Category Archives: Technology

Meshing in the Near Future

Fred Wilson writes a blog that is probably one of the easiest places for anyone interested in the future of our online lives to get a peek at what’s coming down the road. He and his venture fund have been early funders of companies like Twitter, Tumblr, Feedburner, FourSquare, SoundCloud, Etsy, MeetUp, Kickstarter and many more. In other words they know their sh**.

That’s what makes this recent post on Wilson’s blog so interesting and exciting:

We made this investment, in a neat company called Veniam that comes out of Porto Portugal, some time earlier this year but they finally got around to announcing it yesterday…

So enough about all of that. What does Veniam do? They make a “stack” of wireless technology that lets moving objects (think buses, garbage trucks, cars, vans, etc) carry a wifi access point/router and mesh with each other and anyone else who wants to join the network. With enough density, buses driving around your city can provision a wireless mesh that anyone can use on their smartphone when they are out and about. It’s a big vision and will take a lot of work (and luck) to realize, but this or something like it is eventually going to work and we are going to have a better way to access the internet on our phones than we have today.

Even if Veniam isn’t the solution, if these guys are backing it then there’s a very good chance that there will be a solution soon. That’s very exciting for those of us who’d like to cut the last-mile cord owned by the telecom/cable axis.

Looking for Good Wireless Karma

One of the blogs I read on a frequent basis, SwissMiss, has a sponsor called Karma. Karma provides mobile wifi that is not tied to any specific carrier and does not require a contract. In other words it’s like the various wireless carriers’ MiFi devices, but you don’t have to sign a contract and you pay for the data as you go.  Their website lists the retail price for the device at $149 – they’re running a special for $99 right now – and the data rates are $14 per GB with discounts available for bulk purchases.

A quick search for comparisons of MiFi plans brought me to this page that compares the providers that require contracts – AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile – and the no-contract providers, Virgin and T-Mobile Monthly 4G. Karma seems to stack up well price-wise against all of them in terms of data plans and since there doesn’t seem to be a time limit on using the data this could be very useful for someone like me who might use a ton of data one month, say while on a business trip, and then not a lot of data for a couple of months at a time.

With the low price of the device itself this seems like a no-brainer. I’ll let you know how it goes if I end up testing it, and would love to hear from anyone else who has given it a try.

Convention Center Fined $600,000 for Jamming Visitors’ Mobile Access Points

This story won’t surprise anyone who’s been involved in trade show or event management:

The Marriott-run Gaylord Opryland resort in Nashville was faced with a dilemma. Like all hotels and exhibition centers, it charges exhibitors and conference organizers exorbitant amounts for Internet access on trade-show floors, as well as nightly fees for guests…

Thanks to fast cellular networks and portable WiFi hotspots, though, these halls are losing their extortionate edge. A carryover from the days of a captive audience who had no other choice, the wheeze was always factored in as a cost of participating in trade shows and other events. Now, however, the 4G LTE standard–whose frequency range penetrates buildings far better than most older cellular technologies–offers data rates in the tens of Mbps…

The Gaylord Opryland came up with a clever plan. Some level of hotel management understood that its Wi-Fi intrusion-mitigation system came with a feature that could kick people off networks — and not just their own. So, as the FCC explains in a press release and consent order [PDF] released today, Marriott staff at the facility made it impossible for people in the vicinity to use personal hotspots, portable routers, and the like. This is a big no-no: a violation of Section 333 of the Communications Act. A clever visitor to the convention center — likely someone irritated at being knocked off his portable router over and over again — discovered the deauth behavior and reported it in March 2013 to the FCC…

Marriott (which acquired the property in 2012) is paying a $600,000 fine, and under the terms of the consent decree, must halt its Wi-Fi blocking and implement and report on a compliance plan at all its properties in America.

The lesson here? If you’re staying at a hotel and you keep getting knocked off of your own hotspot you might want to go in search of a geek to help you find out if the hotel is messing with you.

BTW, about ten years ago I sold trade show booths for one of my clients and the one thing I could count on was getting phone calls from exhibitors complaining about the cost to rent carpet, furniture, electrical service and, more than anything, the cost of internet connections. After the trade show was over the number one complaint on follow up surveys with the exhibitors was the crappy speed of the internet connections or the connection going down for hours at a time. Mobile hotspots were just coming online at the time and their signal strength was often terrible in the concrete bunkers that convention centers often resemble, but as the quality got better more and more exhibitors relied on them. That’s why it’s not a surprise a convention center would try this and, in fact, it’s really more surprising that it’s taken this long for someone to get caught.

Slow Reading

The September 16, 2014 issue of the Wall Street Journal had an interesting article about the “slow reading” movement:

Slow readers list numerous benefits to a regular reading habit, saying it improves their ability to concentrate, reduces stress levels and deepens their ability to think, listen and empathize. The movement echoes a resurgence in other old-fashioned, time-consuming pursuits that offset the ever-faster pace of life, such as cooking the “slow-food” way or knitting by hand.

What’s interesting is that slow reading isn’t just about relaxing, it’s also about better comprehension and learning because it seems that our digital-intense lives are turning us into a bunch of scatterbrained wrecks.

One 2006 study of the eye movements of 232 people looking at Web pages found they read in an “F” pattern, scanning all the way across the top line of text but only halfway across the next few lines, eventually sliding their eyes down the left side of the page in a vertical movement toward the bottom.

None of this is good for our ability to comprehend deeply, scientists say. Reading text punctuated with links leads to weaker comprehension than reading plain text, several studies have shown. A 2007 study involving 100 people found that a multimedia presentation mixing words, sounds and moving pictures resulted in lower comprehension than reading plain text did.

Slow reading means a return to a continuous, linear pattern, in a quiet environment free of distractions. 

In something of a side note there was this little tidbit about folks who read fiction:

A study published last year in Science showed that reading literary fiction helps people understand others’ mental states and beliefs, a crucial skill in building relationships.

Come to think of it this helps explain some of the people I know who only read “serious” stuff like biographies of obscure roman generals or 1,200 page studies of minor Civil War skirmishes.

Body-Mounted Cameras and the Police

An article in the Wall Street Journal focused on the impact that wearing body cameras can have on police forces:

Sometimes, like the moments leading up to when a police officer decides to shoot someone, transparency is an unalloyed good. And especially lately, technology has progressed to a point that it makes this kind of transparency not just possible, but routine.

So it is in Rialto, Calif., where an entire police force is wearing so-called body-mounted cameras, no bigger than pagers, that record everything that transpires between officers and citizens. In the first year after the cameras’ introduction, the use of force by officers declined 60%, and citizen complaints against police fell 88%…

What happens when police wear cameras isn’t simply that tamper-proof recording devices provide an objective record of an encounter—though some of the reduction in complaints is apparently because of citizens declining to contest video evidence of their behavior—but a modification of the psychology of everyone involved.

The article goes on to point out that there are some issues that need to be resolved with body camera technology – privacy concerns for victims and witnesses to name one – but with the cost of the technology plummeting some experts think it’s only a matter of time before most police departments will be using them.

Bitcoin 101

Here’s a nice primer on Bitcoin from BoingBoing:

Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer network, a set of protocols (standards for interoperability), client interfaces (called wallets) and a currency that operates on top of all of those technologies. The bitcoin system allows any person to send or receive a fraction of a bitcoin (the currency unit) to another person, anywhere in the world. The bitcoin system operates on the Internet without the need for banks or bank accounts and allows people to send money like they send email.

To start using bitcoin, you need a bitcoin client, or “wallet” application. The bitcoin client allows you to use the bitcoin network, just like a web browser allows you to use the web. There are many different types and makers of bitcoin wallets, for desktop and mobile operating systems and also available as web applications. To receive bitcoin, you need a bitcoin “address”, which is a bit like an email address or bank account number. If someone knows your bitcoin address, they can send you money, but cannot do anything more, not even identify who you are or where you are. Therefore, you can freely share your bitcoin addresses with anyone without fear or security risk. Once you have a “wallet,” it can create any number of bitcoin addresses for you, even one per transaction. Give those addresses to anyone you want to send you bitcoin. Tip: bitcoin addresses are created by your wallet and do not need to be registered with anyone, or linked to your identity or email address. They can be used immediately to receive money from anyone and become part of the network once they have some bitcoin sent to them. Bitcoin addresses always start with the number “1” and they look like a long string of number. One of my bitcoin addresses is “1andreas3batLhQa2FawWjeyjCqyBzypd”. This is known as a vanity address, because it has my name in the beginning, but it works just the same as if it was a long string of random letters and numbers. I use it to receive tips and donations from people all around the world.

The remainder of the article explains the entire process, including how to pay for things using bitcoins, tips on securing your bitcoin keys, how to find vendors that accept bitcoins, etc.

Health Care Offers Huge Investment Opportunity

Venture investor Fred Wilson sees the digitization of the health care sector as one of the great investment opportunities we’re likely to see:

Mary Meeker’s slide deck addressed this is bit. Here are a few of the big points from it:

  • Healthcare is now $2.8 trillion in the US, which represents 17% of GDP
  • Healthcare is being consumerized
  • Healthcare is being digitized
  • Digital Health Venture Investment was $1.9bn in 2013 (out of a total of $24bn)

We are looking for networks of users, patients, doctors, and other stakeholders in our health care who can transform the way health care is delivered. We only have one game plan at USV and look to play it in every market opportunity we see.

I am pretty certain the intersection of the Internet and mobile, the digitization of the health care system, and a desire for people to take more control over their health is going to be one of the biggest investment opportunities we will see in my lifetime. And its game on.

As we’ve seen here in Winston-Salem the process of digitization won’t always be pretty. We’ve seen a lot of news regarding the problems our large health care networks, particularly Wake Forest Baptist, are experiencing as they try to (finally) catch up with almost every other industry in the use of information technology. While these are very large problems, and people have lost their jobs as a result, they almost certainly have more to do with terrible implementation strategy from executives than with the technology itself. In the long run those providers should realize huge gains in efficiency, and the data they’re accumulating will provide untold numbers of opportunities for entrepreneurial companies to create products and services that benefit providers and consumers alike.

It’s about damn time and it’s great to see that some smart money people are ready to put their money behind some of these initiatives.