Friday, April 29, 2005

Verizon Phone Booth Wi-Fi in NYC To End

Verizon Communications Inc. has announced that it will end its wireless Internet service from its New York City phone booths effective June 30. The company had been offering the Wi-Fi service free exclusively to subscribers of Verizon Online Internet-access service. Verizon said it was shifting its focus to other wireless technologies.

According to Verizon, 365 phone booths had been outfitted with wireless routers. The Wi-Fi-enabled phone booths are easily identifiable by their weatherproof antennas, some of which looked like small black hats. The Verizon Wi-Fi service began in May 2003.

In practice I found the Wi-Fi connections unreliable or unavailable even when I stood in front of a working access point. At any given time dozens of the locations listed in Verizon's New York City hotspot directory were marked "temporarily unavailable."

By contrast I've found the free Wi-Fi service provided by the Bryant Park Restoration Corp. in Bryant Park, located behind the famous dual-lioned New York Public Library, to be fairly reliable.

What's your experience with Verizon Wi-Fi? Of course I want to know.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Pope Benedict XVI Elected; Vatican Web Site Weathers Demand

Did you try to watch the introduction of Pope Benedict XVI on the Vatican's Web site today? Much to my surprise, it was very responsive despite the heavy Internet traffic it must have endured when the white smoke rose from the Vatican.

I clicked on the live video link on the Vatican Web site and was able to watch a clear live video feed as Pope Benedict XVI introduced himself. I requested only the medium-speed Real Video feed since I assumed the site would be deluged and very slow, but the video performance seemed perfect with no glitches. When watched in tandem with a TV broadcast, the Web video feed was a few seconds behind, but this is normal given the way data travels on the Internet.

There are many ways for Web sites to contract for additional bandwidth for periods of high demand and it appears that the Vatican was fully prepared.

It didn't take long for the long awaited phrase "HABEMVS PAPAM," signaling the election of a new leader, to appear on the home page of the Vatican's site.

The Vatican has shown itself to be very comfortable with cyberspace. Indeed the bulletin announcing the death of Pope John Paul II was sent out via e-mail to media outlets.

As the first new pope of the 21st Century prepares to lead the Roman Catholic Church, it seems the Vatican's IT professionals already have a firm grasp on the century's newest technologies.

Friday, April 15, 2005

MoviebankUSA Outlet Premieres in NYC

Co-founder Stephane de Laforcade chats
with journalists before cutting the ribbon
to a free-standing MoviebankUSA outlet
in New York, the first in the US.
© 2005 Stadium Circle Features.
Posted by Hello

It wasn't the biggest movie-related opening night in New York, but the debut of MoviebankUSA Inc.'s first free-standing, 24-hour movie rental site in the city was remarkable just the same.

The concept is simple: Place a vending machine in a store or open an ATM-like storefront to provide low-cost DVD rentals around the clock.

While MoviebankUSA machines had already arrived at a few Manhattan Duane Reade drug stores, the April 14 opening of the location at 71 West Houston St., just south of Greenwich Village, marked the company's first free-standing outlet in the US.

The new outlet offers multiple computer terminals connected to a large automated DVD dispenser/return unit installed in one wall. While you don't need a MoviebankUSA membership to rent movies, members get discounted rates. You can pay with a credit or debit card or add funds to a MoviebankUSA card.

Members can rent a DVD for six hours for 99 cents--a nice option if you live near a MoviebankUSA machine. A twenty-four hour rental is $2.50 for members (99 cents for additional days) and $3.50 for non-members ($1.50 for extra days).

While the terminals aren't difficult to use, they do take a little getting used to. They're not touch screens and the buttons below the screen aren't always intuitive. You'll have to keep an eye on the menu options as they change.

A nice feature is the ability to check on what's available at a MoviebankUSA site before you go there. If you log into MoviebankUSA's Web site ( you can see what's available at any outlet or vending machine. If you see something you like, you can place a three-hour hold on the title. This stops anyone else from scooping it up before you get there. If you don't pick up the DVD within three hours, your account is charged $1.

Do conventional movie-rental outlets like Blockbuster have something to worry about? Maybe they do, but the limited capacity of even the largest MoviebankUSA machine means that you're not likely to find the same choice of golden oldies as you would in a brick-and-mortar store.

Would you stumble out of your home after midnight to snag a late movie from one of these outlets if one were near you?