Monday, August 27, 2007

The Truth About PowerBoost

A few weeks ago I was interviewed by Tim Sprinkle of The Bridge for an article on high-speed Internet access marketing techniques.  The author wanted to know if there was any value to the cable companies' on-demand bandwidth services.  I provided some rather blunt quotes about how the telcos and cablecos market only bandwidth.  It is like buying video services and getting a snowy picture with the cable company saying that they did their part by providing you any picture.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The End of an Era II: Elvis Has Left HO

 There is an e-mail circulating around to alumni of Bell Laboratories marking the end of an era and one of industry's great institutions.  Alcatel-Lucent announced the sale of the Holmdel (HO was our internal facility code) facility almost two years ago.  With the disintegration of Bell Laboratories and AT&T, the occupancy of HO decreased year after year.  Lucent Technologies (formerly Western Electric and AT&T Network Systems) ended up with the building during the trivestiture.  With Alcatel's purchase of Lucent, HO had maybe 1,000 occupants of the 5,000 it could hold.

imageFor those of use who roamed the halls of a vibrant HO under the Bell System, AT&T, or Lucent,  The Hofmann Gallery provides a stark reminder of how the mighty can fall.  The 180,000 square meter facility is an empty shell where many great innovations and products emanated.  I have many fond memories of my time there after graduate school.  I mingled with some of the industry's smartest minds while charting a course for Network Systems' entry into the global equipment marketplace.  HO was a post-graduate school as much as a place of employment for me.  I continued to learn and be nurtured by mentors with several decades of experience.  I learned not only about the telephone system and optical communications, but UNIX, data communications, undersea systems, and many other intellectual curiosities.  HO was our social gathering place in a time before My Space.  We gathered there to play softball and tag football in the evenings.  During the winter it was the meeting place for ski trips to Killington and Stowe.  Bob Lucky wrote an early eulogy on HO two years ago.  Shortly after that article we lamented on HO's and Lucent's fate. 

While HO's passing and that of Bell Laboratories in general (I know that it still exists) is sad to those of us associated with them, other writers use this event as evidence in the passing of the great industrial research laboratories built at the beginning of the twentieth century.  Although Bell Labs, RCA Labs, GE, IBM, Westinghouse, Xerox, and others have faded, we now have companies like Google resurrecting the idea of a corporate lab.  Google reminds me in many ways of the Bell Labs of old.  The companies of the old research labs failed to stay relevant as the technology industry changed.  They were immersed in developing products based on perpetuating their dominance in the industry while nimble upstarts developed disruptive technologies that made the old guard obsolete.  What once took a whole department and a multimillion dollar budget to do at Bell Labs now can be done with a few people working out of their homes.

While the site of that stately glass and steel building sitting empty saddens its alumni, it is a reminder of the cyclical nature of business and the necessity for constant disruption.  Innovation alone cannot guarantee survival. 

Sunday, August 12, 2007

CrossLoop - Simple Secure Screen Sharing

I know that I haven't been directly addressing telecom technology related issues lately, and I promise that my next article will be on a telecom network related item.  While relaxing yesterday to a couple of podcasts, I found a very handy product for those of us that have to help our parents manage their computers from afar.  I heard about it while watching the Scoble Show during an interview with Silicon Valley legend Tom Rolander.  The program is the latest brainchild of Tom and his company CrossLoop.

How many of us end up as tech support for our close friends and family, and how many of these people have trouble articulating what they see on the screen?  I can't even count the times I just wanted to reach through my screen and grab the mouse on the other end.  That elusive goal was only a dream until now.  CrossLoop was developed with this simple task in mind: allow a techie to remotely control a non-techie's computer in as few steps as possible.

Of course we have tried Remote Assistance in WindowsXP, instant messengers, and other programs designed for remote access, but firewalls and the complex instructions to get them running on the other end prevented them from ever working or working more than once.  CrossLoop aims to make it easy for the tech savvy to help the tech challenged. 

The CrossLoop developers eliminated the multiple steps of connecting to a remote computer and configuring firewalls.  The steps to remote support bliss are few:

  1. Download a small (~2 MB) file from CrossLoop.
  2. Run the installation program and "trust" program if your anti-virus software prompts you.
  3. Run the CrossLoop application.
  4. Have the person on the other end complete the first three steps.
  5. The person on the other end has to click on the "host" tab and read to you the 12 digit access code and click connect.
  6. Type the access code in the box on the "join" tab and click connect.
  7. Now you are connected!!!

CroosLoop screen shot

CrossLoop handles all of the mysteries of the connection behind the scenes.  The truth is that they use HTTP to a proxy that punches through any firewall to initiate a peer-to-peer connection between the two machines.  There are few configuration options to confuse users.  It just works.  The connection is secure because it uses 128-bit encryption with a key generated from the 12-digit access code.

My parents always have questions on how to do things on their computer.  I am delighted to offer assistance, but they have trouble understanding what I tell them no matter how simple I make it.  They use AOL as their ISP which I have no clue how to do anything through their user interface.  For years I have struggled with explaining how to send attachments, load printer drivers, find files, and edit documents.  On occasion I have set up Remote Access on their computer when I visited them, but firewalls have blocked the traffic.  Application sharing through IM programs failed since they have been moved or removed since my visit.  I am always resorting to describing the steps of a process over the phone.

Today I had my parents download CrossLoop and install it.  Once installed, I had them read me the 12-digit access code and click connect.  Moments later a window opened displaying their desktop.  Actually it was several moments because they are still on a dial-up line.  In any case, I was able to navigate around their desktop and show them what to do.  Now I can install new programs, repair shortcuts, and show them how to use IM and other useful programs.  Bliss is near!

CrossLoop is free right now while they are trying to figure out how to monetize their business.  In the future expect to possibly see ads inserted into a corner of the screen or possibly charge for a premium service with more features.  Right now, it does just fine simply connecting me to my parents' computer.  Sometimes simple is better.

Friday, August 10, 2007

"Super V-Chip" Has Nothing to Do with Violence

 The new "Child Safe Viewing Act of 2007" aims to expand the presence of the "V-chip" technology to other media like the Internet and mobile phones.  This new legislation, if passed, has the potential of placing additional costs on the delivery of broadband services and stifle innovation.  In addition, it may not even be practical to implement on the Internet.  Did I mention that the act that the legislation never mentions violence?  The act's intent is to limit children's exposure to "indecent" content.  TelecomTV has a good article on yet another step to limit our freedoms.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Big Bubba/Brother Extends Eavesdropping

Bush has your mail! I did not create this blog to express political opinions, but I cannot help comment on President Bush's signing into law new legislation that allows the federal government to monitor communications to and from U.S. citizens without a warrant.  This anti-American legislation brings us one step closer to entering a totalitarian regime.

This onerous law increases liability for U.S. telcos that are already facing numerous lawsuits from consumers because they complied with the NSA's illegal warrantless eavesdropping program.  Telco lobbies have had little impact at sidelining the law.  It increases the financial burden on telcos, MSO, and ISP to comply with CALEA regulations and could stifle innovation of new communications technologies.

Who would have ever thought that a country that gave its citizens fundamental freedoms such as those in the Forth Amendment would allow its government to snoop into their lives at will.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.-Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

It is funny that a Brit (TelecomTV - TelecomTV One - News) is more up-in-arms about the intrusion than most American citizens.  Americans have been placated by Bush's statements that we must give up a little freedom for security at home against terrorists.  His statements remind me of the statements of a true statesman.

Those willing to give up a little liberty for a little security deserve neither security nor liberty. -Benjamin Franklin

Before you start bashing me as a Bush hater, I can only imagine how much worse the situation could get under Clinton or Obama.  My point is that as Americans and leaders in the industry we must be ever vigilant to preserve the freedoms our forefathers gave us.  Technology should be used to enable freedom not suppress it.

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