Small Fish, Big Pond

World

Video of Chile Tsunami hitting Japan

by Kerensky97 on Mar.02, 2010, under Science, World

Saw this at Japan Probe. It’s a video of the tsunami from Chile finally hitting Japan and traveling up the mouth of a river.

It doesn’t seem amazing but you have to remember how much energy it takes to physically shove so much water that it crosses the Pacific ocean at hundreds of miles an hour to create waves in Japan (the wave slows and gets taller as the water comes to shallow water). To get an idea of the energy needed imagine being in the pool and shoving the water as hard as you can to make a wave a few inches tall travel ~20 feet.

Also you can see how a Tsunami isn’t just a big wave it’s a long wave. Watch the water level along the bank and it rises about a foot as the wave passes and stays there as water rushes up the river.

Seems to freak the birds out too.

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Walt Mosspuppet predicts Apple patent complaint with HTC!

by Kerensky97 on Mar.02, 2010, under Copyright, Technology

Talk about amazing prescience to coming events. Yesterday Mosspuppet ranted on the US Patent office’s asinine actions in granting Facebook a patent for “The Feed” and went on to talk about how it’s bad for business when companies make generalized patents to stifle competitor innovation (video below).

Today Apple filed suit with HTC for violating their patents.

If you’ve ever read the stream of patents that Apple constantly files it’s pretty obvious what is going on. Apple is basically working to patent every idea they have, in most cases things that they have never done and never will do. Just whatever random ideas they have that sound like good ideas. While I think putting patents on your creations is a good idea I think it’s a real dick move to patent an idea you never actually created. Then when somebody come a along and makes that idea a reality you shouldn’t be allowed to take them to court for innovating and creating something never existed.

Abstract idea patents in themselves are pretty bad to begin with; if it doesn’t exist you shouldn’t be allowed to patent it. The “we may do it someday.” argument doesn’t work. I dreamed of airplanes that flew into space full of passengers when I was 5; I shouldn’t be allowed to patent the idea so I could sue Virgin Galactic now.

There’s also the idea of putting a patent on something that is s basic many people have the same idea. Here’s some of the Apple ones involved in the HTC issue from the excellent breakdown at Engadget.

- Patent 7,362,331: Patents transition effect of opening or closing a window in a browser when it moves at a non-linear speed. Most modern browsers do this.
- Patent 7,469,381: Patents the effect of scrolling to the end of a list and having it snap back to the end with a little elastic bounce.
- Patent 5,920,726: Patents controlling the power usage of a device component to save battery power. Every hand-held device in the world does this.
- Patent 5,929,852: I believe this patents using an application to access an online database like most iPhones apps, all Google resources, and many desktop apps developed in the 90’s onward.

One famous Apple patent is the idea of “Multi-touch”; interacting with a screen with more than one input is a basic idea and one that existed before Apple popularized it. But Apple has the patent, and now that more devices have it they want their cut of the income others are making with this basic idea.

In fact one commenter on Engadget pointed out that Apple held off suing other companies using multi-touch for years until they had all established it as a common use and made loads of money off it so as to maximize Apple’s gain when they finally lashed out with their lawyer armies.

In the end all I have to say is that I agree with Walt Mosspuppet. It’s stupid to grant these vague patents and detestable for companies to use them as clubs to beat on competitors that are innovating in the market.

Apple isn’t doing this out of fairness, they’re not doing this because they’re losing money, and they’re not doing this to improve the market for their consumers. It is a purely selfish move to solidify their market lead, and leach money from the companies struggling to compete. And the people who suffer most are the consumers, the innovation in technology, and the free market itself.

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Don’t underestimate people’s desire to be better than each other.

by Kerensky97 on Feb.17, 2010, under Ecology

From Treehugger. At TED David Cameron (apparently in an attempt to look like less of an ideological conservative) actually pointed out a really good idea to promote conservation.

On electricity bills just compare the user to their neighbors.

A commenter in the post mentioned that showing money saving would be a better incentive but why not show both?

People love to lord over each other how much better they are, or if you’re under-performing they like to know so they can comeback and beat their neighbors. it sounds silly but everybody loves to make a game out of things.

Head over there for the full post and a video of the talk.

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Using sugar in soda pop again.

by Kerensky97 on Feb.11, 2010, under Ecology

Pepsi has their “throwback” versions of drinks right now where thy use sugar for sweetener instead of High Fructose Corn Syrup. It’s supposedly a limited time thing but I think it’s a disguised test on whether people will approve of changing back to sugar in drinks.

The change to HFCS was snuck in a few decades ago because of the US’s massive corn subsidies. It’s cheaper to put corn in drinks than sugar cane or sugar beets.

However with the demand of biofuels going up corn is getting expensive so going back to normal sweeteners is coming back.

Meanwhile sugar byproduct is being used in the bottles to bring down the carbon footprint for making bottles.

Sugar in the bottle but not in the drink. Although hopefully sugar will make its way back into drinks soon.

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Zephyr Air Dolphin Turbine

by admin on Feb.07, 2010, under Ecology

I was practicing my Japanese (in other words watching imported TV) and they had a program talking about the Zephyr Corporation in Tokyo who produces a residential class windmill. The program NHK J-TECH was typical Japanese daytime TV, a lot of pro-Japan talk about how innovative Japan is and how they’re revolutionizing the world. A lot of it is true but if there’s one thing Japanese media never misses is a chance to pat itself on the back.

On a side note it’s cool to see Pakkun and Makkun switch boke/tsukkomi roles when speaking English. In English Pakkun is no-longer the foolish foreigner and plays the straight man to Makkun’s foolish foreigner.

Japanese media difference aside it’s very true that this company had made some great strides in wind power generation, all in a device small enough that to fit above your average suburban home (43lbs, 6ft rotor). I know that there are companies doing this in America and they may be just as advanced or more but they certainly aren’t getting their name and product out. And that may be a social comment on the fact that our TV media likes to play reality TV, and dramas where imaginary “straw man” terrorists are constantly trying to blow up the oceans! Perhaps if we spent more time extolling our own virtues and the innovation that comes from within the US we would spend less time watching Cables News that constantly tells us everything is falling apart. I’m sure the local Green energy solar and wind powered startups would like the publicity as well.

I just hope the US can get over itself arguing whether global warming is manmade or not, and realize that regardless of what you believe the answer to that is, green technologies are the future world wide and that if we aren’t the ones innovating and producing the future we’re going to end up importing it from the rest of the world at our own expense.

Enough philosophy, down to brass tacks; I want one of these windmills.

Gizmodo recently had a small article about a concept of wind powered street lights that was kind of cool. But we all know that concepts rearely become the glittery futuristic reality they portray. Meanwhile these turbines exist now and have been on sale for a few years. They advertise them in much the same way, either small residential generation or powering isolated or low draw installations like lighting in parking garages or bus and train stops.

They start generating power in as little as 5MPH wind and will continue generating power upto hurricane force winds. Most commercial windmills shut off and stop as wind passes 50MPH; the Airdolphin uses excess power to electromagnetically brake the propeller once it reaches 1000 rpm and if winds continue up to hurricane gales it will slow itself to 600RPM to avoid damage (I thought they could feather the blades but maybe that’s too complex for a small deployment). They said they used to have problems with the sound generated before so they copied the feathers of an owl by putting a small ridged edge to the blade and it lowered the sound produced by the turbine to less than 60dB, or roughly ambient neighborhood levels.

The power generated is 1.1kW at 27MPH wind and peaks at 4kW at 44MPH wind. So the windmill can offload roughly one quarter of the average power draw of a home; I think they said the 1kWh rate stored enough power to use a 47” LCD flat screen for 5 hours. The average price I could find for one was about $6000, which means you won’t be making back your money very quickly with one of these little guys unless you’re in a windy area. So you’ll have to be happy with the fact that you’re spending the same amount of money, getting the same amount of power, but being only three quarters of the burden your neighbors are.

But these aren’t really mass produced yet either so the price may go down as demand increases. They mentioned selling 200 in the last 4 years to 31 different countries, which is output you’d expect from a company that hasn’t really moved from walk to run yet. However if they catch on and price comes down these would be great to add into a smart grid to for a community or town; Zephyr already markets a turbine specifically for plugging into the US smart power grid.. In wind power alone a community could offload 1/4 of its power from the grid, add in solar and smart devices on the grid and the community could cut out another 1/4 to 1/2 of that.

They also have an add-on data display server that tells you the wind conditions in real time, how much power you’re making, and it can be connected over IP to provide an accessible page that can reports this information anywhere on the net.

I have to admit I love this stuff, we may never have a future with flying cars and extremely dangerous houses on thin stilts like in the Jetsons, but we already have the technology for a much more futuristic world, if only we can get momentum going for mass production. And while I don’t think that we’ll ever in our lifetimes get to the point where we can completely eliminate the traditional power plant but with the distributed onsite power of a million wind and solar generators helping out we can significantly reduce our dependence on those plants so that they are small enough to not have the impact they do now.

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I wish we had HSR in the west.

by admin on Feb.01, 2010, under Infrustructure

Infrastructurist links a great video starring their Editor in Chief on a Fox Business (I know they suck but muddle through it) report talking about the future of building out High Speed Rail in the US. Basically answering who will build the system?


Checkout the video starring Infrastructurist’s gorgeous editor.

Most of the stimulus money given out to HSR projects were given to projects that are already quite mature and have most of the pre-planning done so there won’t be time to ramp up development and production in country. This of course means we need to bring in foreign countries to get it going and when jobs are hard to find that raises some heckles.

I liked the version that Click and Clack of Car Talk put out about a year ago when the Auto bailouts were being made. GM and other US auto manufacturers should create new daughter companies that build HSR tech. Partner with overseas HSR companies to bring their tech to our factories.

1. US auto factories are being abandoned and auctioned off production equipment and all.
2. There is currently a lack of HSR factories in the US.
3. GM et all are looking to build new transpiration option that will appeal to the consumers now that oil isn’t dirt cheap.

Is it just me or does this seem like a perfect storm of events to create jobs, save failing companies, and improve US travel infrastructure all at the same time?
Although to covert quick enough we may need to buy non-US and used equipment of overseas until we ramp up local knowledge and production.

However the point I wanted to add was that this is proof of why the US needs to focus on green technologies now. No matter what you believe in global warming the world is going to demand windmills and solar panels in the future. If America doesn’t position itself now as the leader of this tech we will find ourselves buying it from European and Asian companies down the line.

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At least climate scientists and evangelicals agree the end of the world is nigh.

by admin on Jan.27, 2010, under Ecology


Image src from chick publications “Here he comes” (don’t google if easily offended)

Treehugger had a great post talking about how the green movement often parallels extremist religion in getting its message out. It’s a really interesting take and I agree totally that perhaps the reason that people believing in Global Warming has dropped below 50% is because the people pushing green ideas and conservation do sound like they’re trying to push their cult like beliefs on you.

“You shouldn’t eat that, it’s meat not kosher.”
Mother Earth God suffered for your sins!”
“Aren’t you ashamed you’re destroying the planet going to hell?”
“Your wasteful consumerismsins will send us all to hell!”

I have to admit, listening to a lot of people who share the same beliefs as me proselytize about how we need to “protect mother earth” is such a turn off I want to join everybody else in denouncing them. One of my favorite bands even has a song about being sick of being preached to by celebrities.

I see this rejection of the green movement all over Utah, ironic since Mormon missionaries are experts at trying to force their beliefs on others. MANY people I know want to destroy the Earth faster just to spite people who preach a green lifestyle. And they’re dismissed because greens think that they must just be a “lunatic fringe.” But I agree with the green movement and at times even I want to spit in the face of people telling me how to think and what to do. Obviously there is a problem in how the message is getting out, not in how poorly people are receiving it.

I think I have a unique line on how to improve the message. Like I said I agree with most all of what the green moment preaches; however my appeal to it is my desire for efficiency in how we collectively impact the world as an organism. I want the same end result as the green movement of zero impact, but I reject the pushy messages same as red America.

Let’s face it Americans don’t like being told what to do. The first problem is saying, “You need to stop wasting resources.” Second problem is we don’t like being forced into having sympathy, “You need to quit using paper bags because logging is destroying the North Western Tree Rat’s ecosystem.”

Most Americans respond with, “I don’t care.” and the worst respond with, “Fine, I hope they die, and I hope they burn in hell!” The solution is to hit people in a softspot that even the most hardened beer swilling, rifle-hunting, red state American feels it; in the wallet.

I’ve always believed that the way to create converts to a green lifestyle is the same way Christmas was stolen from Christianity… Capitalism.*

Me:Us: “You should get a more fuel efficient car. Using less gas means you buy less gas, and that’s more money in your pocket.”
“Turn down your thermostat in winter. Your gas bill will be much smaller.”
“Use CF bulbs and turn them off when not in use. Using less electricity means you pay the electric company less.”

Them: “Doesn’t all that stuff cut down on pollution and lower humanities’ carbon footprint.”

Us: “I think so. But do you really care so long as you have more money for yourself? Think of the lower pollution as icing on the cake.”

Watch people flock to the green movement and an efficient earth friendly lifestyle after that.

*Capitalism is really just another religion, the ATM is the altar and I’ve seen many people pray before it to, “Please have money!”

Question to the religious: How many times have you visited the ATM and now many time have you gone to church in a week?
How much of your day do you dedicate to making money?
How many times have you decided to keep money for yourself when you saw situations where others needed it more?

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China calling the kettle black.

by admin on Jan.22, 2010, under Politics

I’m not a big Hilary Clinton fan but I definitely agree with some of her statements that the internet should be open and free. If anything I’ve learned from my decade and a half of message boards, mailing lists, and chat rooms is that the internet’s key feature is the ability of people to gather and discuss, with all the good and bad that entails.

Of course the comments are a thinly veiled threat at China and their firewall blocking anything that paints the country in a negative light. China has already reacted, probably because of the stir Google caused earlier, by denouncing Clinton’s statements as damaging to bilateral ties between the country calling it “information imperialism”.

Boy, talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

Ma defended China’s policies promoting the Web, saying the nation boasted more than 380 million users, 3.6 million Web sites, and 180 million blogs.
“The Chinese Internet is open and China is the country witnessing the most active development of the Internet,” Ma said, adding that China regulated the Web according to law and in keeping with its “national conditions and cultural traditions.”

The mind boggles. Somebody needs to tell them that the number of people using the internet has absolutely no bearing on how much freedom those people have.

It’s amazing that China has effectively been able to rewrite their own history through information control. Most Chinese don’t know the significance of Tiananmen Square, the protests there, or the massacres that occurred in the area in 1989. I remember watching a show where they interviewed students at the China University of Political Science and Law, where the protesters originated from, and showed them the iconic picture of the man standing in front of the tanks the day after the massacres asking them if they recognized it.

None recognized it, and only few knew that it was tied to an important event in China’s history. Most thought it looked like a parade, exhibition, or some celebration.

To think that even with the masses of information the internet makes possible, the Chinese state has been able to keep its citizens from learning recent history. The anonymous man who is seen as a hero for freedom and peace through the world is unknown in his own county.

The second thing that amazes me from a technology standpoint is how much power google has now where their actions and simple refusal to continue to bow to the government of China can put the Chinese and American Governments so much on edge that simple discussions on the freedom of the internet by the US can be damaging to bilateral ties.

Clinton is right, the internet is a new world where people can freely come together. The power of the recent events with China is proof that freedoms in the real world need to be carried over to the virtual world.

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Turning Detroit into urban hydroponic farmland? Sign me up!

by admin on Jan.14, 2010, under Ecology, Hydroponics, Infrustructure


Infrastructurist linked a story about how Detroit is trying to figure out what to do with the masses of abandoned space they have in the wake of the auto industry collapse.

The story follows John Hantz and his idea that piques my interest in two different ways.

In fact, Hantz’s operation will bear little resemblance to a traditional farm. Mike Score, who recently left Michigan State’s agricultural extension program to join Hantz Farms as president, has written a business plan that calls for the deployment of the latest in farm technology, from compost-heated greenhouses to hydroponic (water only, no soil) and aeroponic (air only) growing systems designed to maximize productivity in cramped settings.

Did somebody say Hydroponic?
“Ah, now the ball’s in Farnsworth’s court!”

Even before reading this I was thinking of urban hydroponic farms. Here in SLC there is a huge parking lot taking up a full city block that is never used by more than 5-6 cars. They had to tear down a bunch of longstanding and popular bars, venues, and hangouts plus demolishing a hotel to turn it into an unused parking lot that spends all day doing nothing but heating up under the summer sun. With a moderate initial investment the same area could likely feed hundreds with fresh local produce using no more water than what we get in natural rainfall.

There is another quote in the article I’d like to point out:

This is possibly not as crazy as it sounds. Granted, the notion of devoting valuable city land to agriculture would be unfathomable in New York, London, or Tokyo. But Detroit is a special case.

Unfathomable my ass, I actually just watched a TV program from Japan that was touting urban farming in Tokyo as a modern way of making use of land in a country that has little land to spare. They referred to it more as a food factory where everything was grown under lights inside a building that for all intents and purposes from the outside looked like a 4 story factory. The idea of greenhouses in Detroit actually makes more sense, no electricity issues with lighting unless you want to extend the growing season even more than the greenhouses provide.

Detroit makes more sense for urban hydroponics, more land is going to waste and the city is desperate finding ways to make it more productive. Ideally it would be more profitable to fill the land with high density office space; but when what you have is blight, upgrading to clean farming is still a much better option.

However Hantz is a little misguided.

Hantz thinks farming could do his city a lot of good: restore big chunks of tax-delinquent, resource-draining urban blight to pastoral productivity; provide decent jobs with benefits; supply local markets and restaurants with fresh produce; attract tourists from all over the world; and — most important of all — stimulate development around the edges as the local land market tilts from stultifying abundance to something more like scarcity and investors move in.

I agree with everything there but the tourist attraction, this is a farm not Disneyland. Don’t factor tourist income into this investment in any way. But all the other benefits are spot on. Hydroponics requires an initial upfront investment which Hantz is apparently willing to pay in cash. Then it’s just a matter of monitoring the crops, harvesting, and shipping to where they’re needed. The system is incredibly low maintenance, and the land can be tied up in a productive way until the city starts growing again.

There is a second reason this article is interesting to me.

Houses in Detroit are selling for an average of $15,000.

That sounds like a buying opportunity, and in fact Detroit looks pretty good right now to a young artist or entrepreneur who can’t afford anyplace else — but not yet to an investor.

Damn straight $15,000 looks pretty good right now. I was looking at getting a condo downtown here and they wanted $250,000 for a loft! A quarter of a million dollars and you don’t even get a separate bedroom!

Hey, Mr. Hantz! You need a guy to help with your farms? I’ll start tomorrow and using the “first time home buyer” clause of the 401k I can even afford a home TODAY!
I mean Holy Cow, I can’t believe that I could be owning a car and home free and clear right now along with a steady job. All I need is enough money to buy food and utilities, anything else is icing on the cake.

The economy and the world itself are in a serious state of flux right now. That means this is the perfect time to change the status quo when it comes to our infrastructure. There is a possibility for failure but this is also the time when you can get in on the ground floor. And when it comes to investing and development there are two constants.
1. People need food to eat.
2. People need a place to live.

The situation in Detroit create a lack easily accessable #1 and an over abundance (read: cheap) of #2.

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Ahh! They stole my idea! [Solar Power]

by admin on Jan.08, 2010, under Ecology

All warehouse roofs should be turned to power stations, and I wanted to be the company leasing the space from the owners to do it.

While hiking the local mountains a few years ago I looked out into the valley of warehouses and through that all those bright reflective roofs would look better and probably make the building cooler if they had greenery on them.

They I thought it would be even better if they had solar panels the powered the building and sold excess to the surrounding residents. The added benefit would be a cooler building since the entire roof is now shaded so the power draw of running AC during a hot summer afternoon is reduced as well.

But I was just a poor college student and didn’t have the money to invest in a project like that. Solar pays off over long periods of time which means alot of upfront money is needed for a long payout.

Luckily it looks like some other people had the same idea and have a bit more resources to make it a reality.

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Cool Pics of Biosphere 2’s slow death.

by admin on Jan.07, 2010, under Ecology

I remember when Biosphere 2 was first being developed. If it’s any indication of my nerdiness I was only 11 but I still thought it was a cool experiment that I’d love to take part in. Even just a few years ago I still had an interest in the idea of an ecosystem separate from the rest of the earth.

Anyway despite the potential for learning Biosphere 2 was a mis-management boondoggle brought down by the ego of the humans in and running it as much as anything else. Thus it ultimately failed as an experiment. Now it sits derelict waiting to be turned into suburban sprawl.

Check out the Pics and writeup here.

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AT&T wants the FCC to eliminate POTS, and why they can’t (yet)

by admin on Dec.31, 2009, under Politics, Technology

Wow talk about a huge topic to cover. This would be so vast it would make the Analog to Digital TV switchover look like a cakewalk.

Before I dive into this (I’m lucky today is a slow day) I want to clear up some minor misconceptions:

1. AT&T is NOT talking about removing physical wiring and running everything over wireless or cell networks!!!! (!!Very important misconception!!)
2. This will have no impact on your DSL or cable internet. It is merely moving analog circuit switched POTS lines to the same technology that the internet runs on.
3. POTS is technically already mostly digital from end to end. Only the final mile is converted back to analog. But it’s in a (nearly) lossless conversion and still circuit based, not packetized.

Now some quick definitions:

POTS – Plain old telephone system. Using switched circuits it creates a single end to end connection between two points (usually phones).
PSTN – Public Switched Telephone network. The network that runs the POTS.
LEC – Local Exchange Carrier. Basically your local phone company.
“Final Mile” – This refers to the connection from your neighborhood switch to your individual home. Once you leave the final mile you’re into the LEC’s network of phone connections.
Backbone – The main connections that connect all the neighborhood switches together and link all the LECs themselves together. AT&T and the few other long distance carriers control most of the backbone connections between regional LECs.
VOIP – Voice traffic that is divided into packets and transmitted in the same manner as internet data.

So where are we at?

Basically AT&T is tired of maintaining the POTS network. POTS requires an end to end connection between the two communicating points. In the past human operators connected the physical wires based off the circuit a person was calling (people over 50-60 years old might remember phone numbers that were like “KL425”). Later automatic physical switches made connections based off numeric a phone number. Most recently digital switches use computers to redirect calls based off the number. But even though it’s digitally switched the effect is still creating a single, 64kbps of data sized, end to end circuit.

This is what AT&T wants to change.

Now in the era of internet we don’t use a fixed circuit, the data stream is chopped into packets, each is individually addressed, and then sent on their way. The stream often follows the same path but doesn’t need to. It can arrive through different paths across the backbone, be put back in order and re-assembled at the other end. Any lost packets can just be resent.

Voice can be compressed and sent along the same as internet data in a VOIP connection, but some of the above situations can break VOIP. VOIP is a streaming technology, if a VOIP packet is lost that part of the conversation is lost, unlike loading a webpage you can’t wait for the data to be resent. The VOIP traffic is also compressed, depending how much it’s compressed the quality can drop significantly as parts of the voice stream are eliminated. G.711 basically just digitizes the stream and does almost no compression so the stream is 64kbps. G.723.1 can compress that down as far as 6kbps but call quality loss can be noticeable.

Now some reasons for AT&T’s desire to eliminate POTS become clear.

First is the fact that even through IP and circuit switched voice can run on the same equipment and same cables, they are two completely separate and incompatible networks. They need to go through special converters called DSP’s to be made digital and packetized (or un-packetized), and special systems need to be programmed to re-address for the new network. It’s much easier to consolidate everything into one system to maintain and monitor and adjust.

Second, compression make better use of the backbone bandwidth; instead of using up 64kbps of a fiber line per call you can get away with 16kbps or as little as 6kbps. That means for every one circuit switched call taking up fiber bandwidth you can fit 4 VOIP calls.

But there are some problems too.

Voice can be packetized into an IP network with no problem but it needs high priority to maintain the voice stream since voice needs to be a consistent stream and voice packets can’t arrive out of order or late. Too many dropped packets cause the voice call to stutter, and too much compression distorts the sound (usually sounds “tinny”). VOIP calls have a margin for error of about 200ms before the connection will likely drop.

That old POTS line has also been backwards compatible with equipment made as far back as the 1940s. If you get a simple old phone from before 1990 you’ll probably notice it doesn’t have a power cord. The power was actually provided at the phone company and backed up using massive banks of batteries in its basement. That means in a power outage most old POTS lines and phones will still work, great for emergencies and natural disasters.

Some things require high quality audio for communications, notably modems and fax machines. That squealing sound you hear when a fax or modem connects is 1s and 0s converted into an analog sound and blazing out a thousands of bits per second, usually 56 thousand per second to be exact ;) . When VOIP compresses with the idea that it’s compressing voice data and will eliminate the sounds it doesn’t think the human ear can hear, unfortuenately modems use a much broader frequency range for data. Plus modems and faxes don’t know what to do when a stream of data arrives late or doesn’t arrive at all. A lost VOIP packet can screw up the data stream and cause the modem to disconnect.

So when AT&T talks about eliminating the POTS line we’re talking about some major changes. Not just changing how voice crosses the backbone, or how AT&T does business with other LECs but eliminating modems, faxes, and all those non-VOIP phones.

I know many people won’t mourn any of the above but let me fill you in on some of what I do for a living (for AT&T no less).

I setup and upgrade business class internet connections into AT&T EVPN MPLS cloud. Don’t worry about all the acronyms, simply put we provide connections between the multiple sites of a business. If you work at branch store or office and connect to a corporate site then we connect you together over AT&T’s backbone. Once up and running we literally are the “internet cloud” and transparent to the users. A customer doesn’t see any of our massive network, just a direct line to all their other company sites and connection out to the internet.

My job specifically is configuring the AT&T equipment on the customer site. I don’t physically go there and install it, there’s a separate onsite tech who puts it in and turns it on then my team connects in and configures the equipment.

The problem is that since the equipment isn’t setup just plugging it in and turning it on won’t connect, you need another way in that isn’t dependent on that data connection working. So by using a POTS line and a modem you can connect into a router as if you were physically there. No matter what is wrong (other than the power out) you can get access through the modem from anywhere in the world just by dialing the number (and going through massive passwords and encryption).

In fact the modem is integral to the reliable up-time for the router and is required by AT&T to have in addition to the data line itself. If any emergency or outage happens to the onsite router for the customer; first it should be able to reload and fix itself, but if for some reason it’s erased itself AT&T will see it disconnect, will connect through the modem, reload the configuration, and be back online in minutes. Without the modem we’d need a tech to go onsite, directly connect and fix the issue. Factoring in time to call for a network down, schedule a tech, travel out to the site, and fix the issue, you can be looking at anywhere from 4 hours to 48 hours of down time.

When dealing with government entities and Fortune 500 companies the difference between 10 minutes and half day downtime can millions of dollars in lost production and sales. The difference is having a modem onsite so a tech here in Utah can fix the site remotely.

So it’s pretty ironic that AT&T itself is calling for land line elimination when my AT&T department requires them for service. Obviously a situation of a company being so big the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

The switch from POTS to IP is inevitable

I do think that some day the circuit switched and packet switched networks will be merged. But a lot will need to happen to make that possible:

Everybody needs to replace their phones with VOIP phones, or providers need to put massive conversion facilities in the final mile.
Providers need to find out how to provide local 911 and emergency service when power goes out and the infrastructure is damaged.
Modems and faxes need to be replaced with a similar reliable technology that is compatible with VOIP compressions and missed packets.

Basically what AT&T wants isn’t impossible and it is inevitable. But the switchover would make the Analog to DTV switchover look like nothing. It’s one thing when you’re changing over something recreational like watching TV. POTS landline elimination is a deeply ingrained infrastructure technology that will be a pain to switch over. It’s like saying that we’re not going to use asphalt on our roads anymore, all asphalt roads would need to be changed over to concrete because new cars don’t work on them.

But the technology is there, and once a few issues are resolved it’s much better to make the switch instead of clinging to old technology.

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Sometimes you have to make concessions.

by admin on Dec.24, 2009, under Ecology, Philiosophy, Politics

I’m a treehugger. I love going out into the wilderness and getting away from all forms of human development from time to time. However I’m also a realist, I know that as much as I’d like to freeze unneeded human expansion and preserver every acre of the little remaining undeveloped land we have, that will never happen.

Next best thing is that if an area is gong to be developed that we do it in a way that has as little environmental impact possible. In fact I see that as the new great development challenge for humanity. We’ve proven that we can forcibly carve out our comfort zone by making Nature bow to our demands. Now we need to find a way to create the same comfort zone we currently have in the developed world but do it in a way that has virtually no impact on nature.

Now a lot of people say that no impact means that we should all live in huts made out mud, clay, and cow pies. That we should only eat food grown, cultivated, and picked by hand. And that anything that uses any carbon or energy be eliminated. Ok, maybe that’s the extreme “straw-man” viewpoint but a lot of people lean that way in their arguments, and they piss me off because their unrealistic goals and self righteous attitudes create a backlash where people go out of their way to waste resources more. Seriously, I met a guy who doesn’t just want to leave an environmental imprint and carbon footprint, he wants to leave a “Carbon Crater, just to piss [environmentalists] off” as he puts it. This is the group of people who put “People Eating Tasty Animals” stickers on their bumpers and get outraged when the hear that some person doesn’t believe in eating meat.

So let’s be realistic, the world will never give up all the progress made in the last 2000 years and go back to living off berries in lean-tos in the forest. That’s why I’m always excited to see projects like this one by resort architects ReardonSmith, that creates a 200 room hotel under a golf club in Surrey UK.

I’ve always liked the architecture of building underground. There are a lot of benefits to ecology and efficiency in building underground. The ground is warmer than air in winter and colder than air in summer, not to mention an amazing insulator to ambient heat and sound, It’s like having a house that is in constant 48 degree weather, just add a little heat as necessary. The obvious glaring issue is getting natural light in but that is usually solved by building the structure in a circle around a well that lets light in (think Luke Skywalker’s home in Star Wars). There are all kinds of cool articles about this stuff online, including a soldier in Afghanistan inspired to come home and build a green house with reinforced HESCO earthen barriers surrounding the structure to reduce the stress of dirt leaning against the walls.

But I’m getting off topic. As cool as it seems to finally see people designing our living environment to better sync with nature rather than fight it this new resort is catching flak from some of the least likely sources. You’d think treehuggers and eco friendly people would be onboard, but the problem is that the resort will be in a London’s “Green Belt” an area around the city zoned to keep urban sprawl contained and to provide a green buffer to help keep the environment air clear and fresh for the nearby city.

This brings us back to the issue I began with. Some people can get a little extreme in their environmentalism. If this was a golf resort going into a protected Wilderness area I’d understand but this is the area surrounding the densest urban area in the UK. I hate to be the realist but that land is going to be touched by the hand of man eventually; if only every city were to build their sprawl in such an eco friendly way we’d be a lot better off by now.

I think this is a situation where people should meet half way. I bet a lot of people in the “Carbon Crater” camp would be quite impressed to see how nice it is when development works with the environment instead of against it, enough that we might bring more of them over to our cause. And certainly more than if we just tell them “No! The line in the sand has been drawn and progress and development stops here!”

Maybe in the future we can all live in some prettier, eco friendly cities. We may never be able to erase our impact to the point where our homes are indistinguishable from the wilderness but we have the technology now to at least work with the environment from hear on out.

McQuarrie's Aldera

Via treehugger, via inhabitat.

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Strange advertising, does it work?

by admin on Dec.19, 2009, under Philiosophy, World

I’ve always had an interest in advertising, to me its just a commercial form of propaganda which I find fascinating. How simple imagery and words can influence people so much.

Abercrombie and Fitch ads always bothered me. It’s not just the fact that all the guys are half naked, it just seems ironic using unclothed people to sell clothes.

If you’re out and about shopping on the last Saturday before Christmas and happen pass an A&F store, look at the pictures in the windows and notice that the guys never wear the clothes. In some cases it’s actually hard to find where the clothes being advertised are at. Sometimes draped over a shoulder, other times out of focus in the background.

A few years ago there was a Frontline episode about advertising to the modern generation. It mentioned that direct advertising no longer works in America, if you tell people to “Buy Mountain Dew! It’s great!” people will be more likely to avoid it. Instead to advertise now you do it subconsciously. Show four extreme snowboarders doing all the wild tricks in stunts that you wish you could do. And hey! They’re drinking Mtn.Dew, maybe if you drink it you’ll be more like them.

It seems silly but it works even when you know about it and try to avoid it. About the same time Mtn.Dew started their new “Do the DEW!” advertising I started drinking it more. I don’t know why and to this day I can’t be 100% sure if it was just that I liked it more, or I was brainwashed to like it more. If you drink Mtn.Dew think back to when you started drinking it a lot, was it round about the late 90’s 1997-2000? Maybe they got you too.

Anyway it’s obvious that A&F’s message is: buy our shirts, throw them on a chair in the background, you’ll get a ripped 6-pack, and hot girls in t-shirts and bikini bottoms will glance over your shoulder running their hands over your chest while you stare off into the distance in that “Confused Jock” sort of way. It’s either that or they have found a way to ship free soft core porn to girls through the mail and call it a “catalog”.

All of this is interesting to me because A&F just opened their first Japan store and it’s not doing so well. Apparently half naked guys without shirts isn’t the best way to sell overpriced shirts there. It’s interesting that the now annoying sales technique used buy brands such as A&F and Hollister aren’t as successful over there.

I think A&F just needs to find a way to bend this into some kind of fetish café for females. You know that’d make money there.

Update: Danny Choo went there and posted about it too. I think it’s funny that he’s confused as to why the guys are naked. He even mentioned mentioned getting gassed from too much perfume, just like Maddox’s post about Hollister. Yes Danny, all “trendy” US clothes shops suck that bad.

Also he mentions and even has some pics of the outside of the store where the windows are boarded up so you can’t see the clothes for sale without going in. It goes along with what I was saying, what’s the point of advertising if you hide your clothes from sight?

Personally if the business isn’t going to take the effort to advertise their product I’m not going to go out of my way to check them out.

I like my women mysterious, but not my retailers.

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Home Renewable Energy Farm calculator.

by admin on Dec.14, 2009, under Ecology, Infrustructure, Technology

This cool site lets you use Google maps to draw out and estimate your own renewable energy plan for your home.

Give it your address, draw out your roof or backward solar array (or place wind turbines) and it will calculate your output for your area, quantify that in dollars and figure out the cost minus incentives for the setup. Then combine the two to figure out how long it will take to pay itself off.

For my home, covering the garage in solar arrays will generate $500 in electricity a year, and after factoring in incentives will cost about $15,000. This mean it will have paid for itself in nearly 25 years. :(

However I don’t know if that factors in the added the value the PV array gives to the house (I doubt it does).

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