Tech failures: FLO’s mobile TV doesn’t go far in Chico

FLO TV unavailable
I haven’t been convinced that mobile television will catch on in the United States, but the tech demo for FLO TV doesn’t help sell the service for Chicoans.

Looking at the FLO display at a local discount store, one round purple sticker stood out — “Service not available in this area.” With one stroke, FLO undermines its key feature — the ability to watch TV on the go (channels include mobile versions of NBC, FOX, Adult Swim and others). Without a signal, you’re paying $200 for a small box that doesn’t do anything. In addition, there’s a $5/mo. subscription fee.

The sales clerk noted the service is unavailable, but also said a friend was able to get a signal in part of town. The coverage map shows some areas south of town and in the foothills can get a signal from the Yuba City area. While there appears to be decent coverage in metropolitan areas, there’s currently no FLO service between Yuba City and Eugene, Ore.

Although mobile TV appears to be popular in other countries, I think
those services are free over-the-air signals and not a subscription
service.

Failed tech demos aside, I think people will stick with streaming video sites like YouTube or whatever sites they can reach over a regular broadband cell connection. The same goes for Sirius XM’s portable TV offering via satellite — the range has to be better than for FLO, but its similar monthly fee for a limited service is probably a dealbreaker.

Comcast digital switcheroo may make a la carte channel choice more feasible

Across the country and soon in Chico, Comcast is slowly lowering a digital boom over its customers as part of the cable company’s transition from analog to digital television services. While the company’s new digital cable adapters will add another gadget to the jumbled electronic menagerie inhabiting people’s living rooms, the change may remove one of the hurdles to many customers’ holy grail — being able to pick, and pay for, only the channels they want to watch.
First off, the idea that Comcast would offer most of its channels as a la carte selections is merely a dream — I haven’t seen any indication that the company would want to do so. I’m only asserting that digital TV makes it more practical than before.
We haven’t heard much about a la carte in several years, but the idea remains intriguing. Instead of paying for 80 channels and watching just four, customers could pick and pay for the four channels they actually watch.
When the customer choice debate was raging, the cable and satellite industry had several objections, including that it was technologically difficult to deliver just the channels a customer wanted. That’s understandable with analog cable — in my experience, it’s difficult for the cable company to block off channels that customers aren’t supposed to have access to.
That hurdle was removed with digital cable and it should become insignificant as Comcast forces its customers to go digital. Cable companies can more easily lock and unlock channels that a customer signs up for. I’ve experienced this several times with premium channels and pay-per-view on my digital cable box.
I haven’t dealt with the more simplistic digital adapter, but I imagine Comcast would still have greater control over what’s being delivered on its pipes than during the analog days. While billing for single channels may be a headache, the delivery system itself should be better suited for a la carte.
While the public desire for a la carte may have waned, I still think it’s worth giving it a shot. Access to individual episodes of shows has taken off through digital video recorders, download sites like iTunes Store and streaming sites like Hulu, but there are some downsides to the individual episode approach. Not all series are available in these different formats. It may be easier to have access to a whole network than buying shows piecemeal.
In addition to technological hurdles, a la carte pricing may not be cheaper than the current bundled rates, based on earlier studies.
The theoretical a la carte offerings may be slightly more expensive, but at least the customers would paying for the services they want and not necessarily what the operators want them to have.

The airing of Vancouver Olympic grievances – a list

I’m generally enjoying the Vancouver Games as it enters the seventh day of competition, but some things are sticking in my mind. Please share your “grievances” in the comments.

The fence around the Olympic Flame: I think the organizers were caught flatfooted by the fact that people may want to be close to the beautiful outdoor Olympic Cauldron. At the very least, the image of a chainlink fence in front of a symbol of peaceful competition is disconcerting.

Kudos for the organizers for making changes and creating more viewing opportunities (according to this CBC News article). However, I didn’t necessarily care for one of the organizers’ excuses:

Organizers said the cauldron is far closer to the public than Olympic flames of past Games, where they’ve usually been located in or atop stadiums.

The cauldron at the 1996 Atlanta Games was outside Centennial Olympic Stadium and it was generally accessible to the public (at the very least it wasn’t blocked by a massive fence). I remember having lunch and taking photos mere yards from that Olympic Flame along with many spectators and families.

The Lack of Curling on NBC: This is a minor gripe at most, but it is sad when FOX has more curling on a 30-minute episode of “The Simpsons” than NBC will have in two weeks on its main network. Yes, curling is available on cable channels (that I don’t have) and is streaming live online (which I don’t have access to because I don’t have the right cable package). In recent years, curling almost always gets praised as a pleasant surprise of the Games. Maybe it’s not a primetime event, but it’s lame that NBC couldn’t find time to at least air the gold metal match on broadcast (like in the afternoon).

Shoddy online coverage: There’s a huge difference between the online coverage of the 2008 Beijing Games and in Vancouver. Just two years ago, many non-marquee events were streamed live and in their entirety. Now, it’s mostly hockey and curling aired live (with other events posted after NBC has aired them in primetime). Hockey and curling are both fine sports, but the offerings are like night and day.

Tape Delay: It’s a gripe as old as NBC’s coverage of the Games. It is certainly frustrating that NBC insists on starting its primetime program right at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. Central) even though there are live events taking place at 5 p.m. Vancouver time. And, of course, Vancouver time is the same time as Chico and the entire West Coast which just compounds the silliness.

NBC didn’t have to do this. It could have emulated a model from Canada that I thought could work fairly well here. In previous games, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation would air its primetime program live nationwide. After the end of that broadcast, the CBC would offer a special West Coast-only highlight package to help round out the night. I don’t know what the current Canadian broadcaster, CTV, is doing.

Media coverage of “the glitches”: I’m sure some of the criticism of the Vancouver organizing committee’s operation of the Games is justified, but the howling has seemed ferocious at times. The situation has drawn many comparisons to the Atlanta Games in 1996 when the media lambasted ACOG’s miscues, particularly regarding transportation (as this 1996 New York Times article details).

The disconcerting thing about the Atlanta criticism and the Vancouver gripes is that these woes somehow become part of the “legacy” of the Games. I was in Atlanta for the Games, and the woes weren’t my “highlight” of those Olympics. Yes, it wasn’t pleasant at times — I had to brave the crushing crowds on MARTA and I once had to give directions and a map to a bus driver so we could get to our destination. However, it pales in comparison to witnessing the opening ceremonies, watching track stars break world records and enjoying some of the finest art and music in my life.

Bruce Arthur of the National Post offers a nice perspective on the criticism. While acknowledging that Vancouver has been far from perfect, Arthur points out how there are at least three different views of the Games:

There is the Olympics that we in the media experience, the one the athletes experiences, and the one the public experiences. But only one of us write the verdict on the Olympics in question.

For another take on the Olympics’ legacy on host cities, The Independent looked at how cities capitalized on the infrastructure changes made for the Games. Atlanta seemed to fare much better on that score and I hope Vancouver does too.

As Christmas shopping days tick away, check this tip list twice

With Christmas just days away, I’m offering some holiday shopping advice. Thinking of gifts can be pretty stressful, so my list is a slightly humorous take on the tradition. Here’s a sample:

Christmas
shopping tip #001–while there is _huge_ difference between “The
Clapper” and the clap, neither is a welcome holiday gift.

It started with that one and I was inspired to keep going. I’m dishing these tips every day on my Twitter account, but you can also view all of them on this page.

I hope to have a tip every day up until Christmas, but coming up with them can be tough (especially if I was trying to be funny). If you have any ideas, please share them in the comments.


Google’s holiday WiFi gift – 15 of 47 airports already had free Internet

I love free stuff — lots of people do. That’s probably one big reason why Google’s offer of free WiFi at 47 participating airports during the holidays (through Jan. 15) sounds so nice. But looks can be deceiving.
I didn’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I peeked at the list of airports and was intrigued at what I saw — several airports where I knew they already offered free Internet (including Las Vegas, Sacramento and San Diego).
A couple dozen Google searches revealed that nearly a third of the 47 airports participating in Google’s program had pre-existing free WiFi in place (view the list). Two more airports (Seattle-Tacoma and Burbank) stated they would participate in Google’s program and then continue offering free service after Jan. 15.
Part of this rubbed me the wrong way — could Google claim credit for offering free WiFi at airports where it already existed? Could it also claim that it was offering free WiFi at other airports with free Internet (like at Chico, Calif. and Hancock, Mich.)?
According to AirportWiFiGuide.com, many airports not on Google’s list offer free Internet. Even that list is incomplete (I noticed that Chico and Hancock aren’t listed).
To be fair, someone has to pay for Internet access that is offered for “free” to the end user. According to Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal, the San Jose airport has had free Internet since May 2008. Officials said Google was offsetting the cost of offering the free service during the holidays.
Ultimately, I can be more jolly than Grinch-y about Google’s gift. For a limited time, Google is offering free Internet at more than 30 airports where there currently is a fee (typically about $8/day). Hopefully, more airports will pursue free Internet solutions in the future.
Also, Google will match up to $250,000 worth of donations made over the WiFi networks to three charities.
A list of the airports participating in the Google Free Holiday WiFi is available after the jump.

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Rupert Murdoch takes on Google, fair-use guidelines

Every time I see an article about copyright laws, I usually gripe about how the discussion excludes fair-use guidelines — those loose rules that outline how people can legally use selections of copyrighted works in their own productions.
Well, my wish was granted, but in a fairly horrible way — News Corp. honcho Rupert Murdoch said he believes his company can challenge fair use and have the courts strike it down.
Murdoch was speaking with Sky News Australia, a segment of which is reposted in this Boing Boing article. The Boing Boing article is a pretty strident commentary.
BBC News also had a summary of Murdoch’s comments to Sky News. Apparently, he’s willing to pursue the matter slowly.

“There’s a doctrine called ‘fair use’, which we believe to be challenged in the courts and would bar it altogether,” Mr Murdoch told the TV channel. “But we’ll take that slowly.”

Murdoch also tilted toward the search engine windmill. He is still on a course to seek payments for News Corp. Web sites and may seek to have the sites’ information removed from Google and other search sites.
Many on the Internet (like Boing Boing) think that Murdoch’s moves may be folly. Although he thinks it unlikely to succeed, longtime tech writer Harry McCracken urges Murdoch to block Google.
Some of the criticism is wrapped up in a dislike of the political leanings of Murdoch’s holdings (the News Corp. umbrella includes the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, UK and U.S. tabloids, etc.).
Setting aside the party politics, it wouldn’t be wise to underestimate Murdoch. Some of his successes have changed the industry (including the dismantling of newspaper unions in England, launching the populist FOX TV network in the United States, etc.). Even his efforts that have come up short have been spectacular.
While Murdoch’s possible moves against Google may be getting the most ink, it’s the idea of gutting fair use that concerns me most. Having News Corp. block search engines only affects the one company (and those that may follow this decision). Eliminating fair use affects everyone.
Murdoch is willing to play the long game to strip the general public of a key component of copyright law. Scrapping fair use would be detrimental to research, news gatherers and the general public.
The fair-use guidelines aren’t perfect, but at least they set some ground rules for those wishing to be legit. If these guidelines are cut, there are at least two possible outcomes:

  • Someone approaches a copyright holder for a blessing anytime he wants to use even a scintilla of information. This would give the copyright holder direct control over who uses even a little bit of their content — like the Sky News quote used in the BBC News article and this blog post.
  • Someone uses content without permission and exposes himself to prosecution. Even under fair use, there is a possibility of prosecution if copyright is flagrantly disregarded. Without fair use, the consumer/producer would have little to no protection.

Facebook offers games, extras, but I’m not playing

I have huge queue of requests in my Facebook account. I’ve been meaning to go through and clear them out — by denying nearly all of them. I thought it would be useful to explain why.

  1. Games – A ton of my friends are playing social games, like Mafia Wars or Yoville. The thing is, I’ve played similar games before and they really don’t interest me. I don’t really want to spend time hunting for items or recruiting friends for specific causes.

    So instead of adding clutter to my account and perhaps leaving my friends in a lurch when my attention is focused elsewhere, I’d rather not go down that path again.

  2. Special apps – Some of friends have asked me to submit information for apps called “We’re Related” or “Birthday Cards.” They’re pretty straightforward — to help people track relatives or people’s birthdays.

    Sounds great. right? Well, Facebook has most of them without needing to add a different program.

    Some of the apps are also scuzzy — full of poorly implemented advertising and visual traps for users. They often try to get the user to send out spammy messages about the app in order to view quiz results (but you should always be able to skip past such prompts). Thanks, but no thanks.

  3. Causes – Some people have asked me to join certain causes. Professionally, I do my best to keep my Internet position agnostic (although it can be tough given the worthy causes and controversial issues that we face).

While I feel bad turning down these requests, these apps aren’t what I’m looking for on Facebook. When I come to social-networking Web sites, I would like to see what people are up to and what they’re producing (like stories, photos, discussions, etc.). There are places for games on Facebook, but I’m just not playing right now.

For want of spite, Twitter was lost

Less than a day after the microblogging Web site Twitter was briefly knocked offline and social Web site Facebook was hampered, a picture of what happened began to develop and who was targeted. Instead of some sort of corporate or international intrigue, it appeared like the attacks were a massively misguided effort to silence one individual.
It was pretty clear that Twitter, Facebook and others were hampered because of a Denial of Service attack — where a Web site is hit with so many requests or Web traffic that it buckles under the pressure. According to BBC News, the target was believed to be one blogger, named Georgy, who has criticized Russia’s role in last year’s war against the country of Georgia, the BBC reported.
Facebook officials said the attack was directed at the blogger’s page, but it impacted the rest of the service as well.
Talk about overkill. In this effort to target one individual, the people responsible attacked several networks affecting hundreds of millions of people. It would be like nuking a large city in an effort to kill one man, or burning the haystack to get at that needle.
If the intent was to silence one person’s opinion — it will probably backfire. More people will now probably be more interested in what this one person has to say because of this effort.
Additionally, cyberterrorism is not likely to engender the hackers to the general public. Personally speaking, I feel a little bit of animus toward whoever would be willing to launch such a foolhardy and unsophisticated attack.
While the target was apparently Georgy, also known as Cyxymu, it’s not known who launched the attack. The blogger apparently blames Russia although some experts said there is no evidence that this is the case.
I definitely hope that we find the parties responsible. It’s also a reminder to Web sites that they need to develop more defenses against these types of attacks.

Secret Shame: Never been to Comic-Con

Every so often, I delve into my drawer of “Secret Shames” — some deep, dark, pop-culture secret that I’m not too proud of. This latest secret shame deals with one of the largest pop-culture events of the year — the San Diego Comic-Con.

The 40th edition of the event recently ended and, for the umpteenth time in a row, I wished I could’ve been there. In recent years, it’s become a huge event that went beyond its comic book origins as Hollywood studios slowly realized the convention’s potential.

While I’m modestly interested in comic book, I would’ve definitely wanted to check out panels for many of my favorite TV shows, including “Battlestar Galactica” and “Chuck.” There were “Battlestar Galactica” concerts at the House of Blues.

Yes, there are people dressed up as their favorite characters. While it’s not my thing to dress up, I can appreciate the work of many of the costumes.

Missing Comic-Con wouldn’t be such a big deal if I hadn’t lived in San Diego for nearly seven years. What’s worse, I don’t think I knew much about it while I lived there.

The only convention I went to in San Diego was a “Star Trek” gathering at Golden Hall. It’s like riding a Merry-Go-Round when Disneyland is around the corner.

In the years since I left San Diego, I’ve never been able to time a vacation to go down there for Comic-Con. Also, I think if I wanted to go, there might be a problem getting passes — as the event has grown, the passes have become more elusive.

Luckily, Comic-Con puts on a smaller affair in San Francisco every February called WonderCon. I’ve been able to make two of those and had a great time each year.

Hopefully, I can catch the 41st Comic-Con next year and put this secret shame to rest.

What the media companies giveth, they can taketh away

In just two days, I’ve seen a pair of reminders of the power media providers have when it comes to providing access to content. These providers are Amazon and Comcast.

On a national scale, some people have been crying foul about Amazon reaching out and deleting copies of books on their Kindle e-book reader. Many have noted the irony that the books being deleted in this Orwellian fashion are those by George Orwell, he of “Animal Farm” and “1984” fame.

As Ars Technica notes, it appears that a third-party publisher may have not had the rights to sell Orwell’s books. I can appreciate Amazon’s desire to try to correct a situation a third party has put the company into, but I also hope that Amazon sticks to its word and doesn’t automatically delete purchased books in the future.

On the personal level, I received a letter from Comcast regarding their On Demand service. In its letter, Comcast wanted to tell me that my wide access to use On Demand to watch shows and movies from most channels at any time was a mistake. Comcast stated they were limiting most of my access unless, of course, I chose to upgrade to a more-expensive package.

I downgraded to local channels to save money. While On Demand is a nice perk for a handful of shows I don’t have access to anymore, it’s simply not worth the additional $40 per month to return to Standard Cable with Digital.

I don’t quite understand it — Comcast should be encouraging use of On Demand because it offers a lot of the advantages of watching shows on the Internet, but from the comfort and convenience of your living-room television. Instead Comcast is helping me opt for the cheaper solution with more available programming on the Internet.

At least Comcast is giving me a heads up about the change. It’s pretty easy for media companies to simply flip a switch and take away stuff that we take for granted.