Show of 10-15-2011

  • Email and Forum Questions
    • Email from John: Dear Tech Talk, I have Windows Vista 32-bit W/SP2 installed. I have a 320GB hard drive that’s three months old. I have two defrag utilities currently installed and I am thinking of purchasing one of them. I don’t use Windows defragger at all. One of the programs never takes less than 45 minutes to do a normal defrag and the other never takes more than 10 minutes to complete the task. Why is there such a difference in completion times? Thanks, John
    • Tech Talk Responds: Defragmenting moves all of the pieces of files together in order, so that they’re easier and quicker for the disk to access when needed. Typically, a defragger that runs quickly focuses exclusively on collecting files and putting them in order. You might find after running a defragmenting program that completes quickly is that there are still some files left in a fragmented state. The result is definitely an improvement, particularly if the commonly used files are defragmented, but it’s not complete.
    • A more time-consuming defragmenter might well be much more thorough, making sure that each and every file that can be defragmented is completely defragmented. While not technically defragmenting, some tools perform an additional optimization and move all of the defragmented files on the disk to the same area of the disk.
    • I usually do a defrag after a major OS or software install. There’s so much file activity during the installation process to files that are never written to again and read frequently defragging can make sense. After that, periodic and quick is good enough.
    • Windows’ own built-in defragmenting tool is easy enough for periodic defragging. Windows 7 schedules a weekly defrag of all of its volumes by default.
    • Email from Alison: Dear Tech Talk, I understand that Congress is asking the FCC to look into sites that use “super cookies” without the computer user’s permission or even knowledge. What are “super cookies”? And how can I protect my computer from them? Thanks, Alison
    • Tech Talk Responds: Super cookies were invented so that website owners (or advertising networks) can accumulate data about what sites users are visiting, even users who disable or clear cookies regularly.
    • Cookies are part of the http protocol that your web browser uses to store information about a particular websiteYou can clear these cookies from your browser quite easily. Super cookies aren’t http cookies at all. A super cookie is simply some means of storing something unique from a website on your computer that can be retrieved. Here are a couple of examples.
    • Flash Cookies
      • The Flash player is on most machines making it a good target.
      • Flash has a separate mechanism that works pretty much like http cookies. However, your web browser can’t clear Flash cookies. You have to open up your Flash player to clear these cookies.
    • Pixel Manipulation
      • Using this technique, the web page that you’re visiting includes an image that includes a pixel or two where the color values have nothing to do with visual appearance.
      • Each time that a new computer comes along the server, it creates a completely new image with new unique values for these pixels.
      • A small amount of Javascript elsewhere on the page can then read the pixel "colors" and report back to the server the number found.
      • This technique relies on web browsers caching images on your hard drive for speed.
    • Persistent Cookies
      • Let’s assume that a website uses all three techniques that I’ve discussed so far: http cookies, Flash cookies, and the pixel manipulation. It only takes one of them to work for your computer to be uniquely identified. In fact, if any one of them work, then the website can immediately reset the other two.
  • Profiles in IT: Dennis MacAlistair Richie
    • Dennis MacAlistair Richie the creator of the C programming language and co-developer of the UNIX operating system.
    • Dennis MacAlistair Ritchie was born September 9, 1941 in Bronxville, NY.
    • His father was Alistair E. Ritchie, a longtime Bell Labs scientist and co-author of The Design of Switching Circuits on switching circuit theory.
    • Ritchie received a BS in physics in 1963 and a PhD in 1968 from Harvard.
    • It was at Harvard that Ritchie first encountered a computer, attending a lecture on Univac 1 that captured his imagination.
    • After getting the Bachelors, he worked at MIT, where the first shifts away from the mainframe to smaller, cheaper computers were being investigated.
    • In 1967 he moved to Bell Lab
    • Bell Labs was the home of the Multics project. Multics was an OS that would replace batch processing with interactivity. The lab was also home to Kenneth Thompson, who swiftly became one of Ritchie’s primary collaborators.
    • Thompson and Richie persuaded Bell Labs to buy a DEC PDP-11 by promising to write a word-processing system for the patent department.
    • Using the PDP-11, they created a UNIX, a successor to Multics. Unix spread within Bell Labs and was announced to the world in 1973.
    • The mid-’70s were a period of great experimentation and variation in computer hardware design, which made life difficult for software writers.
    • In response to this problem, Ritchie designed a computer language, C, that could be quickly and easily moved between different hardware.
    • Programs that were written in C, provided they followed the rules, would then run with little or no modification on any computer that could itself run C.
    • Thompson and Ritchie then rewrote Unix in C, giving the operating system the same ease of portability.
    • The Unix/C revolution was much enhanced by Ritchie’s collaboration with Brian Kernighan on The C Programming Language. This slim book, published in 1978, acted as both a concise definition of C and an introduction to the style and techniques of programming in that language.
    • Legal restrictions on how Bell Labs could commercially exploit software meant that Unix and C became a de facto open system.
    • Without Unix API, the "viral" spread of the internet would likely not have happened.
    • UNIX and C’s direct and spiritual descendants but include Linux, Android, Mac OS, iOS, JavaScript, and C++. There would be no Steve Jobs, without a Dennis Richie
    • Ritchie had the lifestyle and habits to match his position as an early guru of IT.
    • Long-haired and bearded, he started work at midday, emerging late in the evening to go home and carry on working through to the small hours.
    • He ultimately became head of Lucent Technology Systems’ software research department, retiring in 2007.
    • Richie and Thompson have received many industry awards, including the ACM Turing Prize in 1983 and the 1998 US National Medal of Technology.
    • Dennis Ritchie was found dead on October 12, 2011 at the age of 70 at his home in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey. He suffered from prostate cancer and heart disease.
  • Microsoft’s Skype Purchase Complete
    • Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype has just been finalized five months after it was first announced.
    • Under the $8.5 billion deal, Skype CEO Tony Bates will be named president of the new Skype Division of Microsoft and will report directly to Steve Ballmer.
    • Many Skype employees, meanwhile, will stay onboard at offices around the globe, including at locations in Estonia, the Czech Republic, Russia, Sweden, the UK, Luxembourg, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong and the US.
    • In a post on the Official Microsoft Blog, Bates described it as a marriage of two "disruptive, innovative, software-oriented companies."
    • "Microsoft is committed to the ubiquity of the Skype experience – communication across every device and every platform will remain a primary focus," Bates wrote.
  • Judge OKs Warrantless Cell Phone Tracking
    • The decision, issued by US District Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the District of Columbia, said the Stored Communications Act doesn’t require investigators to get a warrant based on probable cause to access the suspect’s location history pulled from cell phone towers.
    • The ruling was based on his interpretation of cell phone calls as “wire communications”. Under the statute, records involving those communications are subject to a less burdensome standard requiring a showing that the contents are material to an ongoing criminal investigation.
    • The ruling, which was unsealed on Wednesday, came as a surprise to civil liberties advocates because it disregarded a federal appeals court ruling from last year that soundly rejected US government claims that it didn’t need a search warrant to track suspects using global positioning system location-tracking devices.
    • The appeals court judges in that case, known as US v. Maynard, said the surveillance of the suspect’s movements were so prolonged and extensive that it was barred by the US Constitution’s prohibition against unreasonable searches.
    • In his ruling, Lamberth said so-called CSLI, or cell-site location information was significantly more limited and therefore the Maynard decision didn’t apply.
    • Lamberth went on to say that under previous court rulings governing wire communications, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in the numbers a customer dials using a landline.
    • In the same vein, cellular customers have no privacy expectation for data their handsets transmit to nearby towers, he concluded.
    • Civil liberties advocates have warned that Lamberth’s decision could erode people’s rights to be free from unreasonable surveillance, should it be adopted widely. The dueling interpretations of the Stored Communications Act and the privacy expectations relating to historical cellphone location data are sure to be repeated.
    • This points to the need for a revised digital privacy law.
  • BlackBerry service is finally restored
    • Research In Motion’s BlackBerry service has been fully restored according to a Blackberry announcement last Thursday.
    • Blackberry explained that on Monday there was a hardware failure on a dual redundant core switch. This switch failure caused the e-mail and messaging services to go down in Europe, India, Africa, the Middle East, and parts of South America.
    • The backup switching architecture did not work as intended and the systems in Europe quickly became overwhelmed, which is how the issue began rippling to other parts of the world.
    • When technicians restarted the system, it took a long time for the backlog of messages and data passing through the infrastructure to become stable.
    • But now that service has been restored, Blackberry will turn its attention to figuring out how to win back the trust of its customers.
    • The outage, which is the worst in the company’s 12-year history, has come at the worst possible time for RIM.
    • It is facing stiff competition from rivals, such as Apple and Google, and it’s been losing market share.
  • Record iPhone Sales
    • AT&T and Sprint Nextel both said that the new iPhone 4S helped drive record single-day sales for each carrier.
    • Sprint said it reached its best-ever day of sales by 10 a.m. PT. AT&T said that as of 1:30 p.m., it had activated a record number of iPhones on its network.
    • The new iPhone, despite the lack of a major redesign, continues to be a tremendous draw, significantly outstripping the demand for any other smartphones.
    • The iPhone 4S drew lines at Apple stores around the country.
    • Verizon Wireless, meanwhile, would only say that sales were "brisk with steady traffic all day." A spokeswoman said the company wasn’t going to disclose numbers until Verizon’s earnings report next week.
  • Apple’s iMessage Texting Service Cuts Out Carriers
    • The iMessage service, part of the iOS 5 update released Wednesday, lets iPhone users send messages with text, photos and video to other iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch users – for free.
    • iMessage uses the carrier’s data network or the Internet via a Wi-Fi connection to transmit the text like email.
    • When users send a text to a friend with iMessage turned on, it shows up as a blue chat bubble and doesn’t count as a text message in their phone plan.
    • Texting someone with an Android or other non-Apple phone will count as a text message and show up as a green chat bubble.
    • Free downloadable apps that offer free texting, such as textPlus, WhatsApp and Pinger, have attracted millions of people who are looking for ways to chat with friends on the cheap.
    • Google Voice and Facebook also offer free alternatives to traditional, paid texting plans.
    • Texting is hugely lucrative for the wireless industry. It generated about $21 billion in revenue last year and is estimated to grow to $23 billion this year.
    • Every year, more than 2 trillion text messages are sent over cellular networks in the U.S. alone. A message costs carriers a fraction of a penny to send, but they usually charge consumers 10 to 20 cents per text or a flat monthly fee for unlimited usage.
    • Because iMessage works only between Apple devices, at least for now, it will probably not persuade people to abandon their texting plans immediately, analysts say.
  • Nobel Prize for Physics: The Expanding Universe
    • Albert Einstein published his general theory of relativity in 1916.
    • Relativity told physicists that the universe was restless. It couldn’t just sit there. It either had to be expanding or contracting. But astronomers looked, and as far as they could tell, it was doing neither.
    • The only way that was possible, Einstein realized, was if some mysterious force was propping up the universe, a sort of antigravity that pushed outward just hard enough to balance the gravity that was trying to pull it inward.
    • Einstein hated this idea. An extra force meant he had to tinker with the equations of general relativity.
    • Einstein did it anyway. The universe ought to behave according to the laws he had set out, but it simply wasn’t cooperating.
    • The "cosmological constant" – his name for the new antigravity force – became part of the theory.
    • Edwin Hubble observed that the universe was not stationary at all. The were moving apart from the other.
    • This discovery ultimately lead to the Big Bang theory, which says that the cosmos was once tiny, with all matter packed tightly together, and that it’s been expanding every since.
    • When Hubble first announced his results, however, Einstein was more concerned with its consequences for general relativity.
    • If the universe was expanding, the cosmological constant wasn’t needed. His beautiful equations had been right to begin with.
    • In 1931, Einstein came to Mount Wilson to shake Hubble’s hand and thank him for saving relativity from the cosmological constant.
    • Einstein denounced the cosmological constants as the greatest blunder of his life. His pronouncement was premature.
    • In the mid-1990s two independent teams of astronomers, one based at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the other at observatories in Baltimore and Australia, decided to find out.
    • They began using supernovas as markers to measure the expansion speed at different times in the history of the universe.
    • By measuring the speed and distance of many different supernovas, from many different eras, they could see whether anything has changed over the billions of years of cosmic history.
    • They discovered that the expansion of the universe wasn’t slowing down. It was speeding up.
    • The only explanation that made sense was Einstein’s conmological constant.
    • The 1998 discovery of the accelerating universe earned the Lawrence Berkeley Lab’s Saul Perlmutter half of this year’s Nobel. His competition – Brian Schmidt of the Australian National University and Adam Riess of the Space Telescope Science Institute, split the other half.
    • What is this antigravity force, anyway? Theoretical physicists call it dark energy, but do they have ideas about what it actually is, how it works? They are still figuring that one out.
  • Large Hadron Collider Inspires Android App
    • The Large Hadron Collider in Europe that is expected to find the Higgs particle by the end of 2012.
    • Live updates from the Large Hadron Collider are now available thanks to scientists at Oxford University.
    • CERN scientists created a free Google Android app that provides a live feed into what particles are being smashed, as well as computer-generated 3D models of the particles viewable from every angle.
    • The application has already been downloaded by more than 10,000 people.
    • If you want to learn about the science of the LHC, then you can play with the animated tutorials. Then you can stream videos to your phone about the construction of the detector, and its operation.
    • One feature of the app is “Hunt the Higgs,” a game named for the Higgs boson particle. The so-called “god particle” would help physicists explain how matter has mass, and is one of the key things scientists hope to find in the Large Hadron Collider. The game involves looking at slides of reactions and trying to discern which particles are present.
    • The app is currently available strictly for Google Android based devices, with no plans to release an Apple iOS version.
  • India Produces Tablet for $50
    • Thanks to the vision of Kapil Sibal, India’s telecommunications minister, there is now an Android enabled tablet computer that costs as little as 1500 rupees (about $30).
    • Produced by Datawind Ltd, and “made in India”, the Aakash tablet is aimed to transform university level education and become a standard device among students on the subcontinent.
    • It has a 7 inch resistive touchscreen capable of playing full HD movies, WiFi connectivity, a 366 MHz processor.
    • 10,000 are already in the hands of university students in India with 90,000 more arriving soon.
    • 8-10 million will be shipped in the next five years! A retail version, called UbiSlate, will debut later this year at around 3000 rupees ($60).
    • India has received a device that will open up new markets that were unlikely to be reached by big brands like Apple or Samsung. This isn’t the best tablet in the world, but when it comes to next generation computer use, sometimes the cheapest option wins.
    • The full specs of the UbiSlate are available to review online, but here are the highlights:
      • 7 inch resistive touchscreen (800×480)
      • 366 MHz processor
      • 256 MB memory
      • 2 GB storage (external expandable up to 32 GB)
      • WiFi connectivity
      • Mobile connectivity (through a dongle in early models)
      • 2.0 USB port
      • 180 minutes of battery life (1-2 hours if playing HD video)
      • Comes with Datawind’s UbiSurfer browser.