Show of 07-04-2015

Tech Talk
4 July, 2015
Best of Tech Talk Edition
  • Segments replayed from previous shows
Email and Forum Questions
  • Email form Glen: Dear Doc and Jim. I’ve purchased an eBook and have received in return a web page that I’m supposed to do something with. It tells me the eBook is a PDF. I can’t figure out the instructions. How am I supposed to get my book? Thanks, Glen
  • Tech Talk Responds: eBooks, which is short for “electronic books”, are books that you download and read on your computer. There are many formats for eBooks. Each format requires a specific reader. ePub is the open standard. iBook is the Apple standard. Kindle is the Amazon standard. Microsoft LIT is the Microsoft standard. Your book uses the PDF standard, which is used for document storage and compression. In order to be able to read a PDF file, you must have a PDF reading program installed on your computer. In Windows 8 the “Reader” app is included. On most Macs the “Preview” application is included. Adobe Reader is the most “official” PDF reading program available on most platforms. Adobe Reader is free.
  • Just right click on the link and download the PDF file to your computer. Create a book subdirectory for your eBooks for easy retrieval. After you download the eBook, just click on it and your reader will open it. Happy reading.
  • Email from Paula in Kansas: Dear Tech Talk. I have decided to look another job and am sending emails to potential employers. How private are my emails. Can my current employer see them? That would be a problem. Love the show. Paula in Kansas
  • Tech Talk Responds: If you use your company email account, the administrators have access to all of your emails. They can view them for forward them at will. In most case, they have no interest. However, if your boss suspected something, he could request an audit. Therefore, I would suggest that you use another type of account, like Gmail or Yahoo. Those are web based and not controlled by your employer. They cannot look at them. On the other hand, if you are using a computer a work, you employer could monitor your keystrokes to see what you are doing. This is highly unlikely, but possible. If you are really paranoid, only send email while at work with your cell phone, or wait until your home and use your own computer.
  • Email from Jim in Bowie: Dear Tech Talk. I have so many passwords that I am having trouble keeping them straight. Each year I make my passwords longer so they are more secure. Now the recommendation is that they be at least 10 digits. This is getting too difficult to remember. Is there a simple and secure way to store them? Love the show. Jim in Bowie
  • Tech Talk Responds: As computer speed increases, hackers are able to crack hashed password listed faster and faster. It used to be that eight digits would give you reasonable protection. Now you need to 10 digits to protect you from a brute force attack of your hashed password. This is becoming more important because so many website are being hacked and the login files, which include user name and hashed passwords, are downloaded. I am glad you are responding to that threat.  Two password managers that I like are KeePass and Roboform. 
  • KeePass (Windows/Mac/Linux/Mobile, Free). KeePass is open-source, free, and available for everything from a portable Windows installation to an implementation for iPhones, PocketPCs, and Android phones. KeePass supports a variety of features including automatic password generation, field and icon customization, secure notes, and login and password entry through clipboard copying, drag and drop, or auto fill-in. KeePass supports a wide range of import and export formats as well as printing for hard copy backup or secure offline storage.
  • Roboform (Windows, Basic: Free/Pro: $29.95). RoboForm has gotten praise for ease of use and tight integration with popular web browsers. You can set RoboForm to not only automatically log you into existing services but quickly fill out forms to register for new ones with automatic fill in of names and email addresses. RoboForm included encrypted notes, random password generation, and the ability to print hard copy backups of your password lists for storage in a fire safe or other secure location.
  • Email from Jim across the counter: Dear Doc. We have two ATT cell phones and would like to get them unlocked. How can we get this done? Thanks. Jim in the studio.
  • Tech Talk Responds: Good news! ATT has changed their policy. They will let you unlock your cell phone after it has been paid for. Their contracts are two years and you must complete the contract to fully pay for it. If you satisfy this requirement  just go to: http://att.com/deviceunlock.
Profiles in IT: Mhalis “Mike” Lazaridis
  • Mihalis “Mike” Lazaridis is the founder and co-CEO of Reseach in Motion, which created and manufactures the Blackberry wireless handheld device.
  • Mihalis “Mike” Lazaridis was born March 14, 1964 in Istanbul, Turkey to ethnic Greek parents.
  • Lazaridis was five years old when his family moved to Canada in 1966, settling in Windsor, Ontario.
  • At age 12, he won a prize at the Windsor Public Library for reading every science book in the library.
  • In 1979, he enrolled at the University of Waterloo in electrical engineering.
  • He was an intern Ontario’s Control Data Corporation while still in school.
  • Lazaridis dropped out of the University of Waterloo in 1984, a few credits shy of a degree in electrical engineering.
  • In 1984, he founded Research In Motion (RIM) later that year along with his childhood friend Doug Fregin.
  • Since then, RIM’s BlackBerry handheld devices have become a popular platform for companies seeking to provide their mobile workforces with secure access to e-mail.
  • The actual device can be traced to the early 1990s, when RIM began working on a BlackBerry predecessor that operated on Mobitex, a narrowband wireless data network developed by Ericsson and operated by BellSouth in the United States.
  • Lazaridis worked to optimize the network performance of the early BlackBerry, which was extremely large and cumbersome by today’s standards.
  • In 1997, Lazaridis’ efforts paid off in the form of a smaller, more efficient device.
  • The first BlackBerry device was introduced in 1999 as a two-way pager.
  • Lexicon Branding suggested the name Strawberry because the keys looked like seeds.
  • They then suggested the name Blackberry because the device was black.
  • In 2002, the more commonly known smartphone BlackBerry was released.
  • Lazaridis insists that the BlackBerry’s popularity—RIM counts some 3.65 million BlackBerry users today—stems from its simplicity. He doesn’t iPhone the user.
  • Along the way, Lazaridis has accumulated more than 30 patents, some for wireless functions of the BlackBerry, others for inventions such as wireless PC cards, industrial display systems, and bar-code reader used to produce of motion pictures.
  • University of Waterloo awarded him an honorary Doctor of Engineering in 2000.
  • In June 2003, he became the eighth chancellor of the University of Waterloo.
  • He believes that investments in basic research at the university level will fuel the economies of the next century.
  • He wants to give back to the research community because he realizes that much of his success was built on the scientific discoveries of 50 to 100 years ago.
  • In the past ten years, he has donated over $250 million to the University of Waterloo, supported the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, Institute for Quantum Computing, and Institute for Nanotechnology.
  • In 2006, he became an Officer of the Order of Canada and a member of the Order of Ontario.
  • His network is approximately 1.7 billion US dollars according for Forbes.
Building Code To Break Poverty In Bangladesh
  • Teaching people in the third world how to code seems to be a growing trend that may just help to break the world-wide poverty cycle. 
  • Danish-based microfinancing operation CodersTrust is starting to do just that with a test group of 100 Bangladeshis.
  • They saw a big opportunity with coders in the third world and created their microfinance organization to give those below the poverty line a chance at better education, starting with Bangladesh.
  • CodersTrust works by first identifying people on who seem to have a good work ethic. The founders then approach them about going into the program and offer them a micro loan of $2,000. The loan comes in increments tied to their progress. For example, they get paid a certain chunk each time they pass certain classes via Code Academy. Coders can then start to pay back the loan as they start to improve their skills and earn more money.
  • The organization is backed by Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Muhammad Yunus’s Grameen Bank to supply the funds needed while Bangladeshi candidates learn programming skills.
  • “It takes time to get an education so those living below the poverty line are going to be thinking of how to find their next meal, not taking classes if they can’t afford to learn,” says Lund.
  • One in four people in Bangladesh currently make it on less than $2/day. That’s more than 39 million people living below the poverty line on a daily basis. All they need to break out of their circumstances, according to Kjaerulff, is a laptop and to understand English.
  • Kjaerulff was running a software development startup at the time he came up with the idea for CodersTrust. He’d previously served as an officer during Iraq, supplying Internet and education to the people there and so understood how much of a need there is for education in the third world.
  • This is just a test program for now, but Lund and Kjaerulff say they hope to get about 100,000 people on the platform and expand to more Middle Eastern countries in the next couple of years.
Google’s Loony Net Balloons Getting Better
  • When Google announced Project Loon on June 15 last year, a lot of people were skeptical. But Google reports that since then, it has been able to extend balloon flight times and add mobile connectivity to the service. As a result, Google’s expectations are flying even higher than the 60,000-foot strata where its balloons live.
  • The balloons are delivering 10x more bandwidth, 10x steer-ability, and are staying up 10x as long. 
  • A year ago, balloons typically remained aloft for a few days at most, and download speeds averaged one or two megabits per second — comparable to the slowest wired internet service.
  • Since the first public test flights in New Zealand, Google’s balloons have clocked over a million and half kilometers. Increasing the crafts’ endurance has been a key challenge. 
  • Google bumped up flight durations by extensively analyzing its failures. Using former military operations people, it took pains to recover nearly every downed balloon. 
  • Ultimately, Loon engineers concluded that one of the biggest factors in failure were small, almost undetectable leaks in the polymer skins that must withstand huge atmospheric pressure and up to 100 mph winds. Even a pinhole can shorten a balloon’s lifespan to a few days.
  • The Loon crew not only strengthened the fragile seams where leaks often occurred but took fanatic care in handling the envelopes. They used to walk on the flattened polymer in stocking feet. 
  • Google also improved Loon flight times by dramatically upgrading the altitude control system, increasing the vertical range of the balloons so they can catch more favorable winds. As a result, it’s not unusual for Google to keep balloons flying for 75 days. One craft has been aloft over 100 days and is still flying. An earlier balloon circled the globe three times before descending. It completed one circumnavigation in 22 days.
  • Google made a different kind of advance with Loon when it added the capability to send data using the LTE spectrum — making it possible for people to connect directly to the internet with their mobile phones. Using LTE also helped Google boost the capacity of its connections. Recent Loon payloads are providing as much as 22 MB/sec to a ground antenna and 5 MB/sec to a handset.
  • Because LTE makes it possible for Google to interweave its service with existing mobile data networks, telcos want to partner with Google.
  • The goals for the next year: routine flights of 100 days, 100 balloons in the air at once.
  • Ultimate Google will have a full ring of between 300 to 400 balloons circling the globe to offer continuous service to a targeted area. 
Google Wants More Girls in Computer Science
  • Google has announced that it will provide up to $50 million for organizations that can help encourage more girls to take an interest in computer science at an early age.
  • Part of its Made with Code initiative, the cash will be used for things like “rewarding teachers who support girls who take CS courses on Codecademy or Khan Academy.
  • Other aspects of the Made with Code scheme – which is also backed by other organizations like Girls Inc., Girl Scouts of the USA, MIT Media Lab and the National Center for Women & Information Technology, among others – include Blockly-based projects, like making a 3D printed bracelet, learning to create GIFs and “building beats” for a music track.
  • Google has put together a standalone site for the initiative too.
  • Link: Things you love are Made with Code
How Nest Is Using All That Data
  • The big news from Nest is that Protect Detectors are back on the shelves. 
  • And Nest is already gathering data from those sensors.
  • Nest reports that carbon monoxide, a seemingly rare killer that’s actually the lead cause of poisoning deaths in America. 
  • Until now, it’s been hard for the government and safety experts to estimate how often CO leaks happen, because these events are self-reported by homeowners (who usually don’t report them). 
  • But using data collected from its army of Protects—anonymized, of course, to protect user privacy—Nest has revealed something surprising: CO events aren’t all that rare. 
  • In fact, .65 percent of users experienced a carbon monoxide event during the five months that Nest analyzed. 
  • Each Protect is packed full of sensors, some of which are capable of much more than they’re doing right now: From heat and light sensors to motion sensors and ultrasonic wave sensors. 
  • This simple little device could gather an incredible amount of data about your life if Nest asked it to: 
  • From when you get home, to when you go to bed, to your daily routine, to when you cook dinner. 
  • Nest CEO Tony Fadell has said that the company’s privacy policy won’t be affected by its acquisition by Google, at least for the time being. 
  • But Google’s Trojan horse for the connected home has already been bought and installed in more than 400,000 users in three countries.
  • Neither Nest nor Google has stated any intention to turn Nest’s hardware into more than it is right now. Protect is an alarm, the Thermostat is a thermostat. 
  • But it is easy to see why Google would like hundreds of thousands of Wi-Fi connected devices in the homes of Google users. 
  • It’s worth pointing out that Nest and Google haven’t just built a duo of products that make your home smarter. They’ve built a nationwide network of sleeping sensors that will make them smarter about you.
Space Elevator
  • 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.