Category Archives: Internet

What is in an URL?

I changed my primary Uniform Resource Locator, URL, to a name more fitting for the next phase of my life. Of course I am also trying to move past my Higher Education Technology focus. This change is not really worthy of a post, however, the experience surrounding the purchase and implementation of a new URL did capture my interest. I have wanted to switch for a while but I had not been struck by a name that seemed appropriate. But I have been referring to my blog in the sub title as “The Adventure Continues” and I have drifted around that theme with a number of posts. So I took the next step, checked WHOIS and voila, the name I wanted was available and affordable. I have always gravitated to the .org top level domain because I equate .org with non-commercial and I have no interest in monetizing my blog. For the most part, my blog is my archive of my adventures, so the Adventure Continues with a new blog name and URL.


Image Credit Computerworld

Do you remember when the URL was everything. URL squatters tried to grab up all potentially lucrative names that at that time would typically precede .com or maybe .net. Of course today you can create about any top level domain but us old timers still feel a connection to the early pioneers. The other day I was in a meeting with students reviewing a proposal which had an URL printed in the documentation as a reference. I told the students that they could paste the url into their browser to review the site. One student giggled and said that she could not remember ever hearing someone refer to a web address as an URL. OK, that surprised me a bit. But really that was validation that the URL does not carry that much weight anymore. Content is king because search engines are all powerful.

I reflect upon this because of the emphasis my domain name provider tried to place on the importance of privacy for my domain name registration. They wanted to charge me $8 per year to make my whois registration private. If you have no idea what I am talking about open a terminal session and type “whois”. I have owned URLs from the very early Internet days, back when the URL dictated whether anyone would find your site or not. Public whois registration information was important to validate the integrity of the site and of course let people know who they might need to buy the URL from in case it was highly desired. Unfortunately this is valuable identity information which today is considered an invitation to sell you something, primarily all sorts of help with monetizing your website. Since purchasing my new URL I have received 100+ emails offering me every conceivable service I might ever need to optimize my website. Luckily all of those emails end up in my Spam folder (thank you Google). I suppose I could have avoided those emails ending up in my Spam folder if I had paid GoDaddy an extra $8 per year. Maybe I should pay Google the $8 for making it easy to delete them all “Delete all spam messages now (messages that have been in Spam more than 30 days will be automatically deleted)”.

I can rationalize this decision to brave the dangerous world of public notification but then again, it will create further issues. I have always been good at protecting the distribution of my phone number and to a certain extent my home address, but this information is readily available via the WHOIS lookup. Oh well, I think I will take the risk. After all Life is just one Big Adventure.

Hopes and Fears for Xfinity WiFi

Have you experienced Xfinity WiFi? Maybe positive, maybe annoying, but if you touch it once you will need to deal with it. At first I saw this WiFi SSID named xfinitywifi as intriguing, I tried to connect not knowing my Comcast account info at the time and for a period there after I dealt with xfinitywifi popping up all the time, and it was persistent enough to really annoy me. Well I removed it from my WiFi list and forgot about it for a while, until my consulting activity uncovered a possible use for it. If you are not up-to-date on what Comcast’s Xfinity Public WiFi is all about I suggest you view this short video.

I am engaged as a CIO consultant for a large retirement community, CCRC. One of our goals is to improve their overall WiFi options throughout their community. This community offers bulk Comcast Cable TV and the residents get to upgrade to Internet service or premium channels if desired. This has worked out well for all involved. Now the CCRC is interested in expanding and improving their common area WiFi coverage both for business and for convenience. There are opportunities where a more pervasive WiFi coverage could facilitate business transactions such as Point-of-Sale or allow more effective monitoring of residents for health or access control reasons. However, institutions such as this are typically dealing with large rebar heavy cement buildings that are terrible for conducting a WiFi signal. We can deploy a solid WiFi infrastructure in the more open common areas, but wouldn’t it be nice if you could depend on connectivity anywhere in the community. Placing our own WiFi APs throughout the residential area does not make sense both financially or technically. But wait, we already have all of those buildings wired with coax carrying Comcast service.

In a multi-tennant installation Comcast basically carves out a few channels to be used for Internet delivery or maybe a public TV channel. This offers some potential for independent services, maybe your own Internet, but in the bigger scheme of things it is probably best to let Comcast do what they are good at. There in lies the opportunity to possibly leverage the xfinitywifi hotspots to enhance your overall local common area WiFi service. You can’t rebrand xfinitywifi to your own public SSID but you could help your community understand how to take advantage of it. So there in lies the good I see for xfinitywifi.

WiFi SSIDs on my iPhone

WiFi SSIDs on my iPhone

What about the concerns we might have for xfinitywifi? We are talking about a huge customer footprint that is now using residential WiFi modems to distribute public xfinitywifi hotspots. I live in a high density relatively high tech area near Portland, OR, and I can walk anywhere without losing connectivity to xfinitywifi. Of course I have implemented my own secure certificate on my iPhone with their Xfinity Secure App, but what about the normal Joe who has no desire to understand this Comcast Xfinity Wifi business venture. It is most definitely built upon a serious business plan to be a major player in public wifi access. And if this happens on the backs of their customers modems, is that OK? That is a much larger topic that I am sure Comcast is being extremely careful not to over step their bounds. I believe Xfinity Public WiFi is a good thing, but it will create issues. Everyone should be aware of adding a secure VPN type connection if you plan to use their xfinitywifi. And above all we will need to monitor Comcast to insure that they are not misusing their access to our connection information.

Higher Education will be OK

The change that is taking place in higher education right now is fascinating to watch. There aren’t many century old institutions that you get to watch go through dramatic transitions. The newspaper industry is well into a transition and it could offer great insight for us in higher education.  The recent commentary in the Chronicle by Byron P. White, “Take it from an Ex-Journalist: Adapt or Die ”, put it into better perspective for me.  Today many in higher education do admit that change is coming, however, the time line is seen as distant and the actual change is minimized. Is higher education an industry that fits W. Edwards Deming’s advice given to the auto industry as competition was on the horizon, “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” The world is embracing new digitally driven options that challenge our existing higher education process. This change is not dependent upon higher education’s permission nor it’s demise.

So do we deal with this impending change by dabbling around the edges of the debate? The few institutions that are rolling the dice of transition to a new model are generally motivated by desperation. Most of us are just talking about what this change might look like. And that talk focuses heavily on the high visibility topics such as course delivery, student success or the rising costs. Look at the conversation generated around the MOOC phenomenon which is just the evolution of the online course delivery debate. Most have missed the point, MOOCs are not a threat to higher education but MOOCs are creating the disruption that in turn is exposing our weaknesses. We need to deal with our weaknesses but by no means is there an inevitable doom. I would rather assume that we could come through this time of change stronger then ever.

What are our weaknesses? This is where we get into trouble. Higher Education governs themselves by non authoritative committees. Decisions are made to insure the good for the most, least amount of change and with minimum risk for those deemed responsible.  What I am saying here is that even if we know what our weaknesses are it would be rare to announce them with detail that could lead to a solution. We tend to just try harder but there are exceptions. At every university it is easy to identify those who are capable of making a difference. They happen to be the most respected faculty or staff at the institution. But wait, most respected who possibly have solutions should be in leadership. No, it doesn’t always work that way.  Remember, avoiding change carries the ultimate trump card. So those who could lead have generally tried only to retreat out of frustration. This cycle has continued over time validated by the guiding principle of Academic Freedom.

Again, what are our weaknesses? I think the major weakness is our lack of understanding or acceptance that the  higher education business model has changed. The model we know and love has provided a valuable product desired and required for success. There was no competition because we controlled the primary ingredient, “information”. But the Internet has changed that, thus providing an alternative path to success. This does not mean that our path is diminished, it just means we have competition. I think this relates more to the competition the auto industry faced rather then the newspaper industry. The US adapted and built competitive automobiles by taking advantage of technology. Unfortunately the newspaper industry is competing against technology. But the critical step is to acknowledge the threat.

I do believe higher education will be stronger then ever. Yes competition will probably eliminate the weak, but that will mostly be the result of poor business practices. Those of us moving on will have new opportunities to improve our rankings. Higher education must continue to offer the foundation that fits the community it serves. We focus on the development of the mind, body and soul but we also fine tune our academic product to meet customer and market demand. And we neutralize the threat from technology by embracing it. The threat to higher education is the avoidance of change.

First Encounters with Internet Technology

The following post is my essay I submitted for peer review for my Coursera course, Internet History, Technology, and Security by Charles Severance. The question to be answered: Write an essay about how you first encountered the Internet or an earlier networking technology. Describe the technologies you were using, some of the activities you did “on line”, and tell us how having a new form of communication changed the way you think about the world.

The first two weeks of the course have been an enjoyable stroll down technology memory lane. If you are interested I believe you can still get in the course. Here is my essay:

I was a young chemist sparked by the discovery of computer programming at the end of my college career and then ignited with the purchase of an Apple II computer in 1979. My obsession with this new computational freedom motivated me to open my own computer store with a college buddy in 1980.

Scientific Frontiers Grand Opening 1981

Computer Store Looks to Future

I was programing on an HP 85 and we sold mostly CP/M based computers. Commodore emerged as our main microcomputer product line. A product that we tried to sell which I totally believed in was the “The Source”, it may have been the first online consumer service. Readers Digest believed in this enough to pay 6 million for the service in 1980. It was touted as a self-help service with a Google type dream search of that time. Access to the UPI newswire and conceptually encyclopedia type information had me believing it would change the world. However, technology was based on 300 or maybe 1200 baud acoustic modems with very few local call options. The cost per line of knowledge never built an acceptable ROI, but I do believe we saw the future. I still have one of the coffee mugs that we gave away for promotion.Source Mug

During the same period of time when I owned the computer store I travelled to Las Vegas to attend “Comdex”, pretty sure it was the fall of 1981. I was mostly interested in the battle lines that were forming between Apple and this new IBM PC. But at that show I remember checking out the Xerox Star workstation, famous for presenting the concept of the Graphical User Interface. I was impressed but did not get it. I remember scoffing at the idea of linking your hand via a mouse to activity on the computer screen. Oh well, I was not as imaginative as the Steve Jobs who did see the potential.

After the computer store and a fling with the Oil Shale boom and bust, my career moved to Hewlett-Packard, Silicon Valley, in 1987. I was in heaven, driving through the bay area at that time was like perusing a live PC Magazine. By then I believed in Windows and actually did a lot with HP’s New Wave interface. The Bay area was exciting up until the earthquake in 1989. That combined with the effect of California’s Proposition 13 on public school funding caused me to request that HP move my young family to Cincinnati in 1990. I was a systems engineer supporting the LIMS and LAS market segment, that is Laboratory Information and Instrumentation Management which matched well with my chemistry background. My early viewpoint of the “Internet” was shaped by how great the open access to DOS and Windows apps via the BBS services had become. Do you remember the “Wildcat BBS” software that was the engine for most of those services?

Access to the BBS services in the early 90’s was exploding into viable business opportunities. I used to maintain a “Best of the BBS Apps” floppy disk where I would store the coolest PC tools and screen savers of the day. I would always be asked by my customers for the latest copy of that diskette. The Hayes Smartmodem was reliable, affordable and fast enough to open the door for the geeks of the day to explore the potential of this new world of information. This reminds me of the second technology opportunity that “I did not get”. It was probably late 1992 when a co-worker of mine in Cincinnati was involved with a BBS out of Dayton, OH. He asked me one day if I would be interested in an opportunity to link his BBS to ARPANET a connection he had via a friend at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. There was some cost involved and as I remember access was limited to a small number of users, but my question was more about what value ARPANET would provide. I could envision the potential of public access to what the academic community was playing with and open source collaboration seemed to be alive and well. I didn’t see how a path through ARPANET was going to help. But it wasn’t about ARPANET it was about seeing the potential of what soon became the World Wide Web, WWW. We were actually talking about developments taking place in this arena since we were playing with the early concept of HTML and the MOSAIC project in our X-Terminal environment.

It is fun to look back and second guess. There were lots of winners and losers. Remember Ashton-Tate’s dBASE or VisiCalc? I never thought Microsoft would amount to anything and with respect to the Internet they really didn’t. I remember how brilliant I thought Bill Gates approach was to the Internet in wanting to carve out a cost per transaction. Trouble is he never could gain control of the connection. Oh well, it was fun writing this assignment for my Coursera course “Internet History, Technology, and Security” and I am definitely interested in how this peer review grading is going to work.

OMG the OS is the Internet

OK – the iPad is amazing. I can totally  justify it as an information consuming device. But I’m in Higher Education so it needs to be somewhat of a creation device and flexible sharing device. Initially I was stuck in the my old file based operating system box. How do a print? How do I upload an assignment to Moodle? How do I save my work?

I woke up at 4:00 am – OMG – the operating system is the Internet. is one of the most well thought out web file sharing platforms I have ever used. I was trying to figure out how I was going to upload a file to our Web storage service based on Xythos. No – now I realize Xythos has to figure out how to let me upload from an URL rather then assuming it is coming from the old file system based OS. The URL is now truly the file. This is just an example for interacting with the current file based OS world. You really do have incredible sharing and interaction with the iPad Internet based operating system.

Here is a document produced on Pages by my recent college graduated daughter minutes after she touched the iPad for the first time. I intentionally let her first try it with the wireless keyboard.

Here is a presentation created by same daughter shortly there after, first time she had ever used Keynote and done entirely on iPad in a half hour.

Disclosure: I do not know why my daughter immediately gravitated to these two tests. She is not tech savvy and the rest of her iPad time she was on FaceBook not realizing that there are some Flash limitations via the browser. I do thank her for how she helped me understand this though.

Email is the communicator which is a natural, that initially bothered me since email tends to carry a bad taste due to years of misuse. But this tool is a good solution and I’m sure it will evolve. We will probably see options for easily integrating this into Google Apps, etc. But the playing field is clear and it is and it is the Internet. And yes the optimal environment is an iPhone for total mobility, an iPad for primary consuming device and the Mac for creation and master organization. And yes this is expensive and probably considered unnecessarily extravagant. And that is true. I guess I equate it to why some people shop at Saks when you can get almost the same products at KMart. And you know what, you can’t justify it, but consider who shops at Saks and who do you really want to be?

OK – Good Night and Happy Easter

So what about this iPad

What a great day at home observing Good Friday which is a vacation day for us. It is raining with no chance of improved weather so I’m catching up on all sorts of correspondence and web surfing. Oh, yes and my dog is at my feet. So what about this iPad? Yes, I’m very excited about picking one up tomorrow morning. I held off for a week on the iPhone and I do remember being in line to buy Windows 95 way back when, so choosing to go to the store is as much about the task as it is the experience. I am really interested in the type of crowd that will be there. I will probably do a post based on observations and feedback. So what about this iPad.

If you know of me and George Fox University you may understand that our decision to offer the iPad as an option to the MacBook for incoming students was a simple decision influenced by the changing technology landscape. The fact that we were first has generated a lot of publicity which has spawned a number of commentaries and interviews. An interesting forum, not so much for promoting our decision to offer iPads, but more for the stage to talk about the future of academic computing. Most Higher Ed CIOs do not enter into these conversations, and those that do tend to have focused agendas, I tend to be more speculative. And if I look back on my career it is my track record. But I also look back and realize that I have always been right and I think that is because I have always been able to view my job from the outside. I have been in Higher Ed for half of my career and time spent with HP and various other jobs even as a chemist has helped keep me on the edge. That said let’s recap: “So what about this iPad”

We do not need to spend time addressing what the Apple iPad has or does not have. It has all that most of us need to function very effectively in this Internet driven world and it optimizes those features at the expense of the less important. The biggest issue for many is that it is no longer a Microsoft driven world, so get over it. A common evaluation: “The iPad is designed more for consumers rather then creators”. Yes, but the creators it is not designed for is a very small percent. I think this is again more about accepting our changing role as technology users. This is an issue for the geek who defines their worth from their computing prowess and many more of us who want to believe we are of that level as well. Nope, being Web 2.0 savvy does not classify us as power users and it is OK to have a base computer for those times when we do need to power create.

How does this translate to higher education? Our students are primarily information consumers and the reason the iPad is the perfect tool is that the Internet is the primary information provider. This has been creeping up on us but it has been easy to ignore or control. Our students typically bring their laptop to class and we have gotten past the apprehension that it will be misused. It has been easy to observe the value of Internet assisted collaboration in our online courses. Now we have to acknowledge and adapt to that value in the classroom. The professor becomes a mentor for all of this information rather then the deliverer. Faculty can deal with this and can thrive, they just don’t like the work it will require for them to transition. I believe the iPad will be the device that will define this transition.

Will the iPad change Higher Education?

After my initial observation of Apple’s new iPad I do believe it will change how we define a student computer. Here at George Fox University we have a more unique opportunity to represent this since through our Computers Across Curriculum, CAC, (undergrad laptop program) we have defined a student computer for the last 20 years. Generally that definition has been based on various software requirements set forth by our curriculum. But that type of justification was based on applications that resided on the computer that produced output such as documents or spreadsheets held hostage by proprietary formats or feature sets. The iPad can change that. The iPad is not dominated by an operating system or major applications. No it is dominated by user design for the most flexible and effective interaction with the Internet. It is a device that was designed for our computing preferences rather then to determine our computing practice.

I do see our university replacing our CAC laptop computer with this new iPad as our recommended educational computing device. That may mean that we leave some needs on the table, students may need another computer or we may need to reinvest in some public computing. But the resource that we can make available to our students with this iPad probably equates more closely to the computing world they live in. Writing will transition from print to electronic publishing and maybe accounting will be more about teaching spreadsheet concepts and less about teaching Excel. So I’m feeling good about embracing this iPad. I believe higher education will be the benefactor of a much needed change in computing strategy.

New Telco Business Model

In my last post I tossed out the option for Telcos to consider getting into identity management as a service to their customers. After a number of water cooler discussions about the possibilities it does seem to make a whole lot of sense. However, when was the last time we equated Telcos with having any sense? The concept would center on Telcos facilitating authentication through a mobile device. This is not a new idea; people with mobile devices are probably the same people with credit cards so why not use mobile devices as credit transactors.

How would this work? Bill Gates almost controlled the world with his goal to capture a fraction of a cent for every e-commerce transaction carried out with the help of Microsoft software. Unfortunately for Bill he did not equate the importance of controlling access to the Internet in the e-commerce process. The credit card business is based on a service fee of 2-3% of every transaction. That represents a significant cost of doing business. I would assume maybe 1% is needed to cover losses due to fraud. So why can’t the Telcos offer an authentication service to the credit card industry that justifies say 1% that is built on real authentication confirmed through their mobile networks. We’ll let the experts work out the economics, but the technology is already in place. Mobile devices are sophisticated enough to create any authentication scheme we want. We just need an authoritative confirmation from the network. And what better way to build that kind of trust then through a strong Telco customer relationship. Providing identity services that would justify a customer for life and allow for unlimited marketing possibilities. Of course all the customers want is an iPhone and with a Telco business model based on customer services the Telcos would not be opposed to standardizing on the network and device.

Entertainent On Demand is in Command

A year ago we had excess Internet bandwidth for our traditional campus of 1700 undergraduates. But since the beginning of fall semester we have seen this bandwidth rapidly be consumed. For a few years now we have been predicting that increased access to video would become a problem. And it has contributed, in the form of real-time “experience now” applications. This real–time entertainment traffic (streaming audio & video, peercasting, place-shifting, flash video) has jumped from 12.6 to 26.6 % of Internet traffic since last year (Sandvine). But it is not necessarily just the YouTube effect, which does account for 5% of all Internet traffic. And for our university it is not influenced by the predominate percentage of Internet pornography thanks to filtering. No, the problem for us is the improved access to Internet TV and the growth of online entertainment through gaming consoles.

We don’t have cable TV for our students, there was never a huge demand for it. But with this age of TV & movies on demand, our students are definitely investing more of their time for Internet entertainment. The Sandvine report identifies that mature broadband markets have embraced on-demand entertainment while emerging markets still rely on P2P. College students are mature broadband users who are taking advantage of the much improved on demand entertainment delivery systems being deployed by the TV networks, Netflix, Hulu and Boxee. Of course I’m sure they are also devouring the PBS and National Geographic videos.

What is surprising is how quickly the demand has been increasing and I think that is due to a new commitment from the entertainment providers. They have finally embraced the Internet model with more sophisticated buffered players that provide acceptable quality even on a congested Internet. The battle is definitely on with the TV networks. Check them out, I would give ABC and Fox the lead and I would guess that the Hulu concept will be happy with a secondary role. The advertisers are shifting to Internet entertainment as well. So good luck Cable, maybe it is finally time for a new model of cable channel on demand.

Sandvine Report: On-Demand Is In Demand
Internet traffic report identifies real-time applications as key driver in consumer data consumption

Just Impressed that Google is Willing to Wave

In my last post I mention how we have abandoned our Jabber server since GTalk gives us all that we need. I am even happier now knowing that we may actually be laying the groundwork for how we will all “Wave to each other. The problem is with stability which is really the main issue. Most of the solutions/clients we currently use tend to fall short of that desired stability and I would assume they are based on a more traditional transactional handshake. I can’t imagine the complexity of managing Wave transactions. Wave is an ambitious realtime OS but it has to account for every conceivable interruption as well as interpretation of user status. But you know what, it is so impressive that Google is even trying to do this. It gives me great confidence in what they assume the Internet will be capable of.

Internet Entertainment Portal

If you hold a position as the head of IT for an organization you can surely relate to the requests for advice concerning technology trends that come from your friends and coworkers. In the past it might have been; should I upgrade to the next version of Windows, or go with DSL or cable modems. Recently more questions arise about digital entertain and should I switch to the latest greatest broadband driven provider. Instead of offering advice I thought I would offer speculation. It seems to me that it is time for the next killer digital application that I will refer to as the Video Entertainment Portal. I define that as a digital aggregator for all video entertainment accessible via the Internet.

Here are the factors that I believe drive this opportunity. First Cable TV is obsolete and over priced. They will not be able to adapt to the transition of entertainment on demand. Second DVR has got to be getting the attention of the commercial advertising market. I will intentionally go perform some household chore for 15 minutes and then start watching a TV show so that I can skip the commercials thanks to the DVR. Third, most everything you want to watch is available somewhere on the Internet. Fourth, video on demand is more affordable. Netflix iTunes continues to pioneer this.

So what is this Digital Entertainment Portal? It is hardware and software. It is hardware in the form of Apple’s iTV except open. It is software in the tradition of any good Internet Portal except that it is integrated with a remote control device as in the tradition of the TV remote. What it does is allow you to aggregate all of the possible sources for Internet Video. It handles issues of subscriptions so NetFlix and iTunes can expand their reach. And it acts as a DVR for the remaining live TV shows. But most of all it guarantees some level of advertising eye contact. This ensures that the content producers still have a way to generate revenue. The trade off is that we still have to sit through commercials, but not as many, but the return for the advertiser is a higher qualified viewing hit rate.

So when do we see this product and what will it look like. Today it could be a new Apple Mini with someone creating this super Internet Portal Package. Or it could be a black box computer running Linux with a portal package. Outside shots could make it an Xbox or PlayStation, but that market doesn’t want to promote other forms of entertainment. What do you think it will be? I just know that I am ready to invest in a computer that I believe has the greatest opportunity to become that device. And you know what, it may also have a HD DVD or Blu Ray player, but it does not have to.

Good review of the Apple iTV by Dave Caolo

Academic Content Super Markets

It is great to have High School and College age children to help you understand how the world is changing. We know that Social Networking has exploded both for good and bad. Video distribution via many large sites like YouTube is leading the way. Here is a simple example:
My high school daughter is writing a term paper on Ted Bundy. She has guidelines for types of resources, some web content and other options like videos, books, interviews, etc. Of course teenagers think video so I tell her about a good movie I remember that Mark Harmon was in, “The Perfect Stranger, 1986”. (Feel Old Yet) So what is the preferred means of acquiring an older film today? Something like NetFlix or Blockbuster. Unfortunately the 1986 version is no longer available and the 2004 version is not acceptable for viewing by my teenage daughter. And the books that we requested from the local library have not come in. And of course the draft is due tomorrow.

So last night my daughter tells me that she loves YouTube now, and this statement means something since she does not typically waste a lot of time watching YouTube junk. She loves it now because she was able to watch the A&E documentary on Ted Bundy, the final scene from the 2004 movie which had the important information, a live interview of Ted Bundy along with many other great interviews, etc. She has been able to accomplish a significant academic task thanks to YouTube. Think about what this really means….

Follow-up: my daughter got an A+ on the paper