Photo of worker adjusting a wireless access point.

Worker adjusting the wireless access point outside my window.

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Monday, December 24, 2007
Xmas Eve Netflix Call
Argh. I sent a Netflix DVD back in the wrong envelope. Checked the site and they tell you just send the other disc back in the wrong envelope with a note and your email address.

No big deal on their end. But today I see that they've actually checked in the wrong disk in the wrong queue (I have three separate queues) and so instead of 24: Season 5 Disc 3 in my hands on Wednesday, I'm going to have West Wing: Season 1 Disc 2.

I think you can see the problem here. I'm right in the middle of 24 which comes four episodes to the disk. We all know that each episode leaves you hanging as to the fate of the free world. I've got two Netflix queues working and sending alternating series discs. I have to make sure Jack can vanquish all known enemies. (Season 5 is the nerve gas attack along with the assassination of former president David Palmer. Plus I think the Chinese still want to get their hands on Jack about that little incident of the covert break-in at their DC embassy in Season 4.)

I'm watching West Wing with Mary at a much slower pace and West Wing DVDs are double-sided with eight episodes per disc.

So I call Netflix. I didn't know they had a help line until today but it turns out they fully implemented it in July and dropped email support. It's a 24-hour service. I spoke with Netflix rep Maryanne. She noted that West Wing was shipping today and she couldn't do anything about that but she could send me my next 24 from the other queue immediately. She hoped to ship 24 today but it might be Wednesday. If you're counting, I'll have four DVDs out on my three-DVD subscription because Netflix (or at least Maryanne) wants to make sure my 24 addiction continues to be fed.

This is excellent customer service. Netflix makes sure I get the DVD I really wanted even though I'm causing them extra work on their end because I screwed up with a DVD in wrong envelope. It was also really fast service. After a short hold time, Maryanne was able to do the entire deal herself. She didn't have to consult a supervisor or manager for any permissions. She told me that she's worked at other call centers and Netflix's is one of the best and makes her life easy by granting her enough power to really aid customers.

Maryanne told me that there have been some complaints that Netflix no longer provides email support. But she said that the phone is much more efficient for dealing with their type of customer problems. Email can be vague. She gave an example of an email she received (before they shut down email support) that simply said "Gone with the Wind". That was it. Another stated "Does this happen often?". No further information. So you move to a back-and-forth email mode before you even have an inkling as to what the real problem is. With phone support, they can get all the information they need immediately and handle the problem quickly and efficiently.

Getting my next 24 is a great Christmas present from Netflix. It also gives me hope as we approach another new year that at least one company is trying to figure out how truly provide service in this digital world and that sometimes going back tp POTS (plain old telephone service) might be the answer. (OK. We could use Skype instead but that's another issue.)

Happy Holidays everyone. Try out Netflix if you can. They deserve a look. (Disclosure: I don't own any stock in Netflix and I just met Maryanne today.)

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Friday, December 21, 2007
Manhattan Unwired: CBS lights up Manhattan with free wireless
CBS Offers Midtown Manhattan Free Wireless Internet Access

There will be ads of course.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Minneapolis Unwired: Latest prediction is network complete in February
Latest completion date for the USIW wireless mesh network is late January or early February. (I've been predicting 2008 all along.) The build-out map has been updated and it looks like they are working in the Phase 5 area which is north of the Mississippi and includes Southeast and the University. They are supposed to finish there in January. Phase 6 (South Minneapolis near Lake Nokomis) is the last area with a completion date in February.

I wonder if they have any agreement with the University of Minnesota for deploying on campus or around the campus. There were rumors at one point about USIW providing free service to staff and faculty (maybe students) living near the campus along with the campus itself and I know some early testing took place. Th U is building out a wireless network to replace the ad hoc one that has grown over the last few years but I don't think USIW is in that mix.

The other news—from the Strib article—is that the network "will be able to fund its operations from customer fees for Internet access when US Internet signs 10,000 customers" according Joe Caldwell, US Internet's marketing vice president. It looks like they had 5,000 customers in November with 7,000 more registered for service when it becomes available. Congratulations, USIW.

As some of you know, I am on the Digital Inclusion Fund Advisory Committee. We will soon be disbursing $200,000 in grants and when the network is complete, USIW will give us another $300,000 + 5% of pre-tax revenues. So their success is also a success for digital inclusion in our city.

Star Tribune article (which will likely go behind the paywall in the near future): Wi-Fi network expected to be self-sustaining

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Saturday, December 15, 2007
Report on wireless process in Philadelphia
The Ethos Group has released a report at the New America Foundation's web site entitled The Philadelphia Story: Learning from a Municipal Wireless Pioneer. It's a critique of the process in Philadelphia's Wi-Fi deployment. Stakeholders initially recommended nonprofit ownership and Wireless Philadelphia was created for that purpose. Then Wireless Philadelphia "sold out" to Earthlink. Why that happened and if it was a bad thing is open for debate.

The Minneapolis Wi-Fi story is told in detail and accurate for the most part. One error I caught is in the upfront contribution from US Internet. Total is $500,000 and not $1M as it states. The company gave $200,000 when the contract was signed and will give $300,000 when the network is accepted by the city. An RFP went out in July for asking for requests for up to $30K for projects that will aid digital inclusion. The proposals are currently under evaluation with an announcement scheduled for early next year. (I'm on the committee reviewing the proposals.)

I'm still reading the report so check the analysis at MuniWireless and Wi-Fi Network News.

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An incinerator by any other name...
Update: Excellent coverage of the meeting at TC Daily Planet (by Dan Gordon).

Update: MPR has a story. Published before the meeting took place last night. If you went to the meeting, please comment!

There is a burner/incinerator/biomass convertor coming to my neighborhood (really close anyway).
The City of Minneapolis has tentatively agreed to sell land at 2850 20th Avenue South -- the former location of the South Transfer Station -- to a private, for-profit enterprise that plans to build an incinerator to generate electrical power and steam heat.
Midtown Minneapolis Incinerator Information: Midtown Incinerator Information
Here is what Dan Cooke has to say about Biomass Convertors:
Burners are 19th Century technology. There is nothing particularly new or novel about a "biomass" burner -- it's still an incincerator and to the extent it burns materials that release toxins it will make us sick. The State of Delaware, in recognition of these problems, has enacted a statewide ban on incinerator construction within THREE MILES of any residence, church, hospital or school. If you live in the area bounded by Harriet and Calhoun, the airport, the St. Paul border and downtown Mpls, you are well-within this radius. Midtown EcoEnergy Project: Seward Neighbors Forum: E-Democracy.Org Forums
(Read the rest of Dan's post at the forum link where he mentions conflict of interest issues between CouncilMember Lisa Goodman and Michael Krause, a key figure at Kandiyohi, the group proposing the project.)

There is a public meeting hosted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) on Dec. 13 at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, 2730 E. 31st St., 6–8:30 p.m. MPCA will give information about and receive public comment on a draft air permit for Kandiyohi Development’s proposed Midtown Eco Energy MEE) project.

More info at Twin Cities Daily Planet

Official Midtown Eco Energy site

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Monday, December 10, 2007
NBC stole my shows
I'm a Law & Order fan. The original Law & Order not an asterix Law & Order.

Chapter 1

It's a hard life. A couple of years ago I started buying the DVDs from Amazon starting with Season 1. I bought from affiliates at good prices and I was fine with used versions if listed in good condition. I would buy one, watch all the episodes, and the buy the next one. I purchased seasons 1 thru 4 and when I went to get season 5, it wasn't there. It didn't exist. Neither did season 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, or 13. But I could buy season 14 and beyond.

Chapter 2

I implemented a reverse chronology strategy and started watching new L&Os downloaded (with DRM) from iTunes at $1.99 an episode. I watched all of Season 17 (2006 and 2007) and then started on Season 16. (Within the season, I did watch them in the correct order.) As of today, I've watched through the Feb. 8, 2006 episode: Magnet. Haven't watched any for a short while and decided to download one tonight. NBC has disappeared from iTunes. I remember now when this happened and the buzz about Hulu.

Chapter 3

I finally found Season 16 online at Amazon for $1.99 per download just like iTunes. It's in their "unboxed" area. Unfortunately, it only runs on Windows and I use a Mac. I do have Parallels running with XP but I'm not going to take the time to download the Amazon player. I know it won't work the first time around.

Amazon wins tonight however as I did order Law & Order Season 5 (released since I was last looking) along with The Human Condition by Hannah Arendt.


There are no Season 16 downloads compatible with the Mac. There are no legal Season 16 downloads compatible with the Mac. I know places out there I can find illegal, free, encrypted versions where the nice pirates even removed the commercials. Of course I would never do that! (Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.)

It's really quite remarkable. I want to pay to watch a Law & Order episode tonight. I don't have a problem with paying. Take my money, please!

This whole phenomenon is an indictment of the US entertainment industry which truly does resemble a dinosaur with a small brain. Rather than limiting my choices and trying to create intellectual property management schemes to squeeze more nickels and dimes from consumers, can't they see that most of us would be happy for reasonable prices, good service, and "plug-and-play" functionality. The business model for this is naked as a jaybird and running down the street screaming.

The industry behavior encourages piracy. It's that simple.

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Thursday, December 06, 2007
Give MinneDemo some love
Only 200 have signed up for Minnedemo so far (including St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman).

MinneDemo: DemoCamp Minnesota

Congrats to Dan & Luke. You've hit this one out of the park.

Still trying to juggle my schedule and get there. If I don't, y'all have a beer on me!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Wither Wimax & BT pushes FON
At CNN Fortune Magazine Stephanie Mehta looks at Wimax deployments (or lack thereof) in The curse of WiMax. The article brings up interesting issues such as Wimax as a mobile solution (initially it was a fixed option with radio waves simply replacing wires) and Long Term Evolution, a competing technology (and one I wasn't aware of).

Meanwhile, British Telecom (BT) is hoping all of their customers become Foneros and share bandwidth with their FON routers. FON subscribers would have free access to any FON router (worldwide) while non-users (known as "Aliens") would buy a daily pass. BT will engineer their routers to become a FON router.

It's within the realm of possibility that a FON enabled community could provide service comparable to a wireless mesh system. Right? It's an interesting proposition.

Share and share alike at the BBC site.

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Report on digital inclusion in Philadelphia
Wireless Philadelphia is the non-profit partnered with Earthlink "helping Philadelphia to become the nation's first completely wireless major city." They were created to help in getting broadband wireless access to all of Philadelphia's neighborhoods. Read about their current efforts.

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Minneapolis Unwired: Free access to the City
I'm not a USIW Wi-Fi subscriber but I can "see" four access nodes from my computer where I live and a couple have strong signals even without the Ruckus gateway device. I can select and connect but I end up at the USIW log-in page.

There are a couple of City of Minneapolis link on the log-in page. I clicked on one and ended up at the City's site. I was able to browse freely as long as I didn't attempt a link off the City's site. (When I clicked on the convention center link, I ended up back at the USIW login page.)

Hopefully this access will continue when the community portal arrives.

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