Just added a twitter widget

Since I’ve been twittering a bit more lately, I decided to finally add a twitter widget to my blog. You’ll see it at the top of the right column, at least for now. It does require Flash 9, so I may need to tweak it a bit if it doesn’t degrade gracefully to HTML. It’s also a bit wider than some of the other widget I have running on my blog, so again, I may need to tweak it. But for now, it’s a quick way to integrate my “tweets” into my blog.
[Edit: I fixed the width issue pretty quickly. Just a matter of changing the width attribute a couple of places in the code. Now the widget looks like it belongs there.]

Network Neutrality: More complicated than it seems?

For a few years now, I’ve been asking students in my introductory mass communication course to consider the issues behind the “Network Neutrality Debate.”  As part of this exercise, I show students a couple of brief promotional videos from each side of the debate…

Save The Internet (In favor of Net Neutrality)

Hands off the Internet (Opposed to Net Neutrality)

I often hear from students that the Network Neutrality debate sounds like a no-brainer. Giving everyone equal access to the internet sounds fair. So why even debate it?

Well, as I try to point out to students, the issue essentially boils down to which freedom is more important: freedom of speech or freedom of the marketplace. Of course, that’s a generalization, but I think it is a reasonable one. Still, the issue is a bit more complicated once you start to unravel it.

Here’s another way to think about it…

On one level, the internet is a communication network, an infrastructure for communication built with cables and fiber and switches and servers. Building and maintaining that network costs money, and someone has to pay for it. While the initial development of the internet was paid for by government and academia, most development of this infrastructure in the last 15 years or so has been paid for by large companies, like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast. They’ve spent this money with the intent of eventually making it back, along with a profit.

On another level, the internet is content, the “stuff” people get from using this network. Things like Google searches, YouTube videos, Facebook pages, iTunes downloads, torrents, AIMs and e-mails. Most people don’t care very much about the “hardware” of the internet, as the real value lies in what they can do with it, the content they can receive. And like the hardware side, most of the internet content developed in the last 15 years or so has been paid for (or at least enabled by software platforms developed by) large companies, like Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo.

Now here’s where the network neutrality debate comes in. Both the hardware companies and the content companies want the “freedom” to make as much money as they can. But…

For the hardware companies, “freedom” means being able to charge as much as the market will bear for internet access. They want the freedom to build special “fast lanes” on the internet for those willing to pay more for faster, more reliable internet access. They want the freedom to be able to spend their money on the development of internet infrastructure with the assurance that they can get their investment back, along with a profit. Perhaps most importantly, they want the freedom to be able to deploy their business strategies without the threat of government regulation that could make it difficult to make money. Essentially, this means freedom of the marketplace.

For the content companies, “freedom” means being able to provide their content at the same rate as everyone else, the same “level playing field” that is often characterized as “network neutrality.” They want to take advantage of the traditionally “wide open” nature of internet access that makes it difficult for network providers to discriminate when providing service. They don’t want to have to pay more to get their data on the internet than anyone else has to pay. At the very least, they want the same opportunity to make money providing content on the internet as everyone else does, including their competitors, some of whom are in the infrastructure business. Essentially, this means freedom of expression, or more precisely, equal opportunity for expression.

Perhaps a few examples would help to illustrate this…

Suppose you want to get your phone service through Vonage rather than through your local phone company. You’ve been a Verizon customer for a long time, but you want to save money, so you call up Verizon and say you want to cancel your phone service, but keep your internet service through Verizon. In essence, you want to use your Verizon internet access in order to avoid paying the high cost of Verizon phone service by paying Vonage for a cheaper phone service. Sooner or later, Verizon is going to get tired of this, and try to do things to make it more difficult for Vonage to steal their lunch. They could, for example, charge Vonage more for the privilege of using their networks, which would eventually mean Vonage might have to raise the price you pay. Or perhaps they could reduce the quality of service for Vonage data, so that Vonage calls are noisy and unreliable. Verizon says they want freedom of the marketplace, so they can do what it takes to make money. Vonage says they want freedom of expression, so they can compete with Verizon on a level playing field.

Here’s another example. Suppose you are tired of paying for cable TV, so you call up Comcast to cancel your subscription. But you still want your high-speed internet service from Comcast, because you need to feed your addiction to Family Guy and American Idol. Instead of paying to get these shows from Comcast cable, however, you intend to use your internet connection to download the shows from Hulu.com. In essence, you want to use your Comcast internet access in order to avoid paying for the high cost of Comcast cable TV service. Sooner or later, Comcast is going to get tired of this, and try to do things to make it more difficult for Hulu.com to eat their lunch (or more precisely, NBC Universal, which owns Hulu; or even more precisely, General Electric, which owns NBC Universal). Comcast could, for example, start charging NBC Universal more money for the privilege of using their networks. Or they could demand a share of Hulu’s advertising revenue. Or both. And if NBC Universal refused, then perhaps Comcast would start their own competitor to Hulu (they already have, by the way, with fancast.com). Comcast might even start reducing the quality of service for Hulu data, so that shows from Hulu looked fuzzy and got interrupted a lot, while shows from fancast looked great. Comcast says they want freedom of the marketplace, so they can do what it takes to make money. Hulu/NBC Universal/GE argue they want freedom of expression, so they can compete with Comcast on a level playing field.

Do you see a pattern here? In the one corner, you have the big companies who have a lot of money invested in infrastructure, wanting to make a return on that investment. The big players in that corner include Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and Cisco.  In the other corner, you have the big companies who have a lot invested in content, wanting to make a return on that investment.  The big players in this corner include GE/NBC Universal, News Corporation, CBS/Viacom, and Yahoo.  Time Warner has a stake in both corners; for that matter, so does Comcast.  Google is so big it should probably get it’s own corner, although until recently, Google has been a major voice in favor of network neutrality. (See this excellent Wall Street Journal article regarding the apparent change of heart by Google and other big names in the net neutrality argument.)

So who will win? It would seem that at the moment, the content providers have a head start in the arena of public opinion. Most people can’t really get their heads around all the nuances of the network neutrality argument. Network neutrality just sounds right. Save the Internet.  But is this principal of network neutrality something that warrants government intervention in the marketplace? That’s the tougher question.

Perhaps the only thing that’s certain: however this network neutrality debate is resolved, consumers will ultimately pay the bill.  Opponents of network neutrality like to say that the content providers want the consumers to pay the bills while they laugh all the way to the bank.  But that’s a hollow argument.  Sooner or later, the consumer always pays the bill.  So the real issue behind the network neutrality argument may simply be who will wind up with the biggest share of those consumer dollars.

MacHeist 2009 has started

If you haven’t yet checked out the latest MacHeist, it’s not too late. Just for registering at http://www.macheist.com, you’ll get the Process application from Jumsoft, for free! And if you go through the initial steps of the “heist,” you’ll be rewarded with two more applications: MacDust (a chache cleaning utility) and the novel game Pandora’s Pests.

And this is just the start. After you complete the first steps of the heist, which involves finding and uploading the URLs of a series of nine TGA graphic files to the MacHeist “Main Frame,” you’ll be presented with a cryptic “countdown” screen to the next stage of MacHeist 2009. As I write this, the estimated time remaining is 17 days to the “decoding” of these TGA files, which suggests the next stage of the MacHeist will start around February 5. So if you haven’t got in on the fun, there’s still time!

Free Software from the MacHeist Giving Tree

If you haven’t yet visited the “Giving Tree” at MacHeist, you’re missing out on a great opportunity to get some free software.  I’ve got a lot of “loot” over the past few years from MacHeist, and the fun has just started this year.  Already announced are two freebies: Synergy, an iTunes “extender” utility, and Enigmo 2, an outer-space themed puzzle game from Pangea.  Plus there are other presents to unwrap on Christmas Day.  Check out the MacHeist Giving Tree at


And while you’re at it, sign up to become a MacHeist agent at


MacHeist 3 is coming!  Take it from Dr. Phil…you don’t want to miss out!

Finally, Microsoft squashes the CGBitmap bug in Word

I’ve been waiting a long time for Microsoft to release an update to Office 2008 for Mac that addressed one of the most annoying bugs: the CGBitmapContextGetData: Invalid Context loop. I’ve confirmed that the latest update to Office 2008 for Mac, the 12.1.3 update, seems to have done something to address this issue, at least in Microsoft Word. I’m still getting this error with Excel and PowerPoint, but at least we’re making some progress.

Savvy Mac Office users have been pointing out this issue since early this year, when Office 2008 for Mac was officially released. Many people may not have known that this bug even existed, since it isn’t quite obvious. In fact, you probably wouldn’t have noticed it unless you happened to look at your Console, the log-reading application that’s inside of the Utilities folder of every modern Mac. But if you are an Office 2008 user, you might have suspected a slight performance hit whenever you launched an Office app, or perhaps you noticed your MacBook running a bit hotter when you used Word. That’s because, prior to this latest update, the Mac OS was busy writing entry after entry to your System Log, sometimes many entries per second. Go ahead, launch your console and look at some of your old System Logs in Console. If you’ve been using Office 2008 a lot, you probably have thousands of entries like this…

Oct 15 21:56:56 new-host Microsoft Word[4216]: CGBitmapContextGetData: invalid context

But after applying the latest update from Microsoft, this bug appears to be finally squashed in at least one of the Office apps. Hallelujah! The Microsoft Word team has heard the gnashing of teeth of Mac users, and started to put this silly bit of sloppiness to rest. Now if only they can address this problem with Excel and PowerPoint.