Archive for May, 2010

Grow Some Code of Your Own!

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

A common question potential customers ask me is “How much does your security system cost?”. This is sometimes our initial conversation over the telephone before I know anything about the property. Now, I understand that there are some companies that will quote you a price for a system for your property, sight unseen. We don’t work that way. All of our systems are custom designed for the individual customer, property and situation. Some customers are insistent that I give them a price, so I tell them the truth, that the cost of the system is limited only by your imagination, my paranoia and your budget. Our systems range from $0.00 to 6 figures. Would you like me to come out to your facility and give you a realistic proposal? No? them let me recommend a national company or two.

Okay, I’m getting away from the point of this post, which is that the system itself (forget the cost) is limited only by your imagination. Humans have an inate hardwired propensity toward stretching the limits of every imaginable thing within our realm. Curiosity did not really kill the cat, it made him/her an explorer, a tinkerer, a hacker, an inventor. Not all these forays were ethical, legal, practical, painless or beneficial to mankind in any meaningful way, but some were, and almost all left us with lessons learned (i.e.: the stove is hot it will burn you).

I am a firm believer that if a human can imagine an idea (no matter how out landish), that at some point technology will evolve to a point where someone will feel it worthwhile to stretch things to the point where that idea could become reality. That person will then endeavour tirelessly to make it so, for better or worse (ie:, cloning humans- good or bad?).

I’m not the only person thinking this. A great book called “Physics Of The Impossible” by Michio Kaku is a case in point. The book takes many ideas that are science fiction today and actually gives a theoretical time line on each idea covered. Of course, some some time lines, such as traveling at high fractional speed of light span centuries. But the fact is well known physicists believe that almost everything will become possible at some time in the future (sorry, flying cars are just too damn dangerous with you behind the wheel!).

Another person who believes in streching things just recently made the news again, Dr. J. Craig Venter. Most people might remember him for developing the “Shot Gun” method of genome coding, as he competed with the public genome project some years ago. It seems Dr. Venter has been genome hacking along quietly all these years. It also seems that his endeavours have bourne some fruit.

According to news sources including the New York Times  Dr. Venter has managed to actually create a new life form. Here is a edited excerpt from a New York Times acticle from 05-20-10:

“Dr. Venter took a first step toward this goal three years ago, showing that the natural DNA from one bacterium could be inserted into another and that it would take over the host cell’s operation. Last year, his team synthesized a piece of DNA with 1,080,000 bases, the chemical units of which DNA is composed.

In a final step, a team led by Daniel G. Gibson, Hamilton O. Smith and Dr. Venter report in Thursday’s issue of the journal Science that the synthetic DNA takes over a bacterial cell just as the natural DNA did, making the cell generate the proteins specified by the new DNA’s genetic information in preference to those of its own genome.

The team ordered pieces of DNA 1,000 units in length from Blue Heron, a company that specializes in synthesizing DNA, and developed a technique for assembling the shorter lengths into a complete genome. The cost of the project was $40 million, most of it paid for by Synthetic Genomics, a company Dr. Venter founded.”

If this is not serious hacking, then I am really not sure how anyone can define a hacker (contrary to popular belief, hacking does not solely pertain to breaking into computer systems and stealing credit card numbers). The Doctor created a complete DNA sequence. This guy should get a noble prize.

I am a firm believer in stem cell research. Dr. Venter is a hero of The Bold New World.

As The Going Gets Tough, The FCC Gets Going

Friday, May 7th, 2010

Two posts ago, I was speaking about the FCC’s plan to do away with all analog communication networks (nationally) within this decade.

What I did not discuss or fully comprehend at the time of my post was the broadband carriers universal dislike (stronger words like “hate”, and less polite words could be inserted here) of the details of the plan and the effect it would have on thier ability to control the market and charge rates with no regulatory oversight.

Some history: For the sake of my carpal syndrome, I have paraphrased some of the following 5 paragraphs from wikipedia.

The original Communications Act of 1934 was the statutory framework for U.S. communications policy, covering telecommunications and broadcasting. That act created the Federal Communications Commission, which was to implement and administer the economic regulation of the interstate activities of the telephone monopolies and the licensing of spectrum used for broadcast and other purposes.

In the 1970s and 1980s, a combination of technological change, court decisions, and changes in U.S. policy permitted competitive entry into some telecommunications and broadcast markets. In this context, the Telecommunications Actwas designed to further open up markets to competition by removing unnecessary regulatory barriers to entry. Its stated objective was to open up markets to competition by removing regulatory barriers to entry: The conference report refers to the bill “to provide for a pro-competitive, de-regulatory national policy framework designed to accelerate rapidly private sector deployment of advanced services and information technologies and services to all Americans by opening all telecommunications markets to competition. Congress was attempting to create a regulatory framework for the transition from primarily monopoly provision to competitive provision of telecommunications services”.

However, in retrospect, the de-regulations led to a concentration of media ownership with fewer broadcasters competing in regional markets and the elimination of many local, independent and alternative media outlets.

The Act was approved by the 104th Congress on January 3, 1996 and signed into law on February 8, 1996 by President Bill Clinton.

The Act makes a significant distinction between providers of telecommunications services (colloquially referred to as “Common Carriers”) and information services.  For example, a carrier is not a ‘telecommunications carrier’ when it is selling broadband Internet access. This distinction becomes particularly important because the act enforces specific regulations against ‘telecommunications carriers’ but not against carriers providing information services. With the convergence of telephone, cable, and Internet providers, this distinction has created much controversy.

The FCC has sought to undo some of the provisions of the telecommunications act of 1996. It wants to regulate (or more precisely “de-de-regulate”) the “Providers of Information Services”. Predictably, the FCC was sued by ComCast (the nations largest provider by far) and on April 6, 2010 won a ruling against the FCC in the Supreme Court:  http://pacer.cadc.uscourts.gov/common/opinions/201004/08-1291-1238302.pdf

One possible recourse for the FCC is to reclassify all broadband providers as “Common Carriers” just like regular telephone companies, which they can and do regulate. It would take an act of congress, and Republicans strongly oppose this idea.

This apparently is the path that the FCC has decided to walk. For a more in depth analysis on what this means, please see the well written article by Edward Wyatt in the NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/07/technology/07broadband.html?ref=technology

The ability of the FCC to regulate the information carriers is essential to bring competition back into the market, where presently mergers and consolidation has left us a choice of just a few monolithic providers. In some geographical areas there is no choice at all.

Competition in the market place brings innovation and nimble, lean companies to the fore. This can easily be seen by looking at the market conditions in countries that are rated well above the US for Internet speed, pricing, availability and content.

Lets hope the FCC can get the job done without burying us under a ton of non-essential regulation. Let’s keep it lean people!