Houston, we have a problem: While the city reports its Wi-Fi-connected parking meters work great doubling as Wi-Fi hotspots downtown, their much-ballyhooed "bubbles" efforts to unwire housing projects seems to have narrowed in scope. The headline on the story in the Houston Chronicle, in which yours truly is quoted, is perfect: "Houston's Plan for Wi-Fi Bubbles Has Burst." The city now plans to use Wi-Fi only to connect up community centers rather than bring service to residents. As far as I and the reporter I spoke to for this story could figure out, the networks will be running as password-protected clouds that only computers in central locations will be able to access. I have no idea why anyone would think this is a good idea. Bringing Internet access to libraries, schools, and community centers is a perfectly marvelous idea, but in low-income neighborhoods, the notion of putting free or affordable Internet access in the home, paired with programs to offer inexpensive or free refurbished computers along with training, is to deal with the commensurate problem that kids can work from their homes instead of being out on the mean streets. In many neighborhoods that are both poor and high crime, parents keep their children in to avoid trouble. Thus, community centers aren't the logical way to ensure greater access and bridge the digital divide. These efforts should be trying to bring access parity across income levels to match the ecumenical availability of information to rich and poor.
Freakonomics notices funny network names: A Dutch cafe using a service from a company called They displays messages via network names (SSIDs) that remind freeloaders to buy something: BuyAnotherCupYouCheapskate. I confess to finding this story amusing, but not above the threshold to share, until the New York Times's Freakonomics blog picked it up. That's partly because even though the cafe is in the Netherlands, all the messages are in English. Are Brits and Americans the only freeloaders. They, the company, not an inchoate group of people, told me that they use a technique to change the text display name of the SSID, while the underlying network identifier remains the same. This keeps customers from being booted off even as messages are dynamically rotated.