Darryl Wilkinson Tag

Darryl Wilkinson’s Wishlist for 2018

2018 Wishlist--Net Neutrality

I originally had a couple of things on my Wishlist for 2018, including a desire to see the United States Congress take legislative action to overturn the recent FCC ruling that undermines the concept of “net neutrality.”

 

If you haven’t been paying attention to the whole net neutrality policy debacle, you should. It’s an important issue. No, considering how much we all rely on the internet—for everything from watching cat videos to telemedicine, education, research, and the dissemination of vital lifesaving and life-improving information—unrestricted and open access to Internet content is vital to our entire modern, technological society.

 

At its core, the concept of net neutrality is that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) should not be able to restrict access to, or reduce the speed of, your connection to certain content or websites. In other words, ISPs should be regulated as utilities, just like water, gas, and electric providers.

 

Some peopleespecially FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who voted along with two of his four other colleagues on the FCC to reverse the decision to regulate the Internet under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934argue that regulation of the Internet stifles innovation. That’s not what hundreds of small ISPs and millions of Americans told the FCC during the public-comment time period. But such is the way of politics and big-money lobbyists.

2018 Wishlist--Net Neutrality

I wouldn’t have devoted this much space to net neutrality had it not been for the following press release I received yesterday from the Consumer Technology Association (CTA):

 

CES 2018 Update: FCC Chairman Pai Will Not Be Attending

Arlington, VA, January 3, 2018 – The following quote is attributed to Gary Shapiro, president
and CEO, Consumer Technology Association (CTA) – owner and producer of CES®:

“Unfortunately, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is unable to attend
CES 2018. We look forward to our next opportunity to host a technology policy discussion
with him before a public audience.”

 

It’s not enough that Chairman Pai voted to overturn the previous regulations regarding ISPs’ handling of Internet content. The Chairman has now decided not to appear in a public forum and answer questions regarding the FCC’s egregious decision.

 

Evidently, he feels confident enough to make a decision that will affect the lives of tens of millions of Americans (and, potentially, billions of people around the world) against the vociferous opposition of millions of those very Americans—yet he doesn’t have the courage to appear at CES 2018 in front of the mere thousands of professionals in the industry likely to be most affected by the ruling.

 

So, yes, my No. 1 wish for 2018 is that Congress overrules the FCC on this decision. My second wish is that Chairman Pai feels enough public pressure that he decides to resign his position and move on to some other highly paid, lawyerly government-advisor position. Or perhaps his friends at Verizon (where he worked for two years in the early 2000s as, according to Wikipedia, “Associate General Counsel . . . where he handled competition matters, regulatory issues, and counseling of business units on broadband initiatives”) can find a position for him at that regulation-overburdened corporation.

—Darryl Wilkinson

During his 33 years of tenure in the consumer-electronics industry, Darryl Wilkinson
has made a career out of saying things that sound like they could be true about topics
he knows next to nothing about. He is currently Editor-at-Large for
Sound & Vision, and
sometimes writes things that can be read—if you have nothing else to do—elsewhere.
His biggest accomplishment to date has been making a very fashionable Faraday
cage hoodie.

Darryl Wilkinson’s Best of ’17

Best of 2017--Amazon Alexa

Voice control is no longer a spectacular, high-dollar, glitch-prone technology only geeky early-adopters would spend the money on and then tolerate the hiccups. It’s still not glitch-proof, but voice control has become mainstream thanks to a number of big-name companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon.

 

It’s Amazon, though—in large part thanks to its enormous financial and marketing resources—and its Alexa Voice Service that’s brought voice control out of the maker spaces and into people’s homes. So, I have to say that Alexa integration into so many extremely affordable devices is at the top of my Best of ’17 list.

 

That’s not to say that having Alexa as part of wireless speakers, streaming TV boxes, puck-shaped squawk boxes, clock radios, and whatever else it’s being thrown into is a world-changing development. In my house, getting the latest weather forecast is the No. 1 thing I use Alexa for.

 

While I’ll admit to playing a lot of Jeopardy with my daughter (but only enough to rank it in the Top 20% of uses), the No. 2 activity I use Alexa for is a two-parter—and both parts involve my theater room. Part A is to turn on/off or dim the lights in the theater. Part B is to fire up the system for the particular TV-watching activity we’re going to enjoy. This might be, for example, watching a recording on the Dish Hopper 3 DVR or watching a 4K movie streamed from Netflix using the Roku Streaming Stick+ I just installed.

Best of 2017--Echo Dot

Early in 2017, Control4 made it possible to integrate an Alexa-enabled device (I use an Echo Dot in the theater room) into its automation systems. So instead of pushing a single button on a remote control to initiate a sequence of commands, now I say a single phrase: “Alexa, turn on Watch Dish!” or “Alexa, turn on Watch Netflix!”

 

Before you begin to think that’s a trivial, lazy-ass use-case for Alexa, I should explain the scenario. Most evenings, our family eats dinner in the theater room. It’s not easy fumbling for a light switch or a remote control when your hands are otherwise occupied carrying a plate, silverware, a drink, and (if we remember) a napkin. It’s a convenient timesaver that also makes the theater spill-resistant. (Though not, as we’ve experienced several times, spill-proof.)

 

Voice integration isn’t a control panacea. There are more activities that don’t lend themselves to voice control than ones that do. Alexa integration, as far as I know, doesn’t have any earth-shattering consequences, either. No one, for instance, is doing brain surgery using an Echo Dot. Although nothing in the home-entertainment world is all that earthshaking when you get right down to it, Alexa and the overall integration of voice control is about as close to a rumble as it gets in AV—which is why Alexa integration is my pick for the Best of 2017.

—Darryl Wilkinson

During his 33 years of tenure in the consumer-electronics industry, Darryl Wilkinson
has made a career out of saying things that sound like they could be true about topics
he knows next to nothing about. He is currently Editor-at-Large for
Sound & Vision, and
sometimes writes things that can be read—if you have nothing else to do—elsewhere.
His biggest accomplishment to date has been making a very fashionable Faraday
cage hoodie.

Cookies for the Cable Guy Pt. 2

rural Internet

Of all the talk about the “digital divide” in this country, the divide most people think of is the one separating the broadband “haves” and “have nots”—in other words, the issue of people’s access to the hardware, wires, broadcast frequencies, and ISPs for high-speed broadband service.

 

What I’ve yet to see generally discussed is the difference in mindset between the “haves” and “have nots” about the Internet. The folks in Silicon Valley have done an incredible job of marketing the idea that technologyand, especially, the Internetcan solve all of humanity’s problems. As a result, the Internet (and its highly contagious “Internet of things”) has managed to seep into every aspect of what we think of as modern life.

 

For the most part, the broadband “haves” are on board with the concept of ubiquitous—and sometimes mandatory—high-speed Internet access. But those of us slumming in the “have not” digital dustbowl don’t care if our garbage can has a voice-controlled lid and a built-in scanner that indicates whether a piece of trash is recyclable or not. We couldn’t care less about cutting the cord and using one of the plethora of streaming video services.

 

But it’s a different story when something as important as education assumes the student has access to fast Internet.

 

My daughter’s high school issues laptops to every student, and has replaced the pounds of printed textbooks with access to virtual ones. It makes the students’ backpacks much lighterbut for kids who have irregular Internet access at home, it piles on significant amounts of stress when they try to finish homework or study for an upcoming test using an obstinate (and sometimes hostile) Internet connection.

 

TV shows, movies, and commercials often portray modern life as mostly homogenous with the built-in assumption that everyone has the basics—such as running water, electricity, TV, some form of transportation, a cellphone, and Internetand we tend to create our real-world expectations accordingly. The educators who decided to rely on virtual textbooks are no exception. But—NEWSFLASH—high-speed broadband Internet isn’t ubiquitous yet. Until it is, we all need to be careful not to be deluded by a mindset that naively assumes it is.

 

All of which brings us back to chocolate chip cookies and the irrepressible excitement I described in Part One. After 10 years of suffering in the neglected digital backwoods of America, we were going to be brought up to speedliterallywith the rest of the 21st century.

 

The installers were coming to finish connecting a fiber-optic line to a new modem that would give us near-gigabit download speeds. Whereas our previous fussy Internet access caused homework and studying to take much longer than it should have, now the only thing holding back my daughter is her typing speedwell, that and the ability of her mind to absorb and comprehend the information. (As a bonus, she’s also now able to binge-watch old episodes of The Office.)

 

Although my family has finally made it out of the digital ghetto, there are still millions of good people struggling to keep up. Proposing a hardware/infrastructure solution to bringing broadband Internet to the underserved areas is beyond the scope of this piece. On the other hand, until the underserved-access issue is taken care of, I strongly suggest that the majority of the population that does have reliable, fast Internet avoid being lulled into a false sense of digital equality.

 

Once the digital divide has been bridged, the gaming and streaming-video services will have access to a market that’s currently untapped. More importantly, who knows what kind of discoveries, inventions, businesses, stories, and visions of the future might come about from those additional eyes and ears having unhindered access to what is, at the moment, the ultimate tool in our technological tool chest? I’m pretty sure that whatever it is, it’ll be even better than homemade chocolate-chip cookies.

—Darryl Wilkinson

During his 33 years of tenure in the consumer-electronics industry, Darryl Wilkinson
has made a career out of saying things that sound like they could be true about topics
he knows next to nothing about. He is currently Editor-at-Large for
Sound & Vision, and
sometimes writes things that can be read—if you have nothing else to do—elsewhere.
His biggest accomplishment to date has been making a very fashionable Faraday
cage hoodie.

Chocolate Chip Cookies for the Cable Guy

fiber optic rural

Like many teenagers, my 17-year-old daughter can be prone to doing crazy things. A few weeks ago, for example, she baked a couple batches of chocolate-chip cookies from scratch. That may not seem so weird at first—but she baked them to give to the electric company’s cable-installer guys after they’d installed our new fiber-optic Internet connection. She even wrote thank you notes explaining how excited she was to be able to finally rely on using the Internet at home.

 

In all my years in the consumer-electronics industry, I can’t say I’ve ever heard of anyone being so thrilled about the prospect of an installer coming to their house—and, yet, there’s my daughter, a giggling, screaming installation-crew fangirl.

 

To put things into perspective, we live in an area just to the north of the middle of nowhere, tucked away anonymously in the bowels of flyover country. We’re not totally uncivilized. We have indoor plumbing, electricity, and even a landline telephone connection. The power goes out often enough that we have flashlights stashed around the house, plus battery-powered lanterns for those times when the house is dark for an extended period.

 

The phone connection, however, has such poor sound quality and reliability that Alexander Graham Bell is embarrassedly rolling over in his grave. Adding insult to injury, the phone-line repair guy once actually laughed out loud when I asked him about the possibility of getting DSL service. (It turns out we’re the very last phone connection on the line.)

 

When it comes to cellphone service, we’re more likely to see a ghost in the house than we are to see even one bar of signal strength on our phones—regardless of the provider. Cable TV is something we and our neighbors don’t talk about because as far as we’re concerned, it doesn’t exist.

 

For rural families who’d like to have a taste of what 20th-century communication and entertainment technology is like (forget about this century’s offerings), the only solution is to subscribe to satellite for both TV and Internet. Until a couple of weeks ago, I had at least one neighbor who only had satellite TV and drove to town when they needed to check their email.

 

I’ve had satellite TV for years, going back to well before I decided to live on the frayed edge of the technological grid, and I’ve never had a major complaint. Satellite Internet, on the other hand, was an unknown for me before moving here from the big city a decade ago. Had I stayed there, I wouldn’t bear the deep psychological scars satellite Internet usage has left on me . . .

 

I won’t bore you with the technicalities of why satellite broadband Internet sucks. It’s not the providers who are the problem. It’s the nature of the technology and implementation involving high latency and transmission of packets, and some other stuff I don’t care to understand. As a result, websites were often annoyingly slow to load—even with download speeds that averaged 10-12 Mbps—and access to corporate VPN servers (or using a subscription VPN service) became well-nigh impossible.

 

Our data cap of 15 GB/month was a particularly distressing feature. (To be fair, satellite ISPs aren’t the only ones that impose data caps.) With app and OS updates, connected device updates, file downloads, and a movie or two, you can blast through 15 GB of data in just a couple of weeks—and we usually hit our limit by the middle of each month. Once we passed that threshold, our access speeds would drop to near dialup levels for the rest of the month—leaving us to beg for scraps of leftover Internet in the nearest grocery-store parking lot.

—Darryl Wilkinson

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Darryl’sand his daughter’sadventures with fiber-optic Internet.

During his 33 years of tenure in the consumer-electronics industry, Darryl Wilkinson
has made a career out of saying things that sound like they could be true about topics
he knows next to nothing about. He is currently Editor-at-Large for
Sound & Vision, and
sometimes writes things that can be read—if you have nothing else to do—elsewhere.
His biggest accomplishment to date has been making a very fashionable Faraday
cage hoodie.