Thursday, February 17, 2005

Digital Will

A conversation with a bunch of colleagues yesterday got me to thinking. We were in our usual free form Socratic Dialogue mode and were discussing the drive to digitisation of personal media and what concept, if any, the general public had of the longevity or persistence of their data.

With the human weakness in our inability to empathise with our future selves and the short term focus that a fast moving society engenders, have we really thought things through sufficiently. When I upload my photos to Flickr, I’m just assuming they are going to be there forever or more accurately I don’t perceive of any time at which they won’t be there. If I think about it a little longer I suppose I assume that the Flickr system will ensure a roll with the times and that my pictures will be retrievable and trans-codable into whatever system makes sense as the years go by.
The Urban myth would have us believe that the data which ran the ‘69 Moon landing is no longer readable and we’ve forgotten the format of the tapes – though I’m sure I’ve read that Nasa has migrated this data.

This idea of long term storage and retrieval is a debate in its own right, but it’s a side bar topic I want to discuss here.
Projecting into the future naturally brings forth thoughts of mortality and so linking this with data persistence… What happens to our data after we die?

I’m not concerned so much with the filling of endless servers with the personal media of departed Internet users. Accounts can expire just the same as people and most services have procedures for the cleaning up of dormant data.

What I am more concerned with is the ability to nominate a digital next of kin. Let us for now avoid the thorny issue of DRM and over legislation surrounding collections of online music or video purchases and concentrate on user generated media.

If I store my digital photos online, for backup security reasons, and I am no longer around to maintain the account, how can my wife retrieve the data? Photos are a particularly emotional asset and the thought that certain pictures may be beyond the reach of my family due to lack of login and password information is not a comfortable one. Are we supposed to duplicate all our media?

Social networks allow the sharing of data, but usually only while all party accounts are maintained.

But what about email, diaries, message logs, blog data etc or whatever other data ends up being remote stored as the technology marches on? I guess that writing letters to the service providers with copies of a death certificate is one option, but surely there must be a way of making life easier for the bereaved.

I guess what I am suggesting is that when singing up for a service, one of the bits of profile information I should be able to give is the nomination for a digital next of kin, who has the right to access and retrieve data. In fact it may be useful to have a nominated other who can access my account for many less morbid reasons.

So, maybe digital identity systems (federated or otherwise) need to become more mature, trusted and more widely adopted in order to underpin this system, but it has to be worth thinking about. Should each service make its own provision for such functions or is this a function for a digital identity provider? Maybe your digital next of kin could be logged as a facet of your digital ID profile, essentially giving them access to all your systems as a trusted agent.

Or maybe hard copy will win out! Prints for digital photos certainly seem very popular.

What exactly will happen to all our data when the first digital generation reaches the end of its days?

More Train WiFI

T-Mobile is trialing WiMax as a method for providing 'high-speed' Internet access on trains.
The trial is currently running on Southern Trains' London to Brighton route.

"To date, internet access has been connected to on-board Wi-Fi networks through fast satellite links, with slower GPRS connections used as a fall-back when the line of sight between satellite and antenna is blocked. T-Mobile says its WiMax-based set-up, designed and installed by Nomad, will maintain high-speed connectivity throughout the journey."

Register article here.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

WiFi Train

I like the idea of this a lot more than the practice!!!!

GNER have equipped more of their trains with WiFi Internet access. As a regular traveler on GNER between West Yorkshire and 'that London' I finally got around to giving it a go.

The free trial ran until the end of January so now access is free in First class (not that I'd be able to test that - though I am intrigued as to whether I can sneak onto the freebie by sitting in the 1st standard carriage) and in the First Class lounge at Kings Cross.

If however you work for living you have to pay:

£2.95 - 30 minutes
£4.95 - 1 hour (60 minutes)
£7.95 - 2 hours (120 minutes)
£9.95 - 3 hours (180 minutes )

So what’s it like? Well true to form it not quite as simple as it should be, at least on my XP enabled laptop. "
Most Wi-Fi enabled laptops automatically detect the wireless network" boasts the GNER - well yes, my lap top did detect the network, it just couldn't access it - that pesky 'Out of Range' bug! Though it is simple enough to sort it out by opening your control panel and manually adding the network using the network id 'train'. I conducted my test during the freebie period so I'm not sure how the payment process works, all I had to do was open a browser window and bung in an offer code at the GNER network home page (which loads automatically). Server round trips are very slow however and so I'd guess it’s all a bit painful.

And that’s the service in a nutshell really - dog slow. I saw precious few other commuters taking advantage of the connection so I’m sure its not a contention issue. I gave up waiting for Outlook Web Access to download its bits and pieces - Gmail offering a much more comfortable service with its RIA alike client side processing being idea for such a connection. IM was a bit flaky but usable and I didn't even attempt Skype. Web surfing was tough, like going back to a very slow modem speeds - this may be WiFI but it sure isn’t broadband. So no flicking idly through the web, looking at online photos or streaming media.

I'm being unfair - what we've got is a constant Internet presence on the move. More reliable than using a cell phone as a modem. And settling into the use of bloglines to catch up on my RSS subscriptions was quite comfortable and a perfectly viable was of consuming Internet content.

The train gets it’s Internet by flipping between satellite and cell phone technology to maintain a constant connection. GNER acknowledge that the speed will vary depending upon cell coverage and trackside furniture, but I haven’t found and claims as to what speeds you can reasonably hope for.

A more detailed description of the workings can be found here.

GNER should be saluted for their efforts - not just for offering Internet access but also for being very sensible and providing power sockets for your equipment.

So, this is not quite the utopian ubiquitous access dream, but it’s a worthy start. If there is an email that desperately needs to go off then this service could be very useful, though if you're trying to send a lengthy presentation ahead of the meeting you're traveling to attend, the train itself is probably a faster transport medium – to paraphrase “Never under-estimate the bandwidth of a laptop on a train”

I can't say that given my experience I'm in a rush to pay habitually every journey, but I'll have a crack every now and then to see if performance has improved. Bloglines and Gmail mean that I can reasonably get some useful work done on the commute, but the higher bandwidth requirements of my usual entertainment or even distraction consumption are unfortunately out of reach.