This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper
— T. S. Eliot
And, likewise, this blog.
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper
— T. S. Eliot
And, likewise, this blog.
Effective at the stroke of midnight, January 1 I will no longer be blogging here. I will also disable comments on existing articles on that date.
I’ve been thinking about this for some time now. The reason for disabling comments is primarily because of the increased amount of “comment spam” and the inability to deal with it effectively using the controls WordPress offers (allowing the URL field to be disabled would stop 99% of it dead in its tracks). Once I stop posting here, I don’t want to have to deal with comments.
Tonight was the final straw. I posted a how-to article (which I have since removed) and the comments I received so angered me that I took it as a sign that it’s really time for me to quit. They were not personally insulting, but rather just demonstrated to me how fucked up things are in the United States nowadays (due to the influence large corporations hold over our government), and how blogging is not nearly as rewarding as it used to be. Again, I took this as a sign — sometimes things happen for a reason, and I think those particular comments reminded me of why it’s time for me to bow out.
I’ve been threatening to quit blogging for some time, and I have always come back, but not this time. If, for some reason, I feel I absolutely, positively must continue to write, it will be in a different forum with a different name (and no, I will not post that information here). But frankly, I’m just tired of dealing with assholes, and even some formerly reasonable people seem to be turning into assholes lately. And even technology is not nearly as much fun to work with as it used to be, and I simply don’t enjoy working with it or writing about it anymore.
Plus, I am getting old. Imagine your parents or grandparents trying to write about technology. At some point you fall out of the mainstream. There are probably people one quarter my age that are writing better blogs than this one. My day in the sun was during the days of the TRS-80, and while it hasn’t been completely downhill since, I do think that in some respects technology has started into a downward spiral, in that you can’t depend on anything working as it should anymore, nor that the developers will give a damn when it doesn’t.
The only thing I had been looking forward to writing about, MAYBE, was the new version of the blue.box PBX software that is supposed to come out in the first quarter of 2013. So I will just say that it is coming and when it arrives you may want to check it out.
I ask you to please respect my decision here. Please do not write and ask me to change my mind; I REALLY need to do this. Please do not try to guilt me or flatter me into writing more. Let someone younger than I have a chance to do this. It is their world now, and I’m very sorry it’s in this shape.
To those who have followed this blog for a long time, thank you for putting up with me. I hope you can find peace and happiness in the new year, just as I intend to try to do. If you need a blog to read, I once again recommend Stop the Cap — he’s doing what I used to do, and he does it better than I ever did!
This may sound like nit-picking but there is one feature I really hate that is included in virtually all blogging platforms, with no way to turn it off. And that is, when someone tries to leave a comment on an article, they are asked to enter their name, e-mail address, and a URL (web page link). It’s the URL text field that I object to. While it’s completely optional, a lot of people feel that because it’s there, they should put something in it. Then, when deciding whether to approve the comment, besides looking at the content I also have to decide if that link is spam – and believe me, a lot of it is. In fact, it’s so often the case that links are spam that if you do fill in that URL text box, the chances of your comment being approved fall to almost nil. I say “almost” because sometimes I’ll visit the link and determine it’s pretty much a non-commercial site and approve the comment, but I’d say that happens maybe 10% of the time. A lot of the time, if the link goes to a blatantly commercial site, I’ll mark it as spam.
I’m also pretty down on links in the body of a comment but at least there you have an opportunity to convince me why you’re leaving the link, and that the primary motive isn’t just to line your own pocket. With a link in that blasted URL filed, I have no idea why someone is leaving it. And more often than not, if I do follow the URL, it’s either to a site that I don’t want to send my readers to, or a commercial site were someone’s trying to sell something (which is fine as long as they are not trying to use my blog for free advertising). So, that URL field becomes a PITA.
So if you’re going to leave a comment and you really want to see it accepted, consider leaving the URL field blank. And to WordPress in particular and the authors of blog software generally, how about giving us a way to tun off that URL box, so no one who posts will be encouraged to leave one?
I’ve made a couple of additions to the Comment Policy (located in the right-hand sidebar). The two main changes are these: First, I won’t accept comments not written in English – I’ve always tended to reject those anyway, but once in a while I’d take the time to do a Google translation on them and approve them anyway. But that’s silly — this blog is written in English, so if you can read the blog then you ought to be able to comment in English. No malice intended toward speakers of other languages; I just want to be able to read your comments and make sure you’re not posting spam (or worse).
The other change is the one I really want folks to pay attention to:
… I AM NOT YOUR TECHNICAL SUPPORT. If you are commenting on a “how-to” article, it’s okay to ask for help or post any issues you’ve uncovered, but please don’t be offended if I don’t reply. Maybe I will, maybe someone else will, or maybe no one will — and if I do reply once, and what I suggest doesn’t work, then you’re probably on your own. There are probably hundreds of reasons why something might work for me and not work for you, and I’m not real good at guessing what those reasons might be.
It’s not that I mind trying to help people, but when I post an article that details something that worked for me, and someone else cannot get it to work, I usually have no effing clue as to the reason why! Your hardware may be different from mine, your operating system may be different, you may have a different version of the software, you might have made a typo entering something, you might have skipped a step, the electronics gods may have decided to smite you… I have absolutely no way of knowing why something isn’t working for you. And pardon me for being so crass as to say it, but it’s not my job to figure out why something won’t work on your system — it’s yours! I may or may not be able to make a suggestion or two, but if that doesn’t work, seriously, you are on your own.
Please understand that I am not trying to discourage anyone from posting a comment in which you are asking for assistance, or detailing a problem you’ve had. I’m only saying that you should not be offended if I, personally, do not reply. If I don’t, you should probably take it as a “doggone if I know what your problem is” response. I’ve also had the experience that a particular piece of software that apparently works fine for others crashes or behaves erratically when I try to run it, so you have my sympathy, but just saying that I sympathize with you is probably not what you’d consider a helpful response, so I’m not going to post that.
Finally, please keep in mind that I do not sit in front of the computer 24/7, so if you post a comment it may be anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of days until I get around to approving it (maybe even longer on rare occasions, such as the time I lost Internet connectivity for several days). Please be patient; if it doesn’t violate my comment policy and hasn’t been automatically flagged as spam, it will appear (assuming you successfully posted it, and didn’t forget to click the correct button or something). WordPress actually does send me an e-mail notification when someone posts a comment, unlike the service I had previously used that let comments build up without sending any notifications!
Every now and then I come across a blog that I actually look forward to reading, and ever since I did the installation of Ubuntu on a Home Theater PC back at the start of this year, I’ve begun to have some interest in what’s available out there for the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Ubuntu has matured quite a bit in the past few years, to the point that’s it’s actually usable without requiring a lot of tweaks to make things work. But where do you go if you want information on new Ubuntu freeware and other software, without running into articles that are too technical for those that didn’t cut their teeth on Linux? Well, you could try the WebUpd8 blog, especially the “ubuntu” tagged articles. Lots of good stuff there. Just thought you might want to know, if you’re also a relatively new Ubuntu user.
Quoting from this blog post by Edward Champion:
This morning, the Federal Trade Commission announced that its Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials would be revised in relation to bloggers. The new guidelines (PDF) specified that bloggers making any representation of a product must disclose the material connections they (the presumed endorsers) share with the advertisers. What this means is that, under the new guidelines, a blogger’s positive review of a product may qualify as an “endorsement” and that keeping a product after a review may qualify as “compensation.”
These guidelines, which will be effective as of December 1, 2009, require all bloggers to disclose any tangible connections. But as someone who reviews books for both print and online, I was struck by the inherent double standard. …
I strongly urge you to read the entire article (Disclosure: I’m not being paid to endorse that article, and I have no connection of any kind to the author). I can understand why the FTC would want disclosure in some circumstances, but to some degree this strikes me as just plain silly. On three occasions now I’ve reviewed books after receiving a free review copy of the book from the publisher. If you read those reviews, you’d note that although I didn’t savagely trash any of the books, I don’t think I went out of my way to offer undeserved glowing praise either. What I can tell you is that just because I receive a free book does not mean I’m going to bend over backwards to say nice things about it. I can’t be bought in that manner, but even if I could be bought I certainly wouldn’t sell out my credibility for something with as little intrinsic value as a free book.
To put this in perspective, this sort of strikes me as saying something akin to “every radio station that accepts a free disc from someone in the music industry is guilty of taking payola.” Of course the FTC doesn’t say that, because that would be ludicrous. Yet that’s sort of what I feel is being implied here — the idea that a small value item (a free book in this case) would cause someone to pump up a dog of a book just seems ridiculous to me. However, having said that, I don’t object to disclosure per se, but here’s my issue with it: Let’s suppose I were to buy a book (or DVD or computer game or whatever) and I really liked it and wrote a glowing article about it – would the FTC consider that an “endorsement” and, because I did NOT include a disclosure (since in this hypothetical case, I bought the item with my own money), consider that grounds to begin an investigation?
What I’m getting at here is that you have the classic question, “How will they know?” If a blogger includes a disclosure then presumably all is fine. But if that blogger feels there is no need for a disclosure because there was no “compensation” received, could that under some unknown set of circumstances trigger an investigation that could seriously impact that blogger’s life (and finances, if he or she has to hire an attorney)? I assume that in some cases the evidence will be more obvious that in others — the blogs that I somewhat derisively refer to as “sunshine pumpers”, because they never have a negative thing to say about any product or service they mention, should probably be a bit worried that they will come under intense FTC scrutiny sooner or later. But what about the rest of us?
I’ll probably take the safe approach and disclose on everything that might even look like an endorsement, unless some other standard develops out in the blogosphere and the FTC seems okay with it. Even if I just say that I’m not being compensated in any way for the content of a particular article — I may actually choose to actually say that and leave no doubt in anyone’s mind, rather than leave the FTC thinking that I forgot to disclaim and therefore should be fined.
But then again, if it looks like the FTC is clamping down really hard on this and innocent bloggers are being harassed, I probably will just stop blogging. I can’t afford a potential $11,000 fine for possibly not wording a disclosure in just the manner the FTC might want to see it.
There is a larger issue here, though. I’ve read a few articles from time to time that indicates that sometimes the major media, or even your local TV station or newspaper, will go out of their way to publish or broadcast any good news that comes their way that may involve one of their advertisers – and at the same time, they may scuttle bad news that potentially may offend a large advertiser (there was a consumer reporter that was fired recently because they reported some negative news about an advertiser, though I don’t recall the details anymore). Unfortunately, I didn’t save any of those links so you’ll either have to take my word for it (or not), or research the subject on your own. Still, I suspect there’s a lot more examples of hidden “compensation” influencing your mainstream news than of it making a huge difference in what bloggers write. Most bloggers tend to be a fairly independent bunch, and those that aren’t — the aforementioned “sunshine pumpers” — are usually pretty quickly recognized, and thereafter ignored.
So why are bloggers being singled out here? To me this smells to high heaven — it’s almost as though the big corporate media can do no wrong (or the FTC for some reason feels obliged not to mess with them) so they pick on the little guy that probably (in most cases) will innocently violate the rule because he or she doesn’t know any better. Of course, there also the matter of how vigorously the FTC will enforce the law — if they use the same standard they seem to apply to “Do-Not-Call” list violators, where only the largest fish get fried (that is, only those phone spammers with a record of numerous violations), then maybe we have nothing to worry about. Still, it’s just one more regulation hanging over the head of bloggers, and I’m just concerned that innocent bloggers doing nothing more than using their freedom of speech and freedom of the press (if you consider a blog a form of “the press”) may innocently step on the FTC’s tripwire. Nope, can’t say as I like this much, but for now I’m just going to take a “wait and see” stance and see how this plays out.
EDIT: An article at the Law.com Legal Blog Watch entitled, “The FTC Blog Rules: Overbroad or Overblown?“, seems to indicate that this is not as big an issue as I may have originally thought. That article gives a very good perspective on the situation. If I am reading correctly, it seems that as long as you disclose that you’ve received a freebie you’re probably okay (but please read the original article, because I’m probably over-simplifying that a bit, and in any case I am not a lawyer so you shouldn’t be looking to me for legal advice). I really don’t object to disclosure as long as as other bloggers are required to do it as well. It only looks bad if one blogger is admitting he gets an occasional freebie, while others are taking free stuff without disclosing it, leading you to believe that maybe they actually went out and purchased the product or book with their own money (and that therefore, their reviews are somehow more “objective”). I think that what the FTC is really wanting to weed out is sites that offer glowing reciews on a quid pro quo basis, where the blogger gets paid (either with money or with free stuff) for writing reviews in which “never is heard a discouraging word.” That is a different situation from a blogger that may accept occasional free stuff but then writes about it honestly. In some cases it may be hard to tell the difference (particularly if the reviewer genuinely likes a product or book) but hopefully what the FTC will be looking for is patterns — if every product or book is written about as if it’s the greatest thing ever, then one probably should wonder about that blogger’s integrity.
I will tell you this much up front. I have accepted freebies in the past, in two categories. One is books — publishers frequently send out review copies of books, and I’m not above reviewing one, once in a while. I did this 25 years ago when I was writing for a computer club newsletter and I’ll still very occasionally do it today. The difference today is I’m a lot more selective – usually I won’t even accept a book unless I think there’s at least some chance it will be interesting or useful to me. Just within the last week, I declined the opportunity to review a book because, frankly, I have a bias against both the company behind the product that is the subject of the book, and against the author of the book, due to (ironically enough) what I considered unethical practices by both.
To my way of thinking, once a book goes out to a reviewer it cannot be resold as new anyway, so why would the publisher want it back? At that point it has minimal value — sure, I suppose that I could resell it as a used book if I were so inclined, but I don’t ever do that. But more to the point, the fact that it’s a free book isn’t sufficient to cause me to write enthusiastic praise about it, particularly if the book is a real dog.
The other category is hardware. In the two cases where I have reviewed a hardware product since starting this blog, I have contacted the distributor of that product because it was something that I was interested in and because I thought the product was something more people should know about. I basically wanted to verify that the product worked as advertised. In one case the product was so interesting to me that what I had intended to be a one-post review turned into a seven-part series, and yet I still reported as honestly as I could on the subject (does anyone who read that series not get that I thought the documentation that came with the unit was deficient?). I didn’t say good things about the unit because I got to keep it after the review; instead I said good things about it because it works well and could solve a problem that many users have (getting VoIP to work through a difficult firewall setup).
The actual reason that I had become interested in that particular product was because I had recently tried (and failed) to help someone get a SIP connection working using a Linksys PAP2 on a connection that had to go through two routers. The double NAT setup just killed the audio in both directions, and the guy I was trying to help wasn’t inclined to spend a lot of time troubleshooting. I got to thinking how nice it would be to have a VoIP adapter available that uses the IAX protocol, which usually works quite well in that sort of situation. The Atcom AG-188N seemed like a good choice, but I didn’t have an immediate need for one, so I thought I’d try requesting a review sample. And when I received it, it was one of those happy situations where the unit actually delivered a lot more than I had expected (even if the documentation left something to be desired).
But would I ever write a bad review of a hardware product I had received for free? Oh, yes, I certainly would. Back in the early days of the TRS-80 computer, I had an early dot matrix printer (to this day I’m embarrassed to say what I paid for that thing – suffice it to say I could probably buy about ten laser printers today for what that underpowered dot-matrix printer cost back then). Anyway, a company that was advertising in one of the computer magazines was selling a device that, when inserted between the computer and the printer, was supposed to provide enhanced page-formatting capability (remember, back then most dot-matrix printers were LINE printers and had no text formatting capabilities whatsoever). I requested a review unit, and had it worked even reasonably well I would have reported that honestly. But frankly, the product sucked. Not only did it not work as advertised, it actually interfered with normal printing!
I reported that as accurately as I could, and advised people to avoid the unit. The manufacturer was very upset with me, to put it mildly, and wrote me a nasty letter demanding I return their product, which I was more than happy to do (who needs a piece of useless electronic junk lying around?), even though I was under no legal obligation to do so (I then wrote a followup article, noting the manufacturer’s petulance). Apparently they thought that by giving me a free unit, I could be bought – and they were wrong. Free or not, it still has to work as advertised.
There are two things I will not do. One is that I will not let someone else write a review for me and publish it in my blog. If and when I use someone else’s words, I clearly identify them (for example, I might include a list of product specifications from the manufacturer’s web site, but I will tell you the source, and usually include a link). The other is that I would never accept any payment to write a review. I guess I don’t consider being allowed to keep an under-$100 product as payment (now, if I were reviewing expensive wide-screen TV’s, that might be a different matter). Again, my reasoning is that once I’ve had the product in my possession, it can no longer be sold as new, and frankly I don’t want the bother and expense of having to ship it back, and I usually wouldn’t have requested it in the first place if I didn’t think it might be useful to me at some point. But think about it – if the only “compensation” I am getting is being allowed to keep the product, and the product is a piece of crap, what possible inducement would I have to say anything good about it?
I know that a few of the major print magazines make it a point to ship review products back to the manufacturer when they are finished with them, but they usually have a lot larger budgets than most bloggers (not to mention an in-house shipping department). But keep in mind that not all reviews you see in a magazine are necessarily the result of in-house testing. Some of them may be “work for hire”, which is to say, articles purchased from independent writers not directly affiliated with the magazine. In those cases, you (and perhaps the magazine publisher) have no way of knowing if the reviewer got to keep the product — or got any other form of compensation (beyond what the magazine paid) for writing the article.
Because the FTC and others are suddenly become concerned about this, I’m probably going to have to add a line to any future reviews, that says something like “Disclosure: The publisher let me keep the book after I was finished reviewing it”, or, “Disclosure: The distributor or manufacturer provided this product for review purposes and is not requiring me to return it” whenever that is the case. I’d suggest that other bloggers who accept books or products for review may want to do the same.
But what you really need to beware of are those bloggers that will publish “ghost written” reviews, or that actually accept money (or other compensation) to write positive reviews. The thing you are trying to detect is the “quid pro quo”, where there is an actual or implied understanding that the blogger will only write a positive review. One possible tipoff is when a review says only good things (nothing is perfect, after all), but on the other hand, keep in mind that it is possible that the reviewer was simply very impressed with the book or product (it does happen — sometimes a product really surprises you). Perhaps a larger clue is if the blog in question seems to deal almost exclusively in reviews and other “PR” type material — or has only one or two posts since creation, and they both just happen to be reviews! Of course, I would hope that (whenever possible) people would seek out multiple reviews before buying a product, and not just depend on a single blog posting.
Anyway, if anyone has a VoIP-related product they want reviewed, my conditions would generally be these: First, I don’t write reviews for hire, so expect an honest evaluation. Second, if the product costs under $100 (retail) and you decide you want it back after the review, I’m probably going to think you’re a little bit chintzy, but you’d best mention that fact up front. Third, in any case, if you want it back you’ll need to provide a prepaid UPS return shipping label (and be aware that I don’t live all that close to a UPS dropoff point, so it might be a little while before you get it back). Fourth, in the future I’ll probably have to add a disclosure line to my reviews, as mentioned above. And fifth, and most important, I don’t have the time or inclination to review anything and everything, so unless it’s something I have a particular interest in (such as a VoIP-related product) don’t be surprised if I decline — I do not want this to turn into a “review blog.”
David S. Isenberg, in his isen.blog published an article entitled Music and Market Failure, in which he extols the piano-playing ability of a local musician and notes that even though the guy is really good, he doesn’t seem to be able to draw a large crowd. But it’s his final parenthetical paragraph that struck a resonant chord with me:
[By the way, I got email yesterday suggesting that isen.blog was a tech blog, and shouldn't stray into other topics like music, fishing and politics. Especially politics. My response: too bad. If I want to write in public about music, or the people I love, or the a55h01es that run the country, or climate change, or the joys of fishing or flying or sailing or cooking, or about my kitty cats, I will. Don't like it? Don't read it, like billions and billions of other people.]
One of the reasons I pretty much gave up on blogging is because there were people out there would would never send a positive or constructive comment, but the moment I strayed “off-topic” (in their opinion) they would leave a comment or send me e-mail.
Here’s the thing you people need to understand. Whatever a blog owner chooses to write about is, by definition, “on topic” for his blog! Even if it’s not the subject matter he usually writes about, or the topic implied by the blog title.
I remember when I was much younger, I subscribed to an electronics magazine (it escapes me as to why, because my only talent with regard to electronics was letting the smoke out of resistors!). But some of the best writing in that magazine had nothing to do with electronics. There was a writer who was a ham radio operator and was funny as hell at times – his name was Tom Kneitel, ham callsign W4XAA (formerly K2AES), and a quick Google search notes that he passed away earlier this year – and some of his best writing only peripherally touched on Electronics. If his editors had told him to stay strictly “on topic”, the magazine would have been far less interesting.
So let this be fair warning – if by chance anyone still finds the occasional article I post on this blog, please be aware that in the future I may not be as topic-specific as I have been in the past. I echo Mr. Isenberg’s sentiments. I, like every other American, have my own views on many things, including politics and religion (and for anyone who has known me a long time, let me just say that my ideas about religion have undergone a radical shift in the last decade – but I get the distinct impression I’m NOT the only one!) and depending on the mood I am in, I may choose to share some thoughts with my readers. If you are the uptight sort that can’t stand seeing an “off-topic” post in a blog, then feel free not to read it!
In other words, it’s MY blog, dammit, and whatever I care to write about IS on topic in MY blog!
P.S. You know you’re getting old when you find that the people who influenced you as a kid are passing away. Tom Kneitel once (probably more than once) answered a letter from a reader that wanted to make some impractical modification to an electronic device by quoting Kneitel’s Law: “If that damn thing works at all, leave it alone.” That advice probably kept me from destroying a few pieces of electronic equipment before their time! They ought to add that one to those lists of famous quotations, in honor of Mr. Kneitel, one of the people who made reading such a joy for me in my early years.
Okay, seriously, I’m not that shocked that some people get paid to blog, even though I’m not. Some of us write blog posts when we feel we have something to say, and don’t want to be pressured to output so many words per day or week. Also, in some cases, we have other things we need to do. We may have health issues that preclude writing something every single day. And some of us (I think I fall into this category) are “Winter bloggers” – we write during the times when we are trapped inside, with nothing else to do (more than one of my blog posts has originated on a rainy or snowy day).
But for people who want to make a career of it, there are opportunities available. The question is, should one be paid for writing blog posts, and if so, how much? There is an interesting post entitled
Blogging Jobs: How Much Are Bloggers Paid to Blog? in Blog Herald that suggests that many bloggers are seriously undervaluing their services.
I have mixed feelings about this article. On the one hand, I hate to see any attempts to further commercialize the web. The Internet got its start with people sharing information freely, first in Usenet newsgroups and then on early Web pages. Then the corporations moved in and suddenly everything turned business-oriented.
I sort of resent this because in the old days, if I wanted to post an article every now and then to the comp.dcom.telecom newsgroup or some other online forum, nobody had any expectations that I was then obligated to produce a certain amount of output, or else risk having my posts relegated to obscurity (there was always the risk that a post would be rejected by the group moderator, but that was another issue altogether). However, when you write a non-professional blog such as this one, it seems that if you don’t have at least a post every day (and maybe more like three or four a day) you get very little notice in the blogosphere. But, few individuals can continuously output more than one post per day (especially if you consider only quality posts that are worth reading) and maintain that output over months or years. It might be easy at first, but eventually you begin regurgitating things you’ve read elsewhere, because you realize you’ve run out of original ideas for posts. That’s when burnout begins to set in.
So that is where you have the other side of the coin – when you have a blogger (and I’m definitely not talking about myself here) that can output a quality post every day – the sort of post that people want to read, and that causes them to come back to your web site every day and/or subscribe to your RSS newsfeed – that blogger needs some incentive to keep up the good work. And since researching and writing a quality web post takes time – time that could be spent in other income-producimng pursuits – it’s not unreasonable that star bloggers get compensated for what they do.
I read somewhere (and I wish I had saved the source of this article) that you actually need a minimum of five writers to produce a successful blog. If you have fewer, you simply will not be able to produce the volume of quality articles that keep people coming back to your site. Sure, you can start a blog with only one person, or maybe even two or three, but in time they are going to get burned out. Then you start picking subjects for posts simply because you feel you need something to write about, not because it’s something your readers would actually be interested in. I have been guilty of that and I finally decided that it wasn’t worth it – if I didn’t feel the least bit passionate about a subject, why should my readers? Perhaps better to fade into obscurity than to churn out uninteresting posts.
What I sometimes think that we really need is for someone to start a blog that would be the equivalent of the old Usenet newsgroups – a way that many people could contribute posts on an occasional basis, as the mood hits them, but where there is no expectation of future output. Where the articles may at times appear more like a conversation between the various authors, but at the same time the articles should contain quality information (or at least opinion supported by facts). Unfortunately, instead of getting something like that we get things like Twitter, which only allows messages so short that you can’t really say much of anything meaningful.
Then again, maybe I’m just an olde pharte trying to relive the past. But I have to say, I really miss the days when we contributed to newsgroups and online forums with no expectation of pay, and where there was at least some sense of community (you got to know a bit about the other regular participants in the forums you participated in, even if they were semi-anonymous). We didn’t need “social networking” sites where we might pick up a whole bunch of “friends”, not one of which we know the first thing about – the better Usenet forums were a community unto themselves. Nowadays, there’s a separate web service for everything, but none of them are tied together in the way the old Usenet groups were.
And my point is, in the old days, when you posted something in a Usenet group you would often get nearly instant feedback from other group participants. Post a great idea, or a meaningful message, and people would let you know right away. That was your reward for posting. Now people post in blogs, and unless the blog is large enough and well promoted enough to have an active user base (certainly not the case with most individual blogs, although there are a few notable exceptions), you generally get nothing other than perhaps an occasional comment. But if you write for one of the large blogs, you not only get lots of feedback from readers, you also get paid. Therefore, I can certainly understand why, at this point in time, some bloggers are starting to feel like they want to be paid for every word they write.
I’m just not that way, in part because my well of ideas runs dry so often these days. But maybe there’s an opportunity here for someone who can figure out how to make it work – modernize the old Usenet news concept, and make it into something that people today would use. And remember that part of that was that people could be as anonymous as they wanted to be, or as well-known as they wished to be – it was up to the person writing the post to reveal (or not reveal) something about themselves. I am totally turned off by “social networking” sites that ask you to reveal everything but your most intimate information before you can participate (for example, it’s nobody’s damn business when I was born!). Give us the proper balance between blogging in isolation, and the community feeling of Usenet news, and you may just have a winner on your hands!
Twitter has to be one of the most frustrating Internet services ever – some days it seems like it’s down more often than it’s up, and they limit you to 15 characters for a user name and 140 characters for a message. Still, it happens that on the old MI-Telecom mailing list (now defunct) and in this blog, much of what I have done is simply posting links of interest, often with a bit of extraneous commentary that few people seemed to appreciate. Well, with Twitter I can post the links and skip the commentary – in fact they don’t give you enough space to do any commentary! Which does not mean that I’m posting copious amounts of links, but every so often when I see something interesting I throw it in there. The other day I discovered a small Twitter client for the Mac (see this post in the CrabApple Forest blog for more info), which makes it a lot easier to post a quick tweet. So for those of you into Twitter, you can follow our Tweets.
This isn’t necessarily going to be a permanent thing (of course, nothing ever is) so it’s probably not worth setting up a Twitter account just to follow us, but if you are already using that infernal service, we’d invite you to add us, if you are so inclined. We promise NOT to tweet when we are eating lunch, or going to the bathroom, our some other aspect of our lives that you probably couldn’t care less about.
Thanks to David Hakala of VoIP News for including this not-so-humble blog as one of The Top 25 VoIP Blogs of 2007. There are several other great blogs included on that list, so if you want to keep up with what’s happening in the VoIP world, there’s your reading list. I see a few there that I need to add to my own RSS newsreader (by the way, if you happen to be using a Mac and OS X, Vienna is a great, free, and very configurable RSS/Atom newsreader).
Earlier this week, Jeff Pulver posted an analysis of two vastly opposite approaches to the regulation of VoIP on the state level. I’m including a few short excerpts below, but you really should go read the full article:
Last week two states – New Jersey and Missouri — took radically different approaches to VoIP regulation that could have far reaching consequences for the future of Internet communication.
New Jersey – helping consumers take advantage of new technologies. On the one hand, New Jersey’s Governor Jon Corzine (D) — joining a number of other forward looking states – signed into law new legislation prohibiting state regulation of many aspects of VoIP.
Missouri – stuffing tomorrow’s technologies into yesterday’s regulatory boxes. But last week the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) took a starkly different approach. After a year-long proceeding, the PSC found that Comcast’s fixed VoIP service, unlike Vonage’s service, is offering a telecommunications service in Missouri and therefore it is requiring Comcast to get certified by December 10th, or stop offering their VoIP service. …..
Implications: This decision is likely to set off a chain of reactions including a possible appeal, and if left in place, unleash a number of other state actions similarly adopting state regulation of fixed VoIP. These actions are like to raise rates for consumers and slow innovation as state seek to require Internet technologies to subsidize the 100 year old phone network through the application of state universal service contributions, and the application of state access charges. It would be like having the first automobiles subsidize horse and buggy’s, or e-mail subsidize postal mail, or PCs subsidize mainframes.
I again urge you to read Jeff’s complete post:
The Jeff Pulver Blog: VoIP in America: A Tale of Two States
The strange thing to me about this is that although the big phone companies often have their way with state legislators (because legislators sell their votes like cheap prostitutes, though often in non-obvious ways so they don’t run afoul of the poorly-enforced ethics rules), most of the larger phone companies are smart enough to realize that regulation on VoIP isn’t even in their best interest. The reason is that the vast majority of customers ditching landlines are going to cell phone service, not VoIP, and the day may come (and for some companies, already has come) when they will want to offer their own VoIP service.
My point is that I don’t think that the Missouri PSC type of regulation is something that the big phone companies have been pushing hard for – even if there might be a slight short-term gain (by making it more costly for the cable competitors to do business), in the long term it will hurt the phone companies as much as the cable companies. But I may be wrong – nobody ever said the big phone company executives were the brightest bulbs on the tree, and it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that they would go for the short-term gain, and leave it to their successors to deal with the resulting mess.
So far, Michigan has taken a “hands off” approach to VoIP, but that’s consistent with their growing reluctance to regulate any aspect of the telephone industry except for “PBLES” (the “Primary Basic Local Exchange Service” that few customers are aware exists, and that even fewer actually subscribe to). So the fact that Michigan doesn’t seem to want to regulate much of anything having to do with telephone service anymore probably works in the favor of fixed VoIP providers.
The interesting thing is, the cable companies in Missouri could probably avoid regulation altogether by offering an associated “nomadic” VoIP service (the type where you have a VoIP adapter that you can take with you and use anywhere you have a broadband connection). If, for example, they were to develop a VoIP adapter and system that incorporates the best of both worlds – the reliability of fixed service combined with the portability of nomadic service, that might put them into the realm of providers that the states are unable to regulate.
(How would such a system work? Perhaps something like this: Normally, it detects that you are at home, and uses the “reserved” VoIP bandwidth of your local cable company – in other words, it bypasses the public Internet and essentially uses the frequencies reserved for local phone service. Should you unplug the adapter and take it to another location served by the same cable company – for example, you take it to a neighbor’s home and plug it in there – it will still attempt to use the reserved VoIP bandwidth, if technically feasible. If for some reason it can’t use the reserved bandwidth, or if you take it to a place served by another provider, it falls back and uses the public Internet to connect you to your cable company’s switch. Oh, and to make it a true “nomadic” service, the cable company would have to offer the ability to get a number from a ratecenter of the customer’s choice, rather than one dictated by the geographic location of their home. It seems to me that if that type of system were used, there would then be no functional difference, at least from the customer’s perspective, between the cable company’s service and the “nomadic” VoIP service offered by other VoIP companies).
Somehow, I doubt the cable companies will develop and use an entirely new type of technology just to bypass the backward-thinking regulators in a particular state. It’s probably a lot cheaper for them to lobby the Missouri legislature to get a VoIP-friendly law passed.
Some of these comments were posted on my old blog, but after importing the messages to here I deleted that message because some of it doesn’t apply here.
I gave up on Blogger because, in my personal opinion, it is a royal PITA to work with for several reasons, not the least of which being that it is terribly slow. I could never figure out how it is that Google’s search servers can be so speedy and yet the servers that handle some of their other services appear to move at about the pace of an old TRS-80.
One other thing that really motivated me to finally do this was that last night I came across an heretofore undiscovered page that contained a whole bunch of unapproved comments on articles I had written. Here I was thinking that nobody was reading this blog, when the real problem was that Blogger buries the comment approval screen (or at least they used to) . Last night, for the very first time, I saw a notification saying there were 75 comments waiting to be approved! Even though some were over a year old, I did a quick run-through and approved those that looked pertinent, or at least not in some way problematic. I didn’t spend a lot of time on this, because I doubt many people will return to those old articles to read those comments. I apologize to those who left comments and may have felt ignored and unloved, but the fact is that I never knew they existed.
WordPress is at the very least a lot faster and more responsive, so I might actually take a notion to post something here every now and then (but please don’t expect daily posts, I just don’t have that in me anymore).
For a while I had thought I would not be able to move my old articles from Blogger to here, but a suggestion from Mark at WordPress support did the trick. And yes, WordPress actually answers their support emails. I don’t think I’ve ever received a reply on any message I ever sent to any division of the big “G” (no, I don’t mean General Mills).
However it may be that some things (particularly images) didn’t get imported from the old blog. If that is the case, I apologize, but since I doubt that any of you are going back to read those old articles, I’m not going to go back and modify them (I did touch a few of the most recent articles to edit them slightly for this blog, but I’m not going back beyond that). If you see anything that really needs attention, you can go to the Resources for Michigan Telephone Users page and look at the bottom of the page for a contact e-mail address.