August 14, 2011

Returned from vacation

We've just gotten back from Orlando, where we spent a week.  We visited Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.  We also saw The Blue Man Group and went to Wonderworks in Orlando.  We have a timeshare, so we traded for the resort, and it was pretty nice with a king-sized bed and a jacuzzi (which my feet welcomed after walking through parks all day).  While it was hot and rainy two of the days, there was no great downpour that prevented us from doing anything specifically.  Umbrellas were probably the wisest thing we packed, both for the sun and the rain.  I don't know why we always end up in Florida in the summer - probably because of the prices.

Some advice for anyone going to the area.  Avoid the ticket booths on the side of the road.  Even those that say they have official tickets.  A) You're lucky if they have any tickets and B) They won't tell you the caveats until they've already run your credit card.  A quick rebate and a wasted hour and a half and we just went to the parks.  All told, I may have saved $50, but I would have had to rework my schedule and deal with people I'd rather not.  And who knows if the tickets would even have gotten me in the gates.  Anyhow, lesson learned - My time is worth more than a 15% discount.

Took some pictures - once the house painters are out, I'll be able to download and catalog them.  For right now, I'm stuck at a library computer for Internet access (or my iPad).  Vacation was good and got me to relax quite a bit, but now that I'm back, things are as frazzled as ever.  House painters have moved all of my furniture to the middle of the rooms to paint, and we've disconnected everything in the house.  My dog is stressed out with all of the activity, but at least we're back to soothe his nerves.

August 03, 2011

House Wanted

We're currently in the market for a house in the Northern Virginia area, and we've been looking for quite a while. We have some criteria that, at first blush, might not seem so difficult to meet, but, when taken in aggregate, seem to be impossible. The majority of homes in the area are Colonial in style, with 4 bedrooms, formal living and dining rooms and little room between the home and the neighbor. All of these things are negatives that we have to work against as we look at houses.

As you drive up to the house, you should see a stone or bright-colored brick front home, with a 2 car garage that you enter to the side of the home. The driveway should continue on in a circle around in front of the home. A courtyard driveway to the front of the house (side loaded) is also desirable.

When you walk in, there should be a foyer with a presentable staircase (winding would be best) and upstairs wood railing to look down onto the foyer. A large chandelier should hang in the arched window above the front door.

The hallway to the kitchen and family room should be wide and open. The home should never feel claustrophobic.

We would like a home that has a huge master bedroom with a sitting area between the hallway and the bedroom. A large walk-in closet should also be present, with room enough for a sitting bench or dresser table in the middle of the closet. The bathroom needs to have a large enough shower for a grown man to be able to towel off in (dual-opposing-shower heads preferred).

There should be a library/study off of the family room, with room for a minimum of a desk and 5 bookcases, with room to walk around.

Update: We've found the home - this was a draft rant that I never published..and my thoughts here are incomplete.  The rant was to continue on to discuss the lack of need for formal living and dining areas and how the flow of life has changed from the 1800s to today and how modern architecture seems unable to keep up with our changing lifestyles.  Of course, now that the passion has worn off - less important to rant on about it all.

Internet Access as a Commodity

There are a couple of points of disagreements between consumers and Internet Service Providers, and some of these issues are easily resolved, while others become contentious due to their interrelation to the other issues.  The big three are:

1. Bandwidth metering - lack of available consumer tools to measure bandwidth used (even while bandwidth is being measured by the ISP, this information is not available to the end-user.)  Metering is an important aspect for any utility.  Just look at water, electric and natural gas which are also piped in to our homes.  Connectivity should be treated as a commodity, just as these physical commodities are metered, so should our digital service.

2. Bandwidth caps - As the world has moved from point-to-point communications paths to packet-switched communications, the congestion caused by overselling of downstream connectivity causes a battle between the consumer and the service provider.  This is similar to infrastructure engineering in other industries, such as water and electrical companies, where the available resources are not there to provide 100% service to all customers at the same time.  If every person in New York City decided to flush their toilets at exactly the same time, the load on the city's water and sewage infrastructures could cause some serious issues.  The same problem exists in the digital world.  The pipes that come into our homes today are capable of incredible speeds, but the expectation of usage of that digital pipe is a fraction of its capacity during normal usage.  The up-channel piping also isn't big enough to carry the load.

However, there is an important difference when it comes to Internet service.  In a physical commodity space, the physical infrastructure will break if it overflows.  Pipes can burst, mountings can come undone, electrical conduits can heat up or blow up and gas pressure can cause serious damage to the system.  On the Internet, the excess traffic can merely be dumped on the floor.  That's something you just can't do with raw sewage, but in a digital world, the network traffic will disappear.  In fact, the Internet infrastructure is DESIGNED with this flexibility in mind.  From the routers (and QOS settings in the packets) to the protocols themselves (TCP retries when traffic gets lost, ICMP messages, and so on), the Internet is designed for overflow and failure.  The service providers have the capability and should have the know how to be able to control bandwidth in such a way that everyone gets their fair share of it, even when the overflow is occurring.

Example: Clients A and B both have a 10Mb/s pipe and ISP has a 15Mb/s uplink.  Client A uses his connection all of the time, while Client B only uses it on occasion.  The ISP has the capability to begin marking Client A's traffic once he has reached some set limit of traffic, perhaps 100GB for the month.  Now, Client A and Client B both attempt to transfer a movie at the end of the month.  Because Client A's traffic is marked, when the uplink needs to determine whose traffic has a priority, Client B's traffic has a better chance of getting through.  The pipe still services both Clients, but Client A finds more of his traffic being dumped on the ground due to his usage for the month having marked him as a hog.  At full capacity, Client A is still going to receive 5Mb/s service.  The speed downgrade will only be as long as Client B is using his full pipe.

In summary, bandwidth caps are a tool, and should not be absolutes for customers.  ISPs don't have to pay extra for each bit they transmit to the central routers.  They pay for certain uplink speeds, whether they fill their pipes or not.  The tools exist to ensure that each client gets a fair shot at that bandwidth, and with competition, the free market should ensure that they don't undersubscribe too greatly.  Bandwidth caps to consumers should be expressed as the point where their service may be downgraded as necessary.  Users should be taught to understand the limitations of the Internet and uplink oversubscription and this is a good tool for that education.  Coupled with bandwidth metering, they can monitor the level of service they receive and understand why it gracefully downgrades with overuse.

3. Net Neutrality - Inexorably linked to issue #2 is the result of engineering choices when it comes to managing the  oversale of network bandwidth.  The ISPs have, in the past, decided that because the consumers who are most likely to use the most resources are using them for nefarious purposes that they can control oversold bandwidth by cutting out anything they think is nefarious.  Unfortunately, this captures the innocent in their nets.  As an example, P2P mechanisms are used by pirates to transfer and share files on the Internet.  Those same protocols are in use by game companies to distribute patches to their millions of users. It is near impossible for the ISPs to constantly be aware of which P2P connections are being used for lawful vs. unlawful purpose.  In attempts to control the unlawful behavior, it is too easy for them to cut off harmless transmissions and degrade the very service they are trying to enhance.

Making decisions on what traffic to pass and what traffic not to pass gets the ISP into the liability game.  Should they put a restriction on traffic you're using to drive a heart monitor, for example, when it looks like you're hacking into a medical center, would be a potentially disastrous action.  ISP's should be able to avoid liability altogether by ignoring the flavor of the traffic that they provide.  Each and every packet delivered from and to their customers should be treated equally, provided the user is behaving in agreement with their Terms of Service.

There is one exception to this filtering that I believe to be important.  IP Protocols have a source and destination address.  I believe there to be both a need and a responsibility to the community that source addresses be verified as coming from a subscribed connection (i.e. If I am an IP provider, I should be checking to ensure that the source address of IP traffic coming from your connection is actually advertising as being sourced by the address I have assigned to you).  I would love to hear argument or commentary that argues against this, but IMHO ingress filtering is a long overdue and necessary component to keeping the Internet safe from the 'bad guys'.

Common Sense - 2011 [Historical Perspective]

It is expected that people who enter into political discourse have at least a working knowledge of the political history of this nation.  Unfortunately, failure to have this adequate understanding can lead to false assumptions and blatant misunderstandings.  I would like to make an attempt to right this wrong by attempting to bring some common sense ideas back into the domain of political discourse.  In order to do this, it is necessary to begin with a historical perspective.  After discussing and MODIFYING this historical perspective based upon inputs and suggestions from others [I am no history teacher!], this perspective will be used as the basis for a common sense discussion of modern political ideas.  Your contribution/comments are expressly requested.


The ideas upon which our great country were founded are simple; so simple as to be summed and expressed in the ideas inscribed upon a few pieces of parchment.  The first of these was delivered to the oppressive government of England.

In the Declaration of Independence, the rebels and founders of our nation declared that governments are meant to serve the needs of the people, not the reverse.  As all people are equal and all people are granted natural rights by virtue of their birth, when the governments (although these people may have designed them) usurp the safety and security of those whom they govern it is the right and responsibility of those same people to throw off that government and create a new governance.  This paper then goes on to list the oppressive behavior of the government of the time and its behavior found abhorrent to the people of the colonies.  At the end of this long list, they declare that they are exercising that right and responsibility to throw off the current governance in order to create their own.

Important Concepts here:

  • People have natural rights by virtue of their existence.
  • People create the government to ensure their own safety and security.
  • People have the right to change their government when they're not happy with it.
  • The United States was FOUNDED upon these principles and is key to what our nation is.

And then, my friends, was established the government that America forgot.  Well, most of America.  You see, George Washington was not the first President of the United States.  He was the first President of the nation that was created under the Constitution, a restructuring of our government that took place in 1787, 11 years after we had shrugged off the bonds of English rule.  John Hanson, unanimously elected to the role of President under the Articles of Confederation, was our first President in 1781.  The Articles were proposed in 1776, but was not ratified until 5 years hence (and you thought the debt ceiling debate took too long...).  You see, the Articles of Confederation created a government that didn't work for the United States.  Too much power was granted to the states, and there wasn't enough unity to hold the country together.  Modern America seems to forget that the creation of a perfect government is impossible, and that it is necessary to upset the apple cart to pick a new crop every now and again.

Important Concepts here:

  • There is much more to the historical perspective of our government than most people realize or remember.
  • The United States began with a government that didn't work, and it was discarded.
  • The United States exercised the same right to rediscovery on its OWN government soon after its creation.

For the past 225 years, the Constitution of the United States has served us well.  The structure of this document allows for a flexibility that has enabled us to keep up with modern philosophical thought and to extend the government to encapsulate our spiritual and intellectual knowledge.  'All men' has grown to mean 'all adults' of all races and creed and the practice of slavery was abolished.  Voting rights were extended to the entire populace rather than the wealthy land-owners, and we had a grand experiment and failure in trying to impose a restriction on alcohol.  These are amendments that we all remember, but there are more that we do not keep in mind.  Indeed, the very Constitution itself has some very exciting clauses that are also lost to time.  For example, while many people understand that interstate commerce is not taxable, they may not realize that this is a constitutional construct (Article I, Section 10).  Also lost to time is that the state legislatures may request amendment of the Constitution, without the need for involvement of the Congress itself (Article V).

Important Concepts here:

  • The structure of the Constitution is such that it permits and welcomes change.
  • The writers of the Constitution included language that allow for the collective state governments to change it.
  • The realization that governmental change is needed is core to the formation of this government and is KEY to its survival over the years, as demonstrated through the change we've undergone.
  • The state governments have a say in how the federal government is constructed and run.
In addition to understanding the historical perspective and role of the overall federal government, it is also important that those involved in the discourse of Common Sense actually share in some 'common sense' beliefs.  In my next post, "Common Sense - 2011 [Spiritual and Intellectual Requirements]" I hope to examine a common ground upon which most centrist thinkers should be able to stand.