Archive for Technology

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The following technology-themed article appeared as part of my regular guest column contribution to the Eureka Times Standard Newspaper. In this 4/30/09 column, I discuss the trend of bandwidth limitations imposed upon users by broadband companies.

Coming soon: Pay-to-Play Internet Plans

It’s hard to believe we’ve been on the road for two years now. What started out as a one-year road trip has morphed into a lifestyle, mostly because of our ability to stay connected with the world through our satellite internet connection.

But it’s not perfect. We’ve had a few gripes, especially lately, when something on our network was calling out to the Internet, and we couldn’t diagnose the problem. We had a mystery virus eating up our bandwidth, and subjecting us to a “Fair Access Policy”, that our ISP, HugesNet, inflicts on subscribers.

For satellite users, the HughesNet Fair Access Policy (FAP) states that:

Hughes has established a download threshold for each of the HughesNet service plans that is well above the typical usage rates. Subscribers who exceed that threshold will experience reduced download speeds for approximately 24 hours.

In the satellite internet world, this situation is known as “getting FAPed.” Lots of things can set it off. Watch a movie online? FAP! Videoconference on Skype for too long? FAP! You don’t get charged a fee, but it’s a horribly painful affliction, giving you speeds akin to dial-up for 24 hours from the time you exceeded your limit.

Until now, FAP policies and bandwidth limitations like this have only been the problem of satellite users and others who rely on connectivity through wireless internet “air cards” provided by their cell phone company. But now, DSL and cable subscribers will start to feel the pain of “bandwidth caps” too.

The San Antonio Express-News reported on April 2, 2009, that Time Warner cable has tapped San Antonio (TX) as one of its first markets to charge varying rates depending on how much data you use, instead of a flat fee.

Time Warner claims that 5 percent of its customers use up to 50 percent of their total bandwidth. They claim they are looking out for the Honest Joes and Janes who don’t hog up the pipeline by frivolously using it for downloading movies or gaming. The company plans to implement this new pricing structure in Austin, Greensboro, North Carolina, and Rochester, New York.

AT&T isn’t far behind. Subscribers in Humboldt should also be on the lookout for the same kind of new pay-to-play system. Late last year, the company began testing bandwidth caps of 60 – 150 gigabytes per month in Reno, Nevada. Other providers following suit include Comcast and Charter Communications.

Users do get a warning if they approach their limit. But once they do, are charged anywhere from $1 per gigabyte over the cap, up to an extra $20 a month on their bills.

The implications of bandwidth caps are profound, and in this economic climate, will have far reaching consequences on businesses as well as individual users.

This pay-to-play scheme by communications giants is nothing new. Other providers have attempted policies like this before. Back in 1986, Ma Bell tried to get rid of its longstanding flat rate charge. They began charging users in Rochester, New York, fees based on how many phone calls they made or how far they were located from the exchange box.

But guess what? Consumers revolted, some even forming their own cooperatives to provide alternative services. Ma Bell eventually threw in the towel when enough of its users switched to the newly formed Rochester phone company.

Over 100 years later, it’s happening again, and we still can’t afford to let our access to the world be at the mercy of these companies. I encourage you to help the Humboldt tech community spread the word about this issue, by bringing it up for discussion with the Redwood Technology Consortium membership base. You can also read about the actions that consumers are taking, by visiting StopTheCap.com, or UsageCaps.com.

As for my satellite internet connection, next time we get FAPed, I guess that as long as we aren’t being charged extra, I won’t scream as loudly as I used to.

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Copyright 2009, Eureka Times Standard Newspaper.The print edition of this article first appeared in the 4/30/09 edition of the Times Standard.

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This article appeared as part of my regular guest column contribution to the Eureka Times Standard Newspaper. In this 07/10/01 column, I discuss the variety of self-employed entrepreneurs in rural Northern California’s Humboldt County.

The Possibilities are Endless
in Free Agent Nation

California has more “Free Agent” independent workers and micro-business owners than any other state in the nation, according to Dan Pink, author of the fascinating new book “Free Agent Nation.”

According to Pink, two out of three Californians don’t hold a traditional job with a single employer. Our state’s free agents are breaking new ground and achieving a new type of  “job security” through diversification, and investing their human capital in several clients or projects, rather than devoting it all to a single company and living in the shadow of their next pink slip.

The Redwood Technology Consortium is Humboldt’s best vehicle to further diversify a free agent’s opportunities. Once a month, we all pry our hands away from our keyboards, and head out to the Eureka RREDC office to exchange business advice, learn how to participate in promoting clean industry locally, and simply network with other free agents, micro-enterprise and larger business owners. Between us, we demonstrate the possibilities available to anyone wanting to make the free agent leap, with as little as a phone line, fax and FedEx.

Here’s a few world class projects we are implementing from our spare bedrooms, garages, and sometimes while camped out at the local coffee house:

Ennis Web Design, run by Sean Ennis, specializes in ADA compliant web design, foreign language translation and digitally mastered audio for websites. In addition, if your ISP goes belly-up and you’re suddenly found without a web presence, Sean will help you move your site to a new host: something your old ISP won’t do.

www.YourEka.org is a Eureka citizen’s website created by Carl Birks, a College of the Redwoods Multimedia Student. Eurekans are encouraged to express their perspectives on our urban environment when visiting the site. By using written, visual, musical and other creative expressions, YourEka promotes innovation in urban planning and architecture for a more people-friendly, ever-improving, more livable Eureka.

Planwest Partners, owned by George Williamson, AICP, is a planning and environmental consulting firm. Planwest offers land use, resource, community, and environmental planning; feasibility studies; and grant-writing services. George has over twenty years of experience in both public agency and private sector planning, primarily in the West.

Gold Dog Design, developer of the acclaimed RTC website, specializes in the development and implementation of web-based intranets and extranets for the virtual office. Specializing in ColdFusion programming, Carter Fleming offers database integration and B2B solutions with integrated portal capabilities.

Peggy Martinez, an Assistive Technology Consultant and Trainer specializing in equipment for people with impaired sight. Peggy arranges everything from system installations with speech & Braille output, to awareness training, to accessible computer lab coordination for conventions and conferences.

Kevin Savetz is a freelance computer and technology writer specializing in the Internet. Kevin is a regular contributor to Computer Shopper, MacAddict, Byte.com’s WebTools, Sesame Street Parents, AuctionWatch.com, Access Magazine, and other publications.

www.BuyVeteran.com, is a nationwide directory of veteran owned businesses. Webmaster Doug Sapp is in the process of compiling information from around the country on veteran businesses in a variety of industry sectors, such as servicing, manufacturing, and construction.

Tina Nerat, a newly transplanted San Diegan, runs NERATech from her office in Eureka, which specializes in building systems infrastructure, such as networking, help desk, system administration, desktop support and LAN/WAN configurations. In addition, Tina works with businesses to assess their use of technology within their organization. Mike Nerat, her husband, is a prototype machinist and CNC programmer, and is currently seeking a high-end machine shop with appropriate tools and CAD/CAM software, to partner on various projects.

This is just a sampling of the creative endeavors underway in our region’s stealth tech industry, and proof that our livelihoods don’t have to be at the mercy of industry-wide economic downturns and structural reorganizations of large employers.

To get inspired or find out what others are doing to live the free agent lifestyle, join us at the next RTC meeting on Wednesday, July 11.

Rene Agredano sits on the RTC board of directors (www.redwoodtech.org) and is a principal of Agreda Communications, a full-service marketing communications firm.

This 03/27/01 column asks a business audience to consider the ramifications of having a face-to-face meeting without a specific purpose. The article appeared as part of my regular guest column contribution to the Eureka Times Standard Newspaper.

Prospering on Internet Time

Our company often completes major design projects with companies from Hong Kong to Aruba to San Jose, without ever meeting the clients, or even talking on the phone. To some, this is impossible to imagine. But to us, it’s a given. While it’s great to relax “on Humboldt Time,” we find that it’s most beneficial and cost-effective to do business on Internet Time.

Nobody likes to waste time when their businesses’ profitability is on the line. Yet, so often, we encounter professionals ranging from marketing directors of multi-national corporations to small business owners who can’t imagine working on a project without meeting many times to discuss minor details. And, while face time is vital for pitching to qualified sales prospects; for day-to-day projects, meetings can suck so much work time that any profitability is entirely lost.

The next time someone proposes a meeting to you, think about the time spent driving to and from a meeting, the resources spent making copies, typing agendas, and taking notes. Then analyze what your time is worth before you commit to a meeting. Multiply that by the number of people involved in your project, and the results are astounding.

With just a small learning curve and a new way of approaching the decision-making process, most projects can be successfully completed without ever having to meet face-to-face. Before agreeing to a meeting, the obvious question to ask is: Why? If you must meet, then ask: What’s the quickest and cheapest way to meet? Any meeting conducted via the Internet, software, or a specific device, is certain to be the least expensive and most timely way to meet.

Portable Document Format (PDF) files: Cross-platform documents can be created thanks to Adobe Acrobat, and emailed to anyone. From hundred-page reports, to packaging comps, to engineering drafts, these PDFs can be emailed to colleagues for review, and all they have to do is download the free Acrobat reader to view and print it. If someone wants a hard copy, they can kill some trees and print it out themselves. If they have tons of changes, they can do that within Acrobat, and email you back embedded comments instead of calling you and spending an hour on the phone, or wasting paper, ink, and fax toner. A PDF can be circulated to busy company staff around the world for comments and be back to you within hours for corrections, finalization and distribution. PDFs also serve as valuable visual aides when discussed over the phone during a conference call — another cheap, effective way to hold meetings with anyone, anywhere.

Web Conferencing: There are numerous Internet-Based meeting centers where you can host a “cyber conference” with nothing more than a web connection and some cheap software. You can also integrate your PowerPoint presentation, PDF, streaming audio and video, and live demonstrations of your product. WebEx.com, PlaceWare.com, and Evoke.com all offer relatively inexpensive web-conferencing services like this. They also enable you to instantly share work you have created in a certain software program which your clients may not have on their computer.
Email: Practically anything can be sent over email for review. And, corresponding back and forth via email – when messages are checked and replies sent diligently – can save time by allowing colleagues to “meet” on their own time. It also leaves an invaluable “paper” trail.

Online Collaboration: Utilizing an IntraNet or ExtraNet to facilitate online project collaboration with document sharing, and real-time chat/conferencing is an ever increasing way that smart businesses “meet”. Existing companies such as Visto.com offer such services. Even AOL and Yahoo offer similar capabilities. Or you could implement such Web infrastructure for your organization. Better yet, you can join a group like the Redwood Technology Consortium, which offers these benefits to members for free at www.redwoodtech.org.

Rene Agredano is co-founder of Agreda Communications, a global full-service marketing communications, print and publishing provider. She is also Treasurer of the Redwood Technology Consortium.

During our travels across North America, we toured several technology-themed tourist attractions, which I documented in my regular guest column printed in the Eureka Times Standard Newspaper. This one appeared in the 07/03/08 edition.

Consider a Technology Tour for Your Next Vacation

The next time you start dreaming of a vacation, consider coming to New Mexico. Incredible landscapes aside, this state is a great place for technology and science aficionados to visit. From observatories, to military technology development, to the world’s first private spaceport, New Mexico offers something for the geek in all of us.

We were lucky enough to be here in April, one of the best months for technology buffs to visit. For one day only, propeller heads can walk amongst the low-level radioactive earth on the Trinity Test Site (home of the world’s first atomic bomb test), and on the same day, tour the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Large Array, each located just one hour apart.

Trinity Test Site

Every living thing on earth has been affected by the world’s first nuclear explosion, which took place on July 16, 1945. On that day, a 19 kiloton nuclear explosion occurred, and pushed humanity into the atomic age. The Trinity Test Site is located on the White Sands Missile Range, in a 51,500 acre area that’s off-limits to the public for all but two days each year, in April and October. On those days, atomic tourists can set foot on ground zero and learn about the event though interpretive displays and live demos. There’s even a Fat Man bomb casing display to capture your Kodak moment.

As we walked onto the grounds, our biggest misconception about the area was shattered; the ground did not melt and turn to glass underneath the heat of the bomb, as we always thought. Rather, when the bomb exploded, the sand below was drawn up into the heat of the fireball, and then rained down on earth in a liquid form. The liquid solidified into tiny bits and turned into chunks of a glassy green, rocky substance later called “trinitite.”

Although it’s slightly radioactive, experts on the White Sands Missile Range website claims that trinitite is safe to handle for limited amounts of time. Did we pick it up? You betcha! It was too tempting, especially after learning that bananas emit about as much radiation as that glassy substance!

Very Large Array

After washing our hands thoroughly, we headed 50 miles west for a tour of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s “Very Large Array (VLA),” site of the 27 giant satellite dishes made famous by the Carl Sagan fiction novel, “Contact,” and later made into a movie starring Jodie Foster. In the movie, Jodie Foster plays a scientist at the VLA, who is on the verge of making alien contact from Vega, a distant star in the galaxy.

Our tour was led by a VLA project director and astronomer. As she walked our group over to one of the 230 ton antennas, she explained that while the movie “Contact” was filmed there, the VLA has nothing to do with alien research or SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). The VLA’s sole purpose is scientific stellar and galactic research.

The VLA is funded by the National Science Foundation, and operates under an “Open Skies Policy,” making it open for use by astronomers, free of charge. Astronomers from around the world compete for use of the VLA with proposals judged on scientific merit. Winners are allowed use of the facility and its staff for four-month observation periods.

The VLA became operational in 1980. Each of the 27 antennas is 25 meters (82 feet) in diameter, and can withstand winds of up to 200 MPH.

According to their website, “the VLA is an interferometer; this means that it operates by multiplying the data from each pair of telescopes together to form interference patterns. The structure of those interference patterns, and how they change with time as the earth rotates, reflect the structure of radio sources on the sky: we can take these patterns and use a mathematical technique called the Fourier transform to make maps.”

The VLA can be operated in four different configurations, creatively named A, B, C, and D. These differ by the distance between the 27 individual antennas. Two large transporters ride on a double rail system to move the antennas into place and connect them to the network.

The resolution of the VLA is set by the size of the array. At the highest frequency (43 Ghz), the largest configuration will give a resolution of 0.04 arcseconds: sufficient to see a golf ball held by a friend 100 miles away. Management and control applications are written in Java and can be operated using a web browser.

If you have even the slightest interest in astronomy, visiting the VLA is worth the drive. But if you can’t get out to the southwest for your next vacation, you can still visit a world-renowned array, practically in your own backyard. The world’s largest SETI extraterrestrial research station is located just 75 miles east of Redding, in Hat Creek. Learn more at www.seti.org/ata.

Jim Nelson and Rene Agredano are on the road visiting small towns in North America and documenting their travels at LiveWorkDream.com. They have been active Redwood Technology Consortium members since 1998, and past Board members.

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