaging is clearly a price gouge, and that the idea of message numbers going up does NOT indicate proportional cost increases for the providers.

A few key quotations:

"All four of the major carriers decided during the last three years to increase the pay-per-use price for messages to 20 cents from 10 cents. The decision could not have come from a dearth of business: the 2.5 trillion sent messages this year, the estimate of the Gartner Group, is up 32 percent from 2007. Gartner expects 3.3 trillion messages to be sent in 2009."

"The lucrative nature of that revenue increase cannot be appreciated without doing something that T-Mobile chose not to do, which is to talk about whether its costs rose as the industry’s messaging volume grew tenfold. Mr. Kohl’s letter of inquiry noted that “text messaging files are very small, as the size of text messages are generally limited to 160 characters per message, and therefore cost carriers very little to transmit.” A better description might be “cost carriers very, very, very little to transmit.”"

"Srinivasan Keshav, a professor of computer science at the University of Waterloo, in Ontario, said: “Messages are small. Even though a trillion seems like a lot to carry, it isn’t.” Professor Keshav said that once a carrier invests in the centralized storage equipment — storing a terabyte now costs only $100 and is dropping — and the staff to maintain it, its costs are basically covered. “Operating costs are relatively insensitive to volume,” he said. “It doesn’t cost the carrier much more to transmit a hundred million messages than a million.”"

"Once one understands that a text message travels wirelessly as a stowaway within a control channel, one sees the carriers’ pricing plans in an entirely new light. The most profitable plan for the carriers will be the one that collects the most revenue from the customer: unlimited messaging, for which AT&T and Sprint charge $20 a month and T-Mobile, $15."