Show of 8-25-2012

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Alex: Dear Tech Talk. Can I safely use my cell phone for online banking while I am travelling? What app do I need? Thanks, Alex.
  • Tech Talk Responds: The short answer is yes. You phone is usually a fairly good way to do exactly what it is you’re looking to do. You don’t necessarily need an app. If your bank or your credit card company offers an app, then that is typically the safest and smartest way to go.
  • You can simply use the browser. Make certain that your credit card or bank website use SSL, that is https. One more thing, you cell phone connectivity is more secure than a public Wi-Fi, particularly if you are not using SSL. BTW, I never to online banking at a public computer that could cache my passwords.
  • Email from John: Dear Doc and Jim, I’m not sure I understand how to tether the laptop to my iPhone. Can you explain more please? Do I use the USB cord that came with the phone? Thanks, John
  • Tech Talk Responds: There are several ways to tether you phone to your laptop. Most require a data plan in order to complete the Internet connection.
  • Simply connect you phone to your PC using the USB cord or Bluetooth. You will need a software driver to make the connection in order to user your phone as an external modem. You will also need an account with an ISP to connect to the Internet.
  • Another option is to user your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot and connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi. Both Verizon and ATT charge for this hotspot feature and charge for the additional data usage. Verizon charges around $20 per month with a 2GB data limit.
  • Email form Leslie in Fairfax: My CD tray is going in and out erratically. It started going in at startup and popping back out and going back in and then staying out.  What can I do? Thanks, Leslie.
  • Tech Talk Responds: It is probably a faulty CD player. They are quite cheap and easily replaced. I would upgrade it to a DVD to DVD/CD writer for slightly more. You might borrow a CD from a friend and see if that fixes the problem before bying a new one. A desktop CD requires that you open the case and remove the CD. The CD on a laptop simply pop out without the need to open the case.
  • Email from Loyal Listener: Dear Tech Talk, I have an HP OfficeJet 6500 wireless. I use Wi-Fi and it will suddenly not connect to my laptop. I’ve gone to HP’s website, downloaded everything I am able to download to help, but I’m still not able to print. The printer’s four to five years old. Does anyone have any advice? Thank, Loyal Listener
  • Tech Talk Responds: I try several things. I reboot the computer, the printer, and the Wi-Fi router. Second, I clear the print queue. Third, I uninstall and reinstall the print drivers. Networked printer. This is an ongoing conflict in my household. Someone with the initials MA always has trouble printing and it is using caused by a print queue.
  • Email from Friend in Bethesda: Dear Doc, I have a question about passwords for online accounts. If I type my password wrong three times in a row, I can get locked out of my email account until it’s been reset. So if hackers rapidly try the whole dictionary, why doesn’t the account get blocked and I get notified of the intrusion? Thanks, Friend in Bethesda.
  • Tech Talk Responds: If many different passwords are tried in rapid succession, you bet, that account will in all likelihood get locked out. But this is not what hackers are doing. Rather than having three password attacks against the same account within a couple of minutes, you have thousands of password attacks across hundreds of different accounts – so that none of the accounts themselves ever reach that locking threshold.
  • There are other ways to get your password. Key loggers on public machines or malware that sends your keystrokes out over the Internet. Sometime simply using an open Wi-Fi hotspot that is not encrypted makes to vulnerable to sniffing if you do not use SSL when logging into your account.
  • The second way is hacking into the password database on your service provider. This provides a password hash (or encrypted database). This hashed database can be attached with a brute force attack to reveal the passwords fairly easily, particularly if it is not seeded. If you use the same password on all accounts, they are all vulnerable.
  • The final technique is phishing. In this case, you receive an “official” notice that requires you to provide your user name and password for verification or credentials.
  • Email from Jim in Loudon: Dear Doc and Jim, I’m paying about $55/month for FIOS Internet and I’m supposed to be getting 25 Mbps both up and down. On the desktop computer that’s hard wired to the router, I am getting this speed. The problem is that on my other desktop and my laptop (both of which are connected wirelessly), I’m only getting speeds of around 2.5 to 3 megabits per second. Can you help? Thanks, Jim.
  • Tech Talk Responds: Your wireless access point is somehow throttling your speed. I’m going to assume that you have a wireless access point and wireless network adapters that are capable of the faster 54 Mbps (802.11N). The wireless connection, in theory, should be faster than your download speed.
  • What you haven’t indicated is how far away from the wireless access point your machines are. Distance absolutely impacts speed. The stronger the signal is, the faster that signal can be used to transfer data. So the very first thing I would do is take your laptop, locate it next to your wireless access point to see if that makes a difference.
  • Make certain that all your wireless connections are at least 54 Mbps. If you have an old computer with a slow wireless connection (10 Mbps), all the connections are slowed.
  • Also make certain that you are not in the same wireless band as your neighbor because you have the share the same available bandwidth.
  • If none of these factors are the problem, I would then start suspecting hardware. It might be time to investigate getting a higher quality access point that can operate efficiently at those higher speeds.

Profiles in IT: Diane Greene

  • Diane Greene is co-founded VMWare with her husband Mendel Rosenblum, where she served as President and CEO.
  • Diane Greene was born in Rochester, NY, around 1955.
  • She received a BS in Mechanical Engineering in 1976 from the Univ. of Vermont.
  • In 1978, Diane Greene receivced an MS in Naval Architecture from MIT.
  •  She went to work for a San Francisco consulting firm that designed “large-jacket structures,” the massive four-legged structures better known as offshore oil platforms.
  • An avid sailor since childhood, Greene was eager to go to sea to examine her work.
  • But women weren’t allowed on the rig, so Greene quit and moved to Hawaii to take up windsurfing.
  • After her windsurfing stint, she worked in the engineering department of Windsurfing International, and then at Coleman, which was eyeing the windsurfing business.
  • In 1988 she picked up a second master’s, in computer science, at the University of California at Berkeley, where she met her future husband, Mendel Rosenblum.
  • She found time for one last adventure, when she served as the computer expert on a treasure hunt to a sunken Spanish galleon off Saipan.
  • She then worked for Tandem and Silicon Graphics, got married, had two children.
  • By 1997, Greene was working on her second startup, a software company later bought by CMGI, but was ready to resume a more adventurous life.
  • The VMware venture began in 1998 when Greene teamed with her husband, Mendel Rosenblum, who is a professor of computer science at Stanford University; two of his graduate students; and an old graduate school friend from UC-Berkeley.
  • The company started small. Greene quit her previous startup and signed on in 1998 as an unpaid employee. The following year Rosenblum took a two-year leave from Stanford to work full-time on VMware.
  • She agreed to help Rosenblum to, in her word, “productize” a concept. That is, to turn the research that he and two graduate students had been doing into a product.
  • Her plan was to set up the company, negotiate some deals, and leave. She stayed.
  • They worked out of their homes initially, and then graduated to a small office rental above “The Cheese House” in a small shopping center across the street from Stanford.
  • VMware operated throughout 1998 in stealth mode with roughly 20 employees by the end of that year. The company was launched officially in February 1999.
  • The beta version of VMware was downloaded by more than 75,000 the first day.
  • VMware delivered its first product, VMware Workstation, in May 1999 and entered the server market in 2001 with VMware GSX Server.
  • The company was also acquired by EMC Corporation in 2004 for $625 million.
  • Green insisted the VMWare and EMC keep a distant relationship (to keep customers).
  • In August 2007, EMC Corporation released 10% in an IPO, raising more than $1B. The stock went from $29 to $51 the first day, producing a market capitalization of over $20. Green only received 2.1% of the IPO. EMC got most of the upside.
  • On July 8, 2008, Diane Greene was unexpectedly fired and replaced by Paul Maritz, who was running EMC cloud computing division.
  • On September 10, 2008, Rosenblum, the company’s chief scientist, resigned.
  • Greene takes her favorite toy – a trimaran – out for a spin on San Francisco Bay.

Space Elevator Conference

  • The Space Elevator Conference is being held in Seattle, Washington, this weekend.
  • The primary goal of this conference is to get technical people together to talk about the technical barriers to deployment. The secondary goal is to raise public awareness. The third goal is to showcase a breakthrough.
  • They are always hoping that someone will show up with a carbon nanotube ribbon that is strong enough to build a space elevator. Carbon nanotubes are the main structure they’re experimenting with to build space elevators. They are constructed of interlinking carbon atoms, rolled into a cylinder, and make incredibly lightweight, strong and flexible structures.
  • Carbon nanotubes also have very high-strength properties. Large scale carbon nanotubes might take 50 more years. Since they were invented in 1991, that would put us at 2041.
  • The biggest fear of the conference goers is that funding will be cut because of austerity measures.
  • Space elevators are important because they would drop the cost of space access by a factor of 10. The problem with taking people up is that elevators, as we conceive of them now, move pretty slowly, and getting through radiation belts in short periods of time would require higher-speed elevators.
  • Hopefully, larger space elevators would not just be faster, but the larger elevator capacity would have climbers that are shielded so humans inside are shielded, so we can start to introduce people into the elevator equation.
  • I love this kind of research. It is really science fiction personified.

Mars Rover Update

  • Mars Curiosity deployed the arm for the first time on Mars. This is critical to ensuring that they get samples into the instruments and use the arm for its scientific purposes.
  • The ChemCam unit, or Chemistry and Camera instrument, fired the laser for the first time on Mars using the beam from the science instrument to interrogate a fist-size rock called Coronation.
  • Curiosity successfully tested the steering actuators. This is the first time NASA moved the wheels on Mars.
  • Curiosity completed its first drive. Curiosity drove approximately three meters forward and performed two 60-degree rotations in a clockwise direction with imaging in between.
  • We it drove backwards, just under three meters, in order to test the wheels in the opposite direction.
  • NASA is turning on the Sample Analysis at Mars instrument for the first time to do an atmospheric experiment. This is where they let in atmosphere into the instrument and perform various experiments that determine the composition of the atmosphere. This is the first time that this is happening.
  • Within days Curiosity will start its journey to the first chosen destination on Mars, Glenelg. We hope to obtain our first drill rock sample on Mars at this location. 

Device of the Week: Vinturi Wine Aerator

  • Wine which has been allowed to breathe tastes better. As wine breathes, it opens up, and releases its intended aromas and flavors.
  • Traditionally, decanters were used to aerate wine. However, decanting is time consuming, cumbersome, and inconvenient.
  • Vinturi’s design speeds up this process. Perfect aeration in the time it takes to pour a glass.
  • Simply hold Vinturi over a glass and pour wine through. Vinturi draws in and mixes the proper amount of air for the right amount of time, allowing your wine to breathe instantly.
  • Website: http://vinturi.com/

Social Media and Political Conventions

  • Democrats and Republicans are using social media to open their conventions.
  • The Republicans call theirs a “convention without walls,” while the Democrats say their gathering will be “the most open and accessible in history.”
  • Democrats will not just show prime-time speeches live on the Internet, but will also stream caucus meetings and the council discussions of the party’s platform and ideals over the Web.
  • Republicans have hired a full-time blogger and a full-time digital communications manager to do nothing but engage people online.
  • The conventions’ Facebook and Twitter sites are already stoking interest in the events, with photos of the Republican stage under construction in Tampa or profiles of Democratic volunteers and delegates.
  • Users can interact with a mouse click, such as one who urged friends to help the GOP convention Twitter feed muster more followers than its counterpart.
  • Both had more than 10,000 followers Friday.
  • Social media is one the rise in politics. The number of items posted on Twitter on Election Day 2008 is equal to about six minutes worth of tweets today.
  • The dramatic changes in social media have required both parties to almost start from scratch in developing strategies for incorporating Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Flickr into their conventions.
  • Those planning protests are using the Internet to get organized. The March on Wall Street South, which plans to bring thousands to Charlotte to rally against big business and economic inequality, has a website, Facebook page and Twitter account.
  • Organizers hope to use the Web to direct people to sites in more than a dozen states where they can take buses to Charlotte to join in the various protests during the week.
  • Social media is allowing modern-day campaigns and political parties to get their messages out unfiltered.
  • Convention organizers will use social media to emphasize themes that might get lost in the traditional media’s limited coverage.
  • Social media is increasingly allowing parties to control their message.
  • The candidates’ overall campaigns are also ratcheting up efforts to reach voters online.
  • The Pew Research Center found that President Barack Obama’s campaign was more active than Republican Mitt Romney’s on the digital front.
  • Democrats have already released a smartphone app that provides one place for videos, blog posts and photos. The app also includes an interactive map to help visitors to Charlotte find convention locations or restaurants.