Word of the Day: Tech Definitions from WhatIs.com

November 7, 2008  2:08 PM

Overheard: Browser wars, mobile-style

Margaret Rouse Margaret Rouse Profile: Margaret Rouse
baby-fennec-fox.jpg With the iPhone, Apple showed how to surf the Web on the small screen. Now, it seems, a modern version of the browser wars of the 1990s could be shaping up, with the battleground being the mobile phone.Kate Greene, Firefox on your cell phone

Last week, Mozilla, the nonprofit organization behind Firefox, released an “alpha” version of Fennec, just as the desktop version of its browser reached 20 percent of the market for the first time. This early release lets programmers play with the interface, catch bugs, and write add-on features, says Jay Sullivan, vice president of mobile at Mozilla. Fennec (named for a type of small fox) is hardly consumer ready: it currently operates only on the somewhat bulky Nokia N810 Internet tablet, and there are plenty of bugs and interface challenges to iron out, says Sullivan. But by the first part of 2009, Fennec could be ready to run on consumer phones.

The name is brilliant. Who could resist a cute little Fennec? Like ferretts, they’re legal in some states to be pets. Neutered males are supposed to be more sweet-natured than females. Like dogs, they’re omnivores. Like cats, they can be litter trained. Which would you rather interact with on a daily basis? Chrome, Opera or cute little Fennec?

November 6, 2008  9:35 PM

Overheard: Your grandchild’s car might be made of buckypaper

Margaret Rouse Margaret Rouse Profile: Margaret Rouse
buckypaper.jpg Buckypaper is similar in concept to papier mache – layer it up thick and it gets stronger. So strong, in fact, that aeroplanes and rockets and even common household chairs could all be made from buckypaper in some distant future world. We are therefore calling it papier mache 2.0.

Gary Cutlack, World about to get lighter and stronger thanks to “buckypaper” and the magic of nanotubing

Buckypaper forms when a suspension of carbon nanotubes is forces through a fine-mesh filter.  Like a lot of great inventions, it was found accidently; researchers were trying to find out how stars created carbon.  Scientists and engineers are trying to figure out how to produce the material in bulk. Right now it takes several hours to make a single sheet of buckypaper.

November 6, 2008  8:45 PM

Video: Buckypaper

Margaret Rouse Margaret Rouse Profile: Margaret Rouse

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/hkijxr4z_mY" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Buckypaper is made of tube-shaped carbon molecules (carbon nanotubes) that are 50,000 times thinner than a human hair. The Florida Advanced Center for Composite Technologies (FAC2T) at Florida A&M University is working on developing real world applications for the material.

November 6, 2008  12:12 PM

Overheard: Sun is taking OpenSolaris behind the corporate firewall

Margaret Rouse Margaret Rouse Profile: Margaret Rouse
timothy_prickett_morgan.jpg Now that the OpenSolaris development edition of Sun’s Unix is out, after a few releases of this development code, Sun is expected to take an OpenSolaris snapshot and take it inside the corporate firewall and harden it and test the living daylights out of it to make what Sun calls “Solaris Next.”

Timothy Prickett Morgan, Sun freshens Solaris 10 for new iron

November 5, 2008  8:33 PM

Overheard: Dell employees to take mandatory unpaid vacation

Margaret Rouse Margaret Rouse Profile: Margaret Rouse
cubes-tim-the-it-guy.jpg Skimping on five days of payroll may temporarily give the company’s bank account a fillip, but it doesn’t change its permanent cost structure. Then again, maybe Dell’s strategy is to drive away employees who are capable of doing math.

Tim the IT Guy, Dell wants employees to practice being laid off

From Reuters:

Computer maker Dell Inc has asked employees to consider taking up to five days of unpaid vacation as it struggles to cut costs in the face of weak global demand. The No. 2 computer maker, which is near the end of a program of 8,900 job cuts, is also offering voluntary severance packages and has instituted a global hiring freeze. Chief Executive Michael Dell announced the moves in an email to employees on Monday. On Tuesday he said he expects further consolidation in the technology industry, and encouraged companies to ride out financial turbulence by focusing on hard returns, rethinking businesses and investing.

My two cents? It’s not just the economy that’s tightening the noose, it’s the way IT  is changing. Vendors are scrambling to keep themselves relevant, slapping the word “cloud” on marketing copy as it goes out the door. The Reuter’s article says that Michael Dell said he expected 80% of Fortune 1000 companies to be using cloud services within the next few years.  Combine the cloud paradigm with virtualization and that has to be scary.

See also: stealth layoffs at Yahoo

November 3, 2008  8:59 PM

Overheard: White space, the Dixie Chicks and wireless microphones

Margaret Rouse Margaret Rouse Profile: Margaret Rouse
wirelessmicrophone.jpg As part of an ongoing effort to bar internet devices from the country’s television white spaces, Goosoft-battling government lobbyists have rolled out two pillars of the American heartland: God and Dolly Parton.

Cade Metz, Anti-white-space lobby enlists God, Dolly Parton

What do Dolly Parton, Neil Diamond, the Dixie Chicks, Clay Aiken,  Pastor Joel Osteen and Guns N’ Roses have in common? They all use wireless microphones and they’ve all joined together to ask the FCC to delay a vote on a proposal that would open up unused white space in the wireless spectrum.

The white spaces are empty “buffer” channels scattered throughout the 54- to 698-MHz region of the RF spectrum that were set up when TV was in its infancy to prevent interference. Now that we’re all moving to digital TV and analog is dead, the white space below 700 MHz could be up for grabs. Because the space is currently being used for wireless microphone transmission, the League of American Theatres & Producers and others don’t want the FCC to make the space freely available.  They want to keep the status quo because they’re worried about interference issues — despite a lot of testing on the FCC’s part that says it shouldn’t be a problem.

Google seems to be leading the charge to make the unused white space available for a new generation of wireless devices, pretty much saying that current wireless microphones have to use FDMA technology, but if the white space spectrum was opened up, wireless mic vendors could make new microphones that use CDMA-based technologies and that would take care of the problem — as long as nobody minds going out and getting new sound systems.

The FCC will have the final word. As of today, you need a license to operate a wireless mic unless it operates in the 49 MHz, AM/FM | broadcast, 902-928 MHz or 2.4 GHz band.

UPDATE: The FCC voted unanimously yesterday (Election Day) to allow conditional unlicensed use of the “white space” television spectrum.

The FCC says that to prevent white space devices from interfering with each other, the devices should use spectrum sensing (scan for unused channels) and geo-location (a technology that cross-references your location with a database of licensed spectrum users in your area.)

What does this decision mean for those of us who don’t use wireless microphones?

Well, the waves in white space can travel through walls.  What it means for us is that someday soon you’ll be able to get broadband Internet in every part of the county and when our kids are talking to our grandchildren, they’ll say things like “When I was your age,  people had to go outside to the driveway to talk on their cell phone.”   I can’t wait.

November 3, 2008  3:46 PM

Overheard: Touch screens, vote flipping and fear of touch screen parallax

Margaret Rouse Margaret Rouse Profile: Margaret Rouse
vote-button.jpg Even though new standards were developed in 2005 and 2007, all voting machines in use today are only certified to the 2002 standards.

Declan McCullagh, E-voting worries linger as Election Day nears

There’s lots of buzz about “vote flipping” on touch screen voting machines. It’s like we’re all acting as if touch screen voting uses some new technology that’s prone to errors. Like the touch screen of a voting machine is magic or evil — or Republican.

Duh. It’s the same technology we use whenever we take money out of an ATM machine. I think it makes more sense to be nervous about the fact that our voting technology is only up to 2002 standardsAlex Howard gives you the scoop on who’s using what.  Or click on this interactive map from ComputerWorld that tells you what voting technology is being used in each state.

But back to vote flipping. The tech “bug” behind vote flipping has a real name. It’s called “touch screen parallax.”  Parallax simply means “The difference in appearance or position of an object when viewed from two different locations.”

Kids like to play with the concept. Remember when you were a kid and would pick a focal point and close your right eye — and then you’d quickly switch eyes and the object would seem to magically move? (You knew the object didn’t really move; you were just looking at it from a different position on your face but it did seem rather mysterious.)

Well years ago, if you went to a bank’s drive-through and used the ATM machine,  the touch screen could be a little “off” depending on the light source, time of day — or whether you were sitting high up in a truck or close to the ground in a little Mini-Cooper.

Banks have done a good job overcoming the parallax problem. Their solution? Calibrate the machines often and make sure the image maps are large enough to accommodate parallax errors. Plain English? The ATM machine runs a little program periodically on the back-end that maps a series of cross-hairs to the button images.  And the programmers made the button images BIGGER so there’s less chance the user accidentally touches the wrong part of the screen.

So what should you do if you intend to vote for McCain on a touch screen voting machine and Obama is the name that lights up?

The parallax isn’t going to change while you’re in the booth. You can move and angle your field of vision differently, use a different finger (no comments, please)  and see if that works — or you can ask a polling representative for assistance.

If the poll worker determines that the voting machine is calibrated incorrectly, they can cancel the ballot and put the machine in administrative mode. This will let them re-calibrate the screen and then you can vote.


November 3, 2008  12:00 AM

Overheard: VoIP traffic engineering

Margaret Rouse Margaret Rouse Profile: Margaret Rouse
ip_pbx_voip_call_centre-copy.jpg VoIP uses a traffic engineering term called Quality of Service (QoS) that refers to the implementation of controls to ensure that delay sensitive IP packets are prioritized as they flow through the pipe. To forgo these controls would result in acoustic problems like jitter and echo, as well as dropped calls.

Michael Talbert, Choosing a Broadband Provider for VoIP

(Today’s word is traffic engineering.)

October 30, 2008  6:44 PM

Overheard: Killing zombies in the LAN of the Dead

Margaret Rouse Margaret Rouse Profile: Margaret Rouse
zombieadc2.jpg Before a zombie hunter can kill some zombies he has to find them. In the movies the hero can listen for low sorrowful moans or slow shuffling feet to track them down, or just look for the carnage of half eaten people. On your network you can look for similar signs of the undead so you can blast them to oblivion.

Adrian Duane Crenshaw, LAN of the Dead: Putting computer zombies back in their grave, Ash style

Unlike a lot of bloggers who write about zombie armies, Adrian doesn’t just scare you — he actually tells you how to hunt down zombies on your network and and kill them.  Recommended reading.

Today’s word is zombie army

October 30, 2008  3:37 PM

Overheard: Botnets and online poker

Margaret Rouse Margaret Rouse Profile: Margaret Rouse
poker_cards.jpg There are myriad ways hackers can cash out once they have obtained stolen bank accounts or credit card details…One way is to find a partner and create two accounts on an online poker site, loading up one of the accounts with cash from a stolen card. The pair then enter a heads-up game and the cashed-up player purposely loses, making the other account rich. They then cash out and split the profits.

Asher Moses, Inside the hackers’ den

Hunched over a computer terminal in his pyjamas, “Frank” makes more money than a small-time drug dealer without ever having to worry about being caught or even leaving the house.

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