GrokSurf's San Diego

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Archive for the ‘Internet’ Category

SDG&E “smart meters” being rolled out in the Navajo area

Posted by George J Janczyn on April 1, 2010

San Diego Gas & Electric will soon be replacing all electric and gas meters in the Navajo area in San Diego. The current schedule shows San Carlos, Del Cerro, and Allied Gardens upgrades will take place April through June of this year. Residents are supposed to receive a notification letter several weeks in advance.

The new “smart meters” record energy use information and have two-way communication between the meter and SDG&E. All residents will receive a new meter — it is not an optional upgrade. Information, including an interactive map, is available from SDG&E’s website.


From SDG&E’s website: “Smart meters are digital meters with two-way communication that send energy use information to SDG&E. In the future, electric energy use will be recorded every hour at your home and every 15 minutes at your business. Natural gas information will be available on a daily basis. This information can help you understand how you are using energy so you can make money-saving and environmentally friendly changes.”

Once the smart meter is installed, residents will be able to see hourly updates on their energy usage via the Internet. The meters can be connected to a Home Area Network to control home digital devices such as home security systems, appliances, temperature controls, etc.

SDG&E will no longer need to send meter readers to record your energy usage; that information will automatically be sent from the new unit.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that there have been problems with television sets disabled when a new meter was installed. Reportedly, some older model televisions are susceptible to the power being turned off and back on again.

Residents are advised to unplug sensitive electronic and electrical devices before technicians shut off the power to replace the old meter.

Faulty SDG&E smart meters replaced / SignOnSanDiego — “Some of San Diego Gas & Electric Co.’s new smart meters turned out to be not so smart last week. They got confused during a software update, cut power to customers and stopped communicating with the company.” – May 21, 2010

The Associated Press ran this story describing concerns that smart meters have security holes and are vulnerable to being hacked.

This San Diego Reader article speculates on SDG&E’s motives in rolling out the new meters.


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“Minds for sale”

Posted by George J Janczyn on December 15, 2009

Jonathan Zittrain, Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University presents a spirited, thought-provoking examination of issues raised by online “crowdsourcing,” or the harnessing of human intelligence to create content and ideas in areas where computers alone do poorly. His talk is illustrated with examples such as:

Mechanical Turk, where users can sign up to receive payment for performing tasks such as choosing the best among several photographs of a storefront, writing product descriptions, or identifying performers on music CDs.

ESP Game, where instead of participating for monetary reward, users play games for scores, with their gameplay recorded and analyzed. One game licensed by Google helps to catalog Google Images by having two players look at photos and guess how the other would label them.

Zittrain is the author of “The Future of the Internet — And How to Stop It.”

The talk is about 50 minutes with a question-answer session at the end; it’s worthwhile if you can find some quiet time.

[Dec 22 postscript: I just came across this item: the Guardian used a crowdsourcing project to produce this news report.]

Posted in Internet, Technology, Videos | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

San Diego news websites revamped, but with a few glitches

Posted by George J Janczyn on December 7, 2009

As part of their recent website redesigns, the San Diego Union-Tribune and the Voice of San Diego implemented a new system for naming URLs for their stories. My experience is that U-T’s site has problems redirecting users trying to access legacy URLs. The Voice also has a minor issue with that, as well as difficulty with its calendar.

Legacy URLs are the original URLs for older stories that appeared on the previous website. Without a redirect from the legacy link to the new URL, the result is a “404 Page Not Found” error message.

“Page Not Found” is bad for the user and bad for a website. The frustrated user may not be inclined to do extra digging to find the article; instead, (s)he may abandon the search and go elsewhere.

I checked some of my old blog posts that cited articles in the Union-Tribune, and many of them led to a 404 error. When I reported the problem to the U-T, they told me I should change the “www” to “legacy” on the bad links.

The U-T said they are working to get redirects operational. I think those links shouldn’t have broken in the first place. Not ensuring functional automatic redirects before implementing a new website suggests haste in getting the new product out. As of today, I’m still getting those 404 errors.

The Voice of San Diego for the most part seems to have redirection working though I did encounter a dead link the other day. They indicated to me they are still working on the issue. For a while their calendar wasn’t working. Although it’s up now, it contains very little information and calendar navigation is messy and difficult to use. They’re not alone in that though–I think event calendars just inherently defy good design and perhaps website owners don’t think they’re worth the trouble. One thing is sure–calendar widgets on the cheap aren’t going to get you very much.

The U-T also has problems with their search function. For a few days after the new site rolled out, my search for “Sanders budget” turned up no hits at all for 2009 and almost all searches failed to sort results by date correctly. The date sorting problem seems to be fixed now, but the search utility still does a poor job of locating documents. Today, the “Sanders budget” search on U-T’s site listed only 6 documents for all of 2009. The same search on Google gets 91 documents–for the last month alone (site-specific searching is available on Google as an advanced option). It makes me reluctant to use U-T’s search at all.

The Voice of San Diego redesign is still morphing. Sunday morning’s home page devoted a huge chunk of space at the top to a marquee slideshow, a technique I consider superfluous. By afternoon the slideshow was near the bottom of the page, visible only after scrolling down.

Sunday morning version

Sunday afternoon version


The Union-Tribune allocates a generous amount of screentop real estate to advertising, some animated, also an unwelcome distraction in the way it competes with the news.


A major change in Voice of San Diego’s site was to enable comments on all individual articles, but unlike the U-T, anonymous comments are not permitted. While the U-T requires commenters to sign in through Disqus, Facebook, Twitter, or OpenID, it’s still easy to maintain anonymity. On Voice of San Diego you can use a pseudonym for your comment display name but your profile page will show your real name. The reaction I’ve seen to the policy against anonymous comments has been supportive because having to reveal one’s identity encourages responsible discourse.

Overall I’d say the changes to both websites represent an incremental improvement in appearance and functionality but there’s still lots of room for improvement. As for their journalism and editorial direction, I guess my opinion leaks out between the lines on some of my other blog posts from time to time!


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Getting things fixed around town

Posted by George J Janczyn on November 24, 2009

The U-T has a “Just Fix it” column you can contact if there is “a problem government hasn’t taken care of despite your complaints.” The column’s writer selects cases and follows up by contacting the appropriate agency and resolving communication issues or other impediments to the solution. Good PR for the U-T although the scope of service is by necessity limited by space and time.

I wonder why the U-T or another news organization (or the city, for that matter) doesn’t take advantage of one of the online services that let people easily request 311-type government services, facilitating the process of getting requests routed to the appropriate agency and tracking them for follow-through.

Such services allow people to report problems from their mobile devices in addition to their computers and even to include photos in their reports. People can see what else is being reported in their areas and add their “vote” to issues already submitted that they are also concerned about.

Take a look at some of these offerings.
A neighborhood reporting system that has been established for some time
Another reporting system
Another reporting system
An example from Great Britain
A website meant to facilitate an international effort to build open interoperable systems that allow citizens to more directly interact with their cities.

On the live SeeClickFix map you can hover a spot to view details


Having such a system for San Diego could lead to better service, reach new constituents, and facilitate interagency collaboration. Wouldn’t something like this be a handy resource for our community?

Apr 12, 2010: O’Reilly Radar just published this review of SeeClickFix.


Posted in Government, Internet, Newspapers, Technology | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Only if people are like sheep

Posted by George J Janczyn on November 23, 2009

Over the years, Tim O’Reilly’s publishing house has served as a definitive source for computing information. He’s commonly cited as a top leader in the Web 2.0 movement. So when O’Reilly recently warned that big corporations are jeopardizing the internet as an interactive and collaborative medium, we should take note.

O’Reilly’s comments appeared in this report from Information Week.

The report states that the web is in danger of “segmenting into a federation of closed camps led by a handful of increasingly powerful vendors” and that O’Reilly believes vendors should focus more on benefits for the user instead of enhancing their competitive position.

We can certainly hope that vendors will become enlightened enough to realize it’s not in their long-term best interest to create walled gardens out of their products and services. I’m thinking of ISPs and companies like Apple and Google. But the other side of that coin is the possibility that people will go on accepting products that restrict their freedom as if that’s the way it must be. Will we allow ourselves to be herded into pens, or will we support those vendors who promote an open system?

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Twitter information management and Seesmic

Posted by George J Janczyn on November 17, 2009

Since I began using it, Twitter has proven to be increasingly useful for me to get news on subjects I’m interested in (it isn’t necessary to follow the noise, you know), and the recently developed Twitter Lists feature has enabled me to topically organize and filter relevant sources. It’s just a matter of identifying a good source to follow (and study who they follow and who follows them to identify more good sources).

When Seesmic Desktop was announced recently, I thought it might be a useful tool for using Twitter and it is. Being able to open and display several lists at once is quite nice. No need to jump around as much. With Twitter alone, I also found I sometimes missed seeing a reply that got buried in my home page timeline, but that’s no problem with Seesmic because it can gather all replies together in a column just like any other list. Below is a Seesmic page with three lists showing, navigation bar on the left.

Seesmic has a user-oriented feedback system too, one that social services like Facebook and, um, Twitter, should take note of. As you type on their feedback page, your keywords are instantly matched with previous comments and displayed, so that you can see other comments on that topic. Then, instead of entering a duplicate comment, you can enter a vote on the previously submitted comment to show how many people support that idea. If you wish, you can continue and submit your own comment. Nice touch, and clearly one that benefits the Seesmic team as well. I think more services should use this technique. In the picture below, I was going to suggest that they make their columns scroll smoothly rather than incrementally by post, and this came up after I entered “smooth scrolling”:

I’m not suggesting that Seesmic is the best tool (TweetDeck would have to be a contender although it doesn’t support Twitter lists yet)[Nov 30–it does now, update just released], as there are plenty of other Twitter apps out there. I just happened to try it and it turns out I like it.

Posted in Internet, Technology | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment » file sharing service is back…for a price

Posted by George J Janczyn on November 15, 2009

A few months ago I discovered a file sharing service at It was a free service that allowed you to upload a file of any size, receive a URL that you could share with others for 24 hours, after which time the file would be deleted. This seemed like a good idea for sharing extra large files that might not be conveniently shared through email. I tried it a few times and it worked fine.

However, about a month ago the website suddenly went out, with a message that they were working on technical difficulties but would be back soon. After repeatedly checking back in subsequent weeks with no updates posted, I decided the website was down for good.

Today I see the site is working again, but it’s now charging $.99 per file uploaded, still subject to the 24-hour limit. It might be an attractive offer if the file remained permanently accessible, but not if you can only use it for 24 hours. I doubt they’ll find many takers.

[on second thought, even permanently, for one file it wouldn’t be worth it. There are too many other ways to do it for free]

Posted in Internet, Technology | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Getting our values around copyright right

Posted by George J Janczyn on November 5, 2009

I think everyone would benefit from and enjoy watching this presentation that Lawrence Lessig gave this morning at the Educause 2009 conference. He illustrates how the extreme application of copyright to all aspects of our lives corrupts the rule of law in a democratic society, and promotes the Creative Commons approach to a legal infrastructure for avoiding the damage to science, education, and culture inflicted by copyright.


Click the picture above to see the video. Lessig’s talk begins at minute 35 26, just use the time slide control to bypass earlier talks.

Lessig is the Director, Edward J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics, and Professor of Law at Harvard University

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@Larry_Carlson’s Twitter art

Posted by George J Janczyn on October 28, 2009

Add some flavor to your Twitter following list with some creative ASCII art (click image to go there).


Posted in Arts, Internet | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Online search results can be misleading

Posted by George J Janczyn on October 25, 2009

Search engines such as Google and Bing return results in a format that shows a snip of the page title and a short string of text appearing on that page. That is often helpful, but it can sometimes be misleading. In the search result shown below, it could be interpreted that I made a somewhat derogatory statement about Mr. Kindle. I did not. On the page in question (also shown below) I made a comment on a news article, someone made a comment immediately after me, and it is that person’s remark that shows up on the search screen. So, be careful when viewing search results, all may not be as it appears.

The search:


My comment:


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