Category Archives: Technology

Business Comes & Goes, So Does a Culture

There were days when we would go downtown to shop. It wasn’t like going to the grocery or hardware store. No, this was something special, and we would dress for the occasion.  Mother would take her dress gloves out of the drawer, and along with her dress and high heels, she would take out a hat from a box. I would wear dress slacks, shiny shoes, and a sport coat. There were times when I too would wear a hat.

We rode the bus from uptown to downtown, and we weren’t all that out of place in the way we dressed. Most of the other people riding would be dressed in what we might now refer to as business casual.

Minneapolis_downtown_Powers_dept_store_1950sUpon arriving downtown, we might walk down the street and look in various store windows to see what was on display. Most of them of course were pitching their current sales, but there was competition among the variety of retailers as to who might have the most attractive window display.

Minneapolis_Emporium_diner_1950s

Emporium tea room 1940-50s Minneapolis

Eventually we would enter a store, either through double doors which we would pull open, or by entering a revolving door which you or someone else would push to rotate your part of the large glass triangle, until you could enter the store. What awaited your eyes were a couple of things. Usually a store greeter, but not the disinterested couch potatoes who might greet you at Walmart. No, these would be smartly dressed people that knew how to smile. The other thing immediately noticed were the row upon row, of neatly arranged aisles with well placed merchandise on shelves, in displays, or on mannequins. As you made your way to the center of the store, there would be several elevators. Each elevator had a person inside the elevator who would open up the doors, or gate and doors for you to enter. They would then close the doors after everyone that could or wanted to get on. You then would tell them your floor, and they would make the selection for you. Each of these ‘operators’, wore some type of uniform, some with hats, most also wore gloves.

Sears_Tower_1988_1All that changed quickly as the suburbs began to erect large enclosed shopping malls. There were of course what we call strip malls. Stores that shared a large common parking lot and each retailer store were aligned side by side. That didn’t nearly have the impact of the enclosed shopping mall. Once they were constructed, many of the downtown stores simple opened their store in the new mall. This took a big toll on downtown retailers. They typically paid higher rates for taxes, most didn’t have convenient parking. They relied on nearby parking decks and lots, or those like us, who took city transportation. The downtown retailers didn’t maintain their greeters, elevator operators. Even their display windows became less interesting, a far simpler asthetic became the norm.

Those times seem strange to people unfamiliar with that era. Most downtowns have morphed into high rise condominiums, or permanent apartments. Either that or they were torn down as if part of a failed social experiment.

All that has changed again. Many shopping malls are skeletons of what they once were. Some malls have closed entirely. All this due to the evolution brought on by the Internet. The Amazon shopping model has become the new norm. First it was mail order. The big retailers like Sears, JC Penny adapted well. Then the Internet became a ready made 24/7 sales facility. Display windows are now the Internet tabs to click and expand. People still shop, the delivery times are quick and you might not even get out of your night clothes. Social interaction is minimized.

New_York_Lord_Taylor_store_closing

Oldest department store company in the US is disappearing entirely from Fifth Avenue after 104 years

The New York Post just came out with a lament on how much the retail store front is disappearing, and how it’s changing the character of the city.

Chicago_Sears_stores_closing_1

Sears closed last store in Chicago Illinois

The Chicago Tribune opines over the loss of the last Chicago Sears store. The once mighty retail giant, headquartered in Chicago is gone. There building tower still stands, but was sold off years before.

It’s fundamentally changing business, but furthermore, it’s removing us from personal interaction and social restraint. If social media is the replacement for the way friends might meet at the mall, or take day trips downtown, it’s a poor substitute.

Along with the loss of social skills comes another challenge, the need for fewer people. Just like the elevator operators, greeters and floor persons, all will disappear when picking and delivery become fully automated.

Retail has indeed changed, and so too has the culture.

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The Constant Hum of Net-Neutrality?

I’m reading a lot of the “voices of reason”, telling us their hope for a brighter, better, fairer, more economical, world-wide-web is through FCC regulation. If only we do this one little thing, ask our representative’s for more regulation. As a matter of principle, and all that is net-holy, we need to demand more regulations, we have to get more bureaucrats to control this nightmare of an Internet that soon can befall us, without extensive government guidance.

When someone makes an extraordinary claim, they should be obligated to demonstrate their claim is real.

cartoon-people-clappingNet neutrality The common perception of net neutrality is positive. It’s supposed to require Internet service providers to treat all on-line content the same. They can’t deliberately speed up or slow down traffic from specific websites, block sites, or applications, nor can they put their own content at an advantage over rivals.

The claim “The elimination of the FCC enforcing net neutrality will give big cable companies control over what we see and do on-line. If corporations get their way, they’ll allow widespread throttling, blocking, censorship, and extra fees.”

Net neutrality advocates portray a problem, then without proper examination of facts, they want the government to control the Internet. Their proposals lack the essential explanations of, over what time period a remedy should occur, the cost, or how their regulations are going to monitor and insure the problem(s) were fixed.

Meanwhile a host of complaints, which almost any service provider routinely responds, are cited as hypothetical problematic issues.  Except where criminal conduct has been involved, there are no examples of any Internet-service provider preventing its customers from viewing content on-line. Comcast attempted to “throttle” or slow down access to certain data packets a decade ago; they were blasted in the court of public opinion and soon relented.

beware-false-claims-2There’s an illusion that somehow government can control enterprise better than individual companies. Nowhere can such a claim be demonstrated by facts, yet many persist we need more, not less government intervention. There’s a disconnect on how speeds and feeds would be monitored for each type of Internet application and entertainment source.

Having been involved with data communications over 30 years and responsible for managing the speed as well as the perceptions of individual users, complaints are the daily norm. In many instances a problem stems from user perceptions, equipment malfunction, and purposeful attacks on companies and infrastructure through clever hacking.

One of the frequent claims by those advocating net neutrality are that service providers will raise rates without government regulation. I know for reasonable certainty two things will occur in regard to pricing.

  •  price increases and advertisement revenue claw back is already in the works.
  •  regulations, monitoring, and compliance with increased government regulations most certainly will increase the cost to the consumer.

Google has an 88 percent share of the search-engine market. Facebook has a 77 percent share of mobile social media. Amazon, controls 70 percent of e-book sales, how would government effectively manage their access and cost to use with additional regulation?

If anything, net neutrality is a lose-lose scenario. Access that we take for granted would invariably be slower because providers would have to be increasingly watchful of data flow. Throttling techniques, (packet shaping) would be necessitated. Costs to the end-user would increase.

Summary

The Internet is made up of billions of users, millions of individual pieces of equipment, passed through complex routing by thousands of companies. We’ve seen exponential growth since 1994. Video tape rentals were the usual source for on demand entertainment. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and even Google were created during this period. The flexibility, adaptability, and skills required to meet this growth were all done without government supervision. You can almost guarantee if the government had been supervising, we would be still using ISDN or dial-up, waiting for connection, and certainly not getting video on demand.

“When I took office, only high energy physicists
had ever heard of what is called the World Wide
Web… Now even my cat has its own page.”
Bill Clinton

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Why the Net Isn’t Neutral

server rackI understand, you want things to be fair. You’re all about fair play and equality. You’re even willing to wear a silly hat and carry a sign if necessary in the name of fairness. I get it and respect that.

When I read many posts making claims about net neutrality, I realize the masses can be so readily manipulated. It’s one of the reasons I’m glad I’ve learned to be more skeptical and willing to dig for information. It’s because so few people are willing and able to dig in for themselves, preferring to accept the most frequent regurgitations as fact.

No matter how many times I’ve neutralized the arguments about net neutrality, even some people who I regard as highly intelligent, accept the following as fact.

Without net neutrality we will lose these benefits:
(these claims are false but many believe it to be true)

  • education on-line
  • employment opportunities
  • social media access
  • on-line shopping
  • ticket buying
  • cat videos
  • our favorite porn
  • explosive or chemical devices (see this link)

Before 2015, there were no legal protections requiring net neutrality. Before 2015 Internet providers could charge different prices for different speeds. You wanted faster Internet, you paid a higher price. After 2015, when “net neutrality” laws were passed, Internet service providers are able to charge tier level prices. Faster Internet = higher pricing. Notice any difference before 2015 and after? There isn’t any.

Let me explain it another way. The whole idea behind net neutrality, is to keep data flowing freely. You want to be able to watch those on demand cat videos and Internet porn, or your favorite net-fix video. You believe it’s your right, but it really bothers you that a company has the audacity to charge you more if you use more data. How dare they!

If the objectives of the law were to insure we receive services on an equal basis, then why is it other “utilities” charge more for their services? Water companies charge more for greater consumption. Electric companies charge more for additional capacity & usage. What are we asking for data services that differs from other utilities?

If Internet service slows or is completely off-line, I call the provider. The problem is identified and the issue is resolved. Municipalities (local government), created a localized monopoly when they chose a single provider for a specified geographic area. This eliminated a market aspect of control and correction through competition. Rates and services improve with competition. Politicians with government regulations created the problems. They later identify & amplify the problems they started, and promote their willingness to fix if only we would elect them.

Dianne Feinstein speaking

To put it succinctly, if the government were to be put in charge of a desert, there would be a shortage of sand in a few years.