The High-Tech Texan Blog

Friday, August 31, 2007

Saturday Show Talk

No doubt we will hit the city wireless news on Saturday so tune in at 1pm with your thoughts and comments. Was the City at fault for going with Earthlink? Earthlink is getting pounded in the press and blogs - rightfully so? Talk to me!

Russell Holliman will be in-studio for a strong chat about podcasting, user generated media and social networking. He, of course, founded based here in H-Town.

McGuff the News Dog may stop in and you never know if the Crap Man will bring in fresh-baked bread or call in with Second Life stories.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Mayor White announced during City Council Wednesday that EarthLink will pay the city $5 million for not meeting its first deadline for building a wireless network across the city.

A Chron story spells most of it out but the reader comments are pretty harsh. Some are pissed at EarthLink; others are ticked at the mayor and the city. Both sides make good points but here are my thoughts after talking with my contacts close to the project between Houston and Atlanta, where EarthLink is based:
  • Houston, as of now, comes out smelling pretty good. The City is $5 million richer than it was when the RFP began last year and it has learned valuable lessons. They know what issues in the process need improvement and thus have the knowledge to rectify those if they enter another contract.
  • Why did EL pay the whole $5 million penalty fee when they were only the line for $2.5 million if they missed their Year 1 (of 2 years) goals? According to my sources, EL put up a $5 million letter of credit when they signed the contract with City Council. The money was sitting in a fund so they will soon release it all to the city.
  • Apparently EL still has the right to build out the network, at least for the next 9 months. EL will look at many ways to see if it is possible for them to complete the project alone or with a partner (i.e. Google). To recoup their money, EL may want to find a company to buy those rights to build a network. Though I believe the city has the right to refuse any company that comes in. At the end of the day, EarthLink's primary goal is to raise its stock price - not just build a wireless network. Since August 8, their stock price has risen 20% probably on speculation they may be pulling out of the municipal wireless business.
  • As of now the whole project is in a holding pattern. The Digital Houston website which is hosted by the city is not being updated regularly. Mayor White and his city IT department are weighing options of building out the network themselves - starting downtown - and opening it up for other city services (they now have a well-funded coffer to use). Some speculate the entire project be put off until better technology catches up such as WiMAX.

Any way you slice it Houston will not have a citywide wireless network in the very near future. So the debates continue - public or private operated system, free or subscription, ad-supported or sponsor-free. I'm all for Internet access everywhere and I'm relatively happy with my wireless laptop cards now.

Let's just hope Mayor White doesn't push this issue too far and too fast for the wrong reasons like leaving a lasting legacy. We know where Lee Brown's legacy is today.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007


The ship is going down fast at EarthLink headquarters in Atlanta. At least the part that controls the Municipal WiFi division. Drop the lifeboats because its almost underwater and that could include the Houston WiFi deal.

As I first ranted last week, the buildout has been past due and calls and emails to EarthLink have not been returned. I now know why.

I had been trying to contact Don Berryman, Executive VP and the President of the Muni Wireless division. Oops, he gone.

I spent time with Mr. Berryman on several occasions this year. First when the City signed the agreement with EarthLink in February (podcast link not working) and then when I moderated a community roundtable on the subject in May. Mr. Berryman was one of three panelists who was touting the virtues of a citywide WiFi network.

He was very upbeat about the project - as he should have been - but he never tipped his hat to pointed questions like when the buildout would begin or exactly how much the project would cost them to build the network. Maybe he didn't know.

From what I hear from my contacts close to the project (or what's left of it) is that Mayor White will make a statement about the City's realtionship with EarthLink and the project tomorrow. I still believe he will announce that the City will continue its push to build a network and that it will do so itself, beginning with the current downtown WiFi system that allows parking meters to communicate to central servers.

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Luv Is Everywhere Today

It's been a while since I took a hop on Southwest Airlines. By hop I mean a quick trip to a nearby city - no check-in baggage, no kids. I hopped over to San Antonio on Monday for a tour of Toyota's Tundra truck plant. More on that later but it was way cool seeing the processes of how those monsters are put together.

I came back this afternoon and noticed a few new things from our Texas-based airline. Here's something that I've been anxious to see at airports for years. A "power station" to plug in portable gadgets while waiting at the gate. Most of the Southwest gates at the SA airport had these stands. Notice I'm topping up my iPhone. Ironically (and gratefully) there is no charge to charge your gear (that means FREE for you peeps who don't get my humor).

So I land at Hobby right on time at 4:40pm and get off the plane to fanfare, hysteria, TV cameras and a horde of photographers. Nothing out of the unusual for me until I realize this wasn't for me this time.

The Storm Troopers, Darth Vader and R2-D2 gave it away that something unusual was happening. I had walked right into a press conference for a lightsaber. When the space shuttle Discovery launches the STS-120 crew in October, the force will be with them.

George Lucas is loaning Luke Skywalker's original Jedi weapon to NASA and it arrived today via a Southwest Airlines plane from Oakland at the same time I did. So I naturally whipped out my charged iPhone and snapped some of these pics.

Wonder if Darth got an extra bag of peanuts. I could have bought him a round or 40 of cocktails with my SWA drink coupons.

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Congrats BarCampers

BarCamp H-Town seemed to be a success. Marc Nathan of the Houston Technology Center phoned in to my show from the 2nd annual event and seemed stoked on a few dozen Red Bulls. Of course that is how technocrats roll.

Over 100 people attended the day-long event. The sessions went well. Who's ready for BCIII?

My boy McGuff the News Dog did a nice job of covering BarCamp with his unique yet wobbly video essay. I'll let him tell you more.

Note: Russell Holliman from Podcast Ready who appears in the story will be on my radio show this Saturday (1p-4p on The 9-5-0)


Friday, August 24, 2007

Oooma. Big Weekend. Clear!

I'm upgrading Casa Garfield with new home automation features. The stuff I put in four years ago is almost obsolete now. The new Crestron touch-screen panel looks great in the kitchen wall; now I just need to find somone to replace sheetrock... Photos and updates soon when installed.

Had to stop programming the thermostats and cameras when the doorbell rang. Ding dong, it's DHL with a delivery. Helloooooo ooma! Yes, I'm a lucky White Rabbit beta tester. Of all the packages I've been delivered from companies and press agents, this is hands-down the sharpest of them all. Very Apple-like packaging - simple, elegant, inviting.

I'll report back soon with my thoughts on the service which provides free phone calls to any phone number from regular phones. It's installed and works nice so far.

Lots of schtuff hapnin' this weekend. I'm gonna do my best to stop by BarCamp before my show on Saturday. The local arm of an international network of "unconferences," BarCamp will feature tech sessions and workshops like Grid based web design (taught by my boy, Kelsey Ruger), Challenges & Strategies for enterprise adoption of Web 2.0 and how to create Flash presentations in your browser.

If I really wake up early and get out the door quickly I can also hit UH to check out Houston TechFest. That's where my brain will really explode from learning Object-Oriented Programming in .NET and an Introduction to C# 3.0, among other classes.

Tune in from 1-4pm as we're expecting a call from Laurence "Second Life" "Crapman" Simon. He's in Chicago at a Second Life conference. Wonder if that an extra extra long distance call...

In-studio guests include Dr. Victor Miranda from the soon-to-open Emergency Health Centre in Tomball. He and his partners are launching a multi-million dollar concierge medicine facility next week. I took a tour this afternoon and if I ever need quick medical attention it may be worth driving 40 minutes from my home to go there. Amazing equipment that should save time and lives including a $1.4 million 64-slice CT scanner, the first scanner capable of providing clear images of the heart and its major vessels in less than five seconds.

Maybe Earthlink should send its Municipal Network division and Houston WiFi project there since it seems to be on life support.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Is the City's Earthlink deal "ovah"?

Summer has come and almost gone and Earthlink has yet to start the build out of the City's 600+ square mile wireless network. Am I surprised? Not really.

It is a big undertaking on many counts. 18,000+ wireless access points installed on lightposts, buildings and towers. $50 million+ in costs.

But Earthlink is taking a long hard look at the revenue projected to recoup their potential investment. With a new CEO who may have a different agenda from building municipal wireless networks. Rolla P. Huff is now running the Atlanta-based company; a telecom vet known for his willingness to cut loose unprofitable projects.

If I was a betting man (and I have been known to frequent Vegas), I might put down some shekels on Earthlink cutting its losses by paying the City the $5 million penalty fee for not completing the network build out. (see contract here)

With Earthlink or not, the City is planning to move forward with a WiFi network. Richard Lewis's City IT office recently launched a web site that will soon be updated with opportunities for WiFi jobs and partnerships, economic development information and - believe it or not - sponsorship opportunities.

There are currently 100 or so radio towers around the city outfitted with WiFi gear. Downtown Houston has a system in place for parking meters, all libraries are hotspots along with Jones Plaza, the GRB Convention Center and Miller Outdoor Theater is planning for a system. That $5 million could go a long way to connect all these systems for a ubiquitous government wireless network to be used by Police and Fire.

Then as the system becomes more robust it could be open for public access. Since the City has no intention of running a consumer network, they could outsource the maintenance and operations.

So now we wait for Earthlink's Board of Directors to announce their plans. From what I understand they met today. Will they ask the City to pony-up for capital costs or even ask for a delay? In the meantime, just cruise to one of the many already-up-and-running local hotspots and fire up your laptop.

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Saturday follow-up

Back in the saddle...Thanks to everyone for calling in with smart, intelligent questions like "how much fertilizer should I put on my lawn?" You sharpies may want to listen to my buddy Randy Lemmon on GardenLine.

Shout outs to Laurence Simon for hanging around the studio and bringing fresh-baked bread. See what happens when you bring the host some food? You get to co-host the show.

Steve Joyner gave us some ideas about home automation and media centers. Take a click to Houston Audio Video to contact him about designing, building and upgrading your home audio, video, lighting and security system.

Shot over the GRB after the show to do a little song-and-dance at the Houston Home Show. Everyone got HTT flashing logo pins and we sold cases of our smoking jalapenos and garlic. I'll be at The Woodlands H&G Show on September 8.

If you're hungry for food plus local technology information and networking, I will be the featured speaker at the NSTA luncheon this Thursday. 11:30am at Fox Sports Grill.

And for all you techies and wannabes don't forget next Saturday's BarCamp Houston. It's free and you'll meet and learn a lot of interesting tech schtuff. I'll pop by in the morning before my show.

Other links we talked about today:

SeeqPod searchable music
GIMP free photo editing software
Hotmail free 5GB storage
Yoober free SMS mobile texting

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Saturday Show...Tax and Hurricane-Free

Don't freak when you see this chart. My weathercasting buddy Wes Hohenstein sent me this supersecret weatherguy site where all the "meteorologists" get their forecasting information.

It shows that the Houston area as the smallest of chances of getting hit by Hurricane Dean. Remember that this next week when every media outlet will lead with the story and describe how mass destruction is knocking at our doorstep.
Back to our normal rant now...Got a packed show for you this Saturday (1-4pm CT heard locally in Houston on 950AM). Blogger-extraordinaire Laurence "Crapman" Simon will be in studio to fully explain what Second Life is. All I know is that since he started living in that virtual world he has been blogging a bit less. Come back to reality, Crapper!
Ever wanted to to automate some of your home controls like thermostats and lights? Steve Joyner from Houston Audio Video pops in during the 3pm hour to describe and take calls about home automation, building a home theater and more.
After the show I head over to the GRB for a 5pm presentation at the Houston Home Show. Come by and we'll yap more about home automation, new gadgets and more.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Let's See Bob McNair Do This

I was in the wrong Texas city this past weekend to see this in person (didn't the Cowboys used to play pre-season games in San Antonio?)...

My boys up in Dallas alerted me to this video that ran on the Texas Stadium video screens during the Cowboys first pre-season game last Saturday. According to those at the game and some media rants, this actually got the most cheers and applause during the game (though the fans were pumped that the team beat the Super Bowl defending Indy Colts).

For those commercial or pizza aficionados, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones apparently switched his allegiance from Pizza Hut. Back in the Deion Sanders days, Jerry appeared with Neon Deion in a Pizza Hut spot arguing that Deion couldn't have it both way (thin crust and thick crust). Of course Deion was trying to tell Jerry that he should have it both ways - both a $15 and $20 million contract. And of course Deion got it all in the end with a $35 million contract plus all the thick and thin crust pizza he could eat.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Game Console Wars Battle On

As rumored, Microsoft announced it is lowering the price of the Xbox 360 by $50 so hold off until tomorrow if you plan to buy one. The 20-gigabyte hard drive version will now cost $349.
A basic console without a hard drive or wireless controllers will retail for $279, $20 less than its current price, while the Xbox 360 Elite, a black version with a 120-gigabyte hard drive and HD video support, will drop $50 to $449.

(It's no coincidence this price reduction comes just ahead of "Madden NFL 08" on Aug. 14. "Madden NFL Football" is the is the top-selling video game franchise of the past 10 years.)

Sony slashed the price of its 60-gigabyte PlayStation 3 to $499, from $599, in early July. One reason for that $100 price cut is because those babies aren't selling too much. From my canddid conversations with local video gaming store personnel, the PS3 is sitting on shelves and being rerturned by customers.

So does this mean Nintendo will shave some sheckels off the Wii? If anything they should raise the $250 sticker price. Since its release late last year the Wii has been harder to find than an Bin Laden holding an iPhone. Maybe Nintendo didn't expect the demand or maybe its a slick marketing move but the Wii generates the most buzz and, by my family's account, the most fun.

The Garfield boys got their Wii in early July and we already had to replace the batteries on the Wiimote because of non-stop usage. We had to make a chart of who gets to play and when. And I'm close to seeing a doctor for Wii tennis elbow. This console is the most fun we have had in a long time and now I'm counting down for the release of Tiger Woods 08 in a few weeks.

Need to make a decision on buying a gaming system? If you can find it, get TWO Wii systems. One for your family and one for your friend who will come over to play and want his own.

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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Saturday in the park

Seems like old times, huh? Today's first show back on Saturday went well despite some technical glitches in the first hour. The KPRC (er, The 9-5-0) studio had an electrical outtage in the early afternoon so I had to do the first hour in the studio next door. Thanks, Sports Animal, but what's that smell in there?

Lots of viewers on live videoconference. Go get a webcam and log on during each show (except next week, August 11, when I'll be out of town and we'll run a repeat).

Major props to local online "celebrity" blogger and Chanel 13 producer Mike McGuff for stopping by. He shared his insights about blogging, the new AT&T Video Share phone (so-so) and reminisced about the late Marvin Zindler. I need to get him in regularly along with other local tech "losers."

And you never know who will call in...nice hearing from retired/not-yet retired Channel 13 weatherman Ed Brandon.

Links we yapped about today included:

Seeqpod music playable search
Pinnacle Systems Studio 11
Drop Shots photo and video sharing

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