Tag Archives: technology

The Morning Grumpy – 2/1/2012

1 Feb

All the news and views fit to consume during your morning grumpy.

 

1. Mitt Romney, “I’m not concerned with the very poor“.

Under Romney’s proposed reductions in federal spending, it’s likely that Medicaid would be cut by $153 billion by 2016, the food stamp program would have to throw 10 million low-income people off the rolls, and a key program supporting poor children’s health would face cumulative cuts of $946 billion through 2021. As ThinkProgress’ Igor Volsky has said that Romney is living in a “dream world” when he claims his Medicaid cuts won’t hurt the poor.

And Romney’s tax plan suggests his focus is really on the wealthy, as it includes massive giveaways to upper-income earners and investors, while doing almost nothing for middle- and low-income Americans.

The Republican party, 2012!

“I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil.” – Robert Kennedy

2. Rick “Santorum” Santorum finally gets the Bad Lip Reading treatment on YouTube. “We all leave skidders”

Here are some links to previous Bad Lip Reading episodes featuring Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, and Barack Obama. Bachmann’s is still the best, primarily because it doesn’t sound much different from what she says every day.

3. Does spending extensive amounts of time online alter our ability to learn and influence our happiness?

A study from Stanford University, published Wednesday, wrestles with a new question: How is technology affecting their happiness and emotional development?

The answer, in the peer-reviewed study of the online habits of girls ages 8 to 12, is that those who say they spend considerable amounts of time using multimedia describe themselves in ways that suggest they are less happy and less socially comfortable than peers who say they spend less time on screens.

The study has some holes, but was generally validated through the peer review process and will serve as a precursor to further research.  I respect technology because of its awesome power. The tools and the information it brings can be overwhelming and one has to measure how much one consumes in any particular time period. Too much and you become the socially inept “Did you read it?” characters from Portlandia; too little and you can find yourself both culture and information deprived. It is a delicate balance. Brian Lam at The Wirecutter expands on this idea.

It’s the perfect time, with this abundance of pages to read and videos to watch, to consider Clay Johnson’s book, The Information Diet. In his words, the book is about “How the new, information-abundant society is suffering consequences from poor information consumption habits” The book also outlines a plan for metering the kinds of content that we consume, as we do with food diets that need to be balanced between junk food and healthier food that initially taste worse but will make us healthier and happier.

Informationally, we are becoming lard-asses. In the pageview and ratings driven media economy, too much of the content these days is designed to be just like junk food to quickly boost quantifiable viewership. If you make content that is the intellectual equivalent of gummy bears, your site will appear to grow quickly. Advertisers reward size, and growing fast is expected in most places I’ve seen. Last month I visited Xeni Jardin, my blog-sister from Boing Boing and she said to me, “Only cancer and bullshit websites grow fast.” It’s happened to TV with reality shows, radio with clear channel, and it’s happening to words online.

A couple of pieces worthy of your time in the information hurricane we find ourselves in each day.

4. The Susan G. Komen Foundation has severed ties with Planned Parenthood in response to pressure from right wing Christian groups.

Komen has a long history of providing funding to various Planned Parenthood affiliates for such services as manual breast exams and referrals for mammograms and biopsies to check suspicious lumps for cancer. Although that money is not used for abortions, the Komen Foundation may have yielded to demands from antiabortion groups to sever its ties to Planned Parenthood.

According to Planned Parenthood, its centers performed more than 4 million breast exams over the past five years, including nearly 170,000 as a result of Komen grants. Those funds were specifically targeted for use in lower-income areas where women lack insurance options and/or information about the need for cancer screening. Now, those women have even more limited options.

You might also remember that the Komen Foundation also began suing small groups and organizations who used the term “For The Cure” during their fundraising efforts for cancer research.

So far, Komen has identified and filed legal trademark oppositions against more than a hundred of these Mom and Pop charities, including Kites for a Cure, Par for The Cure, Surfing for a Cure and Cupcakes for a Cure–and many of the organizations are too small and underfunded to hold their ground.

“It happened to my family,” said Roxanne Donovan, whose sister runs Kites for a Cure, a family kite-flying event that raises money for lung cancer research. “They came after us ferociously with a big law firm. They said they own ‘cure’ in a name and we had to stop using it, even though we were raising money for an entirely different cause.”

Komen’s General Counsel, Jonathan Blum told HuffPost that legal fees comprise a “very small part” of Komen’s budget, but according to Komen’s financial statements, such costs add up to almost a million dollars a year in donor funds.

My support for the Komen Foundation is now over. No more donations, no more ribbons, no more sponsoring walkers, nothing. My money will go to local foundations and Planned Parenthood.

Fact Of The Day: Author of The Satanic Bible, Anton LaVey, says the tome was “just Ayn Rand’s philosophy, with ceremony and ritual added“. Good to know.

Quote Of The Day: “Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.” – Abraham Lincoln

Song Of The Day: “Winter Winds” by Mumford & Sons

Follow me on Twitter: @ChrisSmithAV

Email me links, tips, story ideas: chrissmithbuffalo[@]gmail.com

The Filter Bubble

10 Jun

Once upon a time, there was a group of media outlets that made decisions about the types of information you, the consumer, would be able to hear, view or read.  They were gatekeepers and they decided what would be news and what would forever descend down the memory hole.

The internet changed all of that.  We, formerly known as the audience, suddenly became producers, curators and distributors of news and information using the semantic web and social networking. We could even influence the production of traditional media using the web; changing the face of the news to look a little something like this.

Using this technology, we would set information free and open new channels of communication independent of gatekeepers. Right?

Eli Pariser is the author of a new book called “The Filter Bubble” which challenges that basic assumption.  I’ll let him explain the basics.

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Pariser asserts that the tools we use to produce, aggregate, curate, and disseminate news have become the new gatekeepers. The complicated algorithms which make the web possible are actively working to create a personal internet, attuned to our biases and perspective. So much so that we’re beginning to lose touch with other points of view and information needed to make informed decisions as media consumers.

Essentially, Facebook, Google and others are turning into automated confirmation bias machines. Facebook, specifically, is trying to optimize your news feed to make it pleasurable for you to come back frequently, generate page views and increase ad clicks. As Facebook becomes the personal internet for people around the globe, is the company optimizing for social value by actively working to challenge your personal assumptions and connect you with people who might disagree with you? Not really.

Our readers here at WNYMedia tend to be a bit more savvy and likely search out contradictory points of view. However, most people don’t. They prefer to have information provided to them and the gatekeepers of yesterday which prepared and presented a balanced mix of news and information have been replaced by an automated filter bubble. This growing bubble is partly responsible for our national ideological xenophobia and hyper-partisan approach to information. It seems that 20-25 years ago, there was objective truth and opinions about that truth, now, it’s just shades of bias.  Algorithms are nothing more than a collection of personal opinion compiled into a mathematical equation. They are not apolitical, the politics is just hidden in complex math that you don’t understand. And the output is meant to be relevant to you and your experience.

For instance, Google says they use 57 “signals” to determine what your search results will look like, i.e. your search results for the term “Paladino Horse Porn” might be totally different from mine. Google admits they use your location, browser type, and computer type and they have protected the other 54 signals as proprietary information.  However, that hasn’t stopped computer scientists from all over the world from trying to reverse engineer the massive Google engine, here is one of the best lists generated so far.

So, what can you do? First, actively search out various points of view. It’ll influence the algorithms to provide you with a healthy mix of persepctive. Second, follow these 10 steps that Pariser lays out in his book.

Don’t let the web kill serendipity, seek out new information from asymmetrical channels and be smart with what you share online.

Standing in Line

25 Jun

In the long long ago, people would stay up all night to wait for the release of record albums and concert tickets.

Now, we download from iTunes in the comfort of our homes, whenever we want.

Now, we hit “refresh” on our computers until the tickets go on sale online, or else we join the band’s fanclub to get a super-secret password enabling us to get the tickets a few days earlier than they go on general sale.

Instead, people wait hours for iPhones and iPads. I can’t think of another consumer product of any type that prompts people to wait literally hours in the heat to get it on day one. Clearly, those people could have waited until, for instance, today to get the phone without a wait, but part of the appeal is being the first, I suppose. When the very first iPhone came out in 2007, Apple stores shut down for the day and opened at 5pm. I showed up without a reservation or anything, and waited a mere hour.

Apple’s products have transcended being mere computers or phones. It’s like it’s a movement. Practically a religion. And to think less than 20 years ago, Apple was barely surviving.

The only other cultural phenomenon that I can think of that prompts folks to queue up like that involves not specific products, but the time of year – namely, Black Friday.

You Will

17 May

AT&T ads from 1993. Phone booth?!

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Google Fiber In Buffalo

21 Feb

Last week, our new overlords at Google announced a new initiative called the Google Fiber Network.

Google is planning to build, and test ultra-high speed broadband networks in a small number of trial locations across the country. We’ll deliver Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today with 1 gigabit per second, fiber-to-the-home connections. We’ll offer service at a competitive price to at least 50,000, and potentially up to 500,000 people.

As a first step, we’re putting out a Request for Information (RFI) to help identify interested communities. We welcome responses from local government, as well as members of the public.

Here’s a video primer about the project:

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In short, this is a game changer for a city like Buffalo as it helps to bridge the digital divide by opening opportunities for education and expanding access to services.  It would also provide a distinct advantage to businesses which might utilize our low-cost universal broadband.

Even though Internet use has been on the rise among most Americans, nearly 80 percent of households with incomes below 50,000 dollars a year remain unconnected.   That is an incredible number of people who do not have access to information, educational tools, government services, and knowledge. Network access is quickly becoming a necessity if one wishes to participate in the new economy. In the third poorest city in America, can we afford to leave so many of our citizens behind?

It becomes a tool for business development when we can offer network speeds that are near 100 times faster than those offered in other municipalities and doing so at a lower cost.  Combined with our existing assets of low cost hydropower, abundant talent from our colleges and universities and generally low operating overhead, we now become a very compelling location for technology startups as well as existing datacenters and web companies.  Google fiber in Buffalo could be the defining moment for a city waiting for a rebirth.  Buffalo, the first electrified city and the first city with universal high speed broadband?  Sounds good to me.

Shockingly, the Mayor is onboard with the effort as Marc Odien caught up with Mayor Byron Brown last week and asked if the city planned to respond to the Google RFI.

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I’ve joined with members of the local technology community to assist in the formulation of the plan.  We need a unified effort from the city, county, state and the business community in order to put forth a competent proposal.  Here’s to hoping we can put all the wood behind one arrow and not devolve into a bunch of parochial crumb hoarders.

Buffalo needs Google Fiber.  Join the rapidly growing group of supporters at GoogleFiberBuffalo so we have a central location to connect and recruit supporters.  I’ll post updates as they become available.

Yahoo Chooses Lockport, Maybe

18 Jun

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It would appear that Yahoo! has made a site selection for their proposed datacenter in Western New York and they have chosen the best of the three options, Lockport, NY.

Yahoo (YHOO) has filed plans for a $150 million data center in Lockport, New York and hopes to begin work in August building a 190,000 square foot server farm. Officials in Lockport announced Yahoo’s interest after the company filed site plans with the city planning board. Lockport is about 25 miles northeast of Buffalo, NY.

Yahoo has told local media the Lockport location is “not a done deal” and the company is still considering other states. Yahoo’s board has yet to approve the proposal, and the company is apparently debating whether to buy or lease the site. But the filing of site plans suggests that a decision is all but done but can’t be finalized until a pending package of tax breaks is approved.

The company has filed site plans for a 30-acre parcel along Route 270. Yahoo also considered sites in nearby towns of Pembroke and Cambria, and had previously scouted locations in Virginia and eastern Canada.

Yahoo! has not given a full commitment to the project as doing so would cut off negotiating leverage with New York authorities as well as their fallback options.  Once the final package of tax breaks and power grants from NYPA are formalized, Yahoo’s board of directors will most likely approve the deal.  We got a closer look at the design of the datacenter and some additional details from the site plans submitted to the Lockport planning board today.

Drawings of the proposed site were provided as part of the presentation. Looking overhead, the data center lays diagonally across the site and consists of 10 separate sections connected by hallways. In between section five and six will be a central office building. The first phase, which is five sections and the central office building, will make up about 108,000 of the 190,000-square-foot project. While there is no official timetable, Noteboom said the goal was to have both phases completed in two years.

The Buffalo News added some detail regarding the number of jobs that Yahoo! expects to create with this datacenter project.

Yahoo! executive Scott Noteboom also clarified the job impact, saying the data center would create 75 jobs, not the 125 that Gov. David A. Paterson claimed last month. “I don’t know where that came from,”

The State Power Authority granted 15 megawatts of low-cost hydropower to Yahoo! for 15 years.

As usual, a politician tries to exaggerate the details of a pending agreement in order to improve the press coverage.  Last month, Jim Heaney of The Buffalo News did the math on the total number of subsidies granted to Yahoo! and came to the following conclusion:

The Internet giant would build a $150 million server farm that would employ 125 people in exchange for deeply discounted hydropower generated at the Niagara Power Project in Lewiston. The discounts would save Yahoo! an estimated $101.2 million over the 15 years, according to News calculations that use the authority’s cost assumptions.

That works out to $809,940 per job.

With the updated job numbers provided by Yahoo!, New York State would be spending roughly $1.35MM per job created or $90,000 per job, per year.  That’s a lot of corporate welfare.

As I described last month, if a datacenter project of this scope is properly sited and planned, it can have a positive multiplier effect on the local economy.  Yahoo! is building these regional datacenters to support their plans in the cloud computing space and the potential for independent application development firms and support industry is quite lucrative with this business model.

Placing the datacenter in Lockport, away from the academic clusters and other related industry limits the potential for spinoff, such as it is.  While Lockport is a much better choice than Pembroke or Cambria, I wonder why New York State did not encourage Yahoo! to locate its facility in the urban core of Buffalo or Niagara Falls or even Amherst.  Oh, wait…I know!  It’s because we don’t have a plan.  Practicing ad hoc economic development is no way to go through life, guys.  Here’s a lesson for local leaders, if you’re going to give away over $1MM in incentives per job created, you have the responsibility and right to dictate some of the criteria for site selection.

Since there is no way to segue smoothly into the geeky portion of this post, I’ll just switch gears.  One of the highlights of the proposed datacenter project was buried in the site planning details.

The first phase includes office space and six prefabricated metal pods stuffed with computer hardware, each equipped with a diesel- powered emergency generator. Phase 2 calls for six more computer pods, identical to the others.

For a little context to readers who might scratch their heads when reading about computer “pods”, the article refers to a fairly new development in datacenter architecture which is standard modular shipping containers modified to act as mobile datacenters.  Here’s a video that shows a “pod” of this type which is manufactured by Sun Microsystems.

These shipping containers are a revolution in design which afford a company the ability to rapidly expand their computing footprint at a relatively low cost without the need for constant and costly expansion to building infrastructure.  Several manufacturers make similar products including HP and APC.  However you slice it, this part of the project IS exciting for a datacenter nerd like me.

How Other States Attract Datacenter Projects

29 May

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Last week, the news broke that Yahoo! was in negotiations to build a large dataenter somewhere in Western New York.  While Yahoo! has not yet agreed to build the datacenter in New York, it sure as hell didn’t stop Governor Paterson and other state politicians from patting themselves on the back for getting NYPA to agree to a huge subsidy for the project.  Much was made of the deal in the political realm as it is a symbol for attracting more high technology companies to New York State.  I took issue with the plan as did Jim Heaney of The Buffalo News.

The New York Power Authority has offered hydropower discounts worth $809,940 in an effort to lure a Yahoo! data center to Western New York.

I’ve built a database that tracks allocations of low-cost hydropower the Power Authority has made since 2006. The value of the discounts has worked out to an average of $12,446 per job, per year.

The richest of the deals worked out to $32,733 per head.

Yahoo! would come in at $53,996.

Multiply that by the 15-year contract and you’re at $800,000 and change.

That is an astonishingly large subsidy that we would be giving Yahoo! in exchange for a datacenter they haven’t yet to agreed to build.  I’m not as focused on the size of the subsidy, I am more concerned with what our requirements are for Yahoo! in order to receive such a benefit.  Also, what’s the plan for building on that investment?

After thinking about it for a couple of days, I did a little research on how other states recruit technology companies and court datacenter projects.  Rather than looking to California or Massachusetts (which have a tremendous number of home-grown technology firms), I decided to look at two high growth states who are recruiting companies to set up shop within their borders; Virginia and North Carolina.

First we’ll look at a similar recruitment initiative to our courting of Yahoo! to see how it’s done elsewhere.

In North Carolina, the legislature and economic development authorities are courting Apple as a relocation target for a datacenter.  North Carolina does not have discounted hydropower incentives to throw around, so they approached the issue from a different angle, changing the laws to favor large scale technology investment.

At issue is the way North Carolina calculates income taxes for companies with operations in more than one state. The formula takes into account property, payroll and sales, with each receiving a different weight in the calculation.

The bill, as approved by the House Finance Committee, would consider only the sales portion of the formula for a qualified company, significantly cutting the tax bill for a business with a large investment in North Carolina but comparatively smaller sales.

To qualify for the perk, a company would have to invest at least $1 billion over nine years in one of North Carolina’s more distressed counties.

If the measure passes the legislature, North Carolina will miss out on $3 million in revenue per year in the early stages of the investment and about $12.5 million annually after the full $1 billion is spent, according to an analysis by the General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division.

That’s a pretty large giveaway of tax revenue for what will amount to 50-100 jobs from Apple.  However, in a previous courtship of a Google Datacenter, state fiscal authorities estimated a project of this scope would generate $1 billion to the state’s gross economic product over 12 years, and produce a net state revenue benefit of more than $37 million.  A positive development.  The difference between the proposals to Apple and Google being made in North Carolina and the Yahoo! proposal in New York is that North Carolina is requiring a level of investment which would make it difficult for the Apple or Google to walk away without significant harm to the business.  The authorities demand a $1 billion investment in order to receive the tax breaks.  Not so in New York, nothing of the sort.

Virginia is also in the game for the Apple datacenter project.  They already have a favorable tax structure for technology companies and recently passed legislation which would provide tax incentives to datacenter business in the state.

The new measure offers an exemption from the Virginia Retail Sales and Use tax for computer equipment bought or leased between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2020 for use in a data center. The facility must be located in Virginia, generate capital investment of at least $150 million and create at least 50 new jobs that pay one and one half times the prevailing average wage in the locality.

Both states offer access to educated workforces and large university communities.  They also offer favorable tax structures for business and have shown a willingness to offer additional, targeted incentives when the project is right.  In New York State, we offer a similarly talented workforce, but we are home to one of the most unfriendly business climates in the country.  We can offer cheap power, but little else besides an intransigent legislative body which is more interested in turf battles than growth.

In states like North Carolina and Virgina, a common theme is a coordinated plan of attack and unified effort to recruit business to the state.

For instance, in 2003 Virginia launched the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative designed to offer low-cost broadband access throughout the state.  They carefully identified the locations of their broadband network nodes, identified greenfields and shovel-ready sites near those network nodes and began marketing a comprehensive suite of incentives to companies small and large to locate their technology business in counties around the state. With proper planning and coordination, they can achieve scale and generate spinoff enterprise, which is the purpose of luring large anchor corporations.  In North Carolina, there is a technology collaborative amongst different regions of the state which feature coordinated development, planning, recruitment and workforce investment.

In New York, we have an amalgam of agencies fighting one another for symbolic political victories rather than launching a coordinated plan to recruit technology business to the state.  If things are going to change in New York, we need to start planning for our future rather than throwing together ad hoc plans and incentive packages.  It’s not always taxes, taxes, taxes.  We can compete in New York and leverage our positive resources if, and only if, we demonstrate we have a coordinated vision for growth.

The GM / Segway P.U.M.A.

8 Apr

It’s a really nifty personal vehicle that operates on electricity, the technology that keeps Segways on two wheels, and fairy dust. It travels up to 35 miles at a top speed of 35 MPH, and is obviously for use in urban areas. “P.U.M.A.” stands for: Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility Project. Or as Rumproast, found via Balloon Juice, suggests:

310 MPH in Communist China

25 Feb

The Shanghai Maglev train can reach 500 km/h, or 310 MPH.

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Can Governor Bobby Jindal explain to me why it’s cool that China (and Germany) are 30 years ahead of us in train technology?

The Acela’s top speed is 150 MPH, and averages 82 MPH.

BarCamp Buffalo

8 Feb

I alluded to the fact that I am on the organizing committee of BarCamp Buffalo earlier this week.  Since then, I’ve gotten five or six emails asking the same basic question…What the fuck is a BarCamp and why would I want to go?

Well, this is a full service blog and I am here to answer your questions.

Barcamp Buffalo
Tuesday March 3rd, 7:30pm
Pearl Street Grill

The first ever Barcamp in Buffalo is at Pearl Street Grill on Tuesday March 3rd at 7:30pm. The idea is to create ongoing events for people involved in new technology and web related development to connect and learn from one another.

What is Barcamp Buffalo?

  • A group designed to connect the disparate elements of the Buffalo technology and design communities
  • A meet up of people interested in technology, design and web development
  • A place to share what you are working on get input, insights and opinion from others
  • Learn about cool shit that others in the technology, design and web development communities are doing

More general info on what a Barcamp is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barcamp

What to expect?

  • Short presentations from people who want to share their cool shit
  • Open participation for all.  Attendees are encouraged to talk, listen, share and get involved.  Someone have a cool idea or business plan that you want in on?  Well, share a beer and make a connection.  Someone making something cool and you want to know how they did it?  Ask some questions.  You get the idea.
  • A casual atmosphere, no suits!
  • Enjoy some drinks and have fun

Here’s an ad for a similar event in Orlando:

Or an ad from a mildly cooler bunch of techies in LA

Or video from a really great BarCamp in Nashville.

I expect to see you at this event if:

  • You work for a cool company that makes/does cool shit
  • You’re designing something cool
  • You’re coding something cool
  • You re-invented something
  • You love technology, web and design and just want to listen
  • You’ve got an idea for a company or an app and you want to talk about it
  • You like beer and long to connect with other beer loving geeks