Ken's Project Blog

September 21, 2011

OnStar is watching you

Filed under: In The News,Technology — Ken @ 7:13 am

20110921-071442.jpgOver at slashdot they have a story about OnStar logging and selling your car’s GPS coordinates, direction, speed and other data to third-parties, even if you don’t subscribe to OnStar.

While some are understandably concerned about privacy issues, I don’t think the value of this data is tied to the fact they know a particular car belongs to a certain person, I think their plan is to try and sell traffic congestion information to GPS companies for real-time updates on route times.

While there could be a lot of money in the ‘Where did my cheating husband go with his Corvette last night when he said he was working late?’ market, I’m not sure how OnStar could advertise such a service and then sell cars to philanderers and criminals. On the other hand, it would make a heck of a lojack alternative!

Sources:

Slashdot.org: OnStar Terms and Conditions Update Raises Privacy Concerns

Internet Essentials, from Comcast

Filed under: In The News,Technology — Ken @ 1:58 am

Do you (or your children) qualify for free school lunches and live in an area served by Comcast? If so, you may qualify for their new Internet Essentials service, providing you with a speedy 1.5 Mb/sec broadband internet connection for a low $9.95/month. What’s that you say, you don’t have a computer? You may qualify for one running Windows 7 for $150 from Comcast. Of course, there are a few requirements:

  1. Be located where Comcast offers Internet service
  2. Have at least one child receiving free school lunches through the National School Lunch Program
  3. Have not subscribed to Comcast Internet service within the last 90 days
  4. Not have an overdue Comcast bill or unreturned equipment

For it’s part, Comcast commits to keeping this offer for three years, without price increases.

Why is Comcast doing this? Because it was a requirement to curry favor with the regulators in Comcast’s bid to acquire NBC/Universal.

Sources:

arstechnica.com: Comcast’s $9.99 Internet for low-income families goes nationwide and Comcast: $10/month Internet—and cheap netbooks—for the poor

internetessentials.com: Internet Essentials

August 18, 2011

Did an ATM eat your job?

Filed under: In The News,Politics,Technology — Ken @ 9:02 am


As he did back in June, President Obama has again tried to shift some of the blame for our sagging employment numbers on things like ATMs – this time at one of his bus tour stops in Illinois. I think the President better be careful, as his own job may be the next to be lost to technology – the autopen.

Sources:

youtube.com: President Obama on ATMs Taking Jobs

whitehouse.gov: Rural Tour Day 3: Atkinson, Ill Town Hall

realclearpolitics.com: Obama: ATMs Contribute To Unemployment For Eliminating Tellers

theblaze.com: Do Americans Secretly Hate ATMs?

nytimes.com: Making Legislative History, With Nod From Obama and Stroke of an Autopen

July 13, 2011

This is why you always, always protect your home wireless network

Filed under: In The News,Technology — Ken @ 11:54 pm

A cautionary tale:

A Minnesota hacker prosecutors described as a “depraved criminal” was handed an 18-year prison term Tuesday for unleashing a vendetta of cyberterror that turned his neighbors’ lives into a living nightmare.

Barry Ardolf, 46, repeatedly hacked into his next-door neighbors’ Wi-Fi network in 2009, and used it to try and frame them for child pornography, sexual harassment, various kinds of professional misconduct and to send threatening e-mail to politicians, including Vice President Joe Biden.

His motive was to get back at his new neighbors after they told the police he’d kissed their 4-year-old son on the lips.

Source: wired.com

His reign of terror over his neighbors included making death threats to Vice President Biden, planting child porn on a facebook page, and other harassing acts, all made possible once he was able to crack into his victim’s wireless network. By gaining access to his neighbor’s computer network and taking no steps to hide his identity, all the harassing emails, death threats against Vice President Biden, etc. could all be traced back to his neighbor’s home network.

His neighbors thought they had protected their home wireless network, but they employed a technology commonly referred to as WEP, one of the oldest security protocols for protecting Wi-Fi traffic – it is also one of the easiest to crack into.

If you are unsure how to protect your home wireless network, here is a link to a guide from a site I trust, arstechnica.com – The ABCs of securing your wireless network.

Sources:

wired.com: Wi-Fi–Hacking Neighbor From Hell Sentenced to 18 Years

arstechnica.com: New attack cracks WEP in record time and The ABCs of securing your wireless network

July 1, 2011

Why don’t more Americans get broadband Internet?

Filed under: In The News,Technology — Ken @ 5:46 pm

[Note: This post was originally from February, but was not posted until July 1st, Ken]

So I’m watching a Glenn Beck TV show from March 3rd, 2010 (practicing Good DVR Hygine), and he’s talking about the lack of broadband internet access, and how the FCC was proposing to spend another $9 BN (in addition the the $7.2 BN we are already spending from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, AKA “stimulus”) so that those without broadband internet access can get it… But he’s quoting a number that doesn’t seem right – his number is 4%.

He is saying that 4% of Americans can not get access to broadband internet – that can’t be right – so I did some digging… Here’s what I found.

This article (out yesterday, almost 11 months after Glenn’s broadcast) from Associated Press/AP Online says that 65.9% of urban homes, and 51% or rural homes, currently have broadband internet – that’s much bigger than 4%.

Then I remembered this graph (below) from an Ars Technica article which details the reasons people without broadband internet access gave Census workers to explain why they don’t have broadband internet access:

Hey, I think that’s where the 4% number came from – but there are lots of caveats to be considered before citing that number:

  • The report is of those households that don’t have internet, based on the above numbers, that means that 4% of the rural and urban households without access, not 4% of all households.
  • People who fail to see the value of broadband internet service may also live in an area not served by a broadband provider -they likely don’t care enough to determine if it is even available.
  • People that access the internet elsewhere may also live in an area unserved by broadband providers.
  • People lie to census workers.

Sources:

CBSNews.com: Stimulus Cash to bring Broadband to Rural Areas

BusinessInsider.com: The Real Reason Americans Don’t Have Broadband – We DON’T Want It

Ars Technica: Why Don’t Americans want broadband?

March 15, 2011

Al Franken on Net Netruality

Filed under: In The News,Politics,Technology — Ken @ 10:51 pm


Sen. Al Franken, speaking at the SXSW Interactive conference, decided to chime in on the Net Neutrality “debate”:

“He said Comcast is looking to change the basic architecture of the Web by implementing a pricing scheme that allows moneyed interests to pay for faster speeds, leaving everyone else behind. That would be a particularly bad development for the independent musicians and artists gathered here, he said.” [emphasis added]

Let me see if I can explain this in simple terms, instead of “Net Neutrality” let’s consider “Car Neutrality”. Let’s say I go to the local Chevy dealer and buy a new Chevy Cruz, and I really like it – I think it’s really fast and I’m happy with the price. Then, after I get the car home, I find out that “moneyed interests” can pay more for a car than I did and get one that’s even faster. Somehow, because GM offers “faster cars” to “moneyed interests” my Cruz is now slower.

That, in a nutshell, is his Net Neutrality argument, as expressed at SXSW Interactive.

Sources:

Politico.com: Al Franken: ‘They’re coming after the Internet’

February 18, 2011

Three Hundred Fifty Million Dollar Map

Filed under: In The News,Politics,Technology — Ken @ 12:44 am


It’s well-known that the Obama Administration feels that investments in broadband internet access is a national priority, so to demonstrate their commitment, they “invested” $350 Million dollars to create a website where you can punch in an address and see what broadband connectivity options are available at the provided address.

I’m not quite sure this tool was worth $350,000,000 from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (that’s over $1/per citizen) to create something that, quite reasonably, every broadband provider already had for their territories… Borrowing $350 Million from future taxpayers to tie them all together seems a bit much…

From PC Magazine:

Funds for map were provided through the 2009 Recovery Act, President Obama’s economic stimulus package. That legislation provided $350 million for the creation of a national broadband inventory map. Of that, NTIA doled out $293 million in grants to all 50 states, the territories, and Washington, D.C., which was used to collect the data for the existing map and will be used over the next five years for updates. Another $20 million was provided to the FCC, which used most of it on contractors who built the map.

All told, the five-year cost of the map is about $200 million, said Larry Strickling, assistant secretary of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) within Commerce.

Think of all the children without broadband

Unfortunately, this $350 Million doesn’t actually provide any homeowner broadband internet access where none was available before, but armed with this map they’ll be able to find out who does have broadband internet access.

Sources:

Building America’s Future: Building America’s Future Praises Obama’s Commitment to Infrastructure

National Broadband Map: http://www.broadbandmap.gov/

PC Magazine: Are You Being Served? National Broadband Map Going Live Today

Recovery.gov: The Act and Tracking the Money webpages

Glenn Beck: Children without broadband access (transcript)

YouTube Videos: Glenn Beck on dialup 1 of 2 and Glenn Beck on dialup 2 of 2

February 10, 2011

Computer Operating System Market Share

Filed under: Technology — Ken @ 9:18 am


This post is a bit off the typical topic of this blog – I’ll be brief, but I came across the above chart this morning and it gave me pause. I have friends who like to advocate for their favorite computer operating system, be it Apple OS X, Linux, or even Microsoft Windows, and like to extrapolate wild outcomes that are just around the corner, based on nothing more than a small shift in a statistic.

If you look at the above chart from Net Marketshare, which spans the previous eleven months, the one thing that stands out is that the month-to-month market shares are pretty consistent – the actual up and down-ticks are detailed here – with the only real shifts occurring in Windows (down 1.88% of market share, about a 5% drop) and iOS (up 1.43% of market share, nearly tripling), with the “other” classification nearly doubling to 1.24% from 0.66% of market share. These statistics are generated by tracking what browsers self-identify as their underlying operating system when opening web sites, so they are far from conclusive, but they do serve to indicate trends.

You’ll notice that the changes in market share that I highlighted doesn’t include Linux – well, Linux, the little OS that, according to its supporters, has been on the verge of breaking out and “kicking Windows butt” for years, but the reality is that Linux can’t seem to break out of a 1% of market share, but fear not Linux enthusiasts – these numbers are based on browser activity, and since few users run browsers from their servers, you can still imagine that your favorite operating system is dominating the server market, by their nature servers are harder to track, but a few have tried.

The increase in iOS usage is no real surprise, since that is the operating system that runs on the iPod Touch, as well as iPads and iPhones, all of which are selling like gangbusters and are used as additional devices no matter the operating system a particular user has on their desktop, laptop, or netbook – in fact, the iOS number may over-represent the market share of those devices, as they likely “steal” browser sessions from Windows, OS X, and Linux systems, for instance when a user checks movie times on their iPhone instead of walking over to a desktop computer.

I don’t see any significant shift in the market share of the various operating systems people use, but that won’t stop enthusiasts from reading way too much into the slightest movement in the above numbers.

Sources:

Net Marketshare: Top Operating System Share Trend

Wikipedia.com: Usage share of operating systems entry

Operating System Links: Microsoft Windows, Apple iOS, Linux [Red Hat|Ubuntu]

February 5, 2011

The Ethanol Myth

Filed under: In The News,Politics,Technology — Ken @ 11:42 am

Over at Consumer Reports they have a great article on Ethanol, with links to lots of interesting studies on the subject of turning subsidised food into “eco-friendly” fuel – here are three concerns they mention:

Yet university scientists for decades have raised questions about ethanol’s viability as a fuel source for three reasons:

  • They argue that it is unethical to produce fuel from a food crop, especially if it drives up food prices. Most of the ethanol in the United States is made from corn.
  • Ethanol contains less energy than gasoline, and it takes a lot of energy to produce.
  • A variety of conflicting studies have shown that producing ethanol may—or may not—increase emissions of carbon-dioxide, a gas linked to global warming.

Source: Consumer Reports

The most interesting thing they mentioned, as far as I am concerned, is the diminished performance of blending ethanol into gasoline. In a study using E85 (the highest ethanol content currently marketed, consisting of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline) the MPG performance for their test 2007 Chevy Tahoe FFV (Flex Fuel Vehicle) was severely impacted by the use of E85: instead of getting 21 MPG in their highway driving test on regular gasoline, E85 yielded only 15 MPG, an almost 30% decrease, with a similar drop on their city driving test from 9 MPG on regular gasoline to 7 MPG on E85. If you were going to drive 210 miles on the highway using E85, instead of using 10 gallons of regular gasoline your trip would require 14 gallons of E85. While studies have shown that E85 fueled cars emit 10-15% less greenhouse gases, they burn 40% more fuel for a comparable trip (14 vs. 10 gallons) resulting in a net increase of about 19% more greenhouse gases emitted.

If E85 fuels were equal in price at the pump (ignoring last year’s $7.7 billion in federal subsidies, etc. – focusing on retail price), say, $3.00 a gallon, instead of spending $30 on our 210 mile trip, we’d be spending $42.

Studies have shown that running even low-level Ethanol content fuels (E10/E15 – 10 or 15% Ethanol, respectively) in non Flex-Fuel Vehicles can cause serious damage to parts of the engine fuel system. But don’t worry, the EPA ruled on January 21, 2011 that E15 fuels are “safe” for all vehicles produced since 2001 (they had previously held E15 safe for vehicles produced since 2007). Much of the fuel pumped in America today is E10 (10% Ethanol), and the the EPA is pushing for an increase to 15% Ethanol gas at the pumps

There is also the issue of the energy consumed in making the Ethanol used to make E85 fuel – as the chart on Page 16 of this Argonne National Laboratory study shows, the total BTU spent to create one BTU at the pump is about 1.75 BTU per BTU at the pump, compared with about 1.15 BTU per BTU at the pump for petroleum.

So, E85 fuel is less efficient, which increases costs at the pump when compared with gasoline, produces more greenhouse gasses than gasoline, and consumes almost twice as much energy in production relative to the energy it provides at the pump – could things look any worse for Ethanol fuel? Let’s ask Eco-Activist and Green Energy Tycoon Al Gore:

“It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for (U.S.) first generation ethanol,” said Gore, speaking at a green energy business conference in Athens sponsored by Marfin Popular Bank.

“First generation ethanol I think was a mistake. The energy conversion ratios are at best very small.

“It’s hard once such a programme is put in place to deal with the lobbies that keep it going.”
He explained his own support for the original programme on his presidential ambitions.

“One of the reasons I made that mistake is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for president.”

Source: Reuters

The Congressional Budget Office has found that the use of corn to create government-mandated Ethanol fuels drives up the price of food, despite dramatic increases in the amount of corn harvested each year.

Could we please put an end to Ethanol subsidies? There are much better uses for the $7.7 billion in federal subsidies each year… I know the corn growers like it, and the politicians like the support of mid-west farmers in presidential elections, but this is unsustainable.

Media Research Center has a nice backgrounder on the media’s full-throated support of Ethanol a few years ago.

Sources:

Consumer Reports: The Great Ethanol Debate and Test results: E85 vs. gasoline

Argonne National Laboratory: The Debate on Energy and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Impacts of Fuel Ethanol (2005)

Popular Mechanics: Can E15 Gasoline Really Damage Your Engine?

eHow.com: How Does Ethanol Performance Compare to Gasoline?

Associated Press (via Yahoo.com): EPA approves more ethanol in fuel for cars

Reuters: U.S. corn ethanol “was not a good policy”-Gore

Media Research Center: Flashback: As EPA Approves E15, Remember the Media’s Infatuation with Ethanol

Congressional Budget Office: Implications of Ethanol Use for Food Prices and Greenhouse-Gas Emissions

Video.Google.com: An Inconvenient Truth (Movie)

The Telegraph: Al Gore could become world’s first carbon billionaire

Youtube.com: Barack Obama on Energy and the Environment (from Barack Obama’s 2008 Presidential Campaign)

February 1, 2011

Cold truths on electric avenue

Filed under: In The News,Technology — Ken @ 11:09 am

Over at the Washington Post, Charles Lane has an interesting piece up on the cold truths about electric cars in cold weather climates. He catalogs various studies showing that cold weather diminishes battery capacity, and reminds potential plug-in electric auto buyers about the realities of power loss in cold weather and the phenomenon of excessive commutes in bad weather that could leave electric car drivers stranded with their less-capable, more expensive cars.

Think this is just some trumped-up slam against electric cars? I remember clearly the commercials from my childhood for Sears touting their ability to perform in cold weather – backhand proof that most batteries perform worse in cold weather (why would Sears tout their battery’s performance in cold weather if it wasn’t typically a problem for other batteries?)…

And talking about Sears Diehard commercials, I have to toss this out there as well – it’s a commercial made with Gary Numan (yes, THAT Gary Numan) for Diehard batteries – enjoy!

Sources:

Washington Post: Cold truths on Electric avenue

Suite101.com: Winter Storm in Washington DC Area Leaves Thousands Without Power

ARLNow.com: BREAKING NEWS — Motorists Still Stranded on GW Parkway, I-66

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