Tuesday, June 27, 2006

feedback to NPR on Network Neutrality

[This is a slightly revised and extended version of my feedback to NPR regarding an article they did on Network Neutrality.]

The objective of Network Neutrality is to define (and, if need be, regulate) the way consumers such as you, Google, Yahoo, Craigslist, and I buy and pay for bandwidth that is carried over the public airwaves or using government granted rights of way for hard wire infrastructure by telecoms, cable companies and wireless service providers (SPs).

Network Neutrality is all about the idea that if you want to buy a certain quantity of bandwidth, you can get it for the same price (measured in bits-per-second per dollar) as anyone else.

All the people and organizations that use the Internet already pay for the bandwidth they use and should not be subject to extortion by the SPs based on the content, source, or destination of the packets we send or receive, any more than we should get degraded service from TeleCo A if we call the sales office of Teleco B. The latter is what the greedy SPs want to make sure they can do. They should NOT be allowed to base bandwidth prices on content or addressing information.

The price you pay for Internet access should be content and address neutral. That is what has made the Internet so great.

[end of my letter to NPR]

A fairly good description of the net neutrality concept and related issues can be found at:


The definitions of terms presented there are useful, so I quote them here:


Non-discrimination means that all traffic over the network (typically digital packets or bits) is treated the same by the network, including the traffic originating with the network operator. This principle of 'bit parity' means that all bits are treated as 'just bits', and no bit traffic is prioritized over other bits, and none is hampered or disabled.

Interconnection means that network operators have both a duty of interconnection and a right of interconnection to any other network operator. Networks must be constructed so that there are a reasonable number of accessible interconnect points; that traffic is carried to and from rival networks at reasonable rates; and that the network is built with sufficient excess capacity to accommodate the reasonably foreseeable traffic that may be presented at the head-ends or peering points. Proponents of neutrality regulations argue that without a right of interconnection, there is no network.

Access means that any end user can connect to any other end-user. End users may be people, but the term could also mean devices (modems, routers, switches) or even other networks. Access means that a piece of content, say, an email message, has a right to enter the network, and if properly addressed, be received by the other end user, even if said user is on another network. In other words, traffic can begin at any point on the network and be delivered to any other point.

I am very interested in how Network Neutrality legislation might be patterned after Common Carrier laws that the telecommunication industry has had to deal with for years. Despite the (probably accurate) comment in the Wikipedia article and that of a friend about how I (usually rather libertarian and therefore against government meddling/regulation by default) think that some sort of government action to keep those who enjoy Internet infrastructure monopolies do not abuse them but rather use them to provide quality service to all who want to move bits over the 'Net.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Democrats Need To Get A Clue, Then A New Script

Helen Thomas wrote one of her typical OpEd pieces today. She got one thing right though: The Democrats need a new script!

I found Helen's article on the Seattle Post Intelligencer's site:

I replied to her comments there and thought it would be something worth putting here as well:


Posted by Mr. Wizard at 6/22/06 6:32 p.m.

The Democrats definitely need a new script. It would help if that script was based on some sort of clear, relevant agenda instead of their usual tax and waste policies.

The war in Iraq is not pretty. War never is. WWII was far uglier, but it was popular as far as wars go because the threat against the people of the USA was fairly obvious. Even so, the US dragged its heels before getting fully involved. It took Pearl Harbor to force the US to make the commitment to removing the threat the Axis powers posed to the world.

The Democrats to not seem to realize that events in places such as Iraq, Iran, North Korea and even as close as the border we share with Mexico affect the health and well being of US citizens. The Democrats do not favor doing anything to grant to the oppressed people of the world the very rights and liberties the United States of America was founded to protect and preserve.

The Democrats need a new script. It would be nice if they had a clue too.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

If North Korea launches a "test" ICBM...

...The USA ought to take that as an opportunity to test our shiny new ABM system! According to FOX News, the US has just activated it's Anti Ballistic Missile system in case North Korea does decide to give its nascent ICBM technology a real world test by launching the prototype ICBM it has been fueling. Presumably, our ABM system won't act unless the NK missile heads in our direction. I think we should just take out their ICBM if it is launched, as long as we can do so without putting innocent civilians at serious risk.

Since there is absolutely no reason we shouldn't take NK's actions as hostile if they launch, and we have a need to learn just how effective the ABM system the US has developed to thwart first strikes by NK and/or other recalcitrant nations really is, why not let it get safely over some reasonably clear part of the ocean and then blow it up, just to know if and hopefully show that we can (and will) do so when provoked.

The odds of anyone getting hurt are minute and the propaganda value if the United States of America is successful in taking out the North Korean ICBM in mid-flight is tremendous. Thinks of it in these terms:
  1. North Korea rattles a primitive but potentially deadly saber.
  2. The United States of America used its new, largely untried shield.
  3. The shield, a defensive weapon, either fails in a rather feeble manner, or succeeds in a rather dramatic, probably spectacular (if captured on video) display of technological superiority -- it breaks the saber without hurting the saber-rattler.
  4. The politicians and diplomatic immediately do what they do best: produce incredible volumes of public hot air, signifying nothing.
  5. Real world international relations between NK and the USA shift accordingly -- the fact that the USA makes a real effort to blow their puny but significant missile out of the sky carries the only message the USA needs to convey. If we succeed in destroying the NK missle, the NK suffers nothing worse than public humiliation and the lost of a little test data -- the missile isn't meant to be reusable, after all.
  6. For the USA, it is a win-win demonstration. See below.
If the USA shoots down the NK missile with no civilian casualties anywhere, it is a huge win for us. It demonstrates that we are serious, that we will act if need be, and that we can show restraint -- it is obvious we could just nuke the shit out of North Korea and there is nothing they could do to stop us except whine a little before being vaporized.

If the USA fails to shoot down the NK missile, or comes close, or hits it but doesn't destroy it, or is unlucky enough to have debris or other effects directly linkable to the ABM system cause harm to innocent civilians, it can just ride out the media frenzy that North Korea and the loony Leftists of the world will furiously foment.

Guess what? The USA does not need the UN. The UN needs the USA. Much of the world will thank the USA for just saying, "Enough!", meaning what it says and backing up its statement with limited, strictly defensive action -- the implication being that we could just say we would launch several of our own very effective, extremely accurate ICBMs at North Korea should they fail to head our warning not to try out theirs. Of course we would be nice enough to mention that our ICBMs have passed their field tests and would be armed with rather clean but decidedly deadly thermonuclear warheads if we have to resort to that sort of thing.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Letter to my Congresscritters re: 'Net Neutrality

(I sent the following message to my US Senators and Congressman from http://action.freepress.net/campaign/savethenet . )

Please act immediately to preserve the open and accessible nature of the entire Internet!

The rapid growth of the Internet has made it possible for people to learn and communicate far more effectively than they could just a dozen years ago.

One of the things that has made the Internet so great and incredibly useful is that businesses and special interest groups have little control over what Web sites people choose to visit, which Internet businesses they frequent, or what Internet-based means of communication they favor.

Telephone and cable companies have no business altering the priority of Internet traffic they carry. I don't want my favorite search engine(s) to be forced to become a pay service because a few huge ISPs will sell priority connections to search engines that pay for preferential treatment. Popular Web site operators already pay for the bandwidth they use. Greedy ISPs should not be allowed to extort more money from them just to ensure that the users of their high-traffic sites can continue to enjoy their services.

Sure, the telephone companies would love to be able to charge major news outlets, Web portals and search engines a premium, but those popular sites already pay for the bandwidth they need to stay in business -- why should anyone be allowed to gouge them for being good/popular?

Please help keep the Internet neutral. Organizations and individuals should be able to buy bandwidth to utilize as they see fit and not be forced to pay extra based on who they communicate with or what information they exchange over the Internet.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Network Neutrality

What can I say? I'm for it!

Seriously, this seems like a no-brainer to me. But various greedy parties want to grab and keep control over your use of the 'Net. The TelCos, CableCos and other large ISPs seem to want to be able to prevent you from buying bandwidth and using it as you please, regardless of the source/destination or content of your packets.

An ISP's treatment of a packet should not depend on whether it is going to/from Google, Amazon, or MyWay. The sender and recipient are each paying for bandwidth on their respective ends, and all the intermediate organizations/ISPs are paying for their connections, too. As far as routine packets go, they should not be prioritized by content, at least not when they travel over network segments that require rights of way granted by the government or utilize the public airwaves.

Yeah, yeah, the mind boggles at the number of oh-so-reasonable exceptions that might be made to that rule -- what should constitute non-routine packets? What about the 'Net equivalent of 911 calls or the Emergency Broadcast System? But what about the ordinary traffic of John and Jane Doe as they blog, Google, share music, buy/sell stuff on eBay, UL/DL porn, listen to talk radio shows online, view RSS feeds and old Sopranos clips, etc? What about the business person who is paying for 'Net access in order to communicate with (potential) customers?

I was very glad to spot the following wonderful analogy on another blog (see:
http://dubinko.info/blog/2006/06/05/ten-things-that-would-shake-up-the-mobile-industry-overnight/ ):

'If phone companies thought they could get away with it, you'd have this: "I'm sorry, all circuits to Domino's Pizza are currently busy. Would you like to be connected to our preferred pizza provider instead?"
-- mdubinko'

Mr. Dubinko really cuts to the heart of the matter. I wish I had thought of such a succinct summary of the issue. Just as you don't expect your phone service provider to care much about who you call (what numbers you dial (when is the last time you actually "dialed" or "hung up" a phone, anyway -- the terminology is becoming archaic!) or what you say during a phone conversation, you shouldn't have to worry about the source, destination, or content of your packets affecting the way they travel over the 'Net.

I hear people crying, "But what about the calling circles and friends lists I have with my cellular phone service?" Yeah, so what? I'm fairly sure that since the PSTN has become a packet switching network, TelCos can assign calls various priority levels, but so far, I don't expect it to cost me any more to call and talk with a person at one phone number in a given area than it does to talk with their neighbor, unless we have chosen to join some special calling plan or if local versus long-distance boundary effects come into play. It won't cost me more or less to call Barnes and Noble than it will to call Borders or the used book store in the same town. If I call up a Cingular store using my Verizon (Verizoff would be more appropriate) Wireless phone, the call will go through the same as if I called a Verizon store; so I, perhaps naively, believe.

What is to be avoided is any kind of multi-tier scheme imposed on general 'Net access by greedy ISPs. They should provide bandwidth to anyone willing to pay for it, measured in bits per unit of time, independent of how that bandwidth gets used or where the packets are routed (within applicable laws -- I do not condone spamming, DoS attacks, malicious hacking, etc.)

Companies such as Google already buy huge amounts of bandwidth and I would expect them to pay less per unit for it than I do, just as banks that buy thousands of logo pens to give away as promotions pay less per pen than I do.

When cellular phone companies set up special calling plans, they are essentially creating VPNs with special features. I have no problem with ISPs that do similar things, as long as they do not disrupt or degrade regular Internet traffic involving people and organizations outside their plans.

I hope to see Network Neutrality become the law of the land, despite the inclination of corrupt politicians to work in the best interests of big ISPs and other groups which fund their expensive campaigns. Access to basic services (utilities) should be allocated fairly to all. Utilities that provide electricity, gas, water, and sewer services don't generally discriminate except for volume discounts which are available to all consumers of given quantities AFAIK, so why should big, bloated ISPs be able to discriminate except when economies of scale make doing so on an otherwise impartial basis a reasonable way of setting prices?

Keep Network Neutrality as a basic underlying principle of the operation of the Internet!

Will Linux become a mature technology?

(From a response I posted on Slashdot...)

The real problem with Linux, IMNSHO, is that while it is certainly technically feasible to make it easy for most users install the OS itself as well as major apps and utilities, that is not the case in the real world. Wintel systems are bad enough as far as ease of setup and use go, but Linux is not nearly as mature a technology, although it is an improvement over Unix.

People want to do useful things with computers and networks. Most of them have no interest in being geeks. Look at how they buy and use cars. Many people who are serious consumers of automotive technology and often are also driving enthusiasts really don't give a flying fuck why their spiffy vehicles do what they do. They just want to get behind the wheel and go!

Admittedly, one need only watch traffic on busy roads to realize how woefully ignorant most people are of cars and driving. But think about this: there is the now classic analogy of what today's cars would be like if automotive tech had progressed as fast as computer tech (e.g., incredibly fast, cheap to own and operate, and reliable); yet I can get behind the wheel of almost any car in the U.S. (or England) and drive it reasonably well. I don't feel too lost, even when driving cars with everything on the wrong side (Brit style) or when I encounter an different transmission or gear pattern than the ones I know and prefer.

The thing is, one needs to know very little about how cars function internally in order to make effective use of them. That is not true of computers and especially not of any Linux systems I am aware of.

Linux already allows for far more powerful and functional systems than Windows or MacOS systems ever have, but the extra utility is not accessible and therefor not useful/meaningful to the typical consumer. Gets what? Typical consumers are the folks who buy things in mass quantities and thereby determine which products/technologies will be most successful.

The biggest Linux Annoyance for most geeks is that they have to waste so much time fiddling with and explaining the guts of it. If/when Linux becomes a mature technology, it will be as intuitive and easy to operate as the more popular cell phones and will "network" as seamlessly. One will Just Use It! (apologies to Nike)

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Diet Racket (First Post!)

Another diet scam.

Have you ever noticed how all the "fat burner" products advertised on TV ("I lost 30 lbs. in just 2 months!") have in the fine print some sort of clause saying "when used in conjunction with a reasonable regimen of diet and exercise"? Hint: the diet pills or supplements are nothing more than you could get OTC in a good drug store if you wanted -- things like vitamins, minerals, fiber, etc. But promoted as weight loss aids on TV they can be very profitable because some people will pay through the nose for something that "guarantees" they will lose weight "or [their] money back!", especially since the S&H charge covers the sellers cost of the product too.

Just look at the heap of advertising hype combined with a near total lack of substantive description of how [a diet club's] program works and what participants are expected to do. I don't know about you, but to me it just screams "BOGUS!!!"

[A friend] has always had a lot of pills and diet supplements around the place and he carries a pile of them with him in his travel bag. I bet he could stay as fit and trim as he is without ever setting foot in GNC or similar stores. He seems to be the restless, active sort anyway and as long as he continues to follow his inclination to get out and DO SOMETHING, and doesn't take to spending all day in front of the TV or computer (as you and I are wont to do). IMHO, he almost certainly doesn't need any pills or supplements except those that most people are advised to take because of the poor eating habits we have developed in the U.S. I'm sort of surprised he would fall for such a gimmicky scam.

The only real benefit that most of the commercial diet plans offer is that they do cost money and people tend to want to get their money's worth and will often follow such plans for long enough to lose a some weight. What people really want is immediate gratification on the form of a miracle diet pill that "melts away" all of their excess weight (and then some, preferably overnight) while they remain Cheezy-Poof-eating couch potatoes glued to their idiot boxes.

Well, I hope you enjoyed reading today's message of cynicism and skepticism as much as I enjoyed writing it. Hell, I feel so good after venting that I might just go for a walk on this cloudy day...I don't have to join a club to do that