SciTechBlog
December 18, 2009

'Operation Chokehold' takes on AT&T

Posted: 01:49 PM ET

UPDATE 4 p.m. ET: Anecdotal evidence suggests "Operation Chokehold" may have had some effect. In Web posts, users around the country reported scattered difficulty in accessing AT&T's 3G network on their smartphones Friday, although others said it was working fine. As for Lyons, he posted an item to his blog Friday afternoon saying, "As far as I can tell, there’s been no impact at all. My iPhone is working just the same as ever. I’m talking to someone on it right now."

If AT&T's wireless network bogs down today, you can blame - or maybe even thank - a fake Steve Jobs.

Complaining of poor service on his iPhone and angered by the company’s suggestion that it may take action to discourage heavy bandwidth users, blogger Daniel Lyons is pushing “Operation Chokehold.” The idea, says Lyons, is for every iPhone user to open a data-intensive application at noon Pacific time (3 p.m. ET) to overload AT&T's 3G network as a form of protest.

“Send the message to AT&T that we are sick of their substandard network and sick of their abusive comments,” wrote Lyons earlier this week. The tech writer and Newsweek columnist writes a popular mix of fact and fiction on his blog, “Secret Diary of Steve Jobs.”

AT&T, predictably condemns the effort, which has picked up steam on lots of tech-related blogs and Web sites since Lyons first wrote about it Monday.

“We understand that fakesteve.net is primarily a satirical forum, but there is nothing amusing about advocating that customers attempt to deliberately degrade service on a network that provides critical communications services to more than 80 million customers,” the company said in a written statement.

On Friday, Lyons was both promoting and downplaying the effort.

He noted that the idea started as a joke, “[b]ut some people took it seriously and now the joke has taken on a life of its own.”

He said he and supporters have “already won” with the attention they’ve drawn to the network’s service and predicted that any “Operation Chokehold” effort won’t actually do much to cripple AT&T's service.

“This may be cathartic, but it is pointless,” he wrote. “A few thousand people are not going to make a dent in a wireless network. If you participate, you’ll most likely be wasting your time.”

We'll soon find out.

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Filed under: AT&T • smartphones


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October 16, 2009

Will Net neutrality end unlimited bandwidth?

Posted: 09:48 AM ET

Net neutrality policies that prevent Internet service providers (ISPs) from managing network traffic based on content may end the age of unlimited Web use. Without the ability to intelligently manage their networks, ISPs are increasingly using data caps, often as low as 5 GB per month, to preserve bandwidth.

A year ago the FCC was breathing down Comcast's neck for throttling Internet traffic related to BitTorrent, the file-sharing protocol. With the threat of Net neutrality regulations looming, Comcast and other ISPs, agreed to drop BitTorrent traffic-management programs and generally treat all Web traffic as equal.

However, the Net neutrality concession wasn't free for consumers. AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner all rolled out monthly data caps shortly after the agreement.

Without neutrality, ISPs are allowed to manage network traffic by restricting content. They may do so intelligently, or they could slow streaming video, disrupt P2P services and even block rival Web sites - which would be highly anti-competitive. Though frustrating, the data caps allow ISPs to conserve their limited bandwidth without relying on network-management techniques that violate net neutrality.

Now the FCC has its sights on mobile broadband providers. FCC Chairman Julian Genachowski is a strong supporter of net neutrality and believes it should also apply to mobile providers. But with much less bandwidth available in the wireless spectrum, net neutrality could mean sluggish speeds and far more restrictive data caps.

In a Washington Post interview, Carnegie Mellon Computer Science Professor David Farber argues net neutrality isn't practical: "We've always said the Internet has infinite bandwidth, but the economics of running a network don't allow you to do that."

Net neutrality policies haven't crippled terrestrial Internet in the way Farber fears, but mobile broadband is not as plentiful. Wireless carriers may have trouble complying with neutrality regulation.

If every smartphone customer suddenly began to take advantage of his unlimited data plan with bandwidth hungry applications like VoIP calls or streaming video, and wireless carriers are not allowed to manage this sudden demand for content, the network would suffer.

Gizmodo thinks net neutrality will eventually cause smartphone users, like those with the iPhone, to lose their unlimited broadband:

You will pay for every ounce of data that you use. And if you're "crowding" the network by downloading a bunch of stuff, you're gonna get slowed down because that's the easy "net neutral" way to keep users in check. How much better is that, really?

Proper network management would be ideal, but there is no guarantee ISPs will manage our internet traffic effectively and fairly. So are you willing to give up your unlimited bandwidth for Net neutrality, or do you trust your internet provider?

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Filed under: computers • Internet • iPhone • online video • smartphones


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September 25, 2009

Commentary: MMS finally comes to the iPhone

Posted: 11:57 AM ET

UPDATE: 2:09 p.m. Just updated the carrier profile for my phone via iTunes. I had to reboot, but MMS is now working and I have sent and received a few messages. Now that this is done - Bluetooth remote profile puhhhhleeeeese?

MMS (multi-media messaging) is finally going to be unlocked on the iPhone. ATT's Facebook Page says it should be out by "late morning" Pacific Time - translating to early afternoon for those of us in the Eastern Time zone.

If you can't wait till the update comes through, the iPhone blog has a nice walk through that might sate you for a few minutes.

But why do we care? (Besides the fact that it's a feature long available on practically every phone known to man.) You can e-mail pictures and videos from the iPhone already - and when you use email they usually get there. Plus, on cell phone networks, MMS can sometimes be a crapshoot.

The real reason this is a relief, IMHO (in my humble opinion), is the nasty way AT&T handles incoming MMS messages from friends.

Under the old MMS system, iPhone users received a text message, with a link, a message ID and a password. So not only did it require extra steps to see the message, it was as if the user interface was purposefully designed to keep you from seeing that cute picture of a bunny your friend just had to send you.

Of course, the new system comes with it own issues - mainly what the additional load of iPhone users sending and receiving MMS's will do to AT&T's seemingly already overtaxed network. PC World has a decent look at that issue (which I found via a tweet from @NPRALLTECH on Twitter).

So what are your thoughts? Is this a feature you were chomping at the bit for, something you don't think you'll ever use, or are you somewhere in between? (Personally I'm still waiting for the Bluetooth remote profile to work so I can change tracks via my Bluetooth headphone ...)

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Filed under: Apple • e-mail • iPhone • smartphones • technology


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August 27, 2009

Techies share favorite iPhone apps

Posted: 07:15 PM ET

Curious to know which iPhone apps are considered worthiest by the world’s leading bloggers and tech enthusiasts?  I had a chance to eavesdrop on an all-things-cool session at the Gnomedex technology conference in Seattle last week.  Here are a few apps that people mentioned.

These changed my life – at least for a minute!

AudioBoo lets you record and share mp3 audio files up to three minutes in length.  You can add text, titles, photos as well as geolocation info. (Free)

PocketMeter allows you to measure any room or distance using sound to bounce off objects.  You just point the iPhone’s microphone at the floor or wall and tap on the screen.  The app emits sound and measures the time it takes for the echo to return.  It can calculate distances between 8 inches and 13 feet within 0.4 inches of accuracy. ($0.99)

Sonar Ruler similarly uses echoes to measure distances up to 60 feet. ($0.99)

AppSniper is an app about apps.  It allows you to track apps when they go on sale and it tells you when they are within your price range. ($0.99)

Boxcar conveniently sends you push notifications anytime you receive a mention or a direct message on your Twitter account.  It conveniently works with most Twitter clients, so you can view a message once you receive a push. ($2.99)

Pocket Universe, an augmented reality app, is a planetarium in your pocket.  Just point your phone up to the sky, and it simulates the exact night sky above you, complete with the names of all the constellations.  The app works best on the iPhone 3GS, which has a digital compass and an accelerometer. ($2.99)

AutoStitch lets you create panoramas out of multiple pictures you snap with your iPhone’s camera. ($1.99)

Geocaching is a global treasure-hunting game where players can locate hidden containers or ‘geocaches.'  The app uses the iPhone’s GPS capability to provide a list of real-time information about geocaches near your location. It’s available in English, Dutch, French, German and Japanese.  ($9.99)

So what are your favorite iPhone apps right now?  Mine is Bump, which lets you exchange contact information with other iPhone users simply by bumping phones.  It certainly came in handy when I ran out of business cards at Gnomedex!

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Filed under: Apple • iPhone • smartphones • technology


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May 25, 2009

Commentary: iPhone mania will outlast Palm Pre

Posted: 04:21 PM ET

Palm's newest entry into the smart phone battle, the Palm Pre, is scheduled to be released on June 6, just two days before the expected release of the iPhone's 3.0 software.

The Pre was first announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. It kind of stole the show - something I didn't expect at all. Before converting to the iPhone last July, I was a firmly entrenched Palm Treo user (and NOT the Windows version, either). Palm had been bought and sold too many times to count, the current operating system was long overdue for an overhaul. Quite frankly, I was over it.

Then came the Pre - and wow - could this really be an iPhone contender? It was to have all the things the iPhone was missing: a real keyboard - one that slides out from behind the phone - as well as cut and paste functions, multi-media messaging (MMS), global search, applications that run in the background and live notifications. Of course, Apple announced the 3.0 software, which is expected to bring the iPhone up to par on those features.

I haven't been able to get my grubby little hands on a Pre, but it does look cool. The so-called WebOS looks to be innovative - perhaps as innovative as the iPhones - and is designed to be used with only one hand.

And don't get me started on the optional inductive charger, which means you can put the phone right on top of the charger without connecting a cord (think Sonicare). Can the rest of the world please adopt and standardize this technology?

But will I buy one? Not unless someone else is footing the bill. I'm addicted to the iPhone for now and I just can't see giving it up.

What about you? iPhone vs. Palm Pre: which do you see coming out on top, or is there room for both on the stage? I can see the Pre garnering lots of support from the people who don't like the iPhone for one reason or another, or who prefer Sprint over AT&T. But can it compete with the momentum the iPhone has?

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Filed under: iPhone • Palm Pre • smartphones


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Are you a gadgethead? Do you spend hours a day online? Or are you just curious about how technology impacts your life? In this digital age, it's increasingly important to be fluent, or at least familiar, with the big tech trends. From gadgets to Google, smartphones to social media, this blog will help keep you informed.

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