Show of 6-20-2009

  • Email and Forum Questions
    • Email from Jim: Dear Tech Talk. When analog TV broadcasts ended after June 12th, I found that I could no longer receive channels 7 and 9 on the TV in my kitchen. However, I found I could receive them, although with weak signals, on the TV in our upstairs bedroom after I had my digital to analog converter rescan.
    • Even after having the kitchen digital to analog converter rescan, the converter detected channel 7, but did not find channel 9. However, the channel 7 signal strength was still too weak to produce a viewable program. I have similar set-ups for both the kitchen and upstairs bedroom TVs, with rabbit ear antennas and digital to analog converter boxes. Why am I having so much trouble receiving channels 7 and 9? I live in Bowie, MD. Jim
    • Tech Talk Answers: Channels 7 and 9 were the only two in the Washington area to move their digital signals from UHF to the VHF frequencies they once used for their analog broadcasts. UHF includes channels 14-69 and VHF includes channels 2-13.
    • WJLA, for example, was broadcasting its analog signal on Channel 7 and its digital station on Channel 39 before the transition. When it turned off its analog signal, it moved its digital signal to the Channel 7 slot in the VHF band of frequencies.
    • Because the digital channel shifted, users had to rescan their system.
    • In addition, UHF and VHF antennas are different and do not pick up the other band very effectively. The loss may be due to viewers trying to capture VHF signals with a UHF antenna. VHF is also very directional with an indoor antenna and signal strength may vary within the house. You many have to buy an antenna with a built in amplifier.
    • To receive all the available digital stations, consumers should install an antenna that can receive both UHF and VHF broadcasts. Indoor antennas should have extendable poles, or "rabbit ears" for VHF reception and a loop for UHF.
  • Profiles in IT: Martin Dougiamas
    • Martin Dougiamas is the founder and lead developer of the Moodle open source learning management system. Moodle was developed using PHP.
    • Martin is the Linus Torvalds of the Learning Management System world and his software is the Linux of this software
    • Martin Dougiamas was born August 1969 in Australia.
    • Martin grew up in the outback of Western Australia, attending School of the Air via shortwave radio.
    • He and four or five other youth talked with a teacher who was 600 miles away, and every other week an airplane would stop by with school materials.
    • He received a BS in computer science, and a masters and PhD in education from Curtin University in Perth, Australia.
    • While attending school, he served webmaster and system administrator for his school’s WebCT installation.
    • His thesis is titled: The use of Open Source software to support a social constructionist epistemology of teaching and learning within Internet-based communities of reflective inquiry.
    • He started Moodle in 1999 out of frustration with WebCT online platform.
    • In 2001 he resigned from my university job in order to take up a PhD scholarship so I could spend more time thinking about e-learning and working on Moodle.
    • Moodle was released to the public as an alpha version in November 2001, and as a more usable 1.0 release on 20th August 2002.
    • The name Moodle was originally an acronym for Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment.
    • It has been translated into over 70 languages and supports the popular SCORM standard for content packaging.
    • Early in 2003, he launched commercial services at Moodle.com to cope with the many requests for hosting, consulting and other services required by Moodle users.
    • He is still a lead developer of the Moodle.Org (http://moodle.org) community and Executive Director of Moodle Pty Ltd (http://moodle.com)
    • Moodle Pty Ltd, the company is the commercial side of Moodle, based in Perth.
    • Moodle Pty Ltd manages the Moodle brand and helps Moodle Partner companies.
    • The company is also responsible for the maintenance and quality assurance of the Moodle open source software and ongoing development of its core functionality.
    • Martin received the Google-O’Reilly Award 2008 for Best Education Enabler.
    • Martin successfully worked to help rally the US Patent Office to revoke a patent claim "Internet-based education support system and methods" (U.S. 6988138) submitted by Blackboard. Specifically, the patent describes an Internet system in which different access rights to various course management resources can be granted to different users.
    • He has been called by Brent Simpson "one of the rare instances in Open Source software development where the right person with the right personality appears at the exactly the right time; Martin Dougiamas is the Linus Torvalds of the LMS world and his software is the Linux of this software."
    • His personal website is http://dougiamas.com/
  • Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award
    • Now entering its 23rd year, Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year is the world’s most prestigious business award for entrepreneurs.nFinalists of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year regional awards are recognized at award galas across the US throughout the month of June.
    • The Washington DC region award banquet was held on June 18th at the Ritz-Carlton in Tysons Corner. It was a black tie even attended by nearly 600 people. I was honored to be one of the winners. Guests at my table included Harris Miller, Executive Director of the Career College Association, and Dr. Albert Gray, Executive Director of ACICS.
    • The award process this year started with a list of over 1400 companies. This was narrowed down to 100 for further study. 50 entrepreneurs were selected from this list for personal interviews by four team members. After these interviews 21 finalists were selected. A final interview was conducted by the judges in a speed date format with seven minutes allocated to each finalist.
    • The winners were not announced until the awards banquet. The Washington Business Journal published a special supplement.
    • The winners included
      • Business Services (Ronald Paul, EagleBank)
      • Emerging (Eric Major, K2M, Inc.)
      • Government Contracting (Philip Soucy, Modern Technology Solutions, Inc.
      • Government/Education Services (Richard Shurtz, Stratford University)
      • Infrastructure (John Young, Colfax Corporation)
      • It Services (Reggie Aggarwal, Cvent)
      • Technology (Fuad El-Hibri, Emergent BioSolutions Inc.)
    • Erika Chambers was the program manager for the DC region.
    • Entrepreneur of the Year website: http://www.ey.com/US/eoy
  • The Twitter Revolution
    • In the crackdown following the disputed Iranian presidential election results this weekend, the Iranian authorities shut down text messaging, blocked Facebook and YouTube and cut off the BBC Persian-language service ? but they forgot about Twitter.
    • Because of that, the simple microblogging service has become Iran’s lifeline to the outside, a way for Iranians to tell the world what’s happening on the streets of Tehran in real time ? and a vital means of communication among themselves.
    • Iranian Twitterers, many writing in English, posted photos of huge demonstrations and bloodied protesters throughout the weekend, detailing crackdowns on students at Tehran University and giving out proxy Web addresses that let users bypass the Islamic Republic’s censors.
    • It had become such a movement that Twitter postponed scheduled maintenance.
    • The protest began when the government announced Ahmadinejad had won with a huge majority just hours after the polls closed Friday evening, despite opinion polls showing Moussavi with a strong lead.
    • The Daily Kos is reporting that the individual known as ProtesterHelp (also to be found on twitter) was attacked in Ohio for providing network security for Twitterers in Iran, setting up private networks to provide secure proxies.
    • ProtesterHelp was allegedly attacked by a group of men while walking to class in Ohio. The men, who appeared to ProtesterHelp to be either Iranian or Lebanese, drove up beside him and threw rocks at him while shouting, ‘Mousavi Fraud.’
    • ProtesterHelp reported that his personal information has been leaked and is currently being spread both online and inside of Iran amongst the government.
    • Worried that the Iranian government might seek out and punish any Twitter users who were employing the microblogging site for potentially subversive purposes, Twitterers are encouraging others to change their stated country of origin.
      • The easiest way the Iranian government could discover which tweets were from Iranians is to look at whose accounts are registered to people who identify themselves as being from that country.
      • A new thread that spread quickly across Twitter urged people around the world to change those settings in order to make themselves appear to be in Tehran.
    • Google and Facebook have rushed out support for the Persian language. This move has allowed many pro-democracy groups to connect and translate their message to a broader audience.
  • Four ways Iranians are beating Internet censorship
    • The massive protests in Iran are powered by access to Facebook, Twitter and other Internet services even though the Iranian government has blocked access to them from inside Iran. How are the Iranians managing to get to the sites?
    • Here are four tools and techniques Iranians are using to evade Internet censorship.
    • FreeGate
      • The FreeGate anti-censorship software was written by the Global Internet Freedom Consortium, and it lets people users to access overseas web sites as fast as they can access local ones — and it hides who is using the software.
      • Your IP address changes constantly as you use it, so you can’t be traced.
      • DynaWeb is a collection of anti-censorship services provided by Dynamic Internet Technology Inc. (DIT).
      • DynaWeb is a web-based anti-censorship portal. Once users point their web browser at one of the DynaWeb URLs, a web page will be presented similar to the one at us.dongtaiwang.com, with most blocked websites as links. In addition, a user can type in any URL in the box on this page and DynaWeb will fetch the pages for him/her instantly.
      • No software is needed, nor are any settings tweaked on a user’s computer. But since the Chinese net police watch DynaWeb’s portal websites closely and block them as soon as they identify them, DynaWeb must be very dynamic. It has hundreds of mirror sites at anytime, and each with a varying IP and DNS domain name, to defeat IP blocking and DNS hijacking.
    • Proxy servers
      • You don’t need a tool like FreeGate as a way to get around Internet censors. You can also use proxy servers directly, by configuring your browser to connect to proxies. To configure a proxy in Internet Explorer, for example, you select Tools –> Internet Options, click the Connections tab, click LAN settings, check the box next to "Use a proxy server for your LAN," then type in the address of the proxy server. You may also need to change the port number, depending on the proxy server being used. Check out the screenshot below for details.
      • To help Iranians bypass censors, people all over the world are setting up their own proxy servers. If you want to help, you can set up one yourself — here are instructions from Austin Heap on how to do it. He also maintains a list of proxy servers that people in Iran can use. In addition, the site proxysetupforiran.blogspot has instructions on how to set up a proxy for Iranian citizens.
    • Filter bypasses
      • A variety of software promises to evade the Internet filters set up by the Iranian government. For example, the Firefox add-in FreeAccess Plus says it can:
      • Bypass filter of YouTube, del.icio.us, Flickr, technorati.com, friendster.com, flickr.com, livejournal.com, MySpace.com, Hi5.com, and some Persian (farsi) sites in Iran and other countries that blocked these sites.
      • Similarly the Firefox add-in Access Flickr! lets people in Iran get to Flickr, and post and view photos, for example of demonstrations.
    • Tor
      • The privacy and proxy program Tor has been around for quite some time. It fights against government surveillance of your Internet use, and so Iranians have been flocking to it.
      • Tor has seen a doubling of Tor users from IP addresses in Iran over the last few days.
  • Apple 3G S iPhone
    • The iPhone 3G S hardware is a relatively modest update of the current phone, but the changes address the few areas where Apple lagged rivals.
      • The camera has been replaced with a 3-megapixel autofocus unit capable of quality video recording.
      • A faster processor boosts performance
      • Storage is doubled, to 16 or 32 gigabytes.
      • You pay either $199 or $299 with a two-year AT&T contract.
      • Battery life is significantly improved when you are on a Wi-Fi network, but not when you are on 3G.
      • And you can not only voice-dial but also use speech to control many iPhone functions.
      • The existing 8GB iPhone’3G remains in the lineup at only $99.
    • The new software is free for the original iPhone and iPhone 3G.
    • It is a $10 upgrade for the iPod Touch (a Wi-Fi equipped iPod you can think of as a phoneless iPhone).
    • You can now cut and paste text in any application.
    • The on-screen keyboard works well in both vertical and horizontal orientations.
    • A technology called push notification can be used to wake a sleeping app, such as an instant-messaging program. A
    • Apple now allows users to download apps that provide turn-by-turn directions while you drive, and the iPhone’s big screen makes it an excellent navigation device.
    • One of those apps, from TomTom, is actually a whole driving kit that includes a window mount.
    • The iPhone now threatens both standalone personal navigation devices and wireless carriers’ subscription navigation services.
    • Shooting and editing videos and uploading them to YouTube is now as easy on an iPhone as on a Flip camera. Cisco Systems recently bought Flip maker Pure Digital for $590 million.
    • The price is dropping far enough that even I may have to consider buying an iPhone.
  • FCC to investigate iPhone-like deals
    • Interim Federal Communications Commission chair Michael Copps is calling for an examination of exclusive handset deals to establish if they are restricting innovation.
    • In an informal presentation on broadband policy at the Pike & Fischer Broadband Policy Summit, Mr. Copps brought up the subject of exclusive deals and how they could "restrict consumer choice or harm the development of innovative devices".
    • Earlier in the week Senator Kerry wrote to the FCC suggesting that such deals risk giving too much power to dominant networks, with particular reference to the iPhone and AT&T.
    • Network operators love exclusive handset deals, even if they only last a month or two: not only can they associate their brand with the new handset, but the network also gains from the advertising spending of the handset manufacturer.
    • Device manufacturers know this, and will demand a much higher handset subsidy in exchange for an exclusive, which, after all, limits their market.
    • In markets with healthy competition between equally-sized networks that all works fine, but where a dominant player can snap up the exclusives – perhaps by refusing to list a handset at all rather than offering a substantial subsidy – then smaller networks can easily be sidelined – which is what the FCC will be seeking to establish.
    • Apple is already being forced to sell handsets operating on networks other than AT&T in several counties that already restrict such deals.
  • Website of the Week: Hunch
    • Web address: http://www.hunch.com
    • Hunch, a website that launched this week, hopes to be the answer to questions intuitively.
    • Hunch begins "where a search engine leaves off," according to cofounder Caterina Fake, who previously cofounded the photo-sharing site Flickr and later worked on Yahoo Answers.
    • Fake points out that a normal search engine would provide a user interested in buying a digital camera with links to hundreds of sites that review and compare the latest models. The user then has to sort through that information and figure out which camera is right for her.
    • In contrast, Hunch asks a few simple, multiple-choice questions, including "What type of photography are you interested in?," "Do you want a ‘point and shoot,’ an SLR, or a Rangefinder camera?," and "How much zoom do you want?" before recommending a specific model.
    • The site offers personalized recommendations for all manner of queries. Although many of the questions already on the site are lighthearted, there’s serious computer science under the hood.
    • After a user creates an account and logs in to Hunch, she has the opportunity to answer questions in a box labeled "Teach Hunch About You." As the user runs through these questions, Hunch builds up reams of data to help with the recommendations that it makes.
    • In order to fine-tune its recommendations, Hunch balances a user’s responses to questions with information from her profile. Users can indicate whether Hunch’s recommendations were good or not, and this information will help adjust the factors that guide the site’s algorithms in the future.
    • Fake believes that many existing recommendation systems, such as those used by Amazon or Netflix, struggle because the data that they collect relates to a narrow range of topics.
    • Fake sees Hunch as a grand experiment, but its success will depend on users’ willingness to generate new content for the site and provide feedback to train its algorithms. Although the company seeded the site with some survey questions and topics, most of what’s there now was added by users themselves during beta testing.