Show of 03-07-2015

Tech Talk

March 7, 2015

Email and Forum Questions
  • Email from Arnie in Crownsville, MD: Hi Dr. Shurtz, You touched on this briefly on Tech Talk this morning.  Still very confusing to me & probably others also. Hopefully, you will go over this FCC ruling in more detail. I like the free market rather than government, but since the FCC has made their move, what’s next. Arnie, Crownsville, MD
  • Tech Talk Responds: The real issue is the debate between the telecoms and the Internet content giants like Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Netflix. Will telecoms be treated like a commodity providing bandwidth or will they share in the revenue opportunities offered by the Internet. That is the struggle going on right now. It is unwise for the government to pick the winner through over regulation. More about this later in the show.
  • Email from Tung in Ohio: Dear Doc and Jim. We take lots of digital pictures. My husband loves to photograph still life. His last photo sequence was devoted strictly to carrots. What is the best way to print, display, and save them? This has become a major challenge and the number of pictures has climbed. Love the show. Tung in Ohio
  • Tech Talk Responds: Saving is your first challenge. They must be stored in two locations to be safe. It could be an external hard drive and your computer’s hard drive. Or it could be a cloud backup, like Carbonite, Dropbox, Google Drive, Apple iCloud, or MS OneDrive. I would also print them. Prints will last forever and are not subject to a digital death. I would use an online print service and upload you photos over the web. This is quick and easy fix. As for display, I would get a digital frame with a Wi-Fi connection that scrolls through photos saved in the cloud. You can change your pictures just by uploading more pics to the cloud. This is also a great way to share photos with relatives, particularly those who don’t have access to a computer. It would require Wi-Fi access. Nixplay Wi-Fi Cloud Digital Photo Frame is around $100 for 8” frame and $250 for the 18.5” frame. Sync up to five frames. Includes motion sensor. Finally I would select some the best photos for large prints that can be framed. You can print on canvas, either a single frame or as a multi-frame print. I sometimes use Costco. Their prints are incredible low cost. (24” x 32” is $60 and a Three panel 56” x 36” is $219).
  • Email from Hac in Bowie: Dear Tech Talk. I would like to watch Netflix at home. However, my TV does not have an Internet connection. I do have Wi-Fi at home, but no way to get it to the TV. What are my options? Love the show, Hac from Bowie
  • Tech Talk Responds: There are several options that do not require that you get a new TV. You could use a streaming device just for your TV. There are several options here: Chromecast by Google ($35), Apple TV ($99), Roku ($49). They all require an HDMI port on your computer. I love Chromecast. If you are an Apple fan, Apple TV may be a good option. Roku has a very convenient remote. If your TV does not have an HDMI port, you can still other devices to connect to the Internet. DVD and Blu-ray players now come with a Wi-Fi connection (multiple for around $100). If you are a gamer, Xbox and Play Station both have Wi-Fi connections. I use the Xbox in the basement. That used to be used by my son and he loved Xbox games. If you replace your TV with a Smart TV, the Wi-Fi connection will be built in and very convenient. You can get a 1080p HD smart TV for less than $1000 or a 4K Ultra HD for less than $2000 and prices drop every month.
  • Email from Andrea in Falls Church: Dear Doc and Jim. I have been asked to create a website for my employer and I don’t have enough pictures for the site. I can find lots of pictures on the Internet, but I don’t own them and my employer does not want me to steal pictures. What are my options? We have a very low budget (less than $1,000) for all the pictures). I listen every weekend. Andrea in Falls Church
  • Tech Talk Responds: There are a number of royalty free sites that provide photos for purchase. They include: www.istockphoto.com/, www.shutterstock.com/, www.gettyimages.com/, www.fotolia.com/, and www.bigstockphoto.com/. I have used iStockPhoto for years and love it. It has the kind of pictures that we need to our promotions. You may like one of the other sites, based on your photographic requirements. You can get photos for the web for less than a dollar and then if you have a print campaign, you can buy a high resolution file for $10. Prices vary based on photographer. BTW, if you are a photographer, these sites are a great venue to selling your photos and to just customer demand.
  • Email from Brian in Kansas: Dear Tech Talk. I love computers and want to learn about programming. What programming languages are in demand? I am in high school now, but after college I want to become a developer at a tech company. I listen to your podcast each week. Brian in Kansas
  • Tech Talk Responds: With some help from Lynda.com, I have compiled a list of 10 of the most sought-after programming languages to get you up to speed. BTW, we provide free access to Lynda.com for all of our students. Here is the top ten list from Lynda.com
    • Java — Java is a class-based, object-oriented programming language developed by Sun Microsystems in the 1990s. It’s one of the most in-demand programming languages
    • C Language – C is a general-purpose, imperative programming language developed in the early ’70s, C is the oldest and most widely used language. Because it provides the foundation for many other languages, it is advisable to learn C (and C++) before moving on to others. 
    • C++ — C++ is an intermediate-level language with object-oriented programming features, originally designed to enhance the C language. C++ powers major software like Firefox, Winamp and Adobe programs. 
    • C# (pronounced C sharp) — C# is a multi-paradigm language developed by Microsoft as part of its .NET initiative. 
    • Objective-C — Objective-C is a general-purpose, object-oriented programming language used by the Apple operating system. It powers Apple’s OS X and iOS, as well as its APIs, and can be used to create iPhone apps.
    • PHP — PHP (Hypertext Processor) is a free, server-side scripting language designed for dynamic websites and app development.  PHP powers more than 200 million websites, including WordPress, Digg and Facebook. 
    • Python — Python is a high-level, server-side scripting language for websites and mobile apps. It’s considered a fairly easy language for beginners. It powers the web apps for Instagram, Pinterest and Rdio, and is used by Google, Yahoo! and NASA.
    • Ruby – Ruby is a dynamic, object-oriented scripting language for developing websites and mobile apps, Ruby was designed to be simple and easy to write. It powers the Ruby on Rails (or Rails) framework, which is used on Scribd, GitHub, Groupon and Shopify.
    • JavaScript — JavaScript is a client and server-side scripting language developed by Netscape that derives much of its syntax from C. 
    • SQL — Structured Query Language (SQL) is a special-purpose language for managing data in relational database management systems. It is most commonly used for its “Query” function.
  • Email from Ian in Greenbelt: Dear Tech Talk. Whenever I receive an email, the images are not downloaded. I get this message: “Some pictures have been blocked to help prevent the sender from identifying your computer. Click here to download pictures.” How does blocking image download protect my privacy? Enjoy the show. Ian in Greenbelt
  • Tech Talk Responds: There are two types of images in email: attached and remote. Attached images are exactly that: they’re attached to and sent with the email message itself. Remote images, not surprisingly, are also exactly that: remote. The email message actually includes a link (or reference) to the image, rather than the image itself. It is fetched from the email server only when the message is displayed. Most email programs today will block remote images by default, unless you indicate that a particular sender is “safe” by adding it to an address book or some kind of safe list. If the email is spam, the spammer can tell that the image has been downloaded. They then know that this is a valid email address and you can expect to get more spam. I leave images blocked by default, but add almost all the business senders to my whitelist, so I can see their messages immediately.
Profiles in IT: John Bannister Goodenough
  • John Bannister Goodenough is an American physicist widely credited with the development of the Li-ion rechargeable battery. Suggested by Arnie.
  • Goodenough was born July 25, 1922 in Jena, Germany.
  • John Goodenough grew up in near New Haven, Connecticut, where his father, Erwin, was a scholar on the history of religion at Yale.  His mother never wanted him.
  • When John was 12, he was sent on scholarship at Groton, a private boarding school in Massachusetts, and rarely heard from his parents again. 
  • Suffering from dyslexia, Goodenough could not read at Groton, understand his lessons, or keep up in the chapel. Somehow everything finally came together. 
  • He received a BS in Mathematics, summa cum laude, from Yale University in 1944.
  • After World War II, Goodenough, received a telex ordering him to Washington, DC. 
  • Educators had stumbled on unspent budget money and advocated using it to send 21 returning Army officers through graduate studies in physics and math. 
  • He was sent to the University of Chicago, home Edward Teller and Enrico Fermi. He completed his PhD in Physics at the University of Chicago in 1952.
  • After obtaining his doctorate in 1952, he went to work at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory.
  • Goodenough helped to develop the ferrimagnetic memory cores of the first random-access memory (RAM) of the digital computer.
  • In 1976, he continued his career as head of the Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory at Oxford University, where he identified and developed LixCoO2 as the cathode material of choice for the Li-ion rechargeable battery. 
  • In 1982, Mike Thackeray, a post-doc working under Goodenough, had created a manganese spinel cathode that was cheaper and safer than cobalt oxide.
  • Oxford had declined to patent the cathode. In the end, Goodenough signed away the royalty rights to the Atomic Energy Research Establishment
  • In 1991, Sony combined his cathode and a carbon anode into the world’s first commercial rechargeable lithium-ion battery. 
  • In 1986, he became a Professor at the University of Texas at Austin. His group has identified LixFePO4 as a less costly cathode material safe for Hybrid vehicles. This was his third commercially viable cathode material. 
  • Nippon Telegraph and Telephone stole the idea and tried to patent it. This led to $500M lawsuit. UT settled for $30M, and again Goodenough got nothing.
  • Goodenough recently identified a ceramic anode material for a solid oxide fuel cell operating on natural gas.
  • But Goodenough is passionate about ending his career with a last, big invention, a super-battery, one that will make electric cars competitive. He has a secret idea at 92.
  • He received the prestigious Japan Prize in 2001 and the Presidential Enrico Fermi Award in 2009. 
The science of freezing rain

freezing rain diagram
  • The phenomenon of freezing rain: What causes the dangerous winter weather element that can paralyze cities?
  • Why is it raining when temperatures are below freezing? What is going on? This phenomenon is simply called freezing rain. 
  • Freezing rain is simply rain that falls through a shallow layer of cold temperatures at or below 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) near the surface. 
  • When this rain becomes supercooled, it can freeze on contact with roads, bridges, trees, power lines, and vehicles. 
  • When freezing rain accumulates, it can add a lot of weight on trees which can result in numerous power outages and damage to homes. 
  • Freezing rain is typically the weather threat that creates the most car accidents, injuries, and deaths in winter storms. 
    • Snow forms when the entire layer of air is sub-freezing. Snow consists of ice crystals and is white and fluffy. 
    • Sleet forms when the layer of sub-freezing air is fairly deep, 3,000 to 4,000 feet. This allows time for the water droplet to freeze into a tiny piece of ice and become sleet as it falls to the surface. 
    • Freezing rain forms when the sub-freezing layer is very shallow. 2,000 feet from the surface, temperatures are above freezing, so any precipitation that falls is liquid. 
  • Bottom line: Freezing rain is simply rain that falls into a shallow layer of cold temperatures that is below freezing. When this supercooled droplet hits an object, it then freezes and becomes ice. Freezing rain is the most dangerous winter weather element as it can paralyze cities and cause a lot of damage. 
How to Build the Best Snowman in the Neighborhood
  • Start with good snow. You need the slightly wet snow. Not slush, but the kind of snow you get when it’s just above or just below freezing. Slightly wet snow packs easier and holds onto buttons and coal lumps better.  You’re also going to need about 4 inches of snow on the ground to avoid hitting dirt.
  • Make the balls. Start with a big snowball you pack in your hand and then roll it on the ground, allowing it to pick up snow and get bigger. Remember to roll it in different directions so that you don’t wind up with a cylinder instead of a nice sphere. Keep the ball from making contact with the snowless ground.
  • The bottom ball is the biggest. Place it where you want the snowman to reside. Try to pick a place that’s shaded and not in direct sunlight.
  • Stack the balls. Flatten the top of the first ball. Then when you make the middle segment ball, flatten the bottom of that ball.  If you’re building a gigantic snowman and find that you cannot lift the middle or top ball to be placed, get a plank and roll the ball up it.
  • Once you have all the balls stacked on top of one another, pack snow in-between the segments to add further stability to the structure.
  • A carrot for the nose and coal or rocks for eyes, and mouth.  Place some sticks in the side for arms. Face your snowman away from the sun.
Dressgate: The Dress that Baffled
  • A Birmingham shop was at the center of international social media storm after an optical illusion left the world baffled about the color of one of its dresses. 
  • The picture was originally taken by Cecilia Bleasdale, who sent it to her daughter Grace to show what she would be wearing to her wedding. 
  • The image quickly went viral, as people argued over its colors.
  • Scientists said that the illusion occurs because of how the human brain is wired to see color. 
  • Color is simply a perception made by the brain when light hits the retina at the back of the eye at differing wavelengths. 
  • The brain interprets these wavelengths as color.
  • It is also doing something very clever. It is working out how illuminated the color is by the light around it and subtracting or adding that from the ‘real’ color. 
  • It is how it is possible to distinguish between colors in bright sunshine or twilight. 
  • Usually that system works well. But sometimes, as in the case of the dress, the brain gets confused and cannot work out how much light to add or take away. 
  • Some people’s brains interpret the blue color as shadow on a white dress which is in bright sunlight. Others discount the shadow and see blue and black, the true color. 
  • Andrew Hanson, past chairman of the Color Group of Great Britain, said humans are evolutionary programmed to think that objects in shadow are blue. 
  • Simon Hall, of the National Physical Laboratory, said the ‘color temperature’ of the background was also confusing people’s perception of the dress. 
  • For people viewing it on different screens the “color Temperature” of the display backlighting will have an effect.
  • For people viewing the same monitor the difference is related to color appearance and the colors surrounding the image. This can have a different effect for different people depending on how they perceive the image. Viewing angle does make a difference on an LCD display.
A Plan to Future-Proof Computers
  • Vint Cerf, Father of the Internet, Cerf raises the possibility that centuries (or even decades) from now, file formats will have become obscure and unreadable. 
  • Cerf says that you should print your photos if you want to save them.
  • Without the tools to interpret a particular file format, all you really have saved is a long, indecipherable list of 1s and 0s. 
  • This isn’t just some abstract problem, either. Last year, a small NASA team trying to restore photos from a ’60s lunar orbiter mission ran into this exact problem — data was trapped on old tape decks, and the hardware needed to extract the pictures was decades out of production.
  • Cerf thinks we need a solution. He calls his solution a ‘digital vellum’ — a complete snapshot of everything needed to interpret a particular file.
  • For example: to open a .psd Photoshop file, you’d need Photoshop itself, but then also a copy of Windows, all the drivers needed to make the hardware play nice, right down to the firmware and assembly code for individual chips. 
  • According to Cerf, that’s the only way to guarantee that archaeologists a few centuries from now will be able to see your files.
  • Cerf’s full lecture at Carnegie Mellon is available to watch: http://www.cmu.edu/silicon-valley/news-events/dls/2015/cerf-news.html
An Uneasy Relationship between Telecom and Tech 
  • There is a love-hate relationship between the world’s largest mobile carriers and tech giants like Facebook and Google.
  • Both sides rely on each other to provide customers worldwide with high-speed Internet access and online services like music streaming and social networking. 
  • Smartphones have increasingly become the principal means by which people manage their everyday lives, the telecom and tech giants are jockeying to position themselves as consumers’ main conduit for using the Internet on mobile devices.
  • Upgrades to carriers’ networks, particularly in the United States, Europe and parts of Asia, have increased mobile Internet speeds to a level that allows consumers to carry out many tasks that, until recently, had been restricted to computers.
  • This shift has led to some uneasy relationships between telecom and tech companies.
  • For many carriers, which have invested billions of dollars in recent years to upgrade their networks, fear that they will be relegated merely to providing the infrastructure that powers the Internet.
  • Telecom executives worry that this role will force operators to miss out on the growing revenue from smartphone applications, Internet gaming and other services.
  • Google and Amazon, which have used complicated tax structures to reduce their global tax burdens, do not face the same levels of regulatory scrutiny as carriers. 
  • That includes the FCC’s net neutrality decision will allow the agency to treat broadband Internet access as a public utility for regulatory purposes.
  • Google, for example, is introducing fiber-optic networks in several American cities, offering television and Internet services at speeds of up to one gigabit a second.
  • Facebook now competes head-on with traditional telecom players after acquiring WhatsApp, the Internet messaging service.
  • Operators failed to adapt fast enough, content with just milking the cash cow.
  • Some telecoms have opened their own start-up incubators to invest directly in fledgling companies that could one day compete with West Coast rivals.
  • Other carriers have decided to forgo their own online services and team up with existing tech players. The goal is to bundle in-demand services, like mobile music or movie streaming, into monthly cellphone contracts, with both sides taking a percentage of the additional revenue.