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As I said at the outset of this blog, I’ve been posting every day because in the past, when I’ve started blogs, I’ve posted lots and lots at first and then slowly taper off until I have one of those zombie blogs. I may still have two zombie blogs here on WordPress. So I post something, anything, every day – even if it’s just a picture. Today, I’m feeling too blue even for a picture post.

The post I’m planning on putting up on Wednesday is about getting my hair cut in seventh grade. That sounds really trivial, but it fact it was a turning point in my adolescence because, quite accidentally, I stumbled on the trick to being “cool” rather than a “nerd.” You see, I suffer from mild social anxiety, although I didn’t know it for most of my life because I was able to cover it up successfully. I thought everyone was just a little bit nervous in social situations. I would have put myself in the “slightly shy and certainly introspective” category rather than the “gregarious and outgoing” category, but I believed that I still fell somewhere on the continuum of what most people would consider normal.

I handled social situations by over preparing and bracing for the worst. I’d do my makeup and my hair. I’d choose my clothes carefully. I’m not much for the consumer mentality, but I am very visual and I think I frequently succeeded in looking quite stylish, yet not unoriginal. I’d agonize about going and finally I’d force myself out of the house because I was already showing up a little bit later than was polite. I’d take a deep breath and walk into the room. It could be a classroom or a party. The dynamic was pretty much the same. I’d battle my instinct to slink along the wall like a scared cat. I’d walk into the room, moving close to the center although I usually couldn’t bring myself to actually inject myself into a conversation. Then I’d stand there with my shoulders back and my chin up as if I were defiantly facing a firing squad. What did I get as a reward for a my bravery? People would think I was stuck-up and a snob.

That’s not as bad an outcome as you might think. I learned very young that most people don’t exercise judgement very well, and it’s especially poor in groups. People value things because they see social cues telling them that something is valuable. By accidentally acting as if I thought I was too good for everyone else, other people would perceive me as having something of value. I didn’t need to approach people because they approached me. Of course, every minute of waiting for someone to approach is like dying a million little deaths in my mind. Consequently, I do not choose to go to any and all parties. I pick ones which offer a high return on investment. In some sort of virtuous circle, I appear to other people as picky.

Still, I’ve never ceased being nervous. People saw me as confident and self-possessed. Meanwhile, inside I was a basket-case.

What does this have to do with not feeling like posting? Because time doesn’t work on the internet the way it does in the flesh. In the real world, I’m not up for an argument all the time. When I am, I steal myself for it, so to speak. If I’m feeling vulnerable, or blue, or especially shy, I don’t engage. However, on the internet, you can put up a comment on a day when you’re feeling strong, or silly, or friendly and you might get a response when you’re in a totally differently state of mind.

So someone made me cry this morning. This is not the first time this has happened within the past couple of weeks. I find myself hesitating to comment on other people’s blogs. Most of the people I meet online,I like. I don’t especially want to withdraw, but I’m feeling very conflicted about my presence in certain places.

On the plus side, it’s caused me to try to be a little more sensitive to other people’s feeling when I make comments online.

Anyhow, that’s my post for today.

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Pardon me folks for an intemperate rant, but it’s just about all I can think of at the moment. This is trivial, I know. Somewhere in the world people are experiencing true suffering, but still, I’m mad and I can’t concentrate on anything else. Before I can describe the event which has put me in my current, livid state, I need to give you a bit of background.

Several years ago, I moved to Baltimore. For a time I lived with my sister while I looked for a more permanent place. The summer before last I found one. It was a beautiful apartment in a beautiful building in an okay area. Plus, I could afford it, which was no small thing. It is by far the nicest apartment I’ve ever lived in. It even has a pool. What it doesn’t have, however, is acceptable internet connections. You see, here in the U.S., in most cities, our internet is provided by poorly regulated monopolies who are accountable to no one. As monopolies, they don’t give two hoots about their customers and in our libertarian inspired business culture, the government does little to regulate them. They take your cash and give you as little as they can get away with. The monopoly in my particular area is Comcast. I paid for one of their most expensive internet only plans, because I don’t watch t.v. and I don’t have a landline. From them, I received speeds so low I couldn’t connect to SpeedTest.net in order to test them. It would take about five minutes to load a page of plain text. I know when I said this people thought I was exaggerating. I had my sister come over and tried to open a page that was  mostly text. She sat and watched the clock with me. Trust me, you don’t need a stop watch. Whether it was 4 min. 55 sec. or 5 min. 5 sec. hardly mattered. It was, for all intents and purposes, not functional as a connection. We called customer service a couple of times and got no satisfaction.

Without disconnecting that service, I then signed up for a plan with Verizon to have an internet connection via a mobile hotspot. I know this is supposed to be an expensive way of connecting to the internet, but what choice do I have? I kept the Comcast connection because, while painfully slow, it was rarely entirely down. The mobile connection is variable. The fastest speeds are slower than the fastest speeds promised by Comcast, but at least I see them from time to time. Generally, it’s better. However, the device itself is flaky. It stops working for a day, then I get a notice that it needs a firmware update. That these things have happened in conjunction several times makes me think they’re related. Then, for a while, that device was not working, nor was my Comcast connection working. My sister came over here and loaned me her Sprint wireless internet device, which I’m using right now. I’ve had it for a couple of weeks and every time I say, “Hey, let me give this back to you,” one of the other two connections go down. So, right now I have three means of connecting to the internet from three different companies and I still can’t get reliable service.

So, last night, I was following one of the Maya 3D tutorials online when my Verizon connection, which I had been using, goes down. I get up to take a look at it. The indicator led is a solid red. I try turning the device off. It does not respond. I used my sister’s connection, which I really ought to give back to her one day, for the rest of the evening. Two hours later, when I went to bed, it was still lit up red. When I woke up this morning, the led was blinking green again like everything was normal.

According to an article in the New Republic:

For a while, Verizon challenged Comcast and Time Warner’s Internet supremacy by offering fiber-optic connections. Fiber, which has been widely adopted in Europe and Asia, provides speeds and capacities that cable simply can’t match. But then Verizon stopped extending its fiber network, and, with the acquiescence of Obama’s FCC, reached an agreement with Comcast and Time Warner to buy valuable segments of the wireless spectrum and to jointly market their products. The effect was drastically curtailed competition in both wired and wireless Internet.

Left to their own devices, the big telecom firms have transformed high-speed Internet into “an expensive luxury reserved for the rich,” Crawford writes. A third of Americans don’t have high-speed Internet, many because it’s not available where they live or because they think it’s too expensive. Those who can afford it get service that is pricier and slower than in much of Western Europe and Asia. Last year, Americans paid Comcast a monthly average of $153 for television, telephone, and Internet. According to a New America Foundation study, Parisians paid as little as $34.47 a month for the same bundled services, with Internet speeds five to 20 times faster than Comcast.

As if I needed one more reason to want to move to Paris. Anyway, I have the cold comfort of knowing I’m not alone in my misery.

I went online today to research if there are any other ways of connecting to the internet. There are not. Whenever I read about cloud service, hell, Adobe is even trying to push a cloud version of their Creative Suite, I wonder what dream world the heads of tech companies are living in. Meanwhile, what I want most from WordPress is a little application, a little like the dashboard, that will sit on my desktop and I can compose my blog entries even when my internet is down and upload them when that little window of opportunity comes around. For now, I write them in Notepad or Notepadd++ and copy and past them in, but then I have to futz with the formatting. I wonder where all those people who think the cloud is the future live. Paris, apparently.

Here’s a video of Susan Crawford speaking about the subject. Start it at about the 8 minute mark because it’s preceded by an unusually long and boring, although typically academic, introduction.

Although it had been publicly available for almost two years and invented several years before that, on April 30th in 1993 the World Wide Web became officially available to all for free. That was the day that CERN put the intellectual property rights associated with the Web into the public domain. To commemorate the anniversary, the first website has been put back online at its original address.

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There’s a subject I’d like to bring up, having a soapbox, modest though it be. That is the subject of the freedom of speech and the Internet. I would really like to encourage people to take an interest in this because the Internet has become a primary means of communication and any laws or policies regulating its use is likely to have a significant impact on all of us, whether you see yourself as a heavy internet user or not. Thus far, the debate seems to be dominated by a couple of fairly narrow interest groups who have a disproportionate voice on a subject where the public good should be a deciding factor.

A red-bellied woodpecker and some house sparrows at a bird feeder.

Since I didn’t have any images that screamed “Internet” at me, you’re going to have to suffer through my latest bird feeder pictures.

Freedom of speech has long been a concern of mine. The particular set of concerns related to it brought up by the internet was reignited by a post on EOS Horizon. which talked about a debate currently happening in Sweden regarding the regulation of hate speech on the Internet. Reading the article as an American, I had forgotten at first that hate speech is regulated in many parts of the world. The Internet is global in scope, yet many of the laws regulating it are local. That should make for an interesting discussion.

There are quite a few overlapping issues and I have not fully developed my own ideas on the subject. I will be publishing a series of posts and I expect that my ideas will develop over time. One of the great things about blogging is the lack of any pretense towards authority. This allows me to engage in some thinking out loud.

Some of the subjects that I will be exploring will be:

  • Hate speech
  • Cyberbullying
  • Copyright laws
  • Copyright violations
  • Internet access
  • Government surveillance
  • Net neutrality

Usually theses subjects are discussed in isolation, but I believe that they are best approached as a group.

Two red-bellied woodpeckers, one male and one female, at a bird feeder.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen both Mr. and Mrs. Red at the bird feeder at the same time.

For this first post, I would simply like to cover some basic information about the technology. If you feel like I’m talking down to you, it’s because this preface is not for you. A great many people have asked me very basic questions about the Internet and the applications which use it, so I have reason to believe there is quite a bit of ignorance and confusion out there that hampers a broad discussion of the topic. For the purposes of discussing laws and policies that affect internet communication, everyone is capable of understanding the basics of the technology.

What is the Internet?

The same two woodpeckers as in the previous photo still at the feeder.

They’re probably loading up on calories and saving their strength for breeding season.

A number of years ago, a United States Congressman was mocked mercilessly for describing the Internet as a “series of tubes.” However, it’s not that bad an analogy. A better analogy might be a phrase that’s fallen out of use, “The Information Superhighway.” It’s that network of phone lines, fiber optic cables, television cables, wireless connections, and whatever else that carries information that can be accessed by a computer, including the little computer you carry in your pocket that doubles as a phone.

The Internet can carry all formats of information. For years most of us used the internet mainly for email and the World Wide Web, which we usually simply call the Web. Since then, we’ve come to use it for voice over IP (VoIP) functions like Skype, as a delivery system for movies and a variety of other things.

Large institutions, like corporations and universities, frequently have their own private networks, called “intranets.” The Internet is the large, widely shared, network that can be accessed by everyone.

Who Owns That Network?

This is an important point, because it’s definitely going to arise in some of the discussions. Networks cost money to install and maintain.

The Internet is comprised of many smaller networks that are connected together. Although no one owns the Internet, those smaller networks are owned by a variety of entities including private companies and governments. The Internet can only exist because these entities cooperate with one another.

What Is the Web?

The Web is a service that runs over the Internet. It is comprised of a huge number of documents, or computer files, that are formatted in a consistent way. This format allows them to be viewed by a web browser.

For our purposes, a characteristic that distinguishes the Web from many other services that run over the Internet is that it is non-proprietary. Everyone can use this format with out paying fees to the organization that created it.

What Are Apps?

The male woodpecker is still on the feeder and the female woodpecker is flying away.

Each spring, these two have a couple of young. That’s when the drumming starts, usually at dawn. This is one instance in which I wouldn’t mind limiting someone’s freedom of speech. They’re a beautiful family, but noisy.

The current usage of the word “app” that I find among my computer illiterate friends and family is a little concerning because people seem to be quite confused about what they are. The word “app” is simply a shortened form of the word “application.” In other words, an “app” is just another word for a computer program. However, these days, when people talk about apps, they seem to be thinking of the applications that are purchased, or downloaded for free, from services such as the Apple’s App Store and are usually intended for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet computers.

These applications make an excellent contrast with the Web. Many of these applications access information over the Internet. However, their format is often proprietary. No one else can use that format without permission of the owners. So, for instance, you can read articles published by the New York Times on their website via the Web, using a web browser. You can also have a New York Times app on your tablet computer and use that to read articles published by the Times. The New York Times App performs a function similar to the web browser. Both applications display The New York Time’s articles which have been delivered over the Internet. The difference is that The New York Times App only displays articles from The New York Times. The web browser can display articles from anyone who formats its information appropriately. Anyone includes you, because the format is non-proprietary – and that’s an important point to remember.

A Note to Techies

I’ve left out as much technical information as possible in this description and have tried to include only things that have a direct bearing on policy discussions so the broadest number of people can take part in this discussion. I’m far more knowledgeable than this simplification would suggest. I’ve tried to avoid all jargon, avoiding talking about protocol layering, gateways, routers and so on. In doing so, I have probably made some little errors. I almost certainly have left out some things that will turn out to be relevant. If you think of anything, please let me know, either in the comments or through the contact form on the About page so I can either update this page or include it in future posts. Thanks.

At some point, I’m going to be discussing specific legislation that’s been proposed to regulate the Internet. As an American, most of my familiarity is with U.S. laws. If anyone has links to legislation, either implemented or seriously proposed, in other countries, I’d appreciate the input. I can read articles in French as well as English. Unfortunately, any other languages will have to suffer through something like Google translate.