The Geek Salon’s Chic New Browser

Flock of SeagullsThe current darling of the Web 2.0 movement is an unassuming little web browser called Flock.

Hailing from yet another dark cubicle warren in some sunny, smoggy California clime, this is a web browser that titillates the geek masses by its celebration of the web’s New Wave.

To the ignorami beyond the geeknoscenti, however, it doesn’t really offer too much of interest.
If you’re not into stuff like RSS, Flickr, del.icio.us, blogging or tagging, then Flock will seem like just another web browser.

On the other hand, frequent users of these online services will find Flock the be-all, end-all web browser to die for. I know I do.
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Municipal Wi-Fi

The City of Whitehorse should provide free wireless internet access to its citizens.

Just like other services the municipality provides its population — from refuse collection to roadway maintenance — no-cost , unrestricted internet access is essential. After all, to borrow that tired cliché, we are talking about the “information superhighway.”

This isn’t a crazy idea. And it’s not unique. Other municipalities across Canada and the States offer their citizens free wireless internet access.

One maritime community is the undisputed leader in this field: Fredericton, New Brunswick.

November 2003, saw the launch of the Fred-eZone, an open wireless

network that blankets most of Frederiction’s downtown and some outlying

areas.

It means that no matter where you are in Fredericton, you can open up a

laptop computer or start up your desktop and go online. Sort of like,

no matter where you are in Whitehorse, you can start up your car and

drive somewhere.

It’s a brilliant idea for a city like Frederiction, or Whitehorse, really.

Like Whitehorse, Frederiction is a city without any real economic base

other than government. The Fred-eZone was designed as a leverage to

attract new industry and business to the community. It’s as much a

marketing sales pitch as a public service.

The Fred-eZone, however, is just one piece of the municipality’s master plan for the local internet.

They also started up a non-profit corporation that is now the city’s

largest bandwidth wholesaler. This company, e-Novations, purchases

upstream bandwidth and resells it to the municipality for their own

purposes and to supply the Fred-eZone. They also supply local

commercial interests, such as private Internet Service Providers, with

network services at low-cost.

One of the peripheral goals of e-Novations was to bring residential

high speed internet costs for Frederiction citizens more in line with

rates of other Canadians in major centres. Whitehorse could also

benefit from this, as our high speed internet costs are at least 100%

higher than other municipalities in Canada.

(A basic Northwestel residential high speed package costs $59.95 per

month; the same service in Vancouver from Telus is as low as $24.95.

The cost disparity becomes especially disgruntling when you consider

the significantly better quality of service Telus provides.)

Free municipal WiFi would also help Whitehorse bridge its own local

“digital divide”, ensuring that lower income earners can enjoy the

social benefits of the high speed internet. Many local citizens are

still stuck offline by economic circumstance.

Other communities across Canada and the US are exploring the idea of

free wireless internet. Calgary has established the “OpenCity”

initiative. It’s a pretty lackluster start, with just a few downtown

hotspots offering free wireless internet access, but it shows promise.

Kelowna is another Canadian community offering free wireless access,

but only in public buildings. Hamilton plans to turn the entire city

into a “hotspot,” meaning they’ll offer free wireless internet to all

of their citizens.

In the States, Minneapolis recently tendered a contract to build a $20

million (US) public wireless network that would be available to all of

its citizens as a public service.

Of course, commercial interests won’t like this idea. Northwestel in

particular, which currently is the primary Yukon ISP, would likely balk

at a perceived loss of control and revenue that would be caused by a

free municipal WiFi network. The truth is, Northwestel could never be

removed from the territory’s infrastructure and with a little creative

thinking, a new business model could be developed that would likely

prove more profitable for our telephone company.

Some American municipalities that have tried to improve the lifestyle

of their citizens with public internet have suffered pain at the hands

of telecommunications giants unwilling to hand over control of what is,

in essence, a public resource. Philadelphia was recently was engaged in

a nasty court battle with telecommunications giant Verizon when they

planned to offer the service.

In fact, lobbying by major corporations in the US has convinced some

States to pass anti-municipal internet legislation, effectively making

free local internet illegal.

These activities point to just how important establishing the internet

as a public utility is. In the early part of this century Adam Beck, an

Ontario provincial cabinet minister, fought corporate interests hard to

ensure electricity became a public utility rather than a private

property. This no doubt contributed to the fact that pretty much

everyone is guaranteed power in modern society.

The internet should be viewed in the same light. Its infrastructure and

services should be considered public and owned by the citizens. After

all, we’ve already invested hundreds of millions of dollars into it

through a variety of federal and territorial government programs.

It’s just up to our city council to have the foresight and leadership

to recognize the inevitable. The model has been tried, tested and

proven in Fredericton. It would easily translate to our small

geographic footprint. By working to make it happen now, Whitehorse

could establish itself as a leader in building public infrastructure

and access methods that future communities will expect as the norm.

Andrew Robulack is an IT business strategist and architect based in Whitehorse.

Copyright 2005 Andrew Robulack
Originally published in the Yukon News Friday, May 6, 2005

iPod’s Sin City Isn’t Unique

Chinese Factory SceneThere’s been a lot of hay made over the last week by a report in the UK’s Mail on Sunday newspaper that some factories producing iPods exploit their workers. These are strong allegations and Apple has responded by promising to investigate them thoroughly.

The Mail on Sunday alleges that 200,000 workers at a 5-storey “iPod City” in Longhua, China, endure 15-hour days and earn only $30 a month. Most of the employees are women, who are considered more “trustworthy”.

What I find odd however is the sense of shock and dismay being demonstrated by the world press in reporting this seeming revelation: “What? Cute little iPods are produced by low-paid foreign workers? We’d better tell everybody about this!

It’s true, folks; and pop is really just flavoured sugar water. (Gasp! Never!)

Where did we all imagine our iPods came from at so low a price? For that matter, shouldn’t we wonder why technology from Dell, HP and Sony is also so cheap?
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Yukon News: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Delivering the Yukon News?I was quite disappointed recently to read this notice on the front page of the Yukon News’ web site:

This is an abbreviated version of today’s Yukon News, available on newsstands now. Check back in a week to view all of the stories in this issue.

Besides being grammatically incorrect (the correct word would have been “abridged” rather than “abbreviated”) it signals a step backwards in the attitude of Yukon’s largest news publisher. It was only a few weeks ago that the News went online for the first time in their existence, and at that date they were already late to the party. (I should note at this point that the News publishes my weekly column, Geek Love.)

At that initial launch, the News published their entire day’s paper on the web. Now they’ve backtracked and are delaying the posting of current news. It’s unfortunate because with this move they’ve effectively transformed their online presence from a news to an archive service.
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The Moral Deficit of “One Laptop Per Child”

One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) PrototypeEvery kid needs a computer, especially the impoverished, malnourished, exploited ones living in countries the first world would like to just forget about.

That’s the prevailing logic behind the One Laptop Per Child program being spearheaded by MIT luminary Nicholas Negroponte.

Mr. Negroponte, a geek in intellectual’s clothing, launched his pet project last year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Negroponte figures his not-for-profit organization (requisitely acronymated as the “OLPC”) can produce a dirt-cheap laptop that dirt-poor kids can use to enhance their dirt-floor lifestyles.

They originally envisioned combining the cheapest available device components with some open source software to produce a funky, kid-friendly unit so miraculous that it could be hauled unprotected through swamps, dust storms, blizzards and heat waves without suffering any damage.

Unfortunately for the OLPC, the path from dreamy whiteboard sketch to functioning prototype has been a tad rougher than expected.
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A Beta vs. VHS Redux

TapeOne of my favourite alt-pop bands these days is VHS or Beta. It’s a great, almost ironic, name for this particular group. Their sound, led by the Robert Smith-inspired vocalist Craig Pfunder, is totally 80s. And, as we all know, that decade was the battleground of the last great video media format war.

The scene is set for another such clash.

In one corner, we have Blu-ray, backed by the major studios Sony Pictures, MGM, and 20th Century Fox plus major technology companies including LG Electronics, Panasonic and Philips. Opposing is HD DVD with Microsoft, Intel, Toshiba, NEC and Universal Studios showing support.

It’s kind of silly, really. The two technologies aren’t really all that different. I mean, they’re different enough to be incompatible obviously, but not as different as, say, VHS and Beta. Those old tape formats came in totally different cases so there was no way you could accidentally stick a Beta cassette into a VHS machine.
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Quandary: Aperture or iPhoto?

Aperture or iPhoto?
I recently received a copy of Apple’s pro-level photo management software Aperture as a gift from a client for doing some important work gratis and on short notice. After about a week of using it heavily in my spare time my reactions are mixed.

I’m now a bit torn between using Aperture as my standard photo management application and its younger sibling, iPhoto. Both have strengths and weaknesses. I like Aperture’s advanced features like the light table and it start-to-finish project model. But I miss iPhoto’s iLife integration that makes sharing my photos between application easier than making pancakes. Honestly, I’m torn.
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XBox 360 For Sale

XBox 360 Bundle for SaleAnybody in the market for a slightly-used XBox 360?

It’s in great shape with nary a mark on it. It includes a 20 GB hard drive, two wireless controllers, two sets of rechargeable batteries for the controllers along with two “play and charge” cables. It’s also got a Wifi wireless network adapter for connecting to the internet.

I’ve got about 10 months of an XBox Live Gold subscription left on it, plus it carries an extended 3-year warranty with Microsoft. I’ve got the original box for the console and its main accessories, as well.

If you picked this kit up new it’d set you back about $800 but I’m going to let it go for a measly $600. Contact me while it’s still available, I’m andrew at wool sock dot ca.

You know you want it!

I’ve also got some XBox 360 games for sale:

  • Perfect Dark Zero – $38
  • Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon – $55
  • Condemned – $44
  • King Kong – $38