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How remote work is quietly remaking our lives

With over a decade of remote work experience, I found this article a good representation of the positives and negatives of remote work.

How remote work is quietly remaking our lives

From their ersatz offices in coffee shops, coworking spaces, and living rooms, a growing number of remote workers are quietly remaking the way we work and live.

Take Eden Rehmet, who was able to parlay her wages working in trade services at a New York City commodities broker into buying a home and opening a small business upstate.

Rob Osoria, a web developer, works remotely from Brooklyn half of the week to skip a commute to his Manhattan office.

And interior designer Meg Lavalette gets the best of both worlds by living and doing the majority of her work in rural upstate New York, while traveling to New York City every other week to meet with clients.

All of them told Recode that apart from a few downsides, they have improved the quality of their lives by working remotely and releasing their tether to specific places near their employers. While remote work has blurred some of the boundaries between their work lives and their personal lives, they say they’re happier and often more productive than they’d been at traditional offices.

Depending on how you measure it, remote employees like these make up anywhere from 5.3 percent (those who typically work from home) to nearly two-thirds (who work remotely ever) of the US workforce, a number that has been rising since the advent of a reliable and robust home broadband connection earlier this decade.

The changes remote work has introduced have happened so gradually you may not have noticed. But its growing popularity is remaking how we work, the tools we use to work, how we communicate at work, and even the hours we work. It’s also connected to population shifts from big cities to less populated areas, and it’s upending sectors of commercial real estate, both in terms of how spaces are designed and where they’re located.

What was once a rarity among a select set of workers is quickly becoming a defining feature of the future of work.

Read the rest


Ars reviews three cell signal boosters—and they actually work

Interesting article that I wanted to share:

Ars reviews three cell signal boosters—and they actually work

This Cel-Fi Pro coverage unit is in my downstairs den, receiving LTE signal from the network unit upstairs in my living room.
Enlarge /

This Cel-Fi Pro coverage unit is in my downstairs den, receiving LTE signal from the network unit upstairs in my living room.

Jim Salter

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about how Wi-Fi works and reviewing various products aimed at fixing Wi-Fi dead spots. But today, in our increasingly need-to-always-connect world, what do you do if you’ve got an LTE (cellular service) dead spot?

Searching Amazon for cellular signal boosters feels like navigating a minefield. Prices range anywhere from $180 to $1,000 and up, and reviews tend to be all over the place for every device offered. Serendipitously, the owner of reached out to me while I was dithering, and the site offered to let me test a few of the signal boosters they carry. I described two problem areas to him as fertile grounds for testing—my partial basement floor, and my parents’ rural house—and we picked out three products to test.

Two of those products—Cel-Fi Go X ($899), and SureCall Fusion4Home ($499)—are products with outdoor Yagi antennas that should be roof or pole mounted and aimed directly at a nearby cell tower. From the outdoor Yagi, a leg of coax cabling needs to be routed indoors and fed to the signal booster, which then has an output port which connects to an indoor panel antenna via another coax run. Since the LTE signal is pretty poor everywhere in my parents’ house, kits like these were their best bet.

My own situation was a little different. The LTE signal is good-to-great in the top floor of my house—it’s just that pesky partial basement where things get dicey. So I might be able to get away without running any wires at all. The Cel-Fi Pro for AT&T ($695) is an all-indoor kit, with no antennas to hang and no cables to run. Just power up two 5GHz-linked electronic boxes, set them up via a smartphone app, and go.

So while it wouldn’t be cheap and would also require a bit of setup, could cell signal boosters help in either situation?

Boosting weak rural LTE

About a year and a half ago, my parents bought a house only 20 miles away, so they could see more of us and their grandkids. But they didn’t learn that no ISP was willing to deliver service to the house until after they’d already bought it. I ended up buying an LTE modem and putting an AT&T SIM card in it. The all-LTE Internet solution I came up with worked, and Mom insisted it was fine—but it seemed pretty sketchy to me. I really wanted to find some way to improve it.

My parents are both ham radio operators and my stepdad Scott likes to run extremely long distance 10-meter equipment, so he’s well used to coax and antennas. Given his RF experience, I just dumped a giant cardboard box with two LTE booster kits, four antennas, and a boatload of coax on him, and he did all of his own installation. The first product he tried was the more expensive of the two, Cel-Fi Go X. Sina from felt pretty confident of both the indoor/outdoor kits he sent, but the Cel-Fi Go X offered a maximum 100 dB gain to the SureCall Fusion4Home‘s maximum of 72 dB. And having no experience with these things yet, I just wanted to see something work.

  • Action shot of my parents’ house Internet: a Netgear LTE modem feeding an Orbi Pro router. (Not pictured: two Orbi Pro satellites, elsewhere in the house.)

    Jim Salter

  • Pictured here are two LTE booster kits, Cel-Fi Go X (left) and SureCall Fusion4Home (right). Each kit consists of an outdoor Yagi antenna, an indoor signal booster, and an indoor panel antenna, with everything connected together via coax wiring.

    Jim Salter

  • This overhead shot of Cel-Fi Go X (left) and Fusion4Home (right) shows off the heat sink on Cel-Fi Go’s underbody, and the backs of the indoor panel antennas, which hang from wall or window mountable clips.

    Jim Salter

  • Getting an initial, unboosted baseline result for the Internet connection at my parents’ house was a pain—tests frequently failed entirely during the upload portion, as shown here.

    Jim Salter

Cel-Fi Go X came with a small, simple bracket to mount its exterior yagi antenna to the roofline, and for our initial testing, Scott used it. Later, he re-mounted both it and the SureCall Fusion4Home’s yagi to a home-made aerial pole, which allowed him simpler aiming and better elevation. There were three cell towers in range of the house, which he found using the free Network Signal Info app on an Android phone. We didn’t see much difference between any of the three nearby towers, and aiming the yagi at any of the three worked well.

  • The first kit Scott and I tested was the Cel-Fi Pro X. This is the exterior antenna for Cel-Fi Pro X, a highly directional yagi design. It’s shown here mounted to the roof bracket that came with the kit, but Scott later remounted it on a homemade pole aerial.

    Jim Salter

  • My stepdad Scott did all the antenna mounting, coax routing, and equipment setup for these reviews himself.

    Jim Salter

  • When Scott hooked up the yagi for Cel-Fi Go X, he initially used the now-empty roof-mount bracket seen on the right, which came with the kit. When he hooked up the SureCall Fusion4Home later, he decided to mount both yagis on a home-made aerial pole.

    Jim Salter

  • This is the base of Scott’s home-made pole aerial. Home Depot and Lowe’s sell these as weighted bases for patio table umbrellas. (Note: any such aerial pole should be properly grounded, in case it attracts lightning.)

    Jim Salter

  • Both kits used an interior panel antenna to rebroadcast the donor signal from the exterior Yagi. The panel antenna radiates mostly from the front in a broad pattern.

After connecting Cel-Fi Go X to its antennas and registering it with the Cel-Fi Android app, the LTE modem’s signal strength indicator shot from one bar to five. Any AT&T phone brought into the house also showed the coveted "full bars." But did anything actually work better? To find out, we did before-and-after speed tests using the excellent DSLReports Speedtest. Our method was to do a few speedtest runs on my Pixel 2XL phone, unplug the booster kit and do a few more, then reconnect the booster and try again. We got consistently and significantly improved results for each kit.

Since these are true Internet speed tests, we unfortunately had no way to get consistent results from day to day. AT&T shapes download traffic over their LTE networks very heavily, according to both how much data a given SIM card has consumed in a month and the current needs of other AT&T subscribers connected to the same tower. So it’s not useful to draw conclusions based directly on which kit gets the highest numbers—particularly since the kits weren’t tested on the same day. But we can draw meaningful conclusions from the before-and-after on each kit.

  • The important thing to spot here is that MASSIVE improvement in upload bandwidth, for both kits. The tower can transmit to my phone just fine, but my phone had trouble transmitting to the tower without help from a booster.

    Jim Salter

  • Getting an initial, unboosted baseline result for the Internet connection at my parents’ house was a pain—tests frequently failed entirely during the upload portion, as shown here.

    Jim Salter

Browsing the Internet at my parents’ house without the booster kit tends to be a frustrating, balky experience—you tap a link, and it takes forever before the new page begins to render. Once it begins, it usually finishes pretty quickly, but that initial pause will drive you nuts. Sometimes the long pause turns into a hard error and you have to hit reload. Both booster kits fixed that, making link and button taps responsive again. That’s because when unboosted, my Pixel 2XL struggled to reach AT&T’s cell tower, even though the tower had no trouble reaching it.

This is borne out in our speed tests. Even though the unboosted download speeds are great—better than I usually get upstairs in my own house, with plenty of signal—that weak upload means a lot of errors and retries when you’re trying to request a page in the first place. In the real world, the greatly improved upload with both kits translated into responsive page loads and a better experience with the house’s Roku TV streaming device.

It’s more difficult to directly quantify the LTE boosters’ effect on voice service. Without the boosters, calls would rarely drop—but the audio quality would frequently be poor for short stretches of a call. Calling from my house, I would sound fine to them, but they would frequently go through a few moments of sounding tinny or garbled on my end. This tracks well with the observations about upload and download we made on the data side, and these intermittent drops in audio quality seemed to stop occurring with either booster live.

The clearest indicator of the kits’ success was my mom herself. She had always reassured me that the LTE modem I set them up with was fine—but after a few weeks of boosted signal in the house, she made it very clear she didn’t want to do without one anymore.

Listing image by Jim Salter

via Ars Technica


Locally Run ISPs Offer the Fastest Broadband in America

Interesting article that I wanted to share:

Locally Run ISPs Offer the Fastest Broadband in America

A new study once again highlights how community-run internet service providers (ISPs) offer better, faster broadband than their private sector counterparts.

Using data from 356,925 broadband speed tests conducted over a year, PCMag recently compiled a list of the fastest ISPs in America. ISPs were then affixed a PCMag Speed Index score based on a combination of line performance, upload, and download speeds.

When all regional ISPs were compared side by side, the fastest ISP in America was independent California ISP Sonic, with a score of 610.6. Sonic has been working with select California communities to leverage their conduit to build new fiber networks.

All told, six of the ten fastest ISPs in the States were either directly run by a local community, or involved some form of partnership between the public and private sectors.


For example, the publicly owned fiber ISP Nextlight in Longmont, Colorado offers symmetrical gigabit connections for $70 per month. Nextlight came in third place among all ISPs nationwide with a Speed Index score of 344.7. The closest major private-sector competitor was eighth-place Verizon FiOS, with a score of 186.1.

Thanks to both corruption and limited competition, US broadband is routinely sluggish, pricey, with comically bad customer service. Frustrated by years of dysfunction, many towns and cities are either building their own broadband networks, developing local cooperatives, or striking partnerships with third party companies to build better networks than are currently available.

An estimated 750 communities (and counting) have explored some variety of public-broadband option, says Christopher Mitchell, director of community broadband networks for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a nonprofit advocating for local solutions for sustainable development.

“Local networks are almost always competing against the established incumbents, which means they have multiple incentives to offer better service and lower prices,” Mitchell told Motherboard.
“They are frequently headquartered in or very near the communities they serve, so they spend more time worrying about what their customers think—while the big monopolies are first serving shareholders and less interested in customer experience.”

Other major publicly-owned ISPs of note include tenth-place Fairlawngig, an Ohio-based network that began offering residential fiber access to locals in 2017. EPB Broadband, Chattanooga, Tennessee’s publicly-owned broadband provider (rated the best ISP in the nation last year by Consumer Reports) came in sixth place.

Eighth place ALLO Communications is a private company that has struck fiber sharing partnerships with cities from Lincoln, Nebraska to Fort Morgan, Colorado in a bid to bring better, faster broadband to the public. Fifth place Hotwire has similarly struck a public a fiber partnership with officials in Salisbury, North Carolina.

Even Google-owned wireless ISP Webpass and Google Fiber, ranked second and fourth place respectively, have struck deals with local governments to utilize publicly-owned fiber.

Community-run networks may not be the answer for every community, but in areas where they’re deployed, private ISPs like Comcast often are forced to actually compete and upgrade their networks, improving service across the entire region.

“You can rapidly see that nonprofit business models have an important role to play in improving Internet access,” Mitchell said.

A study last year out of Harvard showed that community-run ISPs tend to offer faster, cheaper broadband and superior customer service to private ISPs. Community ISPs also tend to offer clearer pricing with fewer hidden surcharges, the study found.

Threatened by the specter of actual competition, the telecom lobby has convinced more than two dozen states to pass laws restricting or simply banning communities from building their own broadband networks. These laws also frequently restrict a local town or city’s ability to strike public private partnerships, even if locals have voted for the option.

After all, it’s easier to lobby the government to restrict competition—than it is to actually compete.

via Vice


Killing Net Neutrality Rules Did Far More Harm Than You Probably Realize

Interesting article that I wanted to share:

Killing Net Neutrality Rules Did Far More Harm Than You Probably Realize

We’ve noted repeatedly that the repeal of net neutrality did far more than just kill popular net neutrality rules. It effectively neutered the FCC’s ability to do its job and oversee lumbering natural telecom monopolies. And, contrary to the claims of the telecom lobby, it threw any remaining authority to an FTC that lacks the resources or authority to do the job either. In short the repeal gave loathed telecom giants like Comcast and AT&T carte blanche to do pretty much anything they’d like to their captive customer bases, provided they’re marginally clever about it.

Here’s one case in point: the previous FCC had passed some fairly basic rules requiring that ISPs be transparent about the kind of connection you’re buying. As in, ISPs were required to not only inform you what kind of throttling or restrictions were on your line, but they were supposed to make it clear how many hidden fees you’d pay post sale. With those rules dead, the FCC’s process now basically involves you complaining to the Ajit Pai FCC, and the agency doing jack shit about it. Under Pai’s model, ISPs are allowed to bullshit you all they’d like in terms of caps, throttling, and other limits, as long as their bullshit is hidden somewhere in their website. And even that’s not likely to be enforced:

And here’s where it gets even worse: ISPs aren’t actually required to display this information on their own websites, even though doing so apparently offers the advantage of being able to obscure it under a mountain of Lorem Ipsum-esque self-laudatory text. Companies may also submit their “transparency disclosures” directly to the FCC.

But whereas the Open Internet Order—the now-repealed FCC rules that established net neutrality—required ISPs to offer consumers quick access to information in a format that’s easy to digest, the method devised by Chairman Pai all but ensures that some consumers will never find it.

Another case in point from last week. Customers of Frontier Communications have been complaining that the company continues to charge them a $10 router rental fee every month, even when they own their own router. Customers who complain to the FCC are basically being told there’s nothing the FCC can do:

Son filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission; Frontier responded to the complaint but stuck to its position that he has to pay the fee. A voicemail that Frontier left with Son and his wife said the company informed the FCC that "the router monthly charge is an applicable fee, and it will continue to be billed.

The FCC complaints team told Son in an email, "We reviewed the provider’s response and based on the information submitted, we believe your provider has responded to your concerns." With FCC Chairman Ajit Pai having deregulated the broadband industry, there’s little to no chance of the commission taking action to stop fees like the one charged by Frontier.

Take a moment to understand that. An ISP decided to charge a consumer a $10 per month router rental fee, despite the fact the customer paid $200 to own that router. When they complained to the FCC, the agency told the consumer it was no big deal and refused to help. This is life now under Ajit Pai. And when lumbering apathetic ISPs have neither competition nor competent regulatory oversight to keep them in line, they simply double down on bad behavior, knowing there’s zero repercussion. Again, zero accountability was the entire point of the whole lobbying gambit.

Here’s where telecom lobbyists and Ajit Pai claimed the FTC would "step in to protect consumers." But they always knew that was bullshit. The FTC’s regulatory enforcement behavior is very clearly limited only to acts that are clearly "deceptive." When an ISP is looking you straight in the eye and telling you you’re being screwed, there’s technically nothing deceptive going on:

Even in instances where the FTC technically could act, the telecom lobby knew they’d be so inundated with other obligations (everything from monitoring accuracy in bleach labeling to policing cramming fraud), they’d take years to tackle issues–if they acted at all. The telecom lobby, in effect, told the government to neuter oversight of one of the most problematic sectors in tech, kneecapping an agency (the FCC) built specifically to monitor the sector, and the government thought that was a wonderful idea. Unless you’re an inhalant addict you should probably be able to see why this could be problematic longer term.

Both examples above clearly showcase how repealing net neutrality rules will impact much more than net neutrality. And anybody still arguing that killing net neutrality rules didn’t matter because the internet didn’t explode (still a common refrain in some quarters), is either arguing in bad faith, doesn’t understand the unique fuckery of the telecom sector, or simply has no damn idea what they’re talking about.

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via Techdirt


The Streaming TV Sector Still Doesn’t Realize Exclusives Will Drive Users Back To Piracy

Interesting article that I wanted to share:

The Streaming TV Sector Still Doesn’t Realize Exclusives Will Drive Users Back To Piracy

So we’ve noted a few times now that the rise of streaming video competitors is indisputably a good thing. Numerous new streaming alternatives have driven competition to an antiquated cable TV sector that has long been plagued by apathy, high rates, and comically-bad customer service. That’s long overdue and a positive thing overall, as streaming customer satisfaction scores suggest.

But as the sector matures, there’s a looming problem it seems oblivious to.

Increasingly, companies are pulling their content off central repositories like Hulu and Netflix, and making them exclusive to their own streaming platforms, forcing consumers to subscribe to more and more streaming services if they want to get all the content they’re looking for. AT&T, for example, will soon make all of its owned content, like Friends, exclusive to its looming new streaming platform. Disney, similarly, has been pulling its content off of Netflix and Hulu to ensure it’s exclusive to its own, looming Disney+ streaming service that arrives next year.

This week, Comcast noted that it would soon be pulling The Office from Netflix, making it exclusive to its own streaming service in 2021:

By itself that’s not a big deal. You can go buy the entire DVD box set of the Office for $50 on Amazon. But cumulatively, over the next few years, the sector risks creating so many exclusive silos that it begins to frustrate and annoy customers forced to shell out $8-$15 per month for 20 different services. Studies suggest that nearly every broadcaster will launch their own streaming service by 2022. And they all want their content exclusive to their own platform:

"Want to watch the new Star Trek? You’ll need to pay $6 a month for CBS All Access. Want to watch Game Of Thrones? That’s $15 per month for HBO. Stranger Things? That’s $9 to $16 for Netflix. The Office? $15 to Comcast. Fleabag? Another $9 to Amazon, please. The Handmaid’s Tale? $6 to Hulu; $12 if you don’t want ads."

The result, as one Deloitte study called it, is "subscription fatigue." Again, superficially, folks could argue that this isn’t a big deal because consumers can hunt and peck, mixing and matching different subscriptions and cancelling and signing up to new ones to build their perfect package. But if you ever tried to cancel AOL during its heyday, or say, tried to cancel a Wall Street Journal digital subscription online, it should be obvious that as markets mature companies make it a pain in the ass to actually cancel and change services. There’s really no reason to think this won’t happen in streaming as the competition heats up, they’ve nabbed their desired market share, and the focus shifts to retaining existing customers.

And here’s where net neutrality and telecom merger mania comes in. If you’re AT&T Time Warner or Comcast NBC Universal, you’ve got significant advantages in this race. One, you own both the conduit these services have to travel over, and you own much of the content competitors need to compete with you. And as we’ve already seen, these companies aren’t shy about exploiting this advantage. AT&T, for example, only imposes usage caps on its broadband customers if they use a competitor’s service. But if you use AT&T’s streaming services, those arbitrary and unnecessary surcharges mysteriously disappear. Similarly AT&T offers discounts (like HBO for free or just $5) if you use AT&T’s wireless services.

When you’re getting telecom discounts tied to subscribing to AT&T (or Comcast’s, or Verizon’s) streaming service, which service do you think you’re going to cancel first? And with the death of net neutrality, limited broadband competition, and folks like Ajit Pai being a mindless rubber stamp to industry, who exactly do you think will stop incumbent ISPs from exploiting this advantage anti-competitively? Again, there might be competition in streaming, but if there’s no competition in broadband, and there’s rampant regulatory capture, you’re probably gonna have some market headaches.

Ultimately, history has shown repeatedly that when consumers can’t get the content they want easily, cheaply, and quickly, they’ll resort to piracy.

Admitting this fact isn’t condoning the behavior, it’s just stating a fact. There’s some early anecdotal evidence this is already happening, with BitTorrent usage seeing a notable uptick in recent years as it has gotten more and more cumbersome for users to identify which service holds the rights to the content they’re looking for. In this case the telecom sector still wins, because the arbitrary and technically unnecessary usage caps and overage fees still net them money. You’ll either subscribe to an ISP’s own streaming services, or you’ll get penalized for piracy or using a competitor. Comcast and AT&T win either way.

Again, none of this is to say that the rise of streaming competition is a bad thing. Just that there’s going to be some growing pains over the next 5 years. Growing pains that the industry isn’t particularly keyed into because they’re all mindlessly running head down to the trough. And those that do realize that the rise of exclusivity will lead to piracy probably figure they’ll cross that bridge when they come to it. And when they do get to that bridge and piracy rates soar, history suggests they’ll probably try to blame everything but their own behavior for it.

Ultimately, it seems likely that in 5-10 years, even after the weaker options have been shaken out via competition, consumers will still desire some kind of central subscription repository that makes navigating all of these choices and finding content easy. Whoever controls that repository will control the kingdom. And with the pieces on the chess board as they are now, it’s pretty damn likely that telecom could cheat their way to the throne. And should telecom be left in charge of what the future of TV looks like, you’re likely going to find that future looks (and is priced) a lot like the cable TV options we fought so hard to innovate away from in the first place.

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via Techdirt


Football without helmets, will it make a difference?

I played football from 4th grade till 11th.  It was a sport that forced me to grow physically and mentally. I interacted with kids that I wouldn’t normally have done things with and had some really great coaches.  Coaches that helped me become who I am today as a person, much more than as an athlete.  With all that said I am not sure that I would push my son to play football.  With all the findings and discussions related to head trauma, concussions, and injuries I am just not sure it would be worth the risk.  We love football at our house, but it makes me really think.  So this article caught my eye.

Can changes not just to the equipment, but to the practice techniques and coaching help to keep football from becoming boxing?


Why I pay extra for “business-class” broadband at home | Ars Technica

I have had this one in my queue to publish for a long time, but I thought I might toss it out there tonight.  While I wont recommend Comcast to anyone if they had the choice, if you have to use them strongly consider Business Class service.  The technicians, both on the phone and on site, are more skilled and are generally move empowered to solve problems.

Why I pay extra for “business-class” broadband at home | Ars Technica.


What is the impact of being watched on your job?

The recent issues with police use of force in a variety of locations have raised new issues related to body cameras for force across the country. While the general view from police officers seems to be against them, the studies linked below seem to suggest they may be helpful. I start to wonder if the police body camera will be like the dash camera 10 to 15 years. Once officers are more comfortable with the change they may see the advantages of an impartial observer in most cases.

The article also mentions the impact in a restaurant being studied. The impact for the owner was great and possibly for the employees since the overall revenue was increased.

It does raise questions related to continuous monitoring in all aspects of our lives. Does the protection that the camera’s provide in some cases become pervasive surveillance of Orwellian fears?

Techdirt Article


Cover Indiana 2014 – The Whole Family

Update May 12th, 2014

Thanks again to all our supporters.  We raised over $1,400 dollars.  The ride was tough much of the day with a strong head wind, but we made it.  Jonathan encouraged us with animal spotting and songs.  A big thanks to my parents for providing SAG support.  It was great to have our own personal helpers in case we ran into trouble!


Last year Everette and Jonathan (our then five-year-old son) rode over 50 miles as part of the Cover Indiana Bike Tour for Habitat for Humanity. Raising money and awareness for the organization that builds homes for people without them.


This year Megan (mom) wasn’t content to just drive the SAG wagon.  She’s strapping on her helmet and joining the ride.

This year our goal is to raise $3000 for our local Lafayette Habitat Chapter.  Be a part of the fun, donate now! No. Really. Donate. We need your money.

Donate Here 

Then tune in Sunday May 11 and track our progress. Right Here on the website!

Track Us Live Here


See that! See that Map! We are going to ride our bikes all over that map! Go Team Mills!!

Cover Indiana Final Map