Photo of worker adjusting a wireless access point.

Worker adjusting the wireless access point outside my window.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Red Bull Illume & Our Bridge
I wrote about the Red Bull controversy the other day but you can take the shortcut here and read the Minnesota Independent article. It's a money issue of course. Check the Minneapolis Issues threads here and here.

I get that Minneapolis budgets are messed up and we don't have enough money to do all the things we want to do. I still don't believe in shilling for big corporations within our park system and radically changing the bridge experience over a 10-day period. Bike commuters need safe transport across the bridge and I can't see how that will be accomplished by adding 1,600 cubic feet of obstructions.

If you feel like I do, here's the contact list for the Park Board. The email I sent out to the commissioners who listed a contact email address is at the end of this post.

Bonus Links

The Red Bull press release as posted at the Star Tribune site which you can compare with the original. I assume that the Star Tribune understands that by simply regurgitating Red Bull's announcement, they are in fact endorsing it even though there seems to be issues around this decision to take note of.

My Letter

Commissioners and Superintendent:

I just found out about the Red Bull Illume photo cubes that are to be installed on the Stone Arch Bridge on July 10. According to the Minnesota Independent (previously Minnesota Monitor), the Park Board is involved with this project. You can find the article here:

Although I live in Seward Neighborhood, I run on the Stone Arch Bridge regularly. I can't imagine how twenty-five 8-foot cubes will share the bridge with the myriad runners, walkers, and bicyclists that use the bridge each day. I know for bicyclists, this is a major commuter route so it seems short-sighted to clog their path with these cubes. imagine piling these things over on Third Avenue and watching cars, buses, and trucks negotiate a path through them.

I'm aware that there are budget problems but I still can't support corporate advertising that will hijack the bridge experience itself.

I respectfully request that you reconsider and reverse the decision on the Red Bull exhibit. It will do nothing to enhance the Stone Arch Bridge experience for regular bridge patrons.

Thank you.

Peter Fleck
Seward Neighborhood

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Minneapolis Unwired: Star Tribune thinks it's a good idea
The Minneapolis Star Tribune ran an editorial today urging the City to accept US Internet's wireless network. "Minneapolis has approached Wi_Fiu with modest expectations and a sound public-private business model."

They kind of make a funny when they mention the "reemergence of leaves" as a problem (they cause interference). Many of us in the City knew that the pesky leaves would be returning and would cause problems for all the radios installed during the leafless winter. It happened last year too.

Editorial: Overcoming hype, Wi-Fi holds promise

According to the article (and confirmed from other sources), there are now about 9,600 subscribers. Friends are asking if they should switch. If you do, realize there may be some configuration time in getting a good signal. Also make sure upfront that you can get all your money back if it just doesn't work. And let pfhyper know about your experiences.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Philadelphia Unwired: Philly Wi-Fi rising from the dead?
Quick note on update to Philadelphia/Earthlink Wi-Fi situation.

Local investors to rescue Philly wi-fi

Via GigaOM

Saturday, June 14, 2008
Minneapolis hearts Red Bull?
It's hard to imagine twenty-five giant photo cubes depicting extreme sports on the Stone Arch Bridge. Evidently, the Park Board doesn't have that difficulty and has given Red Bull the go-ahead. I assume money is exchanging hands.

This one I'd like to see stopped. I'll be contacting Councilmembers and the Park Board. If you do that too, we may have a chance.

Read the story at the Minnesota Independent.

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Minneapolis Unwired: Oh yeah, the leaves make a difference
Steve Alexander at the Star Tribune is catching up with my reporting and announcing that the pesky leaves are once again causing problems with the USIW wireless deployment. The article doesn't illuminate much but the comments are interesting.

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Monday, June 09, 2008
NCMR: Keynotes & Sessions Online
Free Press site has links to all the major keynotes and plenary sessions from the National Conference for Media Reform and I think they are uploading video of all the sessions this week (and beyond—there were so many excellent sessions and it's probably going to take some time). Here's the video archive. Local folks will want to listen to Keith Ellison's impassioned plea around reform and Janice Lane Ewart's (KFAI Radio) opening address. Bill Moyers' and Dan Rather's vids are up too. Watch for Naomi Klein, Amy Goodman, Shá Cage, Arianna Huffington, and Van Jones. For a twitterful view of the NCMR check Twemes. The official tag for the conference was NCMR2008.

I will have more to say. Stay tuned.

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Saturday, June 07, 2008
Minneapolis Unwired: Status report on our Wi-Fi deployment
Had a chance to chat with Jim Farstad last week. He is the City of Minneapolis's consultant for the USIW wireless deployment. I know many of you would like to know what's going on so here is what I found out.

[For new readers: USIW is US Internet Wireless and they are the vendor contracted by the City to build the wireless (Wi-Fi) mesh network. USIW will own the network and provide services to the City plus they are selling access to residents, businesses, etc. The City is USIW's anchor tenant. The model of building with the City as a tenant seems to be working well for us here in Minneapolis.]

USIW has completed all installations of network equipment (transmitters, antennas, etc.) that they can install at this point. That's about 2,200 transmitters. They need about 2,300 transmitters but they don't have the poles to hang them on.

There are several challenge areas. These are around the lakes, along the river, the parkways, and the Lowry Hill area. Why are these areas challenged? There are either no poles in the right place or the poles have a problem. The pole may be decorative and not strong enough to support the radio. Or it may be a light pole with an electrical connection centrally controlled and manually shut off each morning. These poles usually have inaccessible buried cabling too. New pole installs are changing to conduit for better access. Or there is a transformer on the pole and mounting the radio would interfere with maintenance.

So why not hang some of these on buildings? USIW pays rent for hanging on the poles; they could certainly pay rent to a building owner. The problem is what if the building changes hands and the next owner decides to end the contract and wants to remove the radio. Or what if the building burns down? The state of the network is such that USIW might have to move several radios in these instances and reconfigure the network. They don't want to risk this.

(Interesting Note: There are almost 32,000 lights in Minneapolis.)

Subscribers. As of this week, there are more than 9,400 subscribers. The figure is higher than projected which is a good thing. Complaints seem to hover around 125 to 150 open tickets but the number isn't increasing so as more subscribers join, the percent of complaints is going down. It also means that it's likely that many of the complaints have to do with initial setup and configuration.

According to Farstad, USIW will refund your money if you're not happy. I will assume that this might be minus any decent service you did receive but I don't know the details.

Testing. The City is testing connectivity and bandwidth and so far it looks good (outside of challenge areas, of course). Adding a hi-performance antenna on your computer if you are roaming helps. (USIW sells them for $159.95.)

The City is also testing applications of various types. Monitoring water flow in some of their systems is now done with cell service to the tune of $30 to $40 per month. Using Wi-Fi, they can reduce costs to $1/month, realizing significant savings. I believe home water meters which currently use phone-line modems, will also eventually be replaced by Wi-Fi.

The deployment is going well and everyone is optimistic that the challenge areas will be unchallenged eventually. USIW did have to spend at least an extra $1 million more than planned to get this done but they are confident that the business case will still work especially with the higher-than-expected subscription rate.

Comments and questions are welcome. Ideally you will do this publically below but email me if you must and I will respond.

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NCMR: Breakout at lunchtime on Mpls Wi-Fi Deployment
I'm at the National Conference for Media Reform today. I just set up a breakout session to talk about the wireless/Wi-Fi deployment in Minneapolis from 1:30 to 2:30 today in 212B (Minneapolis Convention Center). (Hey. If you're not at the conference but in the area, drop by.)

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Friday, June 06, 2008
Minneapolis Media Reform: The Conference Begins
NCMR Welcome Party
Mary, Michael, & Dusty at the NCMR Welcome Party

I am at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Josh Silver from Free Press is giving the welcome address. It's inspiring. Glad I'm here. He is telling us how much we need an open Internet and not the closed the Internet of the big Telcos. The debate over this goes on and he says it will be either open or closed and it will be all or nothing and it will be one of the porfound fights of our lives. I totally believe he's right. We have no true conception in this country of what an open Internet will bring us. "The future of the Internet does not belong to Rupert Murdoch.... It belongs to us, all of us." Live streaming of the event at

Last night was the welcome party at Trocaderos with Willie Murphy and the Angel Headed Hipsters, The
International Reggae All-Stars, Cadillac Kolstad and the Flats, Ellen Stanley, Dan Newton and Spider John Koerner. Great music! I grabbed some photos.

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008
Minneapolis Unwired: Civic Garden Open for Business
June 4, 2008 12:49:01 PM

The Minneapolis Civic Garden/Community portal site is now open for business. This Garden is one of the community benefits in the City's contract with US Internet Wireless (USIW). USIW is providing hosting and some funding for the Garden along with City of Minneapolis' Business Information Systems department.

The Civic Garden home page will replace the current USIW login page. It is supposed to open with a page targeted to your location. I'm in Seward Neighborhood and it opened to the downtown Garden. Oops. I'm listed in the Midtown area. We need to fix this.

(Before I go on, in the interest of full disclosure, I'm sitting on a Minneapolis committee that is making decisions around the community benefits in the USIW contract and this includes content for the Civic Gardens. So you're feedback would be much appreciated and be useful and will be shared with other committee members. What do you think should be in the Garden? I am also a member of the Digital Inclusion Fund Advisory Committee which USIW is funding and provides grants for digital inclusion projects.)

Access to the Garden is free from any Wi-Fi capable computer. You don't have to have a USIW account or even an Internet connection. If you can see one of the USIW wireless access points in your network, select it and open your browser. From there, you should be able to work your way to your local Garden.

There does not seem to be an accessible URL where you can reach the Garden without connecting through a USIW access point. I hope that's an oversight. I think the value of this resource should be available to everyone and we should be able to share it with other cities as an example. Can't do that if you can only get there via a USIW wireless node. (You can access which is a separate version of the Garden and may not be quite up-to-date with the live Garden sites.)

(OK. I played around and this URL might get you to the "live" Civic Garden.)

As far as I know, this is a live site and if you currently are a USIW customer, you should be seeing a Garden page for your area. If it doesn't open to the Garden, it may be that you have a different home page set in your browser. Play around in your browser prefs or log-off the network and log-in again and see what happens.

Before you can arrive at the Garden, you will need to read a user agreement and sign-off. This is a bit off-putting and it's written in that wonderful tiny text with loads of legalese. It seems aimed at paying subscribers and not visitors to the Garden. I hope they can get rid of this. Luckily, it seems only to appear on the first access and once you agree, it goes away.

Left side navigation area holds the USIW login fields and other USIW info. This serves to push down what I consider a more valuable link which is the drop-down menu that allows you to connect to other community Gardens in the system. I would have just placed the USIW login fields at top left, then the drop-down, then the other USIW info. Maybe they will change that.

The various Gardens are not directly aligned with real life communities or neighborhoods at this point. They are aligned with geographic areas like downtown, south, and midtown. I think the alignment to official neighborhoods will come later. That was in the original plan.

Center of the page has icons representing categories. (Categories also have text links way down the left side.) Under the icons, there are listings of sort of FAQs under the heading "How do I..." ("sign up for Internet service with USIW", "find my car", "find free public access computers..."; that last one links to community technology centers). The right side lists sponsors with links. I'm not exactly sure what a sponsor is but I hope they are giving money to the project.

Category pages have a similar layout with main content in the center.

Clicking Around. There is excellent access to many local resources. I'm checking out the "Learning and Education" category. I can go to the Minneapolis Public School site and even the Center for School Change at the U of MN Humphrey Institute which lists charter schools in the state. I was even able to download a file.

I tried the link to the Minneapolis Public Library site and it is unavailable without paid access. I hope this is an oversight as I can't imagine not giving access to our public libraries which are one of the greatest resources in the City.

Under "Transportation" I noted that although I couldn't get to the Metro Trip Planner for Bus/LRT, I was able to access the system transit maps and to even open the major interactive map. Very nice and very useful.

The "Area Neighborhoods" category actually links to neighborhood sites. That's great. Some links aren't there or not working but I assume they either don't have a site or there is a problem linking to the site. Actually, I don't know if there is much specific information right now on the various home pages. I don't have time to click through the categories and see if different parks and schools and hospitals are listed depending on the Garden.

The "Area Arts, Culture, Parks & Recreation" category seems to have no free links. I would have thought that parks with home pages would get linked but I keep getting bounced back to the home page when I try to go there.

The "Housing + Community Development" category is missing some crucial information. I tried to find something for renters and their rights. The "Landlords & Tenants" links requires a paid account. The "Housing" link works and there is some information but as I dug down and finally found something for tenants, that particular link required paid access.

"Broken" Links. There are links (like the Library link I just mentioned) that don't work if you are in free access mode. I understand that the free Garden provides limited access to the Internet. But how they are handling the broken links is very confusing. First you get a flash of a USIW login page and then you return to the portal home page whether the link you clicked was on that page or not. There is no error message that lets you know that the particular link isn't available in free access mode. This needs to be fixed and you should stay at the page where you clicked the link.

(Just found a real broken link. On category pages, the "Area home" link at the top is not working. This is the main return to the home page so really needs to be fixed.)

This is a great start but I think some critical information could be added. I mentioned housing and rental info above. I also could not find links for paying license tabs or other fees to the state. Something like that would be a real benefit and it saves people having to drive around thus promoting green philosophy. I'm not finding any links to state or US tax forms either. There are some great government links including the state Senate and House of Representatives. It's a frustrating stroll though because as you click around you eventually hit a link that you don't have permission to access and then you are dumped back at the Garden home page. Fix that soon, folks.

What I'm not getting into today... lack of RSS/ATOM feeds, no news links or feeds outside of city gov news, underlying HTML/CSS structure, accessibility, and usability.

So I hope that you will explore and point out cool things I missed (or what you think is missing information) in the comments. Usability comments are also welcome. I didn't go into that area at all and I would love for someone more experienced to take a look. If you write your own review, drop by and leave a link in the comments or DM me a link on Twitter (pfhyper). This is an important civic technology implementation and we all need to look and think as to how to make it even more valuable.

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