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Friday, August 31, 2012

The Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts?

Warning:  slightly technical but mostly cost and expense language.  Reader discretion advised.
This isn't a new thought...but it's current, a number of broadcasters are lamenting it, and since a client just got bitten by it, I want to get it back out there. 
A few years ago, someone went to a Cadillac dealer repeatedly, checking prices on all the parts of a new Caddy.  By the time he totaled everything, the parts for a new car would have cost about 5 times the dealer price - and you'd have to build it yourself.
Kinda reminds you of that Johnny Cash One Piece at a Time song.
Well, if you think cars are bad, take a run at broadcast gear.  It's been true for awhile but it's getting worse.  Pick a part - any part - and then brace yourself.  It's going to cost you plenty.  Even if you can find them at general parts sources like Digi-Key, MCM or Mouser, calling the manufacturer will get you a number that will send your eyes rolling.
And, it's worse if it's a custom part.  I had two occasions to witness that in the last couple of weeks.  One was a transmitter and the second was a simple CD player.  $1000 for a panel meter?  And when you call them and say that there's no info in the manual about the actual meter movement, you're met with, "Yeah, uh.  I don't know what to tell you except we have 4 in stock."  
Cool.  And since this particular unit is in the final stage of a transmitter, you can't just pull any replacement or guess at the value.  Well you could, but your client is exposed to the possibility of an NAL.
Same is true - but worse - with the custom items like coils in a combiner.  You get the feeling that there's a marketing guy and a techie sitting in a bar together, rubbing their hands together, waiting for a failure.
And a CD player?  Laser and lens shouldn't cost $200.  They just shouldn't.
Yes, I know.  There are development costs.  When you're only building a couple thousand of something, you have to make your money back somewhere.   And keeping a service center working can be expensive.  Of course, managers and bean counters don't want to pay more up front.  And, frankly, a lot of techies would rather see expenses in the repair budget than in capital expenditures.  
Maybe the solution is to buy two of everything and put one in moth balls.  Then cannibalize it for parts.  But you have to have the fortitude to pull that first part from a perfectly good box to fix one that's failing.  And, BTW, if you get that past the bean counters, let me know.

Friday, August 17, 2012

TLD needs TLC - Huh? www.areyoureadyforanything.holycow-whatsthesuffix

If you're not following it, you need to - the new TLD's (top level domains) on their way.  For a long time, we were used to the .com, .edu, .mil, .gov, .net and .org, along with the country ID'd suffixes.

They were joined by .biz, .info, and a few others some years later.

Now, ICANN and disciples are considering hundreds - make that thousands or even hundreds of thousands - of new TLD's.  It's all based on whether you have the cash.

So, what does that mean?

Well, if you have the dough, you could enable .mcd.  Then the URL might be and (which redirects to or or just  (I doubt if there will ever be  Other companies can do the same.  Individuals, too, if they have the bucks.

So, is it important?  Well, here are a couple of things to think about:
  • To now, it's been pretty important to have .com if you were a commercial operation.  Owning .com meant that all you really had to communicate to clients and prospects was the site name (the preamble before the "dot".)  Google, Target, and the thousands of others.  As long as you had .com, you could be fairly sure that folks would find you.  It's why, so often, those with .org (the noncommercials) or the .gov's got passed over.  It's also why some folks got the shocks of their lives when they thought they were going to a government site but accidentally entered .com as the suffix and were directed to porn sites created by some enterprising-if-not-up-and-up folks.

    But think about it.  We made sure to get .com and off we went, promoting the site name.  Heck, even some of the browsers autocompletes added .com unless you typed something else.
  • The second point is that we got those .com names based on trademarking.  After the squatters regulations were passed, we were protected.  Of course, Nissan Motors and The Nissan Restaurant in Clayton, MO. had the same right to the URL if they had trademarked their name; in general, the big guns won out and the smaller ones drifted to or some permutation.  That said, how do you deal with all the possible new TLDs?  Should Intel be able to own plus .intel plus .chip and any other they want?  Should it be one to a customer?  Is it one more example of the golden rule (Them with the know)?
So it'll be interesting.  It hasn't been fleshed out but, like the rest of the web's development, we'll have innovation, forward movement followed by resolution (translation:  somebody will do something neat and new.  It'll take hold.  A bunch of otherbodies will fight to take it over or to force it into public domain, and it'll be resolved.

But this'll be a fun ride.  And, it'll mean new business as we get called upon to "get that URL out there!"  We'll have to think about the whole URL.  And with hundreds of thousands of them, it'll be a real challenge.  It means the whole URL is going to need that tender loving care.  Can you imagine the number of  '60's rock tunes that are going to be licensed just to reinforce URLs?  Hot damn.  Bring it on.  Just no Anne Murray. 

Gonna go now.  I want to register .wtf   The money I could make on that, ooooooooh.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Smartphones Growing Up

This isn't about what you'd first think - about phones getting older - but about "olders" getting phones.

Apparently I haven't been paying close enough attention to the demos on wireless penetration but I got shaken into reality at a wedding brunch of all places.  It was the morning after a relative's marriage.  All of the out-of-towners who had collected at hotels or the bride's house were in attendance and my best guess is that 70 percent or more were over 65 years old.

All of them carried wireless devices.  And none were bricks.  There were iPhones and Androids and a couple of tablets...and get this:  they talked intelligently about their phones, including one 70+ female being upset about her 4G access.  A bunch were checking email and one punched onto IMDB to settle an argument.  (FYI it was Pat Buttram in Green Acres, not Pat Brady.)

So I got to snooping.  Found one chart (below) which sums things up and really makes you think - once again concentrating on the 18-34's is missing a lot of folks.

Now, granted, the "gotta have the latest" gene may not be developed in the 65+ but they all seemed to have just about the latest.  And, again, they knew how to use them.

I tossed out a couple of questions.  Words with Friends was popular with females, seemed like it was just below the importance of their Facebook interaction.  some guys liked WWF but more were interested in email and finding restaurants.  Hey, maybe the whole "guys don't ask for directions" is going the way of the bag phone. 

So we all may want to rethink penetration.  The percentages within each demo (percent ownership based on income) track almost linearly.  Yes, there's less interest above 65 than among 34 year olds, and the whole article quoted below capitalizes on it... but it's sure there!

Worth a look.

chart of the day, smartphone usage by age and income, july 2012
From BI Intelligence,

Monday, August 6, 2012

Dealing with the Growing Appetite for Bandwidth

Courtesy: K-Tel
Once upon a time I worked with some guys who created a faux K-Tel offer, “…call now, and you’ll get a copy of every song ever recorded.  That’s right.  Every song, every recording.  So you don’t forget, call before midnight tonight…”
In a related (I’ll tie them together eventually) incident, last week, an IT tech made an interesting, if not superficial recommendation that we start paying by the byte for bandwidth.  "That'll make you think twice before watching 'The Beaver' for the fourth time in a day."  OK, I'll tell you that I'm a firm believer in having skin in the game.  Give stuff away for free or on an all-you-can-eat basis and watch the waste.  Prime example:  go to an event with an open bar!
But, back to K-Tel.  Think about it.  If you were able to get a copy of every song, every video and similar content and keep it with you, that’d definitely cut down on your bandwidth usage, wouldn’t it?
You may not know it, but forms of that are happening all the time.  Various arrangements of store/forward are employed by content suppliers regularly.  For example, if you are on telco copper, some systems, when a particular VOD movie is ordered for the first time, the content is downloaded to the server at your local CO.  It stays on that server – for a specific period of time or, in some cases, in perpetuity – and is as close as that CO for the next person…or you, if you’re watching that episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle again.
It’s coming to home in a number of ways.  You know about SlingBox and RoKu and similar devices.  They have some of the store/forward capabilities.  Of course, if you use SlingBox for its main purpose, you’re going to need bandwidth between the box and your location.  But, the idea is, shorten the distance that data must travel to get to you.  One way or another, that’ll reduce overall bandwidth.
Then, a variety of PC and Mac devices like Time Capsule and some combination of media server/distribution system will allow you to store a lot of content locally, reducing bandwidth needed to the outside world.  It will mean higher capabilities in the home, like –n enabled WiFi but if that K-Tel offer put everything on your local machine, what a difference.
And what’s left?  Well, the hundreds of terabytes of content created every day have to get to you.  How else will you see the latest Mentos/Coke attempt?  But again, store/forward can put the materials a lot closer to you than they currently are. Yes.  Another cut in required bandwidth.  Don’t forget current movie releases.  As theaters go digital, they could easily install servers that allow store/forward.  It flies in the face of protecting digital rights since, somehow, theaters seem to be content leaks, but the technology’s right.
Here’s a question.  If you had to pay per byte from your broadband supplier, would you agree to “share” with others?  The scenario goes like this:  This morning I watched a 3 minute clip of Black Eyed Peas.  Heck, make it on sharpening lawn mower blades if that makes you feel better.  Because I’m enrolled as a “sharer”, it stays on my PDA/phone/tablet for a period of time.  I’m sitting on the porch and my next door neighbor wants to watch the same clip.  (Poor guy.  His mower is a mess.  And his lawn...)  He hits “download” and the return data says, “Hey! It’s right there next to you,” and it steers his tablet to your phone to get it.  Does that work for you?  Are you willing to do that?  Makes sense.  It’s right there.  Your neighbor wants it.  If you can pay a reduced rate for your download and he gets to do the same, too, does that make sense?
Don’t read any bias into the question. Ignore security issues which can be dealt with. And look at the grand scheme.  Even digital broadcast could be accessed from your neighbor's device.  In fact, just about anything that more than one person would want to watch/listen to/investigate fits the idea.  I really want to know:  would you do it? 
If not, and demands keep up, bandwidth can’t.  I’ve written about it before but as legislators continue to pass regulations against the laws of physics, we’re headed for a mess where bits leaving a server will look like the bridge scene from Godzilla.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Yes - The Web Makes us Experts - Even When We Don't Want to Be.

Wadda Ya Know.  We're Experts at Everything.

An interesting thing - that Internet.  Well, the World Wide Web, anyway.  It's turned us into everything.

And, sadly, we now have to be.

See, as fast as the web was able to exhibit information, instructions, suggestions and recommendations on everything from raising earthworms to the gravitational effects of Alpha Centauri, corporate operations folks got the wild idea that they could move all of their support services there, too.

They all celebrate. "Wow!  We just made available everything about our product on the web," they cheer in board rooms.  What they're really saying is, "Son of a gun.  We pushed off all of our customer service on the customers themselves.

That's why we have to be experts.  By default.  When you have to go to the web to troubleshoot a problem with your phone - or car - or, geez, even with a stale candy bar - you, by default, have to learn more than you ever wanted to about the product.

A few years back, Willie (Max Wright) asked Alf, "Can't you fix the spacecraft?" to which Alf (Paul Fusco) responded, "I dunno.  I just turn the key and it goes."

That was a great time to be alive.  If you had a question, someone connected with the product was more than happy to provide another brand contact along with what was usually a simple and instant answer to your problem.

Not no more, as they say.  We have to dig it out.  And the webmaster, designer, et. al. have told management that it's all there for the customer.  And, it ain't. So you dig till you find that answer.  Or maybe you go to their "forum."  There's quotes around it because, by and large, forums (shouldn't it be fora?) are useless.  Talk about the blind leading the blind.

 Unless you're looking for advice about how to go up an escalator, the info, coming from people who are only a step ahead on the knowledge curve.  And further to forums, think about the audacity of a company that offers a user forum instead of help.  That translates to, "Here's the product, you got a
problem? Figure it out among yourselves."  Cool, eh?

So, you finish.  You have your answer.  You fix the problem.  Step back and be proud. You now know as much about the topic as anyone.  Of course, it took two hours whereas a few years ago, a single phone call to a live person would have gotten, "OK.  Lay them out on a cookie sheet and put them in the freezer for 10 minutes.  Then just put 'em in a plastic bag."  And, in thirty seconds, you're done.  Of course, you miss out on all the why's and the technical theory for the cookie sheet and the rest, but you saved a lot of time.

Yes, it frustrates me.  But I have fun with it.  Highlight the problem, copy the page and send it to the company.  But cc the CEO and CIO.  Takes just a minute with Hoovers or Red Books.  You'll usually get responses.  It doesn't make the job any easier but it's the only fun part.