Thursday, 29 October 2009

A web guy and a telecom guy talk about net neutrality

It was a nondescript bar in the American Midwest, the sort of place where working men drop in at the end of the day to unwind before they head home. You wouldn't expect to find two senior business executives there, and as I sat in the empty bar at midday I wondered if maybe my contact had given me a bad lead. But then the door opened and a general manager from one of the leading web companies walked in, followed by a senior VP from one of the US's biggest mobile network operators. I hunched down in the shadows of a corner booth and typed notes quietly as they settled in at the bar.

Bartender: What'll you have?

Telecom executive: Michelob Light.

Web executive: I'll have a Sierra Nevada Kellerweis.

Bartender: Keller-what?

Web executive: Um, Michelob Light.

Telecom executive: Thanks for coming. Did you have any trouble finding the place?

Web executive: All I can say is thank God for GPS. I've never even been on the ground before between Denver and New York.

Telecom executive: I wanted to find someplace nondescript, so we wouldn't be seen together. The pressure from the FCC is bad enough already, without someone accusing us of colluding.

Web executive: No worries, my staff thinks I'm paragliding in Mexico this weekend. What's your cover story?

Telecom executive: Sailboat off Montauk.

Web executive: Sweet. So, you wanted to talk about this data capacity problem you have on your network...

Telecom executive: No, it's a data capacity problem we all have. Your websites are flooding our network with trivia. The world's wireless infrastructure is on the verge of collapse because your users have nothing better to do all day than watch videos of a drunk guy buying beer.

Web executive: Welcome to the Internet. The people rule. If you didn't want to play, you shouldn't have run the ads. Remember the promises you made? "Instantly download files. Browse the Web just like at home. Stream HD videos. Laugh at an online video or movie trailer while travelling in the family car."

Telecom executive: That was our marketing guys. They don't always talk to the capacity planners. Besides, who could have known that the marketing campaign would actually work?

Web executive: Don't look at me. I've never done a marketing campaign in my life. I think you should just blame it on A--

Telecom executive: You promised, no using the A-word.

Web executive: Sorry. But I still don't see why this is a problem. Just add some more towers and servers and stuff.

Telecom executive: It's not that simple. The network isn't designed to handle this sort of data, and especially not at these volumes. Right now our biggest problem is backhaul capacity -- the traffic coming from the cell towers to our central servers. But when we fix that, the cell towers themselves will get saturated. Fix the towers and the servers will fall over somewhere. It's like squeezing a balloon. We have to rebuild the whole network. It's incredibly expensive.

Web executive: So? That's what your users pay you for.

Telecom executive: But most of them are on fixed-rate data plans. So when we add capacity, we don't necessarily get additional revenue. It's all expense and no profit. At some point in the not-too-distant future, we'll end up losing money on mobile data.

Web executive: Bummer.

Telecom executive: More like mortal threat. Fortunately, we've figured out how to solve the problem. The top five percent of our users produce about 50% of the network's total traffic. So we're just going to cap their accounts and charge more when they go over.

Web executive: Woah! Hold on, those are our most important customers you're talking about. You can't just shut them down.

Telecom executive: The hell we can't. They're leeches using up the network capacity that everyone else needs.

Web executive: Consumers will never let you impose caps. You told them they had unlimited data plans, that's the expectation you set. You can't go back now and tell them that their plans are limited. They won't understand -- and they won't forgive you.

Telecom executive: First of all, the plans were never really unlimited in the first place. There's always been fine print.

Web executive: Which no one read.

Telecom executive: Off the record, you may have a point. On the record, the fact is that you can retrain users. Look, you grew up in California, right?

Web executive: What does that have to do with anything?

Telecom executive: Once upon a time, there weren't any water meters in California. Now most of the major cities have them, and they'll be required everywhere in a couple of years. Something that was once unlimited became limited, and people learned to conserve.

Web executive: The difference is, I can read my water meter. You make a ton of money when people exceed their minutes or message limits, and you don't warn them before they do it. If you play the same game with Internet traffic, it'll scare people away from using the mobile web -- or worse yet you'll invite in the government. Look what happened with roaming charges in Europe.

Telecom executive: Jeez, don't even think about that. Okay, so we'll need to add some sort of traffic meter so people will know how much data they're using when they load a page.

Web executive: Great, that'll discourage people from using Yahoo.

Telecom executive: Huh?

Web executive: Oops, did I say that out loud?

Telecom executive: Then there's the issue of dealing with websites and apps that misuse the network.

Web executive: Not this again.

Telecom executive: I'm not talking about completely blocking anything, just prioritizing the traffic a little. Surely you agree that 911 calls should get top priority on the network, right?

Web executive: Of course.

Telecom executive: And that voice calls should take priority over data?

Web executive: I don't know about that.

Telecom executive: Oh come on, what good is a telecom network if you can't make calls on it?

Web executive: (sighs) Yeah, okay.

Telecom executive: So then what's wrong with us prioritizing, say, e-mail delivery over video?

Web executive: Because when you start arbitrarily throttling traffic, I can't manage the user experience. My website will work great on Vodafone's network but not on yours, or my site will work fine on some days and not on others. How do you think the customers will feel about that?

Telecom executive: Not as angry as they will be if the entire network falls over. Listen, we're already installing the software to prioritize different sorts of data packets. We could be throttling traffic today and you wouldn't even know it.

Web executive: But people will eventually figure it out. They'll compare notes on which networks work best and they'll migrate to the ones that don't mess with their applications. Heck, we'll help them figure it out. And if that's not enough, there's always the regulatory option. The Republicans are out of office. They can't protect you on net neutrality any more.

Telecom executive: You think you're better at lobbying the government than we are? We've been doing it for 100 years, pal. Besides, we have a right to protect our network.

Web executive: You mean to protect your own services from competition!

Telecom executive: Parasite!

Web executive: Monopolist!

Telecom executive: That's it! It's go time!

They both stood. The telecom guy grabbed a beer bottle and broke it against the bar, while the web guy raised a bar stool over his head. Then the bartender pulled out a shotgun and pointed it at both of them.

Bartender: Enough! I'm sick of listening to you two. Telecom guy, you're crazy if you think people will put up with someone telling them what they can and can't do on the Internet. The Chinese government can't make that stick, and unlike them you have competitors.

Web executive: See? I told you!

Bartender: Shut up, web guy! You keep pretending that the wireless network is infinite when you know it isn't. If you really think user experience is important, you need to start taking the capabilities of the network into account when you design your apps.

Web executive: Hey, he started it.

Telecom executive: I did not!

Bartender: I don't care who started it! Telecom guy, you need to expose some APIs that will let a website know how much capacity is available at a particular moment, so they can adjust their products. And web guy, you need to participate in those standards and use them. Plus you both need to agree on ways to communicate to a user how much bandwidth they're using, so they can make their own decisions on which apps they want to use. That plus tiered pricing will solve your whole problem.

Telecom executive: Signaling capacity too. Don't forget signaling.

Bartender: That's exactly the sort of detail you shouldn't confuse users with. Work it out between yourselves and figure out a simple way to communicate it to users. Okay?

Web executive: I guess.

Telecom executive: Yeah, okay.

Bartender. Good. Now sit down and start over by talking about something you can cooperate on.

Telecom executive: All right. Hey, what's that guy doing in the corner? Is that a netbook?

Web executive: He's a blogger!

Bartender: There's no blogging allowed in here!

Telecom executive and web executive: Get him!

I ran. Fortunately, the bar had a back door. Even more fortunately, the web guy and the telecom guy got into an argument over who would go through the door first, and I was able to make my escape.

So I don't know how the conversation ended. But I do know that I wish that bartender was running the FCC.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009


A 16 HOUR CONVERSATION WITH AN EXTRAORDINARY PERSONALITY.Unacquainted, we slept side by side in the parking lot---she in her massive, luxurious truck, me in my trailer. In the morning she said hello---beginning a 16 hour conversation as we toured the town together---talking our way through New York--New York, MGM GRAND (caged lions upset her), The Monorail, Flamingo, Caesars, The Forum shops, Art galleries, Waltzing waters etc.
She drives this sumptiously appointed behemoth for a livelihood. It has bed, fridge and assorted storage places for her specialty foods---said she rarely eats at truck stop restaurants. Though widely educated she chose this vocation as compatable with her inclinations---needing considerable space to pursue her interests---one of which is to occasionally make her way deep into the interior of Brazil for esoteric study and experience.

Without hesitation she plunged into this experience---breathing flavored oxygen for 20 minutes.

----while being massaged with an assortment of machines---said afterwards she felt exhilerated.

I take up the pose of the "perfect man" David--behind me.

And do the tourist thing---which is not worth mentioning. The point of this blog is that perfect strangers were willing and able to engage for 16 hours. One of those rare serendipitous connections where the "window of welcome" freezes open and you chat undefensively, without agenda for hours and hours---beginning with the superficial---moving through the personal---to the profound and philosophical. Strangers often can go deeper than intimates--knowing they will likely never meet again.
Would you tell an intimate stranger the things you feel strongly about? I did---she did!
What do you think we REALLY want when we talk to someone? Here's a guess: TO KNOW THAT WE'RE NOT ALONE --in our being, our feelings, our folly.
How can you tell if this stranger is in tune enough with you to engage beyond the trivial? I feel people out by asking ever deeper questions, noticing defensiveness, ideologies, degree of good will and openness. When I strike a vein of good will I follow it to the gold. SHE WAS GOLDEN!

Monday, 12 October 2009


DEEP DESERT HUMANITARIANISM-----COME WITH ME---I'LL PROVE IT! Austin got cold---I bid farwell from this mountain pass and head south.
See those white spots about 5 miles down? Several great hot springs--but it's cold and I've been there, done that--I'm going a hundred miles south and 2000 feet down to Tonopah.
Whirlwind--was warned to dodge them. I flashed on the book of Job where God speaks to Job out of the whirlwind--with a very weak explanation of why the righteous suffer: In essence he said: SHUT UP JOB AND TRUST ME---I MADE THE WORLD. The Bagavad Gita has a better answer: LIFE IS COSMIC DRAMA---EVIL IS PLOT THICKENER.
Settled overnight here on the outskirts.
ROLL THE DICE FOR FREE ROOM? Now there's a story to get to the bottom of. Do you doubt that I will?
Downtown Tonopah--Nothing to write home about----yet. Parked and walked all round--still chilly.
They're a touch proud to have participated in 1908--did they race west around the world toward Paris? I don't understand! Will google it later. ( I did so--and yes they went west--through here to Valdez, Alaska--then by ship to Japan and then to Siberia and on across Europe to Paris. Only 3 of the 6 cars finished. The US entry--a Flyer won)
This I understand: Area 51--the spooky, super secret air base is nearby.
OK here's the dice--for--free--room--rules: Sign in--get ready to pay--roll the 3 dice (by turning this cage)--three of a kind means you don't have to pay. The odds: 36 to one. Nice but hardly humanitarianism. I know--stay with me--I'll get to that.
Asking who conceived and funded this gimmick--I was directed to the Owner---found him, got the story and this clumsy one handed photo op. He told me the dice game was called chuck-a-luck; a favorite of the miners. He invited me to stay and look around. Turns out he is "Mr Tonopah" in the sense that he's built himself an empire here: Hotel, casino, restaurant, museum, bar, art gallery etc. I've seen this syndrome many times out west: Don Laughlin, founder of Laughlin, Nv is an example and the guy who owns Beatty, Nv is another.(more about him later)
Here is a tipoff of accumulated wealth---conspicuous consumption---a genuine Remington in the Lobby. (recognize it? It's famous--entitled Mountain Man) But I was going to illustrate Humanitarianism---- A shocker of a story--Begins here--saw several of these. The town council is obviously addressing a real problem. Another sign said it was a felony to abandon an animal.
Horses are especially beloved. See where I'm headed here?
Read this carefully and you will be as shocked as I was. Guess who felt strongly enough about this atrocity to post the $5000 reward? Yes, it was "Mr Tonopah" putting his money where his feelings are. That, dear readers, is deep desert humanitarianism.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009


WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS? I stop as you would--to marvel--surely the biggest shoe tree in the world! I'm moved to poetry:
A spectacle in the midst of great spaciousness,
Sixty miles from anywhere,
But I choose for the moment to make it the center of my universe,
the focus of my attention.
what, really, is it and what, if anything, does it mean?
A shrine perhaps? I do not worship!
That is for fearful toadies who misunderstand our situation.
But I'm struck with the question---draw near in wonder--
A whopper of a shoe tree;
A challenge to small and slender arms tossing lace-tied shoes toward lofty limbs.

Up there, however, dangle myriads,
flung no doubt by stronger arms--football players perhaps
Or fathers determined to hang one for their children.
Thousands have stood where I stand, marveled as I marvel,
Curious, perhaps, as I am curious---
Then go their way---a long road ahead--Austin or Fallon in their sights.
But I will not go! I am seized by the puzzle:
What can this mean? Who? When? Why?----Well anyway Why?
I resolve to seek an answer like Buddha did:
I will sit under this tree--and I will not rise--till an answer comes!
I sit---time and cars pass---I sit----I sit;
My monkey mind jumps and squirms then calms---I sit--and wait!
AND THEN---quick as lightening, clear as thunder --The answer comes!
It commands my eyes like fireworks;
Like a kneeling puppy-- invites to play.
But there is more--I'm sure of it---I continue to sit.
Pictures come---a memory reel unwinds;
I see dollar bills, signed and stapled to a barroom ceiling.
I see names and designs made with rocks along the roadway.
I see driftwood sculptures along San Francisco Bay;
I see decorated Medicine trees in Montana
Still the reel unwinds: I see pioneer names chipped into a rock;
Indian symbols of goats, snakes,men;
I see hand prints on Uluru rock in Australia,
And every name and symbol says: LOOK AT THIS!
And every blank space beside it says: WHAT SAY YOU?
So every dangling shoe says ---look at this!
And every empty limb says: "waiting for you"!--"gimme a shoe"!
Still the reel unwinds: I see a child-like notion
in the mind of the very first shoe thrower--likely 50 years ago--
A roadbuilder, camped here, whimsically disposing of his worn out boots;
They dangle, they delight the crew--
bestow a moment of fame and invite---a second pair--- a third.
Like a snowball the idea rolls forward till a thousand shoe birds
sway in the wind.
THERE IS MORE---I remain seated:
Here, thought ingressed into matter;
Idea birthed into action.
A tiny spark lit a great fire;
Here, stands a clue to human purpose:
Nothing became something;
Eternity stepped through a stargate into time---
to amaze, amuse, connect, and remind me:
I rise-give thanks--drive on.
Shoe birds that fell? or failed?

And lest you need to be told what this is---

Tuesday, 6 October 2009


SERIOUS CODGERISM------75 MILES FROM A GROCERY STORE Surprised to see cattle out here! Could they eat these bushes? Had to find out!
Engaged these two cow---persons--couldn't be sure the far one was not a lady--dared not presume. They said yes the cows could survive on this stuff---if each cow gets a hundred acres.
Survival is all that is asked of them---it's the calves that are valuable. I asked about odd people living far in the outback. Yes! they are out there! AND GOOD LUCK.

OUT THERE! I felt it in my bones. A codger compound for sure---A juicy story! Scanned with my binoculars--saw two strange buildings---found a dirt road and went there.

I Halloed from the yard of a huge old house-----this puzzled, soft spoken gentleman (Terry)came out. Told him I was interested in the history of this place----introduced myself. He said the owner was inside---had the answers---come on in.

Meet Bob---Master of this desert manse. Ten minutes later we are old friends and I have the story. (my charm should be registered with proper authorities---But I will tell you the secret: 1. credentials ( intelligent speech-)-2. Playful personna 3. Keen questions 4. Deep listening then repeat 3 and 4) Here's the story: Retired geologist and bar owner---grew overly fond of alcohol--retreated here with wife---she left---Terry is between jobs---cooks and cares for the old guy. He paused in the telling to pour another glass full of spirits---Terry also. The two big buildings outside are historic relics: the well preserved remains of an Overland Stage depot--a well and stalls for perhaps 50 horses. Terry would give me the tour later. I asked if I could see the house--15 rooms plus 2nd floor.
Ancient stove--works fine

Reading is big out here---one of two extensive libraries---had a full set of Louis L'amour.
Bobcat pelt, photo memories.
One of two barns for the stagecoach horses. The roof is covered with dirt--cool inside.
Sturdy, hand hewn beams--even now. (Have you noticed that I'm getting thinner--on a new diet--the Shangri Lai--no kidding----I drink a tablespoon of olive oil 3 times a day---kills the appetite---eat whatever I want--I'll be 170 lbs by Jan 11th, 2010)----but I digress---want to show you the clever ceiling work.
Think this technique is called waddle and daub---mud and sticks.
Bob hobbled outside to see my wonderous trailer. Invited me to stay. I declined. A cold front is coming--incredibly, snow predicted at higher elevations--where I'm headed.
Austin, Nevada---loneliest town on the loneliest road---one reason I've chosen it as my legal address for certain purposes. Elevation 6000 ft plus. Old gold mining town---now occupied by folks comfortable with quiet comfort. I drove up the hill to the right, found a flat spot , tuned in my satellite and settled in for the night. My rig is a dot --right center.
Now you can see it more clearly. Nary a soul approached me--Had a great sunset.

Sunday, 4 October 2009


SEARCHING FOR KODGERS------- AND THE BAR AT THE END OF THE WORLD. Black stones/ white dirt---who could resist such easy roadway renown. Names and messages stretched for 5 miles on both sides.
50 miles from anywhere is this famous bar. Just like in the movies. A somewhat somewhere watering hole for desert life--- perfect wildlife viewing area.
Great movie set. I imagined a bar fight scene erupting out on the dirt.
Women are scarce and precious in the deep desert. Shirt or no shirt, they drink free forever. I saw only one in my 24 hr stay here--leading me to declare the deep desert a TESTOSTERONE ZONE.
Have you seen this before? I have. The entire ceiling was covered. New and desperate immortality seekers going vertical and overlapping---barkeep estimated $8000 total.
Heard about this--had to see it with my own eyes---guy named Jesus something. Still I was suspicious--climed on the bar to get this shot---discovered the secret. Look closely and you can see it too.
Finally, my codger hunt got under way---found this hodge podge in the remotes. Someone lives here but he wouldn't come out. His little dog, however, was terrified-- ran madly away into the desert---not barking or defending its territory. I've learned that Kids and dogs that grow up in remote solitude are not bold and self reliant as you would expect but timid and fearful as a rule. Bold confidence requires social beginnings. Older folks that retreat to the desert---are another story.
Not far away, I came upon this base camp for an apparantly genuine mobile codger. My instinct steered me clear of this one.
But not this one----I bicycled quietly upon him and waited---sound asleep--and stayed that way---took this photo and let him be.
Before dark, I accumulated lots of neighbors--all very friendly---invited me to their fire at night--They dress in elegant armor--their aim:-- to drink in huge gulps of desert adventure---often traveling 175 miles in a giant circuit---"weird and wonderful stuff out there" they said. Ghosts towns, mines, gaping earthquake fault lines.
Four grandfathers, friends and motorcyclist together for 40 years. Note how well armored. Gave them a tour of my trailer in exchange for the story.
Away they all roared like a Viking horde.
See their dust in the distance? They're headed to the top of that mountain. Perhaps I've stumbled onto the secret of eternal youth---adventure on!
Slow internet connection has delayed this posting. Next I will report on a really deep desert codger I found later this same day.