Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sony Playstation Network Breach

In an environment where it's difficult to turn a profit on hardware, Sony has pushed for the integration of hardware, software and the network to make money. To have this happen now is really unfavorable.

That's a quote that appears in today's Wall Street Journal from Nobuo Kurahashi, corporate research analyst at Mizuho Investors Securities in Tokyo. It's with reference to recent hacker penetration of  Sony Corp.'s online PlayStation videogame service. The Playstation Network has an estimated 77 million accounts and allows users connect online, play games against each other, chat and download televisin shows and movies. As I write this, it is not know whether hackers got users credit card information.

Sony, like most hardware companies has been following the Apple online store model and it appears to be working. According to the Wall Street Journal piece, under a mid-term business plan announced in late 2009, Sony said it aims to have a user base of 350 million network-connected devices while generating revenue of 300 billion yen ($3.65 billion) from the services business.

Yesterday, Sony said the company will stay on  track with current strategy. "This incident doesn't change Sony's fundamental strategy of networking products and providing services to our customers," said spokesman Shiro Kambe to the Wall Street Journal.
As more and more services and content goes up into the cloud, mobile and connected devices developed, and broadband bandwidths continue to rise we're going to see more of these kinds of attacks. You could easily substitute a number of other companies in place of Sony in the quote - just pick one with an online store.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What I Read (And How I Like to Read It)

I'm guessing maybe 20 years or so ago I had the chance to sit in on a two-day communications workshop delivered by a former University of Vermont computer science professor. During the workshop I asked him what he likes to read to keep up to date. His answer - Wired and Businessweek magazines. He was pretty sharp, impressive (wish I could remember his name) and when I got home I ended up ordering subscriptions to both.

I've kept those two subscriptions over the years with Wired keeping me up to date and entertained with new and emerging technologies and Businessweek keeping me posted on where business is going.  If I'm on the road you can bet the latest issues of each are in my bag.

Which of the two do I prefer? I've always believed business drives technology so Businessweek has been incredibly valuable to me. Some will argue it is the other way around but I've seen enough technically superior products that have flopped because the market was just not ready for them.

Last year Bloomberg purchased Businessweek from McGraw Hill and now the magazine is called Bloomberg Businessweek.  It's changed some since the purchase - there is a little more fun stuff (a la Wired) - but the business content is still really good.

Just last week Bloomberg launched a very nice iPad app called Bloomberg Businessweek+. Since I subscribe to the print version of the magazine, I get app version issues for free. Non-subscribers pay $2.99 a month - not bad since the print version is $4.99 on the newsstands. New editions come out on Thursday evenings at 10 PM and are approximately 30 megabytes each (relatively small for fast download). The app itself is the best "magazine" app I've seen so far - you can search for content across issues, clip articles and post to Twitter and Facebook. Even the "media-rich" ads are interesting to take a look at.

Will I keep my print subscription to Businessweek?  Yes - for now.

If you have an iPad, be sure to check out the Businessweek+ app.

Friday, April 15, 2011

1 Gbps Next Generation Internet Services in Rural Britain

Fujitsu, Virgin Media, TalkTalk and Cisco have agreed to collaboratively build a fiber based network to deliver next generation internet services to 5 million homes in rural Britain. In addition to all of the benefits broadband services provide to homes and businesses (education, entertainment, remote healthcare, government services, etc), there are a number of other things I find appealing about this collaborative effort:

  • It's rural - these are areas that typically suffer most, lacking any broadband services.
  • The network will be Fiber To The Home (FTTH) based with initial symmetrical bandwidth of 1 Giga bit per second (Gbps).
  • Because they are going to be using fiber, the network is future-proofed with  the potential to run at speeds greater than 10 Gbps. 
  • The network will be open access to any ISP,  giving rural customers options. When broadband is available in rural areas, often there is only a single choice. Competition should be good because it usually drives prices down and bandwidths up to the consumer.
  • The collaboration will involve local community broadband groups, enabling dynamic and flexible solutions in rural communities.
 It would be nice to see a collaboration like this in the U.S.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Internet Protocol (IP) Version 6 Five Part Video Series

In December at the Convergence Technology Center's Winter Retreat at Collin College in Frisco Texas, the ICT Center had the chance to shoot an IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6) workshop given by Sam Bowne, from City College of San Francisco. We've got a 5 part video series of the workshop posted and available for use now. They are excellent for the classroom - here they are.

IPv6 Part 1 (35 minutes and 47 seconds)

IPv6 Part 2 (60 minutes and 02 seconds)

IPv6 Part 3 (28 minutes and 06 seconds)

IPv6 Part 4 (34 minutes and 06 seconds)

IPv6 Part 5 (10 minutes and 06 seconds)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Simulation and Modeling in Technology Education (SMTE) Project

This is a temporary video for the Knowledge and Skills Builder level 4C - the "Platform Bounce Challenge" in the Survival Master game for STEM learning. In this level, the learner advances through the level by selecting braces to stablize platforms used to cross an obstacle.

You can follow along via the project website at

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Non-Destructively Checking Airplanes for Cracks

By now, everyone has seen the story about the Southwest airliner that took off from Phoenix and had a hole open up in the fuselage skin. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at one of the ways Southwest is testing their planes.

My academic background is microbiology and electrical engineering but I do have a little bit of experience (it's been a while) in material science and non-destructive testing. I spent one summer in graduate school checking ferrite plastic materials, made from a mix of plastic and iron for microscopic cracks using something called an Eddy-Current Tester.

Most of the testing we did that summer was done on little donut shaped toroids we cast ourselves using a mixture of bakelight and iron powder. After casting, these magnetic/plastic toroids were wrapped with wire and used in sensor circuits - things like ground fault interuptors that sense a rapid change in household electrical current and open the circuit before someone gets electrocuted.

This work was done in Dr Jim Masi's materials lab at Western New England College (WNEC). When Jim retired from WNEC he came over to Springfield Technical Community College for three years and was the first ICT Center Director (our Center was called the Northeast Center for Telecommunications Technologies back then) which is the position that I now hold. When Jim retired I inherited his old desk and guess what he left for me inside - some of those old toroids! These are the first things I see when I open my desk and they always make me think of Jim. Here's a picture of a couple.

So, what do little donut shaped pieces of plastic with iron mixed in have to do with testing 737 jetliners? It turns out - quite a bit. The trick with those toroids was to find a way to test them for cracks without actually breaking them - something called non-destructive testing. There are  different ways this kind of testing is typically done, one uses holography and lasers and works really well for small objects but does not work so great with large things like 737's.The other method is something called eddy-current testing and this is what Southwest is using to test their planes.

Here's how Eddy-current testing works:
  • It uses electromagnetic induction to check for microscopic cracks in conductive materials. Conductive is a key work here - the material has to be able to conduct electricity. Eddy-current testing does not work on things like wood or plain-old plastic. 
  • The testing process on something as large as an airplane involves using a circular coil (a toroid!) passed across the surface being tested. The toroid is made of magnetic material and wrapped with wire.
  • Alternating current is then passed through the coil wire, generating an alternating magnetic field around the coil.
  • The coil's alternating magnet field inductively interacts with the conductive airplane metal and generates eddy currents.
  • A second search or detector coil is then used to detect eddy currents coming from the material.
If there are no cracks or other flaws in the material, eddy current patterns are smooth and continuous. Any variations/disruptions (amplitude and phase) in wave patterns are easily picked up by the search coil and can indicate flaws in the material being tested. I like to think of a smoothy flowing stream with a large rock in the middle and how the flow pattern changes as the water goes around the rock. Think of a crack as that rock, disrupting the flow pattern of the surrounding magnetic field.

There are some limitations with Eddy Current testing - the one that concerns me the most when it comes to airplane testing is limited depth of penetration but I'm thinking airplane skins are fairly thin so maybe that really does not worry me. There are also problems detecting cracks that are parallel to the detecting coil which can be usually be worked around by rotating the detector so that one does not worry me much either.

When done correctly, eddy-current testing is a simple and highly effective method to find small microscopic cracks that can't be seen - perhaps hidden behind paint on objects like airplane skins. Eddy-current testers are inexpensive, portable, provide immediate feedback, and do not need to contact the item being tested. It works.

On Sunday, Southwest COO Mike Van de Ven issued a statement saying:
Prior to the event regarding Flight 812, we were in compliance with the FAA-mandated and Boeing-recommended structural inspection requirements for that aircraft.
I would hope the FAA, manufacturers and airlines are using eddy-current testing as part of routine airplane maintenance.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Simulation and Modeling in Technology Education (SMTE) Project

This is a temporary demo video for the Knowledge and Skills Builder level 1 - the "Cave of Volume (shape volume and surface area) Challenge" in the Survival Master game for STEM learning.

You can follow along via the project website at

Are Companies Hoarding Wireless Spectrum?

Later this month, Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, will be holding hearings on spectrum issues, including incentive auctions and allegations that some cable and wireless companies are "hoarding" spectrum.

A recent post at discusses Walden's back and forth with FCC Chair Julius Genachowski who has dismissed spectrum hoarding as occurring. Genachowski has been advocating for voluntary incentive auctions, in which broadcasters could choose to surrender spectrum to be auctioned off, receiving a cut of the proceeds in return and freeing up airwaves for mobile broadband.

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB)  is currently looking at proposals to re-purpose over-air television spectrum for mobile broadband and has jumped in, requesting that an independent analysis be done. On March 16 NAB Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton released the following statement in response to a claim that the FCC has completed a baseline spectrum inventory:

The FCC statement is a disappointing response to Congress, which is seeking a thorough spectrum inventory. The question is not whether the FCC can identify locations and licenses on the spectrum dashboard that have been set aside for specific services. The real issue is whether specific companies that bought or were given spectrum worth billions have actually deployed it.
Bottom line is we are running out of spectrum.