Show of 10-10-2009

  • Email and Forum Questions
    • Email from Dennis: Hello Dr. Shurtz, What do you think of using a solid state hard drive in a notebook computer? Thanks, Dennis
    • Tech Talk Answers: Solid State Hard Drives (SSD) have access times about 100 times faster than conventional hard drives. This means in actual practice that your computer will boot about twice as fast. You will also see faster application loading. SSD are more rugged which may be important in a laptop that is bounced around. The price difference is still quite significant and most consumers won’t want to pay the difference. I would wait a couple of years for this price differential to drop. An SSD is about $3/GB and a convention hard drive is about $0.20/GB. Wear leveling algorithms are good….so that problem is gone. Prices are dropping quickly. I would wait, unless you just want to be the coolest guy on the block NOW.
    • Email from Haley: Dear Tech Talk. I have stored all of my digital pictures on my computer. If the disk fails, I lose everything. What type of backup options do you recommend? Thanks, Haley
    • Tech Talk Answers: Dear Haley. You need to have your critical items stored in more than one location. Where the second location is depends on your situation. If you have several computers on your network, you could copy all of your critical files to another computer. You could also simply buy an external USB hard drive and back up to that drive each day. This is the option which I have chosen. A 1 TB external drive is only $100.
    • Some people like to backup their data using an online storage vendor, like Carbonite. They are about $5 per month. This option also handles disaster recovery in the event that your house or office was destroyed along with your external hard drive.
  • Profiles in IT: Charles Kuen Kao
    • Professor Charles Kuen Kao is widely regarded as the "Father of Fiber Optic Communications."
    • Kao was awarded half of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics for "achievements concerning the transmission of light in fibers for optical communication".
    • Charles Kao was born November 4, 1933 in Shanghai, China.
    • His father Kao was a lawyer, who obtained JD from the University of Michigan.
    • Kao studied Chinese classics at home with his brother, under their tutor. He also studied English and French at an international school in Shanghai.
    • Kao’s family moved to Taiwan in 1948 then to Hong Kong.
    • He completed his secondary education at St. Joseph’s College in Hong Kong in 1952. He did his undergraduate studies in EE at University of Greenwich), obtaining his BSEE from University of London.
    • He received his PhD degree in EE from the University of London in 1965.
    • While studying for his PhD, Kao worked as an engineer for Standard Telephones and Cables at their research center in Harlow, UK, where he did his groundbreaking work.
    • In early 1960s at STC, along with George Hockham, Kao demonstrated that the high-loss of existing fiber optics arose from impurities rather than from scattering.
    • Kao concluded that fiber attenuation could be lower than 20 dB/km rather than the 1000 db/km that was commonly achieved at the time.
    • He further pointed out that high purity fused silica (SiO2) made it an ideal candidate.
    • When Kao first proposed glass fiber for long-distance information transfer, his ideas were widely disbelieved.
    • He and George Hockam first published this pioneering work in 1965 and 1966.
    • Kao was an evangelist for low loss fiber optics and visited research labs and glass factories around the world to advance his belief.
    • In 1970, Corning Glass Works produced the first commercially viable fiber with an attenuation less than 20 db/km. It was used with GaAs lasers operating at 0.9 micron.
    • Attenuation has since dropped to 0.2 db/km validating Kao’s original hypothesis.
    • He became known as Master of Light and Father of Fiber Optic Communications.
    • Kao joined the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 1970 to found the EE Dept.
    • In 1974, he moved to ITT Corporation, in Roanoke, VA, first as Chief Scientist and then as Director of Engineering. ITT was the parent company of STC.
    • In 1982, he became the first ITT executive scientist and was assigned to the Advanced Technology Center in Connecticut.
    • From 1987 to 1996, he was Vice-Chancellor of Chinese University of Hong Kong.
    • Kao then worked as the CEO of Transtech and is currently CEO of ITX Services.
    • Kao met his future wife M.Y. Huang in London, when he just came to Britain to study, his wife is local British Chinese, and the two married in 1959.
    • The couple has two children, a son and a daughter, both of whom are living and working in Silicon Valley, CA.
    • Kao has been slightly suffering from Alzheimer’s disease since early 2009.
    • Kao was awarded the Nobel Prize of Physics for his contributions to the study of the transmission of light in optical fibers and for fiber communication on Oct 6, 2009.
    • Kao’s hobby is pottery making, a traditional Chinese handwork.
  • History of Fiber Optics
    • The Formative Years
      • In 1966 Charles K. Kao and George Hockham proposed optical fibers at STC Laboratories (STL).
      • Optical fiber was successfully developed in 1970 by Corning Glass Works, with 20 dB/km attenuation.
      • GaAs semiconductor lasers were developed that were suitable for transmitting light through fiber optic cables for long distances.
    • First Generation
      • A commercial fiber optic communications system was developed, operating at a wavelength around 0.8 µm and using GaAs lasers.
      • This first-generation system operated at a bit rate of 45 Mbps with repeater spacing of up to 10 km.
      • On 22 April, 1977, GTE sent the first live telephone traffic through fiber optics at a 6 Mbps throughput in Long Beach, CA.
    • Second Generation
      • The second generation of fiber-optic communication operated at 1.3 µm and used InGaAsP semiconductor lasers in 1980.
      • Single-mode fiber optics reduced pulse spreading greatly improved system performance in 1981.
      • By 1987, these systems were operating at bit rates of up to 1.7 Gb/s with repeater spacing up to 50 km.
      • The first transatlantic telephone cable (TAT-8) to use optical fiber was deployed in 1988 using laser amplification for repeaters.
    • Third Generation
      • Third-generation fiber-optic systems operated at 1.55 µm, had losses of about 0.2dB/km, and used InGaAsP semiconductor lasers.
      • Pulse spreading was limited by operating at 1.55 µm to minimize dispersion and by using single longitudinal mode lasers (narrow spectrum)
      • These developments eventually allowed third-gen systems to operate at 2.5 Gbit/s with repeater spacing in excess of 100 km.
    • Fourth Generation
      • The fourth generation use optical amplification to reduce the need for repeaters and wavelength-division multiplexing to increase data capacity.
      • These two improvements caused a revolution that resulted in the doubling of system capacity every 6 months starting in 1992.
      • A bit rate of 10 Tb/s was reached by 2001.
      • Recently bit rates of up to 14 Tbit/s have been reached over a single 160 km line using optical amplifiers.
    • Fifth Generation
      • Fifth generation systemsl extend the wavelength range over which a wavelength-division multiplexing (WDM) system can operate.
      • Operational bandwidth will increase from the 1.53-1.57µm C-band to a wider 1.30-1.65 µm band using
      • Optical solitons will be used to preserve pulse shage by counteracting the effects of dispersion with the nonlinear effects.
  • Update: Experiences with iPod
    • We won an iPod Touch and I have been playing with it all week.
    • It is basically an iPhone without the phone. I have been playing all week.
    • Configuration woes
      • First I had to upgrade the operating system from version 2.2 to 3.1.2. That was a $4.95 download from iTunes.
      • Then I installed DocToGo which was a $9.95 download from iTunes.
      • Then I installed Skype to make VoIP calls using the Wi-Fi….but the iPod does not have a speaker.
      • So I had to TunePal which is an earphone for the iPod with a built in mic for $19.95. I got this set of earbuds with mic from TouchMic.com.
      • So the free iPod has cost be about $35 so far.
    • My experiences this week
      • It has Wi-Fi connectivity so I could surf the web and get emails.
      • I set up Gmail and Stratford Email (IMAP). Very convenient to use
      • I love Safari browser. Surfing the web is a joy with the responsive capacitive screen.
      • Making Skype calls with the TunePal earbuds with mic is excellent. I have been using the iPod instead of my cell phone while I am in range on Wi-Fi.
      • I got unlimited calling in the US for $2.95 per month, so calls are almost free.
      • I love the mapping feature. However the GPS tracking did not work in the car. If it had, I would have had a budget navigation system. I would have need to get the route downloaded while in Wi-Fi range before embarking however.
      • Weather and Global time was very useful particularly if you are travelling.
    • If only AT&T would allow Skype calls using its 3G network and allow the SIM card to be unlocked for international travel, the iPhone would be pretty attractive.
  • AT&T lets 3G VoIP onto iPhone
    • Skype to be freed from WiFi
    • At long last, AT&T has opened up the American iPhone to VoIP calls over its 3G wireless network.
    • Previously, the US wireless giant had only allowed iPhone VoIP via WiFi connections
    • AT&T announced the change on Tuesday, six weeks after telling the US Federal Communications Commission it would "take a fresh look" at iPhone VoIP.
    • According to an August 21 letter to the FCC, AT&T had not allowed 3G VoIP on the iPhone at least in part because it didn’t want to lose revenue to services as Skype.
    • The telco’s reversal comes as it faces two FCC investigations related to the iPhone: one over Apple’s rejection of Google’s Voice app, and another over handset exclusivity deals.
    • AT&T has informed Apple and the FCC of its decision to allow 3G VoIP on the iPhone
    • It will amend its agreements to get VoIP apps into the iPhone App Store ASAP.
    • The App Store already offers WiFi VoIP tools from like of Skype, but they will have to be tweaked and resubmitted to Apple gatekeepers. ®
  • Business Advised to Create Avatar Dress Codes
    • Employees will need to take more care with their avatars in the future.
    • Analyst firm Gartner has predicted that by the end of 2013, 70 per cent of enterprises will have issued guidelines to their staff about behavior and dress code when it comes to using an avatar associated with the company.
    • As the use of virtual environments for business purposes grows, enterprises need to understand how employees are using avatars in ways that might affect the enterprise or the enterprise’s reputation, said James Lundy, managing VP at Gartner.
    • We advise establishing codes of behavior that apply in any circumstance when an employee is acting as a company representative, whether in a real or virtual environment.
    • Gartner encouraged businesses to trial using avatars, but advised them to help users learn to control their digital selves by educating users on reputation management and extending codes of conduct to virtual environments.
    • However, the analyst firm added that businesses must recognize that users will have a "personal affinity" with their avatars, and take pride in personalizing its appearance.
  • The FBI Crack Largest Known Phishing Scam
    • US and Egyptian authorities have charged 100 people in what the director of the FBI has called “the largest international phishing case ever conducted”.
    • The US and Egyptian crooks were accused of using phishing scams to steal account details from hundreds, possibly thousands, of people, and transferring about $1.5 million into fake accounts they controlled.
    • The group is accused of targeting US financial institutions and victimizing a number of account holders by using their personal financial information after they were successfully phished.
    • The arrests were the result of an investigation called ‘Operation Phish Phry’.
    • Starting in 2007, FBI agents worked with US financial institutions to “identify and disrupt” criminal phishing gangs.
    • American authorities charged 53 people, while Egypt charged 47, with offences including conspiracy to commit bank fraud, computer fraud, money laundering and aggravated identity theft.
    • The bank fraud alone could lead to jail sentences of 20 years.
  • Iridium Makes A Second Attempt At Profitability
    • Ten years after suffering one of tech’s most spectacular flameouts, satellite-calling provider Iridium Communications is staging a comeback.
    • Iridium filed for bankruptcy protection in 1999 after spending $5B. Three years later, rivals Globalstar (Hughes) and Teledesic (Microsoft) followed suit.
    • Iridium raised $200 million in a Sept. 29 initial public offering after reinventing itself and wringing $54 million in profit from $320 million in sales last year.
    • The new Iridium still provides satellite calling but has a plan for tapping new markets and running its satellites more efficiently.
    • It has 347,000 customers, up from about 50,000 when it filed for Chapter 11.
    • The company wants to provide communication in parts of the world not reached by mobile networks.
    • Less than 10 percent of the earth’s surface has wireless coverage after 25 years. That includes airspace, the sea, and mountaintops.
    • The U.S. military is Iridium’s largest customer (21% revenues, 9% user base)
    • Iridium is also pursuing so-called machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, used by companies to monitor equipment in remote locations and to track shipments.
    • Iridium doubled its M2M user base to 71,000.
    • Iridium plans to leave capacity for government agencies and companies that need their own eyes and ears in space but lack the funds.
    • If all else fails for Iridium, its systems remain essential to the customer whose demand is unlikely to flag for some time. The Pentagon still needs this service.
  • Plasma Rocket Could Travel to Mars in 39 Days
    • Last Wednesday, the Ad Astra Rocket Company, Webster, TX, tested what is currently the most powerful plasma rocket in the world.
    • The VASIMR VX-200 engine ran at 201 kilowatts in a vacuum chamber, passing the 200-kilowatt mark for the first time.
    • VASIMR is an acronym for Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket.
    • The test also marks the first time that a small-scale prototype of the company’s rocket engine has been demonstrated at full power.
    • The company has signed an agreement with NASA to test a 200-kilowatt VASIMR engine on the International Space Station (ISS) in 2013.
    • A 10- to 20-megawatt VASIMR engine could propel human missions to Mars in just 39 days, whereas conventional rockets would take six months or more.
    • Chang-Diaz has been working on the development of the VASIMR concept since 1979, before founding Ad Astra in 2005 to further develop the project.
    • The technology uses radio waves to heat gases such as hydrogen, argon, and neon, creating hot plasma.
    • Magnetic fields force the charged plasma out the back of the engine, producing thrust in the opposite direction.
    • Due to the high velocity that this method achieves, less fuel is required than in conventional engines.
    • In addition, VASIMR has no physical electrodes in contact with the plasma, prolonging the engine’s lifetime and enabling a higher power density.