What to do when your home wifi stops working and your broadband provider can’t fix it

People tend to take their home wifi for granted, like their electricity supply: it’s just supposed to be on. But unlike your power, if your wifi stops working, too often it’s up to YOU to diagnose and fix it.

I work at home and depend on broadband internet to make my living. This week I lost about two full working days because my broadband went out. My internet service provider (ISP), Comcast, was unable to get it working or even steer me in a useful direction, despite keeping me on the phone for hours and running lots of tests of the connection between their equipment and my equipment.

Were I not lucky enough to know a programmer with lots of networking experience who could spend time helping me investigate other possible points of failure, I’d be out of luck for home wifi right now — which would severely hinder my business and life.

Here’s what happened with my home wifi, and how I fixed it. Also here’s why ISPs need to do a much better job of helping residential customers diagnose possible network problems that lie beyond the narrow scope of the wires and modems they sell…

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Mobile users team up to map wireless network coverage, quality

If you’re shopping for a wireless carrier, one of your first questions is (or should be): Which carriers offer the best coverage in the locations where you spend most of your time?

You could try to figure that out by looking at the coverage maps the carriers all provide, but take that information with a big grain of salt. Those maps often overstate the reach, strength, and quality of their coverage, and they don’t give detail down to the block level.

On CNN.com Tech today, I wrote about two projects where mobile users are creating their own maps of carrier coverage:

Crowdsourced maps help mobile users compare network reliability

These efforts are handled via iPhone and Android apps — which means that BlackBerry, Palm, and feature phone users can’t participate in making these maps. But the maps (which you can view on Open Signal Maps and RootMetrics) are potentially useful to anyone.

…Well, at least, to anyone in a major metro area, so far. There’s sparse reporting from other regions, but the more people who use these apps, the better these maps will get.

I really like these projects, not least because they’re an important way to hold wireless carriers accountable for delivering the speed and coverage they advertise. They’re also useful if you want to figure out whether your carrier is throttling your data.

Sunshine Week, March 13-19: Acceptable advocacy for journalists

For several years, I’ve loved Sunshine Week — a campaign by the American Society of News Editors to call for more government transparency.  It’s one of the few times that journalists and news orgs are willing to engage in direct activism, which makes for a lot of amusing verbal gymnastics.

Today at the Knight Digital Media Center, I wrote about new advocacy/awareness tool from Sunshine Week: a model proclamation that news orgs and other activists/advocates can customize, publish, and challenge specific government officials and agencies to adopt. It gets into specifics, at least to some extent.

See: Sunshine Week shows how to call for open government

It’s a good start, but here’s what else I’d love to see from Sunshine Week…

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Covering police accountability at Oakland Local

Over at Oakland Local (a community news and views site I cofounded), I’m working with reporter Eric K. Arnold to cover police accountability — an important and touch topic in this town.

We’re approaching this from the perspective of empowering Oaklanders to be able to wield influence on how police operate in their neighborhoods. There’s been a lot of friction and violence, and community members have often felt powerless on this front.

So here’s what I’ve written so far on this topic:

Also, today Eric Arnold published an excellent overview of what Oakland’s Citizens Police Review Board is and how it works:

Much more to come on this front. Stay tuned!

Experiment: Great Live Event Coverage for Hire. What do you think?

As I mentioned in my previous post, today I’m liveblogging and tweeting a daylong Las Vegas event by Metzger Associates: Social Media for Executives. It’s a small event for a select group of executives representing several types of companies.

I’m doing this as a pilot test for a new professional service I’d like to start offering: Great live event coverage.

In my experience, most online event coverage isn’t so great. A few folks will be tweeting or blogging in several places, some hashtags will be used, but it’s all rather confusing and inconsistent to follow. Also, a lot of people tend to tweet items like “Jane Doe is speaking at this session now.” Uh-huh… AND….?

Liveblogging/tweeting has turned out to be a real strength of mine — I’m good at it, and I enjoy it. I’ve also had the good fortune to collect a sizable Twitter following among folks whose interests in media, business, and other fields overlap with mine — and who enjoy my particular blend of reporting, analysis, and attitude. (Or at least I guess they do, because every time I do live event coverage my Twitter posse swells noticeably and those folks tend to stick around afterward.)

I do a lot of live event coverage via Twitter and CoverItLive. For instance, earlier this month for my client the Reynolds Journalism Institute I liveblogged/tweeted J-Lab’s Fund My Media Startup workshop at the 2009 Online News Association conference.

So, being a longtime entrepreneur always on the lookout for new opportunities, I’m looking for ways to offer live event coverage as a service for my clients. Today’s event is an experiment on this front.

I want to figure out how this service could work in a way that would appeal to my Twitter posse, maintain my integrity and independence, and provide value to clients who’d pay for it.

Here are some of the issues I’m wrestling with, that I’d welcome your thoughts on…

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Everyblock’s New Geocoding Fixes

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Adrian Holovaty. (Image by Additive Theory via Flickr)

Recently I wrote about how a Los Angeles Police Dept. geocoding data glitch yielded inaccurate crime maps at LAPDcrimemaps.org and the database-powered network of hyperlocal sites, Everyblock.

On Apr. 8, Everyblock founder Adrian Holovaty blogged about the two ways his company is addressing the problem of inaccurate geodata.

  1. Latitude/longitude crosschecking. “From now on, rather than relying blindly on our data sources’ longitude/latitude points, we cross-check those points with our own geocoding of the address provided. If the LAPD’s geocoding for a particular crime is significantly off from our own geocoder’s results, then we won’t geocode that crime at all, and we publish a note on the crime page that explains why a map isn’t available. (If you’re curious, we’re using 375 meters as our threshold. That is, if our own geocoder comes up with a point more than 375 meters away from the point that LAPD provides, then we won’t place the crime on a map, or on block/neighborhood pages.)
  2. Surfacing ungeocoded data. “Starting today, wherever we have aggregate charts by neighborhood, ZIP or other boundary, we include the number, and percentage, of records that couldn’t be geocoded. Each location chart has a new “Unknown” row that provides these figures. Note that technically this figure includes more than nongeocodable records — it also includes any records that were successfully geocoded but don’t lie in any neighborhood. For example, in our Philadelphia crime section, you can see that one percent of crime reports in the last 30 days are in an ‘unknown’ neighborhood; this means those 35 records either couldn’t be geocoded or lie outside any of the Philadelphia neighborhood boundaries that we’ve compiled.”

These strategies could — and probably should — be employed by any organization publishing online maps that rely on government or third-party geodata.

Holovaty’s post also includes a great plain-language explanation of what geodata really is and how it works in practical terms. This is the kind of information that constitutes journalism 101 in the online age.

(NOTE: I originally published this post in Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits.)

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HuffPost’s citizen journalism standards: links required (News orgs, take a hint)

huffpostLast week the Huffington Post posted its standards for citizen journalism. It’s a pretty short, basic list — just six requirements — that reads like journalism 101.

However, many news organizations still could take a lesson from the second item on HuffPost‘s list:

2. Do research and include links to back it up. Whether you are referencing a quote, statistic, or specific event, you should include a link that supports your statement. If you’re not sure, it’s better to lean on the cautious side. More links enhance the piece and let readers know where you’re coming from.”

It amazes me how often I still see mainstream news stories which completely lack links, or which ghettoize links in a box in a sidebar or at the bottom of the story…

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Government 2.0: More Transparency Online

Several planners of the recent Government 2.0 camp

Several planners of the recent Government 2.0 camp (By Patrick at work, via Flickr)

There is a movement afoot among government employees to use “social media tools and Web 2.0 technologies to create a more effective, efficient and collaborative U.S. government on all levels.” It’s called Government 2.0, and it could end up being very useful for journalists, citizens, and government officials and employees.

Members of this movement held a lively and productive unconference, Government 2.0 camp, in late March in Washington, D.C. The Twitter stream for the hashtags #gov20camp and #gov20 are still going strong.

Personally, I find this movement remarkable and encouraging. One of the great difficulties citizens encounter in learning about or interacting with their government has been the top-down, silo-focused, and generally tight-lipped or obfuscatory approach typical of government communication…

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One streaker gets plea bargain. Boulder cops defend their bullying

After I attended the Dec. 17 arraignment hearing for the 12 streakers cited by Boulder cops during the 10th annual Naked Pumpkin Run, I had a pretty busy week and didn’t have time to follow up further. Fortunately, The Colorado Daily did follow up on this case, reporting that one of the runners did accept the plea bargain offered by the Boulder District Attorney.

According to the Colorado Daily:

“[The runner] agreed Thursday to plead guilty to disorderly conduct, a petty offense. She agreed to undergo six months of unsupervised probation, eight hours of community service and pay $27 in court fees. She will not be required to register as a sex offender, and her record will be cleared if she doesn’t commit any crimes for at least six months.”

Also, Colorado Daily reported that according to prosecutor David Chavel:

“The agreement with [this defendant] would likely represent the same offer extended to all of the accused Halloween streakers. However, he said it would be ‘up to each individual’ to accept such an offer.”

“All of the cases are being handled separately, Chavel said, because some of the runners have attorneys and others do not. He said the remaining cases involving the naked runners are in negotiations with the Boulder District Attorney’s Office.”

What got me, though, was this statement from the Boulder Police Department quoted at the end of the Colorado Daily story. (Note: This statement does not appear to be on the Boulder Police Dept. web site, I’ll request a copy.)

“The decision was made by the District Attorney’s Office, which consulted with the department. Chief Mark Beckner believes this is an appropriate disposition. As for future violations, Boulder officers will continue to issue citations or make arrests based on the law as it is written. It is — and will remain — the province of the District Attorney’s Office to determine whether other charges are possible.”

…Correct me if I’m wrong, but this statement appears to mean that the Boulder cops intend to continue issuing indecent exposure citations to streakers — despite the fact that the DA’s office does not appear to consider that charge appropriate. Which means the cops can (and probably will) continue to bully and intimidate citizens through inappropriate charges — and leave it up to the DA and the courts to spend our resources to bring those charges back to reality.

There’s a much deeper issue at stake here beyond these cases, and it’s why I keep revisiting this story: Is this the kind of law enforcement we want to allow in Boulder?

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How the federal government could “go social”

I just has one of those meta-media moments. Today, Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media was the guest on NPR’s Talk of the Nation Science Friday radio show. The topic was 2008 In Social Media.

One listener who called in was Jeffrey Levy, web manager for the US Environmental Protection Agency. He asked O’Reilly how the federal government might be able to use social media to enhance governance and civic engagement.

…To be honest, I didn’t actually catch O’Reilly’s answer because my own mental gears immediately went into overdrive. I’ve been involved with covering environmental issues for nearly 20 years — and thus I’m a frequent user of the EPA Web site. And it’ll come as no surprise to anyone that the EPA site currently is one hellacious frustrating sprawling mess, offputting to professionals as well as citizens. (I assume Levy is working to improve that situation…)

But there is another side to how federal agencies interact with the public that goes beyond their own sites: the regulatory process. Every proposed federal regulation must be published in the Federal Register. (Trust me, it’s really ugly. You definitely don’t want to read this stuff unless you have to — yet another strategy to keep citizens at arms length from government.)

Every proposed regulation must allow for a public comment period. That’s where social media might fit in…

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