I should probably write about my 32nd wedding anniversary (tomorrow) instead of this, but hey, let’s live dangerously! I was catching on RSS feeds tonight, and saw this Engadget article. This immediately brought back many memories of beer-soaked nights at Kirkpatrick’s on Rosemary Street in Chapel Hill. As the 37th anniversary, that put it in 1976, my sophomore year at UNC-CH…a quick trip to Wikipedia confirmed the dates. I spent many evenings getting to the point where I could clear the screen with one “ball” – many evenings at Kirk’s, many quarters in the Breakout console, and many 50-cent beers. I was not a pinball wizard…the finesse eluded me . However, Breakout became my game. Why, I don’t know. Maybe it was a subtle sign that I was destined for a career in IT. Ah, what a trip down memory lane…
There was an interesting development in the “cord cutting” TV world last week. Aereo, a company which re-transmits broadcast TV from areas receiving rich sets of OTA signals, has passed a court test in the New York 2nd Circuit of Appeals. This has the broadcast networks in an uproar, and several are now threatening to broadcast fewer shows and make entertainment and sports available only over cable pay services. As I’ve discussed in this blog, I’ve “cut the cord” and rely on over the air (OTA) TV plus Netflix, Hulu+, streaming from network sites, and a growing number of entertainment apps in the iOS world (such as A&E, History Channel, Lifetime) that allow for shows to be “thrown” via AirPlay.
I think that while the broadcast TV networks would like to move in this direction, if they were to do so, I think it would help hasten the coming unbundling and breakup of cable TV as we know it, having a counterproductive impact by further fracturing the “packaging” of video entertainment. Already streaming providers like Netflix are producing original programming (the well received House of Cards which I need to watch!) and cable networks like HBO are experimenting with unbundled subscriptions in Europe. A few more “nudges” and we’ll see more original content produced for streaming providers. I think that at age 55, I’m somewhat unusual among my peers in ditching cable. However, the 20-somethings are a generation the cable providers don’t want to lose, but are in danger of doing so. My oldest son and his wife are looking at ditching cable for OTA. For many today, the Internet is more important than TV, and the $100+ per month that it’s easy to spend on cable can be used more creatively for discretionary entertainment. Sports is still the big draw, but the $5/mo/subscriber that ESPN charges the cable companies contributes to the escalation of monthly cable bills. Entertainment companies are struggling with how to operate in the current world order. In a recent New York Times article, the correspondent speaks of sharing HBO login credentials for use with HBO Go. I think that HBO is actually using this to understand what the demand is for unbundled internet access without actually formally committing to a product offering. Could ESPN and HBO subscriptions be not too far down the road?
What’s the bottom line? There are a lot of disturbances in the force. I think that we are headed toward a la carte unbundled subscriptions, but the cable companies are entrenched and don’t want to give up their business model. However, they are fighting a rear guard action as they retreat. The good news on the Internet front is Google’s Fiber initiative, now rolling out to Austin TX as well as Kansas City, Mo, and while Google’s business model is not likely to be a national buildout, they are doing enough to worry the cable internet providers that they could do this if the cable ISP’s are intransigent on carrying entertainments bits.
The next few years are going to be interesting!
There have been several updates to Drupal core since the first of the year. I did a round of maintenance for my sites in February, but I’d skipped Drupal 7.21 since it was not a security update. Then, on April 3, 7.22 was released. Like 7.21, it’s not a security release but I thought I ought to upgrade. I ssh’d to my hosting service, and in turn, backed up each site, switched to maintenance mode, and did the module+core+database update with drush. Ran like a champ. I’ve only been doing Drupal for a couple of years, and I didn’t use drush at first. In fact, I only started using it when the web-based updates started throwing PHP errors on one of my sites. I’m happy I installed and started using drush, ’cause it sure does make maintenance easier.
Planning is important as one considers retirement. I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and have now, as of last week, publicly announced my intent at work. I’m stepping down from my post as an Associate vice Chancellor at UNC Greensboro effective 12/31/13. That’s several months away, but I wanted to give my boss time to think about how to parse and refactor my portfolio and plan for my replacement. I actually told him several months ago that this was in the works, but we’ve now, as of March 28th, made a statement at a department-wide town hall meeting, and I’ve started to tell my campus colleagues.
While I like my job and am still turned on by technology, I’m looking forward to spending time doing what I want to do rather than what I have to do. I’ll have over 30 years of service to the State of NC by the end of the year, and am looking forward to spending more time at the beach, more time traveling, more time standing in a river waving a flyrod, more time catching up on my reading list, more time teaching myself a few new programming languages and applications, and other deferred projects.
I’ll continue to teach one class per semester at UNC Chapel Hill as long as they are willing to retain my adjunct appointment, and I look forward to being able to devote more time and energy to teaching. I do have to sit out one semester due to state rules about re-employment but that will just give me time to recharge the batteries. I’ll also evaluate consulting opportunities (and have some feelers out), but I won’t be looking for anything that will get in the way of doing what I *want* to do.
I’ll be holding down my regular gig until probably October/November, and then will begin a knowledge dump with my eventual replacement. It’s going to be both an long and short nine months, I think…
I’m catching up on some reading this long weekend at the beach. I’m a few months behind in reading Wired magazine and am going thru the January issue right now. I just read an intriguing article on the coming “robot revolution.” I think that most of us don’t realize how much change the next couple of decades will bring. Even when I reflect on the accelerating tech curve thru the lens of my own 35 year career in IT I think I underestimate it. Robotics has brought us more reliable and more affordable products, and the service sector is next. Manufacturing will, between the combination of robotics and additive manufacturing (3D printing), require ever fewer employees. The service sector will be affected dramatically as these more flexible robots enter fields that have been thought the sole purview of humans. The Dilbert comic has been amusing for the last week or so as Dilbert’s programming job has come into the robotic crosshairs. I hope that the future does lean toward the Gene Roddenberry vision of people spending their lives doing what they want to do, rather than what they have to do, instead of any of a myriad dystopian views.
The lack of understanding of the magnitude of impending change is one of the things that irks me about politics today. Manufacturing jobs aren’t coming back, and services will take fewer people. I was reading in Thursday’s NYTimes that new radiologists are saddled with education debt and dim job prospects, due to technological change. We need better education in all disciplines, from STEM curricula to classics. STEM to help our kids compete in an increasingly technological world, and the liberal arts to make them better and more rounded people, to find satisfaction in music and arts in Gene’s future. We sure don’t need to shortchange education funding and basic research.
Configuring the FF@ Wiki to hopefully grow and survive in a world of spammers (see my previous post about this) has been an interesting exercise. While I’ve used Mediawiki and other wikis for years, my efforts have been targeted toward wikis that while publicly accessible did not allow self-creation of login credentials. When I resurrected the FF@ Wiki, I set it up for ease of access to allow the community a low barrier of entry and was rewarded with all sorts of creative spam . I’d not done anything with Mediawiki extensions, but when I went to look up configuration settings, I found the ConfirmEdit extension, and realized that it was already loaded in the version of Mediawiki I was running and that I didn’t need to install the bits, just needed to set it up in the LocalSettings configuration file to set up a Captcha. There’s a pretty big ecosystem of extensions for Mediawiki, and I need to spend some time looking at this. There may be something else interesting in that corpus that would be interesting for my use cases. More to do!
I wonder if my spammers are humans or bots? I deleted a round of spam pages on Friday, and then I didn’t have any more spam pages until today (Monday). It almost seemed that they took the weekend off! Odd…well, I didn’t make the Captcha process very robust, so if it gets defeated I may have to buff it up a bit with some more question Captchas. I like question Captchas; I’ve used them on some of my Drupal sites with good success. They have the ability to target a specific cohort that shares a particular set of knowledge, and have the advantage of accessibility, unlike visual Captchas!
I recently revived and updated a wiki that I first created in 2007, which is focused on a group of Internet-connected flyfishers. I’d tried to get interest going in the project back in 2007, but the concept didn’t resonate with the group, and the wiki foundered due to lack of content. I’d just left it alone, and some software updates had broken it, and the wiki was non-functional. A couple months ago, I decided to fix it, updating the database and the Mediawiki software to support a more current version of PHP. I rolled it back out to the group to see if the intervening 6 years had created any more familiarity with the wiki concept. I tweaked the registration process to allow the community to read without registration, and by doing so, made it more public. The problem was that it got discovered by spammers. All was well, and then one day I a couple dozen spam pages. I tweaked the registration process to require a confirmed email for registration, and the problem went away for a while. Then, it seems it was discovered by smarter ‘bots that could deal with the registration process, or by human trolls/spammers. I spent an hour or so last night deleting spam pages, blocking users, and putting a “protect” flag on the main page. The issue is that if I raise the barrier to entry, I keep casual adopters in my intended community from dropping by and making the resource interesting. If I keep the barrier to entry low, it means that I have to engage in wiki hygiene to clean out the trash. It’s the nature of a wiki, and a commentary on the Internet world. Grrrr…
It’s been cold this week, with temperatures 15-20F below average. Last night, it was in the low 20′s, heading for an afternoon high of 53. However, I was still planning to head to Weldon to try my hand at shad again, and hopefully better the good trip I made last week. I’d originally planned to go with a UNCG colleague, but issues arose at work and he couldn’t make it. As it turns out, that was not a bad thing. I loaded up this morning and left the house about 9AM, as I was planning to let things warm up just a bit on the 1:45 drive to Weldon before I got on the river. Got to the stoplight not far from the house and thought I’d check the water level, and it was at over 18,000cfs, which is over 4x as high as it was last week! They were pulsing water from the reservoirs upstream. The graph showed that they’d done that yesterday as well. The water levels probably would be down to 6,000 or 7,000 by noon or 1PM if they held to the same pattern, but I decided that given the cold temperatures (both air and water – last week the water was only 50F), uncertain fishing prospects, and about 3.5 hours in the truck and burning $35 of gas, I’d just turn around, stay home and enjoy a “staycation” day. Think I’ll do some yard work today. Not as much fun as fishing, tho
I’m playing with Feedly as a replacement for Google Reader. My first reaction was “o my gosh, this is such a busy interface” but I was able to quickly figure out how to set the feeds to display in compressed mode, which is much easier to scan without distraction (IMHO). The great thing was the ease of entry. Simple login with Oauth with my Google credentials and automagically picking up my Google Reader feed configuration without even having to set up an account @ Feedly! I figured out that bookmarking a post equaled “starring” a post in Reader. I’ve attached Twitter and Facebook, tho I’ve not tried sending anything thru those interfaces. I’m using it with Chrome and iOS right now, but overall, this looks like a quite viable alternative. There are some things I see already that I like better than Reader, such as the breakdown of historical posts by day. So, I give this a cautious thumbs up…
It’s just about time to pull out the DVD to watch The Quiet Man (John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Barry Fitzgerald and Ward Bond). It’s got the best fistfight scene in any movie ever made Coffee and Irish whisky ready! It’s an annual tradition; my wife and I have been watching this for probably 25 years. Of course, we know most of the best lines! We’ve invited the next door neighbor over to watch with us. We’ve got appropriate weather today, overcast, windy, a bit damp and about 50F. It’s a nice soft night to talk a little treason