Canadian net neutrality debate misses the point (so far).

The Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunication Commission (CRTC) will wade this week into the muddy waters of net neutrality. The familiar voices of industry and privacy/tech advocates have started the predictable debate, but it seems that – in true Canadian fashion – both sides are missing the boat.

Canadian Debate heats up

Canadian Debate heats up

Net neutrality is, at its heart, a debate about whether or not Internet service providers (ISPs) should be able to control its customers’ Internet usage, setting limits on how much of certain activities are allowed, and even prioritize sites or ads that come from sponsors of the ISP.

The debate has raged in the US for a few years now (see the condensed version here) but has only heated up earnest recently in Canada.

The debate has become increasingly shrill on both sides, with ISPs winning the disingenuous rhetoric award thus far. In fact, as Michael Geist accurately points out, industry is even trying to claim throttling is required for their very survival – and doing so after recently claiming that throttling of this nature is not even possible.

What is unclear to me about this debate is why the loudest voice from both sides isn’t simple disclosure.

I use the Internet at home to stream HD movies from Xbox live, to backup several gigabytes worth of data, to play video games – collectively making me easily the biggest consumer of bandwidth on my block. So why shouldn’t I pay more than others using the same service, but using it less?

If my ISP wants to throttle how much of their bandwidth I hog, why shouldn’t they be able to do so?

But if they’re going to charge me more or limit my access, they better damn well tell me before I ever sign a contract or get a bill from them. Full disclosure, in language that even the worst luddite can understand, should be an ironclad requirement of allowing any of these measures.

If my ISP tells me they’re going to cut me off at 5Gb of downloads a month, that’s fine – I’ll find a new one. If they want to charge me more because I am such a hog, that’s great – I’ll look around to see if there is a cheaper option for me.

But the cornerstone of this policy has to be openness. The first time an ISP tries to sneak in a restriction or an extra fee, there must be harsh and immediate consequences.

In a debate that is becoming increasingly heated and polarizing, this seems to me to be a solution that should please both sides.

Is app convergence the next major tech trend?

I stumbled across two, unrelated services that seem to be harbingers of one of the biggest tech trends in the next few years.

Digsby - social media and communications convergence

Digsby – social media and communications convergence

The first is an app called Digsby that is a handy little tool that looks a lot like a standard instant messenger (IM) interface. What makes it unique is the fact that it integrates MSN Messenger, AIM, ICQ, Yahoo and others. I’ve seen that much before, but this great little tool also monitors social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn. It even allows you to monitor Gmail, Hotmail and other email accounts – including standard pop3 or imap accounts.

I’ve got accounts set up on most of these services, so people can pretty much reach me any way they want, now. Surprisingly, despite all this, my best efforts, and my abrasive personality, I still have people who want to call me. For that, I’ve got a home phone, a business phone, a personal cell phone and a work cell.

Which is where Google Voice comes in. With the new GV service you get one local number that you can answer on any of those phones. The service is still in development, but early reviews are suggesting that, aside from a few bugs, it works pretty much as advertised.

The staggered and uneven transition from MySpace to Facebook to Twitter – even among those who aren’t especially tech savvy – makes a pretty good case for these kinds of convergence apps. More and more services are being made available, quite often for free, and people seem more inclined than ever to give them a try.

But they’re not all moving to the same place, or at the same pace. So while I might be on Facebook, I’ve left behind friends at MySpace – and some colleagues on LinkedIn may still not be using Twitter.

As more services emerge offering slightly different features, the number of accounts and websites that I need (want, I suppose) to monitor is growing. The ability to communicate regardless of the sites and tools my friends and colleagues use is a very attractive one.

The next big thing? Maybe.

A very handy group of tools and services? Definitely.

All politics is local – and now it’s social too

If there is a politician or elected official in the Western world who thinks that they don’t need to be aware of social media after the recent Iranian elections, I’d be quite surprised. Its true that many politicians are (wilfully?) ignorant of technology and social media, but even the most ardent luddite cannot help but notice the opportunities presented by these tools.

There is an outside chance that even after President Obama brilliantly displayed the value of social media in his campaign some politicians might still have not seen the value of these tools. The way that social media has shed light on recent Iranian elections, however, should leave no room for doubt with anyone who thinks they should hold elected office.

In an election of questionable legitimacy that has lead to unquestionably brutal police tactics, the one tool that was effectively able to draw world attention was social media. Twitter saw thousands of posts right from Tehran, YouTube ended up with saddeningly graphic videos, blogs were posted by those who voted and were intimidated by state police thugs – and all over the world minds were changed and hearts were won over.

In real-time, supporters of Mir Hussein Mousavi were able to show what was happening in a visceral way that allowed people all over the world to form deeply-held views on events that they would likely have never heard of otherwise.

So what is the lesson in all this for candidates running for office in our communities, thousands of miles away? Simply, it is that they ignore these tools at their own peril – or at least that of their campaign. And that the availability of immediate and free tools with which to communicate to supporters are finally here.

Imagine the power of being able to deliver a quick message to all of your supporters in response to a negative ad or news item. And wouldn’t it help to significantly improve event attendance if there was a way to remind supporters a few hours before an event? What if you could establish a dialogue with potential voters that allowed you to get your message out, and that was also monitored by local media.

While these are just a few of the potential uses of social media in election campaigns – keep in mind that these tools are largely free. There are numerous ways to set up a free blog, and Twitter, Facebook and YouTube don’t charge anything for accounts.

The only downside? Time.

For a candidate or campaign that wants to make the most of these tools, it is almost too late to start once the campaign is on. All of these tools are based on electronic relationships, and just like in the real world, it is to late to start cultivating them when you need them.

So in the end, the real lesson here is that for candidates considering running for office at some point in their lives, there is no time like the present to get started using social media.

Google+ ‘Circles’ its killer new feature?

Google+ CirclesAside from a cleaner interface with no games and ads, the differences between Facebook and Google+ are not all that significant. Except for Google’s ‘circles’.

Google+ is set up so that when you add ‘friends’ you also assign them to one or more ‘circles’. That means you can categorize people into friends, family, colleagues, people you don’t know but still want to follow and so on.

It’s a mildly handy feature, until you want to post something that you don’t want everyone to see. Some of the most obvious applications:

  • teachers who want to be friends with their students but keep their private life quiet
  • coaches who are friends with the kids they coach but who also want to keep their private life seperate
  • kids (or adults) who want to post items for their friends to see but not their parents
  • anyone who wants to converse with their colleagues from work, but not share everything with them

These are just a few of the ways this great feature could be the ‘killer’ feature that catapults Google+ into the mainstream very quickly.

I now understand Apple a little better (but I like it even less)

Apple: Sure hard to loveI confess to being a Windows person since ver 3.0 (1990!) but the scarcity of Windows Mobile devices (in Canada, anyway) has pushed me to consider going over to the dark side. I finally broke down and went to the only Apple store in our city (Edmonton) where the store manager told me that to buy a phone I would need to make an appointment. Though it was only 7pm they were not able to book an appointment until the next day.

So I have to ask: is this the absolute height of arrogance, or am I entirely off base? Is this really the way this company is run?

Now I’ve heard the arguments in favour of Apple products in the past, and though I disagreed with them I at least understood them. What has always made me wonder about the adulation some people show the Apple corporate machine is the disregard Apple seems to show their customers.

I’m still not sure if I’ll go back and try an iPhone, but there’s no question Apple makes themselves hard to love.

Hockey is more than a game

Writing about anything more personal than my take on new technology isn’t something I’m real comfortable with. I tend to avoid anything more personal than bragging about my kids – or complaining about them, as the case may be.

But something touched my life last summer that stuck with me, changed my perspective, and inspired me to try be a better father, husband and coach.

A good friend of mine passed away while on holidays with his family at age 40. The story was covered in the media a few times, in part because Jason Turner was a hockey coach, and an overwhelming number of his hockey family came out to remember him.

But what those stories didn’t capture was just what an amazing person he was.

I was his assistant on the last team Jay coached – the ball hockey Pandas. The team was made up mostly of kids who didn’t know each other, and largely of kids who were new – VERY new – to hockey and sports in general. Our oldest sons played together on the team, and despite their lack of success on the scoreboard, Jay did everything he could to make sure every one of those kids had fun and learned something about teamwork, competition and character.

One of my fondest memories was when he stopped his endless cheering in the middle of a particularly bad game, turned to me for a second with a pained look on his face and quietly whispered, “Oh man, we’re just awful,” – and then in the next second turned back towards his team (the huge smile right back on his face) and started loudly encouraging his players again. He was a tireless and fierce competitor, but he was also the most loved coach I’ve ever seen. He quickly earned the respect of his players, and he used that loyalty to inspire them to push themselves to perform their absolute best. He hated to lose, but he loved his players more.

And that is why I love hockey.

Jason’s son (the goalie in the black KC jersey) and family are featured in the 2011 Canadian World Junior hockey theme song (about 3 minutes in). The Edmonton Journal and Paul Brandt did an absolutely amazing job of this video.

The game is unquestionably fun to play, but it is so much more than that. Hockey gives players a chance to learn what it means to come together and achieve far more as a team than they could ever have done apart. It teaches them how much they can accomplish when they strive for excellence and persevere. How hard work can overcome even the tallest obstacles. It gives players of all ages a chance to bond in locker rooms and on benches where support for team mates can be profoundly meaningful. At it’s best, it can teach respect, courage, strength, discipline and even love.

And that’s why Jay was remembered so fondly by his hockey family.

His legacy will live on in his wife and children who show strength on a daily basis that is humbling to everyone around them.

But it lives on as well in the many coaches, parents and players whose lives he touched. I know his example inspires me to work harder, care more about those around me, and to try and appreciate every moment I am given with loved ones.

I don’t always succeed – far from it. But even when coach Jay looks down and grimaces at how awful I’m doing, I hope he can also see how much he inspires me to at least keep trying my best – and how happy to I am to know he’s still cheering for me.

Apple, net neutrality, now Starbucks. Is the internet at risk of becoming a vast wilderness where all anyone can see is the view from the highway?

Starbucks' inadvertantly wades into the net neutrality debate.I have to confess, I’ve sometimes lumped the net neutrality folks in with the tinfoil hat crowd. At first I wasn’t convinced net neutrality was really that big of a deal, and even if it was, I generally give corporations more credit than most who comment on these issues online.

But now I’m not so sure.

With Starbuck’s announcement earlier this week of a proprietary digital network available in their stores, I’m thinking it might be time to fire up my own tinfoil hat.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Starbuck’s network is a great offering for its customers, but it further fragments an internet that is becoming more and more limiting.

If you own an iPhone or an iPad, and especially if you develop for them, you’ve already seen how limiting these platforms are. If you don’t completely adhere to all of Apple’s often arbitrary developer rules (and sometimes even if you do) you’ll end up with an app that languishes in the wilderness because it’s not allowed in the app store. As a user of these devices, obviously you can use safari to go anywhere on the web, but I can count on one hand the number of users I know who use the devices that way.

Then there’s Google’s recent loss to the telecos  collaboration with Verizon in the US on wireless internet. Sure they came out swinging in defense of an open, unbridled internet – but only if you stick to wired networks and don’t venture out of the house onto a wireless carrier.

Apple continues to limit their customer's freedom.With Starbuck’s digital network yet another huge company is limiting access to web content, this time based on physical location rather than device platform. Their new network offers a range of content supplied by their partners and tailored to your geographic location, but it’s only available inside their stores.

I’m not entirely sure this is a bad thing – at least at this point. Apple is right when they say their apps make their devices more secure than, say, Android phones. And Starbucks offers free internet – which is awesome – so adding additional and unique content to that offering might not be anything to get upset over.

But it’s certainly a trend worth watching, since I love the view from the highway, but at some point if you can’t hike into the wilderness anymore we’ll all regret it.

Unfortunate ad placement (and of a great product, to boot!)

I don’t think this is quite what BioWare had in mind when they agreed to sponsor this page.
Unfortunate ad placement

Body checking study misses the mark.

kronwall_lays_out_havlat_large[1] A new survey has reopened an old hockey debate about whether young kids should be able to bodycheck. CBC ran quite a thorough report on the University of Calgary study, which found that kids are three times as likely to be injured or suffer a concussion if they play with body contact. The study was based on a comparison between Alberta peewee players, who play with body contact, and Quebec kids who don’t.

The study is accurate in what it reports, but it shows a profound lack of understanding of hockey in what it chose to study in the first place. Very few hockey coaches argue for hitting at 11 years old for the sake of hitting. And, frankly, even an old goon like me has to wonder at the sanity of those who do.

Rather the reason they want kids to learn how to hit at this age – or even younger – is because they’re too young to seriously hurt each other at this age. An 11 year has the strength and size to hit pretty hard, but nothing that generally causes any serious, lasting damage.

But while that may be debatable, and the number of concussions reported in the survey seem to at least partially prove that argument wrong, the rest of the argument goes that you don’t want 5’10”, 170lb kids learning to hit each other. At older ages, with that size and strength, if you don’t already know how to give and safely receive a hit – as well as having already learned good habits like keeping your head up – you’re likely to get very seriously hurt playing full contact hockey.

Studies like this don’t help the debate at all because they inject partial data without really looking at all parts of a fairly serious issue. Does allowing young kids to hit prevent future injuries? Do kids who learn how to hit at a young age get injured less as they get older? Are those injuries less severe? Or do kids who play full contact starting at a young age just have more injuries throughout their careers.

Unfortunately this study will ignite a lot of debate on the issue, but won’t do much to help hockey coaches and leagues figure out how to keep their kids safe playing what is an inherently dangerous game.