Saturday, March 7, 2015

Lifelong Learning With MOOCs

I just completed an open online course on classical music from Yale and Professor Craig Wright. The course took 8 weeks and required a few hours a week of my time. I learned new things and reinforced things I had only partially understood before. Over the weeks I took 74 short quizzes with a total of over 300 questions, and I scored in the low 90s overall. Most of all, I had a good time. 
Have you taken a Massive Open Online Course (a "MOOC")? Completed one? Coursera and edX offer a great catalog of interesting courses. You can take them at no cost, or for a very small cost you can "register" for a verified certificate in which case a passing grade gets you an online badge or certificate of completion. If you enjoy learning by reading or watching documentaries, this can be a fun and interactive new way for you to continue to learn.

Links:

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Monday, March 2, 2015

FCC Stands Up for Net Neutrality

Part 3 in the RapidGroove Net Neutrality Series


Graphic credit: 21stcenturywire.com
Back in March 2014 Net Neutrality was discussed in two RapidGroove blog posts (“Net Neutrality as Fighting Words and “Net Neutrality, Part 2). At the time, I wrote that if the situation continued to develop, there might be a third post in the future. A year later, that time has come.

To review, Net Neutrality is the idea that all Internet traffic of a given type should have equal footing when moving through the network, without some traffic being highly prioritized and other traffic being blocked or slowed down. For example, an ISP would not be permitted to artificially slow down the traffic of one streaming video service in order to make another streaming video service (such as one that it operates or has financial interest in) appear to perform better to their broadband service subscribers.

(Disclaimer: From here on, I'm wading into telecom law and policy that I'm really not qualified to interpret. But this is a blog, and the topic is of real interest to me, so I'll carry on with my best understanding. And I'll gladly accept corrections from those who know better!)

Consumer advocates and Internet services companies such as Netflix and Google have generally been supporters of strong Net Neutrality, while major carriers and broadband providers like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast are interested in retaining more control. The latter group of companies is not necessarily against an Open Internet, but has been concerned about burdensome regulation and possible revenue impact. They have been particularly opposed to one of the measures voted upon last week – that broadband Internet Service Providers would be subject to Title II of the Communications Act as “Common Carriers.”

Over the past year, a great deal of public attention has been paid to what really is a complex regulatory issue, thanks in part to high profile treatment by the likes of JohnOliver on his HBO show “Last Week Tonight” and significant attention fromSenator Al Franken of Minnesota. Recently, President Barak Obama has openly showedsupport for Net Neutrality.

This attention seems to have fueled a tidal wave of public comments to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) during 2014. So many comments were submitted that FCC Chairman Wheeler needed to extend the comment period and the timeframe for announcing proposed rules. By early 2015 it began to become clear that Chairman Wheeler would seek to provide the “strongest legal foundation for the Open Internet rules” based upon Title II of the Communications Act and Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

FCC on Title II

As the February 26th vote approached, the FCC described a set of “bright line rules” that Title II would enable. For example, the FCC would prohibit network traffic blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization while still allowing control by ISPs primarily intended for network management.

Among the additional elements of Title II that the FCC proposes to apply are protections of consumer privacy and fair access to poles and conduits for broadband ISPs.

The FCC also promises some specific restraint in order to reassure broadband ISPs. The FCC would achieve this restraint through an established process called “forbearance” in which the FCC makes known the areas in which it would not regulate. Here, the FCC is prepared to reassure broadband ISPs that the FCC will not become heavily involved in rate setting or rate approvals or “other forms of utility regulation” for broadband ISPs.

FCC on Section 706

Section 706 requires the FCC to determine whether high-speed broadband access to the Internet is being made available to all Americans in a “timely fashion.” If not, according to section 706, the FCC is responsible for taking action to "accelerate deployment of such capability by removing barriers to infrastructure investment and by promoting competition in the telecommunications market.”

The FCC pursued this issue in the February 26th vote by intervening in two states (Tennessee and North Carolina) that had limited the expansion and availability of Internet access operated by cities. The FCC acted to remove those limits, allowing the expansion of city operated Internet access. If this action is not overturned when challenged later this year, the way may be cleared for more city-operated broadband Internet access rollouts, which could increase the availability of high-speed broadband access to the Internet in some geographic regions and add to the choices available to consumers in others. Many (myself included) believe that increased competition is really the heart of the matter.
                                     
(once again, a reminder that I am not a lawyer and I don't play one on the Internet)

What next?

It’s widely anticipated that once the rules reach final adoption stage later this year, Comcast, Verizon and AT&T will file legal challenges. It could be quite some time before any impacts of last week’s votes are seen in action by consumers.

What’s your opinion? Will the FCC’s recent moves help fuel competition for consumer business and promote a healthy, competitive space for future network services? Please leave a comment and join the discussion.
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References:


Related Reading:

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Four Quick February Topics

I never lack for interesting topics to consider for RapidGroove – I come across great topics every day. What I lack is adequate time to research and write about these interesting topics in longer form, so I thought I’d just share a few of them with you along with some interesting sources. I hope you enjoy these topics!

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FAA Drone Rules Evolving

Within the last few years small, unmanned aircraft, or “drones,” have become a very hot topic and popular with both hobbyists and those with commercial interests for tasks such as aerial photography and package transportation. I have written about them several times in this blog (Parrot AR Drone 2, Domestic Drones, Drones and Limits

Earlier this month, the FAA proposed new rules for commercial drones weighing up to 55 pounds. Elements include pilot training, maximum altitude, and other limitations on flight path. While safety and privacy risks certainly still exist, opening the door cautiously on drone use is an important step for an important technology that could play a substantial role in our future.

See also:


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Careful What you Say Near Your TV

Troubling news surfaced recently that the Samsung “smart” TV privacy policy appeared to reserve some interesting rights. Samsung Smart TVs can listen to user nearby voices to enable spoken searches and spoken channel changes. The privacy policy (which has since been modified) originally stated:
“Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party.” 

    See also:

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    Tesla Power for Homes

    Tesla Motors, the trendy electric car company, is making headlines lately – not for cars but for their batteries. Power, space and weight efficient batteries have always been a primary challenge in practical electric car design and Tesla has long been strong in this space. CEO Elon Musk (the real life Tony Stark) is saying that Tesla will unveil batteries in the next few months capable of powering homes and businesses. Implications for backup power and for incentives to adopt renewables in homes are intriguing.

    See also:


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      Apple Developing a Car?

      Apple Inc., the first U.S. company valued at over $700 billion, is best known for computers, smartphones and tablets. Recently, though, the hot rumor is that Apple is working on a car – a smart, electric car. Maybe even a self-driving car. Of course, always-secretive Apple hasn’t confirmed or commented. And it’s well known that when it comes to Apple, speculation grows without limits and sometimes without reason. The prospect of an Apple iCar is an interesting one, though. Google’s self-driving car is one of the most impressive technology developments of the past few years, and Apple competes with Google on several fronts. Add to that the insane growth of Uber (worth $80B and growing), a company of interest to Google, and the idea that Apple might enter the automotive market begins to have some merits. Watch this space.

      See also:



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      Thursday, January 29, 2015

      Key Largo and Key West





      My son Steve and I had the chance to spend a few days together in the Florida Keys. We fished offshore from Key Largo, and then we hung out in Key West enjoying lots of live music. This blog post is just a few photos from our adventure.


      We stayed at a marina in Key Largo and spent a day fishing on one of the charter boats. It turned out to be a rough and windy day, and the sailfish didn't cooperate. But we got 4 big barracuda and a number of mutton snapper and mangrove snapper. We gave away the barracuda and took the snapper to a local restaurant where we had them cooked for us for dinner.

      Two of the four Barracuda we caught
      Next day, we drove down through the keys to Key West, stopping here and there in Islamorada and Marathon, and checking out the Key Deer (miniature deer) in Big Pine Key.
      View from our hotel room in Key West
      Cigars on Duval Street
      Key West is a great place for live music, day and night. Lots of bars have bands, duos and solo performers. Many of them are great! We heard music at Sloppy Joe's, Irish Kevin's, Lazy Gecko, Willie T's, Hogs Breath, The Bull, the Sunset Pier, and Blue Heaven (and I'm sure lots of other places I've already forgotten).
      Check out the dollars stapled up at Willie T's
      Live music at Wille T's
      Blue Heaven in a quirky little outdoor cafe
      Live music at Blue Heaven
      Roosters walking around at Blue Heaven
      Always ready to spend some time on the water, we picked one of the tall ships for an afternoon sail. On my last visit we sailed on the America 2.0, a replica of an America's Cup racer from the past. This time, I picked the "pirate ship" Jolly Rover. It was a two hour sail complete with simulated cannon fire on another of the sailing ships. I helped raise sails and took a long turn at the wheel. The crew was friendly and a lot of fun and Captain Rio (they all swear it's his real name) posed for a selfie with me on my way out.
      We sailed on the Jolly Rover

      At the wheel of the Jolly Rover

      Selfie with Captain Rio of the Jolly Rover
      It was a really touristy thing to do, but we stopped at the Southernmost Point and Steve took my photo.
      At the Southernmost Point in Key West
       On several of the evenings we walked around Mallory Square at sunset, seeing the street performers and the great sunsets.
      Street performer at Mallory Square
      Sunset at Mallory Square
      I really love the Florida Keys and will be back again soon!

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