Learning & Teaching—and the Library

Here’s something that is a short, fun, watch but deserves a longer, contemplative, consideration.

It’s a roller coaster ride done in a classic Atari program. Go try it, noting the long, long rise at the end where you get to look down on the roller coaster below you.

Go on, this is fun and the rest won’t make sense unless you’ve actually tried it: YouTube – Real Estate Roller Coaster


OK, now the not-so-fun part. That is a video that maps the cost-adjusted price of housing stock since 1890. (Here’s what that looks like in a NYTimes graph–you’ll recognize the “ride.”) Before you cry “boring–the worst of social studies” let me hasten to say that while I do not find the content boring (after all I was a social studies teacher in another life–and own my home) that is not why I’ve posted this for your lazy Sunday consideration.

I’m more interested in the context of this blog in the very interesting fact that you can learn something from this video that you can’t learn in more standard ways. We learn most usefully from “experience.” Educators mean something pretty specific when they use that term and it doesn’t preclude learning that takes place in schools. It includes things like this video which give you the experience of change over time. This is pretty different from the all -at-once time-abstracted image you get from the graph.

Long story short: this is a fine learning/teaching tool.

What makes that interesting here is that it was made by a “regular person” using the cheapest of hardware and software to help folks understand something which is otherwise difficult to put across about a very special interest of his or her own. That sort of individually localized “production” of sophisticated material is new…and very encouraging.

If we want more of this sort of thing we should do a couple of things: 1) Supply big, cheap, upload bandwidth–so that people can do video uploads or serve a few videos effectively from their own server. 2) Provide access to sophisticated and flexible software…this video required mating graphs with a 3D game program.

We’ll soon enough have #1 covered in Lafayette, and with the amazing bandwidth that will make available, at least on the local intranet, we’ll have the potential to use increasing sophisticated programs located on the net that will help with #2. If we choose, we can buy access to amazingly sophisticated programs and offer fast access to them through a local “library” organization. The library here has some technically sophisticated folks; librarians caught on to the value of communications technology early. I see no reason that the Lafayette Public Library couldn’t offer such a “loan” program and occasional classes on the software. (They already offer more basic computer/net classes.)

It is worth really thinking about how we can set the stage for our community to have access to the creative tools they might need to create really interesting products.

An on-net software library might be an way to exploit the utility of our fast intranet and the power of the pooled resource of the community library for everyone’s benefit.

Cox has Local Problems

The Advertiser this morning carries a story with the fawning title Cox: It’s working to correct problems.” In a nutshell, customers are complaining about problems with sound, pixelation (blocky patches on digital channels), and most seriously for those effected broken recording functions on TiVo’s Digital Video Recorder (DVR). –Problems which did not effect Cox’s own competing DVR box. Doug Menefee, of LUFFTTH blog fame, complains:

Douglas Menefee, a TiVo and Cox subscriber, said his TiVo began recording the wrong channels and said it was because TiVo had not received the updated channel guide from Cox through Tribune Media, which is in charge of the data on Cox’s channel guide.

“Television is just supposed to work. This week, it has been working against me,” Menefee said.

For those who don’t see what the fuss is about: a DVR’s most basic function is to provide automated recordings of its owner’s favorite shows. As a bonus you can motor past the commercials. TiVo–the technology leader in the area and the most popular brand–is beloved by its devotees for its ability to record a favorite series without virtually no attention from users and has made the phrase “time-shifting” a pop culture phrase. Being able to watch TV on your own schedule instead of the network’s turns out to be a killer feature. I’m a TiVo user who bought it on the recommendation of a friend and would never willingly go back. As a result of this mess-up I actually had to watch one of my favorite shows when it aired and had to watch the commercials (which turn out to be even more annoying than I recall) and missed several of my regular recordings. Cox has really aggravated such viewers.

What makes it worse is that Ms Kleinpeter passes it off with typical incumbent arrogance:

Kleinpeter said Tribune Media did receive the information and dismissed the claim.

A representative from Tribune Media declined to comment and representatives from TiVo were unavailable.

Kleinpeter said it was the customers’ responsibility to update their TiVo settings in conjunction with the change and not doing so would result in a problem with their recordings.

“We have been blasting the information to our customers for 30 days,” she said. “So, if someone didn’t know about it, they didn’t want to know about it, I guess.”

This is wrong…and arrogant…and every TiVo user will know it. I’v had some subscriptions for five years now on my aging TiVo and only miss a show when the listing is wrong or when my TiVo’s connection to cable box has been broken. This is the worst listing problem I’ve seen–and it IS NOT the user’s fault. There is nothing, nothing whatsoever, an owner can do except to wait for the update to be made online and for their TiVo box to download it. I forced my box manually to make unscheduled update calls every 12 hours or so during the 4-day outage without seeing an update to the correct lineup . That apparently came through yesterday morning sometime and my afternoon attempt pulled down the correct lineup. TiVo happily and correctly updated all my subscriptions to shows and my Friday SciFi indulgence set recorded correctly last night. I’ll watch ’em sometime this weekend when I get some relaxation time.

Kleinpeter’s attempt to blame the victim is typical of Cox’s modus operandi when they are wrong–they put out some sort of inaccuracy, preferably one that blames someone else and hope that the confusion they’ve caused is enough to cover its culpability. (With all due sympathy for Kleinpeter–perhaps she was made testy by the fact that the two women Cox has used to build up their “friendly face” in Acadiana after the fiber debacle weren’t asked to pull this npleasent duty. Karmen Blanco and Jacqui Vines were nowhere to be seen when this latest mess hit the fan.)

What makes this explanation all the more incredible is that Cox had and as of this morning still had the incorrect listing on its own web site. My wife checked it over the outage looking for her favorite channels and I confirmed it this morning. Since TiVo is finding the correct listings now I expect it to update soon. Cox’s Listings–powered by Tribune’s zap2it.com. (As of yesterday zap2it’s own web-based listings were also incorrect; the problem was not in propagation to TiVo’s servers.)

Until Cox notified Tribune and the change worked its way through the system there was nothing that could be done by any user. The fault lies with Cox.

I’ve been through lineup changes before in two states, and have never seen this problem. If its handled correctly the listings change is slotted in to coincide with the cable company’s channel shift and the user does not see an issue. It’s hard not to think that it has something to do with Cox now having a competing copycat DVR of its own….I wonder how many TiVo users who called in to complain were offered boxes that “work fine with our system?”

“Louisiana [not dead] last in Internet use”

I’ve got a small pile of worthwhile items that readers have sent over the last couple of weeks but haven’t gotten worked into the blog. (I’ve been catching up on work deferred from the summer.) The latest link (thanks Stephen!) points out Louisiana’s abysmal ranking in the uptake of advanced technologies.

According to data gathered by the census bureau Louisiana is 3rd from the bottom in both computer ownership and in subscriptions to broadband. In both cases only Mississippi and Arkansas have lower rates of usage.

Taint good. Not for our state, not for economic development, and not for people’s quality of life.

The explanatory correlations are with both poverty and rural life. Both are correlated with low uptake and both are areas in which Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas vie for “top” ranking.

Normally this would just be a “feel-bad” story. But here in Lafayette we have started changing at least part of the story by creating a local utility. Part of the reason that rural areas have low uptake is that decent broadband is plain not available. LUS will make sure that in the city of Lafayette at least everyone will be able to hook up to the most advanced services available to anyone in the country. But the more intractable issue is poverty…something of which the three states named have far more than their fair share. There are two ways of dealing with that: raise incomes and lower prices. It’s damned hard to do the former. But we’ve taken the right steps to insure lower prices. LUS will drive prices down 20% once they are up and running and the private corporations will have to follow suit. (Competition’s grand.) According to the census bureau’s numbers nearly a quarter of those who don’t now have broadband don’t because they can’t afford it.


A BBC News story on the issue might flesh this out for some readers.

The census bureau has two main avenues into the data: a page listing tables of the analyses and a pretty pdf summary. Your choice.

Cracks in the Axis of Evil? Is Cox Seeking a Place at LUS Table? Cox Makes “Overtures”

Just the facts folks:

There are indications that the unnatural alliance between Cox and BellSouth in opposition to the LUS fiber to the premises plan has begun to shatter.

While BellSouth has rushed to join the petition effort to force a referendum on the LUS fiber plan, erstwhile ally Cox has been conspicuous by its absence and its silence.

Well, it turns out the Cox has been talking, but not with the Fiber 411 crowd. No, Cox has been talking with Mayor-President Joey Durel about dropping its opposition to the LUS plan.

First confirmation of Cox-CG talks came in the form of a phone call from fiber foe Bill LeBlanc to John St. Julien on Thursday morning. In the call, LeBlanc revealed that he’d talked to a Rotary Club president who had chaired a breakfast yesterday (Wednesday) where Durel made reference such talks.

Lafayette Pro Fiber queried Durel by email asking if such a statement had been made. In a response from his Blackberry, Durel confirmed that Cox had, indeed, made “overtures” to him about the possibility of the company dropping its opposition to the LUS plan.

In a follow-up email, Durel remarked that there was no offer, that nothing had been put on the table, and that, given the history of Cox’s efforts to derail the project to date, he wasn’t sure that it was anything more than a tactic.

However, Durel said that he wants Cox to know that the door is open to further, substantive talks about advancing the fiber project.


We’ll hold our usual editorializing (except for the title) until the picture clarifies. But this should be very interesting.



It’s time and past time for Lafayette Pro Fiber to get out of its “defense of fiber” crouch and get on to the more serious business of dreaming, fantasizing and looking forward to what we might do to together here in Lafayette. We announce our intention to do that here.

Don’t expect the acid-tongued persona to vanish. It’s imminently justified. But look for an increase in the work of trying to make sense of background issues and to work out the implications of choices made for our community’s future.

The real work is ahead for us all. Tuesday was a success, and that success is not fully secured. But now is the time to begin the hard work of dreaming. And we will be doing that here.


Note: This post has been sitting in “draft” status for more than a month awaiting this Tuesday’s vote. Hey it’s Friday…time to get back to work

Nobody wants FTTH?

Nobody wants fiber? Hey, download the Fios brochure (pdf) that FTTH subscribers are getting in Dallas as Verizion rolls out real broadband in Dallas this August. CNet describes the initiative. Somebody in Dallas must be more credible than the citizens of Lafayette. They want it and they are getting it.

One of the more irritating things that BellSouth and Cox are doing is telling the folks of Lafayette, poor ignorant children that we are, that we really don’t want fiber. We want some sorta “services” that they already offer and children they will take care of our real needs, needs which they understand. Trust ’em. That was mostly implicit until the “Academic” Broadband (not fiber, didn’t wanna talk about that) Forum when Menefee, local tech guru, staightforwardly asked if BellSouth and Cox would committ to building a fiber to the home network if the people of Lafayette voted “51%” to do so. There was a lot of hemming and hawing but the facts were clear: that’s not the way they make decisions. (It is the way local governments make decisions.) It’s about their judgement as to how much profit can be made here versus other, “better,” ways to spend their money. (Which, I hasten to point out, includes profits made off Lafayette business.) (See Mike’s coverage of that Dog and Pony show)

Anyway, BellSouth and Cox might not find Lafayette’s fiber business worth spending the money to secure but that’s not because fiber just isn’t economic or, as they imply, that wise business heads aren’t doing it. Real players in the game, like Verizon, are embracing FTTH. Now you might think that Dallas is a big city. And it is. (And I for one don’t want to live in Dallas or Houston.) But it isn’t only the big guys: Louisiana’s own EATel (East Ascension TELephone) is rolling out FTTH in Ascension and Livingston as we speak. Its not about size. It’s about vision.

It’s not about scary new “maybe” technologies (that are mostly directly dependent on fiber). It’s not about “uneconomic business plans” —unless you think that Verizon and EATel are fools. Really folks, it’s about money. And Cox and BellSouth think they can make more money with the profits they take here by spending it elsewhere. That’s sensible, good business practice. It can even be reasonably argued that the law requires they be “good stewards” and maximize their shareholders’ profits.

But that doesn’t make LUS wrong in its judgment that a healthy dose of Fiber is good for Lafayette.

And to imply otherwise is just condescending.