Looking Back at “Desktop Madness”

It’s the 10th anniversary of the registration of the StarKeith.net domain today, so I’m doing a little bit of looking back over the history of the site.

One of the longest running themes here has been my Desktop Madness series, where I post interesting wallpapers that I usually find around the Internet. This “series” didn’t start right away – in fact, the first post only dates back to November 30th, 2004 – but it’s still the longest running recurring “themes” on my site.

Desktop Madness started as just an amusing title for a post with a picture of my computer’s desktop – icons and all.

My, how times have changed.

Not long after that, I stopped posting pictures of my desktop, and instead just posted the actual background picture itself instead.

The Desktop Madness section of my site has consistently been one of the most-visited sections of my site, in terms of raw views – after all, lots of people search Google (or whatever) looking for desktop backgrounds/wallpapers.

I have a neat utility – John’s Background Switcher (I highly recommend it) – which randomly switches my background wallpaper every 15 minutes from my very large library of pictures, and I’m always finding more pictures online. At the time of this post, there are 1,303 individual pictures in my collection, which I could theoretically cycle through in just over 13 days. (Amazingly, this only takes up a measly 709 MB of space on my hard drive – most of my pictures are highly compressed PNG files.)

Of course, one downside to a popular wallpaper series like this is that people tend to download the files quite a bit. I have a great hosting provider, but I only have so much bandwidth to spare, which is why I don’t necessarily post updates as frequently as I used to. While I’d love to be able to share all these files, it’s just not economically feasible for me to host every single one of them online for anyone to download (and thus, suck up all my bandwidth).

Still, I love finding new and interesting wallpapers, and I will continue to do so – maybe not as often as I used to, but I don’t think I’m going to stop any time soon.

The Evolution of StarKeith.net

It’s been 10 years since the domain StarKeith.net was registered, so let’s take a trip down memory lane and look at how the site (or the home page of the site, at least) has evolved over the years.

Way back in November of 2001, not long after my domain was registered and my hosting set up, StarKeith.net was little more than a “coming soon” page.

You can see the logo I had created for the site – both the text (in a futuristic/computer-y style font) and the round StarKeith logo I had invented as a kid. Back then, I had envisioned using the domain to build upon the fictional world I had invented for some stories I wrote as a kid. In a way, this was sort of a variation on the modern websites that spring up around popular science fiction shows – for example, Memory Alpha, a wiki for Star Trek. My original idea of StarKeith.net was similar to what Memory Alpha became years later.

By 2003, the site had begun to take shape:

You can see the design influences that Star Trek had on me back then. I deliberately patterned the site’s layout and style on the LCARS style from Star Trek: The Next Generation (of which I was – and still am – a huge fan).

By 2005 however, the main landing page of StarKeith.net had changed to be more of a “portal” for the various web projects I had hosted here. By this time, I had my own blog, my old personal site back from when I was in college, as well as a short-lived attempt at forums!

Eventually, I decided to move away from the fictional part of the site – I had not updated it in quite a while, and my enthusiasm for it was fading. At the same time, my own blog – as well as the blog for my pet rabbits – were becoming quite popular (well, sort of) and I wanted to bring attention to them. Also, I was tired of the black background, so I went with something much simpler and lighter, which leads us to the way the site appears today:

The current site works a bit better as a landing page, as well as a general place to point people who are interested in me. Online identity has become much more important these days, and I wanted the main page of StarKeith.net to reflect me, rather than the fictional worlds I had created as a kid.

And there we have it – a brief look back at the evolution of the main page of StarKeith.net over the last 10 years. It’ll be interesting to see where we go in the next 10 years!

Ten Years Ago

It’s been 10 years – but it’s not what you might think it is.

In a bit of a cosmic coincidence, the domain registry entry for my site (starkeith.net) was entered into the domain registry exactly 10 years ago, on September 12, 2001.

There’s not really any significance to this – I ordered the domain much earlier than this; it just happened to get entered into the database on this day.

Regardless of the proximity to another historic date, it’s still been 10 years since I finally got my own domain (I’d had other web pages of my own since almost 1997) – and after the rather somber mood of yesterday’s 10th anniversary, I think I’m going to try to have some fun with this one.

With that in mind, here’s some links to help celebrate the 10th “birthday” of StarKeith.net!

 

Confusion, Misunderstandings, and Net Neutrality

I’ve seen a lot of argument back and forth on the issue of “Net Neutrality,” and one thing that really jumps out at me is how much confusion and misunderstanding there is regarding what the phrase “Net Neutrality” really means. This is an attempt to clear up some of the confusion.

At the root of the problem is that the phrase “Net Neutrality” is not actually a very accurate or descriptive phrase for the underlying problem it’s supposed to describe.

This is a problem because one you label a complex issue with a simple name, people will forget what the underlying issue is and simply take the meaning from the descriptive name – and if the name is misleading, then people will misunderstand the issue.

Don’t believe me? Just look at people arguing about “Global Warming.” Every time it snows somewhere that it doesn’t usually snow (or doesn’t usually snow very much) you will get people screaming that this means that “global warming” is a farce. “How can it be warming when it’s so cold out!” Because the phrase “global warming” was used to describe a more complex technical concept (e.g., the average temperature of the Earth rising by a few degrees, and the resulting climate changes that result from this), people forgot what the actual problem was and simply latched on to the name used to describe it. The same seems to be true for “Net Neutrality.”

People tend to see the word “neutrality” and think “that’s OK,” then they hear that Net Neutrality proponents want the government to step in to guarantee “net neutrality” and suddenly alarm bells start going off in their heads. “Wait a second, government is bad! If the network was ‘neutral’ wouldn’t that mean NO government regulation, instead of more?

So right off the bat here we’ve got misunderstandings caused simply by the name we use to refer to the problem.

The misunderstandings continue even as we try to clear up the confusion caused by having a confusing name. One common misunderstanding is that somehow the idea of “Net Neutrality” would forbid ISPs and such from enforcing QoS and other similar things. This again stems from a poor choice of words, usually someone trying to describe “Net Neutrality” as “treating all Internet traffic the same.”

A better way to describe it would be “not discriminating against Internet traffic based on where the traffic originated.

That is to say, as an ISP it’s fine for you to throttle video services, or VoIP, or whatever you want (or need), so long as you’re not doing that throttling (or, in some cases, blocking) solely based on where those bits originally came from.

To understand why anyone would want to do this in the first place, and why it suddenly seems like yes, they do want to do it and might even start trying to do it very soon unless we do something (which is why people are all in an uproar over “Net Neutrality” in the first place), it helps to understand a little bit of the situation with ISPs.

The biggest ISPs – at least consumer ISPs, and at least in America – are Phone (DSL) and Cable companies. These are companies that don’t just provide Internet access – they also provide another service along with it, and that other service is how they got their start (and may even still be their biggest provider of income).

The biggest concern to these companies is that you will use the Internet service they provide to get around the need for the other services that they provide (phone & cable TV), and eventually their other services will die out and they’ll be left as nothing but Internet providers. While they might do very well as Internet providers, they don’t want to give up the “sure thing” of their existing services – and they will fight hard to keep that from happening.

In the case of the phone companies, they don’t want you using VoIP or Skype or whatever, because then you won’t need a phone line anymore. With the cable TV companies, they don’t want you watching video online (especially things like Netflix streaming or Hulu or even some types of videos on YouTube) because then you won’t need their cable TV service anymore.

To put it more simply, ISPs want to be able to block (or force extra payment for) access to competing services, and Net Neutrality says that they shouldn’t be allowed to do this.

That phone and cable companies want to be able to block (or charge extra for) access to these competing services sort of makes sense, in a way. If you owned a coffee shop, you wouldn’t want lots of people sitting around in your shop drinking the coffee they bought from the competing shop across the street, taking up your space but not making you any money, right?

But this doesn’t work on the Internet any more than it does in real life. In most places you aren’t allowed do discriminate against your customers – you can’t kick someone out because they have a coffee cup from that chain across the street. (But it is worth noting that you can kick them out if they’re causing a ruckus, which in Internet terms means you can enforce QoS and throttling to prevent abuse.) You also aren’t allowed to build a wall across the street so that people can’t walk past your store to your competitor’s store.

Looking at this from another angle, imagine if your Verizon phone couldn’t call AT&T phones unless you paid extra money for that ability, or perhaps such calls would be billed at a higher rate.

In many ways, this is a lot like the concept of “common carriers.” Phone companies are considered “common carriers,” which is why the situation I described above can’t happen (it’s prohibited specifically by law). But ISPs aren’t considered “common carriers,” and this is the crux of Net Neutrality. It’s really more about fairness than neutrality in that way.

Think about it like this: I pay for my Internet access, which gives me a certain amount of bandwidth – which I can use however I want. The sites I choose to visit also pay for bandwidth on their end (often at a MUCH higher rate than I do). So why would you want to allow ISPs to charge these sites AGAIN just because the traffic from their site (which they have no control over who is requesting it) happens to go across the ISP’s network (on its way to customer who has already paid for this bandwidth, I might add)? This is what Net Neutrality advocates are worried will happen unless we adopt rules similar to those for common carriers.

This is especially troubling considering that many places (at least in the US) have very little choice in ISPs – for a very large portion of people, it’s either DSL from the phone company or cable Internet from the cable TV provider. So the usual answer to problems like this (“just vote with your wallet!”) doesn’t apply.

Other confusion regarding “Net Neutrality” of course comes from the fact that we’re trying to involve the government with it, and that’s always asking for trouble, no matter how noble the intentions. Suffice to say, politicians do not understand the concept embodied in the phrase “Net Neutrality” very well. As a result the legislative solutions they propose tend to fall short of addressing the real problem, or sometimes they go way too far and end up being more harmful than the original problem they were meant to solve!

However, just because government tends to be incompetent doesn’t mean that that the underlying issue doesn’t exist.

The concept of Net Neutrality, no matter how confusing its name, is an important issue. Government regulation may or may not be the ideal way to address it, but a lot of very smart people seem to think that it does at least need to be addressed somehow.

Hopefully this article has helped clear up some of the confusion about what “Net Neutrality” really means, so that at least we can all be on equal footing to debate its merits and potential solutions (or why no solution might be needed).

Culture Shock in the Digital Age

great bay in the daytimeAmanda and I recently got back from a trip to the Caribbean – specifically, to the island of Saint Martin – and while it was tropical and warm and lovely (you can see all my pictures from the trip here), it was also a bit of a culture shock – but not for the reasons you might think.

It wasn’t the food – there are enough tourists coming to this island to ensure that there’s always some typical American-style food near at hand if you aren’t feeling gastronomically adventurous.

It wasn’t the language – almost everyone spoke English, except for a few people in the remoter sections of the French side (naturally).

It wasn’t the fact that they use different money – the Dutch side pretty much exclusively uses the US Dollar (although their official currency is still the Netherlands Antillean guilder), and although the French side officially uses the Euro, they also accept US dollars pretty much everywhere (although sometimes at a slightly unfavorable fixed exchange rate).

It wasn’t the people – aside from their crrraaaazy driving, they were pretty much like people anywhere else, with the usual variations for culture (Dutch/French) and for climate.

It wasn’t the culture – although it was quite a bit more “relaxed” than our often tense, high-strung east-coast culture here in the US, it was quiet and nice and not at all jarring.

No, the biggest shock to us was the almost complete lack of Internet access.wireless icon

Now, as Americans, we’ve become accustomed (in just a few short years, if you think about it) to ubiquitous, free, unlimited high-speed Internet access (via both wired and wireless connections).

We’ve become so used to it that we sort of expect it wherever we go – we expect it to be always on, and always available, no matter where we go. We expect to be able to pull out our iPhone or whatever and update our Facebook page from wherever we are in the world.

And when we finally find ourselves someplace where this is no longer true, it can be a bit of a shock!

In Saint Martin, for example, we landed and found that there was NO signal whatsoever for Amanda’s iPhone – it just could not pick up anything. It detected some of the cell networks on the island, but it could not connect to them. (Ironically, my old, old, old Motorola RAZR phone connected just fine – but of course it can’t browse the web or send email or really do anything besides make calls and send text messages.) Even at the airport there was no Wi-Fi available (not even the paid variety!).

Our situation did not improve when we arrived at our hotel, either. Again, our expectations were tempered by what was commonplace back in the US – where a hotel without Wi-Fi, or at least a wired Internet connection in each room was considered an abomination.

Oh, the hotel had Wi-Fi – but it wasn’t free. In fact, it was ridiculously expensive (by our standards, at least). And it was also slow – a single 1 MB connection was shared by the entire hotel (both guests and staff!). And of course it was only accessible from your room – there was not enough range to keep using the Internet all the way down to the pool or the beach, even when the pool and beach were only a couple dozen feet from the hotel.

So in the end, our use of Internet was limited to short bursts in our hotel room, checking mobile sites (mainly Gmail) that were very light & fast, so that they didn’t feel abysmally slow on the pitiful 1 MB connection.

In truth though, it was a very eye-opening experience – a reminder that although the Internet has indeed become ubiquitous in many places, it is not everywhere… and even in places where it is available, sometimes that availability is much more limited than we here in the US are used to. It also made me realize just how much we take it (the Internet) for granted sometimes.

But at the same time, it was also interesting to “unplug” for a while – easy enough for me to do, actually – and remember what life was like before we were all electronically connected to one another.

Although I wait eagerly for the day when fast Internet is freely (or cheaply) available world-wide, I think it’s still worth having a few places where the Internet can’t reach, if only to let us “escape” it for a while. Even though going somewhere without Internet can be a bit of a culture shock to those of us who’ve grown up with it, I think it’s still good to get culturally shocked from time to time – just to keep us all on our toes, and remind us of how good we all have it.