Show of 02-08-2014

Tech Talk

February 8, 2014

Best of Tech Talk Edition

    • Replaying segments from previous shows. 

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Peter in Arlington: Dear Tech Talk. What are some of the tech trends fo 2014. I would like to know where technology is headed to help with my career choices. Love the show. Peter in Arlington
  • Tech Talk Responds: There are some very definite tech trends that can easily be seen. The best summary that I have seen was given at this year’s CES by Dr. Henry Samueli, co-founder and Chairman of Broadcom.
  • The Internet of Things
    • The idea behind the Internet of Things is simple but powerful: the quality of life of every person on the planet can be vastly improved by connecting everyone and everything to the Internet. The first examples are the Fitbit or the Nike Fuelband. Other examples are the Nest Thermostat and Smoke Detector.
  • Wireless Charging
    • Currently, there are three competing standards – but the industry will hopefully converge to one in 2014, setting the stage for interoperability of wireless charging systems from multiple manufacturers.  Should accelerate the Internet of Things marketplace.
  • Ultra HD TV
    • The successor to high-definition television has arrived in the form of 4K TVs, also known as Ultra HD. These TVs, which still carry premium price tags in retail stores, have four times the pixel resolution of conventional 1080p HD displays.
  • Connected Cars
    • Expect to see improved multimedia options in 2014, especially for rear-seat entertainment systems, thanks in part to better connectivity by way of in-car Wi-Fi and LTE connections. With a Wi-Fi enabled car in the future, you will have the ability to update your music or video content while the car is parked in your garage. Don’t expect to see self-driving cars on the market until at least the next decade.
  • LTE Networks
    • Today’s LTE networks and phones operate at download speeds of up to 75 megabits per second but soon the network operators will boost those speeds to 150 Mbps and eventually over the next several years, as LTE-Advanced is deployed, to 300, 450 and 600 Mbps.
  • Proximity Awareness
    • Increasingly, mobile devices have integrated GPS technology to identify exactly where they are at any given moment. For the most part, existing location technology has been an outdoor phenomenon, dependent on GPS satellites and used primarily for navigation. But new location technologies are being developed which leverage Bluetooth and Wi-Fi beacons that will pinpoint your location inside buildings, down to a meter or less.
  • 5.8G WiFi
    • Speeds of a few hundred Mbps in a smartphone or nearly 1 Gigabit per second in a tablet or computer are now possible. Expect to wireless distribution of streaming video.  
  • Email from Jason in Fairfax: Dear Doc and Jim. I love to play music on my portable devices (iPhone, iPad, laptop). I have ripped all my CD’s into MP3 files, but I want to listen to more. Please compare Spotify and Pandora for streaming audio. Thanks, Jason in Fairfax
  • Tech Talk Responds: Pandora Internet Radio is a music streaming and automated music recommendation service that serves as “custodian” of the Music Genome Project. The service, operated by Pandora Media, Inc., is only available in the United States, Australia and New Zealand. The service plays musical selections of a certain genre based on the user’s artist selection. The user then provides positive or negative feedback for songs chosen by the service, which are taken into account when Pandora selects future songs.
  • While listening, users are offered the ability to buy the songs or albums at various online retailers. Over 400 different musical attributes are considered when selecting the next song. These 400 attributes are combined into larger groups called focus traits. There are 2,000 focus traits. Examples of these are rhythm syncopation, key tonality, vocal harmonies, and displayed instrumental proficiency.
  • Spotify is a commercial music streaming service providing digital rights management-restricted content from record labels including Sony, EMI, Warner Music Group and Universal. Launched in October 2008 by Swedish startup Spotify AB, the service had approximately 10 million users as of 15 September 2010,about 2.5 million of whom were paying users. Total users reached 20 million by December 2012, 5 million of whom pay a monthly subscription fee that varies based on locale.
  • Spotify now lets you stream as much free music as you’d like through its desktop app and on the web no matter where you live. After bringing free shuffled music streaming to its phone and tablet apps, Spotify announced unlimited free music streaming for its desktop app and on the web. A key feature of Spotify is the ability to share playlists and to select which songs you want on your playlist. This is a very good way to discover new music.
  • Both Spotify and Pandora are ad supported for the free version. Royalties paid to artists are more generous with Spotify, so it has the most support from the record industry.
  • Email from Suresh in India: Dear Tech Talk. Please talk about some recent trends in international education, particularly in India. Education is the key to advancement in developing nations. Love the show and what Stratford is doing in India. Suresh in India.
  • Tech Talk Responds: On of the key developments in India is the emergence of the Barefoot College. Founded in partnership of a local farmer from Tilonia, Meghraj, and a young social worker from Delhi, Sanjit Bunker Roy, the Barefoot College has roots in “grafting formal urban knowledge on rural wisdom” to gear towards self-sustainability.
  • The college started the solar program first in the 1990s to provide access to electricity in the remote and isolated parts of India, and is the only fully solar electrified college built and run by the rural poor.
  • The program went global and has been replicated in developing and least developed countries from Africa and the Middle East since 2004, teaching solar engineering skills to illiterate older women from rural communities.
  • As a part of its South-South cooperation program, the Indian Government’s Ministry of External Affairs helps women participants with the air fare and part of the fee for the training course in Tilonia.
  • It is in such villages like Santa Teresa in Belize that Tilonia’s Barefoot College goes to find its women to be trained in solar engineering.  In the Santa Teresa village, 42-year-old Florentine until now has spent all her evenings in the dark. Now she is setting up solar panels and LED lighting.
  • Florentine, from a remote village in Belize, is one among the 37 women currently undergoing the training for solar engineering in Tilonia India’s Barefoot College.
  • Her son heard about the program run by the Barefoot College and told her to go. She looked up the lone encyclopedia in the house to find where on earth India was.
  • The local village community has to select and decide which old and uneducated woman will travel to India for six months. Women are viewed as the change agents.
  • In six months, the women learn to handle sophisticated charge controllers and inverters, to install solar panels and link them to batteries, to build solar lanterns and to establish a local electronic workshop where they can carry out all major and minor repairs to the solar power system themselves merely by listening and memorizing.
  • Approximately 202 women from villages in Africa have been trained as barefoot solar engineers by the Barefoot College. The Barefoot College makes an investment of up to $50,000 in solar equipment for 120 households in the participant’s village. Each household contributes the same amount towards maintenance and upgrading of the solar installation.
  • Email from Charu in India: Dear Dr. Shurtz. I have been using a Blackberry for years. I love the keyboard because I can type so easily with my long fingernails. However, my nails do not work on the capacitive screen of the iPhone. Since Blackberry is old news and the iPhone is new news, I would like to switch. Are there any technical solutions for interacting with the iPhone screen with long nails? Love the show, Charu in New Delhi.
  • Tech Talk Responds: I have great news. They have created false fingernails that work with the iPhone. Elektra Nails are false fingernails with a capacitive tip so that you can use them on your smartphone or tablet screen just like a stylus. The company has created a false fingernail — like the kind you can buy in pharmacies or have applied in manicure studios — out of capacitive material, so that you can use it on your screen.
  • Created by a company called Tech Tips, which launched a fingertip stylus a couple of years ago, the nails are neutral-colored so that you can paint them to match your manicure, and the cuticle end can be filed to fit your finger (the company does not recommend that you file the tip, which can interfere with functionality).
  • You can either glue it on which lasts longer, but means it will need to be removed with acetone, destroying the stylus function; or use an adhesive strip, which lasts only a few days, but means the nail can be reused. The nails will be available in packs of six index fingernails, adhesive strips, glue, cuticle stick and prep pad for US$14.95 by the end of March 2014.
  • Email from June in Arlington: Dear Dr. Shurtz. I love Drone Talk and was wondering about advanced drone technology using a swarm of drones. I have heard about some classified military applications, but wondered if there are any unclassified applications?  Love the show. June in Arlington.
  • Tech Talk Responds: There are many drone swarm unclassified research projects going on right now.
  • Phil Mancini, a detective on the Roseville police desk, has been advising a group at Carnegie Mellon University that is building a swarm of cheap, small flying helicopters that could come to the aid of officers across the country who find themselves facing off against suspects they can’t always see.
  • A crew of ten rotors would move and think one, as if a single robot was “chopped into pieces with a knife,” said Pei Zhang, associate professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon. Technology being developed at Zhang’s lab will allow tens of robots to explore different parts of a new environment and make sense of the information they each collect.
  • Zhang says robotic insects like the RoboBee from the Wyss Institute at Harvard or cyborg beetles that carry sensors on their backs could be future foot soldiers in a networked system, crawling into a burning building to find the hottest zones, or using motion sensors to locate a missing person.
  • Small drones, flying solo, have helped first responders in exactly these ways. In May last year, the Royal Canadian Mountain Police used a quadcopter carrying an infrared camera to find an injured person after his car flipped over in the snow in Saskatchewan. In Grand Forks County, North Dakota, the sheriff’s office used drones last season to check on flooded farms. The Mesa County Sheriff’s office in Colorado regularly sends their camera-equipped Draganflyer X6 and a slightly larger Falcon on missions, and the bots have helped locate missing people, and assisted firefighters by surveying a burning church.
  • Swarms can be used for self-assembly too. A project headed up at the University of Pennsylvania hopes to redesign standardized shipping containers so that they can click together like LEGO blocks, forming bridges, helipads, runways, and other much-needed temporary infrastructure as.
  • The containers, which today sit perfectly still, would be equipped with motors and on-board computers that will let hundreds of them quickly arrange themselves into temporary structures. The algorithms of who moves where and when, to form a large conglomeration of even hundreds of them, are almost there. They will be presented at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Hong Kong in June 2014.
  • I just love drone talk.

Drone Update; Phantom 2 Vision Photos

  • I have been using the Phantom 2 to photograph the various Stratford University campuses. The drone has a 14 mpixel camera with a 140 degree FOV lens.
  • The photographs have quite a bit of curvature because of the fish-eye effect produced by the lens. DJI released a lens profile which can be imported into photoshop. The lens profile in contained in an Lens Correction Profile (LCP) file. This file contains the lens corrections for a specific camera body and lens combination.
  • The photos produced by the drone, after correction for fish-eye, are fantastic. This has been a great investment.

Profiles in IT: Tim O’Shaughnessy

  • Co-founder of Living Social, a fast growing competitor for Groupon in the online-to-offline business (O2O) sector.
  • Tim O’Shaughnessy was born in 1982 in Minnesota.
  • His father runs a freight company in Apple Valley, MN. Tim is the youngest of four.
  • At age eight, Tim started a candy business. He used his $8-a-week allowance to buy candy in bulk. With the help of a red wagon, he traveled from playground to playground selling candy. In a week, they could triple or quadruple his money.
  • He attended high school at St. Thomas Academy, a Catholic military academy.
  • He then enrolled in Georgetown University in 2001, with a double major, operations and information mangagement (OPIM)
  • To help pay for college, he started a handyman service and worked as a live-in chef.
  • In 2004, during his senior year, Tim O’Shaughnessy was involved in a class consulting project for AOL. A day after the group’s, he received an offer from AOL.
  • Two weeks later, he started at AOL’s Tysons headquarters. After two years at AOL, he moved to AOL cofounder Steve Case’s start-up, Revolution Health.
  • In 2007, Tim and several colleagues from Revolution Health started Hungary Machine. The got the idea while drinking at the Brickskeller near Dupont Circle.
  • The group split their time between large-scale tech consulting projects and on the side building their own Facebook products, such as Visual Bookshelf.
  • They realized that their side business of building Facebook products had the potential to be even more profitable than their main business, consulting for ESPN and JibJab.
  • The Facebook platform was interesting: It was the sweet spot for a growing business at the intersection of “O2O” (online-to-offline) commerce.
  • That idea—never to be satisfied, always to reach for the bigger goal—permeates the company today. To its founders, Hungry Machine is an attitude. “Hungry is hungry.
  • In the spring of 2008, Hungry Machine’s five employees knew they had found an interesting niche in the Facebook app platform but needed room to grow.
  • Steve Case was willing to kick in some seed money, but the founders wanted more. They landed $5 million in Series A financing from Grotech; Case also invested.
  • In March 2009, LivingSocial had its first bona fide hit. The Pick Your Five app—which encouraged Facebook users to choose their favorite books, drinks, musicians.
  • By summer, Pick Your Five was the number-one app on Facebook.
  • LivingSocial began to shift direction in 2009 with the acquisition of a little company called Buy a Friend a Drink.
  • The partners leveraged their relationships with restaurants to morph LivingSocial into its current form. LivingSocial keeps approximately 30 percent of the fee.
  • By the end of 2009, LivingSocial raised a total of $176 million. The sought addition funding to accelerate their expansion. They are chasing Groupon.
  • In 2010, Living Social raised an additional $400 million.
  • By the end of 2010, the company had 46 million subscribers in 25 countries.
  • Tim is married to Laura Graham, daughter of Washington Post Company CEO.
  • O’Shaughnessy commutes to work on a Segway.
  • O’Shaughnessy keeps an ice-cream cooler in his office to encourage colleagues to visit and chat about what they’re working on.

Drone Update; Phantom 2 Vision Photos

  • I have been using the Phantom 2 to photograph the various Stratford University campuses. The drone has a 14 mpixel camera with a 140 degree FOV lens.
  • The photographs have quite a bit of curvature because of the fish-eye effect produced by the lens. DJI released a lens profile which can be imported into photoshop. The lens profile in contained in an Lens Correction Profile (LCP) file. This file contains the lens corrections for a specific camera body and lens combination.
  • The photos produced by the drone, after correction for fish-eye, are fantastic. This has been a great investment.

Tech Talk Listeners Dinner featuring Dr. Richard Shurtz

  • Please join Dr. Richard Shurtz for a dinner celebrating the wonderful listeners of his Tech Talk Radio Show on Thursday evening, February 27th.

  • Chef Chrisopher Carey, former Executive Chef of acclaimed restaurants and inns such as the Goodstone Inn,  The Ashby Inn, and The Wine Kitchen, leads his culinary students in the preparation of a luxurious three-course meal. 

  • A 7:00pm hors d’oeuvres reception will precede the Dinner.  Dinner begins at 7:30pm sharp.

  • The cost of this Dining Event is $20.00 per person, which includes soft drinks, sales tax, and gratuity. Discounts and vouchers are applied during registration. Tech Talk Winners are encouraged to use their voucher. Wine and Beer will be available for $5 per drink (cash only).

Device of the Week: F-BOMB

  • With a PogoPlug NAS box, a few antennae, flash memory and some batteries, and you’ve got a cheap, disposable F-BOMB with which to collect data on adversaries.
  • Equipped with Wi-Fi cracking software or GPS, it could infiltrate someone’s computer or track someone’s location without them knowing.
  • Allow me to drop the F-BOMB. The Falling or Ballistically-launched Object that Makes Backdoors, that is.
  • Invented by Brandon O’Connor as an alternative to high-tech and costly spy devices, the F-BOMB is made so cheaply with off-the-shelf parts that you’ll feel perfectly okay with losing one or two.
  • Very convenient when it’s sitting in the backyard of a drug lord hideout.
  • Before building the F-BOMB, O’Connor challenged himself with several constraints.
  • He wanted multiple wireless radios, USB capability for expansion (add GPS for example), battery life that lasted hours to days, a size small enough that it won’t be found.
  • The key addition was the PogoPlug. The PogoPlug is a NAS (Network Attached Storage) box, a data storage device through which people can share information over the Internet.
  • It runs on Linux. Normally the boxes cost about $150, which would have made the F-BOMB too expensive for O’Connor’s purposes, but the company is having a hard time selling the devices.
  • PogoPlug’s misfortune becomes O’Connor’s advantage as he can now purchase them for just $25 on Amazon.com.
  • And that’s the most expensive bit of hardware. Add the antennae, eight gigabytes worth of flash memory and a plastic casting that’s 3D-printed and you’ve got a little spying computer you can build for under $49. Four D batteries will provide power for 30-plus hours.
  • Aside from being cheap and reproducible, building a monitoring device with commercial off-the-shelf, or COTS, components from Amazon or craigslist means when the bad guys find it in their backyard they won’t be able to trace it to you. Were the F-BOMB to require any kind of made-to-order, a determined person could find the manufacture, start asking questions.
  • The F-BOMB won an award from DARPA’s Cyber Fast Track program. The title of the project is “Reticle: Leaderless Command and Control,” which kind of makes me wonder what else he’s developing.
  • O’Connor has a security and software consultancy called Malice Afterthought. He learned about such things teaching at cybersecurity schools for the military as well as working in the security devisions of VeriSign and Sun Microsystems.
  • The website describes him as “dreamer and mad scientist capable of making even the most challenging tasks into reality.”