Why the Focus on Streaming Services During the Coronavirus (covid-19) Crisis

The internet cannot crash. Like a highway, it is built to handle separate discrete “vehicles”. The problem with the internet is that it will get congested and become slow. As my rural users say “This is worse than dial-up!!”. It can become so slow that you’ll move the mouse and wait 10 seconds for the screen to update where it went.

However, there is a tool to help manage congestion; it’s called “Quality of Service” (QoS) which can recognize and prioritize critical packets (e.g. critical vehicles like fire trucks and ambulances). QoS is usually only implemented on private networks but during a crisis, it could theoretically be enabled on the internet.

I use QoS at home to ensure my work computer gets priority to the house’s internet connection (the “last mile”). Here’s what it looks like to setup on my home router:

 

Let’s be honest though, streaming services are not “critical” and will not get QoS priority.  That is, no one is going to die, the economy will not suffer if someone’s television isn’t optimal. So this is the situation that video streaming is in:

Roughly 60% of internet traffic is video streaming which is why the focus is on reducing video quality which will reduce traffic loads.

How can video quality be reduced? Via compression, frames per second (fps) and/or resolution.  How much benefit is there from reducing this? Consider the “Standard Definition” digital equivalent is about 480p resolution. As portrayed in the bandwidth usage charts here,  Netflix bandwidth usage of 480p @ 23.976 fps versus 4K @ 59.940 fps is staggering! ~792 MB per hour vs ~7 GB per hour for a factor of over 7 times (700%)!

The impact may be annoying to some or some people might not even notice. I run all my video services at SD digital equivalent quality even pre-crisis because I don’t care and don’t really notice. I like that the videos load faster when they are smaller. Users may notice more so these differences on larger screens.

Compared to analog television, it doesn’t matter what the streaming services cut, it will still be better!

Preparing for Remote Working – During Coronavirus (covid-19) or Otherwise

As Telecom networks deal with “unprecedented” pressure it may feel like there isn’t much you can do to prepare yourself for working remotely. While that’s somewhat true, it isn’t entirely true. Here are some things you can likely do when preparing for remote working.

Preparing for Remote Working

  1. Plug directly into your internet service modem/router. If you think you don’t have a cable, try looking in your original computer/modem/router boxes if you still have them. They usually come with a cable and you may have collected some unwittingly over time.
  2. If online stores are still open, invest in a good router. I talk more about this in my article: “Forget a bandwidth upgrade! Try these 4 things to make the home internet experience better“.Consumer Reports came out with article echoing the things I’ve mentioned but better yet, they make product recommendations: https://www.consumerreports.org/home-office/work-from-home-covid-19-tech-that-will-make-it-easier/.
  3. If your router has a Quality of Service (QoS) feature, use it. Assign your work computer to the “highest” setting while making sure junior is watching TV on a lower QoS setting. Break out your router’s manual to find out if you can do this.
  4. Set any video, including video for a teleconference, to its lowest quality setting. Most video streaming services have a “download to device” feature which can make sure the device is not streaming while you’re trying to teleconference. Switching from HD to SD can save up to 25% of your bandwidth – article: “Netflix And YouTube Switch To SD To Ease Pressure On European Networks
  5. Think you’re ready for your work teleconference? Test your changes to see how well you did. The Cisco Spark WebEx Network Test measures all pieces of your internet service to make sure you’re ready; it’s not just about bandwidth!
  6. While you might not need a webcam, you’re going to need a really good headset (again, if you can still order one online). I talk more about this in my “PMI-SAC Remote Working Tips” article. Don’t forget to mute if you’re not talking while on a teleconference!
  7. Make sure your workspace is ready:
    • Have a room with a door that can be closed and that is quiet.
    • If you’ll be doing video meetings, ensure the background behind you is tidy.
    • Have a proper desk and chair setup. Do your best to make it ergonomic.
  8. Wear something that makes you feel productive. For many people this means not wearing pajamas but if that’s not you, then you’re good!
  9. Keep consistent work hours as much as possible.
  10. Go outside at least once during the day; especially important for those who live in areas where vitamin D supplements are necessary.
  11. Exercise at least 30 minutes a day.
  12. Get used to thinking about what is the best way to communicate to your team members depending on your needs. For instance, if you need to discuss something right away and at length, instant messaging might not be the right forum. Know when to pick up the phone or start a teleconference.
  13. You’re going to have to develop your ability to pick up on tones people are using. You may have heard that if you lose one of your senses, another sense goes into “overdrive”. Well, the same with remote working. You don’t have the luxury of a physical presence. More on this subject and more via the article “These are the 7 reasons why working from home can make you a better communicator“.
  14. If you need 1-1 check-ins, schedule them. Don’t assume someone is going to stop by regularly; make that happen.

Wrapping Up on Preparing for Remote Working

I hope it’s clear that being good at working remotely doesn’t just happen. Preparing for remote working takes preparation and some skills development. Don’t beat yourself up though, it takes time. Try to make the changes gradually if you can.

For more remote working suggestions see them here: https://www.inc.com/lindsey-pollak-eileen-coombes/remote-work-home-productivity-communication-self-care-morale-team.html

And another excellent article “4 Work-From-Home Mistakes That Cost Businesses Thousands Of Dollars” which outlines important rules teams can adopt to maximize productivity and overcome limitations that offices allow us to workaround but become big problems when working remotely:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/stephanieburns/2020/06/02/4-work-from-home-mistakes-that-cost-businesses-thousands-of-dollars/

About the Author

Trevor Textor has worked in various roles requiring remote work since 1997. Since 2014 he’s been supporting small, medium and large businesses as a freelancer (contingent labor) with a “swiss-army knife”-like suite of skills. In addition to setting up policy, procedures and technology for himself and his partner he has also met this need with clients in enabling their remote work. Trevor has been quoted by Reader’s Digest, NBC News, Reviews.com and MarketWatch.com regarding setting up appropriate Internet and WiFi service for remote work. Ask Trevor if he can help: https://www.textor.ca/contactme/.

“52 things I learned in 2019” – A summary of a fantastically interesting list:

 
#9 Placebos are so effective that placebo placebos work: A pain cream with no active ingredients worked even when not used by the patient. Just owning the cream was enough to reduce pain. [Victoria Wai-lanYeung]
 
#27 Spotify pays by the song. Two three minute songs are twice as profitable as one six minute song. So songs are getting shorter. [Dan Kopf]
 
#41 Disco, a Japanese high tech manufacturing company, has introduced an internal billing and payment system, where every cost is charged back to workers. Renting a conference room costs $100. “People really cut back on useless meetings,” says one staffer. [Yuji Nakamura & Yuki Furukawa] -> Haha!!! Useless meetings are the harbinger of the apocalypse.
 
#33 According to WaterAid research, women spend 97 billion hours a year looking for a safe place to go to the loo. That equals 46 million working years, which is the same workforce as Germany, the fourth largest economy in the world. [Caroline Criado Perez via Tanya Gold]
 
#42 A man who bought the personalised number plate NULL has received over $12,000 of parking fines, because the system records ‘NULL’ when no numberplate has been recorded. [Jack Morse]
 
#29 Three million students at US schools don’t have the internet at home. [Michael Melia & co] -> Why Trevor is so passionate about internet delivery. Such a critical problem…
 
#3 Emojis are starting to appear in evidence in court cases, and lawyers are worried: “When emoji symbols are strung together, we don’t have a reliable way of interpreting their meaning.” (In 2017, an Israeli judge had to decide if one emoji-filled message constituted a verbal contract) [Eric Goldman]
 
#4 Harbinger customers are customers who buy products that tend to fail. They group together, forming harbinger zip codes. If households in those zip codes buy a product, it is likely to fail. If they back a political candidate, they are likely to lose the election. [Simester, Tucker & Yang]
 
#7 At least three private companies have fallen victim to ‘deep fake’ audio fraud. In each case, a computerised voice clone of the company CEO “called a senior financial officer to request an urgent money transfer.” [Kaveh Waddell, Jennifer A. Kingson]
 
#15 People hate asking sensitive questions. However, it turns out that people don’t hate being asked sensitive questions. So talking around difficult questions in research interviews is a waste of time and money. [Hart, VanEpps, Schweitzer]
 
#18 Mechanical devices to cheat your phone pedometer (for health insurance fraud or vanity) are now all over AliExpress. [Matthew Brennan]
 
#19 In 2017 Google and Facebook lost $100 million between them to one scammer who sent them fake invoices. [Jeff John Roberts] [found by TomBot*]
 
#20 Teenagers with acne get higher marks, are more likely to complete college and, if female, eventually get paid more than people without teenage acne. [Hugo M. Mialon & Erik T. Nesson]
 
#32 In 2018, the Nigerian government spent more on subsidies for petrol than on health, education, or defence. [Andrew S Nevin]
 
#36 At least half of the effort of most AI projects goes on data labelling, and that’s often done in rural Indian villages. [Anand Murali]
 
#44 Some blind people can understand speech that is almost three times faster than the fastest speech sighted people can understand. They can use speech synthesisers set at at 800 words per minute (conversational speech is 120–150 wpm). Research suggests that a section of the brain that normally responds to light is re-mapped in blind people to process sound. [Austin Hicks & R Douglas Fields]
 
#46 SDAM (Severely Deficient Autobiographical Memory) is a rare syndrome where otherwise healthy, high-functioning people are unable to remember events from their own life. There is also an exhausting syndrome called Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory, where people can remember precise details about every single day of their life. [Palumbo & Alain]
 
#50 Six reluctant Chinese hitmen who hired each other to carry out a murder went to jail when their outsourcing scheme collapsed. [Eric Cheung] – explained more in the Planet Money podcast “WHITWELL: So this one is a guy hired a hitman to kill somebody else. That hitman said, I’m not doing that. He gave half the money to somebody else. He said, I’m not doing that. He gave half the money to someone else. Went all the way down the chain. The last guy was getting paid so little money, he said, this isn’t worth my while to do it. He went back to the victim and told him what had happened and said, we should split the money. Instead, the victim called the police, and all six of them went to prison.”
 
#52 Asking ‘What questions do you have for me?’ can be dramatically more effective than ‘Any questions?’ at the end of a talk. (Many more good tips in this thread. [Jacqueline Antonovich]
 
And also covered by Planet Money podcast episode:

The “Fox for Fiver” Campaign

The Bank of Canada is changing the $5 bill and is asking whom Canadians think should be on the new bill. It has been suggested it be Terry Fox and I agree. Read more about the “Fox for Fiver” campaign here:

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/terry-fox-5-bill-1.5465956

Canadians can support the campaign by submitting a nomination for Terry Fox here by March 11, 2020:

https://www.bankofcanada.ca/banknotes/banknoteable-5/

Nailed it: On why “How I retired at 35” stories are extremely irritating…

“All of these early retirement articles are the same. They all say things like, “Make it a goal”, “Track your expenses”, “Establish a system.” Blah. Blah. Blah. But none of these things are the actual reason for how they retired early. Because the actual reason is either (1) earning a high income or (2) having an absurdly low level of spending, or both.”
….
As a public service, the article includes more realistic headlines for retiring early, “Wanna retire at 27? Marry rich” and “Foregoing Procreation, Living Like a Hermit, and 4 Other Ways to Retire in Your 30s”.”
 

End Plastic Waste

To end plastic waste simply make fossil fuel plastic more expensive than recycling plastic. QED

No more plastic bag bans, no more plastic garbage everywhere, reduce or eliminate plastic in our food chain, improve impoverished nations, etc. There are a lot of advantages.

Total cost to consumers on a soda bottle is a quarter of a cent to half a cent.

Full TED talk here “A radical plan to end plastic waste”:

Add your name to the #NOPLASTICWASTE petition:

The Barriers to Better Internet – Comment and Share!

Where is this tower?
Who owns it?

We all want more Internet in more places. A logical person would assume that the stage is set to make this happen. Well, it’s not. As an Internet builder myself, I can say yes, funding is an issue but it’s not the main issue. The barriers to better internet involves data. That is, there is no infrastructure map or market to help build the Internet. These are things we need before we can even look at the issue of funding. Let’s explore what I mean.

Explaining the Barriers to Better Internet

I’ll use an analogy because it simplifies things and takes the industry specific terminology off the table. We want to build a house. We have nails but where do we find the wood? There is no equivalent of a home hardware store to go to. Instead what we have are wood piles placed all over the country sitting unused. How do we find the wood piles? Who owns them? What kind of lumber is it specifically? (2×4? 2×6? Length? etc.)

Most first world governments do supply funding but it is typically for building more of these hidden wood piles.

What exactly are these “wood piles”? They are “passive infrastructure” needed to build the Internet. Things like towers, conduits and cables (like fiber). And this infrastructure is shareable; meaning they are more like a 40-story office tower than a single-family home. The nails are active infrastructure like radio and cable transceivers which are readily available. But where do you install these things if you don’t have any passive infrastructure to install them on? How do you create a budget that is reasonable? (That is, not build absolutely everything from scratch.) This is the challenge of Internet builders and it affects urban and rural but rural to a much greater extent.

Rural Problem? Urban Problem? First World Problem?

Here in Canada, there is tons of empty passive infrastructure across the nation but it is hard to find, figure out who owns it and then to strike a deal in which to share it.

But based on what I’ve seen, this problem exists both in the USA and Canada for sure, probably other places. But the degree of the problem will vary by jurisdiction (province, state, country, county, etc).

Canada has a partial database of passive infrastructure for towers called “Spectrum Direct” but adding information about the towers is an afterthought. That is, it’s intended use is to track wireless (spectrum) licenses and only collects data on where the radio is as meta data about the license (an afterthought). This doesn’t track any unlicensed wireless or “free” wireless (which would you use?). This means it doesn’t have data on towers for 10s of thousands of towers. Further, the database doesn’t validate the passive infrastructure information and does not indicate ownership. 

On other geospatial databases, nothing seems to be public and whatever there is a patch-work across provinces. I’ve checked with IHS, Esri and even Bell / Telus. In fact, Telecom companies often don’t even know what they own. In one story, a peer of mine reported a fiber pedestal to Bell. Bell didn’t know about it. It turned out they had acquired a company that owned the fiber and had not incorporated the information into their main geospatial database. This is if they even have a main database? It could be spread across multiple databases. A 2013 article by Esri located here explains how Bell better used GIS. This does not inspire confidence that telecom companies have excellent geospatial databases.

USA has a bit better database, the FCC’s Antenna Structure Registration (ASR) database, but it only tracks towers above 100’. Nothing about smaller infrastructure that is equally as useful to wireless and will be even more so with 5G. There is nothing about private infrastructure or accessing cable.

In urban locations, my own community specifically, Enmax has been laying empty conduit in alleyways. Telus has been “planning” to lay fiber for at least 7 years, probably more. I know rural communities that have fiber to the premises faster. Are Enmax and Telus communicating about what assets are in the ground? Hopefully? Probably not. So urban situations, a little bit better, but clearly not a lot better.

Ground Truthing is not the Answer

Sure, we could drive around urban and rural Canada “ground truthing” to figure out what is there. But not all infrastructure is located along roads. And even if you do find something, often times the infrastructure is physically unmarked with ownership information. I have unmarked boxes in my community in Calgary, in rural areas the problem is infinitely worse.

But should we have to drive around mapping everything every time we have a project to build better Internet? This is a mapping process that takes between 1 to 18 months for every single Internet building project being undertaken in every single jurisdiction, every country, etc. This mapping process has to be completed before applying for funding (including government funding!).

We’re in the year 2020. Why is this data problem not being addressed? I would hope that it’s crystal clear that this data problem is central to resolving the barriers to better Internet. In my experience though, most people do not know about this. And they are further shocked to hear that the Internet is mostly a low profit margin business.

The Internet is mostly a low Profit Margin Business

I hear you: “Wait? What?”. The money in the Internet is in high density/volume (e.g. smartphones). Every other Internet related business has lower margins. The lower the density, the lower the margin. So cabling households with fiber in urban communities is something Telecom companies only do organically over time unless subsidized. This is why Google Fiber has been so slow to expand and hasn’t built anything for the past four years. It takes a lot of creativity to make the funding work.

The fact is, consumers and businesses do not want to spend a lot of money on Internet. It’s a utility now. The cheaper it is, the better for the economy. So for rural areas, it’s exceptionally low density makes the situation incredibly dire. The profit margins there is usually negative. This is the reason why rural areas are a low priority for Telecom companies. Even with government subsidies to help bring the profit margin above zero, rural projects are still lower priority due to lower profit overall and poor prospects for growth.

Taking Down the Barriers to Better Internet

We need two things:

  1. A government policy requiring all Telecommunication assets to be registered to a geospatial database. Oil & Gas is already required to do this. They have to register every pipeline, every compressor, every plant, etc to a publicly accessible geospatial database. Why shouldn’t Telecommunications similarly have to register?
  2. A marketplace for passive infrastructure; a “rentfaster” site for building the Internet. Need to make an offer someone can’t refuse? This shouldn’t take years. It should take less than an hour. And renting passive infrastructure is already proven to work. That’s why ~70% of the world’s towers are already shared, just not here in Canada; read more about that here.

These items would create a marketplace that would drive Internet growth. It would create a vibrant market that could start solving the problem on its own with less and less government funding and intervention. So what funding and direction is the Canadian government providing with respect to these things? Nothing. Zilch. US government? Nothing that I know of.

Next Steps?

So, any takers for starting a petition? I can help support this movement but I’m not in a position to drive it! If you can’t do much, please share this message and help me reach out to more like minded industry professionals.

While We Wait for the Barriers to Better Internet to Fall

I’ve written an article that explains some things households, and sometimes businesses, can do to help improve their Internet service without waiting for the larger forces of the Internet to make things happen. Click here for my article “Forget a bandwidth upgrade! Try these 4 things to make the home internet experience better”.

About the Author

An avid writer, Trevor Textor has been quoted by Reader’s Digest, NBC News, Reviews.com and MarketWatch.com among others. Over the course of 20 years Trevor has designed and built many small rural Internet builds across the globe. “It’s slower than dial-up” is something he knows personally (move mouse, wait 10 seconds, screen re-draw, try again) and has since used his passion to look for ways to help build better Internet. How Trevor pays his bills is as a freelancer providing a “swiss army skillset” and a proven ability to successfully assist many small, medium and large businesses in most areas of their business. Please consider clicking here to ask Trevor if he can help.

NPR “The Indicator”: How Temperature Affects Workplace Productivity

Men like it cold, women like it hot – it’s a zero sum game. At 80F (27C) women get a 10% productivity boost while men lose 3%. Men prefer high 60s (20/21C).

The ideal temperature for 50% male/female office? 75F (24C)

AHHH!!! SAVE US ALL! (men) In a 75F office, men will be dressing in tank tops and mini skirts.

“The Battle For The Office Thermostat” https://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=730438603&fbclid=IwAR0072qm0VvmXNQdssnH1X2V_HVB_0OhGDjE4UkrJFGdqiS35wNSXvkoMx4