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June 18th, 2007:

Philly’s WiFi experience so far

There’s good news and not-so-good news in this story on Philadelphia’s experience with municipal WiFi as provided by EarthLink.

Testing by the Houston Chronicle and a private consulting company show that the first phase of Philadelphia’s project works — most of the time. But while the technology only needs tweaking, the company likely has a bigger obstacle to overcome: residents’ skepticism.

Some residents say they won’t subscribe because they found the service to be unreliable months ago, when EarthLink was still making significant adjustments. Both EarthLink and a private consulting company say the service has since improved, but those potential customers say they don’t plan to give it another shot.

“It’s pretty useless,” said Joanna Bacelli, a 21-year-old Temple University student who lives off campus and tried unsuccessfully to get an EarthLink signal in the past. She doubts the service is any better now.

But in much of the area where the network is up and running, it does work, at least for outdoor users.

Signal strength varies significantly depending on the user’s proximity to an access node, but online speed tests show the connection speed averages about 1 Mbps, sometimes a bit slower. That’s fast enough for the average user to surf the Internet, check e-mail and watch videos on YouTube.

In some areas, however, the signal is weak, particularly when an access node isn’t within sight. At several locations, including two free hotspots, this reporter’s computer couldn’t connect to the network even though the signal appeared to be strong and an access node was clearly visible.


A review of the EarthLink network by a consulting group called Novarum Inc. showed the service has improved in the last six months and now ranks as “one of the better performing metro WiFi networks deployed so far.”

Using a laptop equipped with a standard WiFi card, the same equipment available to most residential customers, Novarum found the service in early June to be reliable at 74 percent of the outdoor locations tested. Back in December, just before EarthLink began its monthlong trial phase when it offered free service, the group found the network’s first 6-square-mile coverage area reliable at only half the locations tested. Cell phone networks, by comparison, are usually reliable in about 85 percent of the coverage area, the group reported.

“Our experience the second time through was that it was much better,” said Phil Belanger, Novarum’s managing director. “So we think they’re making the appropriate investment to improve the network.”

Basically, it sounds like the technology has lagged the marketing a bit. There’s nothing terribly unusual about that – there’s a reason the word “vaporware” exists – but it is potentially worrisome for EarthLink’s business plan. As with the technology itself, I hope they use this experience to figure out how to do it better here in Houston. We shouldn’t suffer the same early-adopter problems as Philly (thanks for beta testing for us, by the way).

Dwight has more. I too will be interested to see how EarthLink rolls it out here in Houston, both in terms of what their progression will be and how they structure the promotional phase. We ought to know pretty quickly how well they’ve learned the lessons Philadelphia has given them.

Draft Rick Noriega

Well, now that we’ve got one Noriega safely elected, it’s time to start thinking about another. I’ve talked about Rick Noriega and his consideration of a run against Sen. John Cornyn next year. The prospect of such a candidacy is very exciting to me for a number of reasons, and I’d like to discuss a couple of them here. First and foremost is simply that I hold Rick Noriega in high regard, both personally and as a legislator. Noriega has a record of accomplishment in the Lege – he’s been a leader on matters of education, immigration, and border security – and he has a voting record that I feel good about. You all know I’m a half-a-loaf guy, and I’ll support someone with whom I have significant disagreements if the overall package is acceptable. I’ll support Mikal Watts in the general election if he emerges as the Democratic candidate, despite his anti-abortion stance, because he’s good enough otherwise, and because the alternative is too gruesome to contemplate. But I’d so much prefer to throw down behind someone who doesn’t need any glossing over. I don’t expect to ever have to say “Yeah, but” to a fellow Democrat about Rick Noriega.

I think we will finally have a confluence of establishment and grassroots support at a statewide level with a Noriega candidacy. I believe people will get fired up about getting Rick Noriega elected. If nothing else, it’s refreshing to see someone who isn’t a same-old, same-old name as a standard-bearer. It feels like a changing of the guard, one that’s long overdue. I think he can be a game-changer, someone who can alter politics in this state in a fundamental way, and in doing so alter Texas’ image nationally. I’m told Harvey Kronberg expressed similar sentiments at the town hall meeting Ellen Cohen hosted last week; he apparently said this has been the talk of Austin as well. Who was the last statewide Democrat to generate that kind of buzz? Maybe Henry Cisneros, if you overlook the fact that he never ran a statewide race. It’s about damn time.

Finally, I think Rick Noriega is exactly the right candidate to run against John Cornyn. Noriega spent a year in Afghanistan on the front lines of the “war on terror”. He’s also been deployed to the Texas border to train National Guardsmen on matters of border security. What are the two biggest issues these days? John Cornyn can talk about these things. Rick Noriega has actually been there and done them.

To get to that point, Noriega must first win a primary against Watts, and that will be no small task. Watts starts out with a lot of money, and he’s been busy raising even more. He’s been involved with a lot of campaigns, and that will bring him a lot of institutional support. And let’s not forget, he’s a pretty good candidate in his own right. I just believe Rick Noriega is a better one. I hope you’ll agree with me and many of my blogging colleagues, who are banding together to get Rick Noriega into, and then out from, the primary for Senate. To put it another way: Draft Rick Noriega.

UPDATE: Others weighing in:

South Texas Chisme
Feet to the Fire
Capitol Annex
Half Empty
Dos Centavos
Burnt Orange Report
Eye on Williamson

Girl Scouts

So I confess I didn’t know much about the Girl Scouts, but after being sent this WaPo story by my friend Hope, and being assured that they don’t have the same abhorrent politics as the Boy Scouts, I could see encouraging Olivia and Audrey to give them a try.

They’re cute, they’re smart, they’re fun. Why would they be labeled geeks?

Part of it is the earnestness intrinsic to scouting, so at odds with the practiced boredom and casual cynicism that defines teen culture today. Being a Girl Scout requires a lack of self-consciousness. An ability to sing songs with lines like “When you make a promiiiiiiise, consider its importaaaaaance” in a round, without smirking. Being a Girl Scout requires a pure mind, even when singing “The Brownie Smile Song” (“I’ve got something in my pocket. . . . I keep it very close at hand in a most convenient place”) .

So in their public, non-Girl Scout lives, senior Scouts are teased for being goody-goodies.

“It’s such a relief to come to the singalong and not have to worry about what people are going to say,” says Joanna Pollard, 13, a secret Girl Scout from Troop 1184 in Greensboro, N.C. She doesn’t like the teasing–that exquisitely delivered eye-roll–she gets when people learn she’s still a Scout, but she’d never dream of quitting.

“A lot of people our age just sit around and watch TV,” says Joanna. “They don’t care about their communities or the environment.” Her troop is actively involved in several service projects, most recently cleaning up a community garden.

“People can’t believe I’m still a Girl Scout,” adds her troop mate Kristen Cossaart, 14. “Because they don’t realize it’s about so much more than cookies.”

Well, I can certainly imagine worse things, and the “geek” label is not one I shy away from, so I come away from this feeling pretty good about such a future for my daughters. What do you think?

Move that brewery

Nancy Sarnoff reports that big changes may be in the works for the Saint Arnold Brewery.

The Saint Arnold brewery has become something of a tourist attraction in Houston. But its outer-loop location has the owner thinking a closer-in spot would better serve its customers.

Founder Brock Wagner said he’s scouting inner-city real estate to relocate his brewery, which also happens to be outgrowing its 32,000 square feet of space at 2522 Fairway Park, near the intersection of U.S. 290 and West 34th.

“We’re looking all over town, but my first goal would be to get something as close in to the center of town as possible,” Wagner said.

Not too close, though.

“Manufacturing can’t afford prime downtown real estate or even just off prime downtown real estate,” he said. “I’d like to be within five minutes to downtown.”

The 13-year-old brew house, which hosts public tours and an average of 15 special events each month, needs a building of at least 50,000 square feet or 3 to 5 acres of land.

Where do you think they should look? Leave a comment and say so.

A few questions for the Cockroach Lady

Remember the story about the Houston Museum for Natural Sciences offering a twenty-five cent per-bug bounty on live cockroaches for an upcoming exhibit? Been wondering how it turned out? Well, wonder no more, as SciGuy Eric Berger asks entomologist Nancy Grieg about it.

Q: First question: How many cockroaches did you collect when you were offering a quarter per bug?

A: We collected, I believe, 724.

Q: And you were originally shooting for 1,000?

A: Yes, it was a big disappointment for some. So many people were afraid we’d get too many, but I didn’t think we’d get too many. They’re not that easy to catch.

Q: So were you happy with the haul you got?

A: Oh, yes, we got plenty. It was pretty crowded in the exhibit.

Q: And tell me again, why in the world would someone ask the public to bring in cockroaches?

A: The purpose is that we really want to raise awareness that cockroaches do have a role as scavengers, and even the ones in your house are not particularly dirty. The ones we collected, American cockroaches, would just as soon be outdoors. We wanted to tell people, ‘Hey, cockroaches are people, too.’ They’re neat. Only 12 out of 4,000 are pests. They’re sanitary engineers.

Only twelve, huh? With all due respect, that isn’t quite as comforting as Dr. Grieg tries to make it sound.

Q: What type of person likes working with these critters?

A: I’ve always liked bugs since I was a kid. What I think is really sad is, if a kid has parents who say, ‘No, no. don’t touch that,’ or a mother screams or whatever. That’s just bound to turn a kid off. But when the parents are at least tolerant, then it works.

Olivia likes bugs – ladybugs, caterpillars, and spiders in particular. Looks like it’s time for a trip to the Cockrell Butterfly Center to see what she might think of this.

Ed versus Charles

I’m kind of looking forward to seeing a GOP primary battle for County Judge next year, especially if it’s going to take the tone that’s evident in Kristin Mack’s column from Friday. That would make it about the exact opposite of what I’m hoping for on the Democratic side for Senate. (Not that I expect to get exactly what I’m hoping for, politics being what it is and all that , but hey, a boy can hope.) And I will say that if Ed Emmett keeps coming forth with stuff like this, the entertainment factor will be reasonably high:

Emmett said he doesn’t understand why “Republican activists” would want a spirited primary when there is going to be a tough general election next year.

The only reason to throw out an incumbent is if you want to do something different or better, Emmett said.

You do know that “Republican activists” wanted to select somebody else for the County Judge seat, right? And that some of them wanted a “spirited primary” so that they could have an actual voice in the selection process, right? You’d think a guy who got his job through a backroom deal would be a bit more sensitive to those concerns, if for no better reason than they lead to an obvious riposte:

It’s a stretch to call Emmett an incumbent said Jim McGrath, a spokesman for Friends of Charles Bacarisse.

“He is the sitting judge. I accord him the respect the office is entitled to. But no one deserves a coronation. There should be a contest of ideas. He needs to be tested in a primary,” McGrath said.

“Voters get to decide who has the right experience for the job. No one should be arrogant enough to substitute their own personal will against that of the majority.”

If this is the tack Ed Emmett plans to take, I’m thinking the campaign ads against him – in both the primary and in the general election, if he makes it that far – will write themselves.