Monthly Archives: July 2003

Howard Dean

Good, balanced article this morning in the NY Times on Howard Dean. The article avoids the liberal label for the most part and demonstrates fairly clearly how Dean doesn’t fit the mold. The thing people seem to like best about him? His honesty. He isn’t afraid to say “I don’t know.”


“Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answers to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.” – Victor Frankl

Privacy and Price Discrimination

This is a great paper [pdf file] by Andrew Odlyzko. The thesis of the paper is that the primary factor driving the erosion of privacy in America is not anti-terrorism or surveilence but price discrimination. Basically, price discrimination means charging different prices to different customers. Price discrimination is necessary in order for markets to function most efficiently, and it tends to push down profits and average prices (witness the airline industry). There are strong economic arguments that say that price discrimination results in a net social and economic good. Nevertheless, consumers tend to hate it passionately, both for its perceived unfairness and the invasion of privacy which is often necessary to achieve it. This article surveys the tension between these two forces and draws an analogy to 19th century railway pricing; the author also briefly discusses the ways that price discrimination is hidden, for instance via bundling. [via IP]

Open Spectrum

I was pretty excited when I saw this article in ACM Queue magazine on open spectrum, software radios, and mesh networks as the keys to ubiquitous connectivity. Unfortunately, the author plays fast and loose with a lot of the details in a way that left me quite unsatisfied. He repeats the hype on some technologies without noting the well-known limitations.

The first thing that raised a red flag for me was when the article said that the term “cognitive radio” was coined in 1991. I found that hard to believe, as I first heard the term only recently, and I haven’t exactly been living under a rock, particularly in the area of wireless communications. Well, I checked his source (it was linked to Mitola’s website, below) and it says plainly that the term “software radio” was coined in 1991 with “cognitive radio” coined more recently. This makes more sense to me.

So, read the article if you like, but take its claims with a grain of salt, if you please.

WiFi Buzz

I was just pondering the fact that I haven’t posted much here lately and wondering what I might post about. My life at the moment seems to consist of a never ending stream of house-related phone calls. Just this morning, I called the insurance company, the cable company, and the propane company; I also emailed the lawyer and the realtor. (Both of whom get some link love because I’ve been extremely happy with them.) It’s a good thing I don’t plan to buy another house until after I get tenure. I don’t know how anyone can do real work and buy a house at the same time.

Anyway, then I ran across not one but two interesting articles on WiFi. One good, one bad, both via BoingBoing.

First, the good. This article explains why the only way to make money with WiFi may be to give it away for free. First, it is cheaper to operate a free WiFi hotspot because you don’t have to pay for authentication, etc. Second, once someone in your neighborhood decides to give away WiFi, you won’t be able to charge for it anymore. This argument is compelling to me. I even like McDonald’s plan of bundled WiFi (buy an Extra Value Meal, get an hour of WiFi free). It doesn’t have the advantage of costing less to operate, but the user still gets WiFi as a free value add. If I was traveling and knew that I was going to pass a McDonald’s with this deal, I’d stop. It’s still a lot of work to get cheap internet access on the road, you know.

Second, the bad. This Washington Post article completely blows the WiFi story. Are there security risks with running an open access point? Of course there are. Do they have anything to do with it being wireless? Not really. Cory and Glenn have both ably pointed out the article’s flaws. I just thought I would add that I’m thinking of leaving my WiFi open in Blacksburg, though I’m a little paranoid about spammers finding me and using my access point to spam the planet causing me to lose my high speed internet. I’ll either find a technical solution to protect my internet connection from abuse or I’ll take my chances. I’m not sure which…