August 2009 Archives


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This last week, Catherine and I were able to spend the week in Stehekin, WA, a small town in the heart of the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area in North Cascades National Park with less than 100 year-round residents. The area is only accessible via mountain trail, plane, or boat, and data connectivity (what is to be had, I turned my phone and netbook off for the week, though) is all via satellite.

Stehekin’s motto, which can be seen adorning belt-buckles and a postcards and the like is “Stehekin Is What America Was”, and it’s pretty easy to see what they mean even after a few minutes of being in the valley. The construction still uses mostly local timber from the woods nearby, of the cars in the valley very few are newer than fifteen years old, most are far older. Heat is provided by fireplaces, stoves, and blankets. The electricity is based on a fourty year old hydro-electric plant, and the only agricultural operation still in the valley irrigates with a gravity fed ditch off of Boulder Creek, which runs by the old school house.

I’ll be writing on Stehekin over the next few weeks, probably on Monday’s, to discuss what about Stehekin is most interesting and what can be taken from a place which, due to difficulty of access, makes it seem quaint and what most would consider old-fashioned. While I’m not willing to advocate that everyone live in remote wilderness areas where groceries need to be boated up from 50 miles downlake, there are elements of life in the Stehekin Valley which I believe can apply to a more urban or suburban lifestyle.

Also, the residents of Stehekin love to share the valley with visitors, and if you don’t want to camp, the Stehekin Valley Ranch is a pretty inexpensive way to do that, plus the food they serve is fantastic. The owner of the ranch often joins the guests in the cookhouse for meals, and is more than willing to engage in friendly conversation. The ranch also acts as a base for rafting, kayaking, horseback riding, and a variety of other activities.

Stehekin is a great place to visit and is completely worth the trip, but it’s popular enough you’ll probably need to plan a year or so in advance. Frankly, this is better in many ways, since it keeps Stehekin less crowded, letting you head out on the trail for the day, and fully expecting not to run into anyone else. Several of the hikes we went on, we didn’t see anyone else, and it was pretty much just us and the wildlife native to the North Cascades.

Apple, AT&T and Platform Control

There has been a lot of stink about Apple’s recent decision to deny Google’s official Google Voice app, and the FCC’s subsequent decision to investigate. Apple’s inability to provide consistent guidelines for App approval has been immensely frustrating for both developers and users alike. So much so, that some developer users are simply giving up on the platform altogether.

I’m a firm believer in Open Platforms. It’s why I’m so interested in Android (even though I’m really frustrated with one particular decision from Google regarding the Android Market). However, while I dislike closed platforms, I believe that Apple should be free to create them. Now, Apple’s tendency toward closed platforms in their consumer electronics has turned me off of their computers as well. And I’m not the only one, Cory Doctorow gave an interview to Linux Journal last year where he talked about leaving Apple because of this.

I won’t argue with the fact that the iPhone has a really clean interface, and the user experience model is pretty good. However, I won’t buy one, because Apple maintains such a high level of control. But, since they are controlling the hardware and the software, I don’t have a problem with that. I’m sure they’ll drive their customers to other, more open (though perhaps not quite as good) platforms.

While I don’t begrudge Apple their control, there have been allegations that AT&T was responsible for the app being pulled, and it’s only sensible that AT&T was responsible for the pulling of data tethering apps, which would have allowed you to use iPhone’s data plan from your computer. This, is simply unacceptable to me.

AT&T (of which I am a customer) should not be discriminating. I’ve paid for data? I should be able to do what I want with that data plan, including tethering to my computer, VOIP, or text messages over free services. The telecommunications network is infrastructure, same as electric and water, and it needs to be treated as such. It should be non-discriminatory, and far, far cheaper than it is. To me, this is really the core argument around network neutrality. I believe in network neutrality because I believe that telecommunications has become infrastructure, and it needs to be treated as such, and it’s not.

If the FCC is going to take action against anyone in this mess, I hope they limit it to AT&T, because as the network provider, they’re the ones who’s position is the most far reaching and dangerous. Not to say that Apple shouldn’t be watched. Their position on unlocking is dangerous as well, for all the reasons large portions of the DMCA are frightening.

It’s really unfortunate that the FCC is feeling the need to get involved in this situation, and whatever they do in this situation stands to have far reaching effects. Some outcomes could be good, others, really bad. So, I’m going to be nervously watching this situation.