Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Net Neutrality?

Now that I'm restarting Oku Solutions (my consulting business) one of the things which has become painfully obvious is that my current broadband isn't up to the task.  Four years ago it worked fairly well, save for the occasional need for a modem reboot.  Now it locks up and/or slows down a few times a day.  Not good given that a lot of what I'm doing now uses cloud-based apps which don't always offer offline mode.  God help me if the kids decide to start streaming something.  I've given Earthlink an ultimatum - fix the problem or be replaced.  They promised a new modem (for which I've yet to receive the UPS tracking number) but I'm not hopeful.

So today when an AT&T U-verse reseller showed up at my door I actually went outside to speak with them.  After a lot of discussion it seemed like a reasonable deal; free installation, $50 gift card, 30-day trial, etc.  I figured I'd order, test it out in parallel with the new Earthlink modem, make my decision in the next 30 days.  Since U-verse uses a wireless link from the fiber hub, I could have both at the same time, right?  No conflict, right?


Turns out that AT&T and Earthlink have some kind of arrangement which dates back to the early days of DSL.  Since Earthlink uses AT&T's wire to my house, they've agreed to some kind of "no poaching" agreement.  I would have to cancel Earthlink, wait ten days, order U-verse and wait for that to install.  Time offline = about 14 days.

Nope.  Since when do I not have free market choice?  Because 40 years ago Ma Bell ran a chunk of copper wire to my house, I'm not able to buy what I want?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Silicon Valley says "Meh" to Google Fiber

My friend Stephen Blum at Tellus Venture Associates recently posted about Silicon Valley's response to Google Fiber's "Fiber Ready Checklist".  Only five cities in the region (San Jose, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Palo Alto, and of course Google's home port Mountain View)  responded.  Of these, only Palo Alto seems to be serious about their response.  One city said it wants Google to fund hiring the staff needed to review the permits.  How about another idea: Streamline the permitting process.  Crazy talk, I know.

Silicon Valley generates so much technical greatness, yet for some reason it can't implement greatness for itself. I sat at a red light recently for almost three minutes, wasting gas, generating pollution, staring at an empty intersection. Meanwhile cities and towns outside Silicon Valley have interlinked traffic lights with adaptive prediction systems that allows timing to change as needed based on roadway, radar, optical, and other sensors. The Valley was one of the last places to get rid of A/B cable, and even in 2001 it lagged behind other metro areas in DSL deployment.  We know how to make great technology, but we don't know how (or don't have the political will) to tame runaway government bureaucracy which impedes deployment of that technology.   The fact that Google Fiber will provide residents of selected cities with free basic (5 Mbps) service - a huge economic opportunity for those cities - seems to not matter.  I suspect that we're once again rushing towards mediocrity, and that we're likely to get left behind while Google deploys fiber in cities like San Antonio.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Flying Red Horse

+Darian Drake posted this funny commercial to G+ earlier today.  The name of the energy drink "Flying Horse" brought back memories of something that happened when I was working at Verifone in the late 90's.

Verifone does Point Of Sale (POS) terminals. One of their target markets is "Petro" meaning gas stations, pay at the pump, etc.  My project assignment was to prototype an RFID-enabled POS terminal for Mobil Oil, with one of the design elements being that the Mobil logo (a red Pegasus) would light up if the transaction was approved.  The branded name for this system was "SpeedPass".

The project's execution was problematic.  We struggled to design a loop antenna that wouldn't have to be made by hand.  The product used ultra-bright LEDs - fairly new at the time - and custom Lucite "light pipes" to illuminate the logos.  The technician assigned to construct the prototypes procrastinated and ended up completing the work after the last FedEx pickup of the week.  Strapped for time I was preparing to take the shipment box to a FedEx depot when the UPS guy showed up to make a delivery.  I quickly filled out a shipping form for overnight delivery and handed the box over.  Turns out the story was just beginning.

Monday morning I came in to find several urgent messages on my desk.  (1997 - I hadn't yet bought a cell phone.)  The shipment had not arrived, and the sales meeting had started.  People (including Verifone execs) had traveled to Mobil Oil offices for the meeting - this was supposed to be the deal closure.  I quickly called UPS and got no answers.  Unlike FedEx, UPS didn't track packages every time they're touched.  The box had been put into a shipping container, and after that nobody could tell me anything.

The box didn't show up later that day as the UPS helpdesk suggested it might.  It didn't show up the following day, nor in the following week.  I called the UPS helpdesk every day, seeking news.  UPS wanted to compensate me for the loss, but how do you assign a value to hand-built prototypes?  How do you file a claim against the possible loss of a multi-million dollar deal?  I wasn't eager to repeat the painful prototype construction process.  Sales wanted the prototypes YESTERDAY - literally.

Ten days after my first call to UPS I was on the phone with the helpdesk.  I'd been speaking with the same person each day and while he was nice enough we'd made no progress.  Somehow I wound up telling him about the custom Lucite light pipes, and the Pegasus logo.  "What's a Pegasus?" he asked.  "You know, Pegasus.  The mythical flying horse?"  [typing sounds in background]  "I found it!  The box is in an overage center, listed under 'flying red horse' - we can have it delivered tomorrow."

That the shipment was listed under "flying red horse" is astounding.  The prototypes did indeed have a red Pegasus logo, but they also had the Verifone logo on the model/serial number plate.  They were inside individual boxes with the Verifone logo, and those boxes were inside a larger box again with the Verifone logo.  Someone had to have opened all the boxes, ignored multiple Verifone logos, and decided to list it by the 1 inch diameter Mobil Oil logo.

I sent an email to the team letting them know that (a) the prototypes would arrive the following day, and (b) the project name henceforth would be "Flying Red Horse".