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.

A Fine Way to Run a Railroad but not an Internet 07-Sep-2007 (Updated: 14-Feb-2009 We tend to find ourselves trapped by bad metaphors. The Internet has had such a transformational effect because it has given us the opportunity to create our own solutions by doing our own networking. But we continue to act as if the Internet were a railroad with finite capacity and we must pay others to do our networking for us -- even if that creates a fundamental conflict of interest. We are forced to become dependent upon broadband. The Internet grew rapidly in the US because we could use the phone network as a transport without paying a premium to stay online. Riding the broadband railroad puts an end to that and leaves us firmly dependent upon companies that exist only in the fictional world of the Regulatorium. It's as if instead of enacting antitrust laws we handed the economy over to the robber barons 100 years ago.
Re: Brain Doping, or, The Futurological Congress 27-Dec-2007 It's reasonable to be cautious about so-called cognitive enhancement drugs but we also need to be wary when such concerns seem to be driven by a moral agenda
Re: On the Cusp of the Future 26-Dec-2007 We tend to envy farsighted governments that set an agenda for the future but somehow these agendas go off the rails whether it's in Japan in the 1990's or the US in 1934 with it's telecom act.
Re: Details of Unlisted Number Address "Exploit" Revealed 21-Dec-2007 Another example of building upon implicit assumptions. In the early days of telephony forcing people to list their numbers seemed to make sense to capitalize on the network effect. Today we've forgotten why land line (but not cellular!) numbers are listed. Worse, we still limit the network effect to wires and fail to see that it's a social phenomenon and not a technical issue!
F for Fake 10-Dec-2007 David Strom mused about fake blogs -- but how do we know something is not "fake" -- a surprisingly ambiguous concept.
Rural Broadband Gets Boost From Phone-Fund Proposal 26-Nov-2007 The Universal Service Fund is caught up in the past when the goal was more telephony. Making the money available for connectivity is an incremental improvement though it would be better to close the fund down.
Re: Edge Bandwidth: 18mbps connectivity widely available in U.S., we just don't realize it. 25-Nov-2007 Today's Internet protocols are path dependent but we can add a layer on top that allows us to bond multiple paths together to improve performance, reliability and mobility without depending upon the network providers.
Re: Characterizing broadband networks without client software 24-Nov-2007 No surprise that Telcos try to fit the Internet into their mold.
Re: Internet could clog networks by 2010, study says 21-Nov-2007 Again we see stories about how the Internet or the phone system would collapse unless the carriers get more money. And again if you look at the claims they make no sense.
More on Internet Clogged 2010? Report doesn't say that. 21-Nov-2007 More Detail on the "clogged" Internet report and the risk of making recommendations based on a whole pile of conjectures.
Re: "How to Patrol Your ISP" 18-Nov-2007 Should the router/NATs we use to connect to the Internet also serve as guardians on our behalf?
Read and watch the activities of IPSphere 14-Nov-2007 IPSphere is an attempt to take the carriers' presumption that it's their network and carry it to the Internet even as they acknowledge there is no longer relationship between the services and the transport.
U.N. forum: Should U.S. give up Web control? 12-Nov-2007 Once again people seem to think the Internet is something ruled by ICANN. Instead of recognizing that the whole point is that they can create their own solutions they demand their turn to control it.
Re: "Network Neutrality Squad": Users Protecting an Open and Fair Internet 06-Nov-2007 NNN (Network Non-Neutrality) can be obvious as when Comcast spoofs packets. But the more insidious kind is built into the architecture of the network.
Is That a Phone in Your Office? 01-Nov-2007 The kids today don't see why we need landlines and they are right. So why do we still have an old-style telephone on the desks in our offices?
Video Tipping Point Near? 28-Oct-2007 PDFAs long as people see the Internet as just another "channel" on their broadband pipe it will be hard to explain why we should invest in a common infrastructure. But we are nearing the point at which we'll see TV itself transform into content we view on the Internet. This change in how we think about viewing will make it easier to justify direct investment in infrastructure instead of being suckered into paying forever"cable".
Re: AT&T says there is no duopoly, net neutrality is bad 25-Oct-2007 Network Neutrality is a great meme but must be used to help people understand that there is a fundamental problem with telecom. NN legislation runs the risk of legitimizing the status quo.
Re: AT&T says there is no duopoly, net neutrality is bad 25-Oct-2007 NN is not enough -- everyone equally disadvantaged is not enough. I want there to be every incentive to increase capacity…
Re: The Top Five Misconceptions About the Success of Municipal Wireless Networks 07-Oct-2007 As I've noted the idea of municipal wireless is flawed. We do need ubiquitous wireless connetivity but municipal Wi-Fi is often modeled as a phone service and not connectivity.
The Internet vs The Internet Dynamic 26-Sep-2007 The thing we call the "Internet" is an artifact. The value of the Internet is in the dynamic that is akin to Moore's law for hardware. When we confuse the artifact with the Internet and ask more of the thing and confuse it with broadband we are in effect asking more of the past. The tragedy is that in asking for more "Internet" we lose it's soul.
If There be Pirates There be Heroes 07-Sep-2007 Those who have a stake in scarcity vilify Bit Torrent users as Pirates. Those who advance the technology and use what is available or those who take control over our infrastructure for their own benefit while leaving us impoverished and with only a limited ability to communicate.
Re: P2P responsible for as much as 90 percent of all 'Net traffic 05-Sep-2007 Lies, Damn Lies and Traffic Reports. We need to be very careful in interpreting these studies. What does it even mean to measure traffic in a decentralized system. Who is asking and why?
Re: Comcast Cuts Off Heavy Internet Users and Modems and Webcams and VoIP and web servers and ... 27-Aug-2007 Remember the modem scare and all the other dire warnings about how the best users are the worst threats?
Lampposts vs the Internet 25-Aug-2007 The Internet is about taking advantage of opportunity. Instead of having to find a special place for sensors, such as lampposts, we can take advanate of all the opportunity offered by the distributed nature of the Internet.
Re: AT&T's 1993 "You Will" Ads -- no thanks to ATT! 25-Aug-2007 The idea that only a phone company can delivery services is at the heart of regulatory policy. Unfortunately reality is just the opposite!
Fortunately Minneapolis didn't have a 700Mhz system 11-Aug-2007 The FCC claims that the 700Mhz auction is a way of funding public safety but they are putting us at risk by failing to learn the lessons of the Internet and the interstate highway systems in the value of a common infrastructure.
Re: You might be paying $1,000 per MB of SMS 30-Jul-2007 While $1000/MB for SMS is a symptom of larger problems.10¢ may not seem much but such charges on European phone service were enough to discourage use of the Internet and cede the advantage fo the US.
Re: Vint Cerf on Google spectrum and the new "Die Hard" 24-Jul-2007 We keep talking as if price and cost were well defined. Buying telecom services seems a lot like having to buy a ticket on the railroad rather than being allowed to just drive there ourselves.
Re: iphone and 2 year servitude 07-Jul-2007 Another reminder that we don't have a real marketplace. The wireless service providers are essentially identical. No matter which we choose we still don't get access to the basic transport and it's even worse when we can't even mix and match technologies and are forced to make choices of entire packages.
Re: Several AT&T Stores Forced Customers to Buy Accessories With iPhone - Gizmodo 01-Jul-2007 The carriers told us they need to charge a "termination" fee to cover the cost of financing our telephones. Now it's obvious that they are doing it just because they can force us to pay.
Re: Europe opens the door to in-flight phoning 19-Jun-2007 Too bad we are stuck with cellular technology when we fly rather than getting real connectivity like we had for a brief period with Boeing's Connexxion service.
First Square Mile is not the Last or First Mile: Discovery not Just Choices! 16-Jun-2007 The fights over network neutrality and the demand for more broadband have little to do with the Internet itself. They are only attempts to reform telecom. It would be far better to focus on a positive agenda of connecting our neighborhoods and then inter-connect them. After all, that's what the Internet is really about -- our interconnectedness. Telecom is just a minor application alongside the web and what may lie in the future.
What does Telecom have to do with the Internet anyway? 16-Jun-2007 Network neutrality is not an issue in itself. It's a symptom of the larger problem being forced to buy services when we can do far better by creating our own solutions. As long as we keep talking about the Internet as something "out there" we won't be able to take advantage of the bountiful capacity right in our own neighborhoods.
FSM – The First Square Mile, Our Neighborhood 15-Jun-2007 Telecom is about services delivered over the last mile. Our connected neighborhood gives us the opportunity to discover the unanticipated. Instead of waiting at the end of the last mile we should look within our first square mile and see the possibilities, not just the choices offered.
Re: One of four U.S. jobs headed overseas 1 and comment on 14-Jun-2007 It's troubling to find the chairman of the Federal Reserve treating technology as a little more than trade. He complains that the best jobs are going overseas and then seems to want to make sure that Americans are qualified to do little more than act as the sideshow for the rest of the world.
NSF announces GENI Project Office and no threat from P2P 22-May-2007 Project GENI is a throwback to the old days of projecting all our hopes and fears on the network. It's in sharp contrast to the importance of the Internet in recognizing that responsibility and solutions are determined by how we use the transports. Once again, Intelligent Design finds its counterpart in the Intelligent Network.
GENI discussion 22-May-2007 While project GENI is not the "next Internet" it's worth looking at it because of what is not being done. The approach is inherently biased towards trying to solve social problems inside the network. That's more like the old phone company than the Internet. What seems to be missing from Internet research is the real spirit of the Internet which is to reduce our dependency on the network itself. No surprise that large institutions empower institutions not individuals.
Re: It's Silicon Valley vs. Telcos in Battle for Wireless Spectrum 16-May-2007 We keep reading about battles for the spectrum -- a fictional construct dating back to our primitive technologies of the early 1900's. Yet we seem to be mesmerized by the spectacle and unable to free ourselves to take advantage of what we have learned in the last century. The world's economy is deprived of trillions of dollars in value and we are barred from creating our own solutions
The Nation's Borders, Now Guarded by the Net 14-May-2007 It seems as if we are increasingly succumbing to fundamentalist idea such as the notion that morality is absolute and intrinsic. If you used LSD in the 1960's it means your are tainted and this country would rather do without your contributions than accept the idea of evolution. This is the kind of intolerance we profess to be fighting against but instead we seem to fighting over which intolerance will be used to prevent the future from being better than the past.
The Internet is Not Telecom 14-May-2007 We tend to treat the Internet as another communications network. It isn't -- it's the idea that we can create solutions independent of the telecom services
Re: Customers slow to tune into AT&T's and Verizon's TV over fiber and through retro RG-6 13-May-2007 The real competition is not between the Telcos and the Cablecos -- the real competition is telecom vs us.
Re: Harvard, BBN Use Streetlamps to Light Up Wireless Network 13-May-2007 Sensor networks are exciting but it seems that there is more interest in reinventing the wheel than driving anywhere
Re: We're Stuck In The Slow Lane Of The Information Trollway -- it's all about the billing relationship 08-May-2007 Once again we have the broadband gap … and once again I have to explain that broadband is old telecoms antiInternet. We know how to ask for what was even if it prevents what can be.
Re: The House of Representatives on campus downloading 04-May-2007 The Internet is intrinsically peer to peer but once again we're seeing people projecting their misunderstandings on the Internet by assuring we can do no harm even if it all also assures that we cannot do good. And that does real harm.
Facing economic realities of muni Wi-Fi Re: 04-May-2007 As I've tried to explain, much of the enthusiasm over muni Wi-Fi seems to faddish. Wi-Fi has a real potential to add value but instead we're seeing it treated as a way to seem "with it".
more on FCC wants to regulate "violence" on broadcast and basic cable TV 24-Apr-2007 The concept of a la carte programming is stuck in the idea of channelized television? Why not real choice instead of a limited slate of options?
Whose Network is it Anyway? 14-Apr-2007 Verizon says it listens to its customers and responds. What more can one ask? A lot more -- we can demand the ability to create our own solutions instead of petitioning a service provider. It's another lesson in the difference between the world of telecom and its services and the world of the Internet with us, the users, in control. I don't want favors, I want freedom to do it myself!
Re: Researchers explore scrapping Internet - Yahoo! News 14-Apr-2007 The Internet continues to be a work in progress. Today's Internet is a prototype that made pragmatic compromises in order to allow us to discover what is possible given the constraint of the end-to-end principle. Today too many people believe we now know what the Internet is good for and want to make it better for those applications. This misses the whole point -- the goal was to enable us to continue to discover new possibility, not to find the one answer. If anything we need to remove the scaffolding that has tied to a single infrastructure and encourage more innovation from the edge independent of the governance of ICANN and the dependency on the IP address and the DNS.
Homeland Insecurity—911 vs the concept of the Internet 11-Apr-2007 Once again we see an effort to "improve" 911 by taxing phone calls. And all in the name of "Homeland Security". And yet I feel even more insecure.
Forget about it and Oyffice 2k7 11-Apr-2007 The blog post feature in Office 2007 but it also illustrates the problem as I come to terms with office 2007. All these features are nice but some fundamental problems still remain and patches to an aging product come at a price.
Judge Bars Vonage From Seeking New Customers 06-Apr-2007 Again Verizon seems intent on using the patent system as a weapon to protect its privileges. (See the followup stay)
Re: Senator Clinton Introduces Rural Broadband Bill 04-Apr-2007 And once again broadband and other naïve policies feed upon themselves leaving us impoverished and dependent.
more on FCC adopts new phone privacy rules 03-Apr-2007 Taxing phone calls is necessary to pay for taxing phone calls and round and round we go.
Jet passengers may not get to chat on cellphones after all -- but … 23-Mar-2007 Why is the FCC in the business of regulating social behavior? The FAA has no problems with cell phones in planes but the FCC seems to working hard to find a cover story for what amounts a social policy. (See also my previous post on this topic
Researchers Track Down a Plague of Fake Web Pages 19-Mar-2007 This is a confirmation of my sense that a significant amount of the spam we see comes from a small number of alpha sources.
[IP] Beyond evil twin hotspots -- the pervasive retaking of control 17-Mar-2007 The issue with hot spots is just one aspect of the larger battle between the world of telecommunications and the essentially unrelated world of the Internet. Link-level security protects are particular path and makes us more reliant on service providers. End-to-End security is important but ultimately it's about taking responsibility for our networking but ultimately it's about who owns the infrastructure. Ownership is a defining assumption for tele/com being treated as a single industry. Users owning their own infrastructure challenges the basic concept of telecom.
[IP] Re: thieves stealing data thru "evil twin" hotspots 17-Mar-2007 Another lesson -- the importance of end-to-end security. Link level security between computers and access points is another example of complacency. It works just well enough for the naïve to treat the problem as solve. The result is to leave us vulnerable and surprised.
Let Them Eat Bandwidth? 14-Mar-2007 The Boston Globe reported that Comcast cut off a user for too much downloading. I applaud Globe calling attention to these kind of abuses by Comcast and other providers and I encourage them to pursue this topic and ask why we have to ask permission to communicate.
[IP] More DST fall-out 11-Mar-2007 More on DST as a reminder of the importance of proper representation. Even something seemingly as simple as a date is fully of subtle surprises.
[IP] DST and related foibles 09-Mar-2007 DST is round #2 of Y2K. It's useful to stress the system from time to time so we assure our systems are resilient rather than brittle. Change is the norm so we need to stress systems to help them stay resilient.
Looking Behind the Curtain 01-Mar-2007 The telecom industry appears to be very large and imposing but in reality it's all very simple.
FTC Broadband Workshop Comments 25-Feb-2007 PDFThe title of the FTC workshop on “Broadband Con-nectivity Competition” assumes that the status quo makes sense and we only need to fine tune it. What struck me most about the workshop is the lack of a crisp insight. There was a lot of talk about how complex the issues are and lots of fascination with the details of the current Internet. But there was a stunning failure to see though the complexity. We can argue all we want about neutrality or we can recognize that bits are inherently neutral and reframe policy in terms of basic connectivity. Basic connectivity means we can create our own solutions rather than being required to buy services from a provider. We would not need to petition the FCC nor the FTC for neutrality. Attempting to bring a service-based model in line with the principles of neutrality is futile and counter-productive.
[IP] The MP3 patent debacle 24-Feb-2007 Microsoft finds itself having to pay again for the MP3 patents. Too bad MP3 has become a generic name and thus people demand it when they really don't care about the particular compression scheme. Everything is labeled "MP3" these days. It's not even a good scheme.
[IP] Re: Windows Vista Flunks At MIT 12-Feb-2007 Transitioning to Vista can be a challenge when user code is too smart or the operating system is too specific. Static friction slows development and makes it difficult to take advantage of new capabilities.
The Internet in Perspective 11-Feb-2007 With all the discussion about VoIP and the two-tiered Internet and Broadband policy you'd think something is being said. But the words have no common meaning. The biggest problem, perhaps, is that the Internet itself is little more than a demonstration of what is possible when one is forced to come up with solutions that are not beholden to third parties who cannot help but use their control to limit our opportunities to create different of solutions.
[IP] Re: An Alternative To San Francisco's Wi-Fi Deal 01-Feb-2007 Applying CFR principles. Can San Francisco transcend broadband and create real infrastructure?
CFR: Our Copper, Fiber and Radios 29-Jan-2007 Our Copper, Fiber and Radios are a simple fixed asset. Why are we paying a service fee to privileged services providers when we can do it better ourselves. Our home networks run at a gigabit bit without a service charge yet we can on thousandth the capacity when we go outside our homes and pay a high fee for the "privilege". I was reminded of this as I saw Verizon installers running RG-6 cable for FiOS TV when I already had a perfectly good gigabit network and then they told me I had to use their router …
Be Careful Lest You Get What You Ask For 20-Jan-2007 If we want more Internet connectivity we must not ask for broadband. They are not the same thing. We've managed to salvage broadband as transport but the price we pay is that we are disconnected unless we are near our TVs and PCs.
[IP] more on Visual VM 14-Jan-2007 The idea of a visual UI for voice mail is obvious. The problem is that it took a billion dollar company to get a cellular carrier to let them do it. We should demand real interfaces and not just a choice of arbitrary facades that hide the underlying opportunities.
[IP] more on dot "ex-ex-ex" domain boondoggle, err, proposal, back again -- so much for ambiguity 07-Jan-2007 .XXX again! It's not just that it's a bad idea, .XXX is loaded with very dangerous political agendas.
[IP] Ailing music biz set to relax digital restrictions 02-Jan-2007 No surprise that DRM is working so well that it is preventing people from watching movies and this is showing up in slow sales. Tellywood seems to be slowly waking to up the realization that better to make a few sales than none at all.
Bob Frankston
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