Cybernaut 

Get the high speed you paid for

Canadian Internet service providers have a history of throttling bit torrent downloads, usually during peak hours when the demands for bandwidth are already high. Too many people downloading too many movies, shows, etc. at once is clogging the intertubes, and ISPs worry that it will create lag for its other paying customers that aren't (and let's be honest) committing digital piracy.

Regardless of how you feel about throttling, or the proposed concept of metering Internet use and charging people according to their habits, the issues are real and serious. Higher broadband usage is slowing the web down and making it more expensive by forcing ISPs to expand their networks to handle the traffic. It's also giving credibility to those who oppose the concept of net neutrality, and would charge websites for the amount of traffic to their sites.

Personally, I don't see why people downloading torrents should care if downloads are slower during peak hours - most people I know have the good sense to download big files overnight when they know traffic is low instead of during prime time hours when every office worker, student, business and stay-at-home is also on the Internet. I also can't blame ISPs for showing favour to pay services like Netflix or the iTunes Store.

But while that's my own view, other people have different perspectives. Some feel perfectly entitled to download anything and everything, and it's none of their ISP's business as long as they are paying customers.

Some people also suspect that their regular Internet use is being throttled by ISPs who need the bandwidth for their own commercial enterprises, and as a result their web service is always slower than the service they paid for - regardless of how they're using the 'net or when. If so, there are ways to test your connection.

One of the best systems, or collection of systems, is a new initiative by Google. Go to Measurementlab.net, and click Users: Test Your Connection. After the jump you'll be able to use their Network Diagnostic Tool to test your speed and get a diagnosis of problems; Glasnost, which will test whether your torrents are being throttled; and Network Path and Application Diagnosis, which checks the "last mile" of your broadband network. DiffProbe, which will diagnose whether your ISP is giving priority to different types of traffic, is still in development, as is NANO, which can determine whether an ISP is throttling the "performance of a certain subset of users, applications or destinations." For example, it will be able to tell if throttling issues more common to people living in a certain area, or to people using programs like LimeWire or uTorrent.

Still, while it's good to know what's going on, there's really not much you can do about it other than change your ISP. Companies publicly maintain they have to throttle some customers to keep the web functioning, and so far nobody has issued a legal challenge. It's kind of hard to take your ISP to court if you're upset because you can't illegally download copyrighted material as quickly as you might like. That's a bit like suing a gun company for a misfire when you're committing armed robbery.


GDrive and why I want it
Google has already taken tentative steps into the hardware realm by forming partnerships with cell phone manufacturers, but some intrepid bloggers uncovered a more substantial project called GDrive.

Details are still unofficial, but basically GDrive is a household file storage system that you will be able to access from anywhere at any time, and from any device. Presumably it will also work with Google Apps, backing up documents, spreadsheets, etc. from Google Docs, as well as your calendars and to do lists.

There are other products out there that can do all this with a little configuration, like Apple's Time Machine, FolderShare, or Remote Desktop, but there's usually a catch - you need a .Mac account, or a PC has to be running at all times. And these solutions aren't web-based, so you can't access them from any device like GDrive.

There are other software-based solutions like DropBox which can share files between two computers, but again it's not a central hardware solution or backup and it doesn't work with all devices. Essentially GDrive is your own personal server.

No word on the release, but the tech media is expecting it sooner than later.


Digital medical records could save lives
A study in Texas discovered that patients with electronic medical records were 15 per cent less likely to die compared to patients in hospitals still using paper records. Across the U.S. that translates to 100,000 lives a year.

The computer systems automated notes and record-keeping, managed test results, tracked medications, etc. and found that putting that information in doctors' hands at a critical time helped them make better decisions.

I've long argued for this. I would gladly risk the public exposure of my medical records in order to have a single digital file with my entire medical history, blood type, allergies, medications, etc. accessible to any doctor in any hospital. Few trades are as low tech as medical health. I recently had a specialist I've been seeing for over three years reading from the back page of his scrawled collection of notes like he was just meeting me, and this is the guy supposed to be operating on me in a few months.

Let's digitize now and save a few lives. Like mine.

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