Tag Archives: broadband

How to Not Sweat the Mobile Office

(This is a copy of my Loose Wire Sevice column, produced for newspapers and other print publications. Hence the lack of links.)

By Jeremy Wagstaff

I do a lot of work on the road, including setting up offices from scratch. What I’ve learnt—and the mistakes I’ve made—could fill a book, so maybe I’ll write one.

But here, for now, are some tips I’ve found useful about working on the road—especially if you’re on the road for any length of time, or setting up your stall in a new place, temporarily or permanently.

The first thing to do is to get a local SIM card asap. Roaming fees remain ruinous. More of that in a later column.

The other is to get a dongle. Nowadays, it’s really easy to get your laptop connected to something approaching a broadband Internet connection.

HSDPA is the prevailing technology for this—you don’t need to know what it stands for, because it’s already on the way out—via a SIM card inserted in a little thumb drive that slots into your USB port. More commonly known as a dongle.

Nowadays you can get these for very little, along with a prepaid account. You often have to buy the dongle, which might or might not be usable in a new country.

Either way, you’ve got connected.

If you’re setting up a whole new office then get your staff onto Google Apps.

This is a suit of online programs that is basically Microsoft Office–for free, and open to real time collaboration. (Recently Google souped it up a bit and added a tool for drawing.)

All you need is an Internet connection. (Google Apps can be used offline, but this is in the process of being changed, so it might not be working for a while.)

If you want to do it with a bit of style, install Google Apps on your own domain (cooldudes.com) so all your new staff have email addresses that end in that domain; they can also then share all their contacts etc.

The non-domain version is called Google Docs and works fine. If you’ve all got Gmail accounts then it makes sense to stick with that.

Google have done a good job with this suite, but it’s not perfect. Don’t expect all the bells and whistles you’d usually get for spreadsheets and documents. But it’s fine for most needs.

Make sure staff get into the habit of saving documents with useful, consistent names and putting them in shared folders that others can find. Maintain a policy of limited documents and constant weeding so things don’t get lost or forgotten.

Hardware-wise, get people netbooks. They should be more than enough and this allows them to take them home to work/play on there. (Ensure they’ve all got antivirus on them, and tell them you’ll punish them severely if they install rubbish on them.)

And then wow them by buying an external monitor—Samsung, Philips and others do relatively small screens for about $100.

That doubles the amount of screen they’ve got to play with and wins you grateful looks from staff who’ve either never had two screens before or have them but never expected such an enlightened boss.

A tip: check the weight of the screen, as they vary widely. Some are light enough to carry with you between assignments. If not, you can always get a small 7” Mimo Monitor which gives you that extra bit of desktop. Mimo tell me they’re coming out with a larger one this month or next.

Printers are not an easy problem to resolve, but you should be able to get a scanner, printer, fax and copy machine, all in one, for about $120. You can either thread USB cables around your office or splash out on a wireless router that has a USB slot in the back.

(Wireless routers let you connect all your computers together via WiFi.)

This should, in theory, allow you to connect said scanner/printer/fax/copier into your network meaning anyone can use it. Expect a bit of pain here.

Other things I would buy to make your new mini-office more productive: decent mouse pads—nothing worse, or less productive, than staff sliding their mice across overly reflective desktops or books.

If they’re taking their netbooks home, then buy them the mains cable that sits between the netbook’s power adapter and the wall. This means they don’t have to dive under the desk to remove the power cable, and instead can just unplug the adapter as it sits behind their netbook.

Cost of cable: about $1.

I also buy headsets for landlines. These are cheap and save your staff’s necks.

And a non-stapler clipper, which uses reusable clips, saves you pulling staples out of paper and makes every document look snazzy. Cost: $1.50.

Lastly, buy a label printer. They may be a bit pricey—well, the labels are—but they make everything look so much better, and give your office a professional shine that will make your staff work harder and not want to go home in the evening.

Good for them. Now I’m off to the hotel pool.

Broadbangladesh

 image
Illustration IHT, by Felipe Galindo

I wrote a piece for the IHT on a company of expats bringing wireless broadband to their native Bangladesh. Would love to have gone there to have a look, but budgets aren’t what they were (love the illustration):

In Bangladesh, where less than 1 percent of the population has Internet access and where the rare broadband connection is prohibitively expensive, bridging the digital divide may require new approaches.

A group of Bangladeshi expatriates think they have found one that could work – a plan to bring affordable Internet access to their homeland through a blend of high-end wireless technology and social entrepreneurship.

Bringing Bangladesh into the Internet age – International Herald Tribune

Broadband on a Moving Bus

I don’t know if it’s anything to do with my recent column  (probably not) about the need for flat data rates(“The Price is Wrong,” from Nov 2’s WSJ.com), but m1 of Singapore is now offering unlimited data for its mobile broadband plans. So now you can get 512 kbps for about $15 a month, 1.8 Mbps for about $25, and 3.6 Mbps for $45.

I use the 512 kbps service and frankly, it’s fast enough for me. Of course, with the island state embracing free WiFi this all becomes a bit academic at some point, but I still find it easier to crank up the Huawei modem than log in to the WiFi, and there’s something about surfing on a bus that is positively liberating. Not something I ever tried on the moving robbery carts that are buses in Jakarta, I must say.

M1 broadband

Thwarting the VoIP Eavesdroppers

Interesting piece in Intelligence Online (subscription only) which mentions the growth of both software to intercept VoIP traffic, and services to thwart it. Companies mentioned: Amteus [company website] which “has developed secure software for Voice over IP (VoIP) communications but also for e-mail and file swaps.” Amteus basically works by establishing a peer to peer connection and encrypts with a one time key. On the other side of the fence, the article says, are companies “like Israeli firms Nice Systems and Verint as well as France’s Aqsacom, are already marketing solutions to break into and record telephone conversations on the Internet.” [all corporate websites]

An interesting world
 

The End of VoIP?

A provocative (or is it prophetic?) piece  from The Register’s Andrew Orlowski who sees the end of Skype and VoIP:

It’s small, it’s boring and won’t turn any heads – but it probably spells the end of the road for Skype, Vonage and any other hopeful independent VoIP companies. It’s Nokia’s 6136 phone, which allows you to make calls over your home or office Wi-Fi network, as well as on a regular cellular network. UMA, or unlicensed mobile access, is the mobile operators’ answer to the threat of VoIP – and now it’s reality.

UMA, he says, has the edge because in one phone you will be able “to keep one phone number, one handset, and receive one bill at the end of every month.” In the future phone calls at home — whether you’re on your mobile, landline or online — will be free. This is a neat fit because where quality was worst — inside — you will be able to use WiFi.


Got a signal yet?

This is not good news of course, for those of us who saw the interesting lunatics taking over the asylum. Disruptive technology, it turns out, means just that it disrupts the monsters out of their slumber and they finally get it. As Orlowski concludes: “So long then VoIP, and thanks for the free calls.”

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VoIP for Dial-up?

How well does Voice over Internet work for folks who rely on dial-up?

I’ve not had much luck with Skype — it comes across as crackly, jerky and fenerky (I made up the last word.) A company called NetZero is now offering a VoIP service it says works well for dial-up users:

“We believe consumers should not have to have broadband Internet access in order to enjoy the price savings and feature content of Internet phone calling,” said Mark R. Goldston, CEO of United Online, the company that owns NetZero.

While a broadband connection is still recommended for the best voice quality, NetZero claims that users with a 56k modem would be able to make calls successfully by using the company’s proprietary technology it has created to reduce echo, latency and other issues.

I haven’t tried it yet but I will do. Some folk commenting on the above BetaNews story ask what is the point of VoIP over dialup — if you’re using dialup you’ve got a phoneline already — which is easy to enough to respond to. Just because you have a phone line doesn’t mean you want to be making expensive interlocal or international calls on it.

Anyway, this is potentially good news for folk in the developing world who only have access to dial-up. I’m going to check it out. The only problem, of course, is that NetZero folks can only chat to NetZero folks unless you make a SkypeOut type call.

The TiddlyWiki Report, Part III: Alan Hecht

This week’s WSJ.com/AWSJ column is about the TiddlyWiki (here, when it appears Friday), which I reckon is a wonderful tool and a quiet but major leap forward for interfaces, outliners and general coolness. I had a chance to chat with some of the folk most closely involved in TiddlyWikis, but sadly couldn’t use much of their material directly, so here is some of the stuff that didn’t fit.

Third up, Alan Hecht Instructional Design Specialist at Penn State University:

Loose Wire: i’m intrigued by TWs and have enjoyed fiddling with them. i’m wondering whether they might be suitable for casual users, and whether they are likely to grow into something more?
AlanCHecht: I discovered TW because I was looking for a wiki solution that I could load on a local web server.  When I sw TW, I was amazed that I didn’t need a server-side app to handle the wiki DB.  I was so surprised by the ease at which anyone could create a dynamic wiki with search capability that I showed it to several faculty (non-techies) who now want to use it for their university-hosted website.  But to answer your question more directly, I think TW is unique in that it can be used by people with no expereience AND by seasoned web programmers who like the power of the plug-in arch.
Loose Wire: yes, good point. i personally love the tagging thing, the idea that you can organise stuff in such a simple but powerful way…
AlanCHecht: I think you have 3 types of TW use…1) wiki-on-a-stick personal only usage, 2) edit locally then post new file to website, and 3) the server-side TW flavors like PHP-TW and ZiddlyWiki.  So folks can get in at any level and start playing, but the tool can also grow with the user.
Loose Wire: how do you think this kind of tool is going to develop?
AlanCHecht: Technically, we just hit a milestone with the plug-in architecture.  I think this means that JeremyRuston will concentrate less on adding new features and more on providing safe, open hooks to plug-in developers.  So the TWs in use out there could all be different based on the plug-ins that are loaded…
Loose Wire: could you give some examples of how different they could be, what kind of uses they could be put to?
AlanCHecht: 2) Cosmetically, I think you’re going to see a lot happen in terms of tweaking the CSS to give TW new looks.  Several recent stylesheets that have been developed hardly look like TW anymore.  and lastly, 3) in terms of usage, I think your going to see TW springing up all over the place (hint: if you google TiddlyWiki, you’ll see results include any site that uses TW because “TiddlyWiki” is hardcode in the HTML title tag…there’s already a lot out there).
AlanCHecht: DIfferent TW’s…give me a minute to think…

Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): Here are some obvious TW uses: a user FAQ (because each FAQ answer is perfect for the microcontent approach), a personal Kilroy-type or family website page (because of the low overhead and ease of use), a blog (with dynamic linking between articles and search capability all in one file),  software manuals (that’s a new one, but it would work as the user could download the latest manual from a software site and have ALL the content in one intuitive file).
Loose Wire: interesting… the files get a bit big, tho, don’t they? that’s the javascript, i guess…
Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): I’ve even just seen a server-side version of TW that is a full-fledged “free for all” (anyone can post, edit, delete content) version.  This would enable for group collaboration on topics.
Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): TW is still pretty small (less than 200K on its own).  Add quite a few tiddlers and you’ll easily double that.  But people often wait for a 400K image to download of their sister’s kid…and with broadband you hardly notice the delay.  Plus, once the file is downloaded, there
Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): there’s no more wait time
Loose Wire: true…. it makes me wonder whether there aren’t a whole load of things you could do in a TW — outliners, blogging, even editing documents and bits and pieces. it seems the possibilities are plentiful
Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): I expect to see TW evolve more into these areas.  We’re coming up to TW’s 1-year anniversary in Sept I believe.  I discovered TW back in March or April and it’s grown leaps since even then.  Now that anyone can dev for TW, I expect these new directions to escalate.  Still TW has some limits.
Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): The beauty of TW is the all-in-one file part.  The pad part is the all-in-one-file part.
Loose Wire: what kind of limits?
Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): I’ve heard of folks with huge TWs (for online gaming groups) that just don’t scale up that high very well.  Maybe there will be a solution.  Another limit (sort of) is we get about a post a week from folks who expect to be able to edit and save to a TW once it’s posted to a web.  We have to tell them that only the local copy can be saved unless you use a server-scripted version
Loose Wire: they think they can edit it online?
Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): One possibility for scaling could be to have different TWs for each large topic and link to them all from within the existing TW.
Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): Yes, many people think that they should be able to edit and save changes to the web-served version.  I’ve seen this asked about a dozen times in the Google groups.  TW tells you that you can’t, but folks just think TW is so easy that it “should” be able to save online.
Loose Wire: the perils of a simple looking tool, i guess!
Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): It only comes up with new users thought
Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): Anything I didn’t fully answer for you?
Loose Wire: no i think that’s good, thanks a lot. you’re right: 82,000 hits on google for tiddlywiki
Loose Wire: i’ll send you a copy of the piece once it’s done. may i post some of this chat to my blog when the column comes out?
Alan Hecht (TiddlyWiki): Check back with me if you have any other questions.  I’d be happy to help.  As most TW users are, I’m a BIG fan of this technology and of JeremyRuston.
Loose Wire: thanks for the info…

“There will be podcasts for an audience of one and podcasts for an audience of one billion”

To accompany my column this week on podcasting (which will appear here when it’s out; subscription only I’m afraid), here’s a snippet from an IM interview with Cameron Reilly of The Podcast Network on podcasting:

Jeremy: How about the big picture: What might people be using podcasts for in the future? And why has such a simple idea only come to pass now?

 

Cameron: let me take the second first cuz its easier. People tried to do internet radio for years and it failed because the delivery technology wasn’t ready. It’s only been in the last couple of years that we’ve finally seen the convergence of three key technologies:
1. tens of millions of low-cost mp3 players
2. low-cost ubiquitous broadband internet access
3. low-latency VOIP services such as Skype

 

As for where it’s going to go, I think we’ll see podcasts cropping up in all areas of our lives. How long before the first true global superstars of podcasting appear? There will be podcasts for an audience of one and podcasts for an audience of one billion (when will Pius start the true Pope-cast?).

 

As media companies and regulators around the world try to censor our lives and prevent us from listening to the content we want, when we want, many people will turn to creating their own content. Welcome to Generation C.

Thanks, Cameron.

A Cordless Skype Phone

There’s been quite a bit of hype surrounding the launch last week in the UK of the BT ‘Bluephone’ dualphone, which uses Bluetooth in the home to connect to a VOIP connection, but which switches to a mobile phone elsewhere. (Actually the launch consists of 400 early adopters until September.)

There are lots of questions about this. Why Bluetooth? Why not Wi-Fi? But there’s also a question that hasn’t been asked: Why not DECT — a standard for cordless phones in Europe and pretty much everywhere except the U.S.?

One company is now offering a phone which does mix it up with DECT, and, while its other life is as a fixed line telephone rather than a mobile one, it might make more sense, not least because it works with Skype. The Inquirer, one of the first to get hold of a unit, today reports that the Dual DECT and cordless Skype phone works:

IN TERMS OF dual purpose handsets for the home, the most cost-saving approach must surely be a combined cordless and VoIP handset. Given the popularity of Skype and the use of the DECT standard for digital cordless in Europe, then the Du@lphone is the obvious solution.

Most Skype users have joined up so that they can make free voice calls to friends and family abroad who possess a broadband connexion. Normally you’re tied to your desktop PC or laptop, waiting for a call to come in.

With the Du@lphone you can easily wander around the house and take the call wherever is convenient. Even in the bath if you want to. Plus the quality of the voice calls is very high. Indeed, it’s difficult to tell the difference between a Skype call and a regular telephone connexion with this handset.

Dualphone

This has a lot of appeal. The cordless phone is a great invention, and most folk seem to have them now. And while there are obvious drawbacks — you have to have your computer on and connected, you have to switch the cable to a PSTN line to make an ordinary call, the version of Skype that runs on the phone is a version created by the company, and so needs to be updated by them – rather than Skype  – should the need arise — the advantages are legion. First off, being able to use Skype on a cordless telephone suddenly liberates you from your computer (OK, Pocket PC users may already be at this spot); second, having an ordinary phone that you can plug into the wall if necessary and use a landline with saves you a lot of money and hassle:

The Cordless DUALphone is a cordless telephone that can be connected to a normal telephone socket and a USB port on a PC. The display shows whether your friends who also use Skype™, are online. If they are, you simply have to press the appropriate green button and talk to them for free – no matter where they are in the world.

Of course, it would be great to have one of these devices that did mobile/fixed/Skype/SkypeOut & In seamlessly. It will happen. In the meantime it’s pretty exciting to see all these early efforts at cracking open new markets. Good luck to them.

Phishing Gets Smaller, Smarter

It’s intriguing how phishers are targeting smaller and smaller groups. Not only does it indicate that the bigger banks and institutions are becoming more secure (or their customers smarter) but it indicates that the phishers must be employing increasingly sophisticated methods of harvesting email addresses. Or is there something else afoot?

The Bakersfield Californian yesterday reported an attack on the Kern Schools Federal Credit Union which has, according to its website, 140,000 members and 10 branch offices. That’s actually not a lot of people to target, in spamming terms. Still, up to 25 members got the email and reported it to the union. One must assume many more received it and didn’t report it. The Bakersfield paper went on to say:

As large financial organizations become better at fighting off such phishing attacks, scammers seem to be targeting smaller regional banks and credit unions. Smart phishers are finding sources of e-mail addresses and using them to get in touch with bank customers. “They’re figuring out how to beat the probabilities of targeting people,” said Peter Cassidy, secretary general of The Anti-Phishing Working Group. “I guess this is the same discipline that marketers use.”

In many cases, that’s meant targeting people whose e-mail address is public. “In the past, phishers used to go after mainstream consumer Web sites with millions of users, but now the targets are becoming much smaller and more localized,” Dan Hubbard, senior director of security and technology research at online security firm Websense Inc., said in a statement.

An interesting feature of this chapter in the phishing saga. My guess is that these attacks are from quite different gangs than the original East European/ex Soviet groups that started all this. But I could be wrong. But here’s a thought: Could the customer data have been gathered from a data security breach? Clearly these breaches are a growing worry for financial institutions of any size, as high profile cases have illustrated. Indeed, last December Kern hired a company called Ingrian to secure its members’ data:

“As we looked at the NCUA legislation and the ongoing incidence of security breaches taking place, we decided that it made sense to augment our existing security capabilities by implementing encryption inside our enterprise,” explained David DuBose, vice president, information technology, Kern Schools Federal Credit Union. “After evaluating the alternatives available, we became convinced that Ingrian’s approach—providing a centralized appliance that intelligently manages encryption, keys, and policies—gave us the most secure and most cost-effective way to protect sensitive data.”

i think perhaps it’s time for banks to look proactively at how many of its customers are getting targeted and see whether there is a correlation with missing data (the Privacy Rights Clearing House counts nearly 10 million people — Americans, I assume — whose data has been stolen or otherwise compromised this year.) If there is any correlation between phishing attacks and stolen data, then perhaps banks and other institutions need to be more proactive in warning customers, rather than just posting tardy warnings or warning ‘brochures’ that are in a format (PDF) many customers won’t know how to open and way too big (3+MB) for anyone not on broadband to download.