Writings and Musings

Bob Frankston (bio)

Welcome to my writings.

If you want the recent essays check out the sidebar on the left or, better, go to Further Readings for a curated list of essays.

Other essays are listed in chronological order and then by category. The main essays are in larger letters and minor documents (such as messages posted on discussion sites) are indented and in smaller letters. The documents themselves are located on this site (www.Frankston.com) and as well as external sites.

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Some of the recent entries are also listed on the sidebar. Secondary items such as postings on other mailing lists are indented. Note that the year shown is the year the essay was updated. An essay written in 1979 might be listed under 2009 if it was updated recently.

Sidewalks: Paying by the Stroll 25-May-2006 (Updated: 17-Dec-2010 PDFWe've gotten used to paying for phone calls as a service. It almost seems normal. Why not take this concept further. Why not regulate Transport Service Providers in order to assure Quality of Stroll?
Power Distribution to be like Telecom Distribution 31-Dec-2006 If the telecom companies can get us to pay for their private distribution systems when why should the power companies have to share a wires. They too should be able to running billing paths to every house!
[IP] RE: The AT&T/BellSouth Deal and Hollow Net Neutrality 30-Dec-2006 The fATT/BellSouth merger is papered over with empty Network Neutrality promises. But the real problem is the underlying assumption that the transport is to be funded by services. We need to fix the basic funding model rather than pretend we can keep a broken model as long as we naïve enough to believe in vague promises to be neutral. (until bugs is fixed see this for a more readable version.
[IP] Inflight Web in Holding Pattern Inflight Web in Holding Pattern 23-Dec-2006 Once more we are going to be disconnected when in flight. Apparently we're to be kept isolated and out of touch because it's not profitable to the airlines. Alas, once again nanoeconomics and a lack of perspective.
[IP] NY Times coverage of T-Mobile dual mode phone trial 15-Dec-2006 T-Mobile is happy to charge you extra to send some of your cell phone calls over Wi-Fi. You pay to reduce their traffic? Is Wi-Fi magic? Am I missing something?
[IP] Moving beyond IPV6 15-Dec-2006 The has serious scaling problems and while IPV6 might help we have to go back to the edge and communicate despite the center rather than put all our effort in fixing the middle.
[IP] Kindergarten Cam Redux 14-Dec-2006 The price has once more discovered and example of using the Internet to view remote cameras. What is old is new again if you don't recognize the common theme and view each instance in isolation.
(Wireless) Connectivity from the Edge 14-Dec-2006 While I applaud the idea of municipal Wi-Fi in spirit, in practice it is problematic and we have a far better alternative in connectivity from the edge by taking advantage of existing paths and building from there. The danger is that these well-meaning efforts will give us more of the past rather than the opportunities inherent in a dynamic and ever-changing Internet.
The FTC Must Look Beyond Broadband 14-Dec-2006 The FTC is going to hold a workshop on broadband competition. Broadband competition is a charade. We need the real competition that will come from having a transport that is not beholdent to those whose business is selling billable services.
Our Internet! 14-Dec-2006 The Internet is not something we connect to. It's not even a network like the phone network. It simply the name for the community that can connect using common protocols. Instead of thinking about networks and broadband we must look for transports that create the opportunity to connect. We should pay for copper and glass and radios and not have funding by buying service we can do ourselves. It's not about the money -- it's about the lack of opportunity.
The HP-HW6945: Mobile Computing w/Telephony 02-Dec-2006 I don't think of the HP-HW6945 as a telephony. The addition of a built-in GPS and the ability to run multiple applications has made telephony one of the applications. It's a taste of mobile computing and a chance to learn the value of ubiquitous connectivity.
Mulling about Writing about Mulling. 02-Dec-2006 It's easy for me to write quick email posts but far more difficult to write without the safety of the small group and the lists context. And then there are those typos. Maybe if I confess I can feel freer to write more freely but probably not.
[IP] Microsoft Enters Municipal Wi-Fi Realm 15-Nov-2006 I appreciate Microsoft's interest in providing municipal connectivity but it's still locked within the billable service model. Microsoft should be at the forefront in assuring we have a connected infrastructure.
A Real Marketplace 01-Nov-2006 Alfred Kahn, the architect of airline regulation argues against heavy handed network neutrality legislation. While I agree that additional regulation is unwise the solution is not status quo but a real marketplace which is self-regulated. Transport and content are distinct industries yet the FCC and its Regulatorium seem desperate to maintain the fiction that they one and the same. What we need is a dose of reality.
Whatever on Whatever 01-Sep-2006 (Updated: 09-Oct-2006 The VON conferences are moving beyond Voice on the Net. In fact, we can send pretty much whatever we want over any transport available.
Convergence? 01-Jul-2006 (Updated: 09-Oct-2006 Convergence – it’s an attractive idea – all networks using common IP protocols. Instead of having a special network for each form of content we have a single converged network.
The Internet as Design Principle 09-Oct-2006 We tend to think of the Internet in terms of what we can do with it. But the design principles that have allowed the Internet to become what it is are far more important than each application. The Internet is a lesson in how to build resilient sytems.
What’s a Phone Company? And Why? 01-Mar-2006 (Updated: 09-Oct-2006 You no longer buy light from a light company, you buy electricity. Why are people still buying phone calls from a phone company?
Tele/Communications 01-May-2006 (Updated: 09-Oct-2006 In the last column I asked what a Phone Company does and why we need one. In this column I continue the theme by questioning the assumptions implicit in the word “telecommunications”.
[IP]. stalling Wi-Fi plans -- obviously Wi-Fi is not considered useful in itself. 22-Sep-2006 Muni Wi-Fi is a nice idea -- we should be able to assume ubiquitous connectivity. Unfortunately such efforts aren't as if they are worthwhile products. Instead they are often given grudging acceptance as long as they can pay their own way. It's akin to funding roads only out of the revenue of the restaurants along the way and seeing no additional value in having at transportation system.
[IP] Spectrum Allocation and the Burden of Proof 08-Sep-2006 It's nearly 80 years since the US Supreme Court accepted limitations on First Amendment and gave Federal Radio Commission control over our speech. After 80 years of advances in technology the onus is on those advocating spectrum allocation to justify the extraordinary exception to the First Amendment.
[IP] Understanding Robots.txt 04-Sep-2006 People need to learn to live in a world in which you can't undo. Robots.txt is just a convention and the failure mode is to copy everything.
[IP] more on YUP!! results of uk ban 10-Aug-2006 Once more our lives become more narrow and less pleasant as we focus on walling ourselves off from danger.
[IP] more on search experience on "border" 03-Aug-2006 Our use of secret ballots is a recognition of the need for having some escape from others' judgment and scrutiny. If we expect to be watched all the time we will learn to avoid taking the risks necessary to discover new ideas.
[IP] more on snobol & java 26-Jul-2006 Today's computing isn't all that new. In fact, when I was a kid . . .
[IP] An Identity Protection Racket? 26-Jul-2006 Another reminder that identity theft is a profit center for the financial industry. They want you to pay for protection from their sloppy procedures.
A Folie à Deux—The FCC and Telecommunications! 21-Jul-2006 The FCC and the telecom industry live in their own little world … the rest of us are disinvited.
FCC vs Us 21-Jul-2006 As much as one can fault the phone companies and cable companies for their behavior, the are acting within the rules of the Regulatorium. It is a folie à deux -- a shared madness in which the participants create their own reality. The carriers are behaving rationally in responding to the demands of the Regulatorium rather than their customers. In fact, the customers are a threat as they seek to wrest control from the gatekeepers.
It's Our Infrastructure 21-Jul-2006 Continuing on the theme of understanding our infrastructure vs the carriers' assumption all those fibers exist only for their benefit. They want consumers not users who can be participants and thus competitors.
[IP] more on "Strong" AI to be here within 25 years 15-Jul-2006 It's important to understand how systems evolve. In some situations we get the kind of hyper-growth characterized by Moore's law. It's not magic -- it's co-evolution as long as you don't care about the particular results. I doesn't occur if you have a particular goal as there is nothing to be intelligently designed. And that includes so-called intelligence. The issue is important because understanding how complex systems function is essentially for those making policy decisions -- unfortunately there is a tendency to take an authoritarian approach as if those who want to do us good are proxies for the grand intelligent designer.
[IP] more on Initial experience with Win XP VM with Parallels Desktop for [Intel] Mac 11-Jul-2006 Virtualization and end-to-end go very well together. Unfortunately USB is a bucket brigade protocol that puts too many constraints on each element in the feeding chain.
[IP] more on fbi plans new Net-tapping push 08-Jul-2006 Is the unexamined conversation going to become illegal?
[IP] more on Verizon "Broadband Router" the perfect Trojan Horse 30-Jun-2006 Network Neutrality or NN is a way to articulate the principle of unfettered connectivity with the rest of the Internet. It gives us a way to say No No to carriers that are very tempted to use technology to limit our ability to make full use of the Internet.
Cringely: If we build it they will come 30-Jun-2006 Robert X Cringely's PBS column does a better job that I can in articulating why we should be thinking about infrastructure rather than simply trying to get the carriers to behave better.
[IP] more on Broadcast flags pass Committee markup, net neutrality to be voted on tomorrow. 28-Jun-2006 The broadcast bit again … how can anyone create new economic value if we must prove the worth of every new idea to who think bits have intrinsic meaning and morality?
[IP] more on skype 23-Jun-2006 As I noted in previous comments on Skype it represents the future of connectivity. A layered dependency upon End-to-End misses the point of End-to-end. Another reminder that the current Internet is a just prototype.
Response to Infrastructure Questions 22-Jun-2006 Response to questions about my infrastructure comments.
[IP] more on Hub & Spoke or P2P Mesh? That is the question. 22-Jun-2006 A reminder to be careful of what we ask for. It is more important to work with the marketplace dynamic than specifying a specific result such as "high speed broadband"
It's about Infrastructure! 22-Jun-2006 It's often far easer to explain a point in response to a question than try to write a general position paper. This is a good start before you read the related essays. It's about our infrastructure not the Regulatorium's notion of services.
Connectivity Sound Bites 21-Jun-2006 Sometimes, perhaps most of the time, all you have is a chance to say one or two sentences. Here are a few for your framing pleasure.
Opportunity, not Services 18-Jun-2006 Today's debate about our infrastructure is framed in terms of network neutrality. We must articulate the concept of an open transport but the real debate will be about owning our own infrastructure. It is more than just means for carriers' to deliver services. You may want to read Infrastructure! first to better understand the context.
Carriers: Their Services vs Our Infrastructure 16-Jun-2006 Read Opportunity for an overview. The whole concept of "telecommunications" seems to be fundamental and necessary. But if you step back you see how all the pieces fit together but they are in a world of their own. We are able to create our own solutions. The question is not whether carriers will permit us to communicate, it's only a question of how long will we allow our economy and safety to be held out bay in order to support an obsolete and business model that preserves scarcity rather than allowing us to get the benefits of abundant connectivity.
[IP] Who they're spying on 07-Jun-2006 It's easy to try to justify bad policies by pointing to examples of good results. The current administration's contempt for our rights and any restraints on its activities gives us added reasons to object to its spying on its own citizen. It's public statement shows a dangerously warped and naïve view of the reality. The contempt it has shown for legal constraints on its activities shows contempt for our freedoms.
[IP] more on EU to tax e-mail, text messages? 27-May-2006 One more attempt to tax email. While I don't expect it to go anywhere it's a reminder that bad metaphors keep getting rediscovered.
[IP] more on Cell Carriers to Web Customers: Use Us, but Not Too Much -- Modem "Crisis" Redux 11-May-2006 Once again we see the carriers raising alarms about customers using too much of their network. It's another reminder that we have an industry whose incentive is maintain scarcity so they can exert control. Why does Congress seem to want to reward the carriers for this behavior rather than punishing them?
Beyond Buggy Whips 26-Apr-2006 Frank Coluccio reposted comments I made on a mailing list. People are starting to think beyond the current carriers. This is a trend that is gaining momentum.
[IP] Out At Sea 17-Apr-2006 Before we had offshoring we had Britain and its East India Company. Are today's carriers the modern version of the global monopolies?
[IP] more on In Silicon Valley, a Man Without a Patent 16-Apr-2006 Patenting away huge swaths of the future is a risky policy for society. Patents do have value but today's tendency towards preempting patenting has gone too far. Even more troublesome is that patenting of old ideas simply because they weren't locked done.
[IP] more on for Californians AB 2231 Emergency alerts 31-Mar-2006 It's tempting to use the SMS capabilities of cell phones for emergency messaging but it's a problematic system. More troubling is the tendency to confuse the retail price of such services with cost.
Telecom is Just a Phrase We're Going Through 31-Mar-2006 Telecom is just a phrase. Tele (over distance) is distinct from Communications (Talking). The entire telecom industry is premised on the notion that they are a single concept and thus normal marketplace forces don’t apply. But transport is simple infrastructure. Today's regulatorium is premised on a compromise made in 1927 to support spectrum allocation and its inefficiencies. In 2006 we must correct the misunderstanding and allow for abundance and opportunity.
Skype as the Future of Connectivity 23-Mar-2006 It is Skype, not Internet 2, that represents the future of connectivity. Skype provides stable connectivity despite the Internet. The report on an investigation of Skype's code makes this even more clear.
[IP] Companies That Fought Cities On Wi-Fi, Now Rush to Join In 20-Mar-2006 It's no surprise that carriers want to bid on the franchises to control municipal Wi-Fi. But that's the wrong model -- we shouldn't cede control of the commons to companies whose only goal is creating billable events.
[IP] TV Stations Fined Over CBS Show Deemed to Be Indecent 17-Mar-2006 Our Federal Speech Commission is complicit with Astroturf campaigns in their pursuing a moralistic agenda. Too bad the press is complicit in failing to do more than hint that the 300,000 letters the FCC received are Astroturf rather than representing mandate. The theme of "Good night and good luck" is even more relevant now than it was in the 1950's.
[IP] Cell Phones Airplanes and all that] 07-Mar-2006 After all the serious discussion of the issues it's useful to remember that this is about how we live our lives. The technology can be used to make traveling fun rather than something to be endured.
[IP] a good discussion more on worth reading the economic arguments djf The High-Speed Money Line]] 06-Mar-2006 Today's telecom industry assumes that the transport and the content are the same so we can tax the value of communications to pay for transport. This is no longer possible and doesn’t make sense. We must shift to creating a real infrastructure and a real marketplace rather than continuing the failed experiment in state socialism.
[IP] TECHNOLOGY ALERT: AT&T Plans to Buy BellSouth v2] 05-Mar-2006 Another tragic consequence of a failed experiment in state socialism from the 1930's. The real question is why this chimera is tolerated when its own research demonstrates that communications and transport have no intrinsic relationship. If Whitacre says his business isn't viable then he seems to be doubling up the bet in the same way that Ebbers did.
[IP] Maybe the cause is bad design of aircraft cell phones and electronic devices are a risk to planes] 05-Mar-2006 Another warning about the dangers of cell phones rather than wondering why aircraft are so vulnerable.
[IP] more on Plug-In Internet Connection to Get Test on Long Island] 27-Feb-2006 Broadband over Powerline is a strange beast because it's be brought to you by an industry that is even more encumbered than the current carriers. While I welcome additional paths, I'm concerned about the mired in problematic regulations and economic models. (See the previous post)
[IP] Flash TV -- the broadcasters'' nightmare 24-Feb-2006 The new show Kappa Mikey is done using Flash. Sending flash through the standard broadcast channels destroys the integrity of the original flash. It's a harbinger of content which is done far better outside the broadcast channel. Their role is shipping from facilitator to a bottleneck
infoTalk Podcast form Mashup Camp 20060220 22-Feb-2006 A podcast from David Berlin's Mashup Camp at the Computer History Museum. John Furrier interviewed me on various topics including my current fixation on liberating the infrastructure.
So Why Say Infrastructure? 19-Feb-2006 Dana Blankenhorn posted some of my comments about what it means for our infrastructure to be held hostage. It's the kind of short post that I should do more often -- I tend to try too hard to explain rather than posting short comments.
[IP] Google Video DRM: Why is Hollywood more important than users? 14-Feb-2006 DRM is about far more than just protecting "content". It's about controlling technology. I am not allowed to take advantage of my 2500x1600 display until Tellywood gives me permission. This is offensive and nutty -- allowing the clowns to tell us what we are allowed to do!
9-1-1 – Better Safe Than Live? 04-Feb-2006 What's the good of 9-1-1 if it fails in an emergency because you have to first tell it that you haven't changed your location. Too bad 9-1-1 is more about politics than safety.
QoS as per the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India 01-Feb-2006 A "Next Generation Report" for the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has a nice statement saying that QoS is a nonissue. QoS is a big issue because it's gives the transport owner to define service policies. If QoS is moot, then they lose the ability to choose the winners and charge a premium for "quality" bits.
Achieving Connectivity 01-Feb-2006 Abundant connectivity is here but the cellular carriers want to Assure Scarcity because it threatens their business. They agree that the Internet is going to give us plentiful and cheap bits. We shouldn't be negotiating to get the carriers to behave better, they can't and even if they did, the Internet is more than faster phone lines. We should focus instead on Getting Connected by shifting the basis for policy from predefined and limited services to the opportunity afforded by connectivity.
Assuring Scarcity 31-Jan-2006 I've been trying hard to explain that the Internet gives us abundant capacity to connect and create new value but it is being thwarted by the telecom industry. The cellular companies are so confident that they are willing to make my case for me. They are warning each other about the danger of abundance and lay out their strategy for assuring scarcity. They are bragging about maintaining monopoly control. They pride themselves in stalling the global economy. Why do we stand for this?
[IP] more on Looking for "futurists" 31-Jan-2006 Companies don't want to know about futures in which they don't exist.
Getting Connected 30-Jan-2006 The telephone and cable TV networks are fundamentally different from the Internet. Asking the carriers is a losing proposition -- they can honor the rules while violating the spirit. More important they are trying to provide wide area phone service and they are inherently unable to provide abundant local connected. We need a policy based on connected rather than treating the Internet as something the carriers will deign to allow.
[IP] Government study: VoIP, video can be taxed 27-Jan-2006 The topic of "Internet" taxation keeps coming up but that's a meaningless concept. Commerce is commerce independent of the Net. VoIP is a technology. You can tax people providing phone services but not SIP. It's hard to have a rational discussion among people who are using meaningless terms. Worse are laws that embody misguided assumptions.
[IP] more on STUPID STUPID High-Def Forced To Down-Convert 25-Jan-2006 It's difficult to discuss the DRM issues because we have a conceptual device between those who view bits as bits and those who view each instance and form of their product as an new product. Current DVDs and HD DVDs are seen as different products -- not just an increase in capacity.
And Now with Billability 22-Jan-2006 The new big thing for the telephone companies is IMS. It is supposed to be a way to delivery all sorts of new service but in reality it's real purpose is to assure that they can bill for services and prevent their users from competing with them. It's an attempt to prevent the Internet from growing. It's doomed and their investors are going to learn that you can't find an idea. But for the carriers it's their last desperate attempt to have a reason to exist and we are paying the price for their intransigence.
Kodak vs the Internet — Who Owns You? 03-Oct-2005 (Updated: 19-Jan-2006 Update: Kodak is now offering a premium service which supports downloading. The idea of a Wi-Fi camera that automatically send your data to a web set where you view the pictures sounds wonderful. But there's something very wrong -- you don't really own those pictures. You have to pay and they will deign to mail you a CD if you want and can wait. And the price increases with use! Something is very wrong -- once more we have an old business that is used to exerting control and getting revenue for each transaction. Just like the carriers, just like Tellywood. As their business models become more threatened they react by trying to tighten control and petitioning Congress to make innovation illegal. You no longer own what you buy -- you cannot invest in the future. It seems as if the dynamics of the marketplace are too threatening to be tolerated any more.
[IP] more on Steve Gibson: MS WMF is a Backdoor, Not a Coding Mistake 13-Jan-2006 Microsoft's WMF bug may be serious but it's seems like a classic bug but not an intentional backdoor
[IP] more on Spielberg loses out at the push of a button 11-Jan-2006 Another example of why DRM-based systems are so fragile. Unfortunately people seem to generalize from examples in isolation and thus fail to see the systemic consequences of their policies. This is not just about DRM -- it affects medical care and our safety. The wisdom embodied in the US Constitution is not to be found in today's "leadership".
[IP] more on Spielberg loses out at the push of a button 11-Jan-2006 More on the DRM issues. The computer industry creates value by decoupling system elements which allows us to create new and valuable combinations. Tellywood is just the opposite -- everything is a unique product and little of the value is available to the future.
[IP] more on response from Google to yet another twist 10-Jan-2006 Google is cooperating with researchers measuring network performance. It would be wonderful if we could scale this effort with a SETI-like approach that allows us all to contribute a small amount of our networking and computing capacity to give us a better understanding of the dynamics of the Internet.
[IP] more on WI-FI RUN BY CITIES: YEA OR NAY? 09-Jan-2006 The so-called "Progress and Freedom Foundation" seems to be driven by ideology unfettered by understanding. It's trying to preserve a fictional telecom industry against the threat of a fictional municipal telecom industry. Unfortunately many accept this argument because they do not understand the concept of connectivity and the opportunity it providers.
[IP] more on [I agree djf] an acurate description of this behavior is unprintable in polite company 08-Jan-2006 As I discovered when I first got my Samsung i730, Microsoft and Samsung have been cooperating with Verizon by crippling the Bluetooth capabilities and also crippling the browser. I share the strong aversion to such odious behavior.
[IP] worth reading more on : Telco's Arrogant Stand on Content 07-Jan-2006 The story of IPTV is very confused. If you start asking questions you find that the story falls apart. The carriers claim that they deserve special advantages in delivering video content but what they are really asking for is special treatment for assuring scarcity. When offered abundance they get afraid. Additional comments in a followup posting.
Gearlog Radio: Bob Frankston -- Make The Internet More Like Interstate Highways 06-Jan-2006 Talking to David Coursey at CES about the Internet as infrastructure
[IP] Leap second considered harmful 03-Jan-2006 I'm glad to see I'm not alone in questioning the idea of a leap second. This 21 page reports goes into detail but concludes that the leap second is not necessary while creating problems of its own. Now, we can chuck the whole thing and move one?
[IP] more on Huge virus threat rocks Microsoft 03-Jan-2006 Another reminder that the world has its toxic elements. Technology is not perfect and even solutions come with risks.This is as much a social problem as a technical one. We must go after those who exploit these vulnerabilities. Too bad the fixation on terrorism blinds us to real and immediate threats.
Bob Frankston
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