17 February 2014

North Korea continues to kill their citizens as the world watches.

North Korea has been torturing and killing their citizens for as long as anyone can remember. We did not need confirmation from some silly United Nations evaluation - those escaping through China have been telling us this for years. We can see their death camps in the spy photos and have heard the horror stories over and over again.

The question for the world is whether we will ever stop these atrocities.

Lake Washington School District needs a new approach with voters.

Let me start by saying that I adore the Lake Washington School District (LWSD) and their employees. If you are looking for a top notch education in Washington, you need look no further than our little suburb of Seattle. The quality of the teachers and focus on preparing our students for the "real world" has delivered graduates that lure high tech companies, raise property values and ultimately increase the standard of living for everyone in our community.

In the most recent election our beloved district placed two levies that pay for programs, operations and projects that directly impact the students. Levies require only 50% of the vote but both received well over 60% because the voters could easily see how these were necessary. Success!

Please forgive the district for not dancing in the streets since they are mourning the death of their bond that would have built new schools. For some time now the school board has had a habit of replacing schools after 30-40 years of operation rather than remodeling them. This policy is not without reasonable financial justification. According to the accounting folks in their Redmond offices, it would cost nearly as much to remodel as creating a new building due to additional costs of moving the children to another location while it is happening.

Sadly, many voters believe that the district is stretching the truth, partially because LWSD has not shown the full detail of their math. Anyone who has remodeled their home knows that it is a major annoyance but you can still live in your home while it is happening. Sure, you might need to bring in some portables to do musical rooms while it is happening, but it is still possible to do. The state is also willing to pick up some of the bill with a remodel, but a new building is entirely at the expense of property owners. Further underscoring the robbing of taxpayers perspective are rumors that LWSD has created three of the four most expensive school projects in our state.

The first time LWSD floated this bond four years ago it failed by less than 1% of the vote. This time it may fail by a margin three times larger. We may not like the answer but the voters are speaking loud and clear. As the district continued to build new schools over the past four years the voters kept asking "why couldn't you fix up the old one?"

Before another bond is placed on the ballot the district is going to need to address their concern. The most difficult approach would be to do a better job of selling the need for new schools. They could show the detail of their math, including potential stipends from our government, and explain in each case why a new school is the best approach for the community. That said, I am not convinced they can hit 60% of the vote with that approach. The voters want to see a true remodel and it may be too difficult to sway their logic.

Another road, and the one I believe is more realistic, is to propose a compromise where the district will remodel existing buildings going forward and only build a new school where one does not currently exist. We can do our best to repair Juanita High School and Peter Kirk Elementary while building new schools in the latest Redmond development areas. Yes, maybe the dollars will look similar, but just hearing that we are not tearing down older construction will score significant points. It is an unfortunate compromise since a new Juanita High is easily justified but the fact remains that there are not enough voters to get it passed.

Our school district is, arguably, second to none in our state for producing brilliant free-thinking individuals. There is a reason Microsoft and Google are parked in our cities and it is not because we are frugal when it comes to education. It is certainly reasonable for voters to question how their tax dollars are being spent but it is also reasonable to assume that such a successful school district knows the best choice when it comes to spending our education dollars. Regrettably, 43% of our voters believe they know better and now the school board is forced to find a new approach to change their mind.

Comcast gets bigger. So what?

We all hate Comcast and Time Warner Cable. They charge too much and never deliver what they promise. What really turns a pocket protector inside-out is the possibility of these two companies getting hitched and throttling our bandwidth. FiOS would not do this to us! Google Fiber practically begs us to download every movie in the universe! Grab your chip removers and soldering irons, geeks, because we cannot allow Comcast to win!

Yes, there is no question that Comcast over promises and under delivers on their products. Their advertisements are questionable, at best, and often appear to be outright lies. They actually claim to have faster internet than FiOS in our area and we know from speed tests on our block that you will never see half the speed of fiber. Worse yet, the connection is highly variable depending on when you are using it, so watching Netflix streaming on Friday evening can sometimes be a painfully slow experience.

Comcast is already a pseudo-monopoly and it is difficult to imagine a larger company could be any worse. Yes, they are lying today and maybe they would fib more tomorrow, but they already have zero credibility. Yes, they limit bandwidth today and maybe they will limit more tomorrow, but when you already despise a company it is tough to argue degrees of hatred.

The fact is that cable modem internet connections are through coax local loops that are inherently inferior to fiber optic. Comcast has to fabricate numbers to make their bandwidth sound as good as FiOS. Cable must cap usage to give all customers a similarly shitty experience.

"But fiber optic folks don't cap bandwidth! FiOS gives us the speed advertised all the time! Fiber is inexpensive and it always works!"

That is the whole point. Cable modem is shared bandwidth so these companies must take steps to assure  everyone has a certain amount of bandwidth. They advertise the speed as the fastest possible "burst" packet delivered rather than real-world connections.

The fiber companies are using modern technology and financially losing their shirt providing it. The best connection in America comes from Google who can never hope of making their money back on monthly fees from their investment. Verizon's FiOS was such a money loser that they started selling off portions of their network to try to recover some of their losses. Fiber to the premises is the dream of every geek and a nightmare to the companies selling it.

On the other side of the spectrum is Comcast. They make money on everything they do. They provide a half-ass internet connection and nearly everyone buys it because you do not have a choice. The technology they are selling will never compare to fiber and they know that - despite what they might advertise. And this core of disgust for their products will not change if they buy every other cable company in the country.

The only way to make this a win-win situation is if Comcast was forced to build fiber networks in all regions they serve. Then Comcast could finally address the limitations of their current technology and provide a service that meets the claims of their advertisements. Unfortunately, given the financial success of their FiOS competitors, I will not be holding my breath for such a welcome outcome.