Listenership Survey

More than half of the contributions that keep The Conversations Network alive come from corporations and other organizations. And although we’re a non-profit, those underwriters still want to know who is listening to our programs. With the help of Podtrac, we’ve therefore posted a survey of listener habits and demographics.

Please take a few minutes to complete this online survey. Your feedback will help us make the case that underwriters should continue to fund us and keep The Conversations Network free for all.

Comcast’s One-DVD-per-Day Limit

I’ve received a lot of comments on my January blog post about being blocked by Comcast. Now, after last week’s thrashing by the FCC, Cory Doctorow reports on BoingBoing that Comcast has gone public with its plan to limit customers to downloads of only 250GB per month. If you don’t think that’s unreasonable, consider that it’s only 8.3GB/day, or roughly the equivalent of downloading one DVD each day. I don’t, as Comcast’s own FAQ describes, send 40 million emails a month or 20,000 high-res photos, but I do use my net connection for all sorts of things. For example, I could run my new WiFi radio all day, listening to a 128kbps stream. That alone would consume 1.3gb/day. I’m not, but I could be a heavy Vonage user, too. If I used an on-line backup service, I could easily upload another gigabyte or so each day. And then there’s downloads of videos from TiVo, Netflix, etc.

To my mind, these are what the Internet are all about. They make the Internet a true utility. In most other developed countries, 8.3GB/day would be a drop in the bucket of what’s available. Perhaps Comcast’s problem is that they simply haven’t invested enough in system capacity. Or perhaps they’re just trying to make sure that their Internet connections can’t be used to compete with their own video and VoIP services. In any case, this new policy does seem unreasonable, particularly since I pay a premium for the extra high-speed version of their service. I’m not a fan of AT&T either, but I sure wish I could get a DSL connection here, if for no other reason than to have a choice. Where’s competition when you need it?

Update: As John Furrier says, Om Malik makes the case that this, combined with the recend FCC order, is all good news for the P2P (eg, BitTorrent) business model. Well, Om doesn’t actually refer to that FCC order, but you get the idea.

WiFi Radio

I love this little WiFi radio I received just yesterday from C. Crane. Sure, I could just as easily use one of my computers to listen to any of the nearly 50,000 audio streams listed on, but I’d have to install a Real player to get many of them, and given Real’s history of annoying software, that’s something I’m not willig to do. Besides, there’s just something nice about having a separate device. I guess my old brain just thinks it’s radio because it comes from something that looks like one. I like that I can just turn it off and on again, and after the requisite few seconds of “buffering…”, I’m listening to one of my favorite stations. No application to start. No window to move around on my monitor. Just a box with familiar knobs and buttons.

Again, nothing revolutionary about the content, but I’ve already re-connected with Stan Dunn and others who now produce In the Spirit of KJAZ. It’s still the great sound of KJAZ that went off the air 14 years ago. And I can listen to WNYC2, albeit from a tiny speaker so the HD experience is lost. Although I spend most of my time here in an office/studio with a lot of high-end audio gear, I don’t bother to pipe the WiFi Radio’s line output through the fancy speakers. So far, I like the non-imposing little-box sound. Yeah, it makes no sense to me, either. Go figure.

The Beijing Story We Don’t Hear
Videobloggers Jay Dedman and Ryanne Hodson have been posing as tourists in Beijing for the past ten days, but actually turning their cameras towards the Free-Tibet protests that have been so aggressively squashed by the Chinese government. Xeni Jardin managed to interview Jay and Ryanne on a Skype video call and published it on Boing Boing TV. [full story]

Data Centers by the Truckload

When I started a web-hosting company back in 1995, we used bakery racks to hold Sun servers — mostly ES-450s, as I recall. The first real Internet data centers were then based on the designs of the telco industry, starting at 100 watts/sq ft, working their way up to 300 watts/sq ft for fairly dense server farms. Air conditioning was usually the biggest problem. As server densities increased, many aging data centers were only able to use a portion of their floorspace because they couldn’t supply enough cooling for the newer servers. As expensive as they were, it was very hard to design and build a data center that would be able to handle the increased densities five years down the road. Looking back only 13 years later, we had no idea how steep the scale curve would become.

Now, as Ina Fried reports at cnet, Microsoft (and I assume others) are buying servers not by the box or even by the rack, but pre-assembled and fully networked in shipping containers with densities of thousands of watts/sq foot. They have to. They’re adding 10,000 servers a month. They don’t repair or replace individual servers when they fail. They just monitor the total number of working servers in the container. When some percentage of the servers have failed, they yank the entire container and send it back to the supplier for refurbishing. Or, if the technology has improved, a container can simply be replaced with one that has even more-densely packed servers. (I assume that that each container has its own air conditioning and just requires water in/out.)

With densities like this, the big guys (Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, etc.) are primarily in the electrical-power business. In some cases, they’re even building (or planning to build) their own generating facilities. It only took a decade to get to this point. Hard to imagine how we’ll be building data centers in another ten years.

A Net-Neutrality Victory

Here’s another big one. The FCC gets it. They’ve delivered a thrashing to Comcast. Professor Lessig wrote a five-page response [pdf] to the Commissions three-page summary [pdf] of their 34-page order [pdf]. We won’t know for a few months the extent to which Comcast complies or digs in their heels, but this is not only a round for the good guys, it also puts into federal print a good precendential explanation of the issues. Just having this order on the record will help make the case for net neutrailty as the battle rages on. [source: Lessig]

Having lived through the transition starting with the Carterfone decision, it’s easy to understand how important this is to innovation.

Audacity’s Auto Duck

A “ducker” is an audio tool (traditionally hardware, but now also in software) that reduces the level of one track when there’s a signal on another track. It’s very common in talk shows, where you want the host of the show to have priority and override the voices of guests. A ducker is extremely useful for cleaning up two-track interview recordings, such as those from Skype.

As of release 1.3.3 (currently in beta), the open-source audio package Audacity has included an “Auto Duck” feature, which could be quite helpful if you record/edit two-track interviews, particularly from phone calls or Skype.

Fulfillment by Amazon

I’m experimenting with Fulfillment by Amazon. So far, so good. Seems to be run with the same quality of infrastructure as Amazon Web Services and the rest of For a limited time — not sure how long — we’re offering my most-recent book, Loosely Coupled, The Missing Pieces of Web Services, at a 50% discount. You should see the $19.99 price from RDS Press. Let me know whether the fulfillment and delivery meet your expectations.