Show of 01-04-2014

Tech Talk

January 4, 2014

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Carl Tyler: Dear Dr. Shurtz: I have a suggestion for Tech Talk Radio’s Profiles in IT segment. His name is Emanuel Derman. Originally he was a particle physicist but then done went to work for AT& T Bell Labs. He then went on to work for Solomon Brothers and Goldman Sachs where he became a “quant” or quantitative analyst. While at Goldman Sachs he and two of his colleagues developed the “Black-Derman-Toy interest-rate model.  He is now a professor at Columbia University. He wrote a fascinating book entitled My Life as a Quant: Reflections on Physics and Finance. I think Emanuel Derman would make a worthy candidate for my favorite segment of your podcast. Carl Tyler
  • Tech Talk Responds: I’ll check him out for next week’s show.
  • Email from Azra in Fredericksburg: Dear Tech Talk, I would like to create an album of my recent trip. I have a Windows 7 laptop. What are my options? Love the show. Azra.
  • Tech Talk Responds: The days of the manual scrapbook  are gone. We have gone digital. You have several options. You could use MS Publisher. It has a somewhat clunky interface, limited templates, and difficult to professionally print. However, it is included in MS Windows and if your project is not too complex, it will suffice. You have other options that you can purchase. My top two include: MyMemories Suite, PC only ($39.97) and MemoryMixer, PC or Mac ($29.95). They allow you to print at home, share online, or get a custom printed book from them. What I like about these two options is that you are not locked into their printer. Memory Mixer has the option of embedding videos and sound into the digital version. Both can be exported to DVD for sharing.
  • Email from Jim in Michigan: Dear Doc and Jim, sometimes when I attempt to connect to my local coffeehouse’s Wi-Fi, I can connect to a strong signal that has limited or no connectivity but others in the house are connected with no problem at the same time. The shop owner’s not willing to reset the router. Is there a setting in my laptop that might improve this situation? Rebooting does not help. Disabling wireless and restart does not help. I’m using Windows 7 Pro. Thank, Jim in Michigan
  • Tech Talk Responds: My first recommendation in situations like this would be to turn off your Wi-Fi interface and turn it back on again. You’ve already done that. In some cases, you would right click on a network icon that represents the connection and click on “disable”; wait; and then right-click on it again and select “enable”. On other machines, you may have a taskbar notification area icon that you can use for this. Some machines even have an external physical switch you can use.
  • Limited connectivity means that the physical connection has been made; your laptop is indeed connected to the local Wi-Fi router. However, no IP address has actually been assigned to your computer by that router; that’s why you can’t get to the internet. The router is using DHCP to assign your internal IP address. The issue is the router. It could simply be overloaded. If there are a lot of people connected, the router could just be working too hard to get around to assigning an IP address to your laptop. A cheap router could be to blame. The second possibility is that the router has been configured with a preset limit on the number of machines that it will allow to connect at the same time. The only real answer I can give you in a situation like this is to keep trying. Or go to another coffeehouse.
  • Email from Alex: Dear Tech Talk. I was recently told that I should scan my router for open ports. What’s an open port and how are they created? How do we scan our routers for these open ports and how do we close them when we find them? I have a combination modem/router and I’m running Windows Vista. Thank Alex in Reston
  • Tech Talk Responds: What is a port and how is it used. The TCP/IP is the protocol used by the Internet to allow programs to communicate with each other using Internet. Each computer has an IP address, but when a packet arrived it must be forwarded to a particular program. That is the purpose of the port number. It is like the Room Number in a Hotel. The IP address is like the street address of the hotel. Without the Room Number, you will not know who to contact.
  • When your browser requests a page from a web server, it connects to that server at an IP address, and with that connection it specifies a port number. That number tells the server what kind of service the connection wants to use. Port number 80 is the web service.
  • Connect to a different port and you’d be connecting to something else, like email, FTP or any number of other things. Your email program probably connects to your mail provider’s server exactly the same way as I described for accessing a webpage; except it uses port 25 to send mail and port 110 if it wants to receive mail. If you upload files to a server using FTP, you’re using ports number 21 and 22. Other ports might be used for other purposes.
  • When a server is not listening to a port (in other words, it’s not set up to receive incoming connections on that port), that port is said to be “closed”.
  • Your router is protecting your computers by acting as a firewall, which means that whether the ports are open or not, incoming attempts to connect are simply not accepted. Many routers can be configured to allow someone in a remote location to manage them through an open port. This can be useful, for example, if you work from home and your company’s IT department needs access to your router; or if you want to manage your parents’ router from your house across town. You should turn off remote management be turned off unless you have a specific need. You can do that by going to your router’s administration interface and looking for the remote management option in its option screens.
  • You can check for open ports in your router by using a free service called Shields Up (www.grc.com) It is offered by Gibson Research Corporation, run by Steve Gibson.  It will give you a very detailed report. We have talked about this service many times before on tech talk.
  • Email from Steve: Dear Tech Talk. I recently received a laptop from my employer. I work on some sensitive data and will be carrying my laptop around with me on travel. What precautions should I take in the event my laptop is lost or stolen. Love the show, Steve.
  • Tech Talk Responds: Two word sum it all up: Backup and Encryption.
  • A backup will prepare you for a hard disk failure or a lost machine.  You can back up on your company’s servers, via VPN or the LAN. I have been used a cloud backup service for my laptop, Carbonite. It is backed up every time I make a change, effortlessly.
  • The theft of the data that’s on your lost or stolen computer is another problem. They could sell sensitive customer data or employee data to a third party. This is where encryption comes in. If you have sensitive personal data on your computer, and especially if that’s on a portable computer of some sort, you should consider using an encryption tool such as TrueCrypt. TrueCrypt creates virtual encrypted drives; files that are “mounted” to appear as additional drives after you specify the proper passphrase. Perform whole-disk encryption, requiring that you specify the proper passphrase as part of the boot process to unlock the entire contents of the hard drive. Do not rely on password protection in applications, such as Word or Excel, or tools, such as WinZip. If an intruder is determined, they’re easily cracked.
  • Account theft is another problem. It’s often possible to extract from it such things as the passwords “remembered” for you by your browser. If your computer is stolen while it’s on or in standby or hibernation, it’s also conceivable that you might leave it signed in to various online accounts.  The thief could quite possibly change your password and steal your account without even needing the password.
  • If you have two-factor authentication properly enabled and configured, a thief can’t login to your account even if he has the password. It is a good idea to enable it enable it on all accounts that support it. Two-factor authentication is becoming increasingly popular as more account hacks happen. Google is one of the earliest and most complete adopters, and other services are following suit. Check with your online service providers – email, online storage, etc. – to see if two-factor (also called multi-factor) authentication is available.
  • Mobile devices are harder to secure. The single most important thing that you can do for a mobile device that you carry with you regularly is to lock it with a pin code (or in some cases, a swipe pattern). In addition, both Apple (via iCloud‘s Find My iPhone) and Android (through Google’s Android Device Manager) support locating and remote wiping of lost mobile devices, if set up before hand.

Profiles in IT: Tony Fadell

  • Anthony M. Fadell, father of the Apple iPod and the Nest thermostat.
  • Anthony M. Fadell was born in 22 March 1969 in Detroit, Michigan.
  • He moved with his family throughout the country, attended eleven schools and as an eight-year old held his first job selling eggs.
  • Fadell graduated from Grosse Pointe South High School in Grosse Pointe Farms, MI.
  • He received a BS in Computer Engineering in 1991 from the University of Michigan.
  • While still at Michigan, he founded Constructive Instruments, which marketed multimedia composition software for children.
  • In 1992, he started working for Apple spinoff General Magic, starting as a diagnostics engineer and progressing to a systems architect for the Magic Cap PDA platform.
  • During his three-and-a-half years at General Magic, Fadell lost touch with his family, screwed up his personal relationships, gained 40 pounds and then lost 50.
  • In 1995 he was hired by Philips to co-found and lead the Mobile Computing Group.
  • He demanded that his team be allowed to operate like a startup. His got its own building, with walls painted yellow and purple, open cubicles, free soda and fruit.
  • His passion is portable devices, where limited space forces more creative solutions.
  • During the 1990s, Fadell started his own company called Fuse. One of the devices he had in mind was a small hard disk-based music player.
  • Fuse failed to find a second round of funding and Fadell started exploring options.
  • He first approached RealNetworks in 2000 but left after only six weeks.
  • The second company he approached was Apple, where Jobs was very receptive.
  • He started doing work for Apple from February 2001 as a contractor.
  • In April 2001 he was hired by Apple to assemble and run its iPod & Special Projects group, where he oversaw the design and production of the iPod and iSight devices.
  • On October 23, 2001 Apple Computers announced the iPod, created under project codename Dulcimer. The iPod was formally released November 10, 2001.
  • He was promoted to vice president of iPod engineering in 2004.
  • On March 31, 2006, he was promoted to Senior Vice President of the iPod Division.
  • On November 4, 2008, Fadell stepped down as Senior Vice President.
  • While building his energy-efficient home near Lake Tahoe, Fadell went looking for a thermostat and was frustrated by the limited features of the devices available.
  • Together with Matt Rogers, he set out to redesign the traditional thermostat.
  • In May 2010, Fadell and Rogers co-founded Nest Labs in a garage in Palo Alto, CA.
  • Nest Labs, or Nest, is a company that designs and manufactures a sensor-driven, Wi-Fi-enabled, learning programmable thermostat, now in its second generation.
  • Nest just secured $150M venture financing based on a $2B valuation.
  • Tony has authored more than 300 patents. In 2012, he was the recipient of the Alva Award, honoring him as ‘the next great serial inventor.

Phantom Vision 2 Reviewed

  • Quadcopter with integrate camera
  • GPS, Compass, Altimeter, Gyroscope used for control.
  • Auto homes, if control signal is lost, to takeoff position.
  • Camera remote-control by DJI VISION App
  • Range Extender increases Wi-Fi distance to 300m
  • Anti-vibration camera platform with single axis stabilization
  • Virtual Radar aircraft locator on mobile device
  • 14 MP camera
    • F 2.8 lens with 140, 120, and 90 degrees FOV
    • Multiple, continuous and timed capture options
    • HD Video Recording (1080/p30 or 1080/60i)
    • RAW and JPEG picture formats
  • Easy to fly. Propellers fragile. Many successful flights up to 1050 feet.
  • Cost: $1,200. Extra battery $160. Carrying case: $200. Extra propellers (2): $15.

NORAD Tracks Santa Because of a Typo

  • It was 1955, and Christmas was approaching, and Sears had a new idea for a yuletide gimmick.
  • In local newspapers, the department store placed ads … on behalf of Santa himself.
  • “HEY, KIDDIES!” the ad read, “Call me on my private phone and I will talk to you personally any time day or night.”
  • The ads then listed local numbers for area children to call to get some one-on-one Kringle time.
  • Suddenly, calls intended for Santa were being received on a top-secret NORAD line.
  • In the ad the company had placed in the local paper in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Sears had listed Santa’s number as ME 2-6681, hich contained a typo: It was one digit off of the intended one. The number Sears had ended up printing and distributing to the city’s citizens was the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD), the predecessor of NORAD.
  • Suddenly, on Christmas Eve, phone calls intended for St. Nick were being received on a top-secret NORAD line—a line that was usually reserved for a Russian attack..
  • Colonel Harry Shoup, the officer on duty at CONAD, picked up the phone.
    • “Yes, Sir, this is Colonel Shoup.”
    • As Mentalfloss puts it, the colonel received no reply—just silence.
    • “Sir? This is Colonel Shoup,” he said again.
    • More silence.
    • “Sir?” Shoup was probably, at this point, trying not to panic. Silence on the crisis line. “Can you read me alright?”
    • Finally, the caller spoke up. It was not a commanding officer. It was … a little girl. And she was confused, too. “Are you really Santa Claus?” she asked.
    • Shoup, at that point, demanded to know who was calling, Terri Van Keuren, his daughter, remembers. He was brusque. This didn’t make any sense.
    • “The little voice is now crying,” Van Keuren recalls.
    • The voice didn’t give up, though. “Is this one of Santa’s elves, then?”
  • It must be a prank, Shoup thought. Then it occurred to him: Lines must have, literally, gotten crossed. There must have been “some screwup on the phones.” He decided to play along. “Yes, I am,”  “Have you been a good little girl?”
  • More calls began coming in. Shoup grabbed an airman who happened to be standing nearby and told him to answer the calls, too. The direction Shoup gave them,  ”Just pretend you’re Santa.'”
  • Soon, the pretending evolved: The CONAD staff were providing the calling children with informational updates about Santa’s progress as he made his way around the world. As NORAD’s Santa site puts it: “A tradition was born.”
  • In 1958, when NORAD was formed, it continued to offer a “Santa tracking” service to anyone who called in—especially on December 24. And the tracking continues.
  • The people who answer the calls now include “countless numbers of Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps personnel
  •  As of 2009, those volunteers were handling more than 12,000 e-mails and more than 70,000 telephone calls from more than 200 countries and territories.
  • In 2011, Michelle Obama answered calls on behalf of the North Pole NORAD.

US Carriers can now block activation stolen smartphones abroad

  • US wireless industry group CTIA has announced that a stolen phone database launched last year by T-Mobile, AT&T, Sprint and Verizon is now final, including integration with international carriers.
  • They will let foreign operators block stolen US device activations, a bone of contention for law enforcement officials stateside.
  • They complained that the list was having no impact on thefts, since organized crime groups were simply dumping devices overseas where their serial numbers couldn’t be detected.
  •  Police would prefer to also see kill switches installed in handsets to truly put a dent in phone-knapping, but carriers have strenuously objected to that idea — strictly out of self-interest, according to some.
  • For its part, the CTIA said that the completed database at least means there are fewer countries where gangs can hawk their stolen wares. Still, as the carrier group pointed out, if a stranger asks to “borrow” your phone for directions, just, don’t.
     

 

Mapping Happiness In American Using Twitter

  • In 2009, a group of University of Vermont researchers published a paper in the Journal of Happiness Studies.
  • In it, they outlined the process of determining the saddest day in recent memory, the day Michael Jackson died using data culled from blogs. The happiest, they found, was November 4, 2008–the day Obama was elected.
  • The paper’s underlying concept dates back to 1881, when an Irish scientist conceived of an instrument called a “hedonometer” that could measure the happiness of a population.
  • The 2009 study does something similar, using millions of words scraped from the blogs and ranked according to happiness levels.
  • In 2011, they refined the methodology further and applied it to Twitter alone, analyzing 46 million words.
  • The same researchers published a set of maps that show how their findings correlate to geographic locations.
  • In other words, it’s a map of how happy Americans are, right down to zip code.
  • A few highlights include that Hawaii is the happiest state (Louisiana is saddest). Napa is the happiest city in the country, a place where residents tweet frequently about wine and restaurants. The saddest was the tiny Beaumont, Texas.
  • In general, cities in the south tended to be less happy than those in the north.
  • The study uses word clouds to determine happiness. To get an empirical read on what words humans use when they feel good (or bad), the authors devised a test that ranked thousands of words by happiness, based on answers culled from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.
  • Using those values, they wrote a complex algorithm that analyzed the words in 10 million tweets, geotagging the resulting “happiness values” on a fine-grained map.
  • Link:  http://www.uvm.edu/storylab/share/papers/mitchell2013a/AppendixF.html

Tech Trends: The Sharing Economy

  • Airbnb, the online apartment lending service, is just one of many services that have emerged in the “sharing economy” that let people lend out their unused assets or services for extra money. 
  • Thousands of Americans have started renting out their underused personal assets online to earn extra cash.
  • They rent their apartments while they are away for the weekend, lend their cars for cash and even sell their spare time.
  • Sharing is not exactly new. We have had eBay and Craigslist, during the financial crisis something changed.
  • For those new to the idea, Airbnb allows anyone with a house or an apartment to compete head-to-head against hotels in the tourist trade. The website allows you to rent your place out online when you are out of town. You can even rent out a spare room.
  • In 2009, as the economy collapsed and the company was getting off the ground, this became a godsend for some.
  • Unemployed couples could rent out extra space in their house to stay afloat. One couple lived in a high end NYC area. They posted their apartment on Airbnb and were flooded with offers. So they moved out of town where it is cheap.
  • Renting out a home, your home, for the weekend on the Internet to complete strangers is kind of a radical idea. Sure, technology makes it much easier, but it’s a big cultural shift for someone raised in a consumer-ownership society.
  • The stress of the Great Recession allowed millions of Americans to see the waste and the excess in their own lives more clearly. And this financial stress pushed many to try to use assets that usually just sat unused.
  • Another couple started renting out rooms in their house near Washington, D.C., during President Obama’s first inauguration. Shortly after that he lost his job.
  • The couple has a big old house and a blended family. Together they raised 10 kids, and now in their mid-60s, they have a lot of spare room. Renting out three of their rooms, the Airbnb income paid their mortgage.
  • But opening up their home this way was initially a decision driven by necessity.