Ninja Web Development

Posted by TechyDad on November 20, 2014 under Blogging

I might be a bit quiet here for awhile.  Don’t worry, nothing’s wrong.  I just have a freelance project that is taking up my free time.  So while I’m MIA deep in code, I thought I’d tease something else I’ve been working on.  You see, I’ve wanted to pick up more freelance work and thought it would be a good idea to have a "Hire Me For Freelance" page.  Then, I was browsing through some domain names and decided to make a whole new website for freelance work.  So here is the "coming soon" page for TechyDad: Ninja Web Developer.  (The .ninja domain was too good to pass up.)

I apologize for the short post and the lack of other content.  Here’s hoping that next week I’ll have more time to blog.  Until then… *drops a ninja smoke bomb and disappears back into the code*

NOTE: The "ninja working at desk" image is by hector gomez and is available from OpenClipArt.org.

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ROBOT ON A COMET!!!

Posted by TechyDad on November 14, 2014 under Space, Technology

Over the past ten years, a small craft named Rosetta has been travelling through the cold, dark reaches of space.  It swung past Earth three times and Mars once before it reached its destination: Comet 67P.  In early August, Rosetta performed an extremely tricky feat.  It entered into orbit around the comet.  You might think that this shouldn’t be too hard, but comets aren’t very massive.  Too much thrust one way or another and Rosetta would have gone tumbling away from the comet and into space.  Two days ago, though, Rosetta topped this already incredible achievement.  It detached a lander – Philae – which descended to the comet’s surface making it the first craft ever to land on a comet.  (There was a mission called Deep Impact which "landed" something on a comet, but that was a chunk of copper which was purposefully impacted with the comet to examine the result.)

The landing didn’t go perfectly.  Philae was supposed to touch down, deploy a harpoon to reel itself in, and then use ice drills to secure itself into place.  Instead, the harpoon didn’t fire and Philae bounced. Twice.  It landed on its side near a cliff.

Still, this is amazing.  This comet is 317 million miles from Earth.  At that distance, communication between the lander and Earth takes 28 minutes.  This meant that mission control couldn’t steer the lander itself.  Imagine trying to drive a car if there was a 28 minute delay between pushing on the brakes, turning the wheel, or hitting the gas and that action actually happening.  This meant that the lander had to land itself without any help from anybody.  This is a robot that we build landing on a comet.

This amazing feat just blows my mind.  To think that not that long ago, mankind thought of comets as evil, supernatural omens.  Now we have the technological capability to launch a spacecraft, fly by planets multiple times, enter into orbit with, and then land on a comet.  I feel like Benny from The Lego Movie.  Only instead of shouting "SPACESHIP!", I want to run around shouting "ROBOT ON A COMET!!!"

Just to close, it gets even better, "robot on a comet" has sent back photos of said comet.

Welcome_to_a_comet

Those rocks that we here on Earth are seeing are over 300 million miles away and are a window into how the solar system looked billions of years ago.  Sometimes, you just have to sit back and be amazed by what we are capable of, technologically.

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Network Neutrality Shouldn’t Be A Political Issue

Posted by TechyDad on November 12, 2014 under Internet, Politics

On Monday, President Barack Obama expressed his support for strong Network Neutrality protections in the form of classifying ISPs under Title II.  Soon after this, Senator Ted Cruz – a member of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet – tweeted the following:

This for me upset for many reasons.  Mostly because it seemed like Senator Cruz was opposing Network Neutrality simply because President Obama supported it.  In other words, he is basing his stance on political spite, not on actual understanding of the issues at hand.  One of the problems is that the definition of Network Neutrality has gotten muddied with other gripes against cable ISPs and by repeated statements by opponents misstating the intent of Network Neutrality.  Let’s first look at what Network Neutrality really means.

What Network Neutrality Is

In short, Network Neutrality means that two data requests of the same type will be treated the same.  So if I request a video from YouTube, a second video from Netflix, and a third video from an online VOD service that my ISP runs, all three videos should download at the same speeds.  Yes, there might be some variance due to the speeds of the originating server or whether a router along the way is slowing traffic down, but my ISP won’t intentionally make one service’s speed faster than another service of the same type.

This History of Network Neutrality

This is nothing new.  In fact, this is how the Internet has been run since its inception.  Recently, however, a few big ISPs decided that this needed to change.  One impetus was that the ISPs saw that Internet companies were making a lot of money in a method that utilized the ISPs’ connections without directly paying the ISPs.  One of the first to publicly state this was the then-CEO of AT&T, Ed Whitacre.  He said that companies like Google, Yahoo!, and Vonage shouldn’t "use the pipes for free."  Of course, this ignored that Internet companies pay their own ISPs for bandwidth.  Those ISPs, in turn, either pay upstream ISPs or – if they are top-level ISPs – have peering agreements with other ISPs regarding payment for traffic flow.  On the other side of the equation, customers pay the ISPs for access.  The ISPs then either have peering agreements or pay upstream ISPs who do.  Nobody is getting a free ride.

Ed Whitacre, wasn’t dissuaded, though.  He wanted Internet companies to pay AT&T for the right to access AT&T’s customers while collecting money from their customers for the right to access the Internet companies’ websites.  In other words, AT&T would get paid twice for the same traffic.  This made as much sense as AT&T trying to charge a pizzeria for making money when AT&T customers phoned in orders because the pizzeria got their phone service from Verizon and not AT&T.

There was a second reason for this desire to get paid by Internet companies, though.  As Internet video services such as Netflix began to take off, the ISPs – many of whom also provided cable TV service – felt threatened.  If people could get all of their video entertainment from Netflix, YouTube, etc., why would they need to subscribe to cable?  Some people figured this out and blazed a trail as cord cutters.  The ISPs responded by calling for there to be a fast lane – for people who would pay for extra-special priority access – and a slow lane for everyone else.  Internet video companies would need to pay this extra money or find their service unusable.  Of course, this would raise the price of the service and thus would help to make the cable ISPs’ TV offerings seem better by comparison.  In addition, the ISPs instituted service caps and overage fees.  This was to keep people from being able to download too much video without needing to pay more.  Again, using Internet video too much would make your bill go up so (they hoped) people would stop watching Internet video as "too expensive" and would go back to cable TV which didn’t have these restrictions.

What Network Neutrality Isn’t

Caps and overages are a bit of a detour, however.  While a case might be made that applying them to one service (Internet video) while not applying them to another service that financially benefits the ISP (cable TV) is a neutrality issue, this isn’t the biggest complaint.  That is reserved for the fast lanes – prioritizing one service over another based on payment.

But isn’t prioritization just good network management?  Should ISPs be required by law to give an e-mail message the same priority as a video conference?  Of course not.  ISPs would be free to allow e-mail packets to slow down a bit while the video conferencing packets whizzed by.  What the ISPs couldn’t do is make packets from one e-mail service slower than packets from another e-mail service or make one video conferencing service slower than another one.  In other words, they couldn’t form fast lanes with toll access.

Another complaint is that Network Neutrality would legislate away the ISPs offering speed tiers.  Currently, you can pay one amount for normal speed Internet access and pay more to get faster speeds.  Wouldn’t Network Neutrality do away with this?  Again, the answer is no.  Remember, we aren’t measuring the speed of Netflix to me versus Netflix to you.  We are measuring the speed of Netflix to you versus the speed of a competing video service to you.  If I pay for faster speeds than you have, I’ll get Netflix faster than you would, but we would both get it at the same speeds as we would get any other video service (again, at least as far as the ISP can control).

Getting back to Senator Ted Cruz, is Network Neutrality Obamacare for the Internet.  Well, I don’t want to get into a huge debate over Obamacare – its pros and cons, whether it should be kept as is, improved, or repealed entirely.  So let’s just look at what Senator Cruz meant by his statement.  For those opposed to Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act represented a government takeover of health care coverage.  What was once decided by free market insurance companies, they contend, is now decided by big government agencies.  Thus, Mr. Cruz is envisioning Network Neutrality as the government forcing ISPs into a course of action instead of letting the free market dictate what action they took.

There are two problems with this.  First of all, there is no free market.  Most places in the United States have only one or two wired broadband ISPs available to them.  I only have one by me.  If I don’t like this ISP’s actions or prices or caps, my options are to 1) stay with the ISP or 2) go without Internet.  If I didn’t like my health care coverage, I could jump to a different insurer.  Yes, you could argue about details like coverage levels and pricing, but insurance companies have competition in their marketplace.  ISPs do not.  Even Comcast’s CEO stated that they don’t compete with Time Warner Cable (who they want to merge with).  At most, a cable ISP and a phone company ISP will share some territory.  There is no true free market – only monopolies and duopolies.  Under these conditions, the ISPs know they can do whatever they want without fear of punishment from their customers fleeing to the competition.

Secondly, Network Neutrality isn’t a government takeover of the ISPs.  It is simply the government saying "you can’t play favorites and destroy the Internet just to make a bigger profit."  We have regulations for a lot of things.  Many of these regulations have good reasons behind them.  We prevent food companies from just tossing whatever they want in their food (regardless of how edible it is) and claiming different ingredients on the label.  We keep toy companies from marketing unsafe products.  We prevent companies from marketing products as cures when there is no proof that it is one.  In none of these cases is the government taking over the business and telling it what to do.  The government is simply setting the boundaries.  "You can market anything you want, but if you call your product a Cure For The Common Cold, be ready to back it up with hard data."

What Would Title II Do?

If the FCC classified ISPs under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, it would give them the legal authority to stop ISPs from slowing down competing services or from giving priority to services that pay the ISP extra.  It is true that Title II usually comes with rate regulation components, but the government can exempt the ISPs from this portion while still holding them accountable for the rest.

Is Government Mandated Network Neutrality Ideal?

I’ll admit that I’m not the biggest fan of government mandated Network Neutrality.  I do fear giving the government extra powers which might get twisted and abused later on.  However, the ISPs refuse to "play nice" online and have repeatedly shown that they will do anything to wring more money from anyone and everyone they can – even if it means destroying the open playing field of the Internet to do so.  We can’t count on the companies to police themselves and we can’t count on a "free market" to keep the companies in line.  Customers can’t sue the ISPs to keep them in line since the ISPs’ legal departments would crush any individual with legal fees (or would just settle quietly to prevent a legal precedent from being set).  The only entity capable of keeping the ISPs from abusing their monopoly/duopoly positions is the government.  The government has a history of taking on monopolies to keep them from abusing their powers and hurting consumers.

Why Network Neutrality Shouldn’t Be Political

I get it.  Small government advocates don’t want the government to expand.  They don’t trust that the government won’t abuse any new powers they are given.  I’m completely in agreement with this on many issues.  (For example, allowing the NSA to spy on everyone with no warrant or oversight.)  Unfortunately, the alternative of allowing the big ISPs to dictate exactly how the Internet is used isn’t a viable option either.  Politicians from both sides of the aisle should recognize that this isn’t an issue of government attempting to seize scary new powers.  It is an issue of the government trying to stop a monopoly (the ISPs) from trying to use their monopoly position (wired broadband Internet access) to boost the sales of another product with competition (cable TV).  It is also a case of the monopoly (the ISPs) trying to interfere with their competition (Internet Video) by requiring said competition to pay the monopoly (fast lane access) or find their service unusable (slow lanes).  Both parties should be in favor of protecting consumers – if only to try to attract more voters from the 3.9 million people who submitted comments in favor of Network Neutrality.

If checks and balances need to be enacted to prevent government overreach, so be it.  However, don’t torpedo all Network Neutrality efforts simply because "the other party is in favor of it and so it must be icky."

NOTE: The computer image above is by DTRave and is available from OpenClipArt.org.

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Routine: The Enemy of Inspiration

Posted by TechyDad on November 10, 2014 under Blogging, Life

InspirationOn Thursday night, I sat down to write my post.  I had a great idea and began to type.  A paragraph in, however, and I just didn’t know where to go with this concept.  No problems, though, unlike some other days when I struggled to come up with one idea, I had another idea at the ready.  So I saved my first idea as a draft (to be completed when I could) and began work on my second idea.  Unfortunately, this too quickly descended into a mire from which the post refused to budge.  So there I was two ideas down and no more topics were coming to mind.  The night began to drag on, I couldn’t come up with anything else, and my already blog-topic-empty brain began to fight drowsiness too.  At this point, I decided to just skip the blog post.  Sometimes it is better to not write anything at all when you don’t have anything to write.

Over the weekend, I began to think about why I couldn’t think of anything.  Why did those perfectly good topics lead to no words springing to mind?  Why could my brain not think of anything else.  In one word: Routine.

I’ve settled into a routine.  Nearly every day is the same.  I get up, go to work, come home, make dinner, clean up from dinner, get the boys ready for bed, get the boys in bed, write a blog post, and go to sleep.  Sure, the details might change from day to day, but the overall schedule is the same.  And if there’s one thing that kills off all inspiration, it’s going through the same routine day after day.

I’ve gone through similar slumps in the past.  In every case, I broke my slump by doing something outside of my normal routine.  Playing Munchkin with NHL, running alongside JSL as he bikes, taking the boys to a museum, going on a walk by myself.  As long as it varies from my usual, daily activities, it can help get the creative juices flowing.

What helps to inspire you when you get into a creative rut?

NOTE: The "light bulb off => on" image above is a combination of "Light Bulb Off" and "Light Bulb On" by palomaironique which is available via OpenClipArt.org.

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Meeting Authors Old And New

Posted by TechyDad on November 5, 2014 under Books

Growing up, I loved to read.  My mother would always joke that she was the only mother who had to tell her son to stop reading and go outside and play.  Though I read a lot of books, my favorite author by far was Isaac Asimov.  I really wanted to meet him, but alas it was not to be.  He passed away when I was sixteen years old.  So I was very happy when the boys were able to meet some authors of books that they love to read at The Albany Children’s Book Festival.

First, we met the author of Belches, Burps, and Farts, Oh My!, Artie Bennett.  This might not be the most polite book in the world, but I love how it mixes actual facts in with the potty humor.

Artie_Bennett

Next, JSL insisted that we track down Nick Bruel.  Nick’s got a special place in our hearts.  Only a short while ago, JSL couldn’t read.  Well, he could, but he would insist that he couldn’t and get more and more frustrated when he needed to.  Then, JSL picked up a Bad Kitty book.  Twenty-four hours after he first opened the book, he was done.  Then he moved on to the next one and the one after that.  JSL is now at the point where he refuses to go in the car without a book.  Sometimes, he insists on taking two just in case he finishes one book en route – can’t have any non-reading time, after all!  All this is thanks to Nick’s book sparking a love of reading in JSL.

Nick_Bruel

Then, there were the new authors.  We let the boys select a new book each.  Not only did they get the books, though, but they got to meet the authors and had their new books signed.  So here is NHL with Tommy Greenwald after he picked Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to NOT Reading and JSL with Lenore Look having chosen Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things.

Tommy_Greenwald Lenore_Look

If you could meet any author (still living or not), who would you want to meet?

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