Friday, June 29, 2007

Recipe for a Wireless ISP

Using commodity hardware, it is possible to set up a wireless ISP and put yourself in competition with the big boys like Time Warner and Verizon. It will certainly take some wheeling and dealing as well as technical knowledge to start doling out public addresses to your customers, but for a simple neighborhood network this is really all you need!

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Economics of Bandwidth and Disk: Part One

While there is something to be said for Net Neutrality and the battles that can be waged between the famous Google and the other Yahoos out there, it's really one of the biggest distractions on the market, diverting much needed attention from where it belongs: the movies.

I saw 300 again this weekend, and I had a second chance to pay close attention to some of the symbolism. The military commanders are represented as very proud, and their people follow them unquestioningly. An emissary from the Persian force comes seeking a token of earth and water, and it is said to represent the submission of the Greeks. Needless to say for anyone who has seen the film, his message is not well-received by the Spartan commander.

Fast-forward to this day: I have an apartment at Community Manor. There is no monthly water bill, and Kim from the main office says that I can put a garden anywhere I like—it only improves the property value. I pay $25-35 a month for electricity, which accounts for a computer and monitor, a refrigerator and an electric stove, complete with oven. I spend almost as much on food as I do on rent.

Entertainment means Road Runner, the Time Warner internet service, which starts at $30 monthly. I have heard rumors that the price increases at least once, a year after the start of service. Compare to Verizon FiOS, the Next Generation fiber-to-the-premises service that is now offered in some areas; here basic service is priced competitively against cable, at $40-50 monthly, and the high-end service (30Mbit down/5Mbit up) is priced at $180 monthly.

Why in the world would I pay $180 monthly for internet service? There's only one reason: it has a bigger number than my current service, and I know that I have below-average patience. If there is one thing in the world that I hate more than waiting for the commercials to get over with, it's waiting for my pirated movie download to finish. At least a commercial gives me something to watch; those progress bars are so incredibly dull!

Now consider: as long as I can keep a copy of the movie that I just downloaded in my local library, I will never have to watch that progress bar again. If the download was legal (the MPAA would say, if you paid for the disc) then according to copyright law this is your fair use right, to make a copy and keep it for personal use.

If I haven't lost you and you're still following, then it's really no wonder that we continue to wage a meta-cultural battle with DRM restrictions. As I check my investment portfolio day by day, Sony stock is consistently losing money, and Western Digital stock persists in making gains. In these days of unbounded pirate media, statistics prove that an entertainment company really can't beat a hard-drive manufacturer!

In a recent article on KPB Code, please find and read a short listing of networking equipment that has strong potential to impact the market share of companies like Cisco, whose equipment helps to form the underpinnings of the Internet. In the next installment of The Sixth Layer miniseries on bandwidth and disk, we will consider the possible effects of mixing this information with that hardware. I call it community-sponsored manipulation of competing industries, for fun and profit!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

No TV, Yes Remote Access

I finally got my hands on all of the connectors needed to hook up my SGI monitor to a modern VGA output, and it still doesn't work. I'm unbearably disappointed about this. I'll have to try again when I have more time to devote to television. But on a more positive note, I was able to connect to Grandma's computer remotely using OpenVPN and make my second support call since Friday by means of VNC. I will save so much on gasoline!

Also a stock update; Red Hat and WD stock both did very well today, but unfortunately both combined did not gain as much as Sony lost! I'm selling both to free up some capital and cut down on my debt margins, hopefully Sony stock goes up again tomorrow while I'm out mowing the lawn. Wal-mart and Adobe are both losers on the week but winners on the day, still only counting for a fraction of Sony's total losses.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Stocks Update

It has not been a good week for my portfolio! The 5 stocks I bought for Beat The Street have lost almost $1000 (-0.85%). Red Hat stock is leading the pack, with a gain of $550 (2.36%) -- not bad at all for 4 days! IBM stock has also increased in value by half a percent. Losses of Sony and Wal-Mart have more than compensated for these gains.

Of course in the game I have a finite amount of money to play with... the stocks I didn't buy, but chose to track anyway have all lost money, with losses from Yahoo, Cisco, and Staples being the least costly. Apple stock is not doing badly either, down only 1/3 of a percentage point. I think this might be more fun and rewarding than fantasy football. I'm still not watching CNBC or Finance news programs.

I think Adobe is on the upturn, so I'm going to go a little deeper into the margins while I play with AIR (formerly Apollo) and Flex trial versions. I've always been a fan of Adobe software, it tends to work reliably across the usual popular platforms, and they certainly know how to play the game. I'm quite confident that this company is not going South any time soon.

Still, The Motley Fool makes for pretty interesting reading. I advise you to take their stock picks over mine; there's a box on the front page that shows market beating performance across the board. My Techno-Business picks are not doing as well, 4 days in. Today looks like a good day to get my car inspected and read a book.

But here I am 20 minutes later still playing the stock market like a video game. Between the awful downward trending Sony stock chart, news about Ken Kutaragi and BD+ DRM news, I have a feeling that Sony can't go any lower. *Buys another 500 shares*

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Beat The Street: Day Two

No more trading today, on account of I'm not a day trader or planning to be. But that doesn't mean I can't track my progress! In short, today was a much better day than yesterday, but not better enough that it wipes out the damage done from yesterday and before. It was a bad day for Wal-Mart and Fedex-Kinkos, maybe something to do with the hyphenation.

Everything else is looking up, with IBM leading the pack. Anyway, people waiting on me to do things, I'll be right with you! The network is almost back to normal.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Beat The Street: Trading Day One

I'm not sure I really have an interest in the stock market, as these people are talking about $100k to get started plus $100k on margin. Plus, we haven't reached the closing bell of my first day as a trader yet, but in the hours since the opening bell and my trades, the 5 picks that I actually bought have lost more in total, than the 3 picks I considered and nixed have gained.

So who are these companies that are doing so well in the market, these companies that I would follow with my eyes and not with my wallet?

  • AAPL: Apple Inc. - Picked this one but held on to my money, as there's a lot of buzz around Apple TV and the iPhone right now. Sorry Steve, nothing personal; I just don't believe in your techno-unitarianism.
  • SPLS: Staples, Inc. - My experience with Staples shows strong support for the well-meaning underdog. Some students just don't know what to do when they don't fit the curriculum, and teachers can't help it if the curriculum doesn't make sense in the context of their prior learning. Does that mean it's wrong, or bad for business? NO!
  • MSFT: Microsoft is trading only slightly higher than Staples. I don't know if this means anything to anyone, but I see these companies as having more in common than differentiates them from each other. (Same goes for Kinkos FDX, Office Max OMX, and to a lesser extent Adobe ADBE).
Cheers to Staples, for embracing technologies like XML. Creative uses of this stuff will take the human element right out of b2b-type sales. My first exposure to this practice was at Financial Institutions in Warsaw. Anything that my vendors can do to help me with a) maintaining my own inventory, and b) saving time on the phone, I think those are both positive things.

Unfortunately I never found free implementations of these ideas; the only documentation available was related to protocol specs, and I wound up writing a lot of code myself, toward the end of my employment. As a consequence I was only involved in very early stages of the project, and years later, I don't know if it went anywhere. I'm almost afraid to call up Linda, who was hired to replace me, for the whole story!

Anyway, enough about Staples. More and more of my money (both real and imaginary) is spent on hard drives and storage media. I maintain that the disks are a good investment. I'm still on the fence about the stocks. But the extended warranty plan (CompUSA CPU, last trade $10.10 during the Buyout of Y2K)... well what was I thinking? The salesman told me it was a good deal, and a pretty girl agreed with him. Me, I still feel like I'm playing the lottery.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Beat The Street!

For anyone interested in the stock market, here is my informed decision. Got $100k? Wondering what to do with it? Son, get yourself some stocks!

My picks, and these trades should go through Monday morning:

  • Wal-Mart Stores: 500 Shares
  • Sony Corp: 500 Shares
  • Western Digital Corp: 1000 Shares
  • IBM Corp: 200 Shares
  • Red Hat, Inc: 1000 Shares
How did I decide? Most obvious was Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is enormous. I shop at Wal-Mart. I have worked (indirectly) for Wal-Mart, and I was impressed by the power of their organization. I've learned about the long tail and the related money and influence, and without the economic big stick that is Wal-Mart I suspect that most of us Americans couldn't afford to have a soul.

Then there's Sony Corporation. While I am impressed by their size and long-time command of such a large chunk of the entertainment market, mostly I enjoy the idea of the PS3 and their expressed vision for the future of gaming. Sounds like it will sell lots of game consoles to parents who want to instill their children with Japanese discipline. I'm not buying one, but I can't get Nintendo stock without trading on the Tokyo exchange.

Reasons for Red Hat should be obvious -- there's about a billion believing geeks out there (some of them hate Microsoft) and Red Hat is the only company that is really giving them exactly what they want; by ironing out the kinks in free software, and building an infrastructure for giving out lots of homework assignments. Luke, this one's for you!

IBM stock I have purchased for a similarly selfish reason; in my experience IBM support is second to none. The website is the most friendly to developers and system maintainers. As I come from the school of thought that you too can be replaced by a small shell script (and should be), this is a big indicator of which company really shares my interests.

Second runner up in this market segment is Dell, and to tell the truth I think this should be my first choice -- my server room is full of Dell equipment. Still I am struggling to bridge the gap between my affinity for Dell and my Irish identity. And it doesn't help that Dell Enterprise sales staff still don't return my messages.

I don't think I have to explain the Western Digital pick if you've been paying attention to my train of thought regarding data retention on KPB Code in the slightest. Optical storage is "not there yet," and tapes are the way of the past. Any organization with the slightest internal storage requirement is going to spend a considerable amount of money on disk. Anyone smart enough to outsource their storage needs to Google... well, WD drives are quiet and cheap -- I bet Google buys these too, but maybe Maxtor or Samsung.

So far I haven't found an organization that doesn't maintain any information memory. Microsoft fronts this appearance the best out of any company, but I'm not convinced that's a good reason to take stock in your company. Hook me up with a manager who blogs like I do and we'll talk more! Otherwise I'm taking up real estate.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Two Zen Koans

63 Killing

Gasan instructed his adherents one day: "Those who speak against killing and who desire to spare the lives of all conscious beings are right. It is good to protect even animals and insects. But what about those persons who kill time, what about those who are destroying wealth, and those who destroy political economy? We should not overlook them. Furthermore, what of the one who preaches without enlightenment? He is killing Buddhism."

93 Storyteller's Zen

Encho was a famous storyteller. His tales of love stirred the hearts of his listeners. When he narrated a story of war, it was as if the listeners themselves were on the field of battle.
One day Encho met Yamaoka Tesshu, a layman who had almost embraced masterhood in Zen. "I understand," said Yamaoka, "you are the best storyteller in our land and that you make people cry or laugh at will. Tell me my favorite story of the Peach Boy. When I was a little tot I used to sleep beside my mother, and she often related this legend. In the middle of the story I would fall asleep. Tell it to me just as my mother did."
Encho dared not attempt to do this. He requested time to study. Several months later he went to Yamaoka and said: "Please give me the opportunity to tell you the story."
"Some other day," answered Yamaoka.
Encho was keenly disappointed. He studied further and tried again. Yamaoka rejected him many times. When Encho would start to talk Yamaoka would stop him, saying: "You are not yet like my mother."
It took Encho five years to be able to tell Yamaoka the legend as his mother had told it to him.
In this way, Yamaoka imparted Zen to Encho.

Friday, June 8, 2007

International Diplomacy

Since moving from using AOL Instant Messenger to a combination of MSN and Skype, I have greatly broadened my horizons; I don't know what I've done exactly but I am receiving lots of contact from China, South America, and Italy. Needless to say I am delighted! For most of these people, English is not their primary language, and so it's very common to find myself in the middle of conversation in a completely unfamiliar language.

Anyway this is great fun, but it doesn't pay the bills yet. I would like to write a web application that integrates Google Translator and instant messaging platforms, so I can chat easily in other languages. Ideally this would display the text of each message side by side in each language, so that I can make some effort myself to translate and learn, while still communicating naturally in an unfamiliar language.

That sounds like an awesome product, and I think it would be easy to build. But first I need a Jabber server to integrate with my MSN account... I don't think there are easy API hooks in the standard Microsoft client. I'll have to set that up myself, I think there are probably Jabber libraries for Python, and the slickest client will probably be TurboGears with persistent server sessions. Maybe I can finally ditch this awful collection of instant messaging clients that I keep accumulating!

But FIRST I have to get basic services up and running for my English language clients. They exist, as much as I tend to ignore them sometimes. Sorry, don't take it personally, I don't mean to ignore you really! I'm trying to make us more extroverted as a nation, in fact this is my way of fighting terrorism... you have to win the hearts and minds of the people! This way I save on gasoline, no expensive airplanes or automobiles are involved in communcation on the Internet :-)

Monday, June 4, 2007

News You Can Use

I'm in the job market! That is to say, I mean to start an accounting process of jobs, and I hope to process some of the jobs accounted for into a revenue stream! But it would be better for me if I could just make a commodity of a human and trade these with other businesses!

That's right folks, I'm not just talking about Globalization, I'm also describing the breakdown of atomic families in today's consumer society! There are many worthy causes that are most deserving of our attention as a nation, and I am proud to see from our Fearless Leader George W. Bush that we have doubled our budget commitment to fighting AIDS in Africa.

What does this mean? More international jobs for ambitious students that want to save the world! (Hopefully some saving the world does happens. ان شىء الله!) I think I'm past the cynical stage, where I should believe that all 30 billion of those dollars will find their way into the pockets of executives in obscenely large pharmaceutical companies; of course I'm certainly not above questioning ethics and motives in any industry.

Still, some of this money will undoubtedly be used to fund technological development and expansion of commodity server resources. Anyone who is savvy enough to wield the full flexibility of an optimally configured best-practices rack full o' servers these days is in a good position to direct these expenditures, which makes a commodity in and of ones self!

The combined research efforts of Tuesday Studios are a product of Kingdon Barrett and Juozas Gaigalas, in cooperation with the Rochester Institute of Technology's Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences and Venture Creations Student Business Development Lab. Waiting for the punchline? It's about scalable infrastructure... sounds like a smart buy to us!