TWC’s Hissy Fit

Time Warner Cable, not content with the damage it has already done to its reputation by threatening usage caps and/or tiered pricing, then following with assertions that it will just take its DOCSIS 3.0 toys and go home, has now apparently started cutting off customers for excessive usage.

A customer was shut off for using 44GB of traffic in one day. Granted, that’s a lot of data, but it’s hardly a network crushing load. More concerning was that the customer was not warned. Further, when he reported a service outage, he got the run around for hours until someone finally told him why he had been disconnected. Even then, they would not reveal what the threshold limit was that caused the disconnection. All we really know now is that 44GB is too much. The thing is, some of the “heavy abusers” that TWC keeps griping about doubtless use way more traffic than this. TWC has been claiming it has customers who use terrabytes/month, yet 44GB/day is only 1.3 TB/month. And this customer apparently was not maintaining that load on a daily basis. It was just one day.

So far, this is but a single data point. That means it’s a bit too early to get worked into a lather. And arguably, the shutoff is within the Road Runner TOS (Terms of Service). But the timing of such a shutoff, and the fact that it happened in Austin, TX (one of the tiered pricing trial cities) is ample cause for concern.

Another comical point is that the DOCSIS 3.0 upgrades TWC is now withholding would actually help mitigate the ability of any one customer from placing a load on the system that would impact other users. But why address a problem with technology when you can blame your customers for using your service incorrectly?

In somewhat related news, Cablevision’s Optimum service has announced that they will be offering unlimited 101Mbps service (that’s 10x the speed of regular Road Runner) for $99/mo. This service will be available May 11th to every Cablevision customer. Curious, they managed to do a significant service upgrade without bankrupting themselves, still maintained a service without a volume cap, and are charging for speed. Maybe TWC should buy a vowel?

I know many people are thinking that since TWC has postponed its volume tiered pricing that this is all over. But please, be vigilant. Trust me, this is far from over.

Is Our Children Learning?

Thomas Friedman brings to light (once again) the ugly truth that the American school system is failing our children. On the one hand, this is so obvious, but on the other, I don’t think our national pride will let us really admit to this fact. Granted, we collectively seem to recognize that there’s room for improvement. But do we really realize that our high school students are ranked 25th out of 30 industrialized countries in math and science? That’s pitiful.

But what to do? That’s the question. Sure, I have my ideas, but so do lots of other people. The only thing that seems certain is that throwing more money at the problem and imposing tougher standards probably isn’t the answer. We’ve pretty much ridden that pony ’til it dropped. Perhaps, to paraphrase Monty Python, it’s time for something completely different.

David Wiley, who is a professor of psychology and instructional technology at Brigham Young University, thinks that universities will be irrelevant by 2020. At first glance that seems ludicrous, but the trends may bear lending him some mind share. Distance learning is increasingly popular, and education is one of the applications making a big push into virtual worlds. It is true that the physical campus is becoming less important for many aspects of the learning process. Granted, I don’t think that all the merits of a higher education are achievable in front of a computer screen. There would still need to be access to labs and equipment as well as some sort of social structure to encourage collaboration. There would even need to be access to sports and activities which are every bit as important to the maturation process as classroom work.

However, I’m inclined to wonder if there might not be other models for achieving those goals as well. Why not commercial ventures which rent lab space, equipment, and common student areas. You may not be there with all the kids you are in class with, but imagine the learning possibilities from having chemistry students from four different schools collaborating on a project, each bringing their class insights to the table. Similarly, college age sports teams may be organized by location rather than school.

On the schools’ side, there would be much less need for maintaining all that campus space. They could focus on paying for top faculty and other more direct value adds. They might even sell/spin off some of their athletic facilities and laboratories for the commercial shared use of the community. And for us parents, this arrangement has got to be a significantly cheaper option than the current setup.

If this succeeds at the college level, there’s no reason it couldn’t trickle down to the high school level as well. I’m not sure the model works well at the elementary level, but our schools don’t seem to be having as much problem there. Maybe a tweak to our current system is all we need for grade school.

Clearly this idea is overly simplistic at the moment. And maybe it’s complete lunacy. But the point is that sometimes when something is broken, the extant institution is not the one to carry out the reform because they can’t get far enough “out of the box”. I think we’ve given the education profession decades to straighten its house out. While I believe that there are individuals in the profession with the imagination and insight to conceive of something radically new, the institution will never adopt it. It’s too entrenched in the status quo. Something from the outside will need to push it.

In a way, No Child Left Behind was such a push. However, that didn’t work out too well. So let’s not give up. Let’s back-up, and try something else. And let’s do it before we are left with a generation of happy well adjusted self actualizing unemployed people.

Honor and Reciprocity

I’m hung up on the torture thing. Yes, we knew it was going on before, and the released memos simply confirmed that reality. But they’ve also brought about a new wave of those defending it as a sane policy. Cheney and Rove are front and center, but many have joined the chorus to sing that torture makes us safer. I wrote about this a few days ago and questioned the efficacy of torture and pondered about whether it was an end or a means. But now I’m pondering a simpler and yet more confounding question. Is it ever the right thing to do?

This seems to be the basis of the argument for having torture in the interrogation toolbox. The claims that it has saved lives. There are those claiming that it really hasn’t, but for the purposes of this discussion, let’s assume that it has. That torturing a prisoner at Guantanamo provided evidence to avert an attack that would have hurt hundreds of people otherwise. Was it right to torture him?

This is the point where there’s a tendency to get all Hollywood. Given that you know this guy is a major scumbag, why should we be concerned about torturing him? He deserves it. If we get valuable intelligence, then it was worth it. If not, he got what was coming to him.

However, we can’t stop the thinking at that point and declare victory. The big reality question is, how do we know he’s a bad guy? Sure, in the movies we get to see all the evildoing on the screen before the hero opts for torture. But the real world is rarely so black and white. Jurisprudence says we put him through due process first. That he’s innocent until proven guilty. But that takes time, and even then, we know too well that some innocent people still wind up getting convicted. So deciding he’s a bad guy is someone’s judgment. But who’s do we trust?

This would be a good point to think through the possibility that your son, your brother, or your friend could be the one under suspicion. Who would you trust to make the choice over whether or not they should be tortured? Should we torture them now, just in case? Maybe you should also consider that your bad “guy” might not be a young adult male. What if it was a her? What if it was an elderly person or a child? The bright lines start to blur in a hurry don’t they?

I’m not going to lose any sleep over the notion of a terrorist who has or would kill innocent people being tortured. But I can’t bring myself to condone torture as a standing tool for extracting information because that means that somewhere along the way innocent people will be tortured for information they do not have. And as torture becomes easier to use (and it will if we use it), the number of innocents tortured will climb.

It gets even murkier when you start to think about whether or not we’d support the torture of Americans by other governments. It would be wrong headed to assume that all Americans abroad are innocent. Certainly, from the perspective of a foreign government, there will be cases where they might think they have probable cause, but we might think the person innocent. Would we not be outraged if that citizen were tortured on foreign soil? Would not the foreign government feel every bit as entitled as we do to torture when they have what they believe is probable cause?

In the end, I think torture is like a nuclear weapon. The fact that it’s out there likely has some deterrent effect. But in practical usage it rarely achieves the desired end goal, hurts lots of innocent people, and in hindsight, always seems there was a better option.