Show of 4-6-2013

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Tung in Ohio: Dear Doc and Jim.  I want to buy a smart watch for my boyfriend. I have read about the Pebble watch ($150), a Kickstarter project, and the Martian Passport watch ($249). Both connect to your Android or iPhone via Bluetooth. Are these watches ready for primetime?  Love the show. Tung in Ohio.
  • Tech Talk Responds: This may be the year of the smart watch. Pebble is the leader in this arena. They raised over $10M with their Kickstarter project and began shipping watches in January. You can pre-order a watch for $150 for shipment within two months. Pebble is an E-Paper Watch that will connect to your iPhone or Android via Bluetooth. Using an app in your cell phone, you phone will display alerts (incoming call, controlling music, text messages, Facebook updates, Twitter feeds, etc.) It will vibrate for an incoming alert. Battery life is 7 days. The e-paper display is very distinctive and easy to read. Interesting apps include: bike computer, jogging assistant, golfing assistant. All use hour phones GPS with data displayed on your wrist. 
  • The Martian Passport watch also connects to your phone via Bluetooth. It divides the display between a convention watch and the iPhone portion. It will allow you to talk and listen to a call via your cell phone, just like the Dick Tracy watch. That is not really very practical. It costs $249 and is not nearly as elegant as the Pebble. It is overpriced for the available features. I can’t recommend it.
  • Email from Craig: Dear Tech Talk, I have a home network with three computers. The wireless signal is encrypted and I gave my next-door neighbors my network key so they can wirelessly connect just to check email, do banking, etc. Can they see what I am doing on my network? Thanks, Craig in Oakton
  • Tech Talk Responds: I hope you trust them. They are on your home network. By giving your neighbor the password you’ve given them the encryption password. The encryption prevents others – people to whom you have not given the password – from accessing your network.
  • If you have computers that share files or a printer among themselves, your neighbor may be able to access them.
  • Your neighbor may be able to “see” the traffic on the network using a sniffer. I did that when I wanted to find what computer was using all of the bandwidth on my home network.
  • If your neighbor’s computer becomes infected with malware it may propagate to your machines. This is the biggest risk.
  • To protect yourself, you should turn on the software firewall of each of your machines. Do not share any files without a password. A more secure approach would be a second router. Make certain to operate the router on a different frequency band. The router firewall would prevent your neighbor from accessing your home network.
  • Sharing may be a violation of your terms of agreement with your ISP. The good news is that your ISP cannot tell you are sharing your signal. On a final note, you may be liable for any illegal files that your neighbor downloads.
  • Email from Jim in Bowie: Dear Dr. Shurtz. What is RSS and how do I use it? Thanks, John in Bowie.
  • Tech Talk Responds: RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. RSS goes by additional names to: feed, web feed, and atom feed. RSS is a technology that allows you to get news, articles, website updates, and other content delivered directly to your computer.
  • In order to support RSS, websites themselves must provide what most people call a feed. A feed is nothing more than a specially formatted data file that is updated whenever something is added to a website.
  • Let’s look at the Tech Talk feed: http://www.stratford.edu/rss/techtalkradio.xml
  • What the file contains is an XML (eXtensible Markup Language) formatted document that lists the most recent tech talk shows, with a short outline and a link to the audio file.  In most cases, you subscribe to an RSS feed using special RSS reading program or service called an aggregator or feed reader. Each time a new show is published, the RSS feed is updated, and after a short delay, the new show automatically appears in your reader.
  •  In our case, we have formatted the XML file with Apple iTunes specific tags, in addition to the standard tags. The XML file is read by Apple iTunes and the new show is posted with an hour to iTunes.
  • Email from Kevin in Alexandria: Dear Tech Talk. What is NAT and how does it work on your router. I am confused. Thanks, Kevin.
  • Tech Talk Responds: NAT, or Network Address Translation, is actually a very simple concept. It allows us to share one Internet connection across multiple computers.
  • First, we have to understand how a simple computer-to-computer connection works in TCP/IP. When data is transmitted from one computer to another over TCP/IP, two pieces of information are needed: the IP address and the port.
  • Port numbers are used to define what kind of data is being sent. For example, port 25 is the default mail sending port number and a server that is configured to receive data on port 25 expects the data to be formatted according to the SMTP mail sending protocol.
  • When a connection for a conversation (like sending mail) is established, the initiator of that conversation contacts a specific port at a specific IP address and provides a responds IP address and port to receive the response.
  • Now let’s put a router into the network. First, the IP address of the computer changes. It gets a local IP address assigned by the router. In fact, multiple computers can be connected – each gets its own local IP address.
  • Second, the router actually has two IP addresses: On the local “side” of the router – the LAN – the router typically assigns itself an address of 192.168.1.1, often known as the “gateway” address. On the Internet side of the router, the WAN (the router) is assigned a real internet IP address by your ISP, just as if it were a computer directly connected to the internet itself.
  • The NAT conversation. Local computers send their request to the gateway address (the internal IP address of the router). The router translates the packet and changes the response IP address and port to the external IP address. When a response is received, it can tell which computer conversation is referenced by the port number. It then relays that packet to the appropriate computer using its internal IP address.
  • Since only incoming packets to a particular port are transferred to a local computer, the router effectively shields internal computers from the Internet.

Profiles in IT: Martin “Marty” Cooper

  • Martin “Marty” Cooper is a pioneer in the wireless communications industry, and widely regarded as “father of the cell phone.”
  • Martin “Marty” Cooper was born December 26, 1928 in Chicago, Illinois
  • Cooper graduated from Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in 1950.
  • After graduating he enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserves where he served as a submarine officer during the Korean War.
  • In 1957 Cooper earned a Master’s in electrical engineering from IIT.
  • Cooper left his first job at Teledyne Corporation in Chicago in 1954 and joined Motorola,  as a senior development engineer in the mobile equipment group.
  • He developed many products including the first cellular-like portable handheld police radio system, produced for the Chicago police department in 1967.
  • By the early 1970s, Cooper headed up Motorola’s communications systems division.
  • He conceived of the first portable cellular phone in 1973. Cooper has stated his vision was inspired by Captain James T. Kirk using his Communicator on Star Trek.
  • Top management at Motorola was supportive of Cooper’s mobile phone concept; investing $100M between 1973 and 1993 before any revenues were realized.
  • Cooper assembled a team that designed and assembled a product that had never been built; a task they accomplished in less than 90 days.
  • That original handset, called the DynaTAC 8000x (DYNamic Adaptive Total Area Coverage) weighed 2.5 pounds, measured 10 inches long and was dubbed “the brick.”
  • The phone had only 20 minutes of talk time before requiring a 10-hour recharge.
  • By 1983 and after four iterations, the handset was reduced to half its original weight. It ultimately sold for $4,000, which is equivalent to $9,400 in 2013.
  • On April 3, 1973 Cooper made the first handheld cellular phone call to his chief competitor Dr. Joel S. Engel, who was head of Bell Labs.
  • He also led the creation of trunked mobile radio, quartz crystals, oscillators, liquid crystal displays, piezo-electric components, and Motorola A.M. stereo technology.
  • Cooper ultimately became VP and Corporate Director of R&D at Motorola
  • He also fixed a flaw in quartz crystals used in Motorola’s radios which encouraged the Company to mass-produce the first crystals used in wrist watches.
  • In 1986 Cooper co-founded Cellular Payphone Inc. (CPPI), the parent company of GreatCall, Inc. – Innovator of the Jitterbug cell phone.
  • In 1992 Cooper co-founded Arraycomm a developer of software for smart antenna technologies used for both mobile telephones and long-range wireless .
  • He proposed Cooper’s Law, which states the wireless channel capacity doubles every 30 months, because of increased spectral efficiency.
  • When Cooper joined Motorola, he signed an agreement that all of this inventions would belong to Motorola. He was paid $1 for that agreement.

The Google 2013 April Fool’s Jokes

  • Here is a sampling of the Google April Fools jokes this year. There were more, but these are the best.
  • YouTube shutting down
    • One of the first jokes was the one about YouTube shutting down after it selected the best video ever posted. According to the video, the site would no longer accept submissions, and, when it would come back online in 2023, would only feature the video considered to be the best one ever uploaded.
  • Google Nose
    • One of the most interesting ideas that Google has been touting today is Google Nose. This new Search feature allows users to actually search for smells in the Google Aromabase, which includes 15M+ “scentibytes” of smells. The page describing Google Nose has some links to related services, like AdScent for Business and Scratch and Sniff Books.
  • Google Maps Treasure Hunt
    • The Google Maps team announces on its official blog that Google Maps now has a Treasure mode, which users can explore, in order to find pirate William “Captain” Kidd’s treasure. It seems to be functional, so it will be most interesting to see what’s hidden at the end of it.
  • Google Analytics – visitors from outer space
    • One of the more hidden Google April Fools 2013 jokes comes from the Google Analytics team. If you check out Real Time visits to your site today, you’ll notice in the Location section that you’ve received visits from the International Space Station.
  • Google+ photos +emotion
    • As Google Staff Software Engineer Erik Murphy-Chutorian announced on his Google+, Google’s social network (which has an updated app), now allows users to use emoticons to express the feelings in the pictures they upload. This is done using a new icon that appears in the photo viewer screen, and clicking it will generate an emoticon based on the image.
  • Google Fiber Poles
    • While everybody in Kansas City must love Google Fiber, nobody must have thought that they can actually get connected to it through utility poles. The truth is that they can’t, but it would be pretty nice for this April Fools joke to come true. You would just use the Google Fiber app to download whatever content you may need on the go, from a utility pole. Maybe an indicator of things to come?

Saudi Arabia Might Ban Skype, WhatsApp, Viber

  • Back in 2010 the government in Saudi Arabia threatened to institute a ban against BlackBerry services for not complying with surveillance rules.
  • BlackBerry was forced to work very hard to avoid being banned within Saudi Arabia.
  • Officials in Saudi Arabia are now threatening to ban some major VoIP applications.
  • The reason the new ban is being considered has to do with the Skype, WhatsApp, and Viber VoIP applications not complying with rules within Saudi Arabia that allow for the monitoring of phone calls.
  •  Strangely, while the Saudi Arabia and Communications and Information Technology Commission has said that it will take “appropriate action regarding these applications” it hasn’t said specifically which conditions the applications are failing to meet.
  • Reports have indicated that the problem the Saudi Arabia government has is that it’s unable to monitor communications made using those apps.
  • CNN reported that the threats likely stem from the fact that last week political protests were organized using WhatsApp.
  • This sort of political demonstration is against the law in Saudi Arabia. When the government in Saudi Arabia took offense to communications made using the BlackBerry network, the problem was that the encryption used prevented the government from monitoring the communications channel.
  • The Saudi Arabian government said that the inability to monitor the channel meant that it could be used to threaten national security. At this time, all three of the apps in question remain available according to reports from within Saudi Arabia.

H-1B Cap Reached, USCIS No Longer Accepting Petitions

  • The H1-B visa petition filing was reached April 5, 2013.
  • In just five days, the USCIS says it received more than enough petitions to fulfill the statutory cap of 65,000 H-1B petitions and 20,000 H-1B advanced degree exemption petitions since employers were allowed to file the paperwork on April 1.
  • Last year, the cap was reached in 10 weeks and the year before that it took roughly three times longer in the face of a sluggish economy, according to The Brookings Institution. And while the cap was reached in lightning speed this year, it still doesn’t compare with the one-day record in 2008.
  • Now that the cap has been reached, the USCIS will use a computer-generated random selection process, otherwise known as the “lottery,” to chose from all the submitted H-1B petitions to find the final 65,000 statutory cap H-1B petitions and the 20,000 advanced degree petitions.
  • A lottery date hasn’t yet been selected, because of an overwhelming number of petitions.
  • These fiscal 2014 H-1B petitions will then go on to the State Department, which has the final say on issuing the visas.
  • Last year, the State Department approved a total of 135,530 H-1B visas, which includes both the combined cap of 85,000 statutory and advanced degree H-1B visas and the uncapped H-1B visas issued to non-profit and government research centers.

New Skype Malware Uses Victims’ Machines to Mine Bitcoins

  • A new piece of malware propagating across Skype has been discovered that tries to convince the recipient to click on a link.
  • What makes this particular threat different is that it drops a Bitcoin miner application to make the malware author money.
  • While malware has spread on Skype and mined Bitcoins before, putting the two together could be an effective new strategy.
  • Security firm Kaspersky discovered the threat, which it names Trojan.Win32.Jorik.IRCbot.xkt, on April 4, 2013.
  •  At the time, most of the potential victims were from Italy, Russia, Poland, Costa Rica, Spain, Germany, and Ukraine, with the average clicking rate hitting 2,000 clicks per hour:
  • The initial Trojan is downloaded from a server located in India, and many anti-malware programs as measured by VirusTotal don’t detect it. Once the machine is infected, the Trojan drops multiple other pieces of malware, using Hotfile to grab the bits and also connecting to a server located in Germany for further instructions.
  • For those who don’t know, Bitcoin is a decentralized digital currency, currently the most popular alternative to common forms of money. Because it has no central issuer, it has no single authority and thus no way to lock out certain users (or countries) out of the network. It can be used to pay for certain transactions both offline and online.
  • Bitcoin mining nodes are responsible for managing the Bitcoin network; Bitcoins are awarded to nodes known as miners for the solution to a difficult proof-of-work problem. The point of Bitcoin-mining malware is to use a computer’s resources to, without the user’s knowledge, mine Bitcoins. The cybercriminals then use these Bitcoins to generate a profit, while the victims’ computers slow down (sometimes to the point of becoming unstable and unusable).
  • In this case, the threat Trojan maxes out the computer’s CPU:
  • To avoid this threat and others like it, don’t click on random links you receive on Skype. You’ll be doing yourself a favor, helping stop the spread of malware, and ensuring criminals get a smaller pay day.

Tech Trends Mobile

  • The rise of mobile platforms is making new winners: ARM, Apple, Samsung.
  • Losers are shaking out to be: Microsoft, Dell, Intel, AMD.
  • A major shift is underway. Watch the players fall and rise.